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Research

My research centres on two interrelated topics. The first is what it is to Φ for the reason that p, what it is to hold a certain attitude (for example, a belief) or perform a certain action on the basis of a reason. The second topic is what it is for perceptual experience to provide one with reasons for belief. In my thesis I argue that the correct way to understand what it is to Φ for a reason rules out certain ways of modelling what it is for perception to provide one with reasons. Below I offer an overview of what I have to say about these two topics in my thesis.

I. Φ-ing for a Reason

I argue for four claims about Φ-ing for a reason:

(1) When one Φs on the basis of a good reason (that is, a reason in favour of one's Φ-ing), the reason in favour of one's Φ-ing is identical to the reason for which one Φs and the explanans of the rationalising explanation of one's Φ-ing. As I read him, both of these claims are defended by Dancy (2000).

(2) When one Φs for the reason that p, one knows that p. This claim is defended by Hyman (1999) and Hornsby (2008). It follows from the claim that one can Φ for the reason that p only when p is true. Thus in cases in which p is false, one cannot Φ on the basis of that reason. That has seemed counter-intuitive to some (e.g. Dancy (2000); (2008), Schroeder (2008), Comesãna & Mcgrath (2014)), but I attempt to explain away the intuition by appeal to the thought that in cases where p is false, the subject's performance of their action exemplifies structural rationality (as opposed to substantive rationality, which requires Φ-ing for a reason).

(3) When one Φs for the reason that p, one registers that p favours one's Φ-ing. I suggest that this does not consist in one's responding to p as a reason. Rather it consists either in knowing some proposition which is a mode of presentation of the normative dimension of p, or it consists in one's exercising the concepts which characterise the proposition p. The latter condition is what we should identify registering that p favours one's Φ-ing with in cases in which p is a reason to Φ because of the meaning of p itself. We should identify registering that p favours one's Φ-ing with the former condition in all other cases.

(4) When one Φs for the reason that p, there is a sense in which p is reflectively accessible to one. I deny that the sense in which p is reflectively accessible to one when one Φs for the reason that p is that one is in a position to know by reflection that one is in possession of the reason that p. I suggest that there are counter-examples to that claim and that what motivates it can also motivate a much weaker thesis, according to which Φ-ing for the reason that p requires that there is some mental activity available to one which constitutes the bringing to mind of p. It is that weaker sort of reflective accessibility which I argue is necessary for Φ-ing for a reason.

Throughout the course of my argument for (1)-(4) I make the following assumptions:

(a) Reasons in favour of one's Φ-ing are facts.

(b) If one Φs for the reason that p, one is in some representational state which has p as its content.

(c) That representational state is an instance of believing.

II. Perceptual Reasons

I consider a problem in the epistemology of perception which is an analogue of the problem Davidson (1986) discusses. The problem I consider differs from Davidson's problem in so far as the former concerns knowledge whereas the latter concerns justification. The problem is generated by the conjunction of the following four theses:

  • Reasons Priority. Perceptual knowledge consists in belief held on the basis of perceptual reasons.
  • The Doxastic Thesis. Believing for the reason that p requires believing that p.
  • Belief-Independence. One can have an experience as of p without believing that p.
  • The Non-Inferential Thesis. When one knows that p by perception, one's belief that p can count as knowledge just in so far as it is based on one's perceptual experience.

Given the Non-Inferential Thesis, the proponent of Reasons Priority will have to say that believing on the basis of experience can count as believing for a reason, in so far as one's belief is held on the basis of experience. Given the Doxastic Thesis that implies that the state of experience is a state of believing. But Belief-Independence rules out that out. If we're to avoid scepticism about perceptual knowledge, one of the theses must go. I regard Belief-Independence and the Non-Inferential Thesis as non-negotiable. Thus, either Reasons Priority or the Doxastic Thesis will have to be rejected.

My interest is how one might go about defending Reasons Priority by rejecting the Doxastic Thesis. I identify four theories of perceptual knowledge which purport to do so and I reject each one. In the course of doing so, I discharge assumptions (a)-(c) above. Here are the four theories of perceptual knowledge in question:

The Content Model: According to this view, we should ascribe propositional content to experience and we should identify one's perceptual reason the proposition one believes qua content of experience. So my perceptual reason for believing that there's a red cube on the desk in front of me is the proposition that there's a red cube on the desk in front of me qua content of my experience. This view is rejected because it implies that a representational state which is non-doxastic can constitute one's possession of a reason. That's problematic because there's no way for the proponent of that idea to provide a successful answer to the following question: what's the difference between experiential representation and other varieties of non-doxastic representation (e.g. imagining that p, supposing that p, regretting that p) such that the former but none of the latter can constitute the presence to mind of reasons. This discharges assumption (c).

The Self-Consciousness Model: According to this view, we should identify one's perceptual reason for believing that p with the fact that one is perceiving x (where, depending on the version of the view, x should be substituted for a that clause: that p, or it should be identified with a noun-phrase that picks out an entity perceived). One's perceiving x is also the psychological state which constitutes one's possession of one's perceptual reason, understood as the very fact that one is perceiving x, because that state is an intrinsically self-conscious state. As an intrinsically self-conscious state, being in it guarantees that one is in a position to know that one is in it. And that is what enables the state of perceiving x to constitute one's possession of a reason - because possessing a reason requires that one is in a position to know that one possesses the reason in question. This view is rejected because it is committed to the strong construel of the reflective access requirement on believing for a reason rejected by the proponent of (4).

The Truth-Maker View I: The Truth-Maker View says that one's perceptual reason for believing that p should be identified with a perceived truth-maker for p. It is one's standing in a relation of perceptual awareness to the relevant truth-making entity which constitutes one's possession of the reason in question. The Truth-Maker View I identifies perceived truth-makers with states of affairs. It is argued against this view that if there are such things as states of affairs, then perceiving them requires that one is in some representational state directed onto them. But if that's so, then the Truth-Maker View I runs into the same objection as the Content Model. This also gives us the material to discharge assumption (b). That's because facts are either true propositions, or they are states of affairs. If the former then being aware of facts requires that one is in a representational state with the relevant truth as a content. If the latter, then the argument against the Truth-Maker View I establishes that being aware of facts requires being in a representational state directed onto the states of affairs in question anyway. So being aware of facts requires being in some representational state. Given (a), reasons are facts. Thus we have a proof of (b).

The Truth-Maker View II: The Truth-Maker View II is really a whole family of views which each have in common the thought that we shouldn't identify perceived truth-makers with states of affairs. Instead, the proponent of the Truth-Maker View II says that we should identify perceived truth-makers with either objects, events, property instances, or else some combination of those sorts of entities. It is argued that such views are committed to denying that reasons are facts, and that's a problem because reasons are supposed to be capable of explaining why one Φs, and explanans are always facts. This discharges claim (a). It is also argued that the proponent of the Truth-Maker View II cannot make sense of the claim that when one Φs for a reason, the subject recognises the reason to be a reason in favour of their Φ-ing, given what was said about how we should conceive of that phenomenon above.