7 de dezembro de 2011

Josep L. Prades: Three faces of the Conjunctive Fallacy


2011-12: Session 3

Three faces of the Conjunctive Fallacy

Josep L. Prades (University of Girona)

9 December 2011, 16:00

Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa
Sala Mattos Romão (departamento de Filosofia)

Abstract: More than fifty years ago, Elisabeth Anscombe characterised
intentional action in a way that has become a sort of commonplace in
contemporary philosophy (Anscombe 1957, section 5). According to her,
intentional actions are those to which certain why-questions apply.
These questions look for an explanation in terms of the reasons for
which the agent acts. And it has also become common usage to describe
the relevant explanations as ‘rationalisations’.I will focus my
discussion on certain paradigmatic examples of rationalisations: those
seemingly uncontroversial cases in which the relevant why-question not
only applies, but it has also a true answer in terms of some further
reason for which the agent acts –some reason that is not implicit in
the question itself.  For instance, let’s imagine that I go to the
station with the purpose of picking up my friend who comes by train.
If someone asked me ‘why are you going to the station?’, many things
could be mentioned in the corresponding rationalisation: the fact that
my friend is arriving by train, my suddenly remembering that she is
coming by train, my desire to meet her at the station… In spite of
this, there seems to be no consensus about which kinds of entities are
picked out as reasons by those common explanations. On some accounts,
the mention of certain facts is relevant insofar as it determines the
content of certain beliefs and desires that are the true reasons for
which I act. Different accounts defend that it is the other way round:
the mention of my ‘attitudes’ is relevant because it determines which
non-psychological facts or states of affairs are my (believed)
reasons. In any case, a curious unanimity about the form of the
relation of acting-for-reasons can be detected behind this
disagreement. It is taken for granted that you can only act for
reasons if, at least under your own considerations, (i) you have
reasons to act and (ii) the fact that you have those reasons is
independent from the fact that you act for them. This assumption is
not challenged, quite the opposite, by the strategy of locating those
reasons inside the ‘motivational set’ of the agent, or by assuming
that they are reasons of a very particular kind –‘motivational’ or
‘explanatory’ as opposed to ‘normative’ or ‘justificatory’.This is the
assumption I will criticise in this paper. In an everyday
rationalisation of our actions, we mention certain entities because,
by choosing to mention them, we convey information about the purpose
with which someone acts. To talk about the reasons for which we act,
in the sense in which mere rationalisations of action sort out those
reasons, is just a way of specifying intentional content. Similar
considerations apply, mutatis mutandis, to the rationalising
explanations of our desires or intentions. Imagine that I wish I could
be in the station now for the reason that then I would see Maria
there. From this, it certainly follows that the object of my desire is
to be in the station under some specific determination – as a way of
seeing her. It also follows that I would not have this specific desire
if I did not think that Maria might be in the station. Nevertheless,
it is not necessary that I believe that I have reasons to see her
there, or that I have reasons to form my desire. Acting (desiring,
intending) for reasons is not a conjunctive fact: it does not
presuppose that the agent is in the independent relation of having
reasons –it does not even presuppose that the agent believes she is in
this independent relation. I will then argue against a certain
rationalistic picture that dominates contemporary philosophy of
action. It is a picture that is a routine ingredient in both Humean
and non-Humean accounts of motivation. It systematically includes the
assumption that, by rationalising actions, intentions or desires, we
show that the subject is minimally rational, minimally responding to
the commands of some of the reasons she has, or she thinks she has. A
little bit, but not too much. For, under the same assumption, the full
obedience to those commands would require from us very extravagant
intentional contents. This is unfair to the most basic aspects of our
human nature, and to any sensible principle of content-determination.
To show how pervasive this rationalist picture is, I will critically
examine three arguments, perhaps the most influential in contemporary
discussions on motivation and intentional action, with the purpose of
showing that they equivocate on certain crucial expressions. Once the
equivocation is discovered, we cannot accept at the same time the
truth of all their premises and their validity. In the process of
examining those arguments, I will also offer my own account of the
deep structure of rationalisations. In a typical rationalisation, we
provide information about the content of our desires, intentions or
the purpose with which we act. The explanatory virtues of this
information do not require that the rationalised agent should believe
she has reasons to desire, intend or act in the way she does.

Sponsored by: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Faculdade de
Letras da Universidade de Lisboa

For further information, please contact
Professor João Branquinho
Department of Philosophy, Faculdade de Letras
Universidade de Lisboa
Alameda da Universidade
1600-214 Lisboa
Telephone +(351)217920000
Fax +(351)217920063

Centro de Filosofia da Universidade de Lisboa
LanCog Group (Language, Mind and Cognition Research Group)
Instituto Filosófico de Pedro Hispano, Departamento de Filosofia da FLUL

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