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Philosophical Topics

Volume 44, Issue 1, Spring 2016

Essays on the Philosophy of Frederick Stoutland

Anton Ford
Pages 141-161

On What Is in Front of Your Nose

The conclusion of practical reasoning is commonly said to rest upon a diverse pair of representations—a “major” and a “minor” premise—the first of which concerns the end and the second, the means. Modern and contemporary philosophers writing on action and practical reasoning tend to portray the minor premise as a “means-end belief”—a belief about, as Michael Smith puts it, “the ways in which one thing leads to another,” or, as John McDowell puts it, “what can be relied on to bring about what.” On this point there is little difference between followers of Davidson and followers of Anscombe, or between those who invoke Hume’s legacy and those who invoke Aristotle’s. But Aristotle himself held a very different position. According to him, the minor premise concerns particulars, a sphere controlled by perception. The perception of particulars—that is, of the really-existing people and things confronted in the field of action—plays no essential role in the modern account of rational agency. Because it does not, the modern account fails to explain how one could act for a reason, or how practical reasoning could deliver any conclusion.

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