Review: On thinking how to live: A cognitivist view [Book Review]

Mind 115 (460):1083-1106 (2006)
Allan Gibbard’s strategy in his new book is to begin by describing a psychology of thinking and planning that certain agents might instantiate, then to argue that this psychology involves an ‘expressivism’ about thought that bears on what to do, and, finally, to try to show that ascribing that same psychology to human beings would explain the way we deploy various concepts in practical and normative deliberation. The idea is to construct an imaginary normative psychology, purportedly conforming to expressivist specifications, and then to campaign for the hypothesis that that psychology is ours and that we ourselves conform to those specifications. The upshot is an original and intriguing argument for the claim that ‘expressivism’, as Gibbard understands it, is sound. There is more in the book than that bare argument. Filling out the strategy pursued, for example, the volume contains useful discussions of a number of current debates (chs 2, 12), an enlightening argument that the strategy survives the introduction of the notion that a concept can have a character distinct from its content (ch. 6), and an extended set of reflections on how far the point of view defended leaves room for the idea of gaining normative knowledge (pt. 4). But I shall ignore those aspects of the book in this commentary; the focus is on its central argument. My approach will be to reconstuct the main stages in the Aufbau of our normative psychology that Gibbard provides, emphasizing some crucial points that are passed over rather quickly, and then to suggest on the basis of this reconstruction that the more natural lesson to derive is not an expressivist one. Although I break with Gibbard in that way, however, I have great admiration for the book. Thinking How to Live is a sharp, fresh and invigorating treatment of the main issues of metaethics
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DOI 10.1093/mind/fzl1083
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