Saturday, October 09, 2004
More on Williams
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.