Modern philosophy has been vexed by the question "Why should I be moral?" and by doubts about the rational authority of moral virtue. In Reasons without Rationalism, Kieran Setiya shows that these doubts rest on a mistake. The "should" of practical reason cannot be understood apart from the virtues of character, including such moral virtues as justice and benevolence, and the considerations to which the virtues make one sensitive thereby count as reasons to act. Proposing a new framework for debates (...) about practical reason, Setiya argues that the only alternative to this "virtue theory" is a form of ethical rationalism in which reasons derive from the nature of intentional action. Despite its recent popularity, however, ethical rationalism is false. It wrongly assumes that we act "under the guise of the good," or it relies on dubious views about intention and motivation. It follows from the failure of rationalism that the virtue theory is true: we cannot be fully good without the perfection of practical reason, or have that perfection without being good. Addressing such topics as the psychology of virtue and the explanation of action, Reasons without Rationalism is essential reading for philosophers interested in ethics, rationality, or the philosophy of mind. (shrink)
Reasons without Rationalism has two related parts, devoted to action theory and ethics, respectively. In the second part, I argue for a close connection between reasons for action and virtues of character. This connection is mediated by the idea of good practical thought and the disposition to engage in it. The argument relies on the following principle, which is intended as common ground: " Reasons: The fact that p is a reason for A to ϕ just in case A has (...) a collection of psychological states, C, such that the disposition to be moved to ϕ by C-and-the-belief-that- p is a good disposition of practical thought, and C contains no false beliefs."In effect, reasons are premises for episodes of sound practical thinking whose other conditions already …. (shrink)
Can we have objective knowledge of right and wrong, of how we should live and what there is reason to do? Can it be anything but luck when our moral beliefs are true? Kieran Setiya confronts these questions in their most compelling and articulate forms, and argues that if there is objective ethical knowledge, human nature is its source.
Argues that we know without observation or inference at least some of what we are doing intentionally and that this possibility must be explained in terms of knowledge-how. It is a consequence of the argument that knowing how to do something cannot be identified with knowledge of a proposition.
Argues for a "cognitivist" account of the instrumental principle, on which it is the application of theoretical reason to the beliefs that figure in our intentions. This doctrine is put to work in solving a puzzle about instrumental reason that plagues alternative views.
Argues that there is no one it is irrational to love, that it is rational to act with partiality to those we love, and that the rationality of doing so is not conditional on love. It follows that Anscombe and Taurek are right: you are not required to save three instead of one, even when those you could save are perfect strangers.
Argues from the possibility of basic intentional action to a non-propositional theory of knowing how. The argument supports a broadly Anscombean conception of the will as a capacity for practical knowledge.
Argues for a deflationary account of epistemic agency. We believe things for reasons and our beliefs change over time, but there is no further sense in which we are active in judgement, inference, or belief.
Philosophical perplexity about intention begins with its appearance in three guises: intention for the future, as when I intend to complete this entry by the end of the month; the intention with which someone acts, as I am typing with the further intention of writing an introductory sentence; and intentional action, as in the fact that I am typing these words intentionally. As Elizabeth Anscombe wrote in a similar context, ‘it is implausible to say that the word is equivocal as (...) it occurs in these different cases’ and from the fact that ‘we are tempted to speak of “different senses” of a word which is clearly not equivocal, we may infer that we are pretty much in the dark about the character of the concept which it represents’ (Anscombe 1963, p. 1). (shrink)
Argues that we cannot form beliefs at will without failure of attention or logical confusion. The explanation builds on Williams' argument in "Deciding to Believe," attempting to resolve some well-known difficulties. The paper ends with tentative doubts about the idea of judgement as intentional action.
Argues that, while human beings may act "under the guise of the good," this is not true of rational agents, as such. Themes discussed along the way – extending the argument of "Reasons without Rationalism" (Princeton, 2007) – include: desires as appearances of the good, the intelligibility of vice, and the kind of essentialist claim that permits exceptions.
Argues that, in acting for a reason, one takes that reason to explain one's action, not to justify it: reasons for acting need not be seen "under the guise of the good". The argument turns on the need to explain the place of "practical knowledge" - knowing what one is doing - in intentional action. A revised and expanded version of this material appears in Part One of "Reasons without Rationalism" (Princeton, 2007).
Argues that it is not by inference from intention that I know what I am doing intentionally. Instead, the reverse is true: groundless knowledge of intention rests on the will as a capacity for non-perceptual, non-inferential knowledge of action. The argument adapts and clarifies considerations of "transparency" more familiar in connection with belief.
Argues that the view propounded in "Practical Knowledge" (Ethics 118: 388-409) survives objections made by Sarah Paul ("Intention, Belief, and Wishful Thinking," Ethics 119: 546-557). The response gives more explicit treatment to the nature and epistemology of knowing how.
Argues that the ethics of killing and saving lives is best described by agent-neutral consequentialism, not by appeal to agent-centred restrictions. It does not follow that killings are worse than accidental deaths or that you should kill one to prevent more killings. The upshot is a puzzle about killing and letting die.
Philosophical wisdom and practical advice for overcoming the problems of middle age How can you reconcile yourself with the lives you will never lead, with possibilities foreclosed, and with nostalgia for lost youth? How can you accept the failings of the past, the sense of futility in the tasks that consume the present, and the prospect of death that blights the future? In this self-help book with a difference, Kieran Setiya confronts the inevitable challenges of adulthood and middle age, showing (...) how philosophy can help you thrive. You will learn why missing out might be a good thing, how options are overrated, and when you should be glad you made a mistake. You will be introduced to philosophical consolations for mortality. And you will learn what it would mean to live in the present, how it could solve your midlife crisis, and why meditation helps. Ranging from Aristotle, Schopenhauer, and John Stuart Mill to Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir, as well as drawing on Setiya’s own experience, Midlife combines imaginative ideas, surprising insights, and practical advice. Writing with wisdom and wit, Setiya makes a wry but passionate case for philosophy as a guide to life. (shrink)
Argues that philosophy can solve the midlife crisis, at least in one of its forms. This crisis turns on the exhaustibility of our ends. The solution is to value ends that are ‘atelic,’ so inexhaustible. Topics include: John Stuart Mill's nervous breakdown; Aristotle on the finality of the highest good; and Schopenhauer on the futility of desire.
Argues for a causal-psychological account of acting for reasons. This view is distinguished from a more ambitious causal theory of action, clarified as far as possible, and motivated—against non-reductive, teleological, and behaviourist alternatives—on broadly metaphysical grounds.
Argues for an interpretation of Iris Murdoch on which her account of moral reasons has Platonic roots, and on which she gives an ontological proof of the reality of the Good. This reading explains the structure of Sovereignty, how Murdoch's claims differ from a focus on "thick moral concepts," and how to find coherent arguments in her book.
Argues that practical irrationality is akin to moral culpability: it is defective practical thought which one could legitimately have been expected to avoid. It is thus a mistake to draw too tight a connection between failure to be moved by reasons and practical irrationality (as in a certain kind of "internalism"): one's failure may be genuine, but not culpable, and therefore not irrational.
Argues that, for Anscombe, 'practical knowledge' is only sometimes 'the cause of what it understands.' It is the formal cause when its object is 'formally the description of an executed intention.' Nor is such knowledge confined to the present progressive: we have practical knowledge of the future and the past.
Argues for the role of personal acquaintance in both love and concern for individuals, as such. The challenge is to say what personal acquaintance is and why it matters in the way it does. These questions are addressed through the work of Emmanuel Levinas. Topics include: the ethics of aggregation, the basis of moral standing, and the value of human life.
Argues against the rationality of self-concern. Non-instrumental interest in my own well-being is not justified by the fact that it is mine. This follows from the metaphysics of first-person thought, as thought about the object of immediate knowledge. The argument leaves room for rational self-interest as a form of self-love that is justified, like love for others, by the fact of our shared humanity.
Argues that "internalism about reasons" owes its appeal to a function argument from the nature of agency. Internalism is thus revealed as a species of ethical rationalism. (This paper introduces a volume of recent work on internal and external reasons.).
Argues from the planning theory of intention – as an account of means-end coherence – to a comprehensive form of ethical rationalism. Having raised objections to this result, the paper ends by sketching a way out.
Argues for a form of humanism on which we have reason to care about human beings that we do not have to care about other animals and human beings have rights against us other animals lack. Humanism respects the equal worth of those born with severe congenital cognitive disabilities. I address the charge of 'speciesism' and explain how being human is an ethically relevant fact.
To begin with, I am deeply grateful to Michael Bratman and Michael Smith for their generosity in responding to my book, for the care with which they have read it, and for the challenge of meeting their objections. I am also grateful for their support and encouragement over the years. It is a pleasure to engage with them here.Because their comments raise many related difficulties, this reply will treat them together, beginning with brief consideration of issues in action theory before (...) turning to Reasons and rationalism. It will also be incomplete: there is much more to say about these problems than can be said in this space.Bratman's discussion poses a structural question: how far does my argument about reason and virtue in Part Two of the book depend on the principle of Belief and the cognitive theory of intention from Part One? His answer is: quite a bit. But this is not straightforward. If we reject Belief, our account of acting for reasons becomes more minimal. This would make it more difficult to derive standards of practical reason from the nature of agency, as the rationalist purports to do. If I am right to argue that rationalism and the virtue theory are exhaustive alternatives, it therefore makes the virtue theory of practical reason easier to defend. My Anscombean assumptions are in fact a concession to some of the ideas that motivate rationalists like Korsgaard and Velleman – though not, as we will see, either Bratman or Smith. Denying them makes more trouble for the ethical views that I oppose than it does for mine. 1What does matter to my argument is that when we act intentionally, or for reasons, we need not do so ‘under the guise of the good’, since the doctrine that we must …. (shrink)
Argues from the rationality of nostalgia, affirmation, and regret to a principle of ‘specificity’: it can be rational to respond more strongly to facts that provide us with reasons than to the fact that such reasons exist.
Argues that we do not act intentionally ‘under the guise of the good.’ This makes it hard to explain why akrasia is distinctively irrational; but this is no objection, since it is just as hard to explain on the opposing view. Ends with a problem of akrasia for ethical rationalists.
Argues against the form of instrumentalism on which being practically rational is being efficient in the pursuit of one's ends. The trait of means-end efficiency turns out to be a defect of character, and therefore cannot be identified with practical reason at its best.
In the "Transcendental Aesthetic" of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant offers an argument for transcendental idealism. This argument is one focus of the longstanding controversy between "one-world" and "two-world" interpretations of the distinction between things in themselves and things as they appear. I present an interpretation of the argument of the "Aesthetic" that supports a novel "one-world" interpretation. On this interpretation, Kant is concerned with the mind-dependence of spatial and temporal properties; and with the idea that space and time (...) can be identified with mental objects. I end by arguing that, for Kant, even on a "one-world" interpretation, we do not know the nature or even the existence of mind-independent things. (shrink)
I argue that ignorance of who will die makes a difference to the ethics of killing. It follows that reasons are subject to ‘specificity’: it can be rational to respond more strongly to facts that provide us with reasons than to the fact that such reasons exist. In the case of killing and letting die, these reasons are distinctively particular: they turn on personal acquaintance. The theory of rights must be, in part, a theory of this relation.
Argues that the answer is yes. The epistemic assumptions of moral theory deprive us of resources needed to resist the challenge of moral disagreement, which its practice at the same time makes vivid. The paper ends by sketching a kind of epistemology that can respond to disagreement without skepticism: one in which the fundamental standards of justification for moral belief are biased toward the truth.
In this collection, Kieran Setiya explores the place of agency in ethics, arguing for a causal theory of intentional action on which it is understood through the knowledge embodied in our intentions, and against the rationalist project of deriving norms of practical reason from the nature of the will.
Some of the most challenging questions in philosophical ethics concern the justification of action. Can you have reasons to do something that you are not, and perhaps cannot be, motivated to do? If reasons rest on desires, why respect the rights and interests of others when doing so prevents us from getting what we want? In other words, why be moral? In his 1979 essay, "Internal and External Reasons," Bernard Williams framed the dispute about reason and motivation in a way (...) that captured the philosophical imagination. An explosion of work on reasons and action followed, with influential responses by Christine Korsgaard, John McDowell, and Michael Smith. This volume collects the most important work on the topic, including Williams's seminal essay, the responses by Korsgaard, McDowell, and Smith, and more recent contributions by central figures. Taken together, the selections offer a comprehensive survey of state-of-the-art work on internal reasons and a distinctive, focused approach to foundational questions of ethical objectivity. A substantive introduction by Kieran Setiya skillfully guides the reader through the theoretical and conceptual terrain, explaining what is at stake in the larger debate. The hardcover edition does not include a dust jacket. (shrink)
Argues that doubts about the inference from 'p' to 'I believe that p' do not support reflective theories of self-knowledge over an inferential or rule-following view. (This note is a reply to Matthew Boyle, "Transparent Self-Knowledge," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 85: 223-241.).
Argues, against Anscombe, that Aristotle had the concept of morality as an interpersonal normative order: morality is justice in general. For an action to be wrong is not for it to warrant blame, or to wrong another person, but to be something one should not do that one has no right to do. In the absence of rights, morality makes no sense.