First things first. I want to thank Doug, Dave, Dan, and Josh for inviting me to come on as a contributor. I’m interested in connections between reasons for action and belief. For a while, I’ve been content to argue that at a certain high level of abstraction, we ought to expect similarities between reasons for action and belief. So, for example, if we can show that reasons for action belong in a certain ontological category, it would be surprising if the right account of reasons for belief located those kinds of reasons in an entirely different ontological category. If there’s a gap between reasons and rationality on the practical side, it would be surprising if there were no similar gap on the theoretical side. (Of course, if there’s no gap between reasons and rationality on the theoretical side, we ought to reconsider the suggestion that there’s a gap on the practical side.) You get the idea.
What justification is there for thinking that claims about reasons for action justify claims about reasons for belief? I suppose you might say that the arguments that (purport to) show that there’s a gap between reasons and rationality on the practical side show that there’s nothing to the concepts of normative reason or rationality that require them to go hand in hand. If someone wishes to defend the view that there’s no gap between reasons and rationality on the theoretical side, the onus would be on them. To paraphrase a remark of John Gibbons’ from a forthcoming paper of his, there’s a built in explanation of the similarities since both reasons for belief and action are reasons.
I’m interested to see if we can establish something stronger than just the claim that there’s a burden of proof on those who wish to insist that reasons for action and belief differ in important ways. I’ve been kicking around an idea for the past few months and thought I’d see what sort of reaction it would receive here. Consider:
Link: If you oughtn’t φ, you oughtn’t believe that you ought to φ or that you may φ.
The basic idea behind Link is simple enough. Suppose you accept some sort of motivational internalism and think that there is a necessary, but defeasible, connection between the judgment that you should φ and the motivation to φ. Suppose further that you accept some sort of cognitivism so that in judging that you should φ you believe that you should φ. If we combine the two, then bracketing the exception cases that cause trouble for crude formulations of motivational internalism, necessarily, if you believe you should φ you will thereby be motivated to φ. It seems that something in the neighborhood of Link ought to follow from these metaethical assumptions.
If the theoretical assumptions don’t move you, maybe an example will. (Apologies to Judith Thomson.) Suppose a pilot comes to us with a request for advice: “See, we’re at war with a
villainous country called Bad, and my superiors have ordered me to drop some bombs at Placetown in Bad. Now there is a munitions factory at Placetown, but there is a children hospital there too. Some people tell me that I should drop the bombs to help with the war effort but some tell me that we should avoid killing innocents. I am so confused, I just do not know who to believe.” Now, suppose we say, “Look, given what you have said, it is clear that you should appreciate that dropping the bombs is a necessary evil”. The pilot drops the bombs. The next time we see him we confront him and say, “That was a terrible thing to do!” Confused the pilot says “But you told me that dropping the bombs was a necessary evil”. “No”, we say, “We only said that believing you should drop the bombs is what you should believe. You never asked us what you should do. That is an entirely different matter.” What a queer performance this would be! Can anyone really think that what the pilot should believe about what he should do depends on considerations other than those that determine whether the pilot should drop the bombs?
Well, apparently some people do believe it. I’m looking at a paper of Richard Feldman’s right now (‘Subjective and Objective Justification in Ethics and Epistemology’) and he defends a view that looks for all the world to be incompatible with Link. On his view, facts that are obscure to an agent can make it all things considered wrong for the agent to perform a given course of action (e.g., the fact that the man approaching is a jogger rather than a mugger means that you should not mace him). However, facts that are obscure to the agent can have no bearing on the permissibility of beliefs such as the belief that the man approaching is a mugger or that you should spray him with mace. But, it looks like Feldman’s view gives precisely this sort of advice: believe that you should spray him but do not spray him with mace. Madness!
There are two ways to bring Feldman’s view in line with Link. First, we might say that facts obscure to an agent can make it wrong to believe certain things (e.g., the fact that the man is a mugger rather than a jogger makes it wrong to believe you should mace him. Since you know that if the man is a mugger you are within your rights to mace him, you should not believe the non-normative belief that the man is a mugger no matter how good your evidence is.) Second, we might say that since the facts that are obscure to an agent have no bearing on the justification of our attitudes and our attitudes are necessarily connected to our actions, these facts might be facts in light of which our actions are unfortunate but they are not facts in light of which our actions are wrongful. (Since job season is just around the corner, I’m not here going to say which response I believe is correct. I’ll just say that the first one is correct.)
My first question is just this. Is there something in the neighborhood of what I’ve said above that serves as a decent rationale for Link? Is there some obvious (or not so obvious) objection to Link that I’m missing apart from the obvious ones (i.e., objections from non-cognitivists, externalists about motivation, etc…).
I think Link is interesting for a number of reasons. Among them, it seems that if you look at the standard rationales offered for adopting externalist views in epistemology (e.g., a view that treats reasons for belief as facts beyond those that strongly supervene on our non-factive mental states or says that the right to believe similarly depends on such external facts), they really have nothing to do with the role that belief plays in practical deliberation. It seems that Link might serve as the basis of a novel argument for externalism in epistemology, which is that the right way to think about reasons for action and permissible action is in externalist terms and this requires a parallel externalism in the theoretical domain.