Essays in the philosophy of motivation, normativity, and self-knowledge

Dissertation, University of Glasgow (2024)
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Abstract

This thesis comprises three distinct and substantial essays concerning motivation, normativity, and self-knowledge. Generally speaking, this thesis focuses on how agents can access particular facts about themselves—e.g., why they acted the way they acted or that a particular experience is bad-for-them. In particular, I show how the motivational and normative nature of certain mental states like our motivating reasons and unpleasant pains interact in unanticipated ways with foundational questions about the nature of phenomenal consciousness—“what it is like” to undergo this or that experience—with questions of self-knowledge—how we are aware of, and come to know, the mental states we’re in—and with questions concerning moral knowledge—how we come to know moral facts. Take, for instance, the action of taking a painkiller or the formation of a new belief. If I asked you why you took a painkiller or why you formed the belief, you would be able to, in an immediate and direct sense, know why you did those things. Not only do you know what your reasons are, but you seem to know your reasons in a special way, again, in a sense that is immediate and direct. Furthermore, some of our mental states seem to be bad states to be in. Take, again, your unpleasant pain: you want to end it because it’s bad. So, it seems, then, that you also have knowledge of the badness of your unpleasant pain. But these claims are not without controversy. For some deny that we know our own reasons in a special way distinct from how we know of other’s reasons. The first aim of this thesis is to critically assess a recent attempt to defend the claim that we do have some special, direct, and immediate knowledge of our reasons. But insofar as we construe the nature of why we believe and do things—i.e., our reasons—in a specific way, I argue that defending that picture likely fails. Furthermore, turning back to our phenomenal experiences, it turns out that once we understand the nature of our phenomenal experiences—e.g., unpleasant pains—along particular representationalist lines, explaining the motivational and normative facts implicit in our painkiller-taking action becomes increasingly implausible. The second aim of the thesis argues that insofar as we are concerned with accommodating such motivational and normative facts, we ought to abandon a particular brand of representationalism about phenomenal consciousness. And lastly, I argue that once we fully appreciate the normative profile of a certain set of our mental states—e.g., the badness of unpleasant pain and the wrongness of an intention to lie—we are in a position to develop a novel account of moral knowledge. Specifically, I motivate taking seriously the idea that we can introspect normative facts.

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Matthew Kinakin
University of Glasgow

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