The paper criticizes two prominent accounts which purport to explain normativity by appealing to some relation that one bears to oneself. Michael Bratman argues that one has reason to be formally coherent because otherwise one would fail to govern oneself. And David Velleman argues that one has reason to be formally coherent because otherwise one would be less intelligible to oneself. Both Bratman and Velleman argue in quite different ways that rational coherence is normative because it is necessary for the instantiation or promotion of the independently normative self-relation they invoke. But the paper presents a similar scenario which arguably exposes a failure of extensional adequacy common to both accounts: one can instantiate the self-relation in question without being formally coherent. A brief diagnosis is offered for why two such different accounts turn out to be vulnerable to a similar counterexample, suggesting that other accounts which appeal to self-relations in a broadly similar way might also suffer from the problem identified here.
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See Bratman (2009a), and Velleman (1993). Other accounts that invoke self-relations in a broadly similar way appear in the work of e.g. Korsgaard (1997, 2008), who argues that our actions are normative when and because they express our capacity to determine ourselves. See also Street (2008), who argues that one has a reason to F when and because one judges oneself to have such reasons.
Bratman (2009a, p. 429). In his (2009b), Bratman argues that the reason to be self-governing can similarly explain why there is a reason to avoid having intentions that one believes cannot be jointly realized. To save words, I shall limit myself to discussing Bratman’s argument about instrumental coherence. But I hope it will become clear that a parallel argument to the one presented in the text could be mounted against Bratman’s argument for the normativity of intention consistency.
It does not seem open to Bratman to dismiss the objection offhand by denying the reality of second-order intentions of the sort invoked here. Elsewhere, Bratman himself allows for conflicts between directly contradictory intentions—an intention to E and an intention to not-E (Bratman 2009b). Once such conflicts are allowed onto the scene, there seems to be no reason to deny the possibility of conflicts that arise with higher-order intentions. Moreover, given that one can resolve to overcome any incoherencies due to e.g. one’s weak will, it seems equally plausible to maintain that one can do the opposite—intending to tolerate any such violations in the spirit of spontaneity or whatever.
See Bratman (2007).
For a statement and discussion of Bratman’s view, see for example his articles “Reflection, planning, and temporally extended agency”, and “Three theories of self-governance”, both in Bratman (2007).
I thank an anonymous referee for prompting me to elaborate here in response to possible objections.
I am grateful to an anonymous referee for pressing me on this point.
See e.g. Dancy (2004).
The need to expound the nature of one’s second-order reason was driven home to me by an anonymous referee, for which I am grateful.
See, for example, Velleman (2000, p. 26).
For a discussion of some exceptional cases, where contextualizing may not count as cheating, see Broome (1991, Chap. 5).
Velleman (1993, p. 239).
Setiya (2003, p. 376).
Velleman’s response here shows that he takes self-intelligibility to be achieved partly by comparing one’s own behavior with that of others.
I am grateful to an anonymous referee for pressing me on this point.
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I am grateful first and foremost to John Broome and Ralph Wedgwood, for many invaluable suggestions and discussions. For their very helpful comments on earlier drafts, I’d like to thank also John Brunero, David Enoch, Nadeem Hussain, Noa Leibowitz, Nic Southwood, Jonathan Way, an anonymous referee, and audiences at LSE, and the University of York.