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  • CRITICAL STUDY

    FROM A POINT OF VIEW

    BY A.W. MOORE

    On What Matters, Volume One and Volume Two. By DEREK PARFIT. (Oxford UP, 2011.Pp. xlviii + 540 and xiv + 825. Price 30.00.)

    When a book ranges as widely as this one does or rather, as widely as thesetwo do, together adding up to not much less than fifteen hundred pages even areviewer with a generous word allowance has to be savagely selective. Derek Par-fits much-touted two-volume study of what matters has already generated consid-erable discussion. A great deal of attention has understandably been directedtowards Parfits defence of his core theory that an act is wrong just when such actsare disallowed by some principle that is optimific, uniquely universally willable,and not reasonably rejectable, (Vol. One, p. 413). I shall not attempt to engagewith this theory. Nor shall I attempt to address the many exegetical issues thatarise in connection with Parfits contention that Kantians, contractualists, and con-sequentialists have all been playing variations on this single theme. I want to focuson some issues that arise in Volume Two about the very nature of normativity.The ignoring of everything else is serious, however unavoidable. Even so, I hopethat my focus will signal something of critical importance to the whole project.

    Parfit considers various views about the nature of normativity. In particular, heconsiders a pair of views which he designates analytical naturalism and non-analytical naturalism. Both these views accept that some normative claims aretrue. That is to say, both accept that some normative claims state facts, facts thatcan thereby be classified as normative facts. Analytical naturalism earns its title ofnaturalism by insisting that these claims can nevertheless be reduced to natural-istic claims. Non-analytical naturalism earns its title of naturalism in a quite differ-ent way. It denies that these claims can be reduced to naturalistic claims, butholds that, none the less, any fact that can be stated by some normative claimcan also be stated by some non-normative naturalistic claim; or equivalently, thatany normative fact is also, in that sense, a natural fact. (This is encapsulated inthe diagram in Vol. Two, p. 263.) My principal concern is with non-analyticalnaturalism.

    Patently, we cannot hope to assess non-analytical naturalism without, first,some account of what it is for a claim to be a normative or a naturalistic claim

    The Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 62, No. 247 April 2012ISSN 0031-8094 doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9213.2011.00029.x

    2011 The Author The Philosophical Quarterly 2011 The Editors of The Philosophical QuarterlyPublished by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford ox4 2DQ, UK, and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA

  • and, second, some account of what it is for two claims to state the same fact. Par-fit has much to say about the first of these, rather less to say about the second.As far as the first is concerned, he gives us an initial steer by presenting a coupleof lists of words. The first list contains (among others) wrong, ought, good,and excellent; the second list contains (among others) kill, square, sister, andunexpected (Vol. Two, p. 265). A normative claim, Parfit says, is one that canbe expressed using words of the first sort, while a naturalistic claim is one thatcan be expressed using only words of the second sort. He makes the latter a littlemore precise when he goes on to cite, approvingly, a common definition of a nat-ural fact (that is, a fact that can be stated by a naturalistic claim). According tothis definition, a fact is natural if facts of this kind are investigated or discussedby people who are working in any of the natural or social sciences, (ibid., p. 265).Later he suggests how this can be made yet more precise. I shall not pursue theseissues any further however. I am more interested in the second of the twoaccounts that is required: the account of what it is for two claims to state thesame fact.

    At the beginning of 94 Parfit considers two senses in which two claims can besaid to state the same fact. In one sense, which he calls the referential sense, twoclaims can be said to state the same fact when they refer to the same things andascribe the same properties to these things, (Vol. Two, p. 336). In another sense,which he calls the informational sense, two claims can be said to state the samefact when they give us the same information, (ibid., p. 337). There is a vast andfamiliar set of philosophical problems circulating here. What Parfit has provided,in effect, are two ways of individuating facts. But they clearly stand in need ofindividuation of their own. What counts as the same property? Or the same pieceof information? Even a moderately full account of these matters would constitutea significant chapter in both the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of lan-guage, and no doubt in metaphysics too. Still, Parfit does not leave the matterthere. He gives us some examples of what he has in mind. He juxtaposes theclaim that Shakespeare was Shakespeare with the claim that Shakespeare was thewriter of Hamlet. And he says that, in the referential sense, these two claims statethe same fact, whereas, in the informational sense, they do not. Similarly in thecase of the claim that water is water and the claim that water is H2O. Theseexamples are clearly meant to put us in mind of the Fregean distinction betweenBedeutung and Sinn. And they do thereby give us a reasonably clear idea of howwe are meant to extrapolate. To be sure, they still leave countless questions unan-swered. In fact I shall later raise doubts about whether one of these two ways ofindividuating facts is ultimately even coherent. Nevertheless, they give us enoughto be going on with. Let us therefore bracket any reservations that we may haveabout what Parfit has provided and grant him, at least pro tempore, his two sensesof what it is for two claims to state the same fact.

    The question now is: in which sense does non-analytical naturalism hold thatany fact that can be stated by some normative claim can also be stated by somenaturalistic claim? There seems to be a dilemma. The sense in question cannotbe the referential sense, because that would not be enough to mark the view out

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    2011 The Author The Philosophical Quarterly 2011 The Editors of The Philosophical Quarterly

  • as naturalistic: even the most resolute opponent of naturalism may acquiesce inthe idea that, when facts are individuated as coarsely as this, any fact that can bestated by a normative claim can also be stated by a naturalistic claim. On theother hand, the relevant sense cannot be the informational sense either, becausethat would be in conflict with what is supposed to distinguish this kind of natural-ism from analytical naturalism: to say that some normative claim gives us thesame information as some naturalistic claim is to say that the former can bereduced to the latter. In sum, the referential sense is too weak to do justice tonon-analytical naturalisms claim to be regarded as a species of naturalism,the informational sense too strong to respect its claim to be regarded as non-analytical.

    Parfit nowhere presents this dilemma in quite this form. But I hope that whatI have just said is a fair representation of one strain in the complex set of argu-ments that we find at the beginning of Part Six of his book, where he mounts hisopposition to various kinds of naturalism. I hope, in particular, that it captureshis opposition to non-analytical naturalism. The issue that I wish to broach nowis whether non-analytical naturalism can find some space between the horns ofthis dilemma. I believe that it can.

    Consider the following.

    (P) On any coherent way of individuating facts, any fact that can be stated by some

    normative claim can also be stated by some naturalistic claim.

    On the assumption that the informational way of individuating facts is coherent,this entails analytical naturalism. But it is open to the non-analytical naturalist todeny that assumption. (This is the doubt to which I referred earlier.) And, havingdenied it, the non-analytical naturalist can register his or her naturalism byendorsing (P). He or she can insist that, even if a particular normative claim anda particular naturalistic claim give us different information, there is no coherentsense of different facts in which it follows that they state different facts. Thepoint is not that facts cannot coherently be individuated any more finely than inthe referential way. Clearly they can, as Parfits original examples help to show.The point is rather that they cannot coherently be individuated so finely that theyare able to reflect all differences of information. In particular, they cannot coher-ently be individuated finely enough to reflect the differences of informationinvolved in using normative and naturalistic vocabulary.

    Why might anyone mount this sort of challenge to the coherence of the infor-mational way of individuating facts? To answer this question, let us return to thepoint at which we needed an account of what it is for a claim to be normativeand of what it is for a claim to be naturalistic. Suppose that we were in a slightlydifferent position. Suppose that some metaphysician had been talking, not aboutnormative claims and naturalistic claims, but about A-claims and B-claims,these being two terms of art that he had introduced. Suppose further that thismetaphysician gave us the same sort of initial steer as to what he intended bythese two terms of art as Parfit gave us. That is to say, suppose he presented uswith two lists of words and said that an A-claim was one that could be expressed

    394 A.W. MOORE

    2011 The Author The Philosophical Quarterly 2011 The Editors of The Philosophical Quarterly

  • using words of the first sort, while a B-claim was one that could be expressedusing only words of the second sort. Suppose finally that the first list containedwords like past, future, now, and yesterday, while the second list containedwords like earlier, later, simultaneous, and eve.

    Assuming that this metaphysician was directing our attention towards the dis-tinction between the tensed and the tenseless, an attractive view would be that:

    some A-claims are true, that is to say some A-claims state facts; no A-claim can be reduced to any B-claim;

    and

    on any coherent way of individuating facts, any fact that can be stated bysome A-claim can also be stated by some B-claim.

    This view is of a kind that is familiar in the philosophy of time. It is a version ofthe so-called B-theory. The point of the third clause, which is obviously a directequivalent of (P), is to repudiate the idea that there are tensed facts, that is tosay facts individuated in the informational way and stated by tensed claims. TheB-theorist believes that tense is a distinctive feature of certain claims, but not ofany facts, and that nothing but confusion accrues from any attempt to cast it inthe second of these roles.

    Before we return to the issue of normativity, there is an incidental ad hominempoint that is worth making. Although Parfit does not himself engage with thisdebate in the philosophy of time, there is evidence that he would be sympatheticto this version of the B-theory. Consider the two following passages for example:

    What has happened is just as real as what will happen. Nor is the past less real

    than the present. Though people who are dead do not exist now, that is merely

    like the fact that people who live elsewhere do not exist here. And times passage is

    an illusion (Vol. Two, p. 427).

    It can seem meaningful to say that we are moving through time into the future, or

    that nowness is moving down the series of events from earlier to later, or that,every day, our death is getting closer. But such remarks, though they can seem

    deeply true, make no sense Though our death is closer now than it was twentyyears ago, that is merely like the fact that New York is closer to Washington than

    Boston is (Vol. Two, p.438).

    Admittedly, these passages do not, strictly speaking, commit Parfit to the versionof the B-theory in question. But little more is required to secure that commitmentthan the following enticing additional thought: that a tensed claim and a tenselessclaim never give us the same information. For example, a claim to the effect thatsome football match will begin in a minutes time gives us different informationfrom a claim to the effect that the beginning of that same football match occurs(tenselessly) a minute later than 2.59 p.m. on 6 November 1971, even if the formerclaim is made at 2.59 p.m. on 6 November 1971. And what makes this additionalthought enticing? Well, given a tensed claim and a tenseless claim, knowledge of

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  • the one never suffices for knowledge of the other. I can know that the match willbegin in a minutes time without knowing what the date is. I can know that thebeginning of the match occurs (tenselessly) at 3 p.m. on 6 November 1971 withoutknowing what the time is. And it seems appropriate to individuate pieces of infor-mation finely enough to ensure that, if one can know one claim but not another,then the two claims do not give us the same information. At any rate, there is atleast as much reason to accept this additional thought as there is to accept that anormative claim and a naturalistic claim never give us the same information.

    But be Parfits own relation to the B-theory as it may, this version of thetheory, if correct, signals how, in a world whose most finely individuated factscan always be stated by tenseless claims, occupancy of a temporal point of viewallows for the possibility of using irreducibly tensed claims to state those samefacts. Why then should we not accede to the idea of a world whose most finelyindividuated facts can always be stated by naturalistic claims but in which occu-pancy of a suitable point of view allows for the possibility of using irreduciblynormative claims to state those same facts? In both cases there would be anirreducibly perspectival take on facts that were not themselves in any sense per-spectival. And would not this latter idea deserve to be called non-analyticalnaturalism?

    An opponent of non-analytical naturalism might reply, This is all very well.But all you have done is to indicate an abstract possibility, a position in logicalspace. You have come nowhere near a defence of non-analytical naturalism, andyou will not have come anywhere near such a thing until you have further indi-cated what the relevant point of view could be. This is of course correct. More-over, the best candidate for the relevant point of view would appear to besomething involving conative states, which suggests that any non-analytical natu-ralist who takes this line will sooner or later be involved in defending some varia-tion of the normative subjectivism that P...