requiem for certainty

Posts Tagged ‘ethics

Williams on Internal and External Reasons

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I’m not sure I entirely understand Bernard Williams’s views on internal and external reasons.  Fortunately, I’m not sure that most people who read his work (even publish on it) understand those views either.  (Maybe that’s just further blindness on my part but I think his work is rather more complex than is usually admitted.)  I do think that what I understand of his account usefully connects to some of his thoughts about history and how we can best make sense of ourselves and others.  (I proceed with the caveat that what follows is just notes and ramblings and may well be misguided [but I am committed to using this blog to just experiment more rather than to ‘be right’ or ‘show off’].)

Williams’s views are about reasons for actions and when we take reasons for actions to be explanatory of actions.  Here is a key claim in his 1979 piece on the matter: “nothing can explain an agent’s (intentional) actions except something that motivates him to act” (107).  This is reasons internalism, the idea that reasons for actions are internally related to being motivated to act.  The contrast view is reasons externalism, which suggests that sometimes there are reasons for actions which are normatively binding but which have no internal relations to agents’ motivations.

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Written by Colin Koopman

November 10, 2010 at 8:33 am

Ars Synthetica Conference

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Ars Synthetica: The Anthropology of the Contemporary took place this past Friday at UC Santa Cruz.  I organized this event to bring Paul Rabinow, some of his students in UC Berkeley Anthropology, and other colleagues working in collaboration in recent years, down to UCSC to present their work.  At the center of the event as we envisioned it was Rabinow’s newest offerings under the auspices of the Ars Synthetica web forum.  My thanks to all participants (both presenters and audience) for making this such an engaging, inspiring, and generative event.  It is exactly what I needed as I prepare to dive into a solid two weeks of revision and polishing before I send my Foucault manuscript off to the publisher for review.  Following is a short summary of the day’s three sessions.

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