an in-between move

Cool kids read The Bellman.


Don't read this blog!

I mean, thanks for dropping by my little corner of the blogospheric backwaters, but the blog you should be reading is The Bellman. The stuff I post there is much, much less likely to be imbued with dormitive powers.


[German, from zwischen, intermediate + zug, move

Literally an "in-between move". A move in a tactical sequence is called a zwischenzug* when it does not relate directly to the tactical motif in operation. |source|

image copyright TWIC

From this position, black played a zwischenzug: 19…d5
(Linares 2002, 1-0)


about your blogger

David Rowland studies philosophy at the University of Illinois - Urbana / Champaign, where he's an active member of the Graduate Employees Organization. He used to play a lot of chess, but wasn't all that good. He has a blog. And email.



Still got it, sort of
Williams on reasons
Some practical advice
On Continental Philosophy
Author not dead, blog not defunct
The pursuit of Happiness
Three cheers for empiricism
There's evil going on
First day of school


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Saturday, October 09, 2004


More on Williams

My worries about Williams' position are, primarily, worries that his account of deliberation* is inadequate. The objection given previously – the Melman objection – presents one side of this worry. The underlying concern there, a concern which wasn't articulated in the post, is that Williams seems committed to the claim that an agent's deliberations are strongly determined in advance by the contents of the agent's subjective motivational set.** Now, I think that this claim is problematic on its own, but what I was trying to do with the objection was show that this commitment leads to problems by Williams own lights. Specifically, I argued that the commitment generates a dilemma in cases (like Melman) where the outcome of an agent's deliberations differs from the outcome judged appropriate by a semi-omniscient observer. The alleged dilemma is that either the agent has a reason but is incapable of being motivated by it, or the agent has no reason but becomes rationally unintelligible to us. In either event the project of explaining the agent's actions on the basis of reasons is threatened.

As rips notes in a comment to the post, Williams would probably answer this sort of objection by denying that a semi-omniscient observer could come to a different conclusion than Melman. This is made most clear in Williams' reply to McDowell. As Williams understands him, McDowell claims that there are correct standards of deliberation, namely that one should deliberate as the ideally just man, or phronimos would deliberate. Against this, Williams writes that:
But in considering what he has reason to do, one thing that A should take into account, if he is grown up and has some sense, are the ways in which he relevantly fails to be a phronimos. Aristotle's phronimos (to stay with that model) was, for instance, supposed to display temperance, a moderate equilibrium of the passions which did not even require the emergency semi-virtue of self-control. But, if I know that I fall short of temperance and am unreliable with respect even to some kinds of self-control, I shall have good reason not to do some things that a temperate person could properly and safely do.
Then, a few lines later:
If the circumstances are defined partly in terms of the agent's ethical imperfection, then the phronimos cannot be in those circumstances…
As I read this, the point is that the sort of thing that rips called 'a method of arriving at facts' is highly relativized to agents, so much so that a semi-omniscient observer can't really predict the course of the agent's deliberation except from all the way inside. Another way of putting this is to say that the circumstances of the deliberator are part of what makes the deliberator who she is, and so are part of what give rise to the standards of deliberation appropriate to her.

There is a certain sense in which I think this is right. But I also think that insofar as Williams' model of deliberation - a model which understands deliberation as something which individual agents do in (psychological) isolation from others - is accepted then this kind of strong commitment to subjectivity makes the reasons of others unintelligible in a way that blocks reasons explanations. A full reading of this indictment will have to wait, but the nickel version is that when you present me with an account of your reasons then, lacking access to your idiosyncratic methods of arriving at facts, there seems to be no basis on which I could ever say that you made an error in your deliberations

Lastly, let me just acknowledge that this elaboration leaves me wondering about the utility of the Melman objection. The doctrine I'm left talking about is one that Williams explicitly endorses, so it wasn't as if an objection was needed to drive him to it. Moreover, the discussion has moved away from any concern about the fact that the course of an agent's deliberation appears to be determined in advance, so it looks like the objection may have missed its intended target.

* Actually, it's somewhat unclear what Williams' account of deliberation is. What I object to is that part of his account which sees deliberation as individualistic, forward-looking, and tightly constrained by the particular agent's pre-existing subjective motivational set. This is something I'll address at another time.

** I should mention that this is something that Williams seems to take himself not to be committed to, so some of the work I need to do involves making the point that Williams really is committed to this. The short form of that argument is that (1) Williams is commited to claim that an agent has a reason prior to deliberation if there is a sound deliberative route from the agent's S to the reason; (2) The agent couldn't have a reason prior to deliberation unless the outcome of deliberation were determined in advance; so, (3) Williams is committed to the claim that an agent's deliberations are determined in advance. Williams could still hold that there is no knowing what reasons there are prior to deliberation without violating the commitment I have ascribed to him.

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