2013 UNC-KCL Workshop in Philosophy:
Finding a Place for the Normative in a Natural World
May 3rd and 4th at UNC Chapel Hill
May 3rd
4:30pm – 6pm
“Why Ought We Care About Epistemic Standards"
Kate Nolfi, UNC Chapel Hill
6pm – 7pm
7pm – 8:30pm
“Naturalizing Direction of Fit”
Patrick Butlin, King’s College - London
May 4th
10:30am – 12pm
“Reasons and Resentment”
Vida Yao, UNC Chapel Hill
12pm – 1:30pm
1:30pm – 3pm
“Normativity & naturalism in Aristotle’s Nicomachean
Ethics: the importance of learning to perceive virtuously”
Michael Coxhead, King’s College - London
3pm – 3:15pm
3:15pm – 4:45pm
“Hume’s Naturalism Epistemologized”
James Arnold, King’s College - London
4:45pm – 5pm
5pm – 6:30pm
Keynote Address: “Agency and Belief”
Maria Alvarez, King’s College - London
7pm – ?
All Workshop Sessions, Dinner on May 3th and Lunch on May 4th to be in
Caldwell Hall, room 213; Dinner on May 4th will be at the home of Vida Yao
(10 Mt Bolus Rd, Chapel Hill)
“Why Ought We Care About Epistemic Standards?"
Kate Nolfi, UNC Chapel Hill
Epistemic evaluations get a normative grip on us independently of what
particular things we happen to value and what particular ends we happen to
have. And in this regard, evaluation with respect to the epistemic norms that
govern believers and their beliefs is quite different from evaluation with
respect to the constitutive norms that govern certain other kinds of activities
or roles. Regardless of what else we happen to care about, we ought to care
about whether we live up to epistemic standards; whether we believe in ways
that conform with epistemic norms. In this paper, I set out to explain why
epistemic evaluations have this kind of non-hypothetical normative force. I
argue that one sort of explanatory strategy that is most familiar from
contemporary metaethics—the constitutivist strategy—holds promise in
explaining why epistemic evaluations have the kind of force that they have
and I explain how a seemingly potent a line of reasoning on offer in the
current literature that purports to undermine the constitutivist strategy is
question-begging. Putting the lessons learned from this failed line of
objection to work, I go on to argue that a constitutivist explanation grounded
on an account of the nature of belief according to which beliefs are subject to
a constitutive and explanatorily fundamental truth-norm is unable to supply
a satisfying explanation of the non-hypothetical force of epistemic norms.
Finally, I develop and defend an alternative constitutivist explanation.
“Naturalizing Direction of Fit”
Patrick Butlin, King’s College - London
Mental states and other representations can have either the indicative
direction of fit, meaning that their purpose is to say how the world is, or the
imperative direction of fit, meaning that their purpose is to say what should
be done or specify a result to be aimed for. It is also possible, in principle,
that they could have both of these directions of fit, or some other purpose
entirely. One way to analyse the directions of fit is normative (e.g. Zangwill
1998). Such an analysis might claim that indicatives are subject to norms
concerning their production and revision, while imperatives generate norms
concerning the behaviour of their consumers. But the connection between
direction of fit and the normative can be taken the other way: if a naturalistic
account of direction of fit is possible, this will be a significant contribution to
naturalizing various normative domains. If belief is subject to epistemic
norms, the direction of fit of belief is presumably part of the explanation for
this. Similarly, the direction of fit of desire may partially explain why we are
subject to norms of prudential rationality. This paper considers the prospects
of one possible approach to naturalizing direction of fit.
Many existing accounts of direction of fit employ a sharp distinction between
content and attitude. They assume that we can neutrally represent
propositional contents, and then take a variety of attitudes to them – put the
representations in belief or desire boxes, to use the common analogy. On this
approach, accounts of direction of fit are separate from theories of
representation. However, teleosemantic theories of representation (e.g.
Millikan 1984) take a different approach. They take the most fundamental
forms of representation to involve both content and attitude – suggesting that
asserting p, for example, is more fundamental than neutrally representing
the propositional content p. This idea is very closely tied to the basic
teleosemantic claim, which is that both an entity’s status as a representation,
and its representational content, are determined by its function or purpose. If
this is right, and directions of fit are purposes that representations can have,
then directions of fit are ways in which entities can represent.
Millikan’s theory of representation is therefore made up of two parts: one
giving the conditions for indicative representation, and another giving the
conditions for imperative representation. Roughly, indicatives have the
function of mapping normal conditions for the function of their consumers,
while imperatives have the function of mapping conditions that their
consumers have the function of producing.1 Many representations, Millikan
urges, have both indicative and imperative content; for example, a beaver’s
tail-splash indicates the presence of danger, which is a condition required for
escape-behaviours to be adaptive, and there are systems in fellow beavers
that have the function of producing escape behaviours when tail-splashes are
detected, so they also have imperative content. But her theory also suggests
criteria for pure indicative or imperative representations. Pure indicatives
lack imperative content, so their consumers may respond in various ways, or
not at all, when they consume these representations. Pure imperatives lack
indicative content, so they may be produced under a variety of conditions, any
of which will allow the consumers of these representations to fulfill their
functions. As Lewis puts it, indicatives are used at the discretion of the
consumer, and imperatives are generated at the discretion of the producer
(Lewis 1969; also compare Sterelny 2003).
One key challenge for this account is to overcome the indeterminacy problem
for teleosemantics. Teleosemanticists typically employ etiological theories of
function, meaning that they take the functions of devices to be the ways that
devices of the same kind behaved in the past, which explain their persisting
In Millikan’s terminology, ‘normal conditions’ are conditions required for consumers to
perform their functions successfully.
in the present.2 This introduces indeterminacy, because there is generally
more than one way of describing such behaviours which is capable of fitting
into a teleological explanation. We can explain why we have hearts either by
saying that they pump the blood, or by saying that they making squeezing
movements, depending on what background information we take for granted.
This is a problem for naturalizing direction of fit, because the directions of fit
we attribute to given states will be highly sensitive to how we identify the
functions of their consumers. For example, if we take desires to be consumed
by a system that assesses which desire is strongest, then produces the
desired action, desires turn out to be pure indicatives, since their consumers
should respond differently to them, depending on what other desires are
occurrent at the time.3 But if we take desires to be consumed by a system
that produces the action that satisfies the strongest occurrent desire at the
time, then they do have imperative content.
A closely related challenge concerns disjunctive contents. If a particular
representation has the function of causing a certain kind of response in its
consumer, it has imperative content. Now imagine that it may succeed in
fulfilling its function – contributing to the success of the overall system –
under any of three different conditions, A, B or C. How should we decide
whether this representation lacks indicative content, or indicates the
disjunctive condition A or B or C?
To solve these problems, we need to tweak the teleosemantic account of
function. Functions should not be seen as behaviours described in any
adequate teleological explanation, but as those described in the best
teleological explanation of the relevant system. Price (1998) offers several
principles for determining functions that help to fill out this claim, and these
can be seen as instances of general principles for forming good explanations.
For instance, a candidate function for the heart is pumping clot-free blood,
since the action of the heart only contributes to organisms’ survival when the
blood is free of deadly clots. But this proposal seems to attribute a function to
the heart that it has no way of performing, since the heart has no mechanism
for preventing clots. It also creates the appearance of superfluity in the
context of wider functional explanations, since there are other mechanisms in
the circulatory system with the function of preventing clots.
Finally, a naturalistic account of direction of fit will be satisfactory only if it
can be applied to human mental states such as beliefs, desires and intentions,
and this raises a further challenge for the present account. Perhaps unlike
Or in some cases, to be derived from the etiological functions of their producers.
For the sake of a simple example, I’m imagining that we typically desire actions (rather than
outcomes), and that desires cause actions relatively directly (rather than in combination with
instrumental beliefs).
beaver tail-splashes, these states do not have obvious producers and
consumers, and we cannot apply the account unless these are identified. The
challenge is perhaps most acute in the case of beliefs, many of which appear
to be produced and consumed by various systems for a wide variety of
purposes. However, this variation is likely to yield the result that beliefs are,
as we would expect, pure indicatives. In the case of desires, a substantial
body of relevant empirical work is available to draw on (Balleine & O’Doherty
2010). But one aspect of this challenge that is of particular interest is the
problem of relating claims about the functions of subpersonal states and
systems to the personal level. Until these connections are brought out, it will
be unclear how this approach to naturalizing direction of fit can found
epistemic or prudential norms that seem to apply to whole persons.
“Reasons and Resentment”
Vida Yao, UNC Chapel Hill
Internalism about reasons is often taken to be a naturalistically respectable
view of practical reasons, which avoids the metaphysical and epistemological
difficulties that are often pinned to externalism about reasons. On this
familiar understanding of the view, however, internalism comes with certain
costs: it is unable to adequately accommodate the kinds of criticisms that we
feel are warranted of those that Bernard Williams calls “hard cases” – people
who lack any subjective motivation that could lead, through sound
deliberation, to a conclusion to act on moral or ethical reasons. While
externalists insist that such people nonetheless have such reasons that they
are failing to act on; internalists refuse to accommodate this intuition, while
reminding us that there are worse things to be called than “irrational”. This
particular line of disagreement between internalists and externslists often
seems either to reach a stalemate, or will be settled by whatever our best
picture of practical rationality turns out to be.
However, there is still more to be said within this particular line of the
debate. Derek Parfit, in his recent rejection of internalism, has tried to
capture exactly what is important about retaining the idea that somebody
such as the committed, internally-coherent wife-beater has a reason to stop
what he is doing. While agreeing with internalists that it is not important, in
and of itself, that such a person is criticizable for his irrationality, what is
important is the relationship that this kind of criticism bears to the other
evaluations that we can make of him. Specifically, Parfit’s worry is that,
“These other criticisms become much weaker if we must admit that, on our
view, these people have no reason to act differently.” (On what Matters, 457).
This observation, I think, is exactly right. Furthermore, it provides us with a
way of understanding the criticism levelled at internalism that goes beyond
competing intuitions about the importance or nature of rationality, and so
provides us with a promising way of addressing this dispute. Those who
defend internalism ought not stop at reminding their opponents about all of
the things that we can say about hard cases. While this is an important task,
it should be coupled with an acknowledgment and acceptance of precisely the
relationship that Parfit has pointed out, between reasons and our reactions to
one another. This is because once this observation is fully fleshed out, as I
will argue, internalism about reasons will yield precisely the right results
about how those reactions are sensitive to, and modified in light of, an agent’s
internal reasons. And in light of this argument, the central problem with
externalism is not that external reasons are spooky, or mysterious, or
unacceptably extravagant (though they may also be all of those things). The
central problem with externalism is that external reasons do not play the
role, and should not play the role, that externalists take them to play in
justifying and moderating our attitudes towards one another.
“Normativity & Naturalism in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics: the
Importance of Learning to Perceive Virtuously”
Michael Coxhead, King’s College – London
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics contains what is commonly understood to be
a virtue ethic, in which he describes not only the normative content of the
virtues but also how one becomes virtuous and why one should care about
doing so. On Aristotle’s view, a life of action and activity of reason in
accordance with the virtues will be a truly happy (eudaimôn) life. In this
paper I focus on Aristotle’s account of moral education, taken to be a process
of habituation through action. In particular, Aristotle appears to subscribe to
a theory of “moral perception” that is cognitively complex, value-laden, and
capable of development. Perception is thus both a natural capacity that can
provide complex, evaluative information about an agent’s practical
circumstance, and also a capacity that can be improved or worsened in
accordance with a normative description of virtue and vice. This kind of
value-laden perception thus provides its agent with a kind of “second nature”
which effects how they see the world in terms of normative standards. I shall
first propose that this inflationary phenomenology of perception is not only
cogent but also vital to explaining both how desire relates to action and how
ethical reasoning can be practically efficacious. From this standpoint I ask:
what difference does it make to a normative system of ethics to have
perception—a natural capacity—involved in it? Conversely, by being involved
in the judgment of normative ethical matters how might perception itself be
rendered normative and how might this effect the grounding of that
normative ethic?
I consider three lines of thought: first, that the moral education of one’s
perceptual faculties is necessary to avoid the possibility of akrasia and to
develop into a practically wise and virtuous person. That is, it is a necessary
condition achieving eudaimonia on Aristotle’s view. Second, the action of a
virtuously developed perceptual faculty is not only good in regard to the
normative standards of virtue, but is also something good in itself from the
perspective of the agent. This intrinsic goodness is offered by the sense of
value that a developed moral perspective provides. On this view, the
education of one’s perceptual capacities in accordance with virtue is capable
of serving as motivational foundations for meeting the standards of a
normative ethic. In developing this idea I consider the possibility that a
virtue ethic which focuses on the development of a habituated moral
perspective or “second nature”—including one’s perceptual capacities—is
perhaps the only way of providing such motivational grounds. Third, that a
reciprocal interface between one’s capacity to reason about reasons for action
and one’s cognitively-rich and value-laden moral perceptions is necessary to
be able to meaningfully reflect upon the rationality of one’s reasons for
action. I conclude in an aporetic manner by considering possible charges of
cultural relativism and egoism.
“Hume’s Naturalism Epistemologized”
James Arnold, King’s College – London
Hume has often been recruited by advocates of “naturalized epistemology,”
including W.V.O. Quine, who coined the term in his famous 1969
paper. However, I will argue that Hume is better viewed not primarily as an
epistemologist who draws on naturalistic psychology to assist him, but as a
naturalist who draws epistemological conclusions from his “science of the
mind”. In essence, Hume’s central interest was not, in the first instance,
in epistemology naturalized, but in naturalism epistemologized. Given that
naturalistic enquiry is factual, whereas epistemological enquiry is at least
partially normative, this might seem to violate Hume’s injunction on
inferring an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. However, I will argue that Hume’s injunction
only applies to rational inference, whereas the move from naturalism to
epistemology is mediated by non-rational passions, most intriguingly, by the
under-emphasized passion he entitles “curiosity, or the love of truth.”