Tuesday, September 13, 2005
A quick Korsgaard post
I hasten to add that I don't really think that Korsgaard is arguing in a circle, or at least not in the superficial way that it sometimes appears. Rather, I think that the text is a lecture and that certain of the rhetorical techniques appropriate to a lecture format encourage formulations that appear circular when not interpreted in the context of the whole. I also think that the argument of 2.5.2 is meant to be a reformulation of an argument found in the replies of Sources (I think Korsgaard says this explicitly somewhere), with the result that some of the turns taken in the Locke Lectures only make sense in the context of criticism leveled at Sources.
Anyway, for what it's worth, my best shot at the general argument against particularistic wiling is something this:
- To will at all is to regard oneself as a causality.
- But our concept of causation is the concept of a law which operates without exception.
- Particularistic willing would be to regard oneself as a causality, but as one which does not operate with regularity.
- Hence, the very idea of particularistic willing is inconsistent.
I don't find this to be a convincing argument at all. Let me say, very briefly, why not.
To begin with, I'm not inclined to agree that the concept of causation is the concept of a law which operates without exception. In Sources it was pretty clear that this notion of causation was linked to the operation of natural law. While keeping in mind that there are some differences with the presentation of the Locke Lecture and the status of natural law is a contentious question in the philosophy of science (and one I'm not all that familiar with), it strikes me that the notion of causation appealed to here is overly simplistic.
It is perhaps too early in human history to say whether we will ultimately discover the fact of the matter as to whether our universe is deterministic or indeterministic (though the case for indeterminism looks pretty good). What is clear, though, is that we wouldn't consider events brought about through indeterministic processes to be uncaused. But if that is so, then it makes no sense to say that our concept of causation must be the concept of a law which operates without exception.
There is, of course, an out (and perhaps the reason that natural law is not so explicitly appealed to in the Locke Lectures is to preserve this out). Korsgaard can say that she is not talking about the notion of causality as it is used in science, but rather about a notion of causality that is psychologically necessary for us. At first blush, though, this is an odd thing to say. After all, it certainly seems to be the case that people take themselves to be capable of acting inconsistently. And if that's so, then how can it be psychologically necessary that insofar as they regard themselves as a cause they regard themselves as instantiating a law which operates without exception?
Yes, yes, I know. So that by action they will constitute themselves as agents. But I don't think Korsgaard can appeal to that here without begging the question, since the argument against particularistic willing is apparently meant to be a step toward the conclusion that we constitute ourselves as agents by acting on universal maxims.