PP-2004-31: The mind we do not change

PP-2004-31: Hinzen, Wolfram (2004) The mind we do not change. [Report]

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For many years Isaac Levi has been a staunch defender of a strictly
normative and prescriptive conception of rationality. The origin and
motivation for this crucial commitment, as it transpires particularly
clearly in The Covenant of Reason, has been Levi's exploration and
development of the Peirce-Dewey ``belief-doubt'' model of inquiry. On
the latter, justifiable change in state of belief is a species of
rational decision-making. This is what motivates Levi's concern with
``rationality'' in the first place. In fact, no substantive commitment
on what rationality substantively is -- or on what it is to be
rational -- emerges from this theoretical interest. In particular, we
are not told what beliefs or values we should have, which ones it is
rational to have, or how we should base our beliefs on
``evidence''. Rather, principles of rationality are primarily
justified instrumentally through their regulative use as formal
constraints on well-conducted inquiry and problem-solving, no matter
the domain, be it science, politics, economics, technology, or art, or
even simply the personal decisions we face in daily life. Given their
exceeding generality, we can only expect constraints on the coherence
of choice to be both formal and weak. Principles of rationality are to
be kept immune from revision if a general theory of how rational
changes in point of view are to be justified is to be possible at
all. But I understand this is to be an essentially practical
necessity, which does not depend on a notion of what the ``essence''
of rationality is. We are dealing with a fundamentally instrumental
conception of rationality here, not with a conception in which
rationality is something to strive for or to analyse for its own sake.

I find much to admire in this vision, whose at times quite radical
minimalism and modesty as regards the study of rationality contrasts
quite sharply with more portentous conceptions of it (and of us as
``essentially rational beings''): e.g., it seems to offer little
support for the idea that the theory of rationality can be appealed to
in an effort to explain and ``rationalize'' the political and economic
organization of modern societies, say as the forming of a form of
``contract'' between naturally constituted rational individuals
confronting each other as competitors for scarce resources in a state
of nature. On a different score, despite its decidedly narrow focus
Levi's vision of rationality has clear and ramified implications for
the agenda of 20th century philosophy, not only with regard to
metaphysical issues of correspondence and reference or the nature of
propositions (cf. Levi 1991), but also with regard to the issue of
meaning, the analytic, and the apriori. The best parts of the latter,
one might argue Levi's viewpoint to imply, fall out from an account of
how our revisions of belief are constrained (so that analytic truths,
in particular, would be an epiphenomenon of the fact that beliefs have
varying degrees of entrenchment).

All that said, I will use this opportunity to take a step back and
read Levi somewhat against himself, confronting his vision of
philosophy and rationality with another, more naturalistic one, in
ways that may not only illuminate it, but also change it
internally. Particularly if rationality is fundamentally instrumental,
naturalizing rationality seems an option, contrary to what Levi
suggests. There is, I emphasize, no question that metaphysical issues
such as naturalization are peripheral to Levi's main concerns. Even
epistemological issues have an unclear status, if these, say, include
debates over the correctness of empiricist versus pragmatist or
rationalist so-called ``theories of knowledge''. Levi, while of course
a committed pragmatist, does not actually give us a ``theory of
knowledge'', especially if this includes a conceptual definition of
what knowledge is (cf. Levi 1980, henceforth EK, section 1.9). An
analysis of the ``Enterprise of Knowledge'' -- a theory of justified
change of belief or states of knowledge -- is a quite different
enterprise. Still, I will argue that discussing features of both
naturalism and rationalism helps bringing important features of Levi's
philosophy clearer into view. The bottom-line is that while it is
true, of course, in one sense, that we ``change our minds'' (how we
should do so being Levi's lifelong theme), there is also the mind we
do not change: the (rational) mind we happen to have, by virtue of our
evolution and nature.

Item Type: Report
Report Nr: PP-2004-31
Series Name: Prepublication (PP) Series
Year: 2004
Uncontrolled Keywords: belief revision; normativity; Isaac Levi
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2016 14:36
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2016 14:36
URI: https://eprints.illc.uva.nl/id/eprint/142

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