'We desire all and only those things we conceive to be good; we avoid what we conceive to be bad.' This slogan was once the standard view of the relationship between desire or motivation and rational evaluation. Many critics have rejected this scholastic formula as either trivial or wrong. It appears to be trivial if we just define the good as 'what we want', and wrong if we consider apparent conflicts between what we seem to want and what we seem (...) to think is good. In Appearances of the Good, Sergio Tenenbaum argues that the old slogan is both significant and right, even in cases of apparent conflict between our desires and our evaluative judgements. Maintaining that the good is the formal end of practical inquiry in much the same way as truth is the formal end of theoretical inquiry, he provides a fully unified account of motivation and evaluation. (shrink)
Rational Powers in Action presents a conception of instrumental rationality as governing actions that are extended in time with indeterminate ends. Tenenbaum argues that previous philosophical theories in this area, in focusing on momentary snapshots of the mind of idealized agents, miss central aspects of human rationality.
In this paper we advance a new solution to Quinn’s puzzle of the self-torturer. The solution falls directly out of an application of the principle of instrumental reasoning to what we call “vague projects”, i.e., projects whose completion does not occur at any particular or definite point or moment. The resulting treatment of the puzzle extends our understanding of instrumental rationality to projects and ends that cannot be accommodated by orthodox theories of rational choice.
Deontological theories face difficulties in accounting for situations involving risk; the most natural ways of extending deontological principles to such situations have unpalatable consequences. In extending ethical principles to decision under risk, theorists often assume the risk must be incorporated into the theory by means of a function from the product of probability assignments to certain values. Deontologists should reject this assumption; essentially different actions are available to the agent when she cannot know that a certain act is in her (...) power, so we cannot simply understand her choice situation as a “risk-weighted” version of choice under certainty. (shrink)
Constitutivists have tried to answer Enoch’s “schmagency” objection by arguing that Enoch fails to appreciate the inescapability of agency. Although these arguments are effective against some versions of the objection, I argue that they leave constitutivism vulnerable to an important worry; namely, that constitutivism leaves us alienated from the moral norms that it claims we must follow. In the first part of the paper, I try to make this vague concern more precise: in a nutshell, it seems that constitutivism cannot (...) provide an adequate account of the relation between the constitutive norms of agency and the particular ends the agent pursues. I then provide a broad outline of an interpretation of Kant’s formalism that is immune to this objection. I conclude that constitutivism is best understood as the upshot of a formalist view of categorical practical principles. (shrink)
Kant’s views on the relation between freedom and moral law seem to undergo a major, unannounced shift. In the third section of the Groundwork, Kant seems to be using the fact that we must act under the idea of freedom as a foundation for the moral law. However, in the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant claims that our awareness of our freedom depends on our awareness of the moral law. I argue that the apparent conflict between the two texts depends (...) on a reading of the opening paragraphs of Groundwork III, and on an interpretation of Kant’s claim that we “act under the idea of freedom”, that is implausible on textual and on philosophical grounds. I then present an alternative interpretation of what Kant means by “acting under the idea of freedom” and of the opening paragraphs of Groundwork III. I argue that the only substantive conclusion of these paragraphs is that no theoretical proof of freedom is necessary. Moreover I argue that although these paragraphs raise concerns about the validity of the moral law, these concerns and Kant’s answers to them, do not give rise to any significant conflict with his views in the Critique of Practical Reason. (shrink)
This paper argues that the principles of instrumental rationality apply primarily to extended action through time. Most philosophers assume that rational requirements and principles govern in the first instance momentary mental states, as opposed to governing extended intentional actions directly. In the case of instrumental rationality, the relevant mental states or attitudes would typically be preferences, decisions, or intentions. In fact, even those who recognize the extended nature of our agency still assume that rational requirements apply primarily to mental states (...) at a moment in time. Such views try to do justice to the extended nature of our agency by postulating rational requirements that apply in the first instance to plans, policies, and intentions more generally. The paper focuses on the central case of requirements and reasons governing the reconsideration of intentions and argues that these requirements or reasons are either superfluous or invalid. I argue that a proper conception of instrumental reasoning that applies directly to actions turn out to have surprising consequences. In fact, this conception allows us to see that policies, projects and the like are best understood as instances of extended actions, and that the instrumental requirements that apply to projects and policies are exactly the same as the instrumental requirements that apply to ordinary extended actions. Finally, I argue that the resulting theory of instrumental rationality is a significant improvement over theories that rely on principles governing intentions. (shrink)
In trying to explain the possibility of akrasia , it seems plausible to deny that there is a conceptual connection between motivation and evaluation ; akrasia occurs when the agent is motivated to do something that she does not judge to be good . However, it is hard to see how such accounts could respect our intuition that the akratic agent acts freely, or that there is a difference between akrasia and compulsion. It is also hard to see how such (...) accounts could be extended to the realm of theoretical reason, but this is generally not taken Ito be a problem, because it is generally assumed that there is no similar phenomenon in the realm of theoretical reason. This paper argues that there is such a thing as theoretical akrasia, and that we can find a characterization of this phenomenon in Descartes’s Meditations. Drawing on certain passages in the Meditations, we can construct an account of theoretical akrasia; this account can then be adapted to resolve the original problem of akrasia in the realm of practical reason. The account asserts that there is a conceptual connection between motivation and evaluation in free action; it also enables us to show how the akratic agent is still acting freely when he does something that he does not judge to be the best all things considered. (shrink)
The idea of direction of fit has been found appealing by many philosophers. Anscombe’s famous examples have persuaded many of us that there must be some deep difference between belief and desire that is captured by the metaphor of direction of fit. Most of the aim of the paper is to try to get clear on which intuitions Anscombe’s example taps into. My view is that there is more than one intuition in play here, and I will try to show (...) that various distinctions and points are confused in the literature on direction of fit. But I also want to argue that once the proper distinctions are made, it’s not clear that the notion of direction of fit can do any of the philosophically significant work that it was supposed to do. I first argue that the best way to unpack the notion of direction of fit would indeed be by means of the constitutive relation between truth and belief. In particular, the notion of direction of fit is best understood as different ideals, or formal ends, guiding the inference, from what I call “prima-facie” attitudes to what I call “all-out” attitudes respectively in the theoretical and practical realm. However, I’ll argue that there’s no non-circular way of making this distinction. But even if no definition of “belief” and “desire” come out of the distinction between directions of fit, it does elucidate the different natures of practical and theoretical enquiry. However, understood this way, the notion of direction of fit does not seem to capture the distinction illustrated by Anscombe’s example. I try to argue in the last section that Anscombe’s compelling example is best explained not by a distinction between directions of fit, but by a distinction between two different inferential mistakes: one from general to general or particular to general, and the other from general to particular. There’s an important asymmetry between practical and theoretical endeavours in this neighbourhood. However, noticing this asymmetry will also fail to deliver the philosophical payoffs that the notion of direction of fit was supposed to have. (shrink)
ABSTRACT In Planning, Time, and Self-Governanace, Bratman argues that the notion of self-governance plays an important role in grounding the rational principles such as means-ends coherence in the synchronic case, and principles of stability and coherence through time in the case of self-governance over time. In this paper, I grant Bratman’s claim for the synchronic case, however I argue that it is not clear that one can extend the reasoning to the diachronic case. More specifically, I raise a number of (...) doubts about whether any notion of diachronic self-governance can play the role in the theory of practical rationality that Bratman assigns to it. (shrink)
It is undeniable that human agents sometimes act badly, and it seems that they sometimes pursue bad things simply because they are bad. This latter phenomenon has often been taken to provide counterexamples to views according to which we always act under the guise of the good. This paper identifies several distinct arguments in favour of the possibility that one can act under the guise of the bad. GG seems to face more serious difficulties when trying to answer three different, (...) but related, arguments for the possibility of acting under the guise of the bad. The main strategies available to answer these objections end up either undermining the motivation for GG or failing to do full justice to the nature of perverse motivation. However, these difficulties turn out to be generated by focusing on a particular version of GG, what I call the “content version”. But we have independent reasons to prefer a different version of GG; namely, the “attitude version”. The attitude version allows for a much richer understanding of the possibility of acting on what we conceive to be bad. Drawing on an analogy with theoretical akrasia and theoretical perversion, I try to show how the attitude version can provide a compelling account of perverse actions. (shrink)
Most philosophers working in moral psychology and practical reason think that either the notion of "good" or the notion of "desire" have central roles to play in our understanding of intentional explanations and practical reasoning. However, philosophers disagree sharply over how we are supposed to understand the notions of "desire" and "good", how these notions relate, and whether both play a significant and independent role in practical reason. In particular, the "Guise of the Good" thesis - the view that desire (...) (or perhaps intention, or intentional action) always aims at the good - has received renewed attention in the last twenty years. Can one have desire for things that the desirer does not perceive to be good in any, or form intentions to act in way that one does not deem to be good? Does the notion of good play any essential role in an account of deliberation or practical reason? Moreover, philosophers also disagree about the relevant notion of good. Is it a purely formal notion, or does it involve a substantive conception of the good? Is the primary notion, the notion of the good for a particular agent, or the notion of good simpliciter? Does the relevant notion of good make essential appeal to human nature, or would it in principle extend to all rational beings? While these questions are central in contemporary work in ethics, practical reason, and philosophy of action, they are not new; similar issues were discussed in the ancient period. This volume of essays aims to bring together "systematic" and more historically-oriented work on these issues. (shrink)
It seems to be a humdrum fact of human agency that we act on intentions or decisions that we have made at an earlier time. At breakfast, you look at the Taco Hut menu online and decide that later today you’ll have one of their avocado burritos for lunch. You’re at your desk and you hear the church bells ring the noon hour. You get up, walk to Taco Hut, and order the burrito as planned. As mundane as this sort (...) of scenario might seem to be, philosophers have raised a problem in understanding it. If you are simply abiding by this morning’s decision, how are you acting autonomously? Your earlier self seems to be calling the shots; if you are just acting accordingly, without thinking through it or in some other way trying to ensure that the past decision conforms to your present standpoint, it is not clear how this amounts to an exercise of your present autonomous agency. It seems, rather, that your earlier self has succeeded in slaving you to her own purposes. She was the one who wanted (intended, judged it to be good, etc.) to have an avocado burrito. In simply following through, your current self seems to be just an automaton performing the commands left behind by your former self. Of course, you might not allow yourself to be shackled by your earlier self. You might refuse to follow anything but your own present judgments: you will only go to Taco Hut if this is what you judge you should do right now, and once at Taco Hut you will only eat the avocado burrito if that is what you want to eat once there. But if this is the way you generally operate, this seems to block your ability to make effective future-directed decisions. The puzzle, then, is one of explaining how the future self can do the bidding of her past self without losing her autonomy. We call this “the Problem of Diachronic Autonomy.” Philosophers raising this problem take it to show that there must be reasons or rational requirements to follow-through with our past decisions. According to these philosophers, we can only make sense of our diachronic autonomy if our past decisions put rational pressure on us to follow through. We argue that there is no Problem of Diachronic Autonomy. There is, in other words, no puzzling situation that needs explaining. Consequently, there is no need coming from this purported puzzle to think that our future-directed decisions generate reasons or rational requirements to follow through. The correct view of our diachronic autonomy is the “naïve” one: the “future self” can do the bidding of the “past self” without giving up its autonomy because, very simply, the past self is the same agent as the future self. I am acting autonomously when I get the avocado burrito, because I was the one who decided to get the burrito. I am acting on my own freely-formed decision. (shrink)
The problem of deviant causation has been a serious obstacle for causal theories of action. We suggest that attending to the problem of deviant causation reveals two related problems for causal theories. First, it threatens the reductive ambitions of causal theories of intentional action. Second, it suggests that such a theory fails to account for how the agent herself is guided by her reasons. Focusing on the second of these, we argue that the problem of guidance turns out to be (...) related to a number of other issues in the literature on action explanation, and that it is much more general: it threatens not only causal theories but any theory of action. Finally, we suggest that a certain version of the view that acting has a constitutive or formal aim can overcome this problem. (shrink)
Accidie, depression, and dejection seem to be psychological phenomena that are best characterized as cases in which an agent has no motivation to pursue what he or she judges to be good or valuable. The phenomena thus seem to present a challenge to any view that draws a close connection between motivation and evaluation. ‘Accidie, Evaluation, and Motivation’ aims to show that the phenomena are actually best explained by a theory that postulates a conceptual connection between motivation and evaluation.
The aim of this chapter is to understand more precisely what kind of irrationality involved in procrastination. The chapter argues that in order to understand the irrationality of procrastination one needs to understand the possibility and the nature of what I call “top-down independent” policies and long-term actions. A policy or long-term action) is top-down independent if it is possible to act irrationally relative to the adoption of the policy without ever engaging in a momentary action that is per se (...) irrational. involved in procrastination one needs to It argues that procrastination is one of the corresponding vices of an overlooked virtue; namely, “practical judgment.” On this account, procrastination turns out to be a failure of instrumental rationality that can be so characterized without assuming the correctness of any further norms of practical rationality. Thus this account of procrastination also constitutes an important objection to Christine Korsgaard’s claim that a purely instrumental conception of rationality is incoherent. (shrink)
For non-analytic ethical naturalists, externalism about moral motivation is an attractive option: it allows naturalists to embrace a Humean theory of motivation while holding that moral properties are real, natural properties. However, Michael Smith has mounted an important objection to this view. Smith observes that virtuous agents must have non-derivative motivation to pursue specific ends that they believe to be morally right; he then argues that this externalist view ascribes to the virtuous agent only a direct de dicto desire to (...) do what is morally right, but not a direct motivation to be kind, help those in need, et. I first clarify this “fetishism objection”; I then show how the non-analytical naturalist can provide an understanding of virtuous motivation that is immune to this objection. (shrink)
In ‘The Status of Content,’ Paul Boghossian points out an embarrassment in which A.J. Ayer finds himself in his extensive irrealism. Ayer embraces both an emotivist theory of ethics and a deflationary theory of truth. According to an emotivist theory, sentences that look like perfectly good declarative sentences, such as ‘One ought not to kill,’ should be interpreted as non-declarative sentences. According to a deflationary theory of truth, ‘truth’ is not a predicate of sentences, and sentences of the form ‘“p” (...) is true’ are equivalent to sentences of the form ‘p.’ Boghossian argues that emotivism and deflationism turn out to be incompatible.Boghossian's criticism should not be presented before we ask this question: What motivates Ayer's subversion of surface grammar? A typical motivation to provide an analysis of a certain region of discourse is to find a way in which patterns of inference and compositionality could be more perspicuously presented. (shrink)
In recent decades the central questions of moral psychology have attracted renewed interest. Contemporary work on moral motivation and the rationality of moral action has broadened its focus to include a wide array of related issues. New interpretations of historical figures have also contributed to conceptual advances in moral psychology, in a way unparalleled in any other area of philosophy. This volume presents original work from some of the most prominent philosophers currently working on moral psychology, spanning both the historical (...) and the contemporary problem-based approaches. (shrink)
Robert Adams argues that often our moral commitment outstrips what we are epistemically entitled to believe; in these cases, the virtuous agent doxastic states are instances of “moral faith”. I argue against Adams’ views on the need for moral faith; at least in some cases, our moral “intuitions” provide us with certain moral knowledge. The appearance that there can be no certainty here is the result of dubious views about second-order or indirect doubts. Nonetheless, discussing the phenomena that lead Adams (...) to postulate moral faith brings to light the nature of the epistemic warrant underlying various kinds of moral commitments. (shrink)
Simon Blackburn defends a 'quasi-realist' view intended to preserve much of what realists want to say about moral discourse. According to error theory, moral discourse is committed to indefensible metaphysical assumptions. Quasi-realism seems to preserve ontological frugality, attributing no mistaken commitments to our moral practices. In order to make good this claim, quasi-realism must show that (a) the seemingly realist features of the 'surface grammar' of moral discourse can be made compatible with projectivism; and (b) certain realist-sounding statements which we (...) might use in describing the nature of our moral commitments can be understood in projectivist terms. Much attention has been devoted to whether quasi-realism can deliver (a). I raise an important difficulty with regard to (b). (shrink)
Action theorists and formal epistemologists often pursue parallel inquiries regarding rationality, with the former focused on practical rationality, and the latter focused on theoretical rationality. In both fields, there is currently a strong interest in exploring rationality in relation to time. This exploration raises questions about the rationality of certain patterns over time. For example, it raises questions about the rational permissibility of certain patterns of intention; similarly, it raises questions about the rational permissibility of certain patterns of belief. While (...) the action-theoretic and epistemic questions raised are closely related, advances in one field are not always processed by the other. This volume brings together contributions by scholars in action theory and formal epistemology working on questions regarding rationality and time so that researchers in these overlapping fields can profit from each other’s insights. This book was originally published as a special issue of the _Canadian Journal of Philosophy. _. (shrink)
Subjectivism is the mainstream view of practical reason. According to subjectivism, what has value for an agent must ultimately be grounded in what the agent actually desires. Subjectivism is motivated by a conservative view of the scope and extent of practical reason. Against this view, my dissertation argues that any coherent conception of an end must endow practical reason with a scope that goes beyond anything that subjectivism could accommodate. ;Subjectivism correctly grasps that nothing can count as an end for (...) an agent if she is incapable of recognizing it as such; value cannot exist independently of our capacity to appreciate it. I argue that the right conclusion to draw from this is that practical reason constitutes its own object by properly judging on practical matters. The grounds for taking a certain object to bear value lie not in the attributes of a certain object but in the nature of the activity of pursuing ends. According to the concept of practical reason I defend in this dissertation, which I call "the constitutive conception of practical reason", practical reason must set its objects from its own resources rather than find them in an external reality. ;But if practical reason does not track any independently existing objects, how can we distinguish between correct and incorrect judgements? It seems that this conception faces a dilemma: Either the activity of reason is merely a source of formal constraints, or it is an arbitrary, ungrounded exercise. I argue that this dilemma gets its grip on us only from an illegitimate separation of the rational and non-rational parts of human nature. This separation leads us to to think of our cognitive and conative powers as independent. However, the proper understanding of practical reason requires us to see our desires, emotions, etc. as presenting us with appearances of the good, as providing perspectives on something which we represent as the proper object of our pursuit. In forming an overarching conception of the good by reflectively assessing the claims of these different perspectives, practical reason sets its object. (shrink)