Thursday, 30 May 2013

Two Senses of Providing Reasons


I will like to introduce a distinction between two senses in which a psychological state, X, may provide one with a reason to adopt a belief or intention.  My hope is that the distinction is both clear and intuitive. So here it is:
(1)  X provides us with a reason to adopt Y by putting us in touch with a consideration that speaks in favour of adopting Y. 
(2)  X provides us with a reason to adopt Y by constituting a consideration that speaks in favour of adopting Y.  
The difference between (1) and (2) is the difference between the perceptual appearance that it is raining outside giving one a reason to believe that it is raining outside, and the fact that one has the perceptual appearance that there is a pink elephant in the corner of the room giving one a reason to check oneself into a hospital.  In the first case, the perceptual appearance provides one with a reason by putting one in touch with a consideration that is independent of the perceptual appearance itself and which speaks in favour of adopting the belief that it is raining outside—namely, the fact that it is raining outside.  The fact that it is raining outside is independent of the perceptual appearance of it raining outside in the sense that the fact would obtain (and constitute a reason to believe that is raining outside) even if one did not have the perceptual appearance in question.  By contrast, the fact that one has the perceptual appearance of a pink elephant in the corner of the room does not put one in touch with some independent consideration in favour of adopting the intention to check oneself into the hospital.  Rather, the perceptual appearance itself constitutes the relevant consideration. 

Significantly, when a psychological state provides one with a reason in the first sense, it does so in virtue of the fact that it is an intentional state with objective purport.  The perceptual appearance that it is raining provides one with a reason to believe it is raining because it purports to put one in touch with a mind-independent fact—to wit, the fact that it is raining.  If (following Franz Brentano) we assume that psychological states are distinctive because they have the property of intentionality or aboutness, then we can say that when a psychological state provides one with reasons in the sense described in (1), it is doing so qua psychological state.  

By contrast, when a psychological state provides one with a reason in the sense described in (2), it does not do so qua psychological state (i.e., in virtue of being a state with the property of aboutness).  Rather, it provides one with a reason in the very same way that any old fact might.  For example, the fact that I’m bleeding profusely gives me a reason to check myself into the hospital in the very same sense that having the perceptual appearance that there is a pink elephant gives me a reason to check myself into the hospital. If this is right, and given that the former lacks the property of aboutness, then it follows that the latter does not provide rational guidance of the relevant kind in virtue of having the property of aboutness.  Hence, only (1) describes a type of rational significance that is uniquely had by psychological states.

Is the preceding distinction clear? Is it plausible? Your thoughts... 

3 comments:

Vanitas said...

Hi Avery,

This seems just right. I'm wondering, however, if the distinction is meant to be exclusive? For example, I think that the appearance of a pink elephant is both a pro tanto reason to believe that there is a pink elephant and a pro tanto reason to check myself into a hospital. Does that sound right?

AVERY ARCHER said...

Thanks for the feedback, Vanitas. The distinction is not meant to be exclusive, for just the sort of reason you cite. I would only add that when the perceptual appearance of a pink elephant provides one with a pro tanto reason to believe there is a pink elephant, it is doing so qua psychological state, but that when it provides a pro tanto reason to check oneself into a hospital, it is doing so qua fact. Qua psychological state, a perceptual appearance is a truth-value bearer (or, if you prefer, a bearer of veridicality conditions), while qua fact, it is a truth-maker (determiner of veridicality). Since a perceptual appearance may play the role of both a psychological state (veridicality bearer) and a fact (veridicality determiner), it may provide reasons in both senses. But each sense will be relative to the respective role.

Chelsea said...

Cool!