• Moliere
    1.2k
    How do appeals to practical reason work?

    Practical reason, roughly, is the concept of reason playing a role in action. It is thought to be quite different from theoretical reason because its aim is not truth, but proper conduct. This need not be moral conduct -- it can be prudence or self-interest. But in some way reason is still appealed to in deliberating on a proper course of action.

    It would seem that appeals to emotion are pertinent. If we feel nothing then how could we make a decision? Surely the heart must play some sort of role, even if it be delimited to only include proper sorts of motivations (common injunctions here being against acting out of fear, but for acting out of compassion).

    It would also seem that some kind of shared set of beliefs would be needed for appeals to work. Appeals, while emotional, would also have to be in part cognitive for them to be appeals, or for them to be counted as reason at all. And without shared beliefs there just wouldn't be anything cognitive to appeal to -- I have in mind here precepts, laws, commitments, or agreements.

    Some might think that practical reason is entirely unworkable, a sort of over-reach born out of a desire to make everything subject to reason. But I think prudence is a good model to look at here -- we must, at times, make plans which requires us to bring to bear the powers of reason in deliberating on action. Also the intentional cultivation of good habits (or the cessation of bad ones) -- usually there is a reason we are doing so, and while it doesn't always work out it does some of the time.

    I think there are probably limits to practical reasoning. I'd be interested in understanding the limitations of reason as it is applied to our practical lives. So rather than how does it work, I'd be asking when does practical reason work? When doesn't it work? And when should it and shouldn't it?
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    Some remarks:

    I think that the question is really too broad to be fairly answered. I'm more than happy to hear input, of course, but I'm also partially using this as a public scratch pad -- if something sparks, then great, but I'm sort of just thinking through things with the hope that input might be received.

    Why the question is important: meta-philosophically I've come to believe two things. One, that philosophy and reason are inextricable. And two, that philosophy should address the needs of people. So philosophy is the pursuit of a good life through the path of reason. Or, in a more limited sense, philosophy is the pursuit of a good life when reason is called for.

    While there are theoretical concerns in philosophy, as well, I think that from my side of things -- outside of academia -- that such concerns are not the main organizing principle of philosophy. I simply do not have the time necessary to deliberate such things (I also suspect that such debate is interminable and indeterminable, but I'd rather set that aside for now). But, regardless of the time allotted me, I and we all must do things. So in a sense this practical side of philosophy is more important merely by the fact that it is inescapable -- we all do things in the world. And insofar that truth matters to our doing we care about truth, but we can also ignore it to the extent that it does not impact upon our cares. But we cannot ignore waking up and having things to do. (I say "things to do" rather than "make choices" or some such formulation to avoid notions of choice, control, and will which are related but not of interest to me here.)

    I phrase the question in terms of of the how of justification and when it's appropriate or working to avoid questions about what. I don't care what it is. I care how it works, how to phrase things more clearly, when reason should be used. Given my meta-philosophical beliefs these questions are similar to asking about the limits of philosophy, though I'd rather not go the meta-route. For me those answers are fixed at the moment. What is in flux, and uncertain, are my thoughts on reason.
  • Posty McPostface
    3.5k
    Why the question is important: meta-philosophically I've come to believe two things. One, that philosophy and reason are inextricable. And two, that philosophy should address the needs of people. So philosophy is the pursuit of a good life through the path of reason. Or, in a more limited sense, philosophy is the pursuit of a good life when reason is called for.Moliere

    All of this sounds very similar to the ethos that pragmatism propounded. For all intents and purposes, "practical reason" and "being pragmatic" could be used interchangeably.

    Hope that helped.
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    I think there's definitely similarity, but I think there's some important differences too. I'm sympathetic to the notion that truth is correspondence, though aware of its limitations. I think that theoretical problems are meaningful. I think there's a distinction to be had between these different appeals to reason -- so, for instance, just because it may make me feel good to believe something is true that does not have any influence upon whether it is true or not. But in the case of practical reason if somethings makes me or others feel good that's pretty darn important to consider.

    I'm also drawing my inspiration from different thinkers, which is likely to bring up differences I think. So Aristotle and Kant make hey with this notion of practical reason vs. theoretical reason. And Epicurus sort of calls into question the importance of theoretical reason in his philosophy, as does Levinas, and places more importance on the practical, the ethical side of thinking. These are the thinkers that are on my mind in formulating things this way.
  • T Clark
    3k
    Practical reason, roughly, is the concept of reason playing a role in action. It is thought to be quite different from theoretical reason because its aim is not truth, but proper conduct. This need not be moral conduct -- it can be prudence or self-interest. But in some way reason is still appealed to in deliberating on a proper course of action.Moliere

    Earlier today I wrote the following over in PMcP's Objective/Subjective Trap discussion. It seems relevant:

    I have toyed with the idea that the truth is what you can convince people of. I think that's true in the context of truth leading to action, which is a political, not logical or philosophical, truth. That's where consensus comes in. When it's time to act, we have to do the best we can, which is consensus. Of course, as is shown by the climate change debate, it's easier said than done.T Clark
  • Posty McPostface
    3.5k
    I'm sympathetic to the notion that truth is correspondence, though aware of its limitations.Moliere

    What are they?

    But in the case of practical reason if somethings makes me or others feel good that's pretty darn important to consider.Moliere

    You mean utilitarianism?

    I'm also drawing my inspiration from different thinkers, which is likely to bring up differences I think. So Aristotle and Kant make hey with this notion of practical reason vs. theoretical reason. And Epicurus sort of calls into question the importance of theoretical reason in his philosophy, as does Levinas, and places more importance on the practical, the ethical side of thinking. These are the thinkers that are on my mind in formulating things this way.Moliere

    Interesting. I wonder what kind of eclectic philosophy you have compiled. Let us know so we may benefit too.
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    What are they?Posty McPostface

    The slingshot argument, introduced to me on these forums (or the last?), persuaded me of the limitations of the correspondence theory of truth. I found what look to be lecture notes on it here which explains the argument pretty well step by step with examples.


    You mean utilitarianism?Posty McPostface

    Not necessarily. Though I don't mean to rule out any normative theory either. I'm more interested in the conditions under which an appeal to act thus and so, rather than otherwise, would work -- and the extent to which reason can influence action, and when it should or shouldn't.

    Here I'm just trying to justify the distinction between theoretical and practical reason -- with theoretical reason appeals to emotion don't influence the truth of some proposition so it doesn't make a difference to justification. But in action emotion, pleasure, and so forth, do make a difference to how we actually act. They are important considerations in considering what it means to live the good life.

    Interesting. I wonder what kind of eclectic philosophy you have compiled. Let us know so we may benefit too.Posty McPostface

    Heh. Thanks for the encouragement.
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    Some other condition:

    In order for an appeal to work it would seem that we would already have to consider the speaker as somehow someone worth listening to. Emotional appeals to shared precepts are not enough, as we can see there are many people who share a tradition but who simply do not listen to one another -- they view others in the light of someone who never says anything worth listening to. Consider, for instance, political parties in a democracy at odds with one another -- there comes a point where appeals are no longer being made. What use words are being put to is as tools of manipulation, as weapons to win, because there is an enemy to defeat. These are not appeals to reason, but strategies of war. All the same the two parties at least claim to have similar precepts.

    So mere agreement is not enough. We need to hear another -- an Other? -- in order for an appeal to work. There is something about listening that must be incorporated.
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    Truth-as-consensus seems to miss what truth is. Just because a group of people come to an agreement that something is true that does not then mean that what they believe is true. And in politics, where we are making decisions, is it really truth that's being aimed at? In what sense?

    I'd say that consensus is a process of justification rather than a defining feature of truth. Actually this is interesting because consensus can play a role in both justifying belief to build knowledge as well as in justifying collective action -- though would it still be proper collective action? Or is the nature of collective action such that it is merely necessary to build consensus in order for it to take place?
  • T Clark
    3k
    Truth-as-consensus seems to miss what truth is. Just because a group of people come to an agreement that something is true that does not then mean that what they believe is true. And in politics, where we are making decisions, is it really truth that's being aimed at? In what sense?Moliere

    From what you wrote in the original post:

    Practical reason, roughly, is the concept of reason playing a role in action. It is thought to be quite different from theoretical reason because its aim is not truth, but proper conduct. This need not be moral conduct -- it can be prudence or self-interest. But in some way reason is still appealed to in deliberating on a proper course of action.Moliere

    I thought you and I were talking about the same thing. In what way is what you call "practical truth" different from what I call "political truth." I'm not talking about politics as in creating, enforcing, and judging laws, I'm talking about making group decisions about what to do next.
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    I thought you and I were talking about the same thing. In what way is what you call "practical truth" different from what I call "political truth." I'm not talking about politics as in creating, enforcing, and judging laws, I'm talking about making group decisions about what to do next.T Clark

    I just wouldn't call it truth. I'd say that we're aiming at proper action, rather than true actions. So there is what is true, and then there is what is good (unqualified, but not simpliciter -- just meaning I know that "good" can mean multiple things).

    So theoretical reason is the use of reasoning in the pursuit of the goal of truth or knowledge. Whereas practical reason is the use of reason in the pursuit of the goal of the good or proper conduct (be it collective or otherwise).
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    Perhaps I should note that I don't think of reason as some cold set of rules of inference or Spock-like mentality, too. Reason is wholly motivated towards goals -- it is teleologically structured, and in human beings at least, this means motivation and emotion is part and parcel to reasoning. "Disinterested" takes on a new meaning here -- instead of being some pure archon of truth, a disinterested person is one who is motivated in the appropriate way given their profession or goal. It becomes a project of character building through education to create disinterested individuals who, though we are all motivated by emotion and goals, comes to what we consider to be generally agreeable and reasonable conclusions.
  • T Clark
    3k
    So theoretical reason is the use of reasoning in the pursuit of the goal of truth or knowledge. Whereas practical reason is the use of reason in the pursuit of the goal of the good or proper conduct (be it collective or otherwise).Moliere

    Sure, me calling it political truth is probably a misnomer, but it's a purposeful one. I have written in a number of discussions that, to me, truth is really only a tool to help us achieve the real goal of philosophy, which is to figure out what we should do next.
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    Sure, me calling it political truth is probably a misnomer, but it's a purposeful one. I have written in a number of discussions that, to me, truth is really only a tool to help us achieve the real goal of philosophy, which is to figure out what we should do next.T Clark

    I want to preserve this notion of theoretical thought. It makes more sense of much of philosophy -- rather than casting Plato's theory of the Forms in terms of a tool, it makes sense to say that Plato believed Truth to be a form which we could reach for. He seemed to also believe that knowing truth was enough to make good people -- in a way he collapses practical concerns into theoretical concerns. What the pragmatist does is the opposite -- truth is a tool to be put towards human ends, and nothing more. But this misses the meaning of truth, and also makes the practical concerns of life difficult to understand. (are we saying what we are saying about philosophy because it is a tool being used towards some end? Or are we implicitly assuming a theoretical notion of truth in setting things out thus and so?)

    But with some kind of theoretical notion of truth as being somehow related to knowledge -- without a theory, it does seem we have a pre-theoretic understanding of truth, despite the problems with all theories of truth (including deflationary ones) -- it's easy to be able to say that what we are doing here, in producing knowledge, we can also use these abilities in the pursuit of other goals. One of which is the good life.

    I don't want to commit myself to the notion that my normative claim on philosophy is the real goal of philosophy. Rather I think of it is a commitment on my part to what I think is interesting in philosophy for myself and possibly others like me. But it's wholly possible for someone to abandon that precept and engage in philosophy in a purely theoretical manner. In fact, many philosophers do exactly that. If they didn't share my precept, there would be no appeal I could make to them though. And while I think practical concerns are primary, in the sense that I want to intentionally make ethics my first philosophy, I can't deny that there are those with a thirst for truth and knowledge instead.
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    Although, hey! I did just identify a contradiction in my thinking. Generally I think of philosophy as thoroughly useless, but here I am saying that philosophy is bound up with reason -- while characterizing reason as teleological. Hrm. Gotta think through that one.
  • T Clark
    3k
    I want to preserve this notion of theoretical thought. It makes more sense of much of philosophy -- rather than casting Plato's theory of the Forms in terms of a tool, it makes sense to say that Plato believed Truth to be a form which we could reach for. He seemed to also believe that knowing truth was enough to make good people -- in a way he collapses practical concerns into theoretical concerns. What the pragmatist does is the opposite -- truth is a tool to be put towards human ends, and nothing more. But this misses the meaning of truth, and also makes the practical concerns of life difficult to understand. (are we saying what we are saying about philosophy because it is a tool being used towards some end? Or are we implicitly assuming a theoretical notion of truth in setting things out thus and so?)Moliere

    I have this image that comes to me when I deal with this issue. I don't intend this to be taken literally. It's just my way of thinking about it. It's an amoeba flowing around and moving away from something harmful or toward food based on chemical signals. There is an obviously very simple mechanism which tells the amoeba what to do. I see our nervous system as analogous to that. The whole thing is just a mechanism to tell us what to do next. Over billions of years, the mechanism has gotten a lot more complicated, but it's goal is still the same, to keep us alive by directing our behavior. Thought and consciousness are just manifestations of that mechanism. Knowledge and reason are just processes within that manifestation. Truth is just a possible feature of that process.

    For me, looking at things through the lens of truth is misleading. To believe in truth you have to believe in the existence of objective reality, which I think is questionable. Actually, it's not a belief in truth or objective reality I reject, it's the belief that a view of reality including those concepts is somehow privileged over other ways of seeing things.
  • mcdoodle
    984
    How do appeals to practical reason work?

    Practical reason, roughly, is the concept of reason playing a role in action. It is thought to be quite different from theoretical reason because its aim is not truth, but proper conduct. This need not be moral conduct -- it can be prudence or self-interest. But in some way reason is still appealed to in deliberating on a proper course of action.
    Moliere

    I am interested in this question. One interesting factor to me is the relation between ancient and modern. Aristotle considers an ethical education to involve inculcating the right 'habits'. Wittgenstein worries and worries over what it is to 'follow a rule'. It feels to me that 'habits' and 'rule-following' are similar if not identical phenomena. We arrive at rules/habits - we reflect on them, reason about them, perhaps try to change them - we have a new set of rules/habits. (Ari considers this ethical, though in a broader sense than the modern; Witt is unclear)

    This is one approach towards practical reason or phronesis. It seems there is some process behind such analysis as encapsulated in the Aristotelian syllogism: there will be a series of steps from an initial set of presuppositions that make sense to us. We will have reasons-for. (Looked at in two ways: the post hoc reasoning, and the actual why-one-did-it)

    The next and wierdest question is: How does a being make a decision? How is all this reasoning related to decision-making? Much writing on the subject just assumes some sort of relation. Yet much of the time it's like riding a bike: we practice over and over until we do an action without having to analyse how we're doing it. Even with intellectually complex decisions, how we act can boil down to such shortcuts, rules.

    I've been reading about the tragic fire in a high-rise block, Grenfell Tower in London. Quite apart from the longer-term issues of how the building was refurbished, the decision-making on the night of the fire is a lesson in how we employ practical reasoning. Many people died by obeying fire officers' advice to stay in their flats, even turning back when they were escaping when so advised, turning back against their own self-wisdom to their deaths. The fire officers themselves were following their superiors' orders and their training. Deference to authority, and fidelity to rules for which the particular situation was inappropriate, got in the way of practical reasoning from first principles. We are highly intelligent animals but we are rule-followers, and the rule-following is part of what we think of as our intelligence.
  • T Clark
    3k
    Deference to authority, and fidelity to rules for which the particular situation was inappropriate, got in the way of practical reasoning from first principles.mcdoodle

    I don't think your conclusion is correct. In a situation where I don't have experience or specific knowledge about the situation, it makes a lot of sense for me to listen to someone who is experienced and who, it's reasonable for me to assume, does have specific knowledge. People follow "their own self-wisdom" to their doom all the time. In this case, deference to authority wasn't inappropriate. Sometimes, even when you do things correctly, bad things happen.
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    I have this image that comes to me when I deal with this issue. I don't intend this to be taken literally. It's just my way of thinking about it. It's an amoeba flowing around and moving away from something harmful or toward food based on chemical signals. There is an obviously very simple mechanism which tells the amoeba what to do. I see our nervous system as analogous to that. The whole thing is just a mechanism to tell us what to do next. Over billions of years, the mechanism has gotten a lot more complicated, but it's goal is still the same, to keep us alive by directing our behavior. Thought and consciousness are just manifestations of that mechanism. Knowledge and reason are just processes within that manifestation. Truth is just a possible feature of that process.

    For me, looking at things through the lens of truth is misleading. To believe in truth you have to believe in the existence of objective reality, which I think is questionable. Actually, it's not a belief in truth or objective reality I reject, it's the belief that a view of reality including those concepts is somehow privileged over other ways of seeing things.
    T Clark

    I might have a broader notion of theoretical reasoning here that I'm not making clear -- because everything you say here, from my perspective, is purely theoretical. Concerns about objective reality, whether reason is rooted in our biological capacities, a world cast as a mechanism, and ways of perceiving reality that may be just as good as those concerned with spelling out the truth of things in a correspondent fashion where the word and world resonate with one another --- all of these are theoretical uses of reason. I say that in contrast to a practical reason which would actually tell me what is worth valuing, or give me some kind of consideration on how to act appropriately, or would orient persons to develop their characters in a good way.

    In preserving notions of theoretical thought I don't mean to denigrate other ways of seeing things -- in fact I'd say that theoretical thought, broadly construed, would admit of a multitude of ways of seeing things. "Ways of seeing" seems to me to be a subset of theoretical thinking since we use such ways to perceive, believe, and think about the world.

    I'd just say that it is true that there are other ways of seeing things. ;)
  • Moliere
    1.2k
    Glad to hear from you @mcdoodle

    I am interested in this question. One interesting factor to me is the relation between ancient and modern. Aristotle considers an ethical education to involve inculcating the right 'habits'. Wittgenstein worries and worries over what it is to 'follow a rule'. It feels to me that 'habits' and 'rule-following' are similar if not identical phenomena. We arrive at rules/habits - we reflect on them, reason about them, perhaps try to change them - we have a new set of rules/habits. (Ari considers this ethical, though in a broader sense than the modern; Witt is unclear)mcdoodle

    I agree that the relation between the ancient and the modern is really interesting. And, as my thinking goes anyway, I have a tendency to synthesize between the two. For one it seems to me futile to propose ancient ethical philosophy as a serious contender if we take it to the letter -- those were different times.

    For two, we have to be able to speak to people. And modern thought on ethics is necessary to proceed in this manner.

    I had never thought about the relationship between Witti's rule-following and Aristotle's habits. I think you're on to something there. Especially through habituation -- we don't come to question a habit without some kind of force. And with rule-following we simply follow the rule as a necessary part of playing the game -- to question the rule is similar to questioning a habit. (though with Witti we get no guidance on the ethical either).

    This is one approach towards practical reason or phronesis. It seems there is some process behind such analysis as encapsulated in the Aristotelian syllogism: there will be a series of steps from an initial set of presuppositions that make sense to us. We will have reasons-for. (Looked at in two ways: the post hoc reasoning, and the actual why-one-did-it)mcdoodle

    I'd be interested in hearing more about this series of steps. I can kind of see it with respect to the syllogism, and it certainly fits Aristotle's patterns of thought, but I'm wondering how you relate that back to habituation and rule-following. Like, there's a series of habits which build good character and develops phronesis?

    The next and wierdest question is: How does a being make a decision? How is all this reasoning related to decision-making? Much writing on the subject just assumes some sort of relation. Yet much of the time it's like riding a bike: we practice over and over until we do an action without having to analyse how we're doing it. Even with intellectually complex decisions, how we act can boil down to such shortcuts, rules.mcdoodle

    Definitely. For now I think it might help to just look at how we might change our decisions rather than trying to find a base for making any decision. At least our acts are always in play, and we can see that we do, in fact, change course -- and sometimes that change of course is because of reason. "Because" not in a causal sense here. The causal mechanism, I think, is a purely theoretic way of coming to understanding human action. So we get Freud's unconscious, and a dollop of post-hoc rationalizations after the fact. But in what way is that even useful to thinking through a decision, or deliberating on the right way to become, or making a decision in the face of an event that calls into question a previous habit?

    None. It would almost be laughable if someone were to tell me that they did something because they had to resolve some unconscious drive. It would be like they stepped outside of themselves and pictured themselves as a sort of machine, realizing they only had one lever and pulled it. Like, who thinks like that? And, if so, how does it actually help in thinking through our actions?

    I think you're right to say that it's like riding a bike, and that there are certainly "short cuts" involved -- I don't think that syllogistic reasoning or reflective reasoning plays the primary role in our daily actions. I think habit has a lot to say here (though, side note: I am interested in habit, too. What lies under the hood of habit? And what does the explanation of habit actually explain?). Only that it plays some role some of the time (and, possibly, could even be made to play more of a role, though I don't know if that's even desirable)

    I've been reading about the tragic fire in a high-rise block, Grenfell Tower in London. Quite apart from the longer-term issues of how the building was refurbished, the decision-making on the night of the fire is a lesson in how we employ practical reasoning. Many people died by obeying fire officers' advice to stay in their flats, even turning back when they were escaping when so advised, turning back against their own self-wisdom to their deaths. The fire officers themselves were following their superiors' orders and their training. Deference to authority, and fidelity to rules for which the particular situation was inappropriate, got in the way of practical reasoning from first principles. We are highly intelligent animals but we are rule-followers, and the rule-following is part of what we think of as our intelligence.mcdoodle

    Sometimes I think the rule-following bit is a bit more a convenience of the world we live in and a product of our educational systems. It's easier to govern large swathes of people who are accustomed to hierarchy and authority.

    That's a terribly sad story, though. Instead of trusting what was right in front of their face they trusted the words of authority. That's kind of crazy.
  • mcdoodle
    984
    In this case, deference to authority wasn't inappropriate. Sometimes, even when you do things correctly, bad things happenT Clark

    The tragedy of the case is though that many of the tenants fleeing had more knowledge about the fire than the fire officers who advised them. But they valued their knowledge less than they valued the rightness of authority. I'm not offering an ethical judgment. It's tragic. No-one is to blame, as between tenant and fire-officer.
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