I have just started studying Gibbard's Thinking How to Live, and have a question about it.

Consider the following, apparently valid, argument:

    (1) Either it is before 5 or I should leave now

    (2) It is not before 5

    Therefore, (3) I should leave now.

Presumably if Stan believes (or accepts) 1 and 2 for good reasons,
then he has some reason to believe (accept) 3.  Some would go further and say, for example, that Stan is
rationally required to believe 3, but let's stick with the less contentious
claim that, in these circumstances, he has some reason to believe (accept) 3:

    (SR) Stan has some reason to believe 3

My question is whether Gibbard can account for SR's being true in
the situation I have described (or a suitably cleaned up cousin situation).

I have my doubts, based on the following Gibbardian translation of
Stan's "beliefs" that 1 and 2 are "true" – my source here
is Chapters 3 and 4 of Thinking How to

    (BG1) I rule out [rejecting that it is before 5 & rejecting that I
should leave now]

    (BG2) I reject that it is before 5

Presumably if Stan has good reason to adopt attitudes BG1 and BG2,
then he also has good reason to adopt this attitude:

    (BG3) I rule out [rejecting that I should leave now]

But that is not the same as

    (BG3*) I accept that I should leave now

which is, I think, the Gibbard translation of

    (B3) I believe I should leave now.

Moreover, it is hard to see how having reason to adopt BG1 and BG2
leads to your having some reason to adopt BG3*, because, on Gibbard's view I could
"conform" to BG3 by either (i) being agnostic about whether I should
leave now or (ii) adopting BG3*. 
So, by being agnostic, Stan could consistently adopt BG1, BG2, BG3, and
not adopt BG3*.  And it is not
clear why he would have a reason to change his mind.

I do not have command of Gibbard's new system or the secondary
literature yet, and worry that my doubt is based on a confusion.  I would love to clear any such
confusion up, before I keep studying the book.

Does Gibbard have a good response to my worry, perhaps one based on his concept
of hyper-plans?  Has anyone (maybe
Gibbard) discussed this objection? 
Is it based on a mistake or misunderstanding?

11 Replies to “Gibbard’s expressivism and reasons for believing consequences

  1. Just a quick thought, and I’m not sure exactly where it touches base with the way you’ve set things up.
    Any hyperplan that includes 1 and 2 will include 3, no? So even if you’re not hyperdecided, if you accept 1 and 2, then there’s no way you could become hyperdecided without accepting 3 (or changing your mind about something you already accept, i.e. 1 or 2).
    Since Gibbard often seems to equate what we’re committed to with what we’d accept if we became hyperdecided (without changing our minds about anything), that seems to me like an account he’d be happy with of why you’re committed to 3 if you accept 1 and 2.

  2. Thanks, Daniel, that is helpful.
    I find it hard to see, however, how the fact that “even if you’re not hyperdecided, if you accept 1 and 2, then there’s no way you could become hyperdecided without accepting 3 (or changing your mind about something you already accept, i.e. 1 or 2),” would ground the claim that Stan has a reason to accept 3, rather than be agnostic.
    If he opts for agnosticism, presumably he is not (necessarily) committed to accepting what he would have to accept if he gave up agnosticism (and, say, became hyper-decided).
    But maybe Gibbard addresses this when he defends his definition of commitment..thanks for the pointer.

  3. I’m not seeing the problem. True, Gibbard’s view allows that Stan can consistently accept (1) and (2) while not accepting (3). But what’s wrong with that? Surely Stan can consistently do this.

  4. Brad,
    I think Daniel is right. The principle of commitment his answer is based on is defended on page 91 in Gibbard. This doesn’t ground the claim that Stan has a reason to accept 3 (I worry about bootstrapping here if this is put in terms of reasons) but rather the claim that Stan is already committed to accepting 3. If he doesn’t, if he remains agnostic, he cannot do this consistently without changing his mind about 1 or 2.
    It’s true though that this answer leads to a problem more explored in Shroeder’s Being For section 3.5.
    Also, there’s a mistake in your translations. You cannot have ‘should’ inside the content of the beliefs. So, the argument would be more like:
    (BG1) I rule out [rejecting that it is before 5 & rejecting leaving now]
    (BG2) I reject [that it is before 5]
    (BG3) I rule out [rejecting leaving now]
    And, this is supposed to be thought you have when you accept the claim I should leave now according to Gibbard (again there are problems here with the negation problem).

  5. Hi Campbell,
    Yeah, that is true. I was just assuming that we want to say that he has consistent beliefs but that he still has some reason to change his mind and move from agnosticiam to belief. So I was wondering how Gibbard would account for that reason to change one’s mind in such a case.
    Thanks to Daniel and Jussi, I now see that this gets addressed later when Gibbard introduces the notion of commitment. I was just being an inpatient reader, I think!

  6. Hi Jussi,
    Thanks for the help cleaning up my translations.
    As I just said in response to Campbell, I now see I was just being impatient and should look into Gibbard’s claim about commitment.
    Thanks also for the pointer to Mark’s book. That is exactly the sort of help I was hoping for.
    Speaking of which, if I am trying to get up to speed on recent work on expressivism what do people recommend in addition to Mark’s book(s!) and Gibbard? Are there any key reviews of Gibbard and Mark’s being for you recommend?

  7. Jussi and Daniel,
    Trying to get the hang of this commitment bit. If you have time, I would be interested to hear what you think about this:
    Imagine you are in a department that is giving out an award for best TA and it is down to two candidates, A and B.
    Your only evidence is that you once overheard an undergrad say in the hall “I learned more from A than B as a TA”. The other faculty members have all had both A and B as TAs, read their evaluations, and visited them in the classroom. Each faculty member has one vote.
    You are agnostic about who to vote for, so you abstain. But you also decide that, if the department forced everyone to vote, you would vote for A, since that is what your very weak evidence supports.
    Is Gibbard’s view that in this case you are committed to voting for A?

  8. Mark’s books are great. The textbook is really good in getting up to speed. Jamie Dreier’s paper in the first OSME is good as is his previous expressivism papers. There’s a good symposium in a recent Analysis of Mark’s book. Matthew Christman had a good review of Gibbard in Ethics. Neil Sinclair had a good overview paper of Expressivism in Analysis recently. I’m sure there’s loads more.

  9. Thanks, Jussi. Brad, I believe Mark van Roojen has a critical notice of Being For coming out shortly in Ethics, Robert Mabrito has a good review of it in NDPR, and Rachel Briggs has a book note in AJP. I have a few papers on my website that are downstream from Being For, as well. Jamie’s papers on “The Expressivist Circle” and “Creeping Minimalism”, in particular, are excellent, in addition to the other things Jussi mentioned.
    In addition, there is a whole family of recent research on “hybrid” theories, some of which look more like realism with expressivist window dressing and some of which look like sophisticated alternative irrealist theories. These are all quite different from the views discussed in Thinking How to Live and Being For, but are worth getting up to speed with under the heading of ‘expressivism’ broadly construed. In particular, see recent work by David Copp, Daniel Boisvert, John Eriksson, Stephen Barker, David Alm, and particularly Michael Ridge, who has the most comprehensive and distinctive view in this family, very worth studying in its own right, and spread out over several interesting papers. I’ve discussed these views in a recent paper in Ethics and introduce them but don’t give them justice in Noncognitivism in Ethics.

  10. The review of BF that Mark mentions just came out (not hours ago) at the Ethics website. The direct link is:
    http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/651120 .
    I’m afraid it doesn’t say anything much original to me, but I think it does give a good overview of Mark’s book. (I would think that.)
    And, while we’re mentioning articles on these general topics, I’m a big fan of Jamie’s paper “Expressivist Embeddings and Minimalist Truth”, Philosophical Studies 83:1, 29-51. Many other papers and books discuss Jamie’s argument and rehearse the main example, but the original version is worth running down even if you’re familiar with the general points. I think this is one case where the high prices for Springer Journals have led to a paper being under-reprinted relative to its interest and quality.

Comments are closed.