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David Faraci
Bowling Green, OH
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As a recent graduate myself, I second all that—the general value of responding genially to grad students, even just to say you're too busy; the disvalue of failing to do so; and the specific cases of David Copp and Josh Knobe. I also want to point out that, at least for me, PEA Soup itself played much the same positive role. Many of you helped boost my confidence (in general, while often shaking it with respect to particular views) when I was a grad student. I thank you for that. Of course, those of you who know me know that I was probably less timid than average as a grad student, anyway. So, I also want to encourage grad students who are more timid to comment when they have something to say. (If nothing else, the public nature of this forum probably means you're more likely to receive a genial response, since everyone will know if you're ignored or mistreated!)
David, Hmmm... I replied earlier but it seems to have vanished. If it comes back, just assume whichever one sounds better is what I really mean. All I meant is that it seems like the sticking point will be whether the "truths" Bill champions (presumably by endorsing a deflationary account of truth) can stand up to the relevant intuitions. So I think we're on roughly the same page here. Indeed, for what it's worth, I agree with you about expressivism (I have a paper that's partly about this, too; if you're interested you can read it here). But I have to admit that when I think about what the rational non-optionality move might do to the expressivist picture (along the lines I suggested for Bill in my last post), my "it's all about me" intuitions start to flag. As I said earlier, I think whether the metaethical case is different from the theistic depends on whether non-RR theorists have been making progress. Obviously, this will be a point of contention (between you and them, at least, regardless of whether between you and me). I also agree with you that we don't have much substantive disagreement here, except perhaps with respect to the strength of certain intuitions and perhaps some methodological stuff. Indeed, as someone who leans away from RR, I really appreciate the ways in which your work helps illuminate paths in both directions*; and I think the transcendental path—which I'm fond of—might ultimately lead either way. *In contrast, it seem to me that some of your non-naturalist brethren are far too comfortable standing atop Default Mountain, hurling objects down at the climbers.
Toggle Commented Jul 4, 2013 on Featured Philosopher: David Enoch at PEA Soup
David, Correction noted; I was playing a bit fast and loose there. I also agree about transcendental arguments. I was really just using this (here and in the work I'm doing) to capture a kind of argument regarding rational non-optionality in metaethics that I think you, Korsgaard, and some expressivists share. Obviously, if that's the case, I can't go around saying that "transcendental arguments" more generally always involve rational non-optionality! It sounds to me like the sticking point against Bill is going to be whether or not deflationary normative truth suffices for deliberation. I have to admit I find what you say here rather unsatisfying; it seems to me to be relying extremely heavily on an intuitive sense of what it means for something to be "response-dependent." I don't know if Bill should say that his view isn't response-dependent, or that it is but not in a way that supports impartiality. But it's not clear to me that enough has been said about response-dependence to close off either avenue. For instance, suppose Bill argues that certain particular substantive normative truths are rationally non-optional. Those truths might still be response-dependent in some sense, but it's not at all clear to me that if someone disagreed with me about one, I should go impartial. Surely, I should try to convince them to be more rational! You say you think evidence of future evidence is present in the theistic case I describe. Does that mean you think it is not present in the metaethical case? Finally, you say: I think it’s less useful to argue over the place different philosophical positions should occupy in line – you just evaluate all the arguments and let chips fall where they may, no? I agree, insofar as we are talking about making decisions based on current evidence. But my concern here is more prospective (and ad hominem): You admit that you have less to say against competitors than you'd like (e.g., re: just-too-differentness). You are also depending on an argument for RR—indispensability—that explicitly relies on the unavailability of alternatives (thus, in a way, making itself the last resort!). So, the thought is that your present evidentiary position is uncertain enough to warrant searching for further evidence. If so, and you can choose what kind of evidence to look for (as surely we can, especially as philosophers), isn't evidence for (e.g., arguments for) non-RR the right thing to pursue? Of course, you might just have no idea how to do that. And that's part of what this post is about: To my mind, what is particularly striking about your work (especially in contrast with other non-naturalists, like Parfit) is that you yourself are working with one (I think the best, maybe the only) type of argument—rational non-optionality—that might vindicate non-RR.
Toggle Commented Jul 3, 2013 on Featured Philosopher: David Enoch at PEA Soup
David, You're right that my point is dialectically unusual; that's one reason I raised it here, since I'm taking for granted that you buy into the promise of transcendental moves in metaethics! As you suspect, part of my question was just whether you had reason to think transcendental moves would be unavailable for non-RR theorists. And, as I suspected, you don't. That's not surprising, or even a problem in itself; I just wanted to give you a chance to voice one if you had it! Interestingly, though, I think your response to Nick in this thread might point to a reason for thinking that at least some non-RR views can't make your transcendental move after all. You say that you take your indispensability argument to avoid shmagency (or shnormativity) objections because you are relying on a normative premise—that belief in normative truth is rationally non-optional. Extending this, you might claim that all transcendental arguments rely on claims of rational non-optionality, and thus that all transcendental arguments rely on normative premises. With that in hand, it's not hard to see why you might think such arguments are most friendly to RR, since non-RR views typically ground normativity in something non-normative, and so it seems it will always be the argument for that grounding—not the transcendental one—that's doing the real work. I don't think this argument will work against everyone, though (not that you did; I made the argument, not you!). Suppose Bill is a Blackburn-style expressivist. Bill argues that we are rationally committed to accepting that all substantive normative claims (e.g., 'lying is wrong') are either true of false. Then he reads your book. First, you tell Bill that his view has to be wrong, because it entails that normative truth somehow depends on us and our attitudes, and that this is inconsistent with normative objectivity. Second, you argue that belief in normative truth is rationally non-optional. Bill is surprised: You've both argued for the rational non-optionality of normative truth. The only difference seems to be that his normative truth is deflationary, while yours is robustly real. If he's to take your arguments to favor your view, it seems that must be because his deflated truths can't assist in deliberation, perhaps because they aren't objective. Now, here's where things get fuzzy for me. On the one hand, I feel the force of the intuition that somehow the normative truth still depends on us for the expressivist. Really, though, that seems only to be the case in the sense that we wouldn't have Bill's transcendental argument if it weren't for us and our attitudes. But can't the same thing be said on your account? We're only rationally committed to the existence of normative truth because of our need for deliberation. What's more, the only argument (that's not mere intuition-pumping) you've offered regarding objectivity—the stuff about standing your ground in the face of disagreement—doesn't seem to hit home. If Bill is right and we're rationally committed to there being normative truth (even in a deflated sense) then surely we're warranted in standing our ground. (And I don't seem any reasons beyond that why non-deflated truth is necessary for deliberation.) Ok, so that's the kind of thing I'm thinking about (it's related both to some of what I said in my review and, if I'm remembering correctly, to some concerns Kate had): It seems like there might be transcendental moves that expressivists (for one) can make that would seemingly serve to undermine your arguments against them and thus to undermine the indispensability of RR normative truth (though maybe not of normative truth period). (It could be that you just don't buy the expressivist argument for deflated truth. If you've addressed this directly somewhere, and I missed it, sorry.) Finally, a bit about your comment about epistemic possibility: [I]t doesn’t follow that the mere epistemic possibility of future evidence coming in should somehow change how we respond to the evidence we currently have, no? I agree, for the most part. But I do think that such epistemic possibility can create strong theoretical pressure. Think about the history of using God to explain things. As science progresses, God seems required to explain less and less. There are still things science can't explain, and it might even be that current evidence supports a theistic explanation (or a non-natural one, or no explanation at all) but it still may be that, given a choice between defending theism and pursuing naturalistic explanations, we should choose the latter. There are (at least) two reasons for this: One is inductive and may or may not apply in the normative case. (I suppose it depends on whether you take non-RR theorists to have satisfied other concerns you've had to give you reason to think they'll be able to satisfy, say, the just-too-different intuition.) But the other reason is theoretical: The theistic explanation isn't as useful as a scientific explanation would be, so we should pursue the scientific one rather than accept the theistic. I'm tempted to say something similar here: Your argument for RR only goes through if either (a) there can't be non-RR normative truth or (b) non-RR normative truth wouldn't help us deliberate (these might amount to the same thing). Generally, then, the claim is that we should pursue RR only as a last resort, and I'm not sure you've shown we're at the end of the line. More specifically, what I'm trying to highlight here is that your own use of transcendental arguments seems to me to illuminate ways for your opponents to resist (a) and (b)—e.g., Bill might argue that, for him, it is commitment to acceptance of normative truth that depends on us and our attitudes, not the truths themselves and that, in this way, his position may not be so different from your own.
Toggle Commented Jul 2, 2013 on Featured Philosopher: David Enoch at PEA Soup
David, Let me start by admitting that this is somewhat self-serving, since (as you know) I've focused on your work a good deal in my own, and I'm currently working on a paper that continues this trend. I think, and certainly hope, though, that my question—or, at least, the broader issues it raises—will be of general enough interest to fit in here. I take the gist of your position in Taking Morality Seriously to be something like this: We shouldn't pretend that Robust Realism (RR) doesn't come with theoretical costs; it does. But there are good reasons not to be error theorists and no metanormative alternative can avoid error theory and also make good on various important features of normativity. For instance, you point out that, for quasi-realists, normative truth still somehow depend on us, and this seems to fly in the face of normative objectivity. In various places, you raise the just-too-different intuition against naturalism. And you just mentioned your work elsewhere against constitutivism. Now, as you yourself say, the indispensability argument you give for RR can be read as a kind of transcendental argument: Given our need for normative truth in deliberation, we are rationally committed to there being such truth. So, my first question is: Why is this kind of argument closed off to your competitors? For instance, quasi-realists like Gibbard seem to think that we are rationally committed to there being true and false normative claims. And as Mark Schroeder points out in Noncognitivism in Ethics, other non-cognitivists like Hare and (on a reading Mark alludes to) Korsgaard seem to think we are rationally committed to certain first-order normative truths. If any of those arguments can be made successful, it seems like they would provide a counter to the charge that dependence on us entails non-objectivity. (Similarly, I think that if naturalists could take your transcendental ball and run with it, they might be able to make good on just-too-differentness; but since there's already a literature on the expressivism/constitutivism stuff, I won't say more about that here, lest this get far too self-serving.) Of course, a simple response to all of this might just be that you think what Gibbard, Hare, Korsgaard, etc. have done fails. But that doesn't show that, say, some other transcendental argument can't work for some non-RR view. Thus, my second question: Given that you (a) already champion a transcendental argument of some kind and (b) seem willing to admit that if certain metanormative alternatives could make good on objectivity, just-too-differentness, etc., that would be best, since we wouldn't have to bear the theoretical costs that attend RR—why isn't a transcendental argument for non-RR normativity the avenue most worthy of pursuit?
Toggle Commented Jul 1, 2013 on Featured Philosopher: David Enoch at PEA Soup
Jamie, Let's set philosophers aside for a moment. It seems to me that, as a completely philosophically unsophisticated teengager, I was able to entertain the thought that nothing I or anyone else does or thinks or says matters, that nothing is really right or wrong, good or bad, and that life is meaningless. And it seems to me that in such a nihilistic moment, I might have asserted that "murdering is not wrong." I take it the expressivist could say one of two things about me: First, she could say that I was expressing my BEING FOR not blaming for murdering. Given my nihilistic mindset, and that such an attitude is just as incompatible with that mindset as BEING FOR blaming for murdering, that sounds wildly implausible to me. Second, she can say that I'm using the language wrong, just as she might say that a Platonist is using language wrong when he says "murdering has the Platonic property of wrongness." But I don't think that's even mildly plausible. I'm not infected with any weird metanormative views (as the Platonist might be); I just have the very natural thought that (a) there might have been some truth about what matters, what I ought to do, etc. but (b) there isn't. That's the kind of weak objectivity I think almost everyone can entertain pre-philosophically. And it's the kind of objectivity that, I'm arguing, is straightforwardly ruled out by a view on which all normative assertions—positive and negative alike—are expressions of some non-cogntive attitude.
Toggle Commented Jun 6, 2012 on Expressivism vs. Nihilism at PEA Soup
Eric, I agree with you that the kind of nihilist I'm talking about has to be utterly devoid of normative commitments (or PCs in keeping with the comments I just made to Jamie). I also agree that the most famous historical "nihilists" have not been nihilists of this kind. But I do not think that that's because such nihilists are impossible, but rather because it is only recently that philosophers have started to step back from concerns about morality in particular and look at normativity more generally. And there are, I think, current nihilists who are nihilists about normativity more generally (I might be wrong, but I think that Stan Husi and Bart Streumer are two examples). Now, of course, as you point out it might be that such "full-blown" normative nihilists are in trouble because they just can't help but make normative judgements. For instance, some people have claimed that because belief has a normative component, you can't coherently believe normative nihilism. (Matt Evans and Nishi Shah have a paper forthcoming in Oxford Studies in Metaethics on this.) Let's set aside for the moment the question of whether this line of argument works. Even if it does, all it shows is that nihilism isn't something we are capable of consistently believing. It doesn't show that nihilism is false. And it certainly doesn't show that nihlism is not a view we can entertain. But expressivism seems to me incompatible even with this minimal kind of coherence. It's one thing to say that nihilists have some deeply buried normative committment somewhere that makes them inconsistent. We can still understand how they can sensibly entertain the (still real) possibility that there is no normative truth. It's another thing entirely to hold that, as a matter of semantics, each and every negated normative claim one makes is itself an expression of a normative commitment (PC). In that case, nihilism isn't even a sensible view, just given what our normative terms mean. And as I said in the post, especially given the kind of "weak objectivism" many of us accept about normative thought and language, this result seems wholly unacceptable.
Toggle Commented Jun 5, 2012 on Expressivism vs. Nihilism at PEA Soup
Jamie, You may be right that there's no theory-neutral way to say what counts as a (susbtantive) normative commitment. Surely, though, we can agree that the magic nihilist and the magic believer differ in that only the latter has any commitments that involve instantiations of magical properties/correct application of magical predicates. Hopefully you do agree. So let's just call this class of commitments "positive commitments" or PCs. Now, it seems to me that the biforcated attitude semantics (BAS) analogue of having a normative PC is BEING FOR something. After all, that's what makes BEING FOR different from other attitudes. BEING FOR blaming for murdering is, according to BAS, the same as judging that murdering is wrong. 'Being curious about blaming for murdering' or 'being happy at the thought of blaming for murdering' is not. So BEING FOR must be what has the positive normative content, so to speak. If it has that content in virtue of the kind of attitude that it is (and how else could it?), then BEING FOR anything is analogous to having a normative PC of some kind. If that's right, then nihilists cannot BE FOR anything, because whether or not they have "normative commitments" of some kind, they don't have any normative PCs. But, as I've been arguing, expressivists can only interpret nihilists who say "murdering is not wrong" such that they disagree with those who think that murdering is wrong by saying that nihilists are FOR something. And I think that's a problem. It might be useful to point out that I think the problem isn't really with the expressivist interpretation of nihilistic instances of "murdering is not wrong," but with all of them (because, again, I agree with you that nihilists and believers express the same thing when they say murdering isn't wrong). The problem is that I think (in cognitivist terms) that when anyone says "mudering is not wrong," they do not express a PC. Rather, they express a belief merely that it is not the case that murdering is wrong. Anything beyond that, such as that murder should be tolerated because it's not wrong and only wrong things are blameworthy, is implicature (just as, if in magic discourse, non-cursed things should be hugged, we might interpret the believer, but not the nihilist, as implying that your shoes should be hugged when they each say that the shoes aren't cursed). But expressivists build this further PC (tolerance or, in BAS terms, BEING FOR not blaming for murdering) into the semantics, and that's what leads to the tension with nihilism.
Toggle Commented Jun 5, 2012 on Expressivism vs. Nihilism at PEA Soup
Jamie, When a nihilist about magic says "Jane is not cursed," surely the nihilist contradicts someone who says "Jane is cursed." Nevertheless, there is an important sense in which magic-nihilists have no substantive magic-commitments (e.g., they do not think that any magic-properties are ever instantiated), and thus an important sense in which their claim that Jane is not cursed is not a magic-claim. The normative case seems precisely analogous to me. So, no, I do not think that normative assertions/thoughts have normative contradictories any more than the contradictories of magic-claims are themselves magic-claims.
Toggle Commented Jun 5, 2012 on Expressivism vs. Nihilism at PEA Soup
Eric, I take it that, contra somewhatboxes, we're supposed to assume that the ethical autocorrect (EAC) is "pre-programmed" with the correct moral theory. With that in mind... The EAC could be either of two things: EAC(1): A mechanism that turns immoral actions into moral ones. EAC(2): A mechanism that corrects for the disvaluable effects of one's actions. EAC(2) seems perfectly coherent. But I take it that EAC(1) is what we're interested in. I'm in the camp that thinks that an action can only be moral if it is arrived at through deliberation of the right kind. So I think EAC(1) will turn out to be incoherent. I do think that if EAC(2) existed it would be obligatory to use it.
Toggle Commented Feb 2, 2012 on Ethical AutoCorrect at PEA Soup
Jussi, I share your difference in intuitions at first pass, but only because (I think) it's natural for me to imagine cases in which "drinking three beers" is a derivatively conjunctive intention (a la my comment above). For instance, I might know that I am disposed such that when I have one drink I tend to have three, and so the intention to drink one beer is relevantly linked with the intentions to drink the others such that it makes sense to talk about my having a single intention to drink three beers. The same is not true in the pill case because I am not familiar with the disposition to take three pills if I take one (i.e., it's not natural to imagine someone's having this disposition), and thus I tend to hear "intention to take three pills" as merely conjuctive—as no more than a description of three separate intentions to take a single pill. This seems to me to explain the difference in intuitions. And, indeed, if I force myself to think of the beer case as like the pill case—if I imagine that it is as open to me to drink just the one beer as it is to drink the three because I have no relevant linking disposition—then the intuitions line up and it then seems to me that the happiness produced by the first beer is no reason at all to drink three (again, I propose, because it will not be a reason to take each act of drinking a beer).
Toggle Commented Nov 3, 2011 on Reasons and Conjunctive Acts at PEA Soup
Doug, I share your intuitions in some cases, but I think, like Jamie, I'm having a bit of trouble with conjunctive acts. Also like Jamie, I do not have a fully worked-out theory about this, so what follows is going to be pretty rough and exploratory, but perhaps it will be useful. Presumably we want to individuate acts by intentions. But I'm not sure it makes sense to talk about merely conjunctive intentions. In most cases if I say of you that you have an intention [to eat pizza and kill your family], I don't think I've said anything beyond that you have an intention to eat pizza and that you have an intention to kill your family. So the fact that it would be tasty is a reason to eat pizza, but it's not a reason to eat pizza and kill your family, because in order to be so it would have to be that the pizza's tastiness was a reason to eat the pizza and a reason to kill your family, and thus a reason to form both intentions. But obviously it's not. Now, I said that I don't think there are merely conjunctive intentions. But I do think there might be conjunctive intentions of a derivative sort. For instance, suppose you have a conditional intention to kill your family if you eat pizza. In that case, it seems to me that were you to form an intention to eat pizza, you would thereby form an intention to kill your family. In that case, your having an intention to [eat pizza and kill your family] is something over and above the two intentions, but that's because there's an antecedent link between them. And in that case, I think I would say that the pizza's tastiness is a (heavily outweighed) reason to eat the pizza and kill your family.
Toggle Commented Nov 3, 2011 on Reasons and Conjunctive Acts at PEA Soup
Chandra and Philip, Ok, I think I see how this is supposed to work. I take it that on your view, Chandra, TomC is slightly praiseworthy for having a whim that happened to be in line with what's morally right whereas TomD is more praiseworthy for letting his DS "shine through" his morally deficient upbringing. I agree that this is a possible interpretation of our results. I tend to think, though, that when we praise or blame people like JoJo, Tom or Huck, we do so because we think that the moral truth is obvious in such a way that even someone who has a deficient upbringing should be able to recognize it. That's why TomB and JoJo are still *somewhat* blameworthy, because despite their upbringings they have some responsibility to know better. It's also, I think, why TomD is more praiseworthy than TomC, but neither is completely so, because both are just doing what they should know to do. Nevertheless, because it's harder for TomD to overcome his upbringing, he gets a boost. In order for our results to square with the DSM it seems, as you suggest, that we have to assume that there is no way to see TomC as having done anything but act on a whim. I was assuming that even for TomC, people would expect him to know better, and thus would see his helping as a genuine act (and thus praise him, though again less than TomD). Anyway, that explains why I interpret as I do. I think that you're right though, Chandra, that we can't fully adjudicate between us without more results. It sounds to me like the direction we'd need to go in is to explicitly test whether TomC is interpreted as acting on a whim or not.
Chandra, Thanks for the comments, both here and over email. Let me respond briefly to your comments about (a). Say P is our Tom who was raised "wrong" and S was raised "right." It's true, I suppose, that if under similar conditions, P puts more effort into x-ing than S, that might indicate that x-ing is more concordant with P's DS than with S'. But the whole point here is that P and S are not under similar conditions, because P has to overcome his moral upbringing. The question is not whether P *puts* more effort in but whether he *has to.* And if he *has to* put more effort in than S, that would seem to indicate, if anything, that x-ing is *less* concordant with P's DS than with S'. If that's right, then it seems that our results show that P is *more* praiseworthy (and thus, perhaps, more MR) than S is even thought P's x-ing is *less* concordant with his DS. This result would seem to be at odds with the DSM. Anyway, that's how I (and I think Dave) have been thinking about this.
Hi Eddy (yes it is). Thanks for the reference; I'll have to check that out. There are definitely some 'deep self' issues lurking here, as you say. In fact, David and I intend to address the possibility that concordance with one's deep self explains these results, along the lines of Chandra Sripada's work. Ultimately, though, we want to embrace something like your last suggestion there, that the "difficulty" of doing what he did explains why the Tom who was raised racist makes him more praiseworthy. We did not ask about anything beyond praise- and blameworthiness in this case. But we'd love to get more studies done along these lines, either by ourselves or others!
I think my concern here may be partly mirroring Mark's above. What does "approval" mean? If it's some sort of reactive attitude then neither V1 nor V2 seem true to me. I can easily imagine a utilitarian, say, who is completely convinced that happiness is the good and that rightness consists in maximizing happiness, yet does not "feel" approval for many of the acts this thereby commits him to and that he sincerely believes are right. But if "approval" doesn't refer to such an attitude, I start to worry that it means little more than "thinks good."
Doug, Sorry! Those quotation marks were meant to be scare quotes, not quoting quotes. The first was just a poor attempt at shorthand on my part; I didn't mean anything by "subjective normative truth" other than the truth about (as you put it) subjective rightness. I realize that it probably read as though I was suggesting you meant something else. As to the other point: Perhaps I'm biased by my (perhaps poor memory of my) readings of Sepielli and Ross, but their PS theories look very much like decision procedures to me; they tell me how, given uncertainty, to properly weigh my normative beliefs, levels of certainty, etc. to come to the subjectively best action. So I guess I was assuming that, whatever else they are, PS theories minimally offer decision procedures.
Doug, I thought that PS theories, like the one Sepielli offers, are decision procedures for "what to do when you don't know what to do." That is, there is a fact of the matter about "what to do," but since you don't know that fact, you need some way of guiding your actions, hence the PS theory. I'm not sure I understand what it means to say that this is not "merely" a decision procedure, but "subjective normative truth." Do you just mean that PS theories aren't merely recommendations, but that the correct PS theory is, objectively, what agents ought to follow when faced with normative uncertainty? If it's that, then I would have just said that the PS theory is a decision theory but that our full objective theory includes the fact that one ought to follow the PS theory when uncertain. I'm not sure there's any substantive difference between that way of speaking and saying that the PS theory is the subjective normative truth. But perhaps you mean something else...
Doug, I apologize for the length of this post. Given that our disagreement appears to be informed by disagreement regarding other matters, I thought it best to state my position and see where we (dis)agree. First, I think that we agree on much of what you said in your most recent response to me: There is certainly such a thing as non-culpable normative uncertainty, even if it is only ever due to time constraints or cognitive deficiencies. Given this, I think we agree that there is need for a good PS theory. Second, I think it makes sense that normative ethicists have and do concern themselves more with the normative truth than with constructing a decision-procedure for weighing one's normative and non-normative beliefs. After all, the construction of a good PS theory is not necessarily work for the normative ethicist at all; it might better be relegated to, say, a decision theorist. Normative ethicists are, on the other hand (we hope) best equipped to discover the correct objective theory. So that's my first point: The explanation for why many ethicists have preferred H1 theories over PS theories is that they see their task as telling us what is valuable (or whatever), not telling us what to do with our value-beliefs. Now we want to know about the nature of our theory of normative truth. So, why do so many ethicists prefer H1 theories to PO theories (or PS theories, since I take it there is logical space for arguing that a good PS theory really is the normative truth, leaving us with some sort of relativism, as I believe Murali suggested)? I offer three claims: Action-Guiding: Whatever the true normative theory is, it must be capable of guiding action, at least in principle. But theories that require things (like, perhaps, perfect knowledge of the future) that are unattainable cannot be capable of guiding action, and therefore cannot be true. A Priori: To the extent that it is possible to be certain about the normative truth, this certainty can be gained through pure reasoning. Accessible: Perfect cogitators with unlimited time would converge on the normative truth. It seems to me that, taken together, Action-Guiding, A Priori and Accessible offer good reason to think that the correct objective theory will be an H1 theory. Action-Guiding makes it unlikely or impossible that it will be a PO theory; A Priori makes it unlikely that it will be a PS theory, assuming there will not always be normative uncertainty. While Accessible does not rule out the possibility that there will always be normative uncertainty, it gives us hope that working towards an H1 theory (rather than merely a PS theory) will not be in vain. You appear to have rejected Action-Guiding and Accessible. I take it that this leads you (as it should, I think) to want us to have PO theory of the normative truth and a PS theory for guiding action. I suspect we would not convince one another without a much broader debate over Action-Guiding and Accessible. But does my position make sense? Part of the point of this thread, I take it, is to make sense of why someone would want an H1 theory in the first place. Have I accomplished this much or do you think that even someone who accepts my three claims should not want an H1 theory?
Doug, Fair enough. Let me adjust: Premise: If X is knowable a priori then, to the extent that certainty about X is possible, this level of certainty can be justified by a process of pure reasoning. Of course it is true that certainty about a priori matters (as with knowledge about such matters) can be gained or lost through a posteriori evidence. But the fact remains, as I suggested, that we expect that given enough time (and to the extent that neither is cognitively deficient) both S1 and S2 could independently reach the correct conclusion regarding X. Similarly, again, we expect that normative theorists (given enough time/no cognitive deficiencies) could construct a viable theory, which (given non-culpable non-normative uncertainty, which will likely always be with us) would be an H1 theory. Along these lines, let me throw my hat into the ring concerning the "what's the point of H theories?" question. It is arguable, I think, that it is not merely the case that we want an action-guiding normative theory, but that the true normative theory must be action-guiding. Say it is true that action A would maximize utility. Say further that we have no way of coming to know this. I tend to think it is impossible that it could turn out that the fact that A would maximize utility is a normative reason to A, because reasons must be capable of guiding action. So objective utilitarianism is false (of course, it might be coextensive with a true theory—say subjective utilitarianism—given perfect knowledge of the future). So, say you agreed with my points above and thought that, given enough time, we could always reach the normative truth? And, further, you thought that while people must be epistemically responsible with respect to the non-normative truth, there will always be gaps in what they do and can know non-normatively. Wouldn't you then go looking for an H theory, not because it would be the best you could do, but because it would be the truth?
Doug, Imagine that S's beliefs and credence levels are in exact proportion to S's available evidence. Assume that S's available evidence about both the normative and the non-normative facts is misleading. Can you clarify what you mean by "available evidence?" Is available evidence what S takes to be evidence or what is, in fact, evidence? If the former, then your stipulation still allows for culpability (I think that's what it was meant to avoid). If the latter, then I don't see how this is possible. How can objective evidence (in matters a priori) be misleading?
Doug, Fair enough, let me grant that the threshold for normative knowledge may be lower than the threshold for normative certainty. Now, of course, for real people true certainty may never be possible. But certainty is, nevertheless, an epistemic ideal, is it not? Assuming you believe it is, would you agree with the following? Premise: If X is knowable a priori then, to the extent that certainty about X is possible, this level of certainty is justified by a process of pure reasoning. If you grant this, then I think my point holds. When we are doing normative ethics (rather than trying to decide what to do in limited time) we see that through pure reasoning, we will, ideally, reach the correct normative theory—an H1 theory. One concession: What if we reason and reason and reason, can find no fault in ourselves or our opponents, yet continue to disagree? In that case, at the limit, we might have to admit that we and our opponents suffer some cognitive deficiency, and at that point we would have to rest on a PS theory. (Some might say, instead, that perfect reasoners can disagree on the normative facts, though those facts are a priori. This claim has never made any sense to me.)
Doug, Yes, sorry, I should have said uncertainty rather than ignorance, though I think I want to say all the same things with respect to uncertainty. You write: The fact that I know that there are so many wise, rational, and diligent moral philosophers and normative reasoners who disagree with me about a whole host of normative issues may not defeat my moral knowledge, but it does lead to my being less than fully certain about many normative issues. Let us assume that we have agreed that normative facts are a priori. This means, it would seem, that in cases of (purely) normative disagreement, the only explanation for that disagreement is that one (or both) of the disagreeing parties have made some sort of cognitive error. You (rightly) recognize that when confronted with a dissenting intellectual peer, the error is as likely yours as theirs. You thus conclude in normative uncertainty. The question is, I take it, whether you are "culpable" for this uncertainty. Assuming that you do not suffer from some cogntivive deficiency, doesn't it seem that, given enough time, you should be able to resolve the matter? After all, the truth (being a priori) seems available to anyone who considers the matter carefully enough. So, again, insofar as we take others not to be cognitively deficient, it seems that our attitude should be that, given proper time and effort, they will reach the normative truth, just as we will. And thus when we believe ourselves to have reached that truth (we are not uncertain), and it seems that others have had ample time to do the same, we see their uncertainty or ignorance as culpable. In cases where we remain uncertain, it would also seem reasonable for us to think that this is merely because we have not had the proper time to think things through, and thus that insofar as we are doing normative ethics (rather than trying to make a decision about how to act next) we won't bother stopping for a PS theory; we'll head straight on through to find the right H1. Clayton, Your example has some force, but it seems too general. This is a problem we face all the time with many non-normative issues (baldness, etc.). The fact that in those special cases of vagueness we will never reach a definite answer doesn't seem to speak against a general attempt to discover the correct normative theory.
Some similar things have been said above, and I apologize if this is overly redundant. It seems to me that we can explain both the preference for H theories and the specific (seemingly universal) preference for H1 theories over H2 theories by acknowledging that many people (implicitly or explicitly) take the normative truth to be a priori (or, at least, in less fancy terms, to be obvious). When confronted with someone professing normative ignorance, it seems a natural reaction (at least in any case where we do not believe ourselves to be ignorant) to roll our eyes and suggest that the person is either (culpably) irrational, foolish or lazy in their normative reasoning. The same is not true of much non-normative ignorance. So, the quick answer would be that people prefer H1 because they think there is no such thing as non-culpable normative ignorance, and thus that any proper PS view will collapse into an H1 view (perhaps this is what Scott was thinking?). Anyway, I think the debate should just be over whether this gut-reaction is right—whether there is non-culpable normative ignorance. One reason to think that there is is precisely the kind of concern Sepielli raises (if I recall correctly)—even if the normative truth is a priori, we might just not have time to reason to the truth in all situations. But I think this leads to Daniel's point early on: PS views might be best for action-guiding in the real world, but if time-constraints are the only factor that can render normative ignorance non-culpable, the (timeless) task of the normative ethicist will ultimately be a search for an H1 view.
Sorry to come to this so late, but I'm a bit confused about the popcorn example, specifically how it serves as a counterexample to the argument in question. When my father and I disagree over what is 'a lot' of popcorn, it seems (as Steve mentions) that we are disagreeing about something like what is an appropriate amount of popcorn. But this is a substantive, not a "merely conceptual" disagreement about what is an appropriate amount, a disagreement that then informs the disagreement concerning what is 'a lot'. 'A lot' certainly has descriptive content, something like '(significantly) more than appropriate'. But as with 'good', it seems to me that 'appropriate' has no descriptive content. It may have limiting content—neither one kernel nor an amount it is impossible to consume can turn out to be 'appropriate'. But it seems that father and son are having a substantive normative disagreement concerning what is an appropriate amount of popcorn, just as I may disagree with the natives about what is good. So why isn't the popcorn example just more fodder for the disagreement argument, rather than a counterexample to it?
Toggle Commented Oct 6, 2009 on Arguments from Disagreement at PEA Soup