Saturday, October 6, 2012

Choosing Our Motives

Leiter has a new post with a poll about the breakdown between vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores in philosophy. While this is interesting information to have, I guess, I wonder about the second part of the poll, the one that asks people whether their eating is shaped by ethics. First, I have no idea how philosophers can still believe that any of us have access to our motives, so I'm generally skeptical of people who claim to be vegetarians for ethical reasons (apologies to those of you who do so claim, but I think you're wrong). Let's say that you believe eating meat is wrong. You also find it easy and convenient, for whatever reason, not to eat meat. There's a correlation. You know that there is a correlation. But how could you possibly establish that there is a causal connection? Of course if you believe that you ought to X, and you do in fact X, it's extremely tempting to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. But how do you know that you've done the job? I think we in general have reason to be suspicious of ascribing efficacious motives to ourselves, especially in cases where we are likely particularly prone to self-deception. And so we should, perhaps, try to avoid encouraging the practice. Here I am only making an epistemic point: there is no introspective method for determining which of your motives in fact caused your action (especially since (i) we do not know all our motives, and (ii) we need not be aware of those motives in order for them to have causal efficacy). But I think there is also an important point about the metaphysics of agency: we tend to think that we have a power to choose between our motives (some--mistakenly, in my view--call this power "free will"). But why should we think we have this power?

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