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Shah on Mental Agency and Metaethics

Professor Nishi Shah [1] (Amherst) recent gave a paper, which he co-wrote with Matt Evans [2] (NYU), at the Oxford Moral Philosophy Seminar [3] entitled “Mental Agency and Metaethics.” [4] A copy of Nishi’s talk can be found here [4]. Professor Shah would welcome any comments/suggestions. Here’s an abstract of his talk:

Beliefs, desires, and intentions, are the central constituents of human agency. To the extent that we have reflective control over these states we are self-governing creatures. But, as I have argued elsewhere, self-governance involves normative guidance. Anyone who is capable of exercising reflective agency over these mental states must accept that certain norms can govern these states and other norms do not. For example, one can reflectively govern one’s beliefs by evidential norms but not by practical norms. The best explanation of why certain norms are privileged in this way, or so I have argued, is that these norms are contained in the psychological concepts of belief, desire, and intention that are used to frame the questions that reflection seeks to answer. For example, it is because it is a conceptual truth about belief that believing that p is correct iff p that only evidential norms can govern deliberation about what to believe.

Surprisingly, I shall argue, anyone who accepts the explanation of reflective agency that I have given must reject normative anti-realism, whether it takes the form of an error-theory, constructivism, or expressivism.