Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Round 3

We had the Royal Ethics conference this past weekend and I'm getting ready for round 3, the Central APA. I'll be giving a talk on epistemic value and justification, but it's at 9:00 a.m., so I'm forgiving you in advance if you miss it.

Last weekend I gave a not particularly good presentation of my paper. Thought I'd sort of recap and restate. The discussion turned sort of bad when I turned to discuss Dancy's view and reactions to it.

On Dancy's view:
Good case:
Mustard is running down the hall. Mustard knows that a murderer is chasing him.
(1) Mustard's reason for running is that the murderer is chasing him.

Bad case:
Mustard is in the same mental states but there's no murderer.
(2) Mustard's reason for running is that the murderer is chasing him.

My worry: (1) and (2) entail that there's a murderer to run from, but the bad case is a case without a murderer.

Their response: no it doesn't. (2) can be true even if there's no murderer.

My worry: But (1) and (2) entail:
(3) Mustard ran down the hall because the murderer was chasing him.

Their response: No, that entailment doesn't hold. (3) is factive, but (1) and (2) aren't.

Me: The entailment does hold! You're just saying it doesn't because you don't want to say that (1) and (2) are factive but you know (3) is. [This part of the discussion isn't getting us anywhere.]

Them: Look, look, look, we don't need to know the facts to know why someone acted. That's what motivating reasons are for.

Me: Hmmmmm. On your view, (3) isn't a consequence of (1) and (2). On your view, there will be a bunch of 'because' statements that are true of the bad case and the good case. Whatever you want to plug in for 'Mustard ran down the hall because X' will be, by your lights, a satisfactory explanation of the agent's action that tell you why the agent ran. These 'because' statements, according to you, do not specify the reasons for which the agent ran. Once you know all the relevant 'because' statements and we agree that they are true but you then demand that I supply additional 'reason for which' statements I don't know what you want from me. You want some information that's not contained in the 'because' statements _and_ whatever it is, it had better not be information that entails that the agent's beliefs are correct. What's that information? I have no idea. I think you're asking the impossible.

The following seems like a plausible view. In the bad case, we can't say what reason the agent had to do what she did, we can't say (truthfully) 'S A'd for the reason that p'. However, we can say this in the good case. All the true 'because' statements we use to explain action in the bad case are true in the good case. However, there are additional true 'because' statements that entail the correctness of the agent's beliefs that are true of the good case.

I can't tell whether the problem with my view is the assumption that Dancy's treatment of error cases is problematic or with the idea that I'm not able to say both that acting for a reason is a matter of successfully responding to the situation and explain the agent's behavior in the bad case. If it's the first thing, I should note that I'm not the only one who doesn't like to say things like 'He did it for the reason that p, but ~p'. If it's the second thing, I think I have a story to tell about why agent's do what they do in the bad case. It's the very same psychological story that my opponents accept.


Gabriele Contessa said...

Hi Clayton,

Sorry I've read this really quickly so I may be getting it all wrong, but couldn't you have just said to them 'Okay, you say that in the bad case Mustard run because the murderer is chasing him but wouldn't it be more accurate to say that he is running because he believes that a murder is chasing him?' ?

I think that drawing that distinction helps people to see the difference between 'because p' and 'because S believes that p'. Am I compeltely off-track?

Anonymous said...

Mustard can't be in the same mental states when there's no murderer, since in that case he can't know that a murderer is chasing him.

Clayton said...

Yes, I should have restricted that to non-factive mental states. I'm glad that people now get called for slips like that.

Hey Gabriele,
I think that's probably right. I'm letting the 'p' sort of stand in for whatever they want to say. It could be a proposition about a mental state, a non-factive mental state, or a non-mental state of affairs. Whatever it is, I'll try to put the squeeze on 'em.