Browse by Author
Normativity, Commitment, and Instrumental Reason
This paper addresses some connections between conceptions of the will and the theory of practical reason. The first two sections argue against the idea that volitional commitments should be understood along the lines of endorsement of normative principles. A normative account of volition cannot make sense of akrasia, and it obscures an important difference between belief and intention. Sections three and four draw on the non-normative conception of the will in an account of instrumental rationality. The central problem is to explain the grip of instrumental requirements even in cases in which agents do not fully endorse the ends they are pursuing. The solution I propose appeals to coherence constraints on the beliefs that condition the distinctive volitional stance of intention.
|Jay Wallace||vol. 1||December 2001|
Amo on the Heterogeneity Problem
In this paper, I examine a heretofore ignored critic of Descartes on the heterogeneity problem: Anton Wilhelm Amo. Looking at Amo’s critique of Descartes reveals a very clear case of a thinker who attempts to offer a causal system that is not a solution to the mind-body problem, but rather that transcends it. The focus of my discussion is Amo’s 1734 dissertation: The Apathy [ἀπάθεια] of the Human Mind or The Absence of Sensation and the Faculty of Sense in the Human Mind and their Presence in our Organic and Living Body. Amo’s discussion of the interaction, or lack thereof, of the mind and body hinges on the essential feature he identifies for the human mind—apathy, that is, impassivity. In this work, Amo engages explicitly with Descartes’s writing, which allows us to more precisely see the nature of his agreement and disagreement with the Cartesian metaphysics of mind. I proceed by treating Amo’s five stated criteria for spirit-hood which, in turn, reveal the kinds of causal connections that are possible for embodied spirits on his view. My aim is threefold: (1) To lay out what I take to be Amo’s view of and arguments for the five criteria he takes to be required for a substance to be spirit. (2) To locate Amo’s agreement and disagreement with Descartes. (3) To suggest that Amo’s view on mind-body interaction involves a kind of occasional causation.
|Julie Walsh||vol. 19||2019|
Agency and Evil in Fichte’s Ethics
This paper examines Fichte's proof of evil in §16 of the System of Ethics. According to the majority of commentators, Fichte was mistaken to consider his proof Kantian in spirit (Piché 1999; Kosch 2006, 2011; Dews 2008; and Breazeale 2014). For rather than locate our propensity to evil in an act of free choice, Fichte locates it in a natural force of inertia. However, the distance between Kant and Fichte begins to close if we read his concept of inertia, not as a material force, but as a tendency to resist the work of agency and autonomy. There are, I argue, both textual and conceptual reasons in support of a figurative interpretation. In the course of presenting these reasons, I also uncover an important insight guiding Fichte's analysis of evil in the System of Ethics: namely, his claim that we can never fully step back from ourselves in reflection. In the concluding sections of the paper, I argue that Fichte's insight may solve a particular skeptical threat facing recent Kantian accounts of normativity.
|Owen Ware||vol. 15||March 2015|
Rethinking Kant’s Fact of Reason
Kant’s doctrine of the Fact of Reason is one of the most perplexing aspects of his moral philosophy. The aim of this paper is to defend Kant’s doctrine from the common charge of dogmatism. My defense turns on a previously unexplored analogy to the notion of ‘matters of fact’ popularized by members of the Royal Society in the seventeenth century. In their work, ‘facts’ were beyond doubt, often referring to experimental effects one could witness first hand. While Kant uses the German equivalent (‘Tatsachen’) in different contexts, I argue that the scientific analogy opens up a new framework for interpreting his strategy of justification in the Critique of Practical Reason. In the final section, I address a few possible objections to my reading, one of which I anticipate coming from Dieter Henrich (1989) and Ian Proops (2003), who have argued that Kant’s Fact of Reason is best understood under a legal analogy.
|Owen Ware||vol. 14||November 2014|
Logic Through a Leibnizian Lens
Leibniz's conceptual containment theory says that singular propositions of the form a is F are true when the complete concept of being a contains the concept of being F. In this paper, I provide a new semantics for first-order logic built around this idea. The semantics resolves longstanding problems for Leibniz's theory and can represent, without possible worlds, both hyperintensional distinctions among properties and a certain kind of presumably impossible situation that standard approaches cannot represent. The semantics also captures the strong soundness and completeness of classical first-order logic.
|Craig Warmke||vol. 19||2019|
Talking with Tonkers
Unrestricted inferentialism holds both that (i) any collection of inference rules can determine a meaning for an expression and (ii) meaning constituting rules are automatically valid. Prior's infamous tonk connective refuted unrestricted inferentialism, or so it is universally thought. This paper argues against this consensus. I start by formulating the metasemantic theses of inferentialism with more care than they have hitherto received; I then consider a tonk language — Tonklish — and argue that the unrestricted inferentialist's treatment of this language is only problematic if it is mistakenly assumed that Tonklish can be homophonically translated into English. Next, I discuss the proper, non-homophonic, translation of Tonklish into English, rebut various objections, and consider several variants of Tonklish. The paper closes by highlighting the philosophical advantages that unrestricted inferentialism has over its competitors once the terrors of tonk have been tamed.
|Jared Warren||vol. 15||September 2015|
Morality, Fiction, and Possibility
Authors have a lot of leeway with regard to what they can make true in their story. In general, if the author says that p is true in the fiction we're reading, we believe that p is true in that fiction. And if we're playing along with the fictional game, we imagine that, along with everything else in the story, p is true. But there are exceptions to these general principles. Many authors, most notably Kendall Walton and Tamar Szabó Gendler, have discussed apparent counterexamples when p is "morally deviant". Many other statements that are conceptually impossible also seem to be counterexamples. In this paper I do four things. I survey the range of counterexamples, or at least putative counterexamples, to the principles. Then I look to explanations of the counterexamples. I argue, following Gendler, that the explanation cannot simply be that morally deviant claims are impossible. I argue that the distinctive attitudes we have towards moral propositions cannot explain the counterexamples, since some of the examples don't involve moral concepts. And I put forward a proposed explanation that turns on the role of 'higher-level concepts', concepts that if they are satisfied are satisfied in virtue of more fundamental facts about the world, in fiction, and in imagination.
|Brian Weatherson||vol. 4||November 2004|
Contextualism about Justified Belief
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.
|Ralph Wedgwood||vol. 8||September 2008|
The (mostly harmless) Inconsistency of Knowledge Ascriptions
I argue for an alternative to invariantist, contextualist, and relativist semantics for 'know'. This is that our use of 'know' is inconsistent; it is governed by several mutually inconsistent inference principles. Yet this inconsistency does not prevent us from assigning an effective content to most individual knowledge ascriptions, and it leads to trouble only in exceptional circumstances. Accordingly, we have no reason to abandon our inconsistent knowledge-talk.
|Matt Weiner||vol. 9||January 2009|
Knowledge in Action
Recent proposals that frame norms of action in terms of knowledge have been challenged by Bayesian decision theorists. Bayesians object that knowledge-based norms conflict with the highly successful and established view that rational action is rooted in degrees of belief. I argue that the knowledge-based and Bayesian pictures are not as incompatible as these objectors have made out. Attending to the mechanisms of practical reasoning exposes space for both knowledge and degrees of belief to play their respective roles.
|Jonathan Weisberg||vol. 13||November 2013|
Belief In Psyontology
Neither full belief nor partial belief is more fundamental, ontologically speaking. A survey of some relevant cognitive psychology supports a dualist ontology instead. Beliefs come in two kinds, categorical and graded, neither more fundamental than the other. In particular, the graded kind is no more fundamental. When we discuss belief in on/off terms, we are not speaking coarsely or informally about states that are ultimately credal.
|Jonathan Weisberg||vol. 20||2020|
Could've Thought Otherwise
Evidence is univocal, not equivocal. Its implications don't depend on our beliefs or values, the evidence says what it says. But that doesn't mean there's no room for rational disagreement between people with the same evidence. Evaluating evidence is a lot like polling an electorate: getting an accurate reading requires a bit of luck, and even the best pollsters are bound to get slightly different results. So, even though evidence is univocal, rationality's requirements are not "unique." Understanding this resolves several puzzles to do with uniqueness and disagreement.
|Jonathan Weisberg||vol. 20||2020|
In this paper I develop a conception of joint practical deliberation as a special type of shared cooperative activity, through which co-deliberators jointly accept reasons as applying to them as a pair or group. I argue, moreover, that the aspiration to deliberative “pairhood” is distinguished by a special concern for mutuality that guides each deliberator’s readiness to accept a given consideration as a reason-for-us. It matters to each of us, as joint deliberators, that each party’s (individual) reasons for accepting something as a reason-for-us support a conception of our relationship as one characterized by mutual, non-instrumental concern for one another.
|Andrea C. Westlund||vol. 9||October 2009|
Leibniz and the Art of Exoteric Writing
In this paper I provide a comprehensive account of Leibniz's important but neglected distinction between the esoteric and the exoteric. I argue that Leibniz distinguished between esoteric and exoteric modes of presentation, and esoteric and exoteric content. He endorsed the esoteric mode, which was modeled on the geometrical model of demonstration, as the ideal mode of presentation in metaphysics. However, he thought it would be a mistake to introduce his metaphysics to people in the form of an esoteric treatise. This was not due to a problem with the esoteric mode per se. The problem stemmed from the gap between the esoteric content of his metaphysics and the received views of his time, particularly those that were grounded in what he regarded as sensory prejudices. This misguided reliance on the senses made it extremely difficult for people to conceive of the purely intelligible concepts and principles at the core of his metaphysics. Leibniz used pedagogical exoteric writing to compose texts that could function as intellectual stepping-stones that would enable his readers traverse the gulf between received opinions and esoteric truth. I isolate the key rhetorical strategies that Leibniz utilized in his pedagogical exoteric writing, and explain how one can develop principled esoteric/exoteric interpretations of his writings. Awareness of his nuanced views on the esoteric and the exoteric will allow us to more adequately address central questions in Leibniz scholarship about the extent to which his views change over time, about whether he attains considered views on particular topics, and about the extent to which his philosophy is systematic.
|John Whipple||vol. 15||December 2015|
Explanation as a Guide to Induction
It is notoriously difficult to spell out the norms of inductive reasoning in a neat set of rules. I explore the idea that explanatory considerations are the key to sorting out the good inductive inferences from the bad. After defending the crucial explanatory virtue of stability, I apply this approach to a range of inductive inferences, puzzles, and principles such as the Raven and Grue problems, and the significance of varied data and random sampling.
|Roger White||vol. 5||April 2005|
Dispositional compatibilists argue that a proper understanding of our abilities vindicates both compatibilism and the principle of Alternate Possibilities (the claim that the ability to do otherwise is required for freedom and moral responsibility). In this paper, I argue that this is mistaken. Both analyses of dispositions and abilities should distinguish between local and global dispositions or abilities. Once this distinction is in place, we see that neither thesis is established by an analysis of abilities.
|Ann Whittle||vol. 10||December 2010|
The General Theory of Second Best Is More General Than You Think
Lipsey and Lancaster's ``general theory of second best'' is widely thought to have significant implications for applied theorizing about the institutions and policies that most effectively implement abstract normative principles. It is also widely thought to have little significance for theorizing about which abstract normative principles we ought to implement. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, I show how the second-best theorem can be extended to myriad domains beyond applied normative theorizing, and in particular to more abstract theorizing about the normative principles we should aim to implement. I start by separating the mathematical model used to prove the second-best theorem from its familiar economic interpretation. I then develop an alternative normative-theoretic interpretation of the model, which yields a novel second best theorem for idealistic normative theory. My method for developing this interpretation provides a template for developing additional interpretations that can extend the reach of the second-best theorem beyond normative theoretical domains. I also show how, within any domain, the implications of the second-best theorem are more specific than is typically thought. I conclude with some brief remarks on the value of mathematical models for conceptual exploration.
|David Wiens||vol. 20||2020|
Courage and the Spirited Part of the Soul in Plato’s Republic
In this paper I examine the account of courage offered in Books 3 and 4 of the Republic and consider its relation to the account of courage and cowardice found in the final argument of the Protagoras. I defend two main lines of thought. The first is that in the Republic Plato does not (contrary to a standard line of interpretation) abandon the Protagoras’ view that all cases of cowardice involve mistaken judgment or ignorance about what is fearful. Rather, he continues to treat cowardly behavior as an indication that, at least at the time of action, the agent lacked correct belief about what is best and least fearful. The evidence for this view will include an argument that what it means for the thumoeides to ‘preserve what is announced by rational accounts’ in the Republic is for it to prevent the fluctuation or corruption of reasoning under the deceptive influence of appetite. Second, I will argue that the Protagoras anticipates this account of courage in important ways. In particular, it draws attention to the problematic instability of belief and adumbrates the need for something like the spirited element of our psychology. According to my interpretation, the Republic’s account of courage is an elaboration or supplementation of the Protagoras’ account, rather than a rejection of it.
|Josh Wilburn||vol. 15||October 2015|
Rationalist Responses to Skepticism: A New Puzzle
Most promising responses to skepticism fall into “Moorean” or “rationalist” camps. Mooreans believe that some apparently circular forms of reasoning allow us to have justification to believe that skeptical hypotheses are false. Rationalists believe that we have a priori justification to believe that skeptical hypotheses are false. It can seem that anti-skeptics are stuck choosing between fishy circular reasoning and mysterious a priori justification. I present a new difficulty for rationalism by focusing on skeptical scenarios wherein our faculties of a priori reasoning are untrustworthy. In dealing with these scenarios, rationalists end up having to embrace the same sorts of circular reasoning that Mooreans use to deal with more familiar skeptical scenarios. As a result, there is no viable diagnosis of what's wrong with Moorean reasoning that does not also apply to rationalism: both anti-skeptical approaches are in the same boat when it comes to embracing circular reasoning.
|Tim Willenken||vol. 15||February 2015|
Dynamic Thoughts on Ifs and Oughts
A dynamic semantics for iffy oughts offers an attractive alternative to the folklore that Chisholm's paradox enforces an unhappy choice between the intuitive inference rules of factual and deontic detachment. The first part of the story told here shows how a dynamic theory about ifs and oughts gives rise to a nonmonotonic perspective on deontic discourse and reasoning that elegantly removes the air of paradox from Chisholm's puzzle without sacrificing any of the two detachment principles. The second part of the story showcases two bonus applications of the framework suggested here: it offers a response to Forrester's gentle murder paradox and avoids Kolodny and MacFarlane's miners paradox about deontic reasoning under epistemic uncertainty. A comparison between the dynamic semantic proposal made in this paper and a more conservative approach combining a static semantics with a dynamic pragmatics is provided.
|Malte Willer||vol. 14||October 2014|
Decision-Making Under Indeterminacy
Decisions are made under uncertainty when there are distinct outcomes of a given action, and one is uncertain to which the act will lead. Decisions are made under indeterminacy when there are distinct outcomes of a given action, and it is indeterminate to which the act will lead. This paper develops a theory of (synchronic and diachronic) decision-making under indeterminacy that portrays the rational response to such situations as inconstant. Rational agents have to capriciously and randomly choose how to resolve the indeterminacy relevant to a given choice-situation, but such capricious choices once made constrain how they will choose in the future. The account is illustrated by the case of self-interested action in situations where it is indeterminate whether you yourself will survive to benefit or suffer the consequences. The conclusion emphasizes some distinctive anti-hedging predictions of the account.
|J. Robert G. Williams||vol. 14||March 2014|
Death and Consensus Liberalism
A crucial test for the dominant Rawlsian ‘consensus’ brand of public reason is whether it is complete – sufficient in content, that is, to yield determinate answers to the political questions put before it. Yet while doubts about the incompleteness of Rawlsian public reason have been often voiced, critics have thus far carried out relatively little of the philosophical spadework needed to substantiate them. This paper contributes to remedying this omission, via a detailed analysis of the implications of Rawlsian public reason for an important bioethical problem arising at the end of human life. This is the problem of how to define and diagnose the death of a person, or determine at what point the clinical and legal practices conventionally associated with death, such as the removal of vital organs, may take place. My thesis is that this is a matter on which Rawlsian public reason does indeed have a grave incompleteness problem: the model produces indeterminacy, I argue, between a broad range of legal definitions of death (at least bracketing the socially contingent effects which candidate policies might have on third parties). I also aim to go beyond existing articulations of the incompleteness objection, moreover, by examining what Rawlsian consensus liberalism implies about how decision-makers ought to respond to indeterminacies in public reason. Insofar as the route to a reasoned choice between competing criteria of death is foreclosed, I contend, the Rawlsian view requires that selection among policy options proceed in an intolerably arbitrary fashion. The latter finding alters the cast of the familiar incompleteness objection, by closing the gap between it and what I have elsewhere called the ethical objection – the objection, that is, that public reason can in some cases generate (or be at undue risk of generating) determinate but morally unacceptable decisions.
|Jeremy Williams||vol. 17||October 2017|
Contemporary philosophers commonly suppose that any fundamental entities there may be are maximally determinate. More generally, they commonly suppose that, whether or not there are fundamental entities, any determinable entities there may be are grounded in, hence less fundamental than, more determinate entities. So, for example, Armstrong takes the physical objects constituting the presumed fundamental base to be “determinate in all respects” (1961, 59), and Lewis takes the properties characterizing things “completely and without redundancy” to be “highly specific” (1986, 60). Here I’ll look at the usually cited reasons for these suppositions as directed against the case of determinable properties, in particular, and argue that none is compelling (Sections 1 to 3). The discussion in Section 3 will moreover identify positive reason for taking some determinable properties to be part of a fundamental (or relatively fundamental) base. I’ll close (Section 4) by noting certain questions arising from the possibility of fundamental determinables, as directions for future research.
|Jessica Wilson||vol. 12||January 2012|
A Puzzle About Material Constitution and How to Solve It: Enriching Constitution Views in Metaphysics
Are materially constituted entities, such as statues and glasses of liquid, something more than their material constituents? The puzzle that frames this paper stems from conflicting answers to this question. At the core of the paper is a distinctive way of thinking about material constitution that posits two concepts of constitution, compositional and ampliative constitution, with the bulk of the discussion devoted to developing distinct analyses for these concepts. Distinguishing these concepts solves our initial puzzle and enriches the space of possibilities for constitution views.
|Robert A. Wilson||vol. 7||July 2007|
Imagination: A Lens, Not a Mirror
The terms "imagination'' and "imaginative'' can be readily applied to a profusion of attitudes, experiences, activities, and further phenomena. The heterogeneity of the things to which they're applied prompts the thoughts that the terms are polysemous, and that there is no single, coherent, fruitful conception of imagination to be had. Nonetheless, much recent work on imagination ascribes implicitly to a univocal way of thinking about imaginative phenomena: the imitation theory, according to which imaginative experiences imitate other experiences. This approach is infelicitous. It issues in unhelpful descriptions of imaginative activities, experiences, and attitudes, and frustrates theorizing about imagination's applications and intensional characteristics. A better way of thinking about imagination is the lens theory, according to which the imagination is a set of ways to focus, refine, clarify or concentrate the matter of other experiences. This approach offers better characterizations of imaginative phenomena, and promises brighter theoretical illumination of them.
|Nick Wiltsher||vol. 19||2019|
Expressivism and Moore’s Paradox
I argue against expressivism as a descriptive account of moral language. I do this by leveraging features of the connection between ordinary assertion and belief to test the putative connection between moral assertion and various non-cognitive states. Expressivists explain the expression relation which obtains between sincere moral assertion and the conative or affective attitude thereby expressed by appeal to the relation which obtains between sincere assertion and thereby expressed belief. In fact, they often explicitly take these relations to be the same. If the relations really are identical and if expressivism is correct, we should find Moore-paradoxical constructions where we deny that we possess certain non-cognitive attitudes. We do not. Hence either the relations are distinct or expressivism is incorrect as a descriptive account of moral language. I favor the latter. A number of objections are canvassed and rejected.
|Jack Woods||vol. 14||March 2014|
Disagreement about Disagreement? What Disagreement about Disagreement?
Disagreement is a hot topic in epistemology. A fast-growing literature centers around a dispute between the ‘steadfast’ view, on which one may maintain one’s beliefs even in the light of disagreement with epistemic peers who have all the same evidence, and the ‘conciliationist’ view, on which such disagreement requires a revision of attitudes. In this paper, however, I argue that there is less separating the main rivals in the debate about peer disagreement than is commonly thought. The extreme versions of both views are clearly indefensible, while more moderate versions of the views converge on the idea that how much revision of belief is called for by an instance of peer disagreement varies from case to case. Those tempted by this diagnosis are sometimes pessimistic about the prospects for giving a unified account which clearly predicts when more or less extensive revisions will be called for. By contrast, in this paper I give an account that aspires to such unity and predictive power, centering on the notion of the net resilience of your estimate of your own reliability against your estimate of your interlocutor’s reliability. The view I present thus amounts to a new, moderate theory of how one should respond to disagreement. I argue that ultimately, when we weaken conciliationism and the steadfast view to account for exception cases and to make them adequately plausible, they end up converging on the moderate view I present. Much of the seeming disagreement about disagreement is, then, illusory.
|Alex Worsnip||vol. 14||June 2014|