Late British Empiricism was a research project built around a two-part psychological theory: that thoughts represent their objects by qualitatively resembling them (the "Theory of Ideas") and that thought proceeds by traversing associative links between ideas ("associationism"). The work of Hume, and then of Mill, were the project's highwater marks; twentieth-century philosophers no longer find the psychology convincing. The problem, as far as the philosophers were concerned, was not so much that the account seemed false upon introspection, nor that (...) the discipline of psychology had itself moved on, but that the psychological theory did not make good on its explanatory obligations: most importantly, a thought's being a mental picture is not a satisfactory account of why it has the content it does. But this reason for rejecting Empiricist psychology, that it could not do its assigned philosophical job, leaves open the possibility of minds for which it is nonetheless a satisfactory description. (shrink)
In their introduction to this volume, Ram and Leake usefully distinguish between task goals and learning goals. Task goals are desired results or states in an external world, while learning goals are desired mental states that a learner seeks to acquire as part of the accomplishment of task goals. We agree with the fundamental claim that learning is an active and strategic process that takes place in the context of tasks and goals (see also Holland, Holyoak, Nisbett, and Thagard, 1986). (...) But there are important questions about the nature of goals that have rarely been addressed. First, how can a cognitive system deal with incompatible task goals? Someone may want both to get lots of research done and to relax and have fun with his or her friends. Learning how to accomplish both these tasks will take place in the context of goals that cannot be fully realized together. Second, how are goals chosen in the first place and why are some goals judged to be more important than others? People do not simply come equipped with goals and priorities: we sometimes have to learn what is important to us by adjusting the importance of goals in the context of other compatible and incompatible goals. This paper presents a theory and a computational model of how goals can be adopted or rejected in the context of decision making. In contrast to classical decision theory, it views decision making as a process not only of choosing actions but also of evaluating goals. Our theory can therefore be construed as concerned with the goal-directed learning of goals. (shrink)
The claim that "'is' does not entail 'ought"' is so closely associated with Hume that it has been called 'Hume's Law'. 1 The interpretation of the passage in Hume's Treatise of Human Nature that is the locus classicus of the claim is controversial. But the passage is preceded by three main bodies of argument, and, on the working assumption that the passage in question is closely connected to the argumentation that leads up to it, I will here examine the third (...) of these, running from T 463:7 to.. (shrink)
Late British Empiricism was a research project built around a two-part psychological theory: that thoughts represent their objects by qualitatively resembling them (the "Theory of Ideas") and that thought proceeds by traversing associative links between ideas ("associationism"). The work of Hume, and then of Mill, were the project's high-water marks; twentieth-century philosophers no longer find the psychology convincing. The problem, as far as the philosophers were concerned, was not so much that the account seemed false upon introspection, nor that the (...) discipline of psychology had itself moved on, but that the psychological theory did not make good on its explanatory obligations: most importantly, a thought's being a mental picture is not a satisfactory account of why it has the content it does. But this reason for rejecting Empiricist psychology, that it could not do its assigned philosophical job, leaves open the possibility of minds for which it is nonetheless a satisfactory description. (shrink)
Some species are weedy: they move from one ecological niche to another. Other species are specialized: they are exquisitely adapted to exploit a particular niche. Human beings are the design solution in which a species is simultaneously weedy and specialized - the trick being to manage the exquisite niche-specific adaptations in software rather than in the hardware. We are built to reprogram ourselves on the fly, to select new goals, new priorities and new guidelines appropriate to novel niches. Understanding ourselves (...) as an implementation of this design solution has consequences for the theory of practical reasoning. Instrumentalism (the theory of practical reasoning according to which it consists solely in selecting means to pre-given ends) cannot be a suitable theory of rationality for such a species (that is, our own). (shrink)
Auguste Comte's doctrine of the three phases through which sciences pass (the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive) allows us to explain what John Stuart Mill was attempting in his magnum opus, the System of Logic: namely, to move the science of logic to its terminal and 'positive' stage. Both Mill's startling account of deduction and his unremarked solution to the Humean problem of induction eliminate the notions of necessity or force—in this case, the 'logical must'—characteristic of a science's metaphysical (...) stage. Mill's treatment had a further surprising payoff: his solution to the Problem of Necessity (what today we call the problem of determinism and freedom of the will). (shrink)
The truth in bivalence -- Deflating deflationism -- How to find your match -- Unity of the intellect -- How can we think about partial truth? -- Logics of vagueness -- The Quinean turn -- The Davidsonian swerve -- The Lewis twist : mind over matter -- The bare necessities -- Metaphysics as intellectual ergonomics.
Aggregation-friendly moral theories such as classical utilitarianism are forced to invest a great deal of ingenuity in damping out and modulating the effects of welfare aggregation. In Mill's treatment, the problem famously appears as the puzzle of how the Principle of Liberty is meant to be compatible with the Principle of Utility, and there have been a great many attempted interpretations of his solution, all, in my view, unsatisfactory. I will first reconstruct Mill's generally unnoticed account of the psychological implementation (...) of higher pleasures; this will allow me to explain what the distinction between higher and lower pleasures was, and how Mill was introduced lexical preference orderings into his theory. Then I will show how the underlying psychological theory permits Mill to argue for the lexical priority of liberty over the goods which liberty allows us to obtain. Finally, I will turn to the Millian considerations omitted from the argument I will have reconstructed. By way of explaining why they are so difficult to accommodate, I will consider why Mill might have abandoned his projected sciences of character. I will take my leave by asking what Mill's failure to turn his implementation analysis of the higher pleasures into an argument expressing the importance of individuality and originality means for us. (shrink)
A wave of recent philosophical work on practical rationality is organized by the following implicit argument: Practical reasoning is figuring out what to do; to do is to act; so the forms of practical inference can be derived from the structure or features of action. Now it is not as though earlier work, in analytic philosophy, had failed to register the connection between action and practical rationality; in fact, practical reasoning was usually picked out as, roughly, reasoning directed toward action. (...) But for much of the twentieth century, attention moved quickly away from this initial delineation of the subject area, to the interplay of beliefs and desires within the mind (Humean theories, including their Davidsonian and Williamsian variants), or to procedures for checking that a plan of action was supported by sufficient yet consistent reasons (Kantian theories), or to the ultrarefined sensibilities of the practically intelligent reasoner (Aristotelian theories). The hallmark of the emerging family of treatments to be surveyed here is, first, the sustained attention paid to answering the question, "What does it take to be an action (at all)?", and second, the use made of a distinction between full-fledged action and its lesser relatives. (Characterizations and terminology vary, but often the less robust alternative is called "mere activity" or "mere behavior".) Very schematically, these arguments for a theory of practical reasoning try to show that reasons brought to bear on choice must have some particular logical form, if action is not to lapse into something less than that. (shrink)
Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals is deservedly part of the ethical canon, but it is also be enormously and insistently absent-minded. I’m going to first present, as a textual puzzle, a handful of forgetful moments in the first two essays of the Genealogy. To address the puzzle, I will take up a familiar idea, that the Genealogy is both a subversive account of ethics and of what it is to be an intellectual. I will describe a strategy for reading the text (...) that makes these out to be differently and more closely connected than they are usually taken to be. That will allow me to address a persistent worry in the secondary literature, by explaining how the Genealogy’s criticism of morality can be something other than an instance of the genetic fallacy, yet also not lapse into one or another form of moralism. On the way, I will suggest that Nietzsche’s text requires us to modify one of the standard constraints on interpreting philosophical writing. (shrink)
Ethics Done Right examines how practical reasoning can be put into the service of ethical and moral theory. Elijah Millgram shows that the key to thinking about ethics is to understand generally how to make decisions. The papers in this volume support a methodological approach and trace the connections between two kinds of theory in utilitarianism, in Kantian ethics, in virtue ethics, in Hume's moral philosophy, and in moral particularism. Unlike other studies of ethics, Ethics Done Right does not advocate (...) a particular moral theory. Rather, it offers a tool that enables one to decide for oneself. (shrink)
The contemporary philosophical debate over practical reasoning-over how one ought to figure out what to do-has been almost entirely focused on whether there is more to it than means-ends reasoning. But a prior and very difficult question has to do with why instrumental deliberation is so important an aspect of our cognitive life (regardless of whether there is anything else). I consider an answer broached by Harry Frankfurt, that having ends is the alternative to being literally bored out of one's (...) mind, and adapt an argument from John Stuart Mill's political and psychological writings to show what more there is to not being bored than just having something to aim for. (shrink)
Would the Ontological Argument Greater Than Which None Can Be Conceived proue the existence of God? Might an ontological argument prove the actuality of the world (as Robert Nozick once suggested)? Should you believe that you’re actual, even if you’re not? And what happens if we attempt to answer these questions, having adopted Nozick’s mature view of the function of argument?
Utilitarianism is a “consequentialist” doctrine: that actions are right or wrong in proportion as they produce good or bad consequences. Mill’s version is also a “hedonistic” doctrine. Consequences are good insofar as they have more happiness or less unhappiness; bad, as they have more unhap- piness or less happiness; and by happiness and unhappiness, Mill means pleasure and pain. In English, the words “happiness” and “unhappiness” do not have the same connotations as “pleasure” and “pain.” “Happiness” implies feeling good about (...) one’s life as well as feeling good. “Happiness” is found in relationships with friends and loved ones and in a sense of accomplishment. “Pleasure” seems to be something that is momentary and more sensational. But according to Mill’s psy- chology, a happy life consists in many pleasures and few pains. The happiness of relationships with friends and loved ones is reducible to the joys and satisfactions in the moments of one’s life that arise from these relationships. The happiness of a sense of accomplishment consists of the pleasurable states of consciousness that arise from a sense of accomplishment. The happiness of self-respect and the unhap- piness of self-disrespect consist of the pleasurable and painful states of conscious- ness that these involve. This reduction of happiness and unhappiness to pleasures and pains is a controversial element in Mill’s philosophy. I leave it to the reader to think about that reduction. In what follows, it will be assumed. (shrink)
What I have tried to do is elicit and disarm the motivations most likely to give rise to the [counterexamples to the principle crucial to Williams' argument]. Only one of these motivations is still viable: the instrumentalist theory of practical reasoning. But because internalism and instrumentalism are, as it has turned out, so very tightly linked, in disarming the motivations for the objection, I have also inventoried, and given reason to reject, what I have found to be the most common (...) conversationally adduced defences of instrumentalism: the appeals to imagination, to dispositional desires, and so on. The issue remaining from the debate over internalism turns out to be whether [instrumentalism is false---i.e. whether] there are patterns of practical inference that are not directed toward the satisfaction of desire. (shrink)
Choosing the right plan is often choosing the more coherent plan: but what is coherence? We argue that coherence-directed practical inference ought to be represented computationally. To that end, we advance a theory of deliberative coherence, and describe its implementation in a program modelled on Thagard's ECHO. We explain how the theory can be tested and extended, and consider its bearing on instrumentalist accounts of practical rationality.
I am going to argue that linking Hume’s name with instrumentalism is as inappropriate as linking Aristotle’s: that, as a matter of textual point, the Hume of the Treatise is not an instrumentalist at all, and that the view of practical reasoning that he does have is incompatible with, and far more minimal than, instrumentalism. Then I will consider Hume’s reasons for his view, and argue that they make sense when they are seen against the background of his semantic theory. (...) And finally, I will try to say why it is that Hume has nonetheless been read as he has. (shrink)
There is still a relative paucity of discussion of the views on friendship that Aristotle presents in the Nicomachean Ethics ,1 although some recent work may indicate a new trend. One suspects that this paucity reflects a belief that those views are not very interesting; if true, this witnesses to an unfortunate underestimation of Aristotle's account. This account is in fact quite surprising, for -- I shall argue -- Aristotle believes that one makes one's friends in the most literal sense (...) of the verb. (shrink)