Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Intelligence and Hypothetical Imperatives

Following on from the last posting I was wondering next how to relate Korsgaard's view of intelligence to the conception of hypothetical imperatives as a step to answering the question I raised in conclusion concerning maxims. Recall, on Korsgaard's conception, that a "maxim" (or maxim-like structure) can apply in cases of intelligent but non-rational behaviour in response to the environment.

This case happens when there is learning concerning action that requires normative appraisal of the right thing to do. So, in the case Korsgaard gives, the act of moving in the direction of food (as opposed to the automatic responses of the body such as salivation) constitutes an acceptance by the organism in question of a principled response to the stimuli in question. One of the reasons for taking this to be the case is that the smell of food can, given the right pattern of stimulus and response, be one of avoidance. So, if the smell of honey is followed by the stinging of bees, the organism could well learn the inappropriateness of attempting to consume the honey. These cases of intelligent behaviour don't require self-conscious reflection on the principles as principles but they do require acceptance of the appropriateness of the action (which is taken as a principle by Korsgaard).

The point I concluded with in the last posting was that if this is type of action is effectively of a maxim-like structure and if such behaviour can also characterise beings who do possess reason then what is the means by which rational beings can be moved from acting in accordance with intelligent "maxims" to rational ones?

The rational action requires not merely acceptance of the appropriateness of the action but self-conscious affirmation of the principle that underlies it which is now explicitly related to as a principle. A key consequence of the shift is that we move from "instincts" to "reasons" where the latter are here taken to constitute grounds for action in the sense of providing action with an end. There are, as will be discussed on future occasions, numerous questions that can be raised about end-oriented behaviour. 

For now, I'll simply adopt Korsgaard's very compressed conception of ends in which we do act-A for the sake of end-E. The most basic conception of this is that the notion of the end is something that we desire to attain and we adopt means that will enable this to be the case. Adopting such a view will be sufficient to give us the notion of hypothetical imperatives.

A hypothetical imperative is described in the second part of Kant's Groundwork as the capacity to act in accordance with the representation of a law or, in other words, acting on the basis of willing. Hypothetical imperatives are so called because in such a case we act on the view that a certain means will be the basis for attaining a certain end and this connection requires viewing something in a hypothetical connection.

Now the difference between what is at issue in a hypothetical imperative and what is occurring when we observe merely intelligent behaviour is that the relationship between means and ends in the former case is one we have explicitly postulated and taken as desirable. The "incorporation" of which Allison speaks and on which Korsgaard's model trades has been understood here to be one we are open and articulate about.

If this relationship between intelligence and hypothetical imperatives is correct then it follows that there is a continuity between them. Hypothetical imperatives are something like the rational expression of basic intelligent behaviour. Whilst this means there is a difference in kind between hypothetical imperatives and intelligent behaviour in the sense that in the former cases there is self-conscious affirmation of principles as principles, the types of principle involved in hypothetical imperatives are still of a piece with the types of principles given to intelligent beings.

So to view intelligent behaviour as having a maxim-like structure is to see it as having a form of much the same kind as that of hypothetical imperatives. In a sense, then, the question I raised at the end of the last posting can now be re-phrased. The move from intelligent maxim-like structures to explicit maxims is one in which the nature of what is affirmed in the maxim does not have to be explicitly changed, only the relation to the principle (in terms of articulacy) does. Hence if there is here a continuity between intelligent and rational behaviour inasmuch as they are seen as goal-driven then the real question rather concerns the basis for the view that there is such a thing as pure practical reason. Only on the conception that there is a pure practical reason does it emerge that there is something about rational beings that is intrinsically and deeply specific that sharply distinguishes them from intelligent beings. This helps to explain the Humean view of "human nature".

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