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November 15, 2006


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Hmm. I'm not sure about the double standards bit. I've never heard Gil object to expressivism on the basis of the objection that expressivists can't show that Hitler had a reason to do . . .(fill this in as you like). And in fact, he obviously recognizes the counter-intuitive implications of a pure agent relativist view, such that he adds speaker relativist elements (roughly that judgements must be relative to standards that the agent is committed to on the assumption that the speaker and audience accept those standards). So, as far as I can tell, his arguments don't involve double standards. Similarly, the other (former?) relativist I know well, Jamie, doesn't use arguments against expressivism that would equally apply to relativism. In fact, Jamie often seems to be trying to figure out whether expressivism can solve some of the problems (such as the embedding problem) that it seems subject to.

None of this is to say that different people don't have different ideas of which bullets to be bitten are more or less palatable, and often one's choice of theory is reflective of that. But that is not a matter of applying different standards to different competing theories, but of people having different views about the weights of various standards as applied to any theory.

As for bedrock, I think it's overrated. For any claim that someone might legitimately regard as reasonably indubitable, there's still going to someone who doubts it. So your still going to have to figure out something to say on its behalf to that person. This means that even if some claim is sufficiently plausible that I am reasonable to regard it as bedrock in forming my own beliefs, I can't do a very good job of convincing someone else if I'm not willing to act like it isn't bedrock in conversation.

Mark, this is an interesting thing to say,

. . . For any claim that someone might legitimately regard as reasonably indubitable, there's still going to someone who doubts it. So your still going to have to figure out something to say on its behalf to that person.

I don't doubt the first sentence as it's written, but why conclude (unless you're feeling really generous) that you have to figure out something to say to each person that doubts it? But maybe I should be paraphrasing your first sentence this way,

For any claim that someone might legitimately regard as reasonably indubitable, there's still going to someone who reasonably doubts it.

This doesn't seem true to me. Not to invoke Hitler so early in the day, but I don't think someone can reasonably doubt whether killing 6 million people is, you know, wrong. Can that be reasonably doubted?


I'm not (overly)generously saying that any claim can be reasonably doubted. But I do think that most claims, including the ones I myself would think unreasonable to doubt, are in fact doubted by (otherwise) reasonable people. This happens just as often within philosophical discussions as in other contexts. And yet the conversation goes on, and I think that is a good thing. I just don't see any reason to limit what I'm willing to argue about and to try to find reasons for to just those things that people could reasonably doubt (by my lights).


I did not intend to say that Harman or Dreier are making the kind of objections against other views that could be launched against their own views. I just wonder why the attitude-dependence and its repugnant normative implications are so often brought up against expressivism (and taken seriously by expressivists) and not against the reasons-internalists (and not taken seriously by them).

I'm not also sure about whether I see the dialectical role of the bedrocks in the same way as you. Of course, I'm willing to take part in the debates about even unreasonably rejected bedrocks with otherwise reasonable people. I think it is more to do about the burdens of justification in such debates. If someone's view implies that I would need to abandon something that I regard as a bedrock, then, if the argument is to give any rational pressure for me to change my mind, the argument better start from premisses that are more justified and bedrocky than the bedrock that becomes threatened. I guess this is the Moorean point. If there are no such premisses, then giving up the bedrock would be really odd on the basis of beliefs I'm less certain about and justified in believing in. Other man's modus ponens in that case seems to be my modus tollens.


I'm not saying I should disregard what I take to be bedrock in figuring out what I think. But I think in argument and conversation with others the most I can do is say that I think some claim is hard or impossible for me to doubt, but I still think I have to go on and defend it in some other way if the people I'm talking to don't agree.


that's true. But, there are two sorts of cases. In one case, you can try to find something from the opponents own set of beliefs that would commit them to believing in what I regard as a bedrock. If they have in this situation denied the bedrock, then this option requires that they have been internally incoherent so far. Our attempt to get them to agree with us consists of making their incoherences explicit for them and hoping that they solve the incoherences the right way.

However, not many people in philosophical debates are incoherent in this way. I wonder what arguments you could give in that case to get them to accept the bedrock they reject. Any other premises in such arguments would seem to be even more dubitable than the bedrocks they are already rejecting. Of course, you can point to the bedrock and make it vivid - show the horrors of concentration camps and say 'don't you see!'. If they don't, I'm not sure there is much left to do. You start to wonder whether they are even competent with the moral terms that we have - whether they are playing the same game.

As philosophers we have a tendency to think of all rational persuasion as a matter of arguments involving moves from premises to conclusions. I think that this is a bit too limited as your suggestion of making something vivid points out. I do think that sometimes highlighting what a person already knows can sometimes get them to feel its force differently. And I think pointing as you suggest might be one way of doing that. So is offering analogies to explain why you see the force of a consideration as cutting in a certain way. Sometimes showing further implications of a view brings out a feature that makes it more or less plausible. Probably there are other things that don't amount to knock down argumentation but seem like rational argument nonetheless.

I'm not saying we could in principle never run out of things to say. Nor even less plausibly that the things I find to say will change the other person's mind. But as a matter of fact in real life I rarely hit a point at which there is nothing left to say. And I've never in a serious philosophical discussion thought that any impasse reached was due to lack of linguistic competence.

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