Monday, December 31, 2007

Reasons and Justification

I'm working on a paper and would like some input on an argument I'm putting together.

The thought is basically this:
If reasons (for action) are supposed to be the kinds of things that can/do justify actions, and we adopt an instrumental model of reasons that grounds all of our reasons in our desires/interests/ends/what-have-you, then do we need to craft an argument for why our desires/interests/ends/what-have-you are themselves justified? I'm working from an analogy from epistemology. If we take a foundationalist approach to knowledge, then the "foundation" needs itself to be justified in order to confer justification on anything built upon it. The concept of "the given" (or variations thereof) is usually invoked to this end. If we're going to preserve the justificatory force (assuming we want to - I'm just assuming this for the moment) of our reasons for action, then, do we need to make a similar case for the justification of our desires if we're going to preserve the thought that instrumental reasons are justifying reasons?

Here's a nice 'diagram' of the question:

Simplified Model of Instrumental Reasons:
Desires (taken as basic) for X -----> Instrumental reasoning says Y is a good/efficient/whatever way to achieve X ----> Reason for agent to Y

Simplified Model of Foundationalism:
"The given" (whatever it is) -----> "Good" reasoning says "the given" entails a particular proposition P ----> Reason for agent to believe P.

The typical problem for foundationalist epistemology is that "the given" stands itself in need of justification, or stands in need of an argument saying why "the given" (whatever it is) is justified if its really going to give justifying reasons for the agent to believe P. What I'm wondering is whether or not we need a similar argument in the case of instrumental reasons is even needed (whether or not we think such an argument is possible - I happen to think it might not be, but thats not the issue at hand) if we're going to consider reasons for action as being justifying reasons. In the end my worry is this: if we do need such an argument to preserve the justificatory force of reasons for action, AND if one cannot be given - say, for instance, that desires are just not the kinds of things that can be justified or unjustified, or are not the kinds of things that can be apt or inapt - then are we just left in the position of being unable to say that our actions are ever justified/unjustified at all? Just as with the epistemological problem, if the "foundation" is not justified (whether that is taken to mean unjustified or just a-justified), then is the Reason at the end also not possessed of any justificatory force too?

Thanks for your help!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Andrew Napolitano Interview

Here is the excerpted interview we did with Andrew Napolitano.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

the distinction between ethics and aesthetics

I'm writing a paper on attempts to make the distinction between ethical judgments and aesthetics judgments and would be interested to hear why people think there is a distinction and how they make that distinction.

Though this might sound simple its actually a lot harder than you might think.

edited to say I should have said ethical JUDGMENTS and moral JUDGMENTS not just ethics v art

Saturday, December 01, 2007


As most of you know, Miles, Terrence, and I do a weekly radio show on 88.1 FM. We talk politics, and often veer into more philosophical subjects. For instance, last week we chatted about abortion for a while. David (Faraci) called in and carried the conversation further, and Brandon tried to join in but we ran out of time. I think we will be talking abortion next week, so be sure to listen in and call in for that.

Here's the podcast. The abortion chat doesn't happen until about halfway through Hour 2.