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« Should we have controversial philosophical beliefs? | Main | Moti Mizrahi on the Survival of the Jews as an evidence of God's existence »

10/13/2014

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TParent

Thanks for this Markos; I'm interested in many of the same issues, and find some points of agreement. Though naturally, a philosopher will also find some points of disagreement.

For instance, I agree that there is cognitive agency...albeit in a very, very attenuated sense. A judgment is something I "do" in the sense that I am epistemically responsible to it. But to be honest, I quite lack the intuition that an idea which suddenly occurs me is an exercise of *agency*. That's especially so if (as you suggest) agency implies "control." There is no control over the sudden flash of insight (although perhaps I can control some conditions that make such flashes more likely). I am reminded here of a quip by Metzinger: Thinking is not something you do...it is something that happens to you.

Indeed, I even doubt that I'm "in control" in some cases of reasoning. If I hear a knock at the door, I *automatically* infer abductively that someone wishes entry. I couldn't stop that inference if I wanted to! (Though of course, I can control whether and how I express the inference in language.)

I'm also fairly dubious about there being a distinctive phenomenology to judging (assuming you're not talking about a wildly disjunctive phenomenology). Trivially, there is a specific "attitude" that is constitutive of judging, viz., the judging-attitude (or as I like to say, the "alethic pro-attitude"). But I doubt there's a distinctive phenomenology of having that attitude. That's *roughly* because: Phenomenological description is description of what what I am aware of, and I am not aware of every judgment I make. (If you tell me that you went to Pitt for your Ph.D., that might cause a variety of associative judgments in me...and its possible--nay, likely--that I'm not immediately aware of all of them.)

So are we in completely incommensurable paradigms, or can you help me out of my confusion???

Carlo Ierna

Very interesting! How would you compare your view to Brentano's take on judgements? According to Brentano, there would be three fundamental classes of mental acts: the mere presenting something (Vorstellen), judging, and "phenomena of love and hate" or emotions. All mental acts would either be presentations or contain presentations in them, in particular a judgement would be a quality added to a presentation, i.e. the acceptance or rejection of the existence of what is presented. When you emphasise that "you take it to be a fact about the world", would there then be a significant phenomenological difference between judgements about actual states of affairs in the world ("snow is white"), ideal ones ("the sum of the measures of the interior angles of any triangle is 180°") and imaginary ones ("Achilles killed Hector")? Given your emphasis on an "outlook on the world", would you also classify perceptions as some kind of judgement like Brentano did?

Markos Valaris

@ TParent, thanks for the interesting questions!

Both your questions regard the very motivations of the project, so I will try to respond by giving some more context here.

I agree that there are different ways to understand talk of cognitive agency, and there certainly is a legitimate sense in which you don't *do* anything in arriving at a judgment that just "strikes" you. The question is whether there is some other legitimate sense in which judging still *is* something you do (an exercise of spontaneity in Kantian terms), even in these cases. And of course there is the further question whether this is something that shows up in the phenomenology.

One way to motivate these claims is by developing a contrast with cases of thoughts that don't exhibit any sort of agency, and lack the sort of phenomenology I am pointing towards.

Jaspers makes the remark I quoted in the context of discussing so-called "passivity phenomena" in schizophrenia, and specifically the delusion of "thought insertion". In thought insertion, patients report that thoughts are being inserted from "outside" into their minds. Here is an example of such a report that precedes his remark:

“I have never read nor heard them; they come unasked; I do not dare to think I am the source but I am happy to know of them without thinking them. They come at any moment like a gift and I do not dare to impart them as if they were my own.”

Here's another one, from Frith (1992): “I look at the window and I think that the garden looks nice and the grass look cool, but the thoughts of Eamonn Andrews come into my mind. There are no other thoughts there, only his … He treats my mind like a screen and flashes thoughts onto it like you flash a picture.”

What can we say about the experience these subjects are reporting? One standard way in which people have tried to analyze these reports is by positing two distinct features in the phenomenology of thought: a sense of ownership and a sense of agency or "authorship" (Stephens and Graham 2000, Campbell 1999). In normal cases these two are supposed to go together; but in cases of thought insertion subjects are said to have ownership without agency.

I actually think this picture is too simplistic, but there does seem to be something right about it: the subjects do seem to be alienated from their own thoughts, in a way that suggests passivity.

You might argue that such cases are simply too bizarre to be useful in our discussion, but I think you can make the case by looking at more ordinary cases as well.

I leave my house in the morning, but while walking to the bus-stop I start obsessing about whether I've locked the door. Now I know that I'm prone to getting such obsessive thoughts, and I know that I'm very conscientious about such things. But the thought that I haven't locked the door keeps intruding into my consciousness, to the extent that perhaps I even turn around to go check --- not because I really think it likely that the door is unlocked, but because I want to silence the intrusive thoughts.

I take it that you will agree that the phenomenology of this case is different from a case where I genuinely judge that the door is unlocked (perhaps because I clearly see that it is unlocked, or perhaps because I clearly recall leaving it unlocked). And it seems to me, moreover, very natural to say that the obsessive case is experienced "passive", while the case of judging is not. But what exactly is the difference?

My suggestion is that the difference is this: in the obsessive case you don't actually take the content of the intrusive thoughts to be a fact about the world. The content is there in your mind, but you don't incorporate it into your outlook on the world. In the case of genuinely judging, by contrast, the content *is* part of what you take the world to be like.

This, on my view, gives you the sense in which judgment is active. And notice that it is independent of where the content judged actually came from.

This comment is already a behemoth, so I will stop here. But let me know what you think!

Brad Cokelet

Very interesting. I am curious about the last bit about reasons for action. I take it that you think that some attitude with the transparent phenomenology must be in play for me to act for the reason that p, but I am less clear on the relevant range of attitudes. You mention belief and judgment, but what about, say, having faith. While abroad fighting in a war, Jim might have faith that his boyfriend, Terrence, is not cheating on him, while not fully believing this or judging that it is true. Perhaps he has heard numerous stories about things going otherwise and therefore less that fully believes. Yet he has faith in his partner. I take it that Jim can send home his check to Terrence in part for the reason that Terrence is waiting faithfully for him. Would you just admit that faith has the relevant sort of transparency? And can you say more about the states that fall short here? For example, could I hope that p, and then act for the reason that p in some situation?

Josh Shepherd

Very cool stuff Markos (if I may).

I haven't read the paper (but will). But I can't resist a question. You say: 'The thought is that unless you take it that p is a fact about the world — in the relevant, phenomenological sense — then p cannot be a reason for you to act intentionally. A state with the content that p might still, of course, influence your behavior even if it lacks the relevant phenomenology; but it won’t make it the case that you act for the reason that p.'

Do you think that intentional action requires consciousness (phenomenology of reasons)? Or do you think that some intentional actions don't involve acting for reasons? Or am I misreading the options here?

Markos Valaris

Brad and Josh, you both raise a crucial question about reasons and phenomenology. This is difficult territory I think, and it doesn't help that the concepts can get pretty slippery. I’ll split my answer in two because it’s so long.
Here is the core of the claim that I want to defend: the phenomenology of belief/judgment is essential to its reason-giving role; and ditto for desire and the other attitudes.

To motivate this, here is an example I used in an earlier comment. I leave my house in the morning, but while walking to the bus-stop the thought that I've left the front door unlocked keeps intruding into my mind. At the same time, I know I am meticulous about these things; moreover, I at least seem to remember locking the door before leaving. Still, I can't shake the thought of, until eventually I turn around and walk back to the house to check.

Walking back to the house to check is clearly an intentional action. And it is clearly motivated by the thought that the door may have been left unlocked. And yet I think it is clear that I am not acting for the reason that it is likely that the front door is unlocked. I am acting for a different reason --- perhaps the reason that going back and checking is likely to bring relief from the annoying intrusive thoughts.

Another example (this one from the paper). Consider Fred who has the unfortunate belief that he is a failure, and all his endeavors are doomed to disaster. Now, if asked Fred will now avow that he is a failure and all his endeavors are doomed to fail. If you enumerate his achievements to him he is happy to agree. And yet there is a persistent pattern of behavior on his part that is best explained by attributing to him this type of unconscious belief [1]. And perhaps Fred himself knows all this about himself as well.

Now Fred is offered a job which looks like a very good match for him. Fred acknowledges all the evidence that suggests this would be a great job for him. Nevertheless, he turns the job down. Again, this is an intentional action on Fred's part. But again, I submit, Fred did not act for the reason that all his endeavors are doomed to failure. This, I think, is because this belief is not in the relevant sense transparent to him: it is not part of his outlook on the world. Although Fred may know, on explanatory grounds, that he has this belief, when considering the matter it does not seem to him that it is a fact about the world that all his endeavors are doomed to failure.

So what is the reason for Fred's action? Well, perhaps just this: "I just got a bad feeling about this!".

This is the type of case that motivates my claim; I hope you agree so far! But what about harder cases or potential counterexamples?

Brad raises an example involving faith. Well, I see a couple of options here. Perhaps Terrence, at the relevant moments does judge that Jim is faithful; in spite of the evidence, perhaps he does take it to be a fact about the world that Jim is faithful. (This is clearly consistent with taking Terrence at other moments to have doubts about Jim: we often find ourselves in ambiguous, vacillating or flat out inconsistent doxastic states [2].) If this is the right reconstruction of the case then there is no problem in taking Terrence to be acting (in part) for the reason that Jim is faithful.

But perhaps we can also tell a story in which Terrence is never really sure about Jim’s faithfulness, and just refuses to let this deter him. We might still say that Terrence acts out of faith in Jim. But I take it that in this case Terrence is not acting for the reason that Jim is faithful: after all, he does not take it to be the case that Jim is faithful! He is acting for a different reason: perhaps because this is a commitment he has undertaken to Jim, or perhaps because he thinks that in the absence of really compelling evidence of infidelity it would be unfair to Jim to stop, and so on.

[1], [2]: There are of course questions in the area regarding how to classify mental states that are in some ways like beliefs but in other ways not. Is faith a type of belief or a different type of state? Are the relevant sorts of unconscious belief really a thing, or are such states better classified as something else? I am skating over these issues here.

Markos Valaris

Josh raises a couple of questions.

The first one is whether you can act intentionally but for no reason. I take it that the answer is “yes” (think of idly tapping your foot in tune with the music), but such cases had better be degenerate, not standard. But note that I am happy to countenance pretty weak reasons as genuine reasons: for example, Fred’s reason for rejecting the job was just that he got a bad vibe.

The other question concerns the relation between intentional action and phenomenology. Here I think that I was a little too quick in the paper.
The paradigm case of intentional action is one that is preceded by conscious choice or decision to act (which may or may not involve deliberation: you may reach out for a glass of water on the table consciously but without deliberation). These were the cases I had in mind, and so I argued that in those cases the phenomenology of judgment is also present (e.g., you take it that there is a glass of water on the table).
But there may well be actions that take place “under the radar”, so to speak. These might be habitual actions, or actions that are part of a well-drilled routine. In such cases you may well be acting for a reason, but there may well have never been a moment of deciding to act.

But I take it that one characteristic of such actions is that you could, if need be, bring your conscious attention to them, and also explain why you are doing them (otherwise they are not intentional actions). In that case, in answering Anscombe’s question “why?”, I would still insist that the phenomenology of judgment is essential.

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