Sunday, 5 February 2012

Skorupski on Reasons (I)

In my last posting I concluded the reading of the first, introductory, chapter of John Skorupski's The Domain of Reasons. In this posting I am going to look at the first part of the second chapter of the book, which opens the first part of the whole work. The first part of the book is concerned with the structure of normative concepts and the second chapter looks, in particular, at reasons.

Skorupski opens Chapter 2 by distinguishing between three types of reason: epistemic reasons (reasons to believe something), practical reasons (reasons to do something) and evaluative reasons (reasons to feel something). In all these cases a reason is a kind of relation and reasons can vary in degrees of strength. Reasons are generally treated by Skorupski as forms of response and to be "intentional acts" in the sense that they have an intentional content that is linked essentially to their answerability. Reasons can consist in a multiplicity of facts. 

In addition to the distinction between types of reason Skorupski also adds a categorisation of reasons of degree which move from specific reasons (particulars) to overall reasons to sufficient reasons. Skorupski also takes sometime arguing that whilst these differences of degree apply to all the types of reason he has distinguished that none of the types of degree is reducible to any of the others. 

Having made these opening moves Skorupski next turns to an account that is specific to epistemic reasons and concerns what he terms "epistemic fields". The reason for this move is that Skorupski takes it to be the case that epistemic reasons have to refer to knowable facts. With epistemic reasons there has to be a restriction on the facts that can give me reason to believe that a fact obtains. As Skorupski puts this:

The facts that are knowable by an actor x and can thus be epistemic reasons for x at a time t are limited by what x could at t know of by reflection or by further (physically possible, spatio-temporal) inquiry, or just by 'stumbling across' them. These are the facts that are epistemically accessible to x at t: x could come to know them by skill or by luck. Call them x's epistemic field at t. (42)

Facts in an epistemic field can constitute epistemic reasons for one whether or not one has become aware of them. Skorupski illustrates this point by mentioning how Sherlock Holmes uses clues unobserved by others to deduce matters as indicative of the point that these clues are epistemic reasons for the others to believe something even though they have not noticed them.

Epistemic reasons are, however, relative to the field in question although the field can itself be enlarged over time. Epistemic reasons are also described by Skorupski as "all-things-considered" reasons. We generally, however, speak of specific sub-sets of facts within epistemic fields as constituting epistemic reasons as when we distinguish, as we often do, between factors that support the belief that x as opposed to other factors that support the contrary belief y.

Finally, Skorupski also follows Husserl (though without referring to him) in distinguishing between epistemic reasons and indicators. As in Husserl's First Investigation an "indicator" is a kind of suggestion made by a symbol that something is the case.

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