Are there plausible synchronic constraints on how a subject thinks of herself extended over time? At first glance, Bas van Fraassen’s principle of Reflection seems to prescribe the sort of epistemic authority one’s future self should be taken by one to have over one’s current epistemic states. (The gist of this principle is that I should now believe what I’m convinced I will believe tomorrow.) There has been a general consensus that, as a principle concerning epistemic authority, Reflection does not apply to epistemically non-ideal agents. I agree with this, but argue here that it misses the point of Reflection. Rather than an epistemic principle concerning reasons for belief, Reflection concerns the semantics of belief avowal. I present a non-factual interpretation of Reflection, argue that the principle provides a constraint on the ways in which one can reflectively endorse one’s future epistemic self, and say something about the logic governing such an interpretation.
Forthcoming in Synthese
Altruism and the Experimental Data on Helping Behavior
Philosophical accounts of altruism that purport to
explain helping behavior are vulnerable to empirical falsification. John
Campbell argues that the Good Samaritan study adds to a growing body of
evidence that helping behavior is not best explained by appeal to altruism,
thus jeopardizing those accounts. I propose that philosophical accounts of
altruism can be empirically challenged only if it is shown that altruistic motivations
are undermined by normative conflict in the agent, and that the relevant studies do not provide this sort of evidence. Non-normative, purely causal, psychological factors would be empirically relevant only if the notion of altruism is broadened to include the requirement that one recognize certain situations as calling for altruism. But even in that case, the relevant studies are not designed in such a way that could threaten philosophical theories of altruism.
The Special Status of Instrumental Reasons
The rationality of means-end reasoning is the bedrock of the Humean account of practical reasons. But the normativity of such reasoning cannot be taken for granted. I consider and reject the idea that the normativity of instrumental reasoning can be explained - either in terms of its being constitutive of the very notion of having an end, or solely in terms of instrumental considerations. I argue that the instrumental principle is itself a brute norm, and that this is consistent with a Humean account of practical reasons.
Philosophical Studies (2007) 134: 255-287
The Choice between Current and Retrospective Evaluations of Pain
Philosophical Psychology (2000) 13, 1: 97-110
Jon Elster's Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions
The Journal of Philosophy (2004) 101, 9: 484-491
Work in Progress
The View From Now Here
Practical reasons must be able to make sense of – to rationalize – action in terms of intentional psychological factors. In a widely influential paper, Warren Quinn has argued that desires are not sufficient to rationalize action. Many take his argument to be devastating to the Humean position. I argue here that it fails on several fronts, and that it does so in ways that help to illuminate the nature of rationalizing explanations. i) A crucial distinction in the structure of rationalizing explanations is conflated, thereby also obscuring the distinction between explanation and justification. ii) Affective desires can play an essential role in rational motivation, and a ‘thick’ Humeanism can meet the required rationalizing condition on practical reasons. iii) Quinn’s method of argument itself is problematic, since it would show that even evaluative beliefs cannot rationalize.