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Metaphysicians, ethical theorists and philosophers of law squabble endlessly about what it is for a person to act — or perhaps even to ‘will’ — more or less freely. A vital issue in this controversy is how we should analyse two obvious but surprisingly problematical contrasts. The first antithesis is between things we do because we are forced, and deeds we perform because we want to — sometimes after having discovered preponderant reasons in their favour. The other polarity is more general. In most situations, if I act on my desire, I act more freely than if I had not had the desire. But what if my attitude is the product of childhood conditioning — or later brainwashing, brain surgery, hypnosis, behaviour modification, alcoholisim, narcotics addiction, neurosis, psychosis or worse? Then isn't my autonomy diminished? What is it about these latter desires, or their origin, that differentiates them from their unthreatening congeners?
There has been a revival of interest in Hegel of late among English-speaking philosophers. Although he is still regarded as maddeningly obscure, a number of important philosophers (including Quine, Sellars, Feyerabend and Rorty) have been attracted by a doctrine prominently associated with Hegel, the coherence theory of truth. In order to hold the coherence theory of truth, it is obvious that you must hold what might be called the coherence theory of truth-testing as well: for if this theory is wrong and we can test some statements (even if only in part) by, for example, introspection as well as in terms of coherence, truth must involve something more than just coherence. My arguments against the coherence theory of truth-testing, since it is implied by the coherence theory proper, are indirectly against the coherence theory as well. I also argue that unless some version of the Private Language Argument is successful, it is virtually impossible to defend the coherence theory of truth-testing (and hence the coherence theory proper) without denying the existence of experiences, thereby committing oneself to materialism.
At least since Descartes's Meditations philosophers in the West have been concerned to defend the rationality of our beliefs from the threat of epistemological skepticism. The idea that there might be nothing which we know, or more radically, which we have even the slightest reason to believe, is one that many philosophers have thought to be deserving of serious attention. It seems somewhat odd, therefore, that there has not been similar attention given to what one might call practical skepticism. Is it not also possible that there is nothing which we have even the slightest reason to do? Of course, there is a sense in which epistemological skepticism might be thought to be the more basic problem. If there is nothing which we have any reason to believe, then it will follow that there is nothing which we have any reason to do. If some proposition is a reason that we have for doing something it must at least be the case that we have some reason to believe that proposition. But is practical skepticism merely a species of epistemological skepticism? I doubt it.
Histories of philosophy frequently depict the later eleventh century as the scene of a series of bouts between dialecticians and anti-dialecticians — Berengar vs. Lanfranc, Roscelin vs. Anselm — preliminaries to the twelfth century welterweight contest between Abelard and St. Bernard and — dare one say? — the thirteenth century heavy-weight championship between St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure.
The bouts took place — no question about that — but whether the contestants can properly be characterized as dialecticians and anti-dialecticians is less certain. Dialectics is logic, the third part of the trivium, and increasingly cultivated in the eleventh century; men like Berengar and Roscelin were plainly eager to apply the logical tools with which they had been equipped to the solution of intellectual problems. In particular they undertook the solution of certain central problems of theology — Berengar that of the Eucharist and Roscelin that of the Trinity — and it was this, we are told, that aroused the ire of the anti-dialecticians: if the aim of the dialecticians was to lay bare the mysteries of faith to the light of reason that of the anti-dialecticians was to protect those same mysteries from profanation.
Recently it has been argued that there are genuine moral dilemmas and that any theory which does not account for this fact is an unrealistic one. This represents a challenge to an assumption that most moral theorists have held: an adequate ethical theory must not allow for genuine moral quandaries. John Stuart Mill, for example, in the last paragraph of the second chapter of Utilitarianism, seems to be committed to such an assumption. Many others have also assented to this view. The consensus among those who hold this view seems to be that if a theory allows for moral dilemmas then there is some sense in which it is incoherent or inconsistent. Yet, oddly enough, the sense in which such a view would be incoherent is rarely, if ever, spelled out. Put another way, there seem to be no arguments for the belief that genuine moral dilemmas must be ruled out.
According to its proponents, eliminative materialism is a promising alternative to the problem-beset identity theory. A popular materialist strategy for handling thoughts, sensations, beliefs, and intentions has been to identify such mental states with physical states. The identity theorist, however, must confront difficult questions concerning identity criteria, essential properties and category mistakes. The eliminative theorist wants to bypass these problems by maintaining that we will someday discover that mental entities simply do not exist. If there are no mental entities, then we need not worry about determining their essential properties or determining the conditions under which they would be identical with physical entities. ‘Category mistake’ objections, which might apply to an identity thesis, would clearly be irrelevant.
As formulated by its chief proponent, Richard Rorty, the eliminative theory is suspiciously straightforward. Indeed, a closer look at its underpinnings reveals a highly questionable assumption. I will propose a reformulation of eliminative materialism which avoids this assumption.
Alice Ambrose once criticized Moore for treating the proposition ‘There are external objects’ as an empirical one. She said that those who denied that we could know this proposition to be true would not accept any evidence as going against their denial of it, and were not regarding the issue of its truth as empirical. She also maintained that one could not point out an external object in the way in which one could point out a dime or nickel and alleged on these grounds that saying that there are external objects is not the same sort of thing as saying that there are coins. The issue arose concerning Moore's paper, “Proof of an External World.“
In “Reply to My Critics,” Moore pointed out that he had been concerned in “Proof of an External World” not to prove that we know that there are external objects, but rather to prove that there are external objects. But he applied Ambrose's remarks to that proposition. Moore rightly asserted that the fact that someone denies that there are external objects and treats all evidence as irrelevant to the issue does not show that the proposition he denies fails to be empirical.
Alvin Plantinga has recently argued that there are certain propositions which are necessary but known only a posteriori. If Plantinga is correct then he has shown that the traditional view that all necessary truths are knowable a priori is false. Plantinga's examples deserve special attention because they differ in important respects from other proposed examples of necessary a posteriori truths. His examples depend on a certain conception of possible worlds and in particular on his conception of the actual world. It will be argued that these examples of necessary a posteriori propositions can be understood in two different ways. According to one way of understanding Plantinga, the propositions turn out to be contingent a posteriori truths, and according to the other way they turn out to be necessary a priori truths. The plausibility of Plantinga's position is due to a confusion between the two possible interpretations.
Philosophers, psychiatrists, and social scientists would welcome clarification of the distinction between rational and irrational desires. It may be proper to say that rational desires are those which manifest rationality (or which at least do not conflict with its manifestations). But since this seems a rather unilluminating characterization, philosophers sometimes offer definitions of what constitute such manifestations of rationality. I shall consider definitions provided by John Rawls and Richard Brandt. Their definitions are unsatisfactory mainly because they include subjunctive conditionals. An alternative approach, which avoids conditionals, is attractive. But it encounters so many additional problems that I shall conclude that we are not now in a position to define rationality in this area and must treat it as a state or disposition which to date has only been partially characterized. Thus, if we want a definition of the difference between rational and irrational desires, we must at present settle for the rather unexciting one mentioned above.
If on a general knowledge test, you were given the question ‘“Sherlock Holmes lived on Baker Street,’ true or false?” you would quite correctly answer “true.” On the other hand, if approached near Baker Street Underground Station by a naive tourist with the question “Is it true that Sherlock Holmes lived on Baker Street?'’ you might quite correctly answer “No, it is not true. Sherlock Holmes was a fictional character.” Cases of this sort seem to some people to create a problem, while to others they seem merely to pose a puzzle, the solution of which is obvious enough in principle though perhaps somewhat tricky in detail. I belong to the second group, and in this paper I undertake to give the main lines of a solution to the puzzle along with some, though not all, of the trickier details.
Let me begin with some statements which I will try to defend in due course: there is a human activity which we may call “tale-telling” which consists of putting forward certain sentences in such a way that they are neither asserted nor denied.
The distinctive feature of Professor Purtill's interesting, though somewhat promissory, paper, is its willingness to have the tail of pragmatics wag the dog of semantics. I myself find the pre-emption unfortunate, though I should hasten to add that Professor Purtill and I share something of a common view about the problems that should be solved by a decent account of fictionality; and some of our own solutions happen in fact to coincide. We part company, however, in respect of the following two theses.
Thesis (1). Professor Purtill holds that the sentences literally constitutive of a piece of fiction are neither true nor false, that they do not make assertions, that (therefore) they do not make assertions about what they would appear to be about. Such sentences in fact tell tales, and in such nonassertive uses, they are spared the burdens of all but the limits of semantic significance. That is, they are not true and they are not false.
Following the formulation of the Identity Theory by Place and Smart a few years ago, there was considerable discussion of subjective mental states and of the importance of first-person reports of mental events. One concern was that the logical status of first-person claims might commit us to belief in irreducible mental phenomena referred to by such propositions. If so the Identity Theory would be false. Kurt Baier went so far as to argue that the incorrigibility of propositions such as “I have a pain” demonstrates that Smart's identification of sensations with brain states and processes is untenable. While there is no point to reintroducing historical discussions it is worth remarking because a more general problem is reflected in this kind of debate. This is the problem of how we expect our ordinary intuitions and ways of talking about something to affect our theoretical view of it or vice versa. In this particular instance it manifests itself as the question of the extent to which a theory of persons is to be dictated to or decided by the common and generally accepted intuitions embedded in our psychological language.
Some philosophers hold that there are nonmoral reasons that can be used to justify being moral and that these are “in a certain way” more fundamental than moral reasons. Presumably these reasons could also be given in some circumstances for not being moral, although this is not clear. Moral reasons, in this view, might be overriding “on the level of everyday life,” but not “at the most fundamental level.” I take this to mean that should there be a conflict between the moral “reasons of everyday life” and those that are “most fundamental” the former must give way, and I take it to mean that the “most fundamental” reasons support the everyday ones and that the latter would collapse without their support. I wish to argue, against this view, that the question “Why should I be moral?” is confused in that it requests a justification where none can be given without radically altering the logic of the discourse that is “supported.”
Gareth Evans's two articles on the syntax and semantics of pronouns unfortunately seem to have been written far more with the desire of showing Peter Geach to have been wrong all along the line than in an endeavour to formulate, clearly and coherently, a comprehensive theory of his own. Some scattered passages of constructive theorizing there are, and in the latter part of this note I shall have something to say about them; but the controversial motive prevails.
It would be wearisome for me, and unrewarding for readers, if I were to work through Evans's arguments against me in detail: his misrepresentations of me are frequent and gross, and exposure of them in detail, together with restatement of the arguments misrepresented, would take up many more pages than the articles themselves. I here document just two of the more flagrant examples; with this warning before their eyes, readers may be disposed not to believe Evans's account of my works without checking for themselves.