Lecture 1 of 6 of the 2018 John Locke Lectures in Philosophy 'Learning and Doing: Toward a Unified Account of Rationality in Belief, Desire and Action'
We can think of rationality both narrowly and broadly. In the narrow sense, rationality is about proper reasoning, and about thinking or acting in accord with such reasoning. In the broad sense, rationality is about reasons-responsiveness, which incorporates a wider array of capacities that enable us to respond aptly to reasons—in perception, belief, inference, motivation, and action. Even narrow rationality ineliminably involves attitudes and dispositions that cannot themselves be exercises of reasoning, on pain of regress. But how, if not by reasoning, can such attitudes and dispositions become well-attuned or sensitive to reasons?—A question posed by, among others, Aristotle, Hume, and Kant.
Each of these figures took seriously the idea that ‘What I can’t build, I don’t understand’, and sought to ‘build’ accounts of desire, belief, or action that permitted us to see rationality in the broad sense at work—even in reasoning. We will proceed likewise, taking advantage of recent work in both philosophy and psychology to move the project forward and increase its descriptive (and potentially explanatory) depth. This in turn can help us make progress in large-scale debates in philosophy that often depend upon conceptions of desire, belief, and action—e.g., disputes over the nature of normative judgment and the possibility of realism in the normative domain. On these questions, I will be using the account developed of desire, belief, and action to defend cognitivism and realism, and, at the end, to respond to recent criticisms of moral cognitivism and realism on psychological, neuroscientific, and evolutionary grounds—the weight of the evidence, I suggest, lies on the vindicative rather than debunking side of these debates.
Peter Railton is Gregory S. Kavka Distinguished University Professor and John Stephenson Perrin Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
The event is free and open to all.