Why have philosophers since Hume regarded promising as problematic? I distinguish two problems raised by Hume. The problem of the bare wrong is the problem of how it can make sense to avoid a wrong when the wrong does not affect any intelligible human interest. The problem of normative power is the problem of how something can be a wrong simply because it has been declared to be a wrong. I argue that the problem of the bare wrong is more (...) basic. I then examine the attempts of practice theorists like Hume and Rawls to overcome the problem of the bare wrong by arguing that whenever breach of promise seems like a bare wrong, in fact human interests are adversely affected because a socially valuable practice is damaged. I argue that their various explanations cannot cover all the cases. I then formulate an assumption which is shared by all practice theorists (and others) namely the assumption that we take promises seriously because they serve our interest in social co-ordination. I argue that if this assumption were true, there need be no practice of promise-keeping for promises to bind. Furthermore, were this assumption true, promising would be a social tool that we could largely do without. And so long as promising intelligibility is in doubt (because of the problem of the bare wrong) an adherent of the social co-ordination hypothesis should assume that we largely do do without it. So anyone who gives promising a key role in human social life must reject the social co-ordination hypothesis. (shrink)
The role of Professor McLaughlin's sceptic is to introduce certain 'sceptical hypotheses', hypotheses which imply the falsity of most of what we believe about the world. Professor McLaughlin asks whether these hypotheses are coherent and thus whether they can tell us anything about what are entitled to believe, or to claim to know. He concludes that, semantic externalism notwithstanding, these hypotheses are both coherent and threatening. I shall not question this conclusion but I do wonder whether the fate of scepticism (...) hangs entirely on the coherence of the sceptical hypotheses. (shrink)
The obligations we owe to those with whom we share a valuable relationship (like friendship) cannot be reduced to the obligations we owe to others simply as fellow persons (e.g. the duty to reciprocate benefits received). Wallace suggests that this is because such valuable relationships are loving relationships. I instead propose that it is because, unlike general moral obligations, such valuable relationships (and their constitutive obligations) serve our normative interests. Part of what makes friendship good for us is that it (...) involves bonds of loyalty. Our lives go better if we are bound to others in this way. (shrink)
Worries about the possibility of consent recall a more familiar problem about promising raised by Hume. To see the parallel here we must distinguish the power of consent from the normative significance of choice. I'll argue that we have normative interests, interests in being able to control the rights and obligations of ourselves and those around us, interests distinct from our interest in controlling the non-normative situation. Choice gets its normative significance from our non-normative control interests. By contrast, the possibility (...) of consent depends on a species of normative interest that I'll call a permissive interest, an interest in its being the case that certain acts wrong us unless we declare otherwise. In the final section, I'll show how our permissive interests underwrite the possibility of consent. (shrink)
Unlike many other animals, human beings enjoy freedom of action. They are capable of acting freely because they have certain psychological capacities which other animals lack. In this paper, I argue that the crucial capacity here is our ability to make practical judgements; to make judgements about what we ought to do. A number of other writers share this view but they treat practical judgement as a form of belief. Since, as I argue, we don't control our beliefs, that undermines (...) this model of human freedom. I suggest a different account of practical judgement, according to which they are cognitive states but not beliefs and I show how this provides us with a better model of practical freedom. (shrink)
Philosophers like Shoemaker and Burge argue that only self-conscious creatures can exercise rational control over their mental lives. In particular they urge that reflective rationality requires possession of the I-concept, the first person concept. These philosophers maintain that rational creatures like ourselves can exercise reflective control over belief as well as action. I agree that we have this sort of control over our actions and that practical freedom presupposes self-consciousness. But I deny that anything like this is true of belief.
It is widely held that one who sincerely promises to do something must at least intend to do that thing: a promise communicates the intention to perform. In this paper, I argue that a promise need only communicate the intention to undertake an obligation to perform. I consider examples of sincere promisors who have no intention of performing. I argue that this fits well with what we want to say about other performatives - giving, commanding etc. Furthermore, it supports a (...) theory of promissory obligation which I have advocated elsewhere - the authority interest theory - against the orthodox information interest theory. (shrink)
In our thinking about what to do, we consider reasons which count for or against various courses of action. That having a glass of wine with dinner would be pleasant and make me sociable recommends the wine. That it will disturb my sleep and inhibit this evening’s work counts against it. I determine what I ought to do by weighing these considerations and deciding what would be best all things considered. A practical reason makes sense of a course of action (...) by recommending it, by highlighting some good or desirable feature of it which could move a reasonable agent to perform it. When thinking about what to do, we also attend to our obligations. Perhaps I have promised to remain clearheaded this evening. Given this I am obliged not to drink. How should this consideration affect my deliberations? According to Davidson, the fact that an action would be a breach of a promise ‘is a count against the action, to be weighed along with other reasons for the action’ (Davidson 2004: 177). This suggests that obligations are a sub-set of our reasons, they are one input into the process of determining what action would be reasonable or justified all things considered. One can see why Davidson might say this. After all, having carefully considered the matter, I may decide not to keep my promise. Furthermore this may be the right thing to do, the most reasonable course of action available to me in the light of all the relevant factors. Nevertheless this description seems to miss something important about a promise. The fact that I promised not to drink does not merely recommend not drinking as does the prospect of a restless night; it places a demand on me. Drinking would not be just inadvisable; it would now be a wrong. And even if such a wrong might on the whole be justified, even if committing this wrong is the right thing to do, in drinking I refuse a demand, I don’t just reject a recommendation. It is widely held that a promise provides you with a moral reason to fulfill it, whereas the fact that drinking would make you lose sleep does not, typically, constitute such a reason.. (shrink)
An invalid promise is one whose breach does not wrong the promisee. I describe two different accounts of why duress and deception invalidate promises. According to the fault account duress and deception invalidate a promise just when it was wrong for the promisee to induce the promisor to promise in that way. According to the injury account, duress and deception invalidate a promise just when by inducing the promise in that way the promisee wrongs the promisor. I demonstrate that the (...) injury account is superior. I then argue that in this respect promising is like any exercise of a normative power. I conclude by distinguishing two theories of promissory obligation, a widely held view which I call the information interest theory and an alternative which I call the authority interest theory. I argue that the points established earlier support the authority interest theory over its rival. (shrink)
Why do human beings make and accept promises? What human interest is served by this procedure? Many hold that promising serves what I shall call an information interest, an interest in information about what will happen. And they hold that human beings ought to keep their promises because breaches of promise threaten this interest. On this view human beings take promises seriously because we want correct information about how other human beings are going to act. Some such view is taken (...) for granted by most philosophical accounts of promissory obligation.1 I agree that human beings do want such information and that they often get it by accepting promises. But I doubt that promising exists because it serves this information interest. (shrink)
Two models of assertion are described and their epistemological implications considered. The assurance model draws a parallel between the ethical norms surrounding promising and the epistemic norms which facilitate the transmission of testimonial knowledge. This model is rejected in favour of the view that assertion transmits knowledge by expressing belief. I go on to compare the epistemology of testimony with the epistemology of memory.
We are often in no position to know whether p is true but, it is widely held, where we do know that p, we are always in a position to know that we know that p: knowledge is luminous. In Chapter 4 of Knowledge and Its Limits Williamson argues that knowledge is not luminous and with this conclusion in hand he hopes to see off the sceptic, amongst other things.
The hypothesis that belief aims at the truth has been used to explain three features of belief: (1) the fact that correct beliefs are true beliefs, (2) the fact that rational beliefs are supported by the evidence and (3) the fact that we cannot form beliefs.
What is it to “know your own mind”? In ordinary English, this phrase connotes clear headed decisiveness and a firm resolve but in the language of contemporary philosophy, the indecisive and the susceptible can know their own minds just as well as anybody else. In the philosopher’s usage, “knowing your own mind” is just a matter of being able to produce a knowledgeable description of your mental state, whether it be a state of indecision, susceptibility or even confusion. What exercises (...) philosophers is the fact that people seem to produce these descriptions of their own mental lives without any pretence of considering evidence or reasons of any kind and yet these descriptions are treated by the rest of us as authoritative, at least in a wide range of cases. How can this be? (shrink)
One way of discerning what sort of control we have over our mental lives is to look at cases where that control is not exercised. This is one reason why philosophers have taken an interest in the phenomenon of akrasia, in an agent's ability to do, freely and deliberately, something that they judge they ought not to do. Akrasia constitutes a failure of control but not an absence of control. The akratic agent is not a compulsive; an akratic agent has (...) the ability to control their action, to make it conform to their judgement, but they fail to exercise that ability. They freely and deliberately give in to temptation. (shrink)
We call beliefs reasonable or unreasonable, justified or unjustified. What does this imply about belief? Does this imply that we are responsible for our beliefs and that we should be blamed for our unreasonable convictions? Or does it imply that we are in control of our beliefs and that what we believe is up to us? Reason Without Freedom argues that the major problems of epistemology have their roots in concerns about our control over and responsibility for belief. Owens focuses (...) on the arguments of Descartes, Locke and Hume--the founders of epistemology--and presents a critical discussion of the current trends in contemporary epistemology. He proposes that the problems we confront today - skepticism, the analysis of knowledge, and debates on epistemic justification can be tackled when we have understood the moral psychology of belief. (shrink)
[Brian P. McLaughlin] In recent years, some philosophers have claimed that we can know a priori that certain external world skeptical hypotheses are false on the basis of a priori knowledge that we are in certain kinds of mental states, and a priori knowledge that those mental states are individuated by contingent environmental factors. Appealing to a distinction between weak and strong a priority, I argue that weakly a priori arguments of this sort would beg the question of whether the (...) skeptical hypothesis under assessment is true, and that the prospect of a sound strongly a priori argument of this sort seems dim. \\\ [David Owens] Contemporary discussion of scepticism focuses on the possibility that most or all of our beliefs might be false. I argue that the hypothesis of massive falsity and the associated 'problem of the external world' are inessential to the scepticisms of Descartes and Hume. What drives Cartesian and Humean scepticism is the demand for certainty: any possibility of error, however local, must be ruled out before we can claim either justified belief or knowledge. Contemporary philosophers have ignored this form of scepticism because they doubt that the demand for certainty can be motivated. But Descartes provides a sound motivation for this demand in the Meditations. (shrink)
[FIRST PARAGRAPHS]The role of Professor McLaughlin's sceptic is to introduce certain 'sceptical hypotheses', hypotheses which imply the falsity of most of what we believe about the world. Professor McLaughlin asks whether these hypotheses are coherent and thus whether they can tell us anything about what are entitled to believe, or to claim to know. He concludes that, semantic externalism notwithstanding, these hypotheses are both coherent and threatening. I shall not question this conclusion but I do wonder whether the fate of (...) scepticism hangs entirely on the coherence of the sceptical hypotheses. I shall maintain that the root of scepticism, at least as we find it in Descartes and Hume, is the demand for certainty. Recent writers are likely to dismiss this demand for certainty: in their view, inconclusive evidence is quite sufficient both to justify belief and to give us knowledge (should the proposition in question turn out to be true). Like Professor McLaughlin, recent debate focuses rather on the possibility that we might have no evidence at all for our beliefs, that our belief-forming processes might be completely unreliable, undermining both knowledge and justification. It is the sceptical hypotheses which generate this worry - ordinary error does not - and so it is they alone, not the prosaic fact of our fallibility, which provide grounds for a real sceptical doubt. Descartes and Hume are standard reference points for discussion of the sceptical hypotheses. Yet, I shall argue, in both Descartes and Hume, the sceptical hypotheses are secondary; what is really doing the work is their demand for certainty. Furthermore Descartes, at least, suggests a way in which this demand might be motivated. Both philosophers do indeed raise 'the problem of the external world' but this is only one aspect of their scepticism; we can't dispatch either the Cartesian or the Humean sceptic just by demonstrating that thought or experience presupposes the existence of an external world. Their sceptical problem is more than the problem posed by the sceptical hypotheses. (shrink)
[FIRST PARAGRAPHS] Nothing is more common than for us to continue to believe without rehearsing the reasons which led us to believe in the first place. It is hard to see how it could be otherwise. Were we obliged constantly to re-trace our cognitive steps, to reassure ourselves that we are entitled to our convictions, how could we ever move forward? We have probably forgotten why we adopted many of our current beliefs and even if we could dredge the evidence (...) for them up from memory, we couldn't do this for more than a tiny subset of our beliefs at any one time. Since inquiry involves a reliance on many different beliefs, progress is possible only if we can use established results in future deliberation without re-fighting the battles of the past. But this plausible thought appears to conflict with another, that we should believe only where we have adequate evidence: rational belief must be based on evidence for the proposition believed. Now one might quibble over what exactly 'have evidence' means. Is it required that whenever the belief comes to mind, so too does the evidence on which the belief is based? Or is it sufficient that one be capable of rehearsing this evidence? Either way, human beings are very often unable to satisfy this demand in respect of beliefs on which they happily rely. If this is illicit, inquiry must be reined in, constrained by our memory's inability to retain more than a fraction of the evidence relevant to the beliefs we formed at various points in the past. Epistemologists have responded to this tension in several ways. Externalists simply drop the demand that belief be based on reasons at all. Internalists try to find evidence on which rational memory belief might be based. There are two internalist strategies here. One claims that certain forms of empirical argument are generally available to underwrite the memory beliefs of the rational person, arguments which one can rehearse even if one can't recall the specific grounds on which one formed the belief in the first place. The other strategy simply asserts that memory beliefs have a prima facie authority, that one is entitled to rely on them without any justification, provided one has no grounds for doubting them. I agree with the internalist that we must have reasons for our convictions: to believe something is to believe it to be true and if you don't have any grounds for thinking it true, you shouldn't believe it. For example, information installed in our brains as part of our genetic endowment may exercise a beneficial influence on our behaviour but such evolutionary 'memory' is not a repository of knowledge: to make it such, we must have grounds for relying on it. Nevertheless, we must also get away from the radical internalist idea that having a reason to believe is a matter of being able, at the present moment, to produce evidence. One's belief may be well-grounded in past reasoning even if one is quite incapable of recapitulating that reasoning and there is no need to invent some alternative support for the belief which one can now bring to mind. We are not creatures of the moment, unable to carry our cognitive achievements forward from one instant to the next. (shrink)
The paper aims to provide an account of the phenomenological differences between perception, recognition and recall. In the first section, recall is distinguished from non-experiential forms of memory. In the second section, it is argued that we can't distinguish perceptual experience from the experience of recall by means of perception's present tense content because it is possible to perceive as well as to recall the past. The Lockean theory of recall as a revival of previous perceptual experience is then introduced, (...) applied and defended against objections. Next, recall is distinguish from memory recognition. Finally, some relevant psychological data is described. (shrink)
In an important departure from current theories of causation, David Owens proposes that coincidences have no causes, and that a cause is something that ensures that its effects are no coincidence. He elucidates the idea of a coincidence as an event that can be divided into constituent events, the nomological antecedents of which are independent of each other. He also suggests that causal facts can be analyzed in terms of non-causal facts, including relations of necessity. Thus, causation is defined in (...) terms of coincidence, and coincidence without reference to causation. In a book that will be of particular interest to those concerned with the role of causation in the philosophy of mind, David Owens challenges ideas of Hume, Davidson and Lewis, and offers novel solutions to the problems still confronting theorists of causation. (shrink)