Work in Progress

Thinking and Knowing

The aim of this book is to defend the (essentially Kantian) view that thought is the capacity for knowledge. The central idea––which is at least implicitly rejected even by most contemporary Kantians––is that the key to understanding the faculty of thinking is to see that the most fundamental act of thought is the act of acquiring knowledge (by, for example, perceiving or inferring). In the first part of the book, I argue that a long string of failures––to explain Fregean thoughts or propositions in terms of Fregean senses or concepts or objects and properties; to explain the so-called propositional attitudes in terms of Fregean thoughts or propositions; to explain acts of inferring in terms of the propositional attitudes; and to explain knowledge-producing inferences in terms of non-knowledge-producing ones––together motivate the treatment of acts of acquiring knowledge (or, as I also call them, successful epistemic acts) as being, in a certain sense, theoretically primitive. In the second part of the book, I then show how to go about providing an account of various phenomena typically treated as relatively more fundamental––in particular, concepts (or Fregean senses), Fregean thoughts, and unsuccessful epistemic acts (acts of acquiring mere beliefs)––in terms of successful epistemic acts. Finally, in the third part of the book, I show that the notion of a successful epistemic act can be used, in conjunction with the idea (defended by a number of contemporary Kantians, including, in particular, Sebastian Rödl) that self-consciousness is a special and sui generis way of knowing your own mental states and acts, to provide an account of the faculty of reason (as opposed to the mere faculty of thinking, which is common to rational and non-rational animals) as the capacity to acquire self-conscious knowledge. A key advantage of the theory thus developed is that it can abandon the popular but mysterious Kantian claim that self-consciousness is somehow constitutive of thought (at least of rational thought)––i.e., that knowing that you’re in some state, or are performing some act, somehow makes it the case that you’re in that state or are performing that act. It allows us maintain, on the contrary, that, in knowing your own mind, as much as in knowing the world, what you known is always prior to your knowledge of it.

“Coming to Believe” (draft)

This essay develops and defends a view of belief on which the rationality of a belief is generally to be explained, at least in part, by a past act in which it was formed or confirmed. On the proposed view, the belief that p is a single-track disposition: the disposition to judge that p. This view, it is argued, avoids difficult problems that beset views on which judgments merely cause beliefs, but does so without recourse to the more radical suggestion (due to Matthew Boyle, among other) that believing is an activity rather than a state.