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Warranted Doability

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2009

Lloyd Reinhardt
University of Sydney


Objectivity is not the same thing as independence from the mind. Because the word ‘mind’ has been used to cover myriad things from pains to practices, care must be taken as to just what it is independence from which is in question. The gut notion of objectivity is captured in an anecdote from the life of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln and a political colleague were discussing how to get a policy across and the colleague suggested labelling the policy in a certain way; they happened to be near a donkey and their dialogue went like this:

‘Sir, how many legs does this donkey have?’

‘Four, Mr. Lincoln’

‘And how many tails has it?’

‘Why, just one, Mr. Lincoln’

‘Tell me, sir, what if we were to call the tail a leg; how many legs would the donkey then have?’

‘Five, Mr. Lincoln’.

‘No, sir; for you cannot make a tail into a leg by calling it one’.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1988

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1 Pears, David, in his Ludwig Wittgenstein (New York: Fontana, 1970)Google Scholar, concludes with valuable remarks to the effect that the tension and brilliance of Wittgenstein's philosophy can be partly attributed to that philosopher's being at once naturalistic and hostile to scientism.

2 For my own precipitate straying along this path, see my ‘Radical Freedom’, Philosophy 60 (01 1985).Google Scholar For some attempt to atone, see my ‘Morality: Vision or Feeling’; Critical Notice of Sabina Lovibond's Realism and Imagination in Ethics in Critical Philosophy (1985).Google Scholar

3 For a defence of this version of realism, see Nagel's, ThomasThe View From Nowhere (Oxford University Press, 1985).Google Scholar

4 Harman, G., The Nature of Morality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).Google Scholar

5 Harrison, Bernard, ‘Moral Judgment, Emotion and Action’, Philosophy 59 (07 1984).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 Wiggins, David; ‘Truth, Invention and the Meaning of Life’, British Academy Lecture, 1976.Google Scholar

7 Mackie, John, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1977).Google Scholar

8 McDowell, John, ‘Values and Secondary Qualities’, in Morality and Objectivity (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985).Google Scholar In this paper, McDowell ‘retreats’ to predicates such as ‘fearful’, seeing that what is needed is an evaluative notion of an object or circumstance being worthy of fear. He rather obviously fails to ask whether ‘worthiness’ denotes an intrinsic property of being worthy of being judged worthy.

9 I am unable to find the source of this remark of Shaw's.

10 Stocks, J. L., Morality and Purpose (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969)Google Scholar

11 Williams, Bernard, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (London: Fontana, 1985).Google Scholar

12 In Art and Imagination (London: Methuen, 1974)Google Scholar, Roger Scruton holds that the virtue words are primarily descriptive of character and gain their evaluative use from the generality of human beings admiring such traits. My colleague, David Stove, holds, I believe, just this position. Such propositions as ‘Generosity is a good thing’ are not obviously tautological.

13 Thomas Nagel (op. cit.) has given me qualms about this being modest. The issue turns to a large extent on the relations between ‘good reason’, ‘bad reason’ and ‘no reason at all’. I confess to disgust at saying that widespread desire for aboriginals just to disappear is even some reason to bring about such a horror. Bernard Williams seems committed (op. cit.) to the view that someone's having a desire for X is a reason for them to act accordingly. Obviously, this problem cannot be sidetracked in this connection by distinguishing between reasons as causes and reasons as justification. That would quickly and unfairly convict Williams of the view that any desire is some justification; for he cannot merely have meant that if a person has a desire, that is some reason to think (on our part) that they will act accordingly.

14 Miller, Richard, ‘Ways of Moral Learning’, Philosophical Review 94 (10 1985).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

16 Glover, Jonathan, Causing Death and Saving Lives (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977).Google Scholar

17 Finnis, John, Fundamentals of Ethics (Oxford University Press, 1983).Google Scholar

18 Cavell, Stanley, The Claim of Reason (Oxford University Press, 1979).Google Scholar

19 Williams, Bernard, ‘Justice as a Virtue’, in New Essays on Aristotle's Ethics, Rorty, Amélie (ed.) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).Google Scholar

20 Obviously results count in relation to all the virtues; the point is one about a subtle and important difference of emphasis. If the point stands at all, it stands mainly on the strength of the grammatical remark about the absurdity of inadvertent loyalty or accidental generosity.

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