Some things, but only some things, are by nature subject to standards. Why? I explain and develop what I call nature-first constitutivism, which says that what something is determines what it should be. Nature is the basis of normativity. I explain this view in terms of a unique type of property which particulars of a genus can lack even though those properties partially determines the nature of the genus. Such properties partially describe the nature of a genus and are thereby (...) normative for the particulars of that genus. Particulars of genera with such essential properties are by nature subject to standards with respect to those properties. Particulars of genera without such properties are not by nature subject to standards. (shrink)
The possibility of error conditions the possibility of normative principles. I argue that extant interpretations of this condition undermine the possibility of normative principles for our action because they implicitly treat error as a perfection of an action. I then explain how a constitutivist metaphysics of capacities explains why error is an imperfection of an action. Finally, I describe and defend the interpretation of the error condition which follows.
Intellectualism is the widespread view that practical reason is a species of theoretical reason, distinguished from others by its objects: reasons to act. I argue that if practical reason is a species of theoretical reason, practical judgments by nature have nothing to do with action. If they have nothing to do with action, I cannot act from my representation of reasons for me to act. If I cannot act from those representations, those reasons cannot exist. If they cannot exist, neither (...) can a species of theoretical reason about them. Intellectualism is thus self-undermining. (shrink)
Properly understood, the instrumental rule says to take means that actually suffice for my end, not, as is nearly universally assumed, to intend means that I believe are necessary for my end. This alternative explains everything the standard interpretation can—and more, including grounding certain correctness conditions for exercises of our will unexplained by the standard interpretation.
Practical cognitivism is the view that practical reason is our will, not an intellectual capacity whose exercises can influence those of our will. If practical reason is our will, thoughts about how I am to act have an essential tie to action. They are intentions. Thoughts about how others are to act, though, lack such a tie to action. They are beliefs, not intentions. How, then, can these thoughts form a unified class? I reject two answers which deny the differences (...) between such thoughts about myself and those about others, one of which says that all such thoughts are intentions, the other that all are beliefs. I then reject a shared assumption which says that a class of thoughts is unified only if all its elements are all of one type of thought. I instead argue that this class is unified even though some elements are intentions, others beliefs, because such beliefs depend on those intentions in various ways. (shrink)
Practical cognitivism is the view that practical reason is the self-conscious will and that practical cognition is self-conscious volition. This essay addresses two puzzles for practical cognitivism. In akratic action, I act as I understand is illegitimate and not as I understand is legitimate. In permissible action, I act as I understand is legitimate and also do not act as I understand is legitimate. In both types of action, practical cognition seems to come apart from volition. How, then, can practical (...) reason be our will and practical cognition be volition? Practical cognitivists can solve these puzzles because the claims that practical reason is our will and that practical cognition is volition are about the nature of a capacity, and the nature of a capacity establishes standards of correctness for its exercises. Akratic action is a type of erroneous exercise of practical reason as tripping is an erroneous exercise our capacity to walk. Permissible action is a successful exercise of practical reason as stepping first with my right foot rather than my left is a successful exercise of my capacity to walk. The puzzles of akratic and permissible action do not refute practical cognitivism. (shrink)
What explains why we are subjects for whom objects can have value, and what explains which objects have value for us? Axiologicians say that the value of humanity is the answer. I argue that our value, no matter what it is like, cannot perform this task. We are animals among others. An explanation of the value of objects for us must fit into an explanation of the value of objects for animals generally. Different objects have value for different animals. Those (...) differences depend on differences in animal natures and, in particular, on the diverse characteristic capacities of different animals. Once we invoke animal natures, there is nothing for the value of animality, including the value of humanity, to explain. (shrink)