Objective reasons are given by the facts. Subjective reasons are given by one’s perspective on the facts. Subjective reasons, not objective reasons, determine what it is rational to do. In this paper, I argue against a prominent account of subjective reasons. The problem with that account, I suggest, is that it makes what one has subjective reason to do, and hence what it is rational to do, turn on matters outside or independent of one’s perspective. After explaining and establishing this (...) point, I offer a novel account of subjective reasons which avoids the problem. (shrink)
That truth provides the standard for believing appears to be a platitude, one which dovetails with the idea that in some sense belief aims only at the truth. In recent years, however, an increasing number of prominent philosophers have suggested that knowledge provides the standard for believing, and so that belief aims only at knowledge. In this paper, I examine the considerations which have been put forward in support of this suggestion, considerations relating to lottery beliefs, Moorean beliefs, the criticism (...) and defence of belief, and the value of knowledge. I argue that those considerations do not give us reason to give up the truth view in favour of the knowledge view and, moreover, that reflection on those considerations gives us some reason to reject the knowledge view. Thus, I conclude, we can continue to the take the apparent platitude at face value. (shrink)
In this paper, we claim that, if you justifiably believe that you ought to perform some act, it follows that you ought to perform that act. In the first half, we argue for this claim by reflection on what makes for correct reasoning from beliefs about what you ought to do. In the second half, we consider a number of objections to this argument and its conclusion. In doing so, we arrive at another argument for the view that justified beliefs (...) about what you ought to do must be true, based in part on the idea that the epistemic and practical domains are uniform, in a sense we spell out. We conclude by sketching possible implications of our discussion for the debates over what is wrong with akrasia and pragmatic encroachment on justified belief and knowledge. (shrink)
Many philosophers hold that a general norm of truth governs the attitude of believing. In a recent and influential discussion, Krister Bykvist and Anandi Hattiangadi raise a number of serious objections to this view. In this paper, I concede that Bykvist and Hattiangadi's criticisms might be effective against the formulation of the norm of truth that they consider, but suggest that an alternative is available. After outlining that alternative, I argue that it is not vulnerable to objections parallel to those (...) Bykvist and Hattiangadi advance, although it might initially appear to be. In closing, I consider what bearing the preceding discussion has on important questions concerning the natures of believing and of truth. (shrink)
According to Normativism, what an expression means has immediate implications for how a subject should or may employ that expression. Many view this thesis as imposing substantive constraints upon theories of linguistic meaning. In this paper, I shall not consider that view; instead, I shall address the prior issue of whether or not one should accept Normativism. Against certain recent prominent lines of attack common to a number of different anti‐Normativist discussions, I shall defend both the Normativist thesis and an (...) attempt to appeal to a certain platitude in its support. (shrink)
First-order evidence is evidence which bears on whether a proposition is true. Higher-order evidence is evidence which bears on whether a person is able to assess her evidence for or against a proposition. A widespread view is that higher-order evidence makes a difference to whether it is rational for a person to believe a proposition. In this paper, I consider in what way higher-order evidence might do this. More specifically, I consider whether and how higher-order evidence plays a role in (...) determining what it is rational to believe distinct from that which first-order evidence plays. To do this, I turn to the theory of reasons, and try to situate higher-order evidence within it. The only place I find for it there, distinct from that which first-order evidence already occupies, is as a practical reason, that is, as a reason for desire or action. One might take this to show either that the theory of reasons is inadequate as it stands or that higher-order evidence makes no distinctive difference to what it is rational to believe. I tentatively endorse the second option. (shrink)
This is a survey of recent debates concerning the normativity of belief. We explain what the thesis that belief is normative involves, consider arguments for and against that thesis, and explore its bearing on debates in metaethics.
In his latest book, Between Saying and Doing, Robert Brandom aims to lay the foundations for a new approach to philosophy, 'analytic pragmatism', which as the name suggests aims to reconcile the insights of the pragmatists with the ambitions of the analytic tradition. To do so, Brandom offers what he describes as a ‘new metatheoretic conceptual apparatus’. In this paper, I raises questions concerning whether the method underlying that apparatus is really so new, and challenge the suggestion that the results (...) of employing it are not results that could be otherwise achieved or expressed. (shrink)
Subjects appear to take only evidential considerations to provide reason or justification for believing. That is to say that subjects do not take practical considerations—the kind of considerations which might speak in favour of or justify an action or decision—to speak in favour of or justify believing. This is puzzling; after all, practical considerations often seem far more important than matters of truth and falsity. In this paper, I suggest that one cannot explain this, as many have tried, merely by (...) appeal to the idea that belief aims only at the truth. I appeal instead to the idea that the aim of belief is to provide only practical reasons which might form the basis on which to act and to make decisions, an aim which is in turn dictated by the aim of action. This, I argue, explains why subjects take only evidential considerations to favour of or justify believing. Surprisingly, then, it turns out that it is practical reason itself which demands that there be no practical reasons for belief. (shrink)
Meaning, according to a significant number of philosophers, is an intrinsically normative notion.1 For this reason, it is suggested, meaning is not conducive to a naturalistic explanation. In this paper, I shall not address whether this is indeed so. Nor shall I present arguments in support of the normativity thesis (see Glock 2005; Kripke 1982). Instead, I shall examine and respond to two forceful objections recently (and independently) raised against it by Boghossian (2005), Hattiangadi (2006) and Miller (2006). Although I (...) shall argue that the objections are unsuccessful, they are worth attending to, not only because the normativity thesis is so widely accepted and is thought to have such ramifications but, most importantly, because doing so offers the opportunity to help clarify how it is to be understood. (shrink)
An influential proposal is that knowledge involves safe belief. A belief is safe, in the relevant sense, just in case it is true in nearby metaphysically possible worlds. In this paper, I introduce a distinct but complementary notion of safety, understood in terms of epistemically possible worlds. The main aim, in doing so, is to add to the epistemologist’s tool-kit. To demonstrate the usefulness of the tool, I use it to advance and assess substantive proposals concerning knowledge and justification.
It is commonplace to claim that it is good to believe the truth. In this paper, I reject that claim and argue that the considerations which might seem to support it in fact support a quite distinct though superficially similar claim, namely, that it is bad to believe the false. This claim is typically either ignored completely or lumped together with the previous claim, perhaps on the assumption that the two are equivalent, or at least that they stand or fall (...) together. Such assumptions, I argue, are mistaken. While it is not always good to be right, it is always bad to be wrong. This is an interesting and overlooked asymmetry, which calls for further investigation. (shrink)
In this paper, I defend against a number of criticisms an account of slurs, according to which the same semantic content is expressed in the use of a slur as is expressed in the use of its neutral counterpart, while in addition the use of a slur conventionally implicates a negative, derogatory attitude. Along the way, I criticise competing accounts of the semantics and pragmatics of slurs, namely, Hom's 'combinatorial externalism' and Anderson and Lepore's 'prohibitionism'.
The view that truth is the norm of assertion has fallen out of fashion. The recent trend has been to think that knowledge is the norm of assertion. Objections to the knowledge view proceed almost exclusively by appeal to alleged counterexamples. While it no doubt has a role to play, such a strategy relies on intuitions concerning hypothetical cases, intuitions which might not be shared and which might shift depending on how the relevant cases are fleshed out. In this paper, (...) I reject the knowledge view on principled grounds. More specifically, by appeal to a principle which is motivated independently of the debate over the norms of assertion and which is already accepted by many proponents of the knowledge view, I show the knowledge view to be false while simultaneously accounting for why it might seem to be true. In doing so, I provide a novel defence of the unfashionable truth view. (shrink)
Many philosophers accept a response constraint on normative reasons: that p is a reason for you to φ only if you are able to φ for the reason that p. This constraint offers a natural way to cash out the familiar and intuitive thought that reasons must be able to guide us, and has been put to work as a premise in a range of influential arguments in ethics and epistemology. However, the constraint requires interpretation and faces putative counter-examples due (...) to Julia Markovits, Mark Schroeder, and others. This paper develops and motivates an interpretation of the response constraint that avoids the putative counter-examples. (shrink)
There has been much debate over whether to accept the claim that meaning is normative. One obstacle to making progress in that debate is that it is not always clear what the claim amounts to. In this paper, I try to resolve a dispute between those who advance the claim concerning how it should be understood. More specifically, I critically examine two competing conceptions of the normativity of meaning, rejecting one and defending the other. Though the paper aims to settle (...) a dispute among proponents of the claim that meaning is normative, it should be of interest to those who challenge it. After all, before one takes aim, one’s target needs to be in clear view. (shrink)
A normative reason for a person to? is a consideration which favours?ing. A motivating reason is a reason for which or on the basis of which a person?s. This paper explores a connection between normative and motivating reasons. More specifically, it explores the idea that there are second-order normative reasons to? for or on the basis of certain first-order normative reasons. In this paper, I challenge the view that there are second-order reasons so understood. I then show that prominent views (...) in contemporary epistemology are committed to the existence of second-order reasons, specifically, views about the epistemic norms governing practical reasoning and about the role of higher-order evidence. If there are no second-order reasons, those views are mistaken. (shrink)
It is common to hear talk of the aim of belief and to find philosophers appealing to that aim for numerous explanatory purposes. What belief 's aim explains depends, of course, on what that aim is. Many hold that it is somehow related to truth, but there are various ways in which one might specify belief 's aim using the notion of truth. In this article, by considering whether they can account for belief 's standard of correctness and the epistemic (...) norms governing belief, I argue against certain prominent specifications of belief 's aim given in terms of truth, and advance a neglected alternative. (shrink)
Wittgenstein famously remarks that ‘the meaning of a word is its use’ (PI §43). Whether or not one views this as gesturing at a ‘theory’ of meaning, or instead as aiming primarily at dissuading us from certain misconceptions of language that are a source of puzzlement, it is clear that Wittgenstein held that for certain purposes the meaning of an expression could profitably be characterised as its use. Throughout his later writings, however, Wittgenstein’s appeal to the notion of use pulls (...) in two directions. In several places, Wittgenstein seems to connect the notion of an expression’s meaning with that of use in the sense of usage or practice. More specifically, he suggests that for an expression to possess meaning is for there to be a practice of employing it according to certain rules. ‘That’, he tells us, ‘is why there exists a correspondence between the concepts “rule” and “meaning”’ (OC §62; cf. PG 68; PO 51; RFM VI §28; VW 103). Indeed, Wittgenstein goes so far as to say, ‘The rule-governed nature of our languages permeates our life’ (RC §303). Call the view that the meaning of an expression is determined by a general principle governing its use, rulism. (shrink)
Call the view that it is possible to acquire aesthetic knowledge via testimony, optimism, and its denial, pessimism. In this paper, I offer a novel argument for pessimism. It works by turning attention away from the basis of the relevant belief, namely, testimony, and toward what that belief in turn provides a basis for, namely, other attitudes. In short, I argue that an aesthetic belief acquired via testimony cannot provide a rational basis for further attitudes, such as admiration, and that (...) the best explanation for this is that the relevant belief is not itself rational. If a belief is not rational, it is not knowledge. So, optimism is false. After addressing a number of objections to the argument, I consider briefly its bearing on the debate concerning thick evaluative concepts. While the aim is to argue that pessimism holds, not to explain why it holds, I provide an indication in closing of what that explanation might be. (shrink)
It is right for a person to believe a proposition if and only if that proposition is true. On this view, truth is a norm for belief. Some, myself included, go further and suggest that truth is the fundamental norm for belief, relative to which other norms governing belief are derivative. Call this the truth view. In a recent paper, Clayton Littlejohn objects to the truth view on the grounds that it cannot explain why epistemic evaluation has an ‘inward-looking focus’, (...) that is, why it concerns a person’s reasons for believing. He takes this not only to undermine the truth view but also to motivate the knowledge view, associated with Timothy Williamson, according to which knowledge is the fundamental norm for belief. In this paper, I show that the truth view can account for the 'inward-looking focus' of epistemic evaluation. In doing so, I draw on some ideas from ethics, specifically, ideas about moral worth. This provides a defence of the truth view and blocks a route to the knowledge view. In addition, it also delivers an account of epistemic evaluation which reveals it to mirror - in structure, not substance - moral evaluation. (shrink)
What is a normative reason for acting? In this paper, I introduce and defend a novel answer to this question. The starting-point is the view that reasons are right-makers. By exploring difficulties facing it, I arrive at an alternative, according to which reasons are evidence of respects in which it is right to perform an act, for example, that it keeps a promise. This is similar to the proposal that reasons for a person to act are evidence that she ought (...) to do so; however, as I explain, it differs from that proposal in two significant ways. As a result, I argue, the evidence-based account of reasons I advance shares the advantages of its predecessor while avoiding many of the difficulties facing it. (shrink)
Knowledge seems to be a good thing, or at least better than epistemic states that fall short of it, such as true belief. Understanding too seems to be a good thing, perhaps better even than knowledge. In a number of recent publications, Duncan Pritchard tries to account for the value of understanding by claiming that understanding is a cognitive achievement and that achievements in general are valuable. In this paper, I argue that coming to understand something need not be an (...) achievement, and so Pritchard's explanation of understanding's value fails. Next, I point out that Pritchard's is just one of many attempts to account for the value of an epistemic state – whether it be understanding, knowledge, or whatever – by appeal to the notion of achievement or, more generally, the notion of success because of ability. Tentatively, I offer reasons to be sceptical about the prospects of any such account. (shrink)
A number of prominent philosophers advance the following ideas: (1) Meaning is use. (2) Meaning is an intrinsically normative notion. Call (1) the use thesis, hereafter UT, and (2) the normativity thesis, hereafter NT. They come together in the view that for a linguistic expression to have meaning is for there to be certain proprieties governing its employment.1 These ideas are often associated with a third.
In a paper in this journal, I defend the view that truth is the fundamental norm for assertion and, in doing so, reject the view that knowledge is the fundamental norm for assertion. In a recent response, Littlejohn raises a number of objections against my arguments. In this reply, I argue that Littlejohn’s objections are unsuccessful.
Perspectivists hold that what you ought to do is determined by your perspective, that is, your epistemic position. Objectivists hold that what you ought to do is determined by the facts irrespective of your perspective. This paper explores an influential argument for perspectivism which appeals to the thought that the normative is action guiding. The crucial premise of the argument is that you ought to φ only if you are able to φ for the reasons which determine that you ought (...) to φ. We show that this premise can be understood in different ways. On one reading, it provides no support for perspectivism. On another reading, the premise lacks support. So, the argument fails. An important upshot of the paper is that the objectivist can embrace the thought about guidance. (shrink)
Mark Schroeder has recently proposed a new analysis of knowledge. I examine that analysis and show that it fails. More specifically, I show that it faces a problem all too familiar from the post-Gettier literature, namely, that it is delivers the wrong verdict in fake barn cases.
In this paper, after outlining the methodological role Wittgenstein's appeal to language-games is supposed to play, I examine the picture of language which his discussion of such games and their relations to what Wittgenstein calls forms of life suggests. It is a picture according to which language and its employment are inextricably connected to wider contexts—they are embedded in specific natural and social environments, they are tied to purposive activities serving provincial needs, and caught up in distinctive ways of life (...) which creatures of a certain sort enjoy. In the remainder of the paper, I consider whether Wittgenstein's emphasis on the link between language and the circumstances surrounding its use points in the direction of an influential view widespread in contemporary philosophy of language, namely, semantic contextualism. I examine carefully a number of passages which scholars have appealed to in support of the claim that Wittgenstein advances contextualism and argue that they in fact provide no such support. The connection which Wittgenstein sees between what is expressed in the use of words and the circumstances in which they are used is not the connection the contextualist insists on. (shrink)
In the philosophy of language, conceptual role semantics (hereafter CRS) is a theory of what constitutes the meanings possessed by expressions of natural languages, or the propositions expressed by their utterance. In the philosophy of mind, it is a theory of what constitutes the contents of psychological attitudes, such as beliefs or desires. CRS comes in a variety of forms, not always clearly distinguished by commentators. Such versions are known variously as functional/causal/computational role semantics, and more broadly as use-theories of (...) meaning. Nevertheless, all are united in seeking the meaning or content of an item, not in what it is made of, nor in what accompanies or is associated with it, but in what is done with it, the use it is put to. Roughly, according to CRS, the meaning or propositional content of an expression or attitude is determined by the role it plays in a person’s language or in her cognition. Currently, many view CRS as the main rival to theories that take notions such as truth or reference as central (for example, Davidson 2001), although the relationship between the two is not straightforward. The following outlines the main varieties of CRS, provides a cursory survey of its history, introduces the central arguments offered in its favor, and provisionally assesses how the variants fair against a number of prominent criticisms. (shrink)
Many philosophers accept that a naturalistic reduction of meaning is in principle impossible, since behavioural regularities or dispositions are consistent with any number of semantic descriptions. One response is to view meaning as primitive. In this paper, I explore Brandom’s alternative, which is to specify behaviour in non-semantic but normative terms. Against Brandom, I argue that a norm specified in non-semantic terms might correspond to any number of semantic norms. Thus, his theory of meaning suffers from the very same kind (...) of problem as its naturalistic competitors. It is not sufficient, I contend, merely that some norms be introduced into one’s account but that they be specified using intensional, semantic notions on a par with that of meaning. In closing, I counter Brandom’s reasons for resisting such a position, the most significant of which is that it leaves philosophers with nothing constructive to say about meaning. (shrink)
According to inferential role semantics, for any given expression to possess a particular meaning one must be disposed to make or, alternatively, acknowledge as correct certain inferential transitions involving it. As Williamson points out, pejoratives such as ‘Boche’ seem to provide a counter-example to IRS. Many speakers are neither disposed to use such expressions nor consider it proper to do so. But it does not follow, as IRS appears to entail, that such speakers do not understand pejoratives or that they (...) lack meaning. In this paper, I examine recent responses to this problem by Boghossian and Brandom and argue that their proposed construal of the kind of inferential rules governing a pejorative such as ‘Boche’ is to be ruled out on the grounds that it is non-conservative. I defend the appeal to conservatism in this instance against criticism and, in doing so, propose an alternative approach to pejoratives on behalf of IRS that resolves the problem Williamson poses. (shrink)
In a recent paper, after outlining various distinguishing features of derogatory words, Jennifer Hornsby suggests that the phenomenon raises serious difficulties for inferentialism. Against Hornsby, I claim that derogatory words do not pose any insuperable problems for inferentialism, so long as it is supplemented with apparatus borrowed from Grice and Hare. Moreover, I argue, derogatory expressions pose difficulties for Hornsby's favoured alternative theory of meaning, representationalism, unless it too is conjoined with a similar Grice/Hare mechanism. So, the upshot of the (...) discussion is that, contra Hornsby, focus on derogatory expressions alone does not provide grounds for deciding between competing theories of meaning, but nevertheless serves to highlight important features that any such theory must acknowledge and incorporate. (shrink)
According to inferential role semantics (IRS), for an expression to have a particular meaning or express a certain concept is for subjects to be disposed to make, or to treat as proper, certain inferential transitions involving that expression.1 Such a theory of meaning is holistic, since according to it the meaning or concept any given expression possesses or expresses depends on the inferential relations it stands in to other expressions.
Abstract: According to deflationism, grasp of the concept of truth consists in nothing more than a disposition to accept a priori (non-paradoxical) instances of the schema:(DS) It is true that p if and only if p.According to contextualism, the same expression with the same meaning might, on different occasions of use, express different propositions bearing different truth-conditions (where this does not result from indexicality and the like). On this view, what is expressed in an utterance depends in a non-negligible way (...) on the circumstances. Charles Travis claims that contextualism shows that ‘deflationism is a mistake’, that truth is a more substantive notion than deflationism allows. In this paper, I examine Travis's arguments in support of this ‘inflationary’ claim and argue that they are unsuccessful. (shrink)
In this paper, I briefly outline the notion of a truth-conditional meaning-theory and introduce two prominent problems it faces. The“extensionality problem” arises because not all correct specifications of truth-conditions are meaning-giving. The “explanatory problem”concerns the extent to which truth-conditional meaning-theories can contribute to the task of clarifying the nature of linguistic meaning.The “principle of humanity” is supposed to resolve both issues simultaneously. I argue that it fails to do so.
Many equate the meaning of a linguistic expression with its use. This paper investigates prominent objections to the equivalence claim and argues that they are unsuccessful. Once one suitably distinguishes the kind of use to be identified with meaning, the two do not diverge. Doing so, however, requires employing terms that are cognates of ‘meaning’ (if not ‘meaning’ itself). Nonetheless, I stress, this does not count against the equivalence claim. Moreover, one should not assume that the circularity on this occasion (...) is vicious. (shrink)
Semantic generalists and semantic particularists disagree over the role of rules or principles in linguistic competence and in the determination of linguistic meaning, and hence over the importance of the notions of a rule or of a principle in philosophical accounts of language. In this paper, I have argued that the particularist’s case against generalism is far from decisive and that by moderating the claims she makes on behalf of her thesis the generalist can accommodate many of the considerations that (...) the particularist cites in support of her position. (shrink)
‘Particularism’ is a meta-ethical theory resulting from a holistic doctrine in the theory of reasons. According to Jonathan Dancy, the foremost contemporary proponent of particularism, ‘a feature that is a reason in favour of an action in one case may be no reason at all in another, or even a reason against’ (2004: 190). From this, Dancy claims, it follows that the ‘possibility of moral thought and judgement does not depend on the provision of a suitable supply of moral principles’ (...) (2004: 7). This doctrine is of significant interest and import in its own right, and accordingly is the subject of considerable critical attention. The concern of this paper, however, is not meta-ethics but semantics. (shrink)