How Genealogies Can Affect the Space of Reasons

Synthese 197 (5):2005-2027 (2020)
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Abstract

Can genealogical explanations affect the space of reasons? Those who think so commonly face two objections. The first objection maintains that attempts to derive reasons from claims about the genesis of something commit the genetic fallacy—they conflate genesis and justification. One way for genealogies to side-step this objection is to focus on the functional origins of practices—to show that, given certain facts about us and our environment, certain conceptual practices are rational because apt responses. But this invites a second objection, which maintains that attempts to derive current from original function suffer from continuity failure—the conditions in response to which something originated no longer obtain. This paper shows how normatively ambitious genealogies can steer clear of both problems. It first maps out various ways in which genealogies can involve non-fallacious genetic arguments before arguing that some genealogies do not invite the charge of the genetic fallacy if they are interpreted as revealing the original functions of conceptual practices. However, they then incur the burden of showing that the conditions relative to which practices function continuously obtain. Taking its cue from the genealogies of E. J. Craig, Bernard Williams, and Miranda Fricker, the paper shows how model-based genealogies can avoid continuity failures by identifying bases of continuity in the demands we face.

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Matthieu Queloz
University of Bern