Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Paper Proposal for Reasons and Rationality Conference

Title: TBA

To act on a reason is to accept a propositional formulation to what a reason is. However, I find this type of talk limiting for two reasons. First, the fact that language constructs its syntax in certain ways might be misleading to what it is to act on a reason, and secondly, when we engage in “propositionalizing” reason, we abstract the intention, maxim or reason for acting from its worldly concrete context. An agent is someone that can give oneself a reason, and the reasons are separated from the context that inspire them when we talk in such a fashion. These two problems stem largely from Kantian conceptions of agency and rationality that still persist to this day.
In this paper, it is not enough simply to put out the “obvious” flaws in Kantian conceptions of rationality and agency. A difference must be posed, and a substitute for reasons must be found. Therefore, I briefly sketch out my conception of agency and reasons based in part by rethinking Heidegger’s existential analysis as a substitute for what the Kantian position defends and reviving the affective intentionality of Scheler’s moral philosophy. This has two advantages, and one flaw.
First, reasons are not possibilities given to oneself by oneself. There is more depth in this experience than Kant permits. For Kant, self-legislation stems from the noumenal character of rationality. This puts the practical agent outside the concrete world, and this really cannot stand. There is a question as to how that possibility arose in the first place. It arises in the “historicity” and the world we are “thrown” into which we have no control. The historicity of self-understanding implies that there are limits to practical rationality.
Secondly, the noumenal character of the practical standpoint, the claim of impartiality of practical reason, cannot stand. This can be seen by defending the existential analysis of moods that both Scheler and Heidegger open up in their analysis and its consequences it would have for agency. An agent cannot maintain absolute neutrality with regard to the reasons it comes to possess.
However, Heidegger’s analysis of affectivity is blind to values that feature in experience, and this is the flaw that while Heidegger possesses the fact that our reasons are always “mooded.”[1] Heidegger does not see that emotions are the place where values can be found. For my point here, values are evaluative reasons for actions, and I intend the term in that respect.
Let me take stock of this paper proposal, and what has been exactly claimed so far. First, the Kantian articulation of reasons as “propositionalized” and self-legislated is misleading and causes two confusions. It promotes the falsely noumenal character of what it is to give oneself a reason such that rationality and agency stand outside history and context in which true action is exercised. Therefore, I propose two theses about rationality and agency that attempt to return agency and rationality to the concrete world of experience.

  1. The Hermeneutic Limit of Reasons: For any reason R, R is a possibility that comes to an agent A through historical mediation to such an extent that A’s identification with the possibility cannot be extricated from A’s situated understanding.
  2. The Affective Intentionality Condition: For any reason R, R is always based in a existential mood M such that R can never stand outside M.
The first thesis comes out of Heidegger’s analysis in Being and Time and is less problematic than the second. Thesis (2) comes in two varieties Heidegger’s and Scheler’s respective varieties. First, Heidegger does not associate affective intentionality with having a value correlate. Scheler’s position does construe value in this way, and so it is to him that we must turn on this point to reject Heidegger altogether for the second thesis. Taken together, these two insights are corrective measures against what the Kantian positions fails to articulate. The Kantian position fails to articulate a worldly concrete conception of rational agency.
            Now, the reviewer of this proposal will note two things. First, this paper exhibits no ambiguous language concerning what Heidegger’s position is (nor Scheler’s position for that matter), and secondly, I am arguing against the Kantian position itself, not any particular Kantian. Therefore, I am engaged in a logical dialectic with a commonly held position and some thematization of that position is made on my part here. My thematization is based on a severe dissatisfaction with many Kantians to sneak unrealistic powers of autonomy into their conception of what rational agency is to such an extent that they ignore the historical source of that bias in Kant—the noumenal character of the practical standpoint.
            The paper is organized into three parts. First, I will outline the exact nature and character of the noumenal conception of rational agency in Kant and the problems generated from that conception. In the second section, I will propose thesis (1) and defend it. In the third section, I will propose thesis (2) and show why Scheler’s conception of affective intentionality takes precedence over Heidegger’s conception.

[1] This insight is the thesis of my dissertation on Heidegger and Scheler. 


E said...

This looks really interesting and makes me want to go back and rework some of my stuff on context and reasons. I hope you don’t mind some critical comments and suggestions.

1. I don’t think that acting on a reason requires that I accept a propositional formulation of the reason, if by “acceptance” you mean “explicit acceptance” that involves conscious contemplation of the reason. Much of our reason-responsiveness occurs at a level of automaticity that makes this very implausible. If you mean something other than this by acceptance, then that would have to be spelled out—what it means to tacitly accept, etc.
2. Granting your skepticism about a Kantian account of reasons, I think that you need to account for the “de dicto” character of reasons despite their concrete worldliness. (Perhaps that’s what you’re up to with the Affective Intentionality Condition?)

3. About the Hermeneutic Limit of Reasons. If I have a reason to wash my hair or to be kind to a student, then that reason is not a possibility, but an actuality of some kind, like a fact. (Actually, I think it more complicated than that—Dancy in Practical Reality makes a good case that metaphysically reasons are states of affairs, not facts.) I agree with your point about historical mediation (so long as we interpret that pretty broadly) and non-extrication from situated understanding, but I am not sure that this means that reasons cannot be propositional in structure. On a Heideggerian account can’t it be that mooded disclosure brings to Dasein states of affairs or facts as indicators about how to go forward? (My Heidegger is rusty.) That is, situated pre-propositional disclosure yields propositionally thematized and potentially communicable and generalizable considerations regarding Dasein’s futurity.

4. I would really highlight at the very beginning of the abstract that you are going up against a Kantian account of reasons, so that the reader doesn’t get confused (I did, a bit).

5. If you’re not familiar with it (and you may well be), you might look at Dancy’s particularism in Ethics Without Principles, Daniel Andler’s “Normativity of Context” (Philosophical Studies), and Larry Wright’s work on the deductive ideal in relation to reasoning. Andler is especially interesting as, if I recall correctly, he’s a cognitive scientist influenced a bit by Heidegger through Dreyfus.

Of course, I may have misunderstood a lot given that this is an abstract!
Eric Brown

Carbondale Chasmite said...


Welcome to my small part of the net, and I am delighted to make your acquaintance. I have been thinking about this for a while, and wanted to use Heidegger and Scheler in a productive way. That said, I thank you for your many suggestions. If you want, we can have a back on forth on this since I am interested in making this into something.

1. You are right. Acting on a reason doesn't automatically imply an explicit acceptance. I may be very habituated in some practices to the point that they operate a tergo as conditions in activities. Needless to say, I think that explicit acceptance is characteristic of the Kantian position. That was not explicitly stated.

2. One thing at a time.

3. I mean possibility here not in the typical metaphysical sense, and I want to stay away from conceptions of metaphysics that commit to a metaphysics of presence. This is to be consistent with the existential-ontological conception I am trying to articulate. In this way, the agent is always in a process of becoming itself and so it makes it hard to say that possibilities are not concrete or actual. Again, it matters little to me metaphysically what possibilities are, but only how they are experienced.

Your second point regarding Heidegger will need to be further dissected. My initial impression is that you are onto something since understanding always has its mood.

I have only read Larry Wright on proper functions and Dancy's Two Conceptions of Moral Realism, and general introduction to his moral particularlism (which given a hermeneutic constraint on what reasons can be... I'd be interested in exploring that connection... In a way, L. Freeman did this not too long ago in one of the recent issues of Continental Philosophy Review.)