Monday, March 10, 2008

Poor man's pragmatic encroachment

I've just written up a short little paper on the ontology of reasons, belief's functional role, and the justification of belief. I like it. (It's more of a call for a meeting of the minds, so JT might like it.) The basic idea is this. It seems that the reasons that bear on whether you ought to X are reasons that bear on whether you ought to believe you ought to X. It seems that the reasons that bear on whether you ought to hold certain normative beliefs are reasons that bear on whether you ought to hold certain non-normative beliefs. So, to the extent that we treat the reasons that bear on whether you ought to X as objective matters of fact, we ought to do the same across the board. And, to the extent that we ought not pass off non-reasons as reasons, we have reasons (dare I say a threat to the justification?) to exclude false beliefs from deliberation. On the only test I know of for distinguishing the wrong kind of reasons from the right ones, these reasons for excluding beliefs from deliberation are the right kind of reasons to bear on whether we ought (epistemically) to hold certain beliefs.

Anyway, it's very drafty but I'd love feedback. Here.

5 comments:

Mike Almeida said...

Hi Clayton,

It seems that the reasons that bear on whether you ought to X are reasons that bear on whether you ought to believe you ought to X.

Sure seems like it can be true that I ought to do X and not true that I ought to believe I ought to do X. My belief that I ought to do X, for instance, might make me less competent at doing X or less likely to do X. Let Jones believe that he is getting away with something in taking the paperclips. The fact is that I want those removed anyway. If Jones believed that he was doing just what he ought, he wouldn't take them. It is better morally that we not tell him that he is doing a morally good thing.

John Turri said...

Thanks for posting the paper, Clayton.

I have a couple questions about (2).

(2) There cannot be a reason to include the belief that p in practical or theoretical deliberation by allowing it to provide a reason from which to reason towards a conclusion if the belief that p would only pass off a non-reason as a reason if included in deliberation.

First, this may just be a matter of formulation, but isn't it impossible to allow a belief to provide a reason when it would only provide a non-reason?

Second, what do you think about this sort of case as a challenge to the idea underlying 2? Suppose that S falsely believes P, and also falsely believes the biconditional Q <--> P. As it turns out, Q is in fact true, and presently acting on Q would be very prudent for S. We can add that the only way for S to end up believing Q is to reason from her false belief that P and the false biconditional.

In such a case, isn't there a reason for S to include her false belief that P in her practical deliberations?

John Turri said...

I'm commenting again just to tell Blogger to email me further comments from this thread (I forgot to do so the first time).

Clayton said...

Hey Mike,

I think I'd agree that it can be true that I ought to X even if I ought not believe that I ought to X. What isn't clear (to me) is that you can have situations in which (a) S oughtn't X and (b) S ought to believe that S ought to X.

In that remark you've quoted, I only meant to say that it would be a mistake to raise the wrong kind of reasons worry in response to the sort of argument being offered because the reasons that make X-ing wrong and are relevant to the question 'Should I X?' are reasons that bear on the question 'Should I believe I ought to X?'

John,
Thanks again for the comments. I think the first point is a matter of formulation. I'll fix that.

As for the example, it's interesting. I guess I'd say that there are reasons to see to it that the prudent action is performed, but I'm not sure that there are thereby reasons for Q to be believed. I don't think it follows from the fact that there are reasons to do the action that there are reasons for reasoning from Q even if the agent will only act from the relevant belief. I have in mind toxin sorts of worries here, but I have to run. I'm helping a friend paint his house.

Errol Lord said...

'What isn't clear (to me) is that you can have situations in which (a) S oughtn't X and (b) S ought to believe that S ought to X.'

What about this case:

Eve's sister Yvette is falsely arrested. Yvette is also a diabetic who needs her insulin in a timely manner. The police won't allow Yvette her insulin shot until after she is bailed out. Eve is the only person who can bail her out. Eve goes to the ATM to get the money. Unbeknownst to her, a sociopath has hacked into the ATM such that every time someone withdraws money from the ATM, a captive of the sociopath is shocked to death. This case seems to be one where (1) Eve ought not withdraw money from the ATM and (2) Eve ought to believe that she ought to withdraw money from the ATM.

I have two other responses to the argument. First, I know that some people (e.g. Wedgwood) are going to make the distinction between correct deliberation and justified deliberation. They will want to push the line that it's true that false beliefs have no part in correct deliberation, but sometimes they have a part in rational deliberation (where rational just is justified). Second, some ethicists hold that lots of false beliefs are normative reasons as well. For example, Mark Schroeder argues that one's subjective normative reasons are constituted by the contents of one's beliefs. Since one can have lots of false beliefs, one can have lots of subjective reasons that are false. Nonetheless, Schroeder maintains that they are normative reasons.

I have responses that I actually endorse, but that will have to wait for another day (hopefully Friday).