Abstracts

Anscombe was a contemporary of Sellars and worked on many of the same practical topics.  While she agrees with Sellars that intentions can be reasoned about, on several other important topics she offers different and, it is argued, superior conclusions.  These include (i) the content of first-person expressions of intention; (ii) whether such expressions have truth values; (iii) the structure of good practical reasoning; (iv) the kinds of moral principles that are conceivable; and (v) the source of authority for hypothetical imperatives.  Sellars’ oversights on these counts are often connected to his consequentialism.  A philosopher who wanted to pursue practical philosophy in a Sellarsian vein would do well to take account of Anscombe’s insights.

Kant argued that to refuse to follow the moral law is to deny one’s own essential nature: it is a kind of self-abnegation.  In this paper I argue that Sellars has the resources to offer a similar argument.  The argument proceeds as follows:  (1) We are essentially rule-following beings.  (2) Any dispute between rule-followers can, in principle, be resolved through the giving and taking of reasons (whether theoretical or practical). (3) Reason-giving is a rule-governed activity, so if a dispute can be resolved by appeal to reasons, then there is a rule that determines how this is to be done. (4) If some people are all bound by the same rule, they are, in at least a minimal sense, a community.  (5) So, there is a community, of which every rule-follower is a member.  (6) The members of any group G must intend to promote the well-being of the members of G, qua members of G.  (7) So, one must intend to promote the well-being of members of this community, qua members of the community.  To do otherwise is to deny that one is a rule-follower, which, on Sellars’ account, amounts to denying that one is genuinely a person.

In his classical essay on Sellars’ ethical theory, David Solomon asked what Sellarsian we-intentions are, and found all candidate answers wanting. More recently, several positive answers to Solomon’s question have been defended, some of which are incompatible with Sellars’ frequently avowed commitment to individualism – the view that a human individual can we-intend that p alone, irrespective of whether another individual, or the relevant group as such, intends that p as well. Contra these proposals, I offer an individualistic reading in this paper, according to which what Sellars calls the intersubjective form of a token we-intention that p – the distinguishing feature of Sellarsian we-intentions – consists in the intention’s intrinsically involving, qua state or attitude, an implicit normative attitude towards “us jointly” to intend that p as well. If one I-intends that p, one simply aims to (help) realize the state of affairs that p, without taking a normative attitude towards anyone else. The intention lacks intersubjective form. If one we-intends that p, one aims to (help) realize p and treats p as what “we jointly” ought to (help) realize. The intention has intersubjective form. My goal is to elaborate this proposal.

"Morality, Tribalism, and Value" by Danielle Macbeth, Haverford College

In Chapter 7 of Science and Metaphysics, Sellars argues that moral oughts are grounded in we-intentions, that “to value from a moral point of view is to value as a member of the relevant community” (sec. 124). I argue that this cannot work because to make sense of the moral point of view so conceived requires knowing already who ought to be counted as one of us, as a member of the relevant community. How, then, should we think about the moral ought, in particular, about the principles that ought to govern “the values in terms of which we lead . . . our lives sans phrase” (sec. 3)? How should we evaluate our values if not from the perspective afforded by we-intentions? Kant’s maxims of common human understanding—to think for oneself, to think from the standpoint of everyone else, and to think consistently—provide, I will suggest, an essential resource in developing an adequate alternative to Sellars’ account in Chapter 7 of Science and Metaphysics.

The project that Sellars calls the philosophical quest for a synoptic vision endeavors to make it intelligible how two depictions of the world – of the world as populated by the entities of physical theory and of the world as populated by persons and the norms they acknowledge – are depictions not of two separate worlds, but of a single integrated whole. I offer an interpretation of the strategy that, according to Sellars, promises to deliver an intelligible image of the world as physics describes it and the world of norms and persons making up an integrated whole. I then argue that there are purely combinatorial grounds on which to think this strategy is unlikely to succeed. Then I turn to an alternative strategy which characterizes Danielle Macbeth’s approach to the same basic problem, an approach which aims to depict the unity of the world of fact and the world of norms in narrative form. I argue that this tactic is responsive to the difficulty I raise for Sellars’s. Finally, I return to Sellars and argue that an implicit appreciation of the narrative approach is already in Sellars’s philosophy, and that recognizing it may help us to interpret his work.

               Bernard Williams’s essay “Internal and External Reasons” presents a now-classic challenge to the categorical bindingness of moral reasons. I argue that for Sellars, moral reasons are internal (in Williams’s sense), but nevertheless categorically valid for rational beings. This conclusion follows largely because of Sellars’s radically social conception of reasons.

               Reasons internalism is often tied to the Humean theory of reasons (HTR). Sellars’s anti-reductionist and anti-individualist conception of reasons presents a powerful challenge to the HTR: A significant range of reasons have a social and intersubjective dimension that resists a Humean analysis. Indeed, most reasons we have display this anti-Humean character; and to focus only on reasons that admit of a Humean, individualistic analysis is to leave us with a violently truncated agent—indeed, one who might not even be a rational agent.

               The intermediate conclusion is that most reasons are social—we are subject to them not qua individuals but qua members of a society, occupying various roles and identities. The strategy suggested by Sellars’s approach—which holds to the inherently social nature of reasons—is to argue that reasons are already, by their nature, inherently public; that to occupy the standpoint of rational agency is to occupy the standpoint of the ‘we’ and to be bound by its norms, including its moral norms.

 

The notion of intersubjective “we-intentions” is central to Sellars’s philosophical system, especially to his account of moral statements. However, what precisely makes these intentions intersubjective and why we need them often remains unclear in Sellars’s texts. My paper attempts to bring more clarity into these issues. I argue that a good way to characterize the moral domain from a Sellarsian perspective is as a domain of consonant practical reasoning with intentions. I show that personal intentions cannot serve in such consonant practical reasoning because of two shortcomings: their indexicality and their egocentricity. I reconstruct how Sellars can address these two problems. I then suggest that there may have been a change in Sellars’s ideas about the intersubjective features of we-intentions at the end of his career where Sellars seems to abandon his former “mode account”. Therefore, some central elements in Sellars’s practical philosophy may never have stopped developing during his career. Based on the discussion of Sellars’s motivations for introducing intersubjective intentions, I argue that this change is a sensible one.

How ambitious was Sellars’ naturalism in relation to the task of explaining human agency and the moral point of view in particular? Or the same question from the opposite direction: How “liberal” was Sellars’ naturalism in this regard, in the now-familiar Strawsonian and McDowellian sense? It’s not an easy question to answer. It might be underdetermined by the texts. In this talk I rub the more ambitious and more liberal sticks together in the attempt to narrow the range of plausible interpretations, and plausible views.

In other work, I provide a semantics interpreting descriptive claims in terms of mental states where the mind is meant to fit with the world, whereas claims made under intentional and deontic modal operators are interpreted in terms of mental states where the world is meant to fit with the mind. Wilfrid Sellars defended a perspective of this sort, taking it to be rooted in Kantian and Peircean ideas about the relationship between theoretical and practical rationality. Developing some of Allan Gibbard’s views in this vicinity, I interpret deontic and intentional modal claims in terms of maximally decided plans of action. I then show how to understand claims falling under the individual and shared intentional modal operators (I shall and we shall) in terms of similar sorts of plans. Crucially, a notion of single-mindedness is needed to account for the difference between the strong and weak deontic modal planning state. The intentional modalities lack a strong and weak modal force, however, and so they can be modelled by plans that do not discriminate single-minded agency. This notion of single-mindedness sheds light on the (Kantian and Peircean) sense in which the conclusion drawn in a practical inference counts as both an exercise of intentional cognition concerning what one shall do, and an exercise of rational cognition concerning what one ought to do in a given situation.

 

Sellars’ idea of we-intentions occupies a central position in his practical philosophy, and it is arguably the defining feature of his metaethical legacy.  Despite its centrality in Sellars’ thought, we have yet to get a good, firm grip on the idea of we-intentions: early studies of Sellars’ practical philosophy described his invocation of we-intentions as mere gesturing to morality’s essentially social character; recent studies exhibit a collectivist trend, according to which Sellarsian we-intentions are collective, group, or shared intentions.  In this paper, I suggest another way of grasping we-intentions, a way which emphasizes the radical egocentricity or inescapable individualism of intending, including intending sub specie communitatis.  According to this individualist interpretation, we-intentions’ intersubjective form is a matter of neither their being a group’s intendings nor their being shared by members.  Instead, intersubjective form is a matter of intentions’ being sharable.  My strategy for developing this interpretation is to reflect upon the following question: “What do reports (i.e. self-ascriptions) of we-intentions look like?”  I identify four possible answers, and I argue that one captures the requisite dimensions of egocentricity and sharability.  This, I argue, tips the scales in favor of the individualist interpretation.