There are many different oughts. There is a moral ought, a prudential ought, an epistemic ought, the legal ought, the ought of etiquette, and so on. These oughts can prescribe incompatible actions. What I morally ought to do may be different from what I self-interestedly ought to do. Philosophers have claimed that these conflicts are resolved by an authoritative ought, or by facts about what one ought to do simpliciter or all-things-considered. However, the only coherent notion of an ought simpliciter (...) has preposterous first-order normative commitments. It is more reasonable to reject the ought simpliciter in favor of the form of normative pluralism advocated in (Tiffany 2007). (shrink)
Mark Schroeder has argued that all reasonable forms of inconsistency of attitude consist of having the same attitude type towards a pair of inconsistent contents (A-type inconsistency). We suggest that he is mistaken in this, offering a number of intuitive examples of pairs of distinct attitudes types with consistent contents which are intuitively inconsistent (B-type inconsistency). We further argue that, despite the virtues of Schroeder's elegant A-type expressivist semantics, B-type inconsistency is in many ways the more natural choice in developing (...) an expressivist account of moral discourse. We close by showing how to adapt ordinary formality-based accounts of logicality to define a B-type account of logical inconsistency and distinguish it from both semantic and pragmatic inconsistency. In sum, we provide a roadmap of how to develop a successful B-type expressivism. (shrink)
This paper discusses varieties of normative phenomena, ranging from morality, to epistemic justification, to the rules of chess. It canvases a number of distinctions among these different normative phenomena. The most significant distinction is between formal and authoritative normativity. The prior is the normativity exhibited by any standard one can meet or fail to meet. The latter is the sort of normativity associated with phenomena like the "all-things-considered" ought. The paper ends with a brief discussion of reasons for skepticism about (...) authoritative normativity. (shrink)
A number of philosophers have offered quasi-perceptual theories of desire, according to which to desire something is roughly to “see” it as having value or providing reasons. These are offered as alternatives to the more traditional Humean Theory of Motivation, which denies that desires have a representational aspect. This paper examines the various considerations offered by advocates to motivate quasi-perceptualism. It argues that Humeanism is in fact able to explain the same data that the quasi-perceptualist can explain, and in one (...) case the Humean explanation is superior. Quasi-perceptual accounts of desire, the paper concludes, are for the most part unmotivated. (shrink)
Joseph Raz and Sergio Tenenbaum argue that the Guise of the Good thesis explains both the possibility of practical reason and its unity with theoretical reason, something Humean psychological theories may be unable to do. This paper will argue, however, that Raz and Tenenbaum face a dilemma: either the version of the Guise of the Good they offer is too strong to allow for weakness of will, or it will lose its theoretical advantage in preserving the unity of reason.
Are there cases in which agents ought to give up on satisfying an obligation, so that they can avoid a temptation which will lead them to freely commit an even more significant wrong? Actualists say yes. Possibilists say no. Both positions have absurd consequences. This paper argues that common-sense morality is committed to an inconsistent triad of principles. This inconsistency becomes acute when we consider the cases that motivate the possibilism–actualism debate. Thus, the absurd consequences of both solutions are unsurprising: (...) any proposed solution will have consequences incompatible with common moral practice. Arguments for denying one of the principles are considered and rejected. The paper then suggests that the inconsistent moral commitments originate in an inconsistent picture of human agency. Revisionary pictures of human agency are considered. It is argued that a quasi-Platonic picture of agency, similar to that advocated by Gary Watson 1977, is the most promising. (shrink)
I argue that standard explanationist solutions to the problem of creeping minimalism are largely on the right track, but they fail to correctly specify the kind of explanation that is relevant to distinguishing realism from quasirealism. Quasirealism should not be distinguished from realism in terms of the explanations it gives of why a normative judgment—a normative sentence or attitude—has the semantic content that it has. Rather, it should be distinguished in terms of the explanations it offers of what the semantic (...) content of a normative judgment is. (shrink)
Attitudinal embeddings, such as ‘I hope that murder is wrong’ or ‘she is glad that eating meat is not wrong’ are a less substantial problem for expressivists than is standardly thought. If expressivists are entitled to talk of normative beliefs, they can explain what it is to for an attitude to be semantically related to a normative content in terms of being functionally related to a belief with a normative content.
Deliberation often begins with the question ‘What do I want to do?’ rather than the question of what one ought to do. This paper takes that question at face value, as a question about which of one’s desires is strongest, which sometimes guides action. The paper aims to explain which properties of a desire make that desire strong, in the sense of ‘strength’ relevant to this deliberative question. Both motivational force and phenomenological intensity seem relevant to a desire’s strength; however, (...) accounting for the strength of a desire in these terms opens up significant indeterminacy about what we want. The paper argues that this indeterminacy is often resolved simply by posing the question ‘What do I want to do?’ to oneself: there is reason to believe that one’s answer will play a verdictive role, partially determining what the agent most wants. Self-reflective beliefs can play a self-fulfilling role, and surprisingly this seems to follow from basic platitudes about the belief-desire model. (shrink)
Ambivalence is most naturally characterized as a case of conflicting desires. In most cases, an agent’s intrinsic desires conflict contingently: there is some possible world in which both desires would be satisfied. This paper argues, though, that there are cases in which intrinsic desires necessarily conflict—i.e., the desires are not jointly satisfiable in any possible world. Desiring a challenge for its own sake is a paradigm case of such a desire. Ambivalence of this sort in an agent’s desires creates special (...) problems for the project of reducing all facts about an agent’s desires to facts about his or her preferences over options. If this reductive project fails, there is reason to suspect that the Decision Theory cannot give us a complete theory of Humean rationality. (shrink)
This paper argues that, with certain provisos, predicting one's future actions is incompatible with rationally deliberating about whether to perform those actions. It follows that fully rational omniscient agents are impossible, since an omniscient being could never rationally deliberate about what to do . Consequently, theories that explain practical reasons in terms of the choices of a perfectly rational omniscient agent must fail. The paper considers several ways of defending the possibility of an omniscient agent, and concludes that while some (...) of these may work, they are inconsistent with the aim of explaining practical normativity by appeal to such an agent. (shrink)
This paper argues that, with certain provisos, predicting one's future actions is incompatible with rationally deliberating about whether to perform those actions. It follows that fully rational omniscient agents are impossible, since an omniscient being could never rationally deliberate about what to do. Consequently, theories that explain practical reasons in terms of the choices of a perfectly rational omniscient agent must fail. The paper considers several ways of defending the possibility of an omniscient agent, and concludes that while some of (...) these may work, they are inconsistent with the aim of explaining practical normativity by appeal to such an agent. (shrink)
Allan Gibbard () argues that the term ‘meaning’ expresses a normative concept, primarily on the basis of arguments that parallel Moore's famous Open Question Argument. In this paper I argue that Gibbard's evidence for normativity rests on idiosyncrasies of the Open Question Argument, and that when we use related thought experiments designed to bring out unusual semantic intuitions associated with normative terms we fail to find such evidence. These thought experiments, moreover, strongly suggest there are basic requirements for a theory (...) of meaning incompatible with Gibbard's ultimate goal of providing an expressivist account of meaning-related concepts. I conclude by considering a possible way in which meaning could be normative, consistent with the intuitions about disagreement; but this form of normativism about meaning appears incompatible with Gibbard's expressivism. (shrink)
Byrne offers a novel interpretation of the idea that the mind is transparent to its possessor, and that one knows one’s own mind by looking out at the world. This paper argues that his attempts to extend this picture of self-knowledge force him to sacrifice the theoretical parsimony he presents as the primary virtue of his account. The paper concludes by discussing two general problems transparency accounts of self-knowledge must address.
This paper has two related goals. First, we develop an expressivist account of negation which, in the spirit of Alan Gibbard, treats disagreement as semantically primitive. Our second goal is to make progress toward a unified expressivist treatment of modality. Metaethical expressivists must be expressivists about deontic modal claims. But then metaethical expressivists must either extend their expressivism to include epistemic and alethic modals, or else accept a semantics for modal expressions that is radically disjunctive. We propose that expressivists look (...) to Amie Thomasson’s work for a general strategy for offering a unified expressivist account of modality. Modals in general, we propose, are devices for expressing metalinguistic commitments within the object language, with deontic, epistemic, and metaphysical modals all expressing different kinds of metalinguistic commitments. (shrink)
Mark Schroeder’s expressivist program has made substantial progress in providing a compositional semantics for normative terms. This paper argues that it risks achieving this semantic progress at the cost of abandoning a key theoretical motivation for embracing expressivism in the first place. The problem can be summarized as a dilemma. Either Schroeder must allow that there are cases in which agents are in disagreement with one another, or can make valid inferences, but that these disagreements or inferences are not expressible (...) in natural language; or his version of expressivism must abandon one of the key theoretical advantages expressivist theories seemed to possess over cognitivism, the ability to provide a very straightforward explanation of the action- and attitude-guiding role of normative judgments. (shrink)
Normative discourse frequently involves explanation. For example, we tell children that hitting is wrong because it hurts people. In a recent paper, Selim Berker argues that to account for this kind of explanation, expressivists need an account of normative grounding. Against this, I argue that expressivists should eschew grounding and stick to a more pragmatic picture of explanation, one that focuses on how we use explanatory speech acts to communicate information. I propose that the standard form of a normative explanation (...) is a generalizing explanation, one which shows a particular moral injunction to follow from a more general injunction. I use Marc Lange’s account of unifying explanations in mathematics as a model for the canonical form of a normative explanation, but also to establish that logical entailment can be explanatory, so long as premises entailing the conclusion answer appropriately to our interests. An additional upshot of the resulting view is that it paves the way for a purely metaphysical solution to the problem of creeping minimalism. Quasireal properties are those that, unlike real properties, stand outside of the metaphysical hierarchy of grounding relations. (shrink)
Human life has special importance. Human decisions must be granted special respect. It is natural to see these claims as connected. It seems likely that human life has value because human beings possess a unique capacity for self-determination. David Velleman’s argument that the nature of autonomy provides us with a prima facie case against the morally permissibility of suicide, at least in most cases, rests on highly questionable premises. Nonetheless, it does point to the importance of a proper understanding of (...) seemingly arcane notions like the self and autonomy in giving principled and systematic answers to practical moral dilemmas. I will argue here that his case against suicide relies on a Kantian understanding of the nature of the self, and consequently of the nature of autonomy and how it should be respected. (shrink)