Rebirth of Reason

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Post 20

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - 2:49pmSanction this postReply

Objective Cognition, Objective Valuation


I’m sorry to be so long in following up on the discussion of Irfan’s paper at ARS 2007. I came down with pneumonia on 12/31 and did not get out of the hospital until 1/9.


I want at least to indicate some of the commentary from Prof. Bloomfield and the response from Khawaja. This leads to the opportunity for further specification of the situation of Rand’s metaethics among its contemporaries. I will propose those further specifications.


In his comment on Irfan Khawaja’s “The Foundations of Ethics: Objectivism and Analytic Philosophy,” Paul Bloomfield remarked that “the standard metaethical options on the table nowadays in analytic philosophy are, in rough terms, realism, expressivism, and error theories” (B 4). I will neglect the latter two. (One expressivist is Allan Gibbard; one errorist is J. L. Mackie. For the error theory of morality today, see Richard Joyce’s “Morality, Schmorality” in Bloomfield’s Morality and Self-Interest.) The varieties of realism are what are of most interest.


Realism in metaethics is “a metaphysical doctrine, typically taken to involve the willingness to make an ontological claim about the existence of moral properties in the world which are, in some important sense, ‘mind independent’” (B 4). “Realists see moral discourse as being truth-apt, where truth is understood as being more than deflationary, perhaps requiring some form of correspondence, where there are truth-makers in the world for our moral claims” (B 5). I should mention that the “moral properties in the world” should not be thought of simple properties in nature. They would have to be properties sufficiently complex and richly textured to be able to explain, justify, and guide revisions in our nuanced moral thinking.


One kind of realist holds that moral properties require “the same ontology that we give to rationality,” including logic and mathematics. This is a form of nonnaturalist realism. I think the sense in which it would be nonnatural is as follows (but see also Tara Smith’s Viable Values, pp. 38–53): There are all kinds of relations that are concrete existents. Such would be relations of perceptually given similarity, relations of parts to wholes, relations of spatial and temporal separation and containment, and relations of cause and effect. But there is one relation that is required for every concept we have, and it is not a concrete relation. That is the membership relation. The ontology of that relation is the ontology right for moral properties, according to this sort of nonnaturalist realism. I should notice that it is reasonable to call this sort of moral realism nonnatural only if one thinks the membership relation requires a category in the real that is sui generis against natural properties.


“Naturalists, on the other hand, think that morality is a natural phenomenon, somehow either reducing to or emerging out of our nature as members of Homo sapiens”(B 5). (See  further, Richard Joyce’s The Evolution of Morality, pp. 146–52, 184–90; David Brink’s “Realism, Naturalism, and Moral Semantics,” pp. 154–70, in Social Philosophy & Policy 18(2).) Bloomfield relegates to a footnote a third variety of contemporary moral realism. In this school, “moral properties are secondary qualities like color, or are, in other terms, ‘response dependent’. Whether or not these are really realists theories or some form of subjectivism that is masquerading as realism is part of the debate” (B 4–5).


Bloomfield concludes of Rand: “It would be seemingly impossible to read her as either an expressivist or an error theorist, while she is easily identified as a realist. Moreover, it seems clear that she is a naturalistic realist and not a nonnaturalist, since she sees morality as being fundamentally due to the phenomenon of life” (B 5–6).


Khawaja observes in his brief rejoinder that “realism is fundamentally a thesis about (the ontological status of) the truth conditions of moral propositions. On the Objectivist view, life-conducivity is principally what morality is (and so, moral propositions are) about. So an account of the truth-conditions of moral propositions presupposes an . . . account of the nature, requirements, and essence of human life. . . . Whether this . . . account ends up being realist (and in what sense) is an extremely complex affair . . . not easily ‘mapable’ onto the menu of theories Bloomfield mentions” (K 3). (Concerning Khawaja’s account of “the nature, requirements, and essence of human life,” see pages 100–104, 109–13, of his Objectivity essay [V2N5].) Khawaja concurs with Bloomfield that Rand’s metaethics is not expressivist nor a form of error theory. Whether Rand’s is some sort of moral-realist theory is a question Khawaja defers.


I want to pursue the question right here. Recall that Khawaja had maintained—quite correctly—that Rand’s ethical theory is foundationalist in two ways. Firstly, as with any knowledge, ethical knowledge is epistemically foundationalist. Justified true beliefs can be traced “to the perceptual level via the concepts that constitute those beliefs” (FE 33). Secondly, Rand’s ethics is foundationalist in that it has a specific rational ground in the answer that Rand gives to her “first question” for ethics (FE 33). The specific rational ground of Rand’s ethics is given in “The Objectivist Ethics” (14–22) and in Atlas Shrugged. That ground is the phenomenon of life with its distinctive character of existence. As Khawaja says, “life-conducivity is principally what morality is (and so, moral propositions are) about” (K 3).


On Rand’s view, existence “exists as an objective absolute (which means: independently of the consciousness, the wishes, or the feelings of any perceiver)” (FNI 22). The facts of life-conducivity grounding correct morality are objective in the elementary sense just mentioned. In this coarse grain, Rand’s moral theory is a realist one, for it makes “an ontological claim about the moral properties in the world which are, in some important sense, ‘mind independent’” (B 4).


Rand’s general epistemology envelopes her epistemology of moral concepts. She rejected the idea that the classes that concepts are of are some sort of “special existents unrelated to man’s consciousness—to be perceived by man directly,” though not by sensory means (ITOE 53). The membership relation, which is required for any and all of our concepts, is not a relation unrelated to man’s consciousness. In this sense, Rand’s theory of concepts—including moral concepts—is not realist as that label is traditionally used in theory of universals.


On the other hand, in Rand’s epistemology, the membership relation of proper concepts is sensitive to the differences, the similarities, the degrees of similarity, the dimensions, and the causal dependencies that obtain in existence independently of our consciousness of them. In Rand’s theory, concepts are to be regarded as objective, “as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality” (ITOE 54).


By Rand’s epistemology, moral concepts and propositions would be objective. The facts of life-conducivity can be conceptually comprehended, and these concepts will be related to man’s consciousness, but squarely standing on the facts. The facts of life-conducivity are mind-independent. (Even the facts of mental conditions, such as cognitive dissonance or self-disrespect, are mind-independent in this reflective, step-back sense of mind-independence.) For Rand all consciousness, including conceptual consciousness, is a natural biological phenomenon. So Rand’s general metaphysics and epistemology lays a background amenable to placing her moral realism into the Bloomfield division: naturalistic realism.


At the same time, quite harmoniously, I should say that Rand’s general metaphysics and epistemology does not of itself land Rand’s moral realism also in what Bloomfield termed nonnaturalist realism. The membership relations of all moral concepts and all concepts relating to life-conducivity are relations in the natural world, even though they are always mind-dependent in an epistemologically objective way. Because the ontology of the membership relation is natural (though manmade), because the membership relation is a denizen of the natural world, there is no reason from the epistemology of moral concepts to think that moral properties (facts of life-conducivity) are nonnatural.


Life-conducivity is a function not only of the character of a thing or circumstance, but a function of the constitution of the organism confronting the thing or circumstance. The facts of life-conducivity are always relations to an organism. Rand’s ethical theory is one in which moral properties are always in relation to individual human beings. This in no way detracts from the objectivity of conceptual comprehension of moral properties, of the facts of life-conducivity.


The morally good, on Rand’s view, is “an evaluation of the facts of reality by man’s consciousness according to a rational standard of value. . . . The objective theory holds that the good is an aspect of reality in relation to man” (CUI 21–22). Recall the third variety of contemporary moral realism mentioned by Bloomfield. In this school, “moral properties are secondary qualities like color, or are in other terms, ‘response dependent’” (B 4). Rand’s moral objectivism has some affinity with this sort of moral realism. There is no affinity to the idea that moral properties are secondary qualities, but there is affinity with the general idea that moral properties are “response dependent.” At the vegetative levels of the life one’s body, what is life-conducive is a function of how one’s body would respond. Likewise at the appetitive levels of the life of one’s body and at the intelligent level of one’s life, the life-conducive is a (complex) function of how one would respond. This sort of response dependence is perfectly consistent with naturalist moral realism and with objectivity in moral values.


Readers here know that, on Rand’s understanding, human beings are not simply rational animals. Humans, in Rand’s view, are profoundly disjunctive in nature: they are either rational animals or they are suicidal animals (AS 1013–15). Humans have the ability to choose the latter not only directly, but indirectly and by degrees by rejecting thought and rationality and by rejecting intelligent embrace of biological and psychological needs. (There is neither implication nor insinuation in this view that there are never circumstances in which deliberate suicide would not be the rational, self-respectful, moral choice.)


Does the fact that by their conceptual power humans are able to ratify and enhance, to reform, or to cast away so many of their moral values mean that Rand’s metaethics is, in a sense, a nonnatural variety of moral realism? “A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality” (AS 1013). Moral life is continually thoughtful life, and “thinking is not an automatic function” (OE 20). “In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort” (OE 20). Moreover, “man’s actions and survival require the guidance of conceptual values derived from conceptual knowledge. But conceptual knowledge cannot be acquired automatically. . . . The process of integrating percepts into concepts—the process of abstraction and of concept-formation—is not automatic” (OE 20).


I think it would be misleading to say that on account of the human volition required to sustain human life and on account of the (constrained) ability of humans to remake themselves, their world, and their values, Rand’s moral realism is a nonnatural one. It would be misleading even to say that Rand’s is manmade realism, in contrast to natural realism. At bottom human volition, like the human power of conceptualization, is a play of wondrous biological nature.

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Post 21

Friday, January 25, 2008 - 7:13amSanction this postReply

Reasonable Norms, Hypothetical Imperatives


There are two additional aspects of naturalistic ethics in general that would be good to mention. These are stated by Owen Flanagan, Hagop Sarkissian, and David Wong in “Naturalizing Ethics,” which is their contribution to Volume 1 of Moral Psychology (MIT 2008), Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, editor.


1. Rational Method Not Only Demonstrative


“No important moral philosopher, naturalist or non-naturalist, has ever thought that merely gathering together all relevant descriptive truths would yield a full normative ethical theory. Morals are radically underdetermined by the merely descriptive, but so too, of course, are science and normative epistemology. All three are domains of inquiry where ampliative generalizations and underdetermined norms abound.


“The smart naturalist makes no claims to establish demonstrably moral norms. Instead, he or she points to certain practices, values, virtues, and principles as reasonable based on inductive and abductive reasoning . . . . Indeed, anyone who thinks that Hume thought that the fallacy of claiming to move demonstratively from is’s to oughts revealed that normative ethics was a nonstarter hasn’t read Hume. After the famous passages in the Treatise about is-ought, Hume proceeds for several hundred pages to do normative moral philosophy. He simply never claims to demonstrate anything. Why should he? Demonstration, Aristotle taught us long ago, is for the mathematical sciences, not for ethics.” (14)


2. Naturalistic Moral Imperatives


Naturalistic morality should be seen as “a system of hypothetical imperatives that hinge on our wanting to secure certain aims: ‘If you want to secure social cooperation, then you ought to . . . .’ It is true that naturalists cannot allow for categorical imperatives if they are conceived as independent of human interests and values, or categorical imperatives that are binding to all rational beings, wherever they may be. Yet while the aims of naturalistic ethics are internal to the motivational systems of the species Homo sapiens, they are external to any particular individual member of that species. This follows from the view that there are a limited number of goods that human beings seek given their nature and potentialities, and these goods (or aims) limit what can be placed as antecedents to the hypothetical conditionals. In referring to these facts in moral discourse one is not simply pointing to preexisting propensities in any given individual but is rather referring to basic and fundamental reasons stemming from human nature that might help shape and channel the particular propensities of any given individual. In this sense, they do have some ‘categorical’ force.” (16–17)


In connection with the first point, we should remember that the fact that some realists are naturalists does not mean that some non-realists are not also naturalists. (Today, the sophisticated descendents from the sentiment-theorists of the age of Hume are the expressivists, such as Allan Gibbard and Simon Blackburn.)


Concerning the second point, Rand placed herself in the hypothetical-imperative territory in her “Causality versus Duty.” Remember too that for Rand, the moral individual achieves the value that is self-esteem “by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man . . . .” (AS 1021)

Post 22

Friday, February 8, 2008 - 6:13amSanction this postReply


The Ayn Rand Society session at the Pacific Division Meeting of the APA will be held on March 22 in the period 6:30–9:30 p.m. The location is the Hilton Pasadena, room Pacific B.


Registration is in the International Ballroom Foyer. Special tickets for $10 are being made available for persons who are not members of the APA and who wish to attend only a single session.


The topic of the ARS session is Egoistic Virtue in Nietzsche and Ayn Rand.

The session will be chaired by Allan Gotthelf.

The speakers are:

Christine Swanton – “Virtuous Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand”

Darryl Wright – “Virtue and Egoism: Swanton, Nietzsche, and Rand”

Post 23

Friday, February 8, 2008 - 3:25pmSanction this postReply



I noticed that Christine Swanton also participated in the 2006 program of ARS.  That was a discussion focusing on Tara Smith’s book on Randian egoism.  In a review of Swanton’s book, Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View, there is some discussion of exploring connections between virtue and human nature—of looking for causal connections between right action and the constraints of human nature.  Of course, there is also plenty of disjointed theorizing about more or less conventional and rationalistic notions of value and character.


To your knowledge, does Swanton have anything resembling a clear grasp of Rand, and, if so, is she at all sympathetic?



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Post 24

Saturday, February 9, 2008 - 2:43pmSanction this postReply

Hi Dennis,


Prof. Swanton’s 2006 remarks, as you know, were a commentary on Prof. Smith’s Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist (ARNE). Swanton did not reference Rand’s text, rather Smith’s, and that is what one would expect for that Author-Meets-Critics setting. Swanton spoke of “Smith’s Rand,” acknowledging that she was commenting on Rand’s ethics as it is represented by Smith. At one point, Swanton also relied on the representation by David Kelley in his commentary on Neera Badhwar’s “Is Virtue Only a Means to Happiness?” (Objectivist Studies, Number 4). Although Swanton made no reference to Rand’s texts, I expect she had read some Rand and will rely directly on Rand’s texts in the paper she will deliver at ARS 2008 in Pasadena.


Swanton’s 2006 remarks concerned Rand’s ethical theory. Tara Smith’s book was an entryway.


Swanton 2006 reminds us that in eudaimonistic virtue ethics “personal well-being, or happiness, is constituted at least in part by virtue” (5). From a passage of Rand’s quoted in Smith’s text, Swanton wonders if the virtue that is independence is of only instrumental value, in Rand’s view, or is it also part of what constitutes the value that is one’s life and happiness? Smith’s text containing the subject quote: “Given that the requirements of our survival are not found ready-made in nature, Rand observes, a person faces a basic choice: whether to survive by the ‘work of his own mind or as a parasite fed by the minds of others’” (ARNE 113).


The quoted phrase of Rand’s is from Roark’s courtroom speech near the end of The Fountainhead. I will show the phrase with some of the surrounding text.

The creators were not selfless. . . . The creator served nothing and no one. He lived for himself.

And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. (737)

Nothing is given to man on earth. Everything he needs has to be produced. And here man faces his basic alternative: he can survive in only one of two ways—by the independent work of his own mind or as a parasite fed by the minds of others. The creator originates. The parasite borrows. (738)

The degree of a man’s independence, initiative, and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man. Independence is the only gauge of human virtue and value. (740) 

Is independence, as characterized by Rand, part of what constitutes the value of what is one’s life and happiness? Swanton questioned the soundness of treating virtues, such as independence, as purely instrumental to the attainment of ends, disallowing those virtues to be part of what makes those ends good ends. I would sharpen Swanton’s point by looking at what Rand says in Atlas Shrugged (1020–21, 1056–58) about the relation of the virtue that is pride to the cardinal value that is self-esteem. I would answer the point by looking at the organization of life (and the mind): properly functioning ribosomes are means to and part of what constitutes the value-operation that is the life of a cell.


Swanton in 2006 did not concur—at least not entirely—with Rand’s ethical egoism and the omission in Rand’s ethical theory of a solid virtue of benevolence. Swanton did not address the self-mirror passages in Atlas; the mirroring principles articulated in Nathaniel Branden’s essay on romantic love in The Objectivist; nor the treatment of the virtue of benevolence by David Kelley in the monograph “Unrugged Individualism.”


On the other hand, Swanton concurred with Rand’s rejection of “the thesis that need alone can create moral demands on [another] person who is in a position to satisfy them” (11). Furthermore, she evidently would join Rand and Nietzsche (and, I would add, Kant and the Stoics) in counting pity a vice, not a virtue (16).




Christine Swanton (PhD, University of Oxford) is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Auckland. Here is some information on her book and a list of some of her published papers pertinent to the topic of ARS 2008.


Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View

Oxford University Press 2003





1. The Anatomy of Virtue

2. Normative Dimensions of Virtue

3. Virtue and the Good Life

4. What Makes a Character Trait a Virtue



5. Love and Respect

6. Expression

7. Creativity



8. Objectivity

9. Demandingness

10. Virtue and Constraints



11. A Virtue Ethical Account of Right Action

12. Virtues of Practice

13. Virtue and Indeterminacy


Back Cover


“Christine Swanton offers a new, comprehensive theory of virtue ethics which addresses the major concerns of modern ethical theory from a character-based perspective. Discussion of many problems in moral theory, such as moral constraints, rightness of action, the good life, the demandingness of ethics, the role of the subjective, and the practicality of ethics, has been dominated by Kantian and Consequentialist theories, with their own distinctive conceptual apparatus. Virtue Ethics shows how a different framework can shed new light on these intractable issues.


“Swanton's approach is distinctive in departing in significant ways from classical versions of virtue ethics derived primarily from Aristotle. Employing insights from Nietzsche and other sources, she argues against both eudaimonistic virtue ethics and traditional virtue ethical conceptions of rightness. In developing a pluralistic view, she shows how different 'modes of moral acknowledgement' such as love, respect, appreciation, and creativity, are embedded in the very fabric of virtue, the moral life, and the good life.”


Other works of Professor Swanton include:


“A Virtue Ethical Account of Right Action” Ethics 112:32-52 (2001).


 “Virtue Ethics, Value-Centeredness, and Consequentialism” Utilitas 13:213-235 (2001).


“Outline of a Nietzschean Virtue Ethics” International Studies in Philosophy, 30:20-28 (1998).


“Can Nietzsche Be Both an Existentialist and a Virtue Ethicist?” In Values and Virtue, Timothy Chappell, editor. Oxford University Press (2006).


“Nietzschean Virtue Ethics” In Virtue Ethics, Old and New. Stephen Gardiner, editor. Cornell University Press (2005).

Reprinted in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals:  Critical Essays. Christa Davis Acampora, editor. Rowman and Littlefield (2006).


Review of Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist, Peter Berkovitz. Journal of the History of Philosophy 142–44 (1997).

Post 25

Monday, February 11, 2008 - 12:41amSanction this postReply

Thanks very much, Stephen.  At least Swanton is helping to get Rand some critically important favourable academic exposure.  


You describe Swanton’s prior contribution this way:


Is independence, as characterized by Rand, part of what constitutes the value of what is one’s life and happiness? Swanton questioned the soundness of treating virtues, such as independence, as purely instrumental to the attainment of ends, disallowing those virtues to be part of what makes those ends good ends. I would sharpen Swanton’s point by looking at what Rand says in Atlas Shrugged (1020–21, 1056–58) about the relation of the virtue that is pride to the cardinal value that is self-esteem…


It seems odd that she would focus her discussion on independence as opposed to rationality, or thinking.  They are really the same thing, but rationality is the more fundamental term.  The fact that Rand considered reason as a cardinal value should resolve the question of any such break between means and ends.  And Rand’s description of happiness (in “The Objectivist Ethics”) as “a state of non-contradictory joy” would certainly demonstrate that Rand believed rationality to be central to the actual experience of happiness itself.


It is great to see Rand’s ideas discussed by academicians, but you would think Swanton would appreciate the importance of studying the source for such a radical viewpoint.  Perhaps it was more “acceptable” to write a paper on another professor’s interpretation of those ideas, but frankly I thought Smith’s book was lacking in certain areas, including the extent to which it clearly grounded virtuous action in the distinctive nature of human volition.  Smith did a poor job of linking morality (or virtue) and volitional consciousness.  She skips that foundational step and moves from the derivation of the concept of value to a discussion of man’s need for principles.  Later Smith makes a passing reference to volition as part of her explanation of rationality.


Since the key to human choice is the will to think, a firmer emphasis on volitional consciousness as a vital step in the validation of Rand’s ethics might have avoided any implied severance of conscious means and conscious ends.  And more: since happiness is “that state of consciousness which proceeds from achieving one’s values” via thought, the process should reflect the progress made in that direction.  It seems transparent that thinking would not only lead to happiness but that a joyous internal state would tend to accompany the activity of achievement. 


In any case, it sounds as if  Swanton will rely on Rand for her upcoming paper and not her interpreters, and that should make for an even more interesting analysis.


Please note: As I re-read my comment, I realized it could be taken as arguing for the view that only the works of Ayn Rand constitute 'the philosophy of Objectivism.'  That's not what I'm saying.  However, I do think that Rand's own arguments were often more logically sound than those of her supporters, and this is a case in point. 




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Post 26

Monday, February 18, 2008 - 6:55amSanction this postReply

Sample of Other Sessions at the APA Being Held at the Pasadena Hilton


1:00–2:00 p.m. (Del Mar)

Mark Couch (Seton Hall) – “Multiple Realization in Comparative Perspective”

Arguments for multiple realization depend on the idea that the same kind of function is realized by different kinds of structures. It is important to such arguments that we know that the kinds appealed to have been individuated properly. In the philosophical literature, though, claims about how to individuate kinds are frequently decided on intuitive grounds. This paper criticizes this way of approaching kinds by considering how practicing researchers think about the matter. I will consider several examples from physiology in which the practice of researchers conflicts with Putnam and Fodor’s standard account of the issues.

Commentator: Cory Wright (U of CA – San Diego)


4:00–5:00 p.m. (Pacific C)

Sarah Wright (U of GA) – “The Proper Structure of the Epistemic Virtues”

If we take a virtue approach to epistemology, what form should the epistemic virtues take? In this paper, I argue, contrary to many, that the proper structure of the epistemic virtues should follow the tradition of internalism in epistemology. . . . I further argue that only an internalist virtue epistemology will provide epistemic virtues that appropriately mirror the structure of the classical moral virtues. Finally, I argue that only an internalist version of virtue epistemology can appropriately explain why the epistemic virtues are valuable in themselves, and have more than only instrumental value.

Commentator: Chris Lepock (U of Alberta)



10:00–11:00 a.m. (Pacific B)

Jason Ford (U of MN – Duluth) – “Attention: Peripheral Representations Save Time”

Alva No¸ claims that our peripheral experience is not produced by the brain’s representation of peripheral items, but by our master of sensorimotor skills and contingencies. I offer a two-pronged assault on this account of the periphery of attention. The first challenge comes from Mack and Rock’s work on inattentional blindness; it provides robust empirical evidence for the semantic processing (and hence representation) of some wholly unattended stimuli. The second challenge draws on LaBerge’s theory of attention to provide a substantial advantage to peripheral representations, saving time whenever we shift the focus of attention to something that had been in the periphery, allowing us to respond to it more quickly than would be possible if No¸’s account were correct.

Commentator: Anastasia Panagopoulos (U of MN – Twin Cities)


1:00–2:00 p.m. (Pacific A)

William Sabo (U of NC – Chapel Hill) – “Concept Acquisition without Representation”

Contemporary debates in concept acquisition presuppose that cognizers can only acquire concepts on the basis of concepts they already have and thus require that they have at least some innate concepts. I argue that this thesis . . . should be rejected. I argue that distinguishing between indicating-states and representing-states of cognizers provides the basis for an alternative account of concept acquisition. On this account, concepts are acquired via indicating-states of perceptual systems. This alternative shows how concepts can be acquired without using representations and, so, how a cognizer with no concepts to begin with could acquire some.

Commentator: Nathan Westbrook (U of CA – Riverside)


2:00–3:00 p.m. (Sacramento)

Jason Raibley (CA State – Long Beach) – “Natural Rightness”

This paper presents and explains a version of subjectivist ethical naturalism. I propose that non-instrumental goodness is constituted by the property of being what we would be disposed, under ideal conditions, to value for its own sake. I link this proposal with a view of the nature of moral rightness on which the choice-worthiness of an action consists in the degree to which that action promotes and protects our non-instrumental values. I construe both of these theses as synthetic statements of property identity. I explain how the thesis about rightness suggests pluralism at the normative level. I relate my views to previous work done by David Lewis, Peter Railton, and Richard Boyd on the metaphysics and semantics of goodness and rightness, indicating my debts, as well as my view’s advantages.

Commentator: Darryl Wright (Harvey Mudd)



10:00–11:00 a.m. (Pacific C)

Donald Wilson (KS State) – “Truth and Deception in Kantian Ethics”

Questions about the morality of lying tend to be decided in a distinctive way early, in discussions of Kant’s view, on the basis of readings of the false-promising example in the Groundwork. The standard deception-as-interference model that emerges typically yields a very general and strong presumption against deception associated with a narrow and rigorous model that is subject to a range of problems. I suggest here that there is room for an alternative account based on Kant’s discussion of self-deception in the Metaphysics of Morals. I argue that we make the concern with ensuring our capacity of inner freedom seen in the case of self-deception the model for deception in general. I claim that doing so yields a subtle and integrated account encompassing norms of truthfulness that promises the kind of resources we need if we are to be able to make headway with hard cases where deception may seem permissible.

Commentator: Lauren Freeman (Boston U)


3:00–4:00 p.m. (San Diego)

Paul Symington (U of San Francisco) – “Categories, Predication, and Metaphysics in Aquinas”

In this paper, Aquinas’ two-fold consideration of the categories is examined. Such a consideration provides a key motivation for his frequent use of the structure of predication to explicate metaphysical concepts and distinctions. A fundamental aspect of Aquinas’ metaphysics is justifying the very possibility of and providing guidelines for establishing real distinctions—such as those among the ten Aristotelian categories of being—based on fundamental modes of predication. The insight of the paper lies in its identifying Aquinas’ understanding of the isomorphic relationship that exists between the dual aspects of categories as rationes and as modes of being and the predicate-copula structure of predication. The predicate itself expresses the ratio of that which is signified by the predicate, and the copula, in conjunction with the predicate exists in the subject. This identification and justification of the isomorphism between predication and reality provides Aquinas a way of legitimately undertaking a derivation of the categories from modes of predication, which he presents briefly in his Commentary on the Metaphysics and his Commentary on the Physics. [Cf. pp. 44–45 of “Induction on Identity” in Objectivity V1N3.]

Commentator: Justin Skirry (NB Wesleyan)



10:00–11:00 a.m. (Santa Barbara)

Rebecca Stangl (U of VA) – “The Greatness of Virtue and Its Implications for Action”

Almost all classical forms of virtue theory claim that virtue is the greatest of goods. Thomas Hurka has recently argued that this thesis is wrong. Far from being the greatest of goods, virtue is always a lesser good than such “basic” goods as pleasure, knowledge, and achievement. If virtue were the greatest of goods, Hurka argues, we would be committed to implausible conclusions about how to act. In this paper I argue that Hurka has failed to demonstrate this last claim. Given a proper understanding of what a virtue ethicist might mean when she says that virtue is the greatest of goods, none of the supposedly objectionable action-guidance follows.

Commentator: Dan Farnham (U of GA)


3:00–4:00 p.m. (Sacramento)

Thomas Bontly (U of CT) – “Psychological Explanation without Mental Quasation”

A great deal of work in recent philosophy of mind is driven by worries about the causal efficacy (or causal relevance) of mental properties and semantic properties in particular. The worry, in brief, is that mental states or events might be causes without it being true that they cause anything in virtue of their specifically mental properties, i.e., without being causes qua mental. This worry breeds further worries: about the status of psychological explanation and, most fundamentally, about the reality of mental properties. This paper argues that such further worries are baseless. Psychological explanation is here argued to be a type of teleological explanation in which mental properties contribute to explaining an action’s function, not its occurrence. Mental properties can therefore be explanatorily relevant and thus earn their keep even if they don’t do any causal work. Several objections are discussed.

Commentator: Bradley Weslake (U of Rochester)


3:00–4:00 p.m. (Pacific C)

Tamra Frei (MI State) – “Kant and the Principle of Instrumental Rationality”

There is little of Immanuel Kant’s moral theory that is not heavily contested. Still, one point that supporters as well as critics of Kant have tended to agree on is the following. Although Kant identifies different versions of the Categorical Imperative, he is committed to there being only one categorical command of practical reason. I argue that this interpretation is false. A close reading of The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals reveals that there is another, non-moral categorical demand of practical rationality, namely, The Hypothetical Imperative. This imperative adjures us to take what we know to be the necessary and available means to our ends or else give up those ends. Moreover, I argue that because The Hypothetical Imperative is the fundamental principle of all means-ends reasoning, including reasons of prudence, the traditional Kantian way of distinguishing moral from prudential obligations fails.

Commentator: Claus Dierksmeier (Stonehill)


6:30–9:00 p.m. (Pacific B)

Ayn Rand Society

Post 27

Monday, February 18, 2008 - 8:56amSanction this postReply

Sarah Wright (U of GA) – “The Proper Structure of the Epistemic Virtues”

If we take a virtue approach to epistemology, what form should the epistemic virtues take? In this paper, I argue, contrary to many, that the proper structure of the epistemic virtues should follow the tradition of internalism in epistemology. . . . I further argue that only an internalist virtue epistemology will provide epistemic virtues that appropriately mirror the structure of the classical moral virtues. Finally, I argue that only an internalist version of virtue epistemology can appropriately explain why the epistemic virtues are valuable in themselves, and have more than only instrumental value.


what are 'epistemic virtues' and how they differ from ethical virtues?

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Post 28

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 - 6:35amSanction this postReply


1. Excerpts from Knowledge, Belief, and Character edited by Guy Axtell

"An 'Internalist' Conception of Epistemic Virtue" by James Montmarquet

 "Moral and Epistemic Virtue" by Julia Driver


2. "Virtue Epistemology" in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


3. Virtues of the Mind by Linda Zagzebski

Post 29

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 - 7:31amSanction this postReply
Thanks....  but from what read, gather this is all predicated on the notion that "..all is belief, and knowledge is merely belief with certainty."......

Post 30

Saturday, May 31, 2008 - 6:04amSanction this postReply

Following on #17


This new book looks like an important complement to the theory outlined by Nozick.


The Structural Evolution of Morality

J. McKenzie Alexander

Cambridge 2008


From the back cover:

It is certainly the case that morality governs the interactions that take place between individuals. But what if morality exists because of these interactions? This book argues for the claim that much of the behaviour we view as 'moral' exists because acting in that way benefits each of us to the greatest extent possible, given the socially structured nature of society. Drawing upon aspects of evolutionary game theory, the theory of bounded rationality, and computational models of social networks, it shows both how moral behaviour can emerge in socially structured environments, and how it can persist even when it is not typically viewed as 'rational' from a traditional economic perspective. 

This work by Alexander evidently extends the pioneering works reviewed in three installments here: A, B, C

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Post 31

Friday, January 23, 2009 - 4:51amSanction this postReply

Irfan is now Dr. Irfan.

Notre Dame 2008

He is teaching at Felician College in New Jersey.

Post 32

Friday, January 23, 2009 - 6:34amSanction this postReply
His dissertation is available online.  The address is:

PS: For some reason, I couldn't get the link to work.

(Edited by Glenn Fletcher on 1/23, 6:38am)

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