Thursday, 30 December 2010

Teleology and Practical Reason

The recent postings I have done have been focused on bringing into view a sense of practical reason. One of the consequences of the relatively basic conception advanced to date is that the notion of practical reason, if viewed in terms of the general structure of hypothetical imperatives, is one in which the notion of "ends" plays the key guiding role.

I want to first indicate some provisional points about the structure of the connection between hypothetical imperatives and teleology prior to raising a larger framework for further investigation of the reasons for thinking about practical reason in a teleological way. 

Hypothetical imperatives generally fit an instrumental model of rationality in which means and ends are adjusted to each other in order to attain a desired objective. Kant describes hypothetical imperatives in two ways though the nature of them is worthy of much more extended consideration on a future occasion. The two general ways are in terms of "skill" and "prudence".

The conception of hypothetical imperatives in terms of "skill" connects them to the provision of more or less sophisticated technical ways of achieving an end. Any kind of action or activity that requires the varied use of materials in order to produce a result will involve degrees of skill in both the relationship between the materials and the judgments concerning the ways of achieving the outcomes. This broad conception of "skill" indicates that everything here that requires instrumental relations tends to incorporate a form of "skill". This will apply to everything from development of trades or talents to the running of governments or the waging of wars. Hence it takes up a large portion of activity.

Contrast this now with "prudence". In developing talents we need to have an eye for what will be in demand so that we don't waste our time. This is prudential as also is avoiding certain kinds of people or activities, either of which might impair our chances of carrying out other activities already decided upon. So prudential reasoning is the province of a kind of judgment, one that tends to get sharpened by experience. Like the reasoning at work in "skill" it is a form of instrumental relation. I'll return generally on another occasion to questions about these relations but for now it will suffice to indicate an at least provisional relationship between hypothetical imperatives and instrumental relations.

It is clear in addition that the development of activities in accordance with hypothetical imperatives requires a sense of purposiveness. Hence hypothetical imperatives are generically capable of being seen as part of a teleological pattern of life.

Having made this relation between hypothetical imperatives and teleology relatively perspicuous the next step is to relate teleology in a more general sense to practical reason whilst bracketing for now further consideration of hypothetical imperatives. There are two kinds of way in which a general relationship between teleology and practical reason tends to get understood, ways which are on distinct levels from each other. One is through a theory of moral psychology that views practical reasoning as primarily teleological. The other is a meta-ethical stance concerning the types of considerations that are relevant to assessing right acts. The first is what is generically termed the "Humean" notion of moral motivation, the second is the consequentialist view of moral appraisal.

Taking these in turn, the Humean notion of moral motivation is an analysis of the psychological preconditions of being moved to act in certain ways. The basic claim of the Humean theory is generally understood to consist in a non-cognitivist view that an ethical belief is in itself insufficient to motivate action and that an affective state has to also be activated for someone to act in accord with a belief. Due to this general claim the teleological notion at work in motivation for the Humean is one that is taken to cut against a pure notion of practical reason.

By contrast to the Humean picture that thinks of teleological connections as the means of explanation of how we are motivated to act, the consequentialist view concerns the means by which action is justified (not necessarily how it is motivated though it may also claim this). Consequences are the means of assessment of actions and the conception of teleology is thus an instrumental one of how ends are best reached and how the "right" ends can be maximised.

The connection between means and ends in both of these pictures seems to have the pattern of an instrumental relation and in this respect to be of a piece with what we have uncovered concerning hypothetical imperatives. Due to this there is a general view that both the Humean conception of motivation and the consequential notion of ethical justification are inherently non or even anti-Kantian views. Certainly the consequence of the Humean view of motivation is that there can be no pure practical reason and in this important respect it is at variance with the Kantian view. It remains true, however, that there does need to be a Kantian picture of how we can be led to act in accordance with the moral law. Such a picture thus has to provide some kind of response to the Humean notion of motivation.

The consequentialist picture of justification, by contrast, whilst widely taken to be at variance with the Kantian picture of justification, is not universally so regarded. Rawls and his followers take it to be paradigmatically the view of morality that Kantians must reject and to which Kantian theory is a response. However, there has been developed a notion of "Kantian consequentialism" that aims to show there is not only no necessary conflict between Kant's moral theory and consequentialism but that they can even be combined.

The setting out of responses to both the Humean and the consequentialist views is essential to clarifying what the Kantian argument concerning the relationship between teleology and practical reason should be and will be part of what is at issue in many future postings.

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