Projekt

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Thick Concepts and Reasons for Action

Gesuchsteller/in Rödl Sebastian
Nummer 130134
Förderungsinstrument Projektförderung (Abt. I-III)
Forschungseinrichtung Philosophisches Seminar Universität Basel
Hochschule Universität Basel - BS
Hauptdisziplin Philosophie
Beginn/Ende 01.08.2010 - 31.07.2013
Bewilligter Betrag 321'982.00
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Keywords (5)

Reasons for action, practical reasoning, thick concepts, belief-desire-model, Human theory of motivation

Lay Summary (Englisch)

Lead
Lay summary
In the past decades, the aspiration for an external grounding of morality that has shaped modern moral philosophy from Kant to Habermas has increasingly lost its credentials. In response, most authors working in the field have retreated to the project of reconstructing the specific internal logic of moral discourse. (See, for instance, Rawls's Theory of Justice [1972: 48-51]) However, in the context of the current state of moral discourse—the hallmark of which is an increasing pluralization, hybridization and fragmentation of ethical cultures and subcultures—the appeal to our basic moral intuitions that is congenial to the internalist turn in moral philosophy threatens to be parochial and arbitrary. As a result, the lack of a shared understanding of what counts as a good argument or a prima-facie acceptable position that is characteristic of current moral discourse is reproduced in the moral-philosophical literature as well as in that on applied ethics. It is the fundamental metaethical goal of the research project to contribute to overcoming this shortcoming by developing a theory of ethical judgment that simultaneously avoids both the discredited project of an external grounding of morality and the now fashionable internalism or traditionalism. The core of the projected theory is an analysis—drawing on the apparatus of Brandom's inferential semantics (1994)—of the role of an ethical vocabulary in making explicit practical inferences of a particular form. The theory to be developed is to provide a criterion for the appropriateness of such a vocabulary that could serve as a common ground on the basis of which adherents of incompatible ethical traditions can reach rational agreement. The theory is inspired by a thought put forward by a number of authors, notably Dancy (2000), McDowell (1998g), Murdoch (1970), and Wiggins (1975/76). In contrast to the mainstream of modern moral philosophy, these authors argue that the capacity to form moral judgments is not based on the ability to apply general principles to concrete situations, but consists in a sensitivity to specific circumstances pertaining to particular decisions, that is, in an ethical perceptual capacity. This insight entails a shift of focus away from abstract evaluative terms, such as “is morally right” or “is morally obliged to,” to specific ethical value predicates—so-called thick concepts—like “is friendly,” “is cruel,” “is generous,” and so forth. But in its currently available version, this perceptual model of ethical knowledge is threatened by incoherence. For, in that version, it entails—in contradiction to the cognitivist approach to metaethics presupposed by it, according to which ethical judgment are subject to objective standarts of correctness—that rational discourse about moral issues is only possible within a particular ethical tradition, as such a discourse depends on agreement about the appropriateness of thick concepts, and thereby on agreement about which propositions constitute candidates for ethical perceptual judgments. Therefore, the perceptual model can only constitute the core of a plausible cognitivist metaethics, if it is supplemented by a suitable criterion for the soundness of a thick concept. The research project aims to work out such a criterion. The proposed metaethical theory presupposes an investigation of the notion of a reason for action and of practical reason that is to be conducted within a first, action-theoretical part of the research project. This investigation essentially contributes to the controversy between preferentialist and cognitivist accounts of reasons for action—which constitutes one of the most important controversies in modern theory of action. It aims to provide a criticism of preferentialist accounts that runs deeper than the current objections to it, and thus to defend a viable version of cognitivism The project will extend over three years. We will seek to publish its results in professional journals such as Ethics, The Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie. The published articles will also provide materials for a monograph that will present the research project's contributions to the theory of action and to metaethics in their systematic interconnections. In addition, during the project's second year, we plan to hold an international conference addressing its main topics.
Direktlink auf Lay Summary Letzte Aktualisierung: 21.02.2013

Verantw. Gesuchsteller/in und weitere Gesuchstellende

Publikationen

Publikation
Review of Michael Thompson's "Life and Action"
Peter Grönert (2012), Review of Michael Thompson's "Life and Action", in Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Heft 37.2(0340-7969), 229-239.
Action as the Internal End of Action
Sebastian Rödl (2013), Action as the Internal End of Action, in Sebastian Rödl Henning Tegtmeyer (ed.), Sinnkritisches Philosophieren, 83-99.
Motive der Vernunft
Rödl Sebastian (2012), Motive der Vernunft, in Welt der Gründe, Meiner Verlag, Hamburg.
Inferentially Conservative Extension and Conceptual Innovation
Grönert Peter (2013), Inferentially Conservative Extension and Conceptual Innovation, in Tegtmeyer Henning, Rödl Sebastian (ed.), Sinnkritisches Philosophieren, deGruyter, Berlin, 295-310.

Abstract

In the past decades, the aspiration for an external grounding of morality that has shaped modern moral philosophy from Kant to Habermas has increasingly lost its credentials. In response, most authors working in the field have retreated to the project of reconstructing the specific internal logic of moral discourse. (See, for instance, Rawls's Theory of Justice [1972: 48-51]) However, in the context of the current state of moral discourse—the hallmark of which is an increasing pluralization, hybridization and fragmentation of ethical cultures and subcultures—the appeal to our basic moral intuitions that is congenial to the internalist turn in moral philosophy threatens to be parochial and arbitrary. As a result, the lack of a shared understanding of what counts as a good argument or a prima-facie acceptable position that is characteristic of current moral discourse is reproduced in the moral-philosophical literature as well as in that on applied ethics. It is the fundamental metaethical goal of the research project to contribute to overcoming this shortcoming by developing a theory of ethical judgment that simultaneously avoids both the discredited project of an external grounding of morality and the now fashionable internalism or traditionalism. The core of the projected theory is an analysis—drawing on the apparatus of Brandom's inferential semantics (1994)—of the role of an ethical vocabulary in making explicit practical inferences of a particular form. The theory to be developed is to provide a criterion for the appropriateness of such a vocabulary that could serve as a common ground on the basis of which adherents of incompatible ethical traditions can reach rational agreement. The theory is inspired by a thought put forward by a number of authors, notably Dancy (2000), McDowell (1998g), Murdoch (1970), and Wiggins (1975/76). In contrast to the mainstream of modern moral philosophy, these authors argue that the capacity to form moral judgments is not based on the ability to apply general principles to concrete situations, but consists in a sensitivity to specific circumstances pertaining to particular decisions, that is, in an ethical perceptual capacity. This insight entails a shift of focus away from abstract evaluative terms, such as “is morally right” or “is morally obliged to,” to specific ethical value predicates—so-called thick concepts—like “is friendly,” “is cruel,” “is generous,” and so forth. But in its currently available version, this perceptual model of ethical knowledge is threatened by incoherence. For, in that version, it entails—in contradiction to the cognitivist approach to metaethics presupposed by it, according to which ethical judgment are subject to objective standarts of correctness—that rational discourse about moral issues is only possible within a particular ethical tradition, as such a discourse depends on agreement about the appropriateness of thick concepts, and thereby on agreement about which propositions constitute candidates for ethical perceptual judgments. Therefore, the perceptual model can only constitute the core of a plausible cognitivist metaethics, if it is supplemented by a suitable criterion for the soundness of a thick concept. The research project aims to work out such a criterion. The proposed metaethical theory presupposes an investigation of the notion of a reason for action and of practical reason that is to be conducted within a first, action-theoretical part of the research project. This investigation essentially contributes to the controversy between preferentialist and cognitivist accounts of reasons for action—which constitutes one of the most important controversies in modern theory of action. It aims to provide a criticism of preferentialist accounts that runs deeper than the current objections to it, and thus to defend a viable version of cognitivism The project will extend over three years. We will seek to publish its results in professional journals such as Ethics, The Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie. The published articles will also provide materials for a monograph that will present the research project's contributions to the theory of action and to metaethics in their systematic interconnections. In addition, during the project's second year, we plan to hold an international conference addressing its main topics.