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Ralph Wedgwood
Los Angeles
Interests: Ethics (especially metaethics) and epistemology -- including the dimensions of these subjects that overlap with metaphysics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind.
Recent Activity
Doug and Jamie -- You're completely right. The formulation that I posted yesterday contained a terrible mistake. I have now amended my formulation so that it removes the terrible mistake. (There's also a philosopher named 'Ralph Wedgwood' who has discussed these cases in detail, especially in "Akrasia and Uncertainty"....)
Toggle Commented Jul 9, 2016 on Objective and subjective akrasia at PEA Soup
Suppose that there is both an objective ‘ought’ and a subjective ‘ought’. Which of these two kinds of ‘ought’ figures in the anti-akrasia principle that it is irrational to do something at the same time as believing that one ought not to do it? There is a simple of way... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2016 at Ralph Wedgwood's blog
Suppose that there is both an objective ‘ought’ and a subjective ‘ought’. Which of these two kinds of ‘ought’ figures in the anti-akrasia principle that it is irrational to do something at the same time as believing that one ought... Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2016 at PEA Soup
Thanks, Jamie! Strictly strictly speaking, we probably need more than rankings to determine how much reason all-things-considered there is for each of the available acts: we probably need scales that measure how big the difference is between the available acts in terms of the relevant values. But yes, I do think that once we have the scales measuring the available acts in terms of the relevant values -- including both moral and non-moral values -- this will determine the all-things-considered ranking. So, strictly speaking, as you rightly figured out, calling it a "triple ranking" view is not perfectly precise.
Thanks, Michael! The philosophers who think that we have to explain "permissible suboptimality" in terms of values are the ones whom I called the "teleologists" – i.e. precisely the ones whom I was discussing in my post. There are plenty of non-teleologist philosophers, and they would have to find another way to account for this phenomenon. I'm not sure that I understand Aquinas' view, as you interpret it, but I confess that I don’t like the sound of “non-universal counsels of perfect virtue”. It suggests a kind of moral elitism, according to which some agents are subject to more stringent requirements than others (as if the fact that these agents are required to do more than other agents were explained by their having a superior status of some kind…). In general, I agree with you that the language of ‘requirements’ is multiply context-sensitive. In this context, however, I was using the term to express the concept of what is necessary for avoiding moral wrongdoing – where at least in the absence of an excuse, moral wrongdoing merits a certain familiar kind of blame or negative reactive attitude. (So, even if the super-virtuous person says, “I have to save those people”, she doesn’t mean that she is in my sense morally required to save them – that is, that it is necessary for her to save them if she is to avoid moral wrongdoing. What she means is something like that it is necessary for her to save them if she is to act in a way that she would regard as tolerable or acceptable in the circumstances.) I also agree that it is a non-trivial task to explain the distinction between moral and non-moral reasons. I have tried to say something about this in my paper “The Weight of Moral Reasons”, in Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics (2013).
Jussi -- I agree with your thought that "there is a robust connection between rightness and wrongness of actions and the appropriateness of reactive attitudes". But the reactive attitudes themselves come in degrees: we resent some acts more than others, and we blame some acts more than others, and so on. On the face of it, there is no smallest degree of blame that we are capable of: however mildly and gently you blame one act, it is possible to blame another act even more mildly and gently. Eventually, as these degrees of blaming become smaller and smaller, we will lose the ability to distinguish between very mild degrees of blaming and no blaming at all. So, I do think that extremely mild reactive attitudes are appropriate in your Chinese good case -- perhaps so mild that it would be wrong to express these reactive attitudes verbally in any way. More generally, it seems to me that cases of this sort, involving very slightly impermissible acts and very mild levels of appropriate blame, seem bound to exist. So I don't see why you think it is so implausible and "revisionary" to interpret your Chinese food case as being of this kind.
Thanks Jussi! I'm willing to say that it is (slightly) morally impermissible to go for Chinese food in your case. However, when an act is only very slightly wrong, we will find it hard to distinguish the case from cases where the act is not wrong at all. So it will seem a bit doubtful to us whether the act is wrong or impermissible at all, I agree. Still, I don't think that we should treat this doubtfulness as a strong reason for denying that the act is impermissible at all. (My point here is modelled on what my colleague Mark Schroeder says about how difficult it is for us to distinguish cases involving very weak reasons from cases involving no reasons at all.)
Thanks David Sobel! Please let me know what you think about whether Ben's arguments undermine anything that I have said.
Thanks, Douglas Portmore! I'm sorry for the slip in my argument. However, I believe that I can still make my point if I change the example slightly. Your response to my original example relied on the suggestion that the all-things-considered ranking may be a partial ranking. You suggest that although option (d) is inferior to option (c) on the all-things-considered ranking, (d) is not inferior to (a) on this ranking. But then options (c) and (a) cannot be exactly equally good, since then (d) would have to be inferior to (a). Since neither (a) nor (c) is better than the other in the all-things-considered ranking, it must be that (a) and (c) are simply unranked in relation to each other. But there will be cases where it's not plausible to say this. Here is the recipe for constructing cases of this sort. Suppose that (a) and (c) are extremely similar, and so seem to involve all of the same kinds of reasons and values. Then we should be able to find cases where although (a) is morally better than (c), the non-moral advantages of (c) exactly counterbalance the moral advantages of (a), so that they are exactly equally good in the all-things-considered ranking. Then if I do an act (d), which is as similar to (c) as possible, except that it involves imposing some unnecessary costs on myself, it will count as impermissible, according to this toy version of the dual-ranking view.
Some philosophers – let’s call them “teleologists” – believe that there is an intimate connection between deontic terms like ‘required’, ‘ought’, and ‘permissible’, on the one hand, and evaluative terms like ‘better’ and ‘best’, on the other. Teleologists face a problem with the intuitive idea of supererogation. This is the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 12, 2015 at Ralph Wedgwood's blog
Some philosophers – let’s call them “teleologists” – believe that there is an intimate connection between deontic terms like ‘required’, ‘ought’, and ‘permissible’, on the one hand, and evaluative terms like ‘better’ and ‘best’, on the other. Teleologists face a... Continue reading
Posted Oct 12, 2015 at PEA Soup
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Eric -- Well, I'm not willing to "posit" that "X ought to phi" is normatively equivalent to "There is a reason for X to phi"! There are at least two crucial differences between the two statements. Like most formal semanticists, I believe that 'ought' is a weak necessity modal, and so obeys the principles of standard deontic logic: If p entails q, then "Ought(p)" entails "Ought(q)". So, even if you ought to phi, it doesn't follow that there is any reason in favour of your phi-ing. It could be that the reason why you ought to phi is that there is a reason in favour of your psi-ing, and your psi-ing entails your phi-ing.On the other hand, a reasons can conflict, while if 'ought' is used in the same sense on both occasions, it cannot be that you "ought to phi" and also "ought to psi" if it is impossible to both phi and psi. It will be true that you ought to phi if and only if phi-ing is entailed by what you have decisive (or compelling or overriding) reason to do -- merely having some reason to phi is not enough!So I don't accept the assumptions that your objection is based on. But even if I did, I find it hard to see how it could be simultaneously the case that there is no reason to believe p, but also no reason not to believe p. Surely, there is always a reason not to believe things that there is no reason to believe? Actions may well be different: perhaps sometimes there can be no reason to click your fingers and also no reason not click your fingers. But beliefs are surely different, if there's absolutely no reason to believe something -- e.g. that the number of books in the British Library is odd -- there is also a reason to refrain from believing it!
Toggle Commented Aug 16, 2015 on Rationality is permissibility at PEA Soup
Phil -- You may be being misled by my terminology here. I'm not using the term 'rational' so that any decision that is influenced by friendship or by emotion is "irrational". What it is rational for me to do may depend on any of the "normative pressures" that matter to me. So, if friendship really matters to Kirk, it is perfectly rational for Kirk to be influenced by friendship in making decisions. On the other hand, if Kirk is taking an absolutely crazy risk -- risking not just his own life but the lives of his whole crew -- in order to save Spock, then surely there is a sense in which it is true that he "ought not" to have saved Spock! I don't see any reason to think that there are any cases in which it is, as you say, "neither rational nor irrational" to believe p. To take your example, if there's only a 50% chance that your mother is gardening right now, then it is clearly irrational for you to have a confident belief that you mother is gardening right now. On the other hand, if the chances that she is gardening are sufficiently high (95%, say), it is presumably rational to believe that she is gardening. In between these extremes, there may be cases where it is rational to believe that she is gardening, and also rational to suspend judgment about whether or not she is gardening. But I see absolutely no reason for thinking that there are any cases in which it is, "neither rational nor irrational" to have this belief.
Toggle Commented Aug 16, 2015 on Rationality is permissibility at PEA Soup
Thanks, Mike! You are quite right that if all permissible beliefs are obligatory, then (1) and (2) would both be true -- even though it would then also be true that whenever it was rational for you to believe p, you ought to believe p. (It would not follow that 'rational' means "obligatory", of course -- no more than it would follow that 'permissible' actually means "obligatory"...!) As for the puzzle about 'right' that you raise at the end of your comment, I said something about this in an earlier post on this very blog. See: http://peasoup.typepad.com/peasoup/2008/05/a-puzzle-about.html
Toggle Commented Jul 30, 2015 on Rationality is permissibility at PEA Soup
Thanks, Brad! The problem that you raise is familiar from the literature about the normativity of rationality. (See e.g. Andrew Reisner’s 2011 paper ““Is there reason to be theoretically rational?”) The argument of my blog post was only addressed to philosophers who think that ‘rationally required’ expresses a normative concept. Any philosopher who thinks this is going to have to address this problem. Presumably, they will do this by arguing that there are different senses of ‘ought’ – including (a) a sense in which you “ought” to believe what you have compelling practical reasons for bringing it about that you believe, and (b) a second sense in which you “ought” to believe only what you have compelling theoretical reasons to believe. At all events, if ‘being rationally required to believe p’ does express a normative concept, then it surely expresses a stronger concept than merely the concept of having some reason to believe p: it expresses the concept of having compelling reasons of some kind for believing p.
Toggle Commented Jul 28, 2015 on Rationality is permissibility at PEA Soup
Thanks, Derek! Your reduction fails, for the following reason. The term ‘good’ is (as a long line of moral philosophers from G. H. von Wright to P. F. Geach to J. J. Thomson have argued) a multiply context-sensitive and polysemous term. However, it is fairly easy to see that every sense of ‘good’ either (a) is equivalent to some corresponding sense of ‘permissible’, or else (b) invalidates one of the premises of the argument that you claim to be analogous to my argument about ‘rational’. After all, being permissible is clearly a good feature of an action or an attitude – it’s certainly not a bad feature, and so it is presumably to at least some degree a good feature. So actions or attitudes that are permissible are all at least in one way good. Alternatively, consider stronger senses of the term ‘good’ – senses in which being permissible is not sufficient for being “good”. Supererogatory actions are a good example of actions that are good in such a stronger sense. But then premise (1) of your argument is obviously false. Even if doing X is not good in the way in which heroic or saintly supererogatory actions are, we certainly cannot conclude that you ought not to do X. In such a case, doing X may be quite permissible, even if it is not in the relevant way “good”. So, in general, I do not believe that you have successfully identified a sense of ‘good’ which both (a) is stronger than the corresponding sense of ‘permissible’, and also (b) validates all the premises of your argument.
Toggle Commented Jul 28, 2015 on Rationality is permissibility at PEA Soup
Dan, I'm sorry: I was trying to be brief, and so didn't explain things fully. My argument is meant to apply to every normative sense of 'rational' and 'justified'. What I was arguing for, more precisely, was the following: For every such normative sense of these terms, there is some corresponding use of the terms 'ought' and 'permissible' that satisfies the premises of my argument.
Toggle Commented Jul 26, 2015 on Rationality is permissibility at PEA Soup
Amelie, When I said "All actions are either permissible or impermissible", I wasn't talking about act-types! There could be other interpretations, but according to the way in which I tend to think of the matter, each of these "actions" is in effect a possible state of affairs, consisting in a certain agent's acting in a certain way at a certain time. In this sense, each action has a "context" already built into it.
Toggle Commented Jul 26, 2015 on Rationality is permissibility at PEA Soup
Thanks, Amelie! I accept that some things -- rocks or numbers, for example -- are neither rational nor irrational. But I find it hard to accept that a belief might be neither rational nor irrational. Beliefs always involve the believer's making some use of her powers of reasoning and thought. These powers are always either (a) used properly or (b) not used properly: in the former case (a), the beliefs are rational; in the latter case (b), they are irrational. I do not agree that beliefs are "epistemic actions", but even if they were, I don't see why it would be plausible that they were always (or indeed ever) "neither permissible nor impermissible". Indeed, it seems intuitively clear to me that all actions are either permissible or impermissible. So I'm not convinced that you have raised any persuasive objection to my premise (5).
Toggle Commented Jul 26, 2015 on Rationality is permissibility at PEA Soup
Thanks, Dan! I am afraid to say, however, that I disagree with almost everything that you say here. First, my formulations were not ambiguous: it should be quite clear to any competent speaker of English that the logical form of 'You ought not to believe p' is 'O-Bp' (i.e. B according to your labelling). Secondly (according to your labelling) C does not entail B. That is, "You ought to believe not-p" does not logically entail "You ought not to believe p". It is at least logically possible that it might be simultaneously the case that you ought to believe not-p and that it is permissible for you to believe p. It is a substantive claim about the norms of belief that we ought never to believe inconsistent propositions. Thirdly, in the case that you consider, I would say that if it is not rational for you to believe that your missing pet is safe and will soon be found, there is a sense in which you "ought not" to believe this. Perhaps there are some senses in which it would not be true to say that you "ought not" to believe this -- it would be distressing and unhelpful for you not to believe it at this point, perhaps -- but there is surely a clear sense in which it is true to say that you "ought not" to believe it. 'Ought', as all the linguists and formal semanticists would agree, is a polysemous or context-sensitive term, expressing different concepts in different contexts. Your case doesn't come close to showing what you need to refute my argument, that there is no sense in which, in a case of this kind, you "ought not" to believe that your missing pet is safe and will soon be found.
Toggle Commented Jul 26, 2015 on Rationality is permissibility at PEA Soup
Many philosophers seem to think that – even if the notions of a belief’s being “justified” or “rational” are indeed normative notions, as is widely held to be the case – to say that a belief is “justified” is “rational”... Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2015 at PEA Soup
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Many philosophers seem to think that – even if the notions of a belief’s being “justified” or “rational” are indeed normative notions, as is widely held to be the case – to say that a belief is “justified” is “rational” is to say something stronger than merely that the belief... Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2015 at Ralph Wedgwood's blog
Thanks Pete! Your premise 1* together with my premises 2 and 3 doesn't entail OIW. To make the argument valid, we'd have to replace my premise 2 with: 2*: If OIW were false, then it would be possible for an agent to rationally believe that she ought to F at the same time as rationally believing that she won't F. However, it seems to me, whereas my old premise 2 is true, this new premise 2* is false. This is because even if OIW is false, there is an alternative explanation of why a rational agent can't rationally believe that she ought to F at the same as time rationally believing that she won't F: a rational agent who believes that she ought to F will be intend to F, and this intention will rationally require her to believe that she will F. This is possible because if you rationally intend to F, you can rationally base a belief that you will F on your intention to F. By contrast, it cannot be rational for you to base your belief that you can F on your intention to F. A rational intention to F presupposes a rational belief that you can F, and cannot serve as a rational basis for such a belief. This is why 2 and 2*, though superficially similar, differ in truth value.
Toggle Commented Apr 20, 2015 on Moral Theory and "Action-Guidingness" at PEA Soup
I think of the "action-guiding" character of morality as a feature of normative judgments in general, not just of the True Moral Theory. Very roughly, it is the principle that if you are rational, and you believe that you ought to F, you will be motivated to F. Call this principle "Normative Judgment Internalism" (or NJI for short). Although this principle could be used to argue for "'Ought' Implies 'Can'" (OIC), any such argument would obviously have to rely on a number of additional premises. These premises would probably be more controversial than OIC itself. Still, it might be a sound argument for OIC. Here is a proposal about how such an argument might go: 1. No rational agent will be motivated to do something that she rationally believes to be something that she can't do. 2. If OIC were false, then it would be possible for an agent to rationally believe that she ought to F while simultaneously rationally believing that she can't F. 3. NJI. Therefore, OIC is not false. I'm inclined to think that all three premises of this argument (or something like them) are true. Since the argument is valid, I'm inclined to think that this argument (or something like it) is sound -- though as I mentioned, it may not be the most dialectically effective way of arguing for OIC!
Toggle Commented Apr 20, 2015 on Moral Theory and "Action-Guidingness" at PEA Soup
In “Varieties of Necessity” (in Gendler and Hawthorne, Conceivability and Possibility, Oxford 2002), Kit Fine argued that we need to recognize that certain normative truths are in a sense necessary, and that the kind of necessity in question is sui generis, rather than being a special case of metaphysical necessity.... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2015 at Ralph Wedgwood's blog