Monday, January 01, 2007

A New Orthodoxy?

The canonical form of title for a book of philosophy used to be X, Y and Z – though an occasional lack of inspiration would reduce this to X and Y. Thus we have Language, Truth and Logic, Anarchy, State and Utopia, Being and Time.

The model has served us well for decades, but there are signs of change. As we have jettisoned the 18th century's Essay, Inquiry and Treatise, so the new millennium abandons conjunction in favour of subtraction. Hilary Putnam turns his back on Reason, Truth and History, opting now for Ethics without Ontology. There is "Vagueness without Ignorance", Libertarianism without Inequality, Ethics without Principles.

Reluctantly, I am adding to the list: my book, Reasons without Rationalism will be published this month by Princeton University Press. I conceived the title some years ago, before its structure became routine, and it is too late to change it now. Perhaps I should be cheered by the development. Whatever the fate of its contents, the title of my book reflects a pattern whose time has come: X without Y.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've been beaten to it by a long stretch: Joseph Margolis published his tome Persistence Of Reality in the volumes Science Without Unity, Pragmatism Without Foundations, Texts Without Referents and Life Without Principles many years ago.

6:47 PM  
Anonymous "Q" the Enchanter said...

"though an occasional lack of inspiration would reduce this to X and Y"

I think Naming and Necessity is a pretty inspired title, but then maybe I'm a sucker for easy alliteration.

Anyway, the book looks fascinating. My one question after reading your introduction, though, is whether virtue ethics need be reconciled with any theory of "practical reasoning" at all. As you allude to, at least a substantial share of our ethical action is dispatched nondeliberatively. More importantly, though, I would be very surprised if even after intense moral deliberation our subsequent actions flowed from identifiable causal chains that looked anything like a practical syllogism. It's not merely that practical syllogisms need to be have more complex decision trees or whatever to account for akrasia, self-deception, etc. It's that at least arguably there's good reason to doubt that the set of morally relevant causes that lead to ethical action can be properly restricted to the domain of conscious reasoning (though such reasoning probably plays a significant part in the processes that lead to the development of action-guiding and/or action-inducing ethical dispositions).

By the way, what's the work on the cover? It's a quite striking photo.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Kieran Setiya said...

You are right about "X and Y": I was being facetious, I'm afraid.

Also right about the absence of conscious deliberation in much of what we do. The conception of virtue proposed in the book is meant to allow for that, though I do think that knowing what one is doing is closely related to doing it intentionally. That was the intended topic of an earlier post.

The cover is a photograph of a sculpture by Antony Gormley, whose work I adore.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the difference between a virtue and an intention?

The reason I ask is that I expect there would be a dispositional account of both concepts. But what makes them different kinds of dispositions? Both can be gained and lost during identifiable periods of time. Someone can become less honest, more selfish, etc. at distinct periods in their life, just as they can gain and lose particular ambitions or ideals.

If they aren't distinct kinds, then is talk about "virtuous action" just a verbal variant on "acting with the best intentions"? But if it is, then the question "why are these the best intentions (rather than the non-moral alternatives)?" can be raised all over again.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Kieran Setiya said...

Although I think that "trait of character" is a broader category than "intention", I agree with you that the distinctions among such states – and other dispositions that bear on practical thought – are relatively insignificant. That's part of the argument of the book, which concludes by equating questions of practical reason with ones of ethical virtue.

You are right that this does nothing to show that so-called "moral virtues", like justice and benevolence, are really virtues of character, or to establish, except perhaps indirectly, what good intentions are. But the sceptic who worries about those things is different from the kind of sceptic that I address: someone who admits that justice and benevolence are ethical virtues, at least for the sake of argument, but who continues to ask why he should not cast them aside.

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Zena said...

My favorite title along those lines is Jean-Luc Marion's God Without Being.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It might be the star of "without" has risen in realms other than that of philosophy. All of the following titles are to be found on a single shelf from my roommate's bookscase:

Influence Without Authority
Buddhism Without Beliefs
Death Without Weeping
Thoughts Without Thinkers

and (my favorite - unfortunately not available in my own college years):

Paying for College Without Going Broke 2007

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nagel's Logic Without Metaphysics from 1956.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More lack of inspiration? Jonathan Sutton's Without Justification.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A pertinent study: here.

5:51 PM  

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