Nomy Arpaly rejects the model of rationality used by most ethicists and action theorists. Both observation and psychology indicate that people act rationally without deliberation, and act irrationally with deliberation. By questioning the notion that our own minds are comprehensible to us--and therefore questioning much of the current work of action theorists and ethicists--Arpaly attempts to develop a more realistic conception of moral agency.
Joining the debate over the roles of reason and appetite in the moral mind, In Praise of Desire takes the side of appetite. Acting for moral reasons, acting in a praiseworthy manner, and acting out of virtue are simply acting out of intrinsic desires for the right or the good.
Perhaps everything we think, feel, and do is determined, and humans--like stones or clouds--are slaves to the laws of nature. Would that be a terrible state? Philosophers who take the incompatibilist position think so, arguing that a deterministic world would be one without moral responsibility and perhaps without true love, meaningful art, and real rationality. But compatibilists and semicompatibilists argue that determinism need not worry us. As long as our actions stem, in an appropriate way, from us, or respond in (...) some way to reasons, our actions are meaningful and can be judged on their moral merit. In this highly original work, Nomy Arpaly argues that a deterministic world does not preclude moral responsibility, rationality, and love--in short, meaningful lives--but that there would still be something lamentable about a deterministic world. A person may respond well to reasons, and her actions may faithfully reflect her true self or values, but she may still feel that she is not free. Arpaly argues that compatibilists and semicompatibilists are wrong to dismiss this feeling--for which there are no philosophical consolations--as philosophically irrelevant. On the way to this bittersweet conclusion, Arpaly sets forth surprising theories about acting for reasons, the widely accepted idea that "ought implies can," moral blame, and more. (shrink)
Theoretical and practical deliberation are voluntary activities, and like all voluntary activities, they are performed for reasons. To hold that all voluntary activities are performed for reasons in virtue of their relations to past, present, or even merely possible acts of deliberation thus leads to infinite regresses and related problems. As a consequence, there must be processes that are nondeliberative and nonvoluntary but that nonetheless allow us to think and act for reasons, and these processes must be the ones that (...) generate the voluntary activities making up ordinary deliberation. These nondeliberative, nonvoluntary processes by means of which we are able to deliberate for reasons are the fundamental processes by means of which we can think or do anything for a reason: once it has been seen that they must exist, it can be recognized that they are ubiquitous. As a result, the usefulness of deliberation to rational belief and action is intermittent, contingent, and modest. Deliberation is a tremendously valuable tool for increasing human capacities to think and act for good reasons in challenging contexts, but in the end it is merely a tool, wielded by people through the same nondeliberative, nonvoluntary capacities to think and act for reasons that they are enhancing the effectiveness of by deliberating. (shrink)
I argue that akrasia is not always significantly irrational. To be more precise, I argue that an agent is sometimes more rational for being akratic then she would have been for being enkratic or strong-willed.
I argue that a right action has moral worth if and only if it is done for the right reasons - that is, for its right-making features. The reasons the agent acts on have to be identical to the reasons for which the action is right. I argue that Kantians are wrong in thinking that a right action has moral worth iff it is done because the agent thinks it is right, giving examples of morally worthy actions that are done (...) by agents who think they are wrong (Huckleberry Finn) and right actions done "because they are right" that have no moral worth. I also discuss degrees of moral worth as well as blameworthiness. (shrink)
What is that makes an act subject to either praise or blame? The question has often been taken to depend entirely on the free will debate for an answer, since it is widely agreed that an agent’s act is subject to praise or blame only if it was freely willed, but moral theory, action theory, and moral psychology are at least equally relevant to it. In the last quarter-century, following the lead of Harry Frankfurt’s (1971) seminal article “Freedom of the (...) Will and the Concept of a Person,” the interdisciplinary nature of the question has been emphasized by various authors. Going beyond the boundaries of the traditional free will debate, they have attempted to describe the requirements for agent accountability by appeal to theories of personality, rational agency, and ethical choice. The approach has been a breath of fresh air in the often-stagnant free will debate, bringing new considerations to bear and provoking new lines of argument, and it is an approach that we will adopt in this paper. In the following pages, we hope to show that an under-noticed phenomenon of moral psychology, inverse akrasia, exemplified by Huckleberry Finn, has something to contribute to the understanding of agency and accountability. After presenting the phenomenon in section I, we will move in section II to a quick survey of a family of Frankfurt-inspired views and a critique of them based on the phenomenon in sections III and IV. A new theory will be offered in section V, and potential objections addressed in the final section of the paper. (shrink)
Epistemic partialism is the view that friends have a doxastic duty to overestimate each other. If one holds that there are no practical reasons for belief, we will argue, one has to deny the existence of any epistemic duties, and thus reject epistemic partialism. But if it is false that one has a doxastic duty to overestimate one’s friends, why does it so often seem true? We argue that there is a robust causal relationship between friendship and overestimation that can (...) be mistaken for a constitutive relationship; we also argue that one can still accept some of the normative intuitions that motivate epistemic partialism even if one rejects epistemic partialism itself. Along the way, we consider and reject a watered-down version of epistemic partialism—call it epistemic partialism-light—according to which one has a duty to take steps to create in oneself a disposition to overestimate one’s friends. (shrink)
Open-mindedness appears to be a cognitive disposition: an open-minded person is disposed to gain, lose, and revise beliefs in a particular, reasonable way. It is also a moral virtue, for we blame, for example, the man who quickly comes to think a new neighbor untrustworthy because he drives the wrong car or wears the wrong clothes—for his closed-mindedness. How open–mindedness could be a moral virtue is a puzzle, though, because exercises of moral virtues are expressions of moral concern, whereas gaining, (...) losing, and revising beliefs are not actions and so cannot be actions taken out of moral concern. Solving this puzzle is the purpose of this essay. (shrink)
Many psychiatrists tell their clients that any mental disorder is ‘‘a disease, just like diabetes’’. This slogan appears to suggest that mental states and behavior that are classified ‘‘mental disorders’’ are somehow radically different from other mental states and behaviors—both when it comes to simply understanding people and when it comes to moral assessments of mental states and of actions. After all, mental illness is just like diabetes, while other human conditions are not. That sounds like a huge difference. I (...) think this suggestion is misleading. (shrink)
This paper presents an account of the virtuous person, which I take to be the same as the good person. I argue that goodness in a person is based on her desires. Contra Aristotelians, I argue that one does not need wisdom to be good. There can be a perfectly good person with mental retardation or autism. Contra Kantians, I argue that the sense of duty - which does exist! - is compatible with a desire-based moral psychology.
Harry Frankfurt introduces the concept of externality. Externality is supposed to be a fact about the structure of an agent's will. We argue that the pre-theorethical basis of externality has a lot more to do with feelings of alienation than it does with the will. Once we realize that intuitions about externality are guided by intuitions about feelings of alienation surprising conclusions follow regarding the structure of our will.
Amanda works in a library, and a patron asks for her help in learning about duty-to- rescue laws in China. She throws herself into the task, spending hours on retrieving documents from governmental and non-governmental sources, getting electronic translations, looking for literature on Scandinavian duty-to-rescue laws that mention Chinese laws for comparison, and so on. Why? She likes to gain this sort of general knowledge of the world; perhaps the reason she works so hard is that she is learning fascinating (...) facts in doing so. She is also a proud librarian; perhaps the reason she works so hard is that a patron needs her assistance. She is a library employee; perhaps her reason for working so hard is that this sort of effort is noted by her employer and gives her career a boost, or perhaps it is just that doing this sort of work is the condition of her continued employment. Perhaps the reason is that the patron is charming. (shrink)
It is widely agreed that benevolence is not the whole of the moral life, but it is not as widely appreciated that benevolence is an irreducible part of that life. This paper argues that Kantian efforts to characterize benevolence, or something like it, in terms of reverence for rational agency fall short. Such reverence, while credibly an important part of the moral life, is no more the whole of it than benevolence.
While Neo-Aristotelians argue quite plausibly that it is hard to get to eudaemonia if one is wicked, I argue that they fail to show that the seeker of flourishing has a reason to become virtuous (as opposed to morally mediocre).
ABSTRACT I argue that Broome's view of the distinction between rationality and normativity needs more to be said for it to be preferable to more mundane views that connect reasons and rationality more intimately, and that it has curious implications about the connection between whether an agent does what she ought to do and the results of her action. I also argue that the etymology and history of words like ‘reason’ and ‘rational’ have absolutely no bearing on the issue at (...) hand. (shrink)
Sometimes when a person acts while drunk we see her actions as not reflective of her character ("oh, she was just drunk"). At other times we see her actions as reflective of her "deep self" ("in vino veritas"). What is the difference between the two types of cases? This paper sketches a possible answer.
I argue that in his response to me Robert Pippin misrepresents my view of akrasia (partially because of what looks like his strong disbelief in the existence of akrasia) as well as expresses a false view of the way a generalizing moral theory is supposed to apply to specific cases. The last issue is related to particularism, which I turn to discuss, arguing that one familiar way in which it seems attractive is a misleading one.
This chapter explores how far one can go accounting for the moral responsibility implications of several unusual mental conditions using a parsimonious quality-of-will account that relies on the way we talk about moral responsibility in more mundane situations. By contrasting situations involving epistemic irrationality versus cognitive impairment, it becomes clear that the presence of those often (but not always) excuses actions performed by unusual agents. The discussion turns to situations involving unusual motivational states, which are more problematic for quality-of-will accounts, (...) and sketches a way for quality-of-will accounts to approach them. Of some of these mental conditions, there is no particular reason to think that they excuse, once we ignore whether the condition is currently regarded as a disorder by psychiatrists. (shrink)