2,306 research outputs found

    A Shelter from Luck: The Morality System Reconstructed

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    Far from being indiscriminately critical of the ideas he associated with the morality system, Bernard Williams offered vindicatory explanations of its crucial building blocks, such as the moral/non-moral distinction, the idea of obligation, the voluntary/involuntary distinction, and the practice of blame. The rationale for these concessive moves, I argue, is that understanding what these ideas do for us when they are not in the service of the system is just as important to leading us out of the system as the critique of that system. I then show how regarding the aspiration to shelter life from luck as the system’s organizing ambition explains why the system elaborates and combines these building blocks in the way it does. Finally, I argue that the ultimate problem with the resulting construction is its frictionless purity. It robs valuable concepts of their grip on the world we live in, and, by insisting on purity from contingency, threatens to issue in nihilism about value and scepticism about agency

    The Self-Effacing Functionality of Blame

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    This paper puts forward an account of blame combining two ideas that are usually set up against each other: that blame performs an important function, and that blame is justified by the moral reasons making people blameworthy rather than by its functionality. The paper argues that blame could not have developed in a purely instrumental form, and that its functionality itself demands that its functionality be effaced in favour of non-instrumental reasons for blame—its functionality is self-effacing. This notion is sharpened and it is shown how it offers an alternative to instrumentalist or consequentialist accounts of blame which preserves their animating insight while avoiding their weaknesses by recasting that insight in an explanatory role. This not only allows one to do better justice to the authority and autonomy of non-instrumental reasons for blame, but also reveals that autonomy to be a precondition of blame’s functionality. Unlike rival accounts, it also avoids the “alienation effect” that renders blame unstable under reflection by undercutting the authority of the moral reasons which enable it to perform its function in the first place. It instead yields a vindicatory explanation that strengthens our confidence in those moral reasons

    Davidsonian Causalism and Wittgensteinian Anti-Causalism: A Rapprochement

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    A longstanding debate in the philosophy of action opposes causalists to anti-causalists. Causalists claim the authority of Davidson, who offered powerful arguments to the effect that intentional explanations must be causal explanations. Anti-causalists claim the authority of Wittgenstein, who offered equally powerful arguments to the effect that reasons cannot be causes. My aim in this paper is to achieve a rapprochement between Davidsonian causalists and Wittgensteinian anti-causalists by showing how both sides can agree that reasons are not causes, but that intentional explanations are causal explanations. To this end, I first defuse Davidson’s Challenge, an argument purporting to show that intentional explanations are best made sense of as being explanatory because reasons are causes. I argue that Wittgenstein furnishes anti-causalists with the means to resist this conclusion. I then argue that this leaves the Master Argument for the claim that intentional explanations are causal explanations, but that by distinguishing between a narrow and a wide conception of causal explanation, we can resolve the stalemate between Wittgensteinian anti-causalists impressed by the thought that reasons cannot be causes and Davidsonian causalists impressed by the thought that intentional explanations must be causal explanations

    Choosing Values? Williams Contra Nietzsche

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    Amplifying Bernard Williams’ critique of the Nietzschean project of a revaluation of values, this paper mounts a critique of the idea that whether values will help us to live can serve as a criterion for choosing which values to live by. I explore why it might not serve as a criterion and highlight a number of further difficulties faced by the Nietzschean project. I then come to Nietzsche's defence, arguing that if we distinguish valuations from values, there is at least one form of the project which overcomes those difficulties. Finally, however, I show that even on this reading, the project must either fall prey to ‘Saint-Just's illusion’ or fall back into the problems it was supposed to escape. This highlights important difficulties faced by the Nietzschean project and its descendants while also explaining why Williams, who was so Nietzschean in other respects, remained wary of the revaluation of values as a project

    Two Orders of Things: Wittgenstein on Reasons and Causes

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    This paper situates Wittgenstein in what is known as the causalism/anti-causalism debate in the philosophy of mind and action and reconstructs his arguments to the effect that reasons are not a species of causes. On the one hand, the paper aims to reinvigorate the question of what these arguments are by offering a historical sketch of the debate showing that Wittgenstein's arguments were overshadowed by those of the people he influenced, and that he came to be seen as an anti-causalist for reasons that are in large part extraneous to his thought. On the other hand, the paper aims to recover the arguments scattered in Wittgenstein's own writings by detailing and defending three lines of argument distinguishing reasons from causes. The paper concludes that Wittgenstein's arguments differ from those of his immediate successors; that he anticipates current anti-psychologistic trends; and that he is perhaps closer to Davidson than historical dialectics suggest

    Williams’s Pragmatic Genealogy and Self-Effacing Functionality

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    In Truth and Truthfulness, Bernard Williams sought to defend the value of truth by giving a vindicatory genealogy revealing its instrumental value. But what separates Williams’s instrumental vindication from the indirect utilitarianism of which he was a critic? And how can genealogy vindicate anything, let alone something which, as Williams says of the concept of truth, does not have a history? In this paper, I propose to resolve these puzzles by reading Williams as a type of pragmatist and his genealogy as a pragmatic genealogy. On this basis, I show just in what sense Williams’s genealogy can by itself yield reasons to cultivate a sense of the value of truth. Using various criticisms of Williams’s genealogical method as a foil, I then develop an understanding of pragmatic genealogy which reveals it to be uniquely suited to dealing with practices exhibiting what I call self-effacing functionality—practices that are functional only insofar as and because we do not engage in them for their functionality. I conclude with an assessment of the wider significance of Williams’s genealogy for his own oeuvre and for further genealogical inquiry

    How Genealogies Can Affect the Space of Reasons

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    Can genealogical explanations affect the space of reasons? Those who think so commonly face two objections. The first objection maintains that attempts to derive reasons from claims about the genesis of something commit the genetic fallacy—they conflate genesis and justification. One way for genealogies to side-step this objection is to focus on the functional origins of practices—to show that, given certain facts about us and our environment, certain conceptual practices are rational because apt responses. But this invites a second objection, which maintains that attempts to derive current from original function suffer from continuity failure—the conditions in response to which something originated no longer obtain. This paper shows how normatively ambitious genealogies can steer clear of both problems. It first maps out various ways in which genealogies can involve non-fallacious genetic arguments before arguing that some genealogies do not invite the charge of the genetic fallacy if they are interpreted as revealing the original functions of conceptual practices. However, they then incur the burden of showing that the conditions relative to which practices function continuously obtain. Taking its cue from the genealogies of E. J. Craig, Bernard Williams, and Miranda Fricker, the paper shows how model-based genealogies can avoid continuity failures by identifying bases of continuity in the demands we face

    Nietzsche as a Critic of Genealogical Debunking: Making Room for Naturalism without Subversion

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    This paper argues that Nietzsche is a critic of just the kind of genealogical debunking he is popularly associated with. We begin by showing that interpretations of Nietzsche which see him as engaging in genealogical debunking turn him into an advocate of nihilism, for on his own premises, any truthful genealogical inquiry into our values is going to uncover what most of his contemporaries deem objectionable origins and thus license global genealogical debunking. To escape nihilism and make room for naturalism without indiscriminate subversion, we then argue, Nietzsche targets the way of thinking about values that permits genealogical debunking: far from trying to subvert values simply by uncovering their origins, Nietzsche is actively criticising genealogical debunking thus understood. Finally, we draw out the consequences of our reading for Nietzsche’s positive vision

    Detection of an Extrasolar Planet Atmosphere

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    We report high precision spectrophotometric observations of four planetary transits of HD 209458, in the region of the sodium resonance doublet at 589.3 nm. We find that the photometric dimming during transit in a bandpass centered on the sodium feature is deeper by (2.32 +/- 0.57) x 10^{-4} relative to simultaneous observations of the transit in adjacent bands. We interpret this additional dimming as absorption from sodium in the planetary atmosphere, as recently predicted from several theoretical modeling efforts. Our model for a cloudless planetary atmosphere with a solar abundance of sodium in atomic form predicts more sodium absorption than we observe. There are several possibilities that may account for this reduced amplitude, including reaction of atomic sodium into molecular gases and/or condensates, photoionization of sodium by the stellar flux, a low primordial abundance of sodium, or the presence of clouds high in the atmosphere.Comment: 26 pages, 8 figures, accepted by ApJ 2001 November 1