where, according to Schiffer, the concept of an F is pleonastic just in case the concept itself licenses entailments of the form: S ⇒ ∃xFx. These are what he calls "somethingfrom-nothing" entailments and the various practices in which such entailments are made are what he calls "hypostatisizing practices" (p.57). The concept of a proposition is pleonastic, according to this definition, because it licenses the move from a claim like 'Fido is a dog,' a claim containing only the singular term 'Fido' (...) referring to Fido, to the claim 'It is true that Fido is a dog,' which is a claim that contains the singular term 'that Fido is a dog' referring to the proposition that Fido is a dog. (iv) Propositions are pleonastic entities, as anything that falls under a pleonastic concept is, by definition, a pleonastic entity. And (v) The nature of propositions, as pleonastic entities, is fully determined by the hypostatizing practices that are constitutive of the concept of a proposition together with those necessary a priori truths that are applicable to things of any kind. Schiffer's idea is thus that propositions are entities, but that they are entities of a particularly insubstantial kind, as they have no hidden nature waiting to be discovered by.. (shrink)
Chomsky, meanwhile, has long expressed great reluctance even to recommend reading material to his audiences, let alone how they ought to vote, on the basis that they shouldnâ€™t be substituting his judgment for their own. At the same time he has equally consistently maintained that elections are an elaborate PR charade unworthy of more than the briefest attention, a stance he somehow considers consistent with the petitionâ€™s call to put the presidential elections at the top of our list of concerns (...) this year. Fortunately, these two fine dissidents havenâ€™t joined in the vilification of Nader that has become all the rage among Democrats and all-too-many progressives, at least not yet. (shrink)
Much work in recent moral psychology attempts to spell out what it is for a desire to be an agent’s own, or, as it is often put, what it means for an agent to be identified with certain of her desires rather than others. The aim of such work varies. Some suggest that an account of what it is for a desire to be an agent’s own provides us with an account of what it is for an agent to value (...) something. Others suggest that an account of what it is for a desire to be an agent’s own tells us what it is for an agent to be free or autonomous. (shrink)
Can we draw substantive conclusions about the reasons for action agents have from premisses about the desires of their idealized counterparts? The answer is that we can. The argument for this conclusion is Rawlsian in spirit, focusing on the choices that our idealized counterparts must make simply in virtue of being ideal, and inferring from these choices the contents of the desires that they must have. It turns out that our idealized counterparts must have desires in which we ourselves figure (...) as both agents and patients, and in which others must figure too, though only as patients. (shrink)
Many claim that a plausible moral theory would have to include a principle of beneficence, a principle telling us to produce goods that are both welfarist and agent-neutral. But when we think carefully about the necessary connection between moral obligations and reasons for action, we see that agents have two reasons for action, and two moral obligations: they must not interfere with any agent's exercise of his rational capacities and they must do what they can to make sure that agents (...) have rational capacities to exercise. According to this distinctively deontological view of morality, though we are obliged to produce goods, the goods in question are non-welfarist and agent-relative. The value of welfare thus turns out to be, at best, instrumental. (shrink)
Mackie's argument for the Error Theory is described. Four ways of responding to Mackie's argument—the Instrumental Approach, the Universalization Approach, the Reasons Approach, and the Constitutivist Approach—are outlined and evaluated. It emerges that though the Constitutivist Approach offers the most promising response to Mackie's argument, it is difficult to say whether that response is adequate or not.
Imagine that Bloggs is faced with a choice between giving a benefit to his child, or a slightly greater benefit to a complete stranger. The benefit is whatever the child or the stranger can buy for $100 — Bloggs has $100 to give away — and it just so happens that the stranger would buy something from which he would gain a slightly greater benefit than would Bloggs's child. Let's stipulate that Bloggs believes this to be, and let's stipulate, as (...) well, that he believes that the consequences of his actions are otherwise identical. He chooses to give the benefit to his child. What do we learn about Bloggs from his choice? We learn that Bloggs cares more about his child than he does about complete strangers. Nor is anyone likely to be surprised by this, for it just goes to show that he is much like the rest of us. He gives preferential treatment to his nearest and dearest when he acts, those with whom he has a special relationship, much as we do. (shrink)
In On What Matters Derek Parfit argues that facts about reasons for action are grounded in facts about values and against the view that they are grounded in facts about the desires that subjects would have after fully informed and rational deliberation. I describe and evaluate Parfit's arguments for this value-based conception of reasons for action and find them wanting. I also assess his response to Sidgwick's suggestion that there is a Dualism of Practical Reason. Parfit seems not to notice (...) that his preferred value-based conception of reasons for action augurs strongly in favour of a view like Sidgwick's. 1. (shrink)
Humeans hold that actions are movements of an agent's body that are suitably caused by a desire that things be a certain way and a belief on the agent's behalf that something she can just do, namely perform a movement of her body of the kind to be explained, has some suitable chance of making things that way (Davidson 1963). Movements of the body that are caused in some other way aren't actions, but are rather things that merely happen to (...) agents. (shrink)
When we say that a subject has attitudes that she is rationally required to have, does that entail that she has those attitudes for reasons? In other words, is there a deep nexus between being rational and responding to reasons? Many have argued that there is. For example, Derek Parfit tells us that 'to be rational is to respond to reasons' (Parfit 1997, p.99). But I am not so sure. I begin by considering this question in the domain of theoretical (...) rationality. The question in this domain is whether, when a subject has the beliefs that she is required to have by the norms of theoretical rationality, she is responding to reasons that there are for having those beliefs. Armed with a moderately clear answer to this question in the theoretical domain, I consider their relationship in the practical domain. When a subject has the desires that she is required to have by the norms of practical rationality, is she responding to reasons that there are for having those desires? Part of the interest of these questions lies in improving our understanding of reasons for action. I will say a little about this towards the end. (shrink)
The normative foundations of the environmental movement can be thought of in a range of different ways. The present paper is a commentary on very interesting papers by Thomas Dunlap, Thomas Hill and Kimberly Smith, who take up the spiritual, ethical and political perspectives respectively. Their accounts are described and evaluated.
I take issue with two suggestions of Joel Feinberg's: first, that it is incoherent to suppose that human life as such is absurd, and, second, that a particular human life may be absurd and yet saved from being tragic by being fulfilled. I also argue that human life as such may well be absurd and I consider various responses to this.
The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy is the definitive guide to what's going on in this lively and fascinating subject. Jackson and Smith, themselves two of the world's most eminent philosophers, have assembled more than thirty distinguished scholars to contribute incisive and up-to-date critical surveys of the principal areas of research. The coverage is broad, with sections devoted to moral philosophy, social and political philosophy, philosophy of mind and action, philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of the sciences. This (...) Handbook will be a rich source of insight and stimulation for philosophers, students of philosophy, and for people working in other disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, who are interested in the state of philosophy today. (shrink)
The five essays in Part III of Philip Pettit’s Rules, Reasons and Norms are a brilliant blend of normative and empirical concerns. Their starting point is the distinction between two sorts of question we can ask about institutions. Institution arrangements bring about certain outcomes: they foster attitudes, cement relationships, and provide certain people with benefits and others with burdens. One question we can ask concerns the justification of institutions; the other concerns the feasibility of institutions, relative to some outcome. Let (...) me begin by explaining the distinction. I will then say a little about the use Pettit makes of it in his essays. (shrink)
Over the last fifteen years, Michael Smith has written a series of seminal essays about the nature of belief and desire, the status of normative judgment, and the relevance of the views we take on both these topics to the accounts we give of our nature as free and responsible agents. This long awaited collection comprises some of the most influential of Smith's essays. Among the topics covered are: the Humean theory of motivating reasons, the nature of normative reasons, Williams (...) and Korsgaard on internal and external reasons, the nature of self-control, weakness of will, compulsion, freedom, responsibility, the analysis of our rational capacities, moral realism, the dispositional theory of value, the supervenience of the normative on the non-normative, the error theory, rationalist treatments of moral judgment, the practicality requirement on moral judgment and non-cognivist. This collection will be of interest to students in philosophy and psychology. (shrink)
The requirements of instrumental rationality are often thought to be normative conditions on choice or intention, but this is a mistake. Instrumental rationality is best understood as a requirement of coherence on an agent's non-instrumental desires and means-end beliefs. Since only a subset of an agent's means-end beliefs concern possible actions, the connection with intention is thus more oblique. This requirement of coherence can be satisfied either locally or more globally, it may be only one among a number of such (...) requirements on an agent's total set of desires and beliefs, and it has no special connection with reasoning. An appreciation of these facts leads to a better understanding of both the nature and the significance of instrumental rationality. (shrink)
Jonathan Dancy’s Practical Reality is, I think, best understood as an attempt to undermine our allegiance to these two purported constitutive claims about action. If we must think that psychological states figure in the explanation of action then, according to Dancy, we should suppose that those psychological states are beliefs rather than desire-belief pairs. Dancy thus prefers pure cognitivism to Humeanism. But in fact he thinks that we have no business accepting any form of psychologism in the first place; no (...) business accepting a theory that explains an agent’s actions by reference to that agent’s psychological states. For though it is indeed a truism that actions are explained by reasons, Dancy argues that psychological states are only rarely, if ever, reasons. He thus prefers the unadorned normative story, a story which contents itself with explaining actions by laying out the considerations in the light of which the agent acted as he did, to any form of psychologism. I will consider Dancy’s arguments for these claims in turn. (shrink)
It is sometimes suggested that expressivism in meta-ethics is to be criticized on grounds which do not themselves concern meta-ethics in particular, but which rather concern philosophy of language more generally. Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit (1998; see also Jackson and Pettit 1999, and Jackson 2001) have recently advanced a novel version of such an argument. They begin by noting that expressivism in its central form makes two claims—that ethical sentences are not truth evaluable, and that to assert an ethical (...) sentence is to express one’s desires or feelings rather than to report a fact. They then argue that, given some plausible premises in the philosophy of language emanating mainly from Locke, the two central claims of expressivism are contradictory: when combined with the plausible premises, they say, the second claim refutes the first. The purpose of this paper is to formulate Jackson and Pettit’s Lockean argument, and to suggest that it fails. (shrink)
Evaluative judgements have both belief-like and desire-like features. While cognitivists think that they can easily explain the belief-like features, and have trouble explaining the desire-like features, non-cognitivists think the reverse. I argue that the belief-like features of evaluative judgement are quite complex, and that these complexities crucially affect the way in which an agent's values explain her actions, and hence the desire-like features. While one form of cognitivism can, it turns out that non-cognitivism cannot, accommodate all of these complexities. The (...) upshot is that that form of cognitivism can explain both features of evaluative judgements, and that non-cognitivism can explain neither. (shrink)