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Postures of the Mind

Postures of the Mind: Essays on Mind and Morals

Annette Baier
Copyright Date: 1985
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Postures of the Mind
    Book Description:

    Annette Baier develops, in these essays, a posture in philosophy of mind and in ethics that grows out of her reading of Hume and the later Wittgenstein, and that challenges several Kantian or analytic articles of faith. She questions the assumption that intellect has authority over all human feelings and traditions; that to recognize order we must recognize universal laws - descriptive or prescriptive; that the essential mental activity is representing; and that mental acts can be analyzed into discrete basic elements, combined according to statable rules of synthesis. In the first group of essays - “Varieties of Mental Postures” - Baier evaluates the positions taken by philosophers ranging from Descartes to Dennett and Davidson. Among her topics are remembering, intending, realizing, caring, representing, changing one’s mind, justifying one’s actions and feelings, and having conflicting reasons for them. The second group of essays - “Varieties of Moral Postures” - explores the sort of morality we get when all of these capacities become reflective and self-corrective. Some deal with particular moral issues - our treatment of animals, our policies regarding risk to human life, our contractual obligations; others, with more general questions on the role of moral philosophers and the place of moral theory. These essays respond to the theories of Hobbes, Kant, Rawls, and MacIntyre, but Baier’s most positive reaction is to David Hume; Postures of the Mind affirms and cultivates his version of a moral reflection that employs feeling and tradition as well as reason.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5548-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Part I. Varieties of Mental Postures

    • [Part I. Introduction]
      (pp. 1-7)

      Kant says that “Das Begehrungsvermögen ist das Vermögen desselben, durch seine Vorstellungen Ursache von der Wirklichkeit der Gegenstände dieser Vorstellungen zu sein.” [“The faculty of desire is the faculty of such a (living) being to make its representations the cause of the reality of the objects they represent.” Footnote 7 to the Preface to theKritik der Praktischen Vernuft.] This is a perennially tempting view. If one sees the quintessentially mental act to be representation, then, armed with the relation between a representation and what it represents, and the causal relation, one can see mind as playing a causal role...

    • 1 Mixing Memory and Desire
      (pp. 8-21)

      From Locke to Bernard Williams¹ and Derek Parfit,² both memory and desire, or strictly speaking, memory andintention, have figured prominently in attempted analyses of personal identity. I shall in this paper offer no analysis of personal identity, nor even attempt to show how memory and intention come together in a person’s present awareness of him-or-herself. What I shall do is try to show three features common to the objects of both remembering and intending which mark them off from other intentional objects, yet it is because I believe these features relevant to the more ambitious project of explicating personal...

    • 2 Realizing What’s What
      (pp. 22-33)

      Vendler, inRes Cogitans,¹ contrasts what we believe with what we know, and concludes that it is not possible for what is believed to be known, nor what is known to be believed. Part of his argument depends upon a contrast between the indefinite relativewhat, replaceable bythat which, and thewh-nominalizationwhat:

      (1) She believes what he believes.

      (2) She wonders what he believes.

      (3) She knows what he believes.

      In (1) thewhatis an indefinite relative pronoun; in (2) and (3) it is awh-nominalization. Vendler’s reading of (3) is one which rejects, as a reading...

    • 3 Intention, Practical Knowledge, and Representation
      (pp. 34-50)

      Danto says “that we can change the world to fit our representations, as in action, or change our representations to fit the world, as in knowledge, are marvelous powers, but they require reference to representation.” I shall make some fairly obvious points about representation, some more controversial claims about intentional action, taking my cue in both cases from things Descartes says on these topics. Since Descartes is said to have given us the problem of how a movement in the material world can be mind-imbued or mind-informed enough to count as an intentional act, it seems only proper to see...

    • 4 Mind and Change of Mind
      (pp. 51-73)

      I shall take up Nietzsche’s investigation into the many things presupposed in the existence of a person with the right to make a promise. He emphasized the selective memory that must be “burned in,” the selective ignoring, the regulation, foresight, premeditation that must precede the right to ordain the future in a promise. A promise is not merely a fixing of the future—any intention is that—it is a renunciation of the liberty to change one’s mind, to revise that fixing. Where Nietzsche saw the “real problem regarding man” as the emergence of an animal with the right to...

    • 5 Cartesian Persons
      (pp. 74-92)

      Strawson’s account of persons, inIndividuals, highlights the fact that persons have both physical and psychological predicates, and also the fact that psychological predicates have the same sense in their first and third person uses. “It is essential to the character of these predicates that they have both first and third person ascriptive uses, that they are both self-ascribable otherwise than on a basis of observation of the behaviour of the subject of them, and other-ascribable on the basis of behavioural criteria.”¹ Strawson contrasts his view with that of Descartes, whom he takes to give priority to self-ascriptive uses and...

    • 6 Caring about Caring: A Reply to Frankfurt
      (pp. 93-108)

      In his deep (and, I think, deeply Spinozistic) paper Frankfurt offers us a distinction, which I find important, between the things which are important to us, because they affect our lives in ways we find important, and things or persons we care about, where this caringmakessomething important which need not have been so. We invest ourselves in what we care about, make ourselves vulnerable in ways we need not have been to the losses and griefs we will suffer when what we care about is defeated, or tortured, or dead, or permanently absent from our lives. To care...

    • 7 Actions, Passions, and Reasons
      (pp. 109-134)

      Eliot’s shadows fall between intention and action, emotion and response. But there is also the earlier shadow that sometimes falls between reasons to intend and intending. Life being very long, there can be time for deliberation before intention-formation, as well as for conception before creation. Is there any similar formative process for feelings, any room for malformation, for a weakness of the heart paralleling weakness of the will? Reasons for feeling, like reasons for believing, tend to act upon us without our having to do anything except become aware of those reasons. Faced with a reason for feeling anger, straightway...

  5. Part II. Varieties of Moral Postures

    • [Part II. Introduction]
      (pp. 135-138)

      One could make a rough division of moral philosophers between those who feel the need to connect their moral philosophy with their epistemology, and those who feel the need to connect it with their philosophy of mind. If one thinks, like Kant, that we are confronted with something called the moral law, as we are with the starry heavens, then we will need a way to discern it clearly, we will want in both cases to check our cognitive telescopes. The termsreason, law, andepistemebelong together. By contrast, if one’s “epistemology” gets submerged in one’s study of believing,...

    • 8 Knowing Our Place in the Animal World
      (pp. 139-156)

      Rawls, inA Theory of Justice, says that “a correct account of our relations to animals and to nature would seem to depend upon a theory of the natural order and of our place in it. How far justice as fairness will have to be revised to fit into this larger theory it is impossible to say” (1971, p. 512). Rawls had not felt the need for a theory larger than his Kantian interpretation of fairness when, earlier, he had discussed principles of right for individuals, such as duties not to injure and duties of mutual aid. Such duties, when...

    • 9 Frankena and Hume on Points of View
      (pp. 157-173)

      Frankena sees moral point of view theories as steering a middle course between skepticism or relativism in ethics and absolutism or dogmatism.¹ The constraints of a distinctive point of view limit the range of moral judgments, provide some basis to expect agreement between different moral judges, and generate standards if not of moral truth at least of moral acceptability. Since however these constraints arise only from the moral point of view, they are avoidable if the point of view is avoidable, and do not impose absolute inescapable demands on every person. Frankena sees the judgments made from the moral point...

    • 10 Promises, Promises, Promises
      (pp. 174-206)

      A promise, according to Hume,¹ Austin,² Searle,³ and Anscombe,⁴ is a speech act whereby one alters the moral situation. One does not merely represent some possible state of affairs, one brings it about—makes it the case that, from being free in some respect, one is thereafter unfree, until the obligation taken on in the promise is discharged.

      This is surely correct, as far as it goes. To give a promise is to alter one’s moral position, to take on a new responsibility. But, as Cavell⁵ has objected, one does not need anything as elaborate as a special ritual act,...

    • 11 Theory and Reflective Practices
      (pp. 207-227)

      The usual assumption, when one speaks of “applied ethics,” is that there is something called moral theory, and that such a theory can be applied to give guidance in concrete human situations, perhaps with the help of a body of professionals, heirs to the casuists, whose job it is to show how a given moral theory applies to a case. I want to challenge the value of that assumption, and, very sketchily, to suggest an alternative idea of how we can, by taking thought, act more wisely than we might otherwise have done.

      The casuists who applied Christian moral teaching...

    • 12 Doing without Moral Theory?
      (pp. 228-245)

      When one turns from Aristotle’s or Hume’s moral philosophy to contemporary moral philosophy, several differences are bound to strike one. First is the fact that neither of these two (nor most who come between them) anticipate much disagreement among their readers about the actual moral judgments they endorse in their philosophy—neither Aristotle nor Hume expect any serious dissent from the list of virtues they endorse. (Hume, it must be admitted, is sometimes disingenuous here—he knows that there will be those who refuse to transfer celibacy, fasting, silence, humility, and the rest of the monkish characteristics to the column...

    • 13 Civilizing Practices
      (pp. 246-262)

      MacIntyre’s diagnosis¹ of where we stand, as far as morality goes, emphasizes the “arbitrary self-will” behind the contemporary “masks of morality.” His story of how we got to this state is a story of loss of faith in a shared morality, in guidance by what presumably was either not will at all, or was some less arbitrary and more rational and invariant “will,” by a tradition that nurtured those practices into which individual persons were initiated, so that they could combine participation in them into meaningful life-histories. The larger continuing narrative of a cultural and religious tradition sustained the individual...

    • 14 Poisoning the Wells
      (pp. 263-291)

      Morality is the culturally acquired art of selecting which harms to notice and worry about, where the worry takes the form of bad conscience or resentment. Were we to keep on our conscience all the harm we are doing, all the risks we are imposing, and to resent all the harms and risks we are subjected to, our moral energies would be, as Hume put it, “dissipated and lost for want of a proper limited object.”¹ When is a public policy which entails death for some, risk of death for more, a policy which offends against moral standards? Which deaths,...

    • 15 Secular Faith
      (pp. 292-308)

      Both in ethics and in epistemology one source of skepticism in its contemporary version is the realization, often belated, of the full consequences of atheism. Modern nonmoral philosophy looks back to Descartes as its father figure, but disowns theThird Meditation. But if God does not underwrite one’s cognitive powers, what does? The largely unknown evolution of them, which is just a version of Descartes’ unreliable demon? “Let us . . . grant that all that is here said of God is a fable, nevertheless in whatever way they suppose that I have arrived at the state of being that...

  6. Index
    (pp. 311-314)
  7. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-315)