We ordinarily suppose that there is a difference between having and failing to exercise a rational capacity on the one hand, and lacking a rational capacity altogether on the other. This is crucial for our allocations of responsibility. Someone who has but fails to exercise a capacity is responsible for their failure to exercise their capacity, whereas someone who lacks a capacity altogether is not. However, as Gary Watson pointed out in his seminal essay ’Skepticism about Weakness of Will’, the (...) idea of an unexercised capacity is much more difficult to make sense of than it initially appears. The aim of ’Rational Capacities’ is to provide the needed explication of this idea. (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)
The idea that there is such an analytic connection will hardly come as news. It amounts to no more and no less than an endorsement of the claim that all reasons are 'internal', as opposed to 'external', to use Bernard Williams's terms (Williams 1980). Or, to put things in the way Christine Korsgaard favours, it amounts to an endorsement of the 'internalism requirement' on reasons (Korsgaard 1986). But how exactly is the internalism requirement to be understood? What does it tell (...) us about the nature of reasons? And where-in lies its appeal? My aim in this paper is to answer these ques- tions. (shrink)
Constitutivism is the view that we can derive a substantive account of normative reasons for action—perhaps a Kantian account, perhaps a hedonistic account, perhaps a desire-fulfillment account, this is up for grabs—from abstract premises about the nature of action and agency. Constitutivists are thus bound together by their conviction that such a derivation is possible, not by their agreement about which substantive reasons can be derived, and not by agreement about the features of action and agency that permit the derivation. (...) In the final section of the penultimate chapter of Reasons, a chapter devoted to discussing the merits of constitutivism, Eric Wiland has this to say: Constitutivism is ambitious. It attempts to extract an account of reasons for action from reflection on the bare ideas of action and agency. So we shouldn’t be surprised if doubts remain. Those who claim to extract reasons out of agency might remind us of those who claim to pull rabbits out of hats. you suspect that there must be a trick. (shrink)
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)
Granted that desire is always present in the genesis of human action, is it something on the presence of which the agent always reflects? I may act on a belief without coming to recognize that I have the belief. Can I act on a desire without recognizing that I have the desire? In particular, can the desire have a motivational presence in my decision making, figuring in the background, as it were, without appearing in the content of my deliberation, in (...) the foreground? We argue, perhaps unsurprisingly, that yes, desire can figure in the background without figuring in the foreground: we call this the strict background view of desire. But we then show, and this is where the surprise comes, that the strict background view of desire has significant implications for contemporary moral philosophy. (shrink)
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.
People ordinarily suppose that there are certain things they ought to believe and certain things they ought not to believe. In supposing this to be so, they make corresponding assumptions about their belief-forming capacities. They assume that they are generally responsive to what they think they ought to believe in the things they actually come to believe. In much the same sense, people ordinarily suppose that there are certain things they ought to desire and do and they make corresponding assumptions (...) about their capacities to form desires and act on them. We chart these assumptions and argue that they entail that people are responsible and free on two fronts: they are free and responsible believers and free and responsible desirers. (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)
Reason and Value collects fifteen brand-new papers by leading contemporary philosophers on themes from the moral philosophy of Joseph Raz. The subtlety and power of Raz's reflections on ethical topics - including especially his explorations of the connections between practical reason and the theory of value - make his writings a fertile source for anyone working in this area. The volume honours Raz's accomplishments in the area of ethical theorizing, and will contribute to an enhanced appreciation of the significance of (...) his work for the subject. (shrink)
Oxford Handbooks offer authoritative and up-to-date surveys of original research in a particular subject area. Specially commissioned essays from leading figures in the discipline give critical examinations of the progress and direction of debates. Oxford Handbooks provide scholars and graduate students with compelling new perspectives upon a wide range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences. 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)
This article was conceived as a sequel to “The Humean Theory of Motivation.” The paper addresses various challenges to the standard account of the explanation of intentional action in terms of desire and means-end belief, challenges that didn’t occur to me when I wrote “The Humean Theory of Motivation.” I begin by suggesting that the attraction of the standard account lies in the way in which it allows us to unify a vast array of otherwise diverse types of action explanation. (...) I go on to consider a range of other challenges to the standard account of the explanation of action: Rosalind Hursthouse’s challenge based on the possibility of what she calls “arational” actions (Hursthouse 1991); Michael Stocker’s challenge based on the idea that some explanations of action are nonteleological (Stocker 1981); Mark Platts’s challenge based on the idea that our evaluative beliefs can sometimes explain our actions all by themselves (Platts 1981); a voluntarist challenge based on the possibility of explaining actions by the exercise of self-control; and a challenge from Jonathan Dancy based on the idea that reasons can themselves sometimes explain actions all by themselves (Dancy 1994). (shrink)
According to the standard story of action, a story that can be traced back at least to David Hume , actions are those bodily movements that are caused and rationalized by a pair of mental states: a desire for some end, where ends can be thought of as ways the world could be, and a belief that something the agent can just do, namely, move her body in the way to be explained, has some suitable chance of making the world (...) the relevant way. Bodily movements that occur otherwise aren't actions, they are mere happenings. (shrink)
Alexander Miller objects to the argument for moral judgement internalism that I provide in _The Moral Problem. Miller's objection suggests a misunderstanding of the argument. In this reply I take the opportunity to restate the argument in slightly different terms, and to explain why Miller's objection betrays a misunderstanding.
It seems to be a truism that whenever we do something - and so, given the omnipresence of trying (Hornsby 1980), whenever we try to do something - we want to do that thing more than we want to do anything else we can do (Davidson 1970). However, according to Frog, when we have will power we are able to try not to do something that we ‘really want to do’. In context the idea is clearly meant to be that (...) what we really want to do and what we most want to do are one and the same. But how is this meant to be so much as possible? It seems to require that our desire not to do what we most want to do is both our strongest desire and not our strongest desire. And that is a blatant contradiction. This is the so-called ‘paradox of self-control’ (Mele 1987). The aim of our paper is to explain how to make sense of the story of Frog and Toad. (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)
Some contemporary theories treat phenomena like weakness of will, compulsion and wantonness as practical failures but not as failures of rationality: say, as failures of autonomy or whatever. Other current theories-the majority see the phenomena as failures of rationality but not as distinctively practical failures. They depict them as always involving a theoretical deficiency: a sort of ignorance, error, inattention or illogic. They represent them as failures which are on a par with breakdowns of theoretical reason; the failures may not (...) have exact theoretical analogues, exact analogues in the breakdown of belief, but they are of essentially the same, cognitive kind. Our approach gives us quite a different view of things. The pathologies which we identify in our taxonomy are distinctively rational failures and distinctively practical failures; they are failures of pure practical reason. (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)
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)
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)
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.
This essay analyzes the arguments justifying or opposing the notion of humanitarian intervention from realist and liberal perspectives and considers the difficulties of undertaking such interventions effectively and consistently.