Why Thomas Reid Matters to the Epistemology of the Social Sciences

L. Jaffro & V. França Freitas (2019). Why Thomas Reid Matters to the Epistemology of the Social Sciences. The Philosophical Quarterly, advance article. https://doi.org/10.1093/pq/pqz031

Little attention has been paid to the fact that Thomas Reid’s epistemology applies to ‘political reasoning’ as well as to various operations of the mind. Reid was interested in identifying the ‘first principles’ of political science as he did with other domains of human knowledge. This raises the question of the extent to which the study of human action falls within the competence of ‘common sense’. Our aim is to reconstruct and assess Reid’s epistemology of the sciences of social action and to determine how it connects with the fundamental tenets of his general epistemology. In the first part, we portray Reid as a methodological individualist and focus on the status of the first principles of political reasoning. The second part examines Reid’s views on the explanatory power of the principles of human action. Finally, we draw a parallel between Reid’s epistemology and the methodology of Weberian sociology.

Moral Judgement and Persistent Disagreement

L. Jaffro (2019). Jugement moral et désaccord persistant. Archives de philosophie, 82(2), 233-253. https://www.cairn.info/revue-archives-de-philosophie-2019-2-page-233.htm

The aim is to clarify the conditions of real disagreement in the epistemology of moral judgements. It would seem that moral subjectivists can deal with disagreement more easily than realists. The former can refer disagreement to the diversity of individual or social preferences that evaluations express. The latter have difficulties to account for it in contexts where the informational conditions of an evaluation are met. The paper defends a third approach, attentive to the epistemology of evaluation, which puts the emphasis on how moral value judgements are essentially dependent on reasons. In morality as in other areas, judging is, among other things, assuming responsibility for a verdict that is susceptible of being justified.

Harmonic and Disharmonic Views of Trust

L. Jaffro (2018). Harmonic and Disharmonic Views of Trust. Rivista di estetica, 68(2), 11-26. https://journals.openedition.org/estetica/3401

This paper, at the crossroads of practical and epistemological questions, puts forward a non-standard approach to the study of a set of trust phenomena (trust, trustworthiness, distrust, self-trust, self-distrust) and their interconnectedness. Two paradigmatic approaches to trust – harmonic and disharmonic – are unpacked and shown to be complementary. In contexts where the harmonic view applies, trust phenomena are mutually reinforcing. When the disharmonic view is appropriate, instead, they counterbalance one another. An analysis of Augustine’s De fide rerum quae non videntur helps introducing the former. Each view carries its own conception of the role of institutions in trust. For the harmonic approach, institutions are contexts that reinforce trust silently, whereas for the disharmonic view they are salient objects of trust. The need for an over-arching articulation of these limited views is further highlighted by appeal to another distinction, between background and decision-based forms of trust. This paves the way to what is here termed a metaharmonic theory of trust, a theory sensitive to the difference between the contexts where trust phenomena reinforce or counterbalance one another.

Locke and Port Royal on Affirmation, Negation, and Other ‘Postures of the Mind’

L. Jaffro (2018). Locke and Port Royal on Affirmation, Negation, and Other ‘Postures of the Mind’. In M. Pécharman and P. Hamou, Locke and Cartesian Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 172-185. https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780198815037.001.0001/oso-9780198815037-chapter-11

The chapter claims that in order to understand Locke’s doctrine of assent, his philosophy of mind needs to be seen in conjunction with his philosophy of language, which in turn gains from being compared with Port-Royal’s logic and grammar. It points out two conflicting facts in Locke’s account of affirmation and negation in the Essay. First, Locke entrusts affirmation and negation with the task of signifying both the assertion by which we manifest our assent to a proposition and the junction or separation of the ideas constituting the proposition. The other fact is that Locke accepts a great variety of ways of considering a proposition. This diversity of ‘postures’ is poorly expressed by the limited number of syncategorematic terms, ‘particles’. The first fact fosters a one-act view of the assent we give to propositions. The second opens the way to a multiple-act view.

Forgiveness and Weak Agency

L. Jaffro (2018). Forgiveness and Weak Agency. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 118(1), 107-125. https://doi.org/10.1093/arisoc/aoy003

Forgiveness involves a process, not an isolated act or decision. The initial step lies within the voluntary control of the forgiver. The immediate outcome of the commitment to forgive is the formation of a new context that modifies some of the circumstances for the forgiver as well as for the wrongdoer. Further consequences, notably changes in the forgiver’s desires and feelings, cannot be brought about directly. A sound account of forgiveness should focus on its intertemporal structure and highlight the relation between the initial commitment and the subsequent process.

Online Interactions and the Concept of Trust

L. Jaffro (2018). Interactions en ligne et concept de confiance. In M. Doueihi and J. Domenicucci, La confiance à l’ère numérique. Paris: Berger Levrault & éditions Rue d’Ulm, 33-62.

The chapter discusses the challenges of applying the concept of trust in the context of online interactions, and proceeds as follows: After an introductory section that combines methodological considerations with the presentation of the concept of practical trust, a second section defends the thesis that a form of trust, systemic trust, distinct from trust as a bet, is a major issue in online interactions;  systemic trust is closely linked to epistemic trust. The final section shows how this analysis may shed new light on barriers to online trust and some practical as well as theoretical problems.

Psychological and Political Balances: The Third Earl of Shaftesbury’s Reading of James Harrington

L. Jaffro (2018). Psychological and Political Balances: The Third Earl of Shaftesbury’s Reading of James Harrington. In P. Müller (ed.), Shaping Enlightenment Politics. The Social and Political Impact of the First and Third Earls of Shaftesbury. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 149-162.

The chapter investigates why James Harrington’s vocabulary, especially that of ‘balance’ and of ‘interest’, pervades Shaftesbury’s psychological discourse in Characteristicks. It turns out that the Earl’s discreet use of Harrington was not simply a conniving glance at fellow Old Whigs, unhappy with the conversion of Country to Tory, but that it included broader concerns in terms of a philosophical as well as political agenda. Shaftesbury was sensitive to the way in which Harrington revived the ancient analogy between political constitution and the human soul, constitutional balance and psychological temper, thus reconnecting the question of political justice with that of justice in the individual.

The Passions and Actions of Laughter in Shaftesbury and Hutcheson

L. Jaffro (2017). The Passions and Actions of Laughter in Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. In A. Cohen and R. Stern (eds.), Thinking About the Emotions. A Philosophical History. Mind Association Occasional Series, Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2017, 130-149. https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/oso/9780198766858.001.0001/oso-9780198766858-chapter-7

The third Earl of Shaftesbury and Francis Hutcheson considered laughter as a passion in its own right. The hilarious response is not reducible, as Hobbes believed, to the facial expression of the sudden awareness of our own superiority. Ridicule is however an important kind of laughter; it is also an action, part of a strategy against the seriousness of fanaticism. Shaftesbury gives much importance to the politics of laughter and to the caustic power of ridicule, but also to the capacity to laugh at one’s laughter, which is crucial to what he calls good humour. Hutcheson and Shaftesbury interestingly disagree on the question of how to regulate laughter and limit its abuse.

Practical Irrationality and Anticipatory Self-Command

L. Jaffro (2016). Irrationalité pratique et contrôle de soi par anticipation. Philonsorbonne, 10, 131-152. https://journals.openedition.org/philonsorbonne/810

What could an ethics for weak agents look like? The weakness envisaged here is not contingent, but constitutional. If we assume that practical irrationality, understood as the consequence of a gap between evaluation and motivation, is a background condition and not a pathological exception, several traditional questions of moral philosophy arise in a new light: (a) What is the use of the ‘better self’ perspective in moral life? In what sense is the self multiple? (b) What techniques can agents who do not have a high degree of self-command mobilize? (c) How can freedom, autonomy and the role of voluntary commitments be conceived under this pessimistic assumption?

Reid on Aesthetic Response and the Perception of Beauty

L. Jaffro (2015). Reid on Aesthetic Response and the Perception of Beauty. In R. Cophenhaver and T. Burras (eds), Thomas Reid on Mind, Knowledge, and Value. Mind Association Occasional Series, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 124-138. https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198733676.001.0001/acprof-9780198733676-chapter-9

The chapter deals mainly with the ‘Essay on Taste’, situates Reid’s position in the debate opened up by Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, and makes three points: the first about the nature of aesthetic perception; the second about its object, ‘excellence’; and the third about the location of beauty in the forms of nature or works of art, where excellence is expressed. Taste should be viewed as a social operation of the mind. In some cases, it involves a communication from God to human beings. The psychological approach to aesthetic perception must be complemented by a metaphysical account of what makes us feel the beautiful or the grand.

Are Moral Reasons Response-Dependent?

L. Jaffro, Are Moral Reasons Response-Dependent? (2015). Philinq—Philosophical Inquiries (ETS), 3(2), 17-34.

Some moral realists draw on the analogy between colours and values in order to claim that ‘desirability’ is a quality to which agents are sensitive under ideal conditions. The paper sets out objections to Michael Smith’s view that moral reasons are response-dependent and that they constitute the kind of reasons which would motivate ideal agents. The agent’s response to what appears to him or her morally desirable or morally mandatory is not a response in the same sense that our perception of a colour is a response to a disposition in the object to produce that perception. For a responsible agent appreciates values and reasons in the light of a plurality of moral considerations.