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.

Alvarez, Maria, and . How many kinds of reasons?

2009, Philosophical Explorations: 12 (2): 181-193.

Abstract: Reasons can play a variety of roles in a variety of contexts. For instance, reasons can motivate and guide us in our actions (and omissions), in the sense that we often act in the light of reasons. And reasons can be grounds for beliefs, desires and emotions and can be used to evaluate, and sometimes to justify, all these. In addition, reasons are used in explanations: both in explanations of human actions, beliefs, desires, emotions, etc., and in explanations of a wide range of phenomena involving all sorts of animate and inanimate substances. This diversity has encouraged the thought that the term ‘reason’ is ambiguous or has different senses in different contexts. Moreover, this view often goes hand in hand with the claim that reasons of these different kinds belong to different ontological categories: to facts (or something similar) in the case of normative/justifying reasons, and to mental states in the case of motivating/explanatory reasons. In this paper I shall explore some of the main roles that reasons play and, on that basis, I shall offer a classification of kinds of reasons. As will become clear, my classification of reasons is at odds with much of the literature in several respects: first, because of my views about how we should understand the claim that reasons are classified into different kinds; second, because of the kinds into which I think reasons should be classified; and, finally, because of the consequences I think this view has for the ontology of reasons.

Comment: This paper discusses roles of reasons that they can play and whether different kinds of reasons are also ontologically different. It is a very good introductory paper on reasons, suitable for an introductory course on ethics or philosophy of action.

Anscombe, Elizabeth, and . Intention

1957/2000, London: Harvard University Press.

Summary: Three core problems about intention are discussed: (i) expressions of intention; (ii) the intentional or non-intentional character of action; (iii) the intention of an action, or with which it is done. The book attempts to show in detail that the natural and widely accepted picture of what we mean by an intention gives rise to insoluble problems and must be abandoned.

Comment: Intention is one of the masterworks of the twentieth-century philosophy in English. Donald Davidson, for instance, has called it the most important philosophical work on action since Aristotle. It is a must-have for courses on philosophy of action and philosophy of mind (broadly construed). As other classics, it is a book that is not easy to understand. It might be a good idea to supplement it with some guide or notes.

Anscombe, G. Elizabeth M., and . Causality and Determination

1981, In Anscombe, G. E. M. Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind: Collected Philosophical Papers Volume II. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Summary: A classic text in which Anscombe argues for a realist view of causation. Specifically, Anscombe holds that causation is both directly perceivable and not subject to philosophical analysis. Anscombe seeks to establish that causal relations do not presuppose laws, and that causal relations can be perceived in a direct way.

Comment: This would be useful in a course on metaphysics, philosophy of science or philosophy of action. Anscombe is not always an easy writer, but this paper is not technical and is widely considered to be a classic. This could be used at any undergraduate or graduate level.

Anscombe, Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret, and . Were you a Zygote?

1985, In Griffiths, A.P. (ed.) Philosophy and practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Abstract: The usual way for new cells to come into being is by division of old cells. So the zygote, which is a—new—single cell formed from two, the sperm and ovum, is an exception. Textbooks of human genetics usually say that this new cell is beginning of a new human individual. What this indicates is that they suddenly forget about identical twins.

Comment: This paper can be particularly useful in teaching in two contexts: (1) ethical issues at the beginning of life; and (2) metaphysics of personal identity.

Brown, Jessica, and . Subject­-Sensitive Invariantism and the Knowledge Norm for Practical Reasoning

2008, Nous 42(2): 167-189.

Introduction: It is increasingly popular to suggest that knowledge is the norm of practical reasoning, or reasoning about what to do (e.g. Hawthorne 2004, Stanley 2005). This idea is central to the defence of a new version of invariantism – ‘subject-sensitive invariantism’ – on which whether the true belief that p is knowledge not only depends on such factors as one’s evidence, and the reliability of the belief-producing process, but also the stakes or how important it is that p be true (the view is also known as ‘sensitive moderate invariantism’ (Hawthorne 2004) and ‘interest relative invariantism’ (Stanley 2005)). I will argue against the idea that knowledge is the norm of practical reasoning, whether that is understood as a necessity or sufficiency claim. Instead, I will argue that the epistemic standards for practical reasoning vary contextually.

Comment: This paper nicely elucidates the debates on pragmatic encroachment in epistemology and presents main objections to the knowledge norm of practical reasoning. It is useful for teachings on pragmatic encroachment and the knowledge norm of practical reasoning in an upper-level undergraduate course on epistemology.

Buchak, Lara, and . Risk and Rationality

2013, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Note: Lara Buchak sets out a new account of rational decision-making in the face of risk. She argues that the orthodox view is too narrow, and suggests an alternative, more permissive theory: one that allows individuals to pay attention to the worst-case or best-case scenario, and vindicates the ordinary decision-maker.

Comment: This book argues for an alternative account of ideal rationality as opposed to the orthodox view in terms of expected utility theory. Buchak manages to explain the technical details of her theory in such a non-technical way that any student of philosophy will be able to follow her discussion. The book moreover contains very interesting passages on what we might call "the philosophy of decision theory", such as metaphysical and epistemological issues concerning utilities and probabilities. This makes it a good teaching material for courses on decision theory and philosophy of action.

Chang, Ruth, and . Incommensurability, incomparability, and practical reason – Introduction

1997, Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.

Back matter: Can quite different values be rationally weighed against one another? Can the value of one thing always be ranked as greater than, equal to, or less than the value of something else? If the answer to these questions is no, then in what areas do we find commensurability and comparability unavailable? And what are the implications for moral and legal decision making? This book struggles with these questions, and arrives at distinctly different answers.

Comment: In the introduction to the book Chang distinguishes between commensurability and comparability and argues that things can be compared and a choice can be made between them even if there is no single unit of value according to which they can be measured. The text is particularly useful in teaching introductory modules to value theory, especially on issues related to weighing conflicting values and to moral scepticism. Although very comprehensive, it is a challenging piece however.

Gendler, Tamar Szabó, and . Alief and Belief

2008, Journal of Philosophy 105 (10): 634-663.

Abstract: I introduce and argue for the importance of a cognitive state that I call alief. Paradigmatic alief can be characterized as a mental state with associatively-linked content that is representational, affective and behavioral, and that is activated – consciously or unconsciously – by features of the subject’s internal or ambient environment. Alief is a more primitive state than either belief or imagination: it directly activates behavioral response patterns (as opposed to motivating in conjunction with desire or pretended desire.) I argue that alief explains a large number of otherwise perplexing phenomena and plays a far larger role in causing behavior than has typically been recognized by philosophers. I argue further that the notion can be invoked to explain both the effectiveness and the limitations of certain sorts of example-based reasoning, and that it lies at the core of habit-based views of ethics.

Comment: In this influential paper, Gendler argues for the existence of an important cognitive states that she calls alief. It is a highly-relevant material for teachings on many topics, for example forms of belief, rationality and belief, varieties of irrationality, implicit bias and etc, in upper-division undergraduate courses and postgraduate courses.

Gendler, Tamar Szabó, and . Alief in Action (and Reaction)

2008, Mind and Language 23 (5): 552- 585

Abstract: I introduce and argue for the importance of a cognitive state that I call alief. An alief is, to a reasonable approximation, an innate or habitual propensity to respond to an apparent stimulus in a particular way. Recognizing the role that alief plays in our cognitive repertoire provides a framework for understanding reactions that are governed by nonconscious or automatic mechanisms, which in turn brings into proper relief the role played by reactions that are subject to conscious regulation and deliberate control.

Comment: This is an introductory paper on alief. It provides an account of alief and argues for its role in governing non-conscious or automatic actions. The paper is useful for teachings on philosophy of action, mental attitudes, moral philosophy, social psychology, etc.