This is a book about normativity -- where the central normative terms are words like 'ought' and 'should' and their equivalents in other languages. It has three parts: The first part is about the semantics of normative discourse: what it means to talk about what ought to be the case. The second part is about the metaphysics of normative properties and relations: what is the nature of those properties and relations whose pattern of instantiation makes propositions about what ought to (...) be the case true. The third part is about the epistemology of normative beliefs: how we could ever know, or even have rational or justified belief in, propositions about what ought to be the case. (shrink)
An account of Plato’s theory of knowledge is offered. Plato is in a sense a contextualist: at least, he recognizes that his own use of the word for “knowledge” varies – in some contexts, it stands for the fullest possible level of understanding of a truth, while in other contexts, it is broader and includes less complete levels of understanding as well. But for Plato, all knowledge, properly speaking, is a priori knowledge of necessary truths – based on recollection of (...) aspects of the Forms – and so in contemporary terms, it meets the conditions of “safety” and “adherence” (or “indefeasibility”) to the highest degree. This account is defended on the basis of the text of Meno, Phaedo, and the Republic, against some objections – especially objections that are due to Gail Fine. (shrink)
It is often said, metaphorically, that belief "aims" at the truth. This paper proposes a normative interpretation of this metaphor. First, the notion of "epistemic norms" is clarified, and reasons are given for the view that epistemic norms articulate essential features of the beliefs that are subject to them. Then it is argued that all epistemic norms--including those that specify when beliefs count as rational, and when they count as knowledge--are explained by a fundamental norm of correct belief, which requires (...) that, if one considers a proposition at all, one should believe it if and only if it is true. (shrink)
What is the connection between justification and the kind of consequence relations that are studied by logic? In this essay, I shall try to provide an answer, by proposing a general conception of the kind of inference that counts as justified or rational.
According to epistemological internalism, the rationality of a belief supervenes purely on "internal facts" about the thinker's mind. But what are "internal facts"? Why does the rationality of a belief supervene on them? The standard answers are unacceptable. This paper proposes new answers. "Internal facts" are facts about the thinker's nonfactive mental states. The rationality of a belief supervenes on such internal facts because we need rules of belief revision that we can follow directly, not by means of following any (...) other rules, and the proximate explanation of any belief revision always consists of such internal facts. (shrink)
Sometimes, we think of belief as a phenomenon that comes in degrees – that is, in the many different levels of confidence that a thinker might have in various different propositions. Sometimes, we think of belief as a simple two-place relation that holds between a thinker and a proposition – that is, as what I shall here call "outright belief".
Moral disagreement has long been thought to create serious problems for certain views in metaethics. More specifically, moral disagreement has been thought to pose problems for any metaethical view that rejects relativism—that is, for any view that implies that whenever two thinkers disagree about a moral question, at least one of those thinkers’ beliefs about the question is not correct. In this essay, I shall outline a solution to one of these problems. As I shall argue, it turns out in (...) the end that this problem is not really a special problem about moral disagreement at all: it is a general problem about disagreement as such. For this reason, in the later sections of this essay, I shall turn to some general questions in epistemology, about the epistemic significance of disagreement. (shrink)
This essay defends a version of the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) – the doctrine that there is normally a stronger reason against an act that has a bad state of affairs as one of its intended effects than against an otherwise similar act that has that bad state of affairs as an unintended effect. First, a precise account of this version of the DDE is given. Secondly, some suggestions are made about why we should believe the DDE, and about (...) why it is true. Finally, a solution is developed to the so-called ‘closeness problem’ that any version of the DDE must face. (shrink)
What exactly is reasoning? Like many other philosophers, I shall endorse a broadly causal conception of reasoning. Reasoning is a causal process, in which one mental event (say, one’s accepting the conclusion of a certain argument) is caused by an antecedent mental event (say, one’s considering the premises of the argument). Just like causal accounts of action and causal accounts of perception, causal accounts of reasoning have to confront a version of what has come to be known as the problem (...) of deviant causal chains. In this paper, I shall propose an account of the nature of reasoning, incorporating a solution to the specific version of the deviant causal chains problem that arises for accounts of reasoning. One striking feature of my solution is that it requires that certain normative facts are causally efficacious. It might be thought that this feature will make my account incompatible with any plausibly naturalistic approach to understanding the mind. I shall argue that this is not so: my account of the nature of reasoning is quite compatible with plausible versions of naturalism. (shrink)
In this paper, I apply the "conceptual role semantics" approach that I have proposed elsewhere (according to which the meaning of normative terms is given by their role in practical reasoning or deliberation) to the meaning of the term 'ought'. I argue that this approach can do three things: It can give an adequate explanation of the special connection that normative judgments have to practical reasoning and motivation for action. It can give an adequate account of why the central principles (...) of deontic logic are correct. It can give an explanation of the precise ways in which the term 'ought' is systematically context-sensitive, so that the term expresses different (but systematically related) concepts in different contexts. (shrink)
This paper outlines a new approach to the task of giving an account of the meaning of moral statements: a sort of "conceptual role semantics", according to which the meaning of moral terms is given by their role in practical reasoning. This role is sufficient both to distinguish the meaning of any moral term from that of other terms, and to determine the property or relation (if any) that the term stands for. The paper ends by suggesting reasons for regarding (...) this "conceptual role semantics" approach as preferable to noncognitivism, the causal theory of reference, and noncircular conceptual analysis. (shrink)
Many philosophers working on the branches of philosophy that deal with the normative questions have adopted a " Reasons First" program. This paper criticizes the foundational assumptions of this program. In fact, there are many different concepts that can be expressed by the term 'reason' in English, none of which are any more fundamental than any others. Indeed, most of these concepts are not particularly fundamental in any interesting sense.
This article proposes a new theory of rational decision, distinct from both causal decision theory (CDT) and evidential decision theory (EDT). First, some intuitive counterexamples to CDT and EDT are presented. Then the motivation for the new theory is given: the correct theory of rational decision will resemble CDT in that it will not be sensitive to any comparisons of absolute levels of value across different states of nature, but only to comparisons of the differences in value between the available (...) options within states of nature; however, the correct theory will also resemble EDT in that it will rely on conditional probabilities (not unconditional probabilities). The new theory gives a prominent role to the notion of a “benchmark” for each state of nature, by comparison with which the value of the available options in that state of nature are measured, and so it has been called the Benchmark Theory (BT). It is argued that BT gives the right verdict on the cases that seem to be counterexamples to CDT and EDT. Finally, some objections to BT are considered and answered. (shrink)
If beliefs are subject to a basic norm of correctness—roughly, to the principle that a belief is correct only if the proposition believed is true—how can this norm guide believers in forming their beliefs? Answer: this norm guides believers indirectly: believers are directly guided by requirements of rationality—which are themselves explained by this norm of correctness. The fundamental connection between rationality and correctness is probabilistic. Incorrectness comes in degrees; for beliefs, these degrees of incorrectness are measured by quadratic scoring rules, (...) such as the so-called Brier score. This account is defended against objections; and its implications for suspension of judgement are explored. (shrink)
Many philosophers have claimed that “belief aims at the truth”. But is there any interpretation of this claim on which it counts as true? According to some philosophers, the best interpretation of the claim takes it as the normative thesis that belief is subject to a truth-norm. The goal of this essay is to clarify this normative interpretation of the claim. First, the claim can be developed so that it applies to partial beliefs as well as to flat-out full beliefs. (...) Secondly, an answer is given to the objection that has been raised against the claim that belief is subject to a truth-norm of this sort by Krister Bykvist and Anandi Hattiangadi; responding to this objection will involve careful reflection on the structure of normative concepts, and of how these normative concepts apply to belief. (shrink)
The aim of this chapter is to defend the claim that “the intentional is normative” against a number of objections, including those that Georges Rey has presented in his contribution to this volume. First, I give a quick sketch of the principal argument that I have used to support this claim, and briefly comment on Rey’s criticisms of this argument. Next, I try to answer the main objections that have been raised against this claim. First, it may seem that the (...) claim that “the intentional is normative” is just hopelessly Panglossian: doesn’t this claim just wilfully ignore all the mountains of evidence that we have for the sheer ubiquity and pervasiveness of human irrationality? Secondly, the claim that intentional mental states are essentially normative seems to be intended as a purely philosophical, non-empirical account of the nature of these mental states: but why should we think that purely philosophical reflection can tell us anything interesting about the nature of the mind -- shouldn’t we look to empirical psychology to enlighten us about such matters? I argue that neither of these objections succeeds in undermining my version of the claim that "the intentional is normative". (shrink)
Let us take an example that Bernard Williams (1981: 102) made famous. Suppose that you want a gin and tonic, and you believe that the stuff in front of you is gin. In fact, however, the stuff is not gin but petrol. So if you drink the stuff (even mixed with tonic), it will be decidedly unpleasant, to say the least. Should you choose to drink the stuff or not?
This paper explores the problems that are raised by a certain traditional sceptical paradox. The conclusion will be that the most challenging problem raised by this paradox does not primarily concern the justification of beliefs; it concerns the justification of belief-forming practices. This conclusion is supported by showing that if we can solve the sceptical problem for belief-forming practices, then it will be a relatively straightforward matter to solve the problem that concerns the justification of beliefs.
According to John Broome, akrasia consists in a failure to intend to do something that one believes one ought to do, and such akrasia is necessarily irrational. In fact, however, failing to intend something that one believes one ought to do is only guaranteed to be irrational if one is certain of a maximally detailed proposition about what one ought to do; if one is uncertain about any part of the full story about what one ought to do, it could (...) be perfectly rational not to intend to do something that one believes one ought to do. This paper seeks to remedy this problem, by proposing an anti-akrasia principle that covers cases of uncertainty (as well as cases of such complete certainty). It is argued that this principle is in effect the fundamental principle of practical rationality. (shrink)
What reasons for action do we have? What explains why we have these reasons? This paper articulates some of the basic structural features of a theory that would provide answers to these questions. According to this theory, reasons for action are all grounded in intrinsic values, but in a way that makes room for a thoroughly non-consequentialist view of the way in which intrinsic values generate reasons for aaction.
Moral philosophy has long been preoccupied by a supposed dichotomy between the "good" and the "right". This dichotomy has been taken to define certain allegedly central issues for ethics. How are the good and the right related to each other? For example, is one of the two "prior" to the other? If so, is the good prior to the right, or is the right prior to the good?
A concept that can be expressed by the term ‘rationality’ plays a central role in both epistemology and ethics -- and especially in formal epistemology and decision theory. It is argued here that when the term is used in this way, the concept of “rationality” is the concept of a kind of virtue, with all the central features that are ascribed to the virtues by Plato and Aristotle, among others. Interpreting rationality as a kind of virtue helps to solve several (...) problems, such as the relations between “rationality” and “rational requirements” and between “propositional” and “doxastic justification”, and to answer objections to the thesis that “rationality” is a normative concept that are based on the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. (shrink)
Suppose that it is rational to choose or intend a course of action if and only if the course of action maximizes some sort of expectation of some sort of value. What sort of value should this definition appeal to? According to an influential neo-Humean view, the answer is “Utility”, where utility is defined as a measure of subjective preference. According to a rival neo-Aristotelian view, the answer is “Choiceworthiness”, where choiceworthiness is an irreducibly normative notion of a course of (...) action that is good in a certain way. The neo-Human view requires preferences to be measurable by means of a utility function. Various interpretations of what exactly a “preference” is are explored, to see if there is any interpretation that supports the claim that a rational agent’s “preferences” must satisfy the “axioms” that are necessary for them to be measurable in this way. It is argued that the only interpretation that supports the idea that the rational agent’s preferences must meet these axioms interprets “preferences” as a kind of value-judgment. But this turns out to be version of the neo-Aristotelian view, rather than the neo-Humean view. Rational intentions maximize expected choiceworthiness, not expected utility. (shrink)
Every kind of ‘ought’ implies some kind of ‘can’ – but there are many kinds of ‘ought’ and even more kinds of ‘can’. In this essay, I shall focus on a particular kind of ‘ought’ – specifically, on what I shall call the “rational ‘ought’”. On every occasion of use, this kind of ‘ought’ is focused on the situation of a particular agent at a particular time; but this kind of ‘ought’ is concerned, not with how that agent acts at (...) that time, but with what beliefs or intentions the agent has at the time, or with the sort of reasoning by means of which the agent at that time forms or revises those beliefs or intentions. (shrink)
This essay explores the following position: Ultimate moral principles are a priori truths; hence, it is irrational to assign a non-zero credence to any proposition that is incompatible with these ultimate moral principles ; and this sort of irrationality, if it could have been avoided, is in a sense inexcusable. So—at least if moral relativism is false—in any disagreement about ultimate moral principles, at least one party to the disagreement is inexcusably irrational. This position may seem extreme, but it is (...) argued that it is more plausible than it first appears. (shrink)
Ralph Wedgwood gives a general account of what it is for states of mind and processes of thought to count as rational. Whether you are thinking rationally depends purely on what is going on in your mind, but rational thinking is a means to the goal of getting things right in your thinking, by believing the truth or making good choices.
This essay offers an account of the truth conditions of sentences involving deontic modals like ‘ought’, designed to capture the difference between objective and subjective kinds of ‘ought’ This account resembles the classical semantics for deontic logic: according to this account, these truths conditions involve a function from the world of evaluation to a domain of worlds (equivalent to a so-called “modal base”), and an ordering of the worlds in such domains; this ordering of the worlds itself arises from two (...) further elements – a probability function and a value function – since this ordering ranks the worlds in accordance with the expected value of certain propositions that are true at those worlds. Thus, a proposition of the form ‘Ought (p)’ is true at a world of evaluation w if and only if p is true at all the top-ranked worlds in the domain assigned to w. This domain of worlds consists of metaphysically possible worlds, while the probability function is defined over a space of epistemically possible worlds (which may include metaphysically impossible worlds, such as worlds where Hesperus is not Phosphorus). Evidence is given that this account assigns the correct truth conditions to a wide range of sentences involving ‘ought’. Since these truth conditions involve both a domain of metaphysically possible worlds and a space of epistemically possible worlds, there are two corresponding kinds of conditional involving ‘ought’, depending on which space of worlds is restricted by the conditional. Finally, some objections that might be raised against this account are answered. (shrink)
In this new book Moral Dimensions, T. M. Scanlon (2008) explores the ethical significance of the intentions and motives with which people act. According to Scanlon, these intentions and motives do not have any direct bearing on the permissibility of the act. Thus, Scanlon claims that the traditional Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) is mistaken. However, the way in which someone is motivated to act has a direct bearing on what Scanlon calls the act's "meaning". One particularly important kind of (...) "meaning" that an act can have consists in the ways in which it is appropriate for various people to blame the agent for the act. So the book ends with an extended analysis of blame and blameworthiness. (shrink)
Intuitively, it seems that some belief-forming practices have the following three properties: 1. They are rational practices, and the beliefs that we form by means of these practices are themselves rational or justified beliefs. 2. Even if in most cases these practices reliably lead to correct beliefs (i.e., beliefs in true propositions), they are not infallible: it is possible for beliefs that are formed by means of these practices to be incorrect (i.e., to be beliefs in false propositions). 3. The (...) rationality of these practices is basic or primitive. That is, the rationality of these practices is not due simply to the availability, by means of some process of reasoning that relies purely on other practices, of a rational or justified belief in the reliability of these practices. -/- How can there be such practices? This paper offers an answer to that question. (shrink)
There are three well-known models of how to account for perceptual belief within a probabilistic framework: (a) a Cartesian model; (b) a model advocated by Timothy Williamson; and (c) a model advocated by Richard Jeffrey. Each of these models faces a problem—in effect, the problem of accounting for the defeasibility of perceptual justification and perceptual knowledge. It is argued here that the best way of responding to this the best way of responding to this problem effectively vindicates the Cartesian model. (...) Finally, it is argued that, given the best interpretation of the probabilistic framework, that the Cartesian model is not vulnerable to the main criticisms that have been raised against it. (shrink)
According to a widely held view of the matter, whenever we assess beliefs as ‘rational’ or ‘justified’, we are making normative judgements about those beliefs. In this discussion, I shall simply assume, for the sake of argument, that this view is correct. My goal here is to explore a particular approach to understanding the basic principles that explain which of these normative judgements are true. Specifically, this approach is based on the assumption that all such normative principles are grounded in (...) facts about values, and the normative principles that apply to beliefs in particular are grounded in facts about alethic value––a kind of value that is exemplified by believing what is true and not believing what is false. In this chapter, I shall explain what I regard as the best way of interpreting this approach. In doing so, I shall also show how this interpretation can solve some problems that have recently been raised for approaches of this kind by Selim Berker, Jennifer Carr, Michael Caie, and Hilary Greaves. (shrink)
Many philosophers have claimed that the intentional is normative. (This claim is the analogue, within the philosophy of mind, of the claim that is often made within the philosophy of language, that meaning is normative.) But what exactly does this claim mean? And what reason is there for believing it? In this paper, I shall first try to clarify the content of the claim that the intentional is normative. Then I shall examine a number of the arguments that philosophers have (...) advanced for this claim (and for the parallel claim that meaning is normative). As we shall see, many of these arguments are unsuccessful. However, I shall close by giving a sketch of what may be a successful argument for this claim. (shrink)
In this paper, I explore how to accommodate non-consequentialist constraints with a broadly value-based conception of reasons for action. It turns out that there are two grades of non-consequentialist constraints. The first grade involves attaching ethical importance to such distinctions as the doing/allowing distinction, and the distinction between intended and unintended consequences that is central to the Doctrine of Double Effect. However, at least within the value-based framework, this first grade is insufficient to explain rights, which ground weighty reasons against (...) infringing those rights that need not be outweighed even when infringing those rights is necessary for preventing a larger number of people from having their rights infringed in the same way. Such rights form a second grade of non-consequentialist constraints: within the value-based framework, this second grade is best explained in terms of the intrinsically relational values and disvalues of interpersonal interactions and relationships. (shrink)
This paper presents a new argument for a form of contextualism about ‘justified belief’, the argument being based on considerations concerning the nature of belief. It is then argued that this form of contextualism, although it is true, cannot help to answer the threat of scepticism. However, it can explain many other puzzling phenomena: it can give an account of the linguistic mechanisms that determine how the extension of ‘justified belief’ shifts with context; it can help to defuse some puzzles (...) regarding the closure of justified belief under competent deduction; and it can give a plausible account of the role that practical concerns play in the thinking of a rational believer, allowing for a more plausible kind of "intellectualism" about justified belief. (shrink)
What is normativity? It is argued here that normativity is best understood as a property of certain concepts: normative thoughts are those involving these normative concepts; normative statements are statements that express normative thoughts; and normative facts are the facts (if such there be) that make such normative thoughts true. Many philosophers propose that there is a single basic normative concept—perhaps the concept of a reason for an action or attitude—in terms of which all other normative concepts can be defined. (...) It is argued here that this proposal faces grave difficulties. According to a better proposal, what these normative concepts have in common is that they have a distinctive sort of conceptual role—a reasoning-guiding conceptual role. This proposal is illustrated by a number of examples: different normative concepts differ from each other in virtue of their having different conceptual roles of this reasoning-guiding kind. (shrink)
Is there any distinctive aspect of rationality that deserves the label of “instrumental rationality”? Recently, Joseph Raz (2005) has argued that instrumental rationality is a “myth”. In this essay, I shall give some qualified support to Raz’s position: as I shall argue, many philosophers have indeed been seduced by certain myths about instrumental rationality. Nonetheless, Raz’s conclusion is too strong. Instrumental rationality is not itself a myth: there really is a distinctive aspect of rationality that deserves the label of “instrumental (...) rationality”. -/- In the first two sections of this essay, I shall start by giving a rough intuitive description of the phenomenon that seems to me the best candidate for the label “instrumental rationality”. As we shall see, this rough description gives us reason to reject some of the myths that surround instrumental rationality. Then in the rest of this essay, I shall try to give a more precise general specification of this phenomenon. In Sections 3 and 4, I shall consider what has been said about instrumental rationality by several other philosophers. Identifying what is missing in these other philosophers’ accounts will help me to develop my own positive specification, which I shall present in Sections 5 and 6. (shrink)
This paper offers an argument in favour of the conclusion that it is seriously unjust to exclude same-sex couples from the institution of civil marriage. The argument is based on an interpretation of what the institution of marriage essentially is, and of its essential rationale; the crucial claim is that although marriage is a legal institution, it is also a social institution, involving a "social meaning" -- a body of common knowledge and expectations about marriage that is generally shared throughout (...) society. (shrink)
Many philosophers have thought that colours or flavours or values are in some way less objective than shape or mass or motion. This paper explores the approach to capturing this thought that is based on the idea of ‘ response-dependence ’. First, it is argued that the conceptions of response-dependence developed by Mark Johnston, Philip Pettit and Crispin Wright fail to capture this thought adequately. Then, the rest of the paper proposes an alternative conception, based in part on Kit Fine's (...) notion of " essence ", which looks more likely to succeed in capturing the thought adequately. (shrink)
Both these ideas are intuitively plausible: rationality has an external aim, such as forming a true belief or good decision; and the rationality of a belief or decision is determined purely by facts about the thinker’s internal mental states. Unlike earlier conceptions, the conception of rationality presented here explains why these ideas are both true. Rational beliefs and decisions, it is argued, are those that are formed through the thinker’s following ‘rules of rationality’. Some rules count as rules of rationality (...) because it is rational to believe---through following other rules---that those rules are reliable. But there must also be certain basic rules, which are a priori, or ‘built into’ our basic cognitive capacities. That these rules are a priori is a purely internal matter; and in following these rules the thinker has done all that could reasonably be expected to achieve the external aim of forming a true belief or good decision. (shrink)
In Book I of the Republic, or so I shall argue, Plato gives us a glimpse of sheer horror. In the character, beliefs, and desires of Thrasymachus, Plato aims to personify some of the most diabolical dangers that lurk in human nature. In this way, the role that Thrasymachus plays for Plato is akin to the role that for Hobbes is played by the bellum omnium contra omnes, the war of all against all, which would allegedly be the inevitable result (...) of a "state of nature", where human beings have no government to terrorize them into obedience. It is also akin to the role that for Kant is played by the "radical evil" that is allegedly an indelible feature of human nature itself. As I shall try to show, the desires that characterize Thrasymachus are of the kind that are described in Book IX as "lawless" desires, desire of the wild insane kind that dominate the tyrannical soul; and his beliefs systematically reflect these desires, in a way that has its own hideously coherent logic. (shrink)
This paper defends the institution of civil marriage against the objection that it is inconsistent with political liberalism, and so should be either totally abolished or else transformed virtually beyond recognition.
According to normative judgment internalism (NJI), normative judgments -- that is, judgments of the form 'I ought to F' and the like -- are "essentially practical", in the sense that they are in some way essentially connected to practical reasoning, or to motivation for action. Many metaethicists believe that if NJI is true, then it would cast grave doubts on any robustly realist (RR) conception of normative judgments. These metaethicists are mistaken. This mistake about the relations between NJI and RR (...) seems to be due to hasty and undefended assumptions about the nature of belief. Any philosophical conception of belief that has the resources to deal with Frege's Puzzle (how to explain the apparent failures of referential transparency in belief ascriptions) will also have the resources to reconcile NJI and RR with respect to normative judgments. (shrink)