Monday, 30 January 2012

Skorupski on morality and normativity

It is sometime now since I last blogged on John Skorupski's book The Domain of Reasons. This book, which is presented by some as an alternative to Parfit's On What Matters and which concerns, like Parfit, a general theory of reason, is one whose preliminary account of sentimentalism about practical reason (not morality) I looked at in my last posting on it. In the present posting I want to conclude my review of the introduction to Skorupski's book so that future postings on it can begin the arduous task of going through the major sections of the work.

Skorupski concludes his introduction to the work by discussing morality further and linking his view of morality to his general claims about normativity. With regard to morality Skorupski makes clear that an examination of the "sentiment" of blame is one that he thinks will help us to understand the "categoricity" of morality. By the "categoricity" of morality Skorupski means that morality is categorical in the sense that "it is a priori that if someone has a moral obligation to a he has reason to a" (28). The link of this to the view of blame is that to blame someone for something is to take them to have had a reason not to do the thing that they did. Further, blame (along with a list of other dispositions that Skorupski gives) involves a withdrawal of recognition from the one blamed. This does not mean that the one from whom recognition is withdrawn cannot retrieve the situation though Skorupski is perhaps going too far in claiming that the situation is one that can, as he puts it, "always" be retrieved since I can certainly think of cases (without having to move into serious crime) where it certainly is not possible for someone to recover from this withdrawal.

Skorupski's general view of morality, in addition to aiming to understand its categoricity, also aims at grasping the spontaneity of it as something that is basic to the epistemology of all norms. Skorupski relates this spontaneity to a conception of discussion that seems to suggest a relationship between his view and the Habermasian notion of communicative reason.

Skorupski's overall conception is one he terms the "Normative view" and he intends this to be the basis of a new form of "Critical" philosophy. As with previous forms of "Critical" philosophy Skorupski accepts a basic duality between spontaneity and receptivity but assumes that the epistemology of reasons requires that there are purely spontaneous responses with regards to norms. Reason relations, whilst irreal for Skorupski, are objective and form the "unconditioned condition" on which he will account for the possibility of knowledge and freedom. The account of the relationship between reason relations, normativity and morality will be central to the basic arguments of The Domain of Reasons and must constitute the main basis for assessing the success of the work.

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