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Kurt Sylvan
Southampton
I'm a Rutgers Ph.D. with interests in epistemology, ethics, and philosophy of mind.
Interests: Epistemology, ethics, philosophy of mind.
Recent Activity
Thanks, Daniel. I wasn't worried about that case in particular -- though it is (fair enough) a case I used to illustrate the problem in the paper. I was just worried about whether the appeal to a priori *knowability* rather than something non-factive would lead to counterexamples that similarly illustrate that the account imposes a necessary condition that is unnecessary. Can't we imagine cases in which a subject is in a position to form the a priori rational but false belief that if the facts of the situation are as they appear to be, those facts give an objective reason to X? Here the indicative conditional is not knowable a priori because it is false. Maybe you think there are no such cases. But if there are such cases, I think it will be intuitive that X-ing is rational in them. There are various ways you could respond. Maybe you think this is a case where X-ing would merely be blameless. But then I'd wonder about how you'd respond to my other worries about that move. Perhaps it is wrong to treat these cases as illustrating the *same* problem as the cases I employed when discussing the Problem of Wouldn't-Be Reasons. Nonetheless, I think there's a deeper problem that is similar: the account imposes a necessary condition that it shouldn't impose.
This looks like a good occasion to compare Daniel’s view with my view in ‘What Apparent Reasons Appear to Be’. I think my view avoids (indeed, it is designed to avoid) Errol’s objections and it is not a version of the view Daniel is attacking. But I will also suggest some replies on behalf of Daniel that would reduce the distance between our views. Given certain controversial views about normative belief, Daniel’s view might collapse into a close relative of my view. But my view would still have the advantage of not *requiring* us to accept the further controversial views about normative belief. (Of course, we might accept these views anyway, but there is still good reason to not build commitment to them into our account of subjective reasons.) First of all, I will stress that a circularity worry is part of what motivated me to analyze rationality in terms of *competence*, where a competence/performance distinction is also drawn to allow for rationality without success or even objectively likely success. My view goes roughly as follows: (CAT) P is a subjective reason for S to PHI iff (i) it appears to S that P, (ii) S is attracted to treating the apparent fact that P like an objective reason to PHI, and (iii) this attraction manifests S’s competence to treat P-like considerations (if true) like objective reasons to do PHI-like things iff they are such reasons. CAT is not a view on which subjective reasons are analyzed in terms of rationality or anything straightforwardly analyzable in terms of rationality. Of course, one might have the substantive view that rational capacities reduce to objective reasons-sensitive competences. (This seems to be Raz’s view in From Normativity to Responsibility.) If so, this view would be extensionally equivalent to a view that analyzes subjective reasons in terms of rationality. But the objective reasons-sensitive competences are more fundamental. So the extensional equivalence does not yield circularity. Daniel could make a similar move. Indeed, he is not far from doing so when he suggests (on p.16) that knowledge might be prior to rationality. I myself think that knowledge is prior to rationality, though I think it is analyzable anyway as apt belief, which is not essentially reasons-based. Knowledge is not a standing in the space of reasons, but rather a precondition for standing in that space. (Cf. “The Place of Reasons in Epistemology” by me and Ernie Sosa.) But in this context, a different but related view becomes salient: one might think that knowing that P is an objective reason to PHI amounts to an apt exercise of objective reasons-sensitive competence. If, as Daniel suggests, we held a lax account of normative belief on which believing that P is a normative reason amounts to treating P like a normative reason (or the like), this would be plausible. Then Daniel would avoid the circularity objection. Nevertheless, my view would retain an important advantage. It would be nice to avoid an account of subjective reasons that *requires* us to adopt a lax account of normative belief and concept possession. To address other objections, Daniel is already suggesting that a lax account of normative belief is needed to defend his view. But we could adopt a view that doesn’t require this (though this view might be extensionally equivalent to Daniel’s if a lax account of normative belief is true). Now, I think my view is better in other ways. I think Daniel’s view is too demanding and faces what I call the “Problem of Wouldn’t-Be Reasons” (this is related to the theme of Errol’s Vlad case). Knowability is factive. But there are more plausible non-factive conditions to use instead. If we want to keep the rest of Daniel’s view, we could say that P is a subjective reason for S to PHI iff S is in a position to have the a priori rational belief that if the facts of the situation are as they appear to S to be, those facts give S an objective reason to PHI. Or, to avoid circularity, we could say that P is a subjective reason for S to PHI iff S is in a position to believe while manifesting a priori competence that if the facts of the situation are as they appear to S to be, those facts give S an objective reason to PHI. This would help with Errol’s Vlad case. Frankly, though, these a priori knowability cases are just hard to assess. If the fact that P is really knowable a priori for a subject, it is hard to see how the subject could be *justified* in believing that ~P. My instinct would be to say that this illustrates the need to divorce rationality and justification. We should keep rationality on the less demanding side. Daniel instead suggests that we distinguish between an attitude/act’s being rational and a person’s being excusable for having the attitudes she has. I am inclined to think there is no difference between these things. Rationality is already a kind of excusability. There is no justification/excuse distinction for rationality. (There is a rationality/blamelessness distinction, but excusability is more than blamelessness, as John Gardner has taught us.) But maybe it is fine to describe things in both ways. Maybe the concept of rationality suffers from indeterminacy and there is no fact of the matter here. Three more comments. Firstly, invoking a competent treating (or attraction-to-treat) condition rather than a normative belief condition will help with Errol’s Bob case. Even if Bob cannot get himself to form the rational belief that P is a reason to PHI, he can still treat the apparent fact that P like an objective reason to PHI. I think this illustrates not only that a treating condition is preferable to a normative belief condition, but also why normative belief is not easily understood in a lax way. I am sure Errol agrees, since he also appeals to a treating condition in his own account of subjective reasons. Secondly, a competent treating condition (or the like) would allow us to steer between the horns of Clayton’s dilemma. I should, however, say that I am not sure why Clayton thinks anyone would hold that subjective reasons are motivating reasons. They may have an indirect connection to motivation, but they are less than motivating reasons. Thirdly, I think both Daniel and I could avoid Clayton’s final worry by distinguishing between structural and substantive rationality. This is not, I would stress, the same distinction as the distinction between rationality and justification. Substantive rationality is more than coherence but less than justification. See my paper “Rationality and Justification: Reasons to Divorce?” for arguments (on my website). Finally, apologies if anything I have said wrongly ignores what happened after the first four comments. They were posted while I was still writing. (It took a while to write this.)
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Jun 17, 2014