Rodney G. Peffer University of San Diego

  • Faculty, University of San Diego
  • PhD, University of Arizona, 1983.

Areas of specialization

Areas of interest

My philosophical views


My philosophical views

The answers shown here are not necessarily the same provided as part of the 2009 PhilPapers Survey. These answers can be updated at any time.

See also:

A priori knowledge: yes or no?Accept: yesWell, at least analytical (logically true or false, and definitional) statements can be known to be true or false without appealing to experience. So if that counts as a priori knowledge then yes, of course, we can have a priori knowledge ... even though we may only come to know the meaning of specific expressions by means of experience. Whether there is synthetic a priori knowledge is a more specific question.
Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?The question is too unclear to answer Wow! Talk about a false dichotomy! And an ill-formulated question! First, to know how to answer this question one would have to know whether by "abstract objects" you are referring only to mathematical entities (like numbers) or to universals (i.e. the metaphysical status of general kinds purportedly embodied in concepts, or referred to by nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs), or to both. Secondly, and more significantly, you give only two of the standard four positions on this topic. What happened to moderate realism and conceptualism in the case of universals, and to constructivism and intuitionism in the case of mathematical entities? With respect to mathematical entities I tend towards Platonism, but with respect to universals I am a conceptualist. On the topic of universals I agree with Wilfrid Sellars that the claim that universals refer to some sort of entities (transcendent Platonic entities and/or natural kinds in the natural world) can be analyzed (away) in that universals can be described as “metalinguistic singular distributive sortals” which, if one just stops there, is a nominalist position. But I end up being an advocate of conceptualism with respect to universals because, in my opinion, to distinguish the conceptualist position from the nominalist position one must define conceptualism as the position that concepts do not refer to transcendent (Platonic) entities or, so far as we know, to natural kinds, and define nominalism as accepting this position plus the position that all concepts are purely arbitrary and artificial. And since I believe that contemporary cognitive linguistics/psychology and neuro-science tend to show that there is a “language of thought” (at least with reference to some basic concepts), I end up advocating conceptualism rather than pure nominalism in the case of universals.
Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?Accept an intermediate view I specify an "intermediate view" because although I believe that there may well be some aesthetic universals (principles) embodied in human minds/brains by evolution -- e.g. a general liking for symmetry and perhaps even an appreciation for things that are "well-made" and show signs of dexterity and skill (as in the recently propounded "hand-axe" theory of aesthetic universals), I think that within these very general principles (or constraints) there is a great deal of aesthetic subjectivity and relativism with respect to different cultures and individuals.
Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?Lean toward: yes
Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?Lean toward: externalism
External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?Accept an intermediate view
Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?Accept: compatibilism
God: theism or atheism?Accept: atheism
Knowledge: empiricism or rationalism?Accept an intermediate view
Knowledge claims: contextualism, relativism, or invariantism?Lean toward: contextualism
Laws of nature: Humean or non-Humean?Accept: non-Humean
Logic: classical or non-classical?Lean toward: classical
Mental content: internalism or externalism?Lean toward: externalism
Meta-ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?Accept: moral anti-realism
Metaphilosophy: naturalism or non-naturalism?Lean toward: naturalism
Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?Accept an intermediate viewNamely, that propositional attitudes (thoughts, beliefs, etc.) are compatible with physicalism but qualia, sensa, sensations, sensory states, sensory properties of brains states, or whatever one wants to call them are not compatible with pure physicalism. Propositional attitudes can be functionally analyzed and are thus compatible with either physical or mental "machinery," although all of the beings having propositional attitudes that we have knowledge of -- e.g. ourselves -- have physical machinery (physical brains) that are the "hardware" for states of the "software" (i.e. propositional attitudes). On the other hand, I believe that qualia, sensa, sensations (or whatever one chooses to call such properties, states, or entities) cannot be "analyzed away" (as is the case with propositional attitudes) and -- since such things do not have physical properties like mass, they must be classified as non-physical (in particular, mental) things (in the broadest sense of that term). Thus for sensory properties of brains states, or sensory states, or sensations I am an emergent materialist and an epiphenominalist.
Moral judgment: cognitivism or non-cognitivism?Accept an intermediate viewIn my work I distinguish between four different forms of moral (or ethical) relativism, and my analysis of these four positions can, I think, throw light on the cognitivism vs. non-cognitivism debate. These are (1) descriptive ethical relativism, (2) normative ethical relativism, (3) metaethical relativism, and (4) meta-evaluative relativism. On my analysis, (1) is true but trivial; (2) is pernicious but, upon analysis, incoherent; (3) is not proveably true or false, but I lean towards accepting it as true; and (4) can be said to be true since it doesn’t even have the semantic constraints on what can count as a reason for it that metaethical relativism has. For my more detailed analysis of these positions see R.G. Peffer, “Marxism, Morality, and Social Justice” (Princeton University Press, 1990), pp. 265-285.
Moral motivation: internalism or externalism?Accept: internalism
Newcomb's problem: one box or two boxes?The question is too unclear to answerI say this only because the problem is significantly different depending on whether one assumes -- as Nozick did in the original formulation of the problem -- that the Predictor is hardly ever wrong or assumes, as most later theorists seem to assume, that the Predictor is never wrong. If the Predictor is never wrong this seems to open up the possibility that backwards causation may actually exist and, thus, choosing just Box B might actually influence the Predictor to have put the $1,000,000 in the box in the past. Thus, on this assumption of infallibility I think it is more reasonable to choose just Box B. But if the Predictor is described as being fallible (though highly reliable) this assumption makes backwards causation much less likely. Thus, on this assumption I believe it is more reasonable to choose both boxes. (And, after all, if the Predictor is sometimes -- though rarely -- wrong, the ocassion of your choice might just be one of the very rare times where he wrongly predicted that you would only choose Box B (and thus has already put the $1,000,000 in it) and so by choosing both boxes you will get both the $1,000,000 in Box B and the $1,000 in Box A. Perhaps doing so under this latter assumption would be no more unreasonable than buying a ticket for a large lottery.
Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?Accept an intermediate view First it should be noted that almost all action-oriented moral theories, whether consequentialist or deontological, take virtues (moral character traits) to be important components of their theories but, of course, they don’t take virtues to be the primary focus of moral theories and assessments. But the main problem here is that (1) these terms are subject to different definitions and, thus, (2) on some interpretations or definitions, these positions – virtue theory, consequentialism, and deontology – are not exhaustive. For example, does "deontology" refer only to "strict" deontological theories, i.e. those theories holding that "the right" has no connection with "the good" (i.e. the so-called "non-moral" or aretaic goods of the world, i.e. those things worth pursing since they make for a good or better or satisfactory life), as Kant seems to assert? Or does that term also refer to "mixed" deontological theories which hold that pursuit of "the good" (of all those affected by an action, decision, rule, law, policy, or institution) is always relevant to moral judgments but is not the only relevant consideration (as at least some forms of consequentialism assert)? The other kind of relevant consideration -- on mixed deontological views -- is that the pursuit of "the good" should be constrained or structured by deontological principles concerning how "the good" can (legitimately) be pursued and, perhaps, concerning limits within which it must be distributed among all affected moral entities. An example of the first type of mixed deontological constraint is the view that the pursuit of "the good" (e.g. the aggregate balance of preference satisfaction over the frustration of preferences) must not violate people's moral rights (whatever they may be) … where the justification of these rights is not that they are efficient means to maximize utility. An example of the second type of mixed deontological constraint on pursuit of "the good" is the view that "the good" -- or at least the means individuals use to pursue "the good" -- must be distributed fairly, taking into consideration unwarranted personal advantages and disadvantages that, as Rawls would say, are the result of the natural and social lotteries. Finally, it should be noted that another possible source of confusion on this topic is that some moral theories that recognize the need for principles governing the distribution of "the good" are classified (both by advocates and opponents) as being consequentialist theories. For example, versions of utilitarianism that call for some "weighted" distribution of the aggregate good -- and, thus, which adopt principles governing distribution of the aggregate "good" that cannot be reduced to considerations of the overall amount of "good" produced – are still usually classified as utilitarian (and, hence, consequentialist) theories … whereas on the definitions I am using (and that many others agree with) these kind of theories would be “mixed deontological theories.” Having said this, I can now say that if forced to choose between these three very general positions (virtue theory, consequentialism, and deontology) I would classify myself as a deontologist since I am an advocate of a mixed deontological theory of morality and social justice that emphasizes moral rights. (See Rodney G. Peffer, “A Modified Rawlsian Theory of Social Justice: Justice of Fair Rights.”)
Perceptual experience: disjunctivism, qualia theory, representationalism, or sense-datum theory?Lean toward: representationalism
Personal identity: biological view, psychological view, or further-fact view?Insufficiently familiar with the issue
Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?The question is too unclear to answerThis is really too crude a set of answers, in my opinion, especially because if one chooses egalitarianism it may look as though one may be opposing liberty (which will seem to many to be represented by libertarianism); and of course this is not the case. Most contemporary egalitarians are liberal (or liberal-socialist) egalitarians who take liberty -- or, more precisely, certain basic liberties, like civil liberties and political rights -- to be an important value. But they also take fairness (or, in a general sense, equality) to be a central value, whereas libertarians do not take substantive fairness to be a legitimate value. Moreover, egalitarians can accept people’s attachment to community or feelings of community to be valuable and, thus, include it in their theory (or view) of “the good” or human flourishing without assuming – as pure communitarians do – that this value trumps liberal egalitarian principles of liberty or fairness. So being an egalitarian in this sense does not mean that one does not have respect or appreciation for the value of community, as the set of choices may imply. (See Rodney G. Peffer, “A Modified Rawlsian Theory of Social Justice: Justice of Fair Rights.”)
Proper names: Fregean or Millian?Insufficiently familiar with the issue
Science: scientific realism or scientific anti-realism?Accept: scientific realism
Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?Accept: survival
Time: A-theory or B-theory?Lean toward: A-theory
Trolley problem (five straight ahead, one on side track, turn requires switching, what ought one do?): switch or don't switch?Accept: switch
Truth: correspondence, deflationary, or epistemic?Accept an intermediate view
Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible?Lean toward: metaphysically possible