Alvarez, Maria, and . Kinds of Reasons: An Essay in the Philosophy of Action

2010, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Note: Understanding human beings and their distinctive rational and volitional capacities is one of the central tasks of philosophy. The task requires a clear account of such things as reasons, desires, emotions and motives, and of how they combine to produce and explain human behaviour. In Kinds of Reasons, Maria Alvarez offers a fresh and incisive treatment of these issues, focusing in particular on reasons as they feature in contexts of agency. Her account builds on some important recent work in the area; but she takes her main inspiration from the tradition that receives its seminal contemporary expression in the writings of G.E.M. Anscombe, a tradition that runs counter to the broadly Humean orthodoxy that has dominated the theory of action for the past forty years. Alvarez’s conclusions are therefore likely to be controversial; and her bold and painstaking arguments will be found provocative by participants on every side of the debates with which she engages. Clear and directly written, Kinds of Reasons aims to stake out a distinctive position within one of the most hotly contested areas of contemporary philosophy.

Comment: This book is on the ontological nature of reasons for which we act carries on. The first two chapters are very good introductory readings on reasons broadly. Chapters 3 to 5 explore the connection between reasons and motivation. Topics include what motivates actions, whether desires are motivating reasons, and whether motivating reasons are belief. They are proper introductory reading material for courses on ethics, reasons and philosophy of action.

Fara, Delia Graff, and . Specifying Desires

2013, Noûs 47(2): 250-272.

Abstract: A report of a person’s desire can be true even if its embedded clause underspecifies the content of the desire that makes the report true. It is true that Fiona wants to catch a fish even if she has no desire that is satisfied if she catches a poisoned minnow. Her desire is satisfied only if she catches an edible, meal-sized fish. The content of her desire is more specific than the propositional content of the embedded clause in our true report of her desires. Standard semantic accounts of belief reports require, however, that the embedded clause of a true belief report specify precisely the content of the belief that makes it true. Such accounts of belief reports therefore face what I call “the problem of underspecification” if they are extended to desire reports. Such standard accounts are sometimes refined by requiring that a belief report can be true not only if its subject has a belief with precisely the propositional content specified by its embedded clause, but also only if its subject grasps that content in a particular way. Such refinements do not, however, help to address the problem of underspecification for desire reports.

Comment: An interesting presentation of one of the disanalogies between belief and desires. Interesting in some philosophy of mind contexts as well as philosophy of language.

Fara, Delia Graff, and . Desires, Scope, and Tense

2003, Philosophical Perspectives 17(1): 141-163.

Summary: According to James McCawley (1981) and Richard Larson and Gabriel Segal (1995), the following sentence is three-ways ambiguous: -/- Harry wants to be the mayor of Kenai. -/- According to them also, the three-way ambiguity cannot be accommodated on the Russellian view that definite descriptions are quantified noun phrases. In order to capture the three-way ambiguity of the sentence, these authors propose that definite descriptions must be ambiguous: sometimes they are predicate expressions; sometimes they are Russellian quantified noun phrases. After explaining why the McCawley-Larson-Segal solution contains an obvious flaw, I discuss how an effort to correct the flaw brings to light certain puzzles about the individuation of desires, about quantifying in, and about the disambiguation of desire ascriptions.

Comment: An interesting paper about the semantics of desire. Would be suitable in a philosophy of language course.

Kind, Amy, and . The Puzzle of Imaginative Desire

2011, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89(3): 421-439.

Abstract: The puzzle of imaginative desire arises from the difficulty of accounting for the surprising behaviour of desire in imaginative activities such as our engagement with fiction and our games of pretend. Several philosophers have recently attempted to solve this puzzle by introducing a class of novel mental states – what they call desire-like imaginings or i-desires. In this paper, I argue that we should reject the i-desire solution to the puzzle of imaginative desire. The introduction of i-desires is both ontologically profligate and unnecessary, and, most importantly, fails to make sense of what we are doing in the imaginative contexts in question.

Comment: Kind provides good arguments against accepting the existence of "i-desires". This article would be useful to teach in the context of philosophy of mind, as well as in philosophy of art and fiction, as it engages with some of the issues surrounding "make-believe".

Nussbaum, Martha, and Rosalind Hursthouse. Plato on Commensurability and Desire

1984, Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 58: 55-96.

Diversifying Syllabi: Plato’s belief in the commensurability of values (shared by modern utilitarians) ultimately “cuts very deep: taken seriously, it will transform our passions as well as our decision-making, giving emotions such as love, fear, grief, and hence the ethical problems that are connected with them, an altogether different character” (56). The upshot is that “certain proposals in ethics and social choice theory that present themselves as innocuous extensions of ordinary belief and practice could actually lead, followed and lived with severity and rigor, to the end of human life as we currently know it” (56).

Comment: The text is useful in teaching ethics, especially as a critique of utilitarianism. It can also be used as a reading in history of philosophy classes focusing on ancient ethics. It is rather long, but can be used in excerpts. The paper is largely reprinted in Nussbaum's Fragility of Goodness.

Tiberius, Valerie, and . Humean Heroism: Value Commitments and the Source of Normativity

2000, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 81(4) 426-46.

Abstract: This paper addresses the question “In virtue of what do practical reasons have normative force or justificatory power?” There seems to be good reason to doubt that desires are the source of normativity. However, I argue that the reasons to be suspicious of desire-based accounts of normativity can be overcome by a sufficiently sophisticated account. The position I defend in this paper is one according to which desires, or more generally, proattitudes, do constitute values and provide rational justifications of actions when they are organized in the right way.

Comment: A good defence of desire-based accounts of value, tackling some of the most intuitive objections (such as being "too subjective" and having no foundation in reason).

Tiberius, Valerie, and . Moral Psychology: A Contemporary Introduction

2015, New York, NY: Routledge.

Publisher: This is the first philosophy textbook in moral psychology, introducing students to a range of philosophical topics and debates such as: What is moral motivation? Do reasons for action always depend on desires? Is emotion or reason at the heart of moral judgment? Under what conditions are people morally responsible? Are there self-interested reasons for people to be moral? Moral Psychology: A Contemporary Introduction presents research by philosophers and psychologists on these topics, and addresses the overarching question of how empirical research is relevant to philosophical inquir

Comment: Wide-ranging introductory textbook. Very useful for introductory readings to a range of issues in and around moral psychology.

Walker, Rebecca L., and . Medical Ethics Needs a New View of Autonomy

2009, Journal of medicine and philosophy 33: 594-608.

Abstract: The notion of autonomy commonly employed in medical ethics literature and practices is inadequate on three fronts: it fails to properly identify nonautonomous actions and choices, it gives a false account of which features of actions and choices makes them autonomous or nonautonomous, and it provides no grounds for the moral requirement to respect autonomy. In this paper I offer a more adequate framework for how to think about autonomy, but this framework does not lend itself to the kinds of practical application assumed in medical ethics. A general problem then arises: the notion of autonomy used in medical ethics is conceptually inadequate, but conceptually adequate notions of autonomy do not have the practical applications that are the central concern of medical ethics. Thus, a revision both of the view of autonomy and the practice of “respect for autonomy” are in order.

Comment: Walker argues against the Black Box view advocated by Beauchamp and Childress. The text is most useful when discussing principlism in biomedical ethics and more general issues related to autonomy and consent. The text works well when read alongside's Onora O'Neill's "Some limits of informed consent."