Brains, Persons, and Society *** ABSTRACTS
Cervelli, Persone e Società ***ABSTRACTS
In his book, Moran appeals to a particular model of rational agency in order to explain central (and, I take it, normal) cases of self-knowledge. His attempt hinges on the idea that, whilst we certainly need to preserve the Cartesian intuition of asymmetries between knowledge of our own mental states and knowledge of other minds, we should be prepared to let the Cartesian epistemological explanation of these asymmetries get away. That explanation runs in fact on a perceptual model of knowledge that, once applied to the phenomenon self-knowledge, would have us to construe the knowledge we possess about our own mental states in theoretical terms. That is, when knowing our own minds we would conduct ourselves as spectators of psychological facts our access to which thus qualifies as knowledge only if it proves to live up to epistemological standards of theoretical contemplation of reified “states of affair”, independent of our perceiving them. From this picture, according to Moran, has followed much of contemporary scepticism about self-knowledge since, given the theoretical model it is based on, a person would at best be in the position (perhaps privileged) to learn, via evidence, happenings of her mind she then would attribute (supposedly via further evidence) to herself. That can’t be satisfactory: even the most perfect knowledge of our mind gained theoretically in the way described would hardly amount to the kind of self-understanding we have by relating to our attitudes as our own, that is by being in a position the declare or avow them as ours. Attitude avowals require that I understand the reasons why, say, I believe that-p, or intend that-p, or desire that-p. In this sense, Moran promotes the idea that for most (though not all) attitudes I entertain it always makes sense to ideally ask a practical question of the kind “Were I to believe that p?”. These questions are deliberative in spirit. Their answers depend upon a resolution on the part of the epistemic agent, more than upon a discovery of some pre-existent psychological fact I harbour in my mind. That’s why the agent’s point of view is said in the book to be missed on the Cartesian Spectatorial view.
Now, Carman’s criticism focus on the notion of deliberation. He maintains that not all self-knowledge, and certainly not as massively as Moran would suggest, can possibly be the upshot of “deliberation”. Think, he says, about perceptual beliefs, beliefs we find ourselves with. Also, think of “passing thoughts”, emotional states of certain sorts, and more generally of states other than belief. To the latter, he says, Moran would end up assimilating too many mental items, to the result that this way (he argues at length) his rationalism gets easily on the score.
If this were Moran’s thesis, I think Carman would be right. But there are reasons, both textual and interpretative, to deny that the claim could be this, given the premises Moran clearly adopts. Even from the considerations briefly sketched earlier it begins to emerge that a careful reconstruction of the deep aim of the book takes us far from assimilating the “deliberative stance” with the “actual activity of deliberation”.
What I wish to develop, then, is a construal of Moran’s position, which be capable to make explicit the device of practical questions in self-knowledge and explain how their logical status does not entail by itself any relevant risks of an intellectualized view of the mind as the sort Carman warns against.
Sketchily, I will argue as follows:
- fundamentally, the logic of practical questions is a matter downright other from the activity of deliberation: the risk of intellectualization does not follow from the kind of “knowledge by resolution” Moran develops;
- the perceptual unreflected beliefs Carman assesses in the guise of decisive counter-examples do not the job they are appealed to for, since not only to them can the practical question legitimately applies all the times we are familiar with (assessment, adjustments, review, evaluation in sight of inference, etc.); but, more importantly, it is in the logic of Moran’s practical questions to be applied even when the state in question is reached routinely and without any actual decision of the agents about what is it to be believed, a decision arrived at without any guarded balance of reasons for and against the truth of its content.
- The element of necessity which is characteristic of belief, including perceptual belief, and which I myself admit of (see, Self-Deception: What is it To Blame After All?, forthcoming), by no means must be confused with an entire passivity on the part of the believer / perceiver. This is in part due to a initial confusion about being the perceptual beliefs necessitated by evidence versus being perceptions causally determined.
- The normative “ought” Moran has in mind has nothing to do with questions of rationalistic cultural pressure that would be in place, as instead Carman explicitly hints at. Carman seems not to distinguish between “constitutive ideals of rationality” and “rationality demands”. But the difference is paramount against the charge of intellectualization.
- Moreover, it is my view that in a satisfactory description of the mind, normativity should is able to be descriptively accommodated (and should rightly be so). This is my idea of “normativity psychologized” (somehow parallel to Goldman’s well-known theory of “interpretation psychologized”). There is no description of the mind as opposed to normative claims on it.