Internalisms: Judgment and Existence

Judgment internalism (which holds that a necessary condition on a judgment of the form “x has reason to y”, when stated by x, is that x have some motivation to y) is often used as a crucial plank in arguments for noncognitivism. Very roughly speaking, if there is a necessary connection between normative judgment and motivation, what could normative judgment be if not an expression of these various motivational or conative states? But some have claimed that there is a good argument for existence internalism (which holds–in the version I’m most interested in–that an agent x can have a reason to y only if they have an existing motivation to y) to be found in the truth of judgment internalism. The argument from judgment to existence internalism has always struck me as a little fishy, but I’ve only recently tried to figure out why. My diagnosis is below the fold, but I’d love to hear whether you think I’ve given this argument short shrift.

This argument is hinted at by various writers, but appears most forcefully in Rosati’s “Internalism and the Good for a Person”. (I take it that the switch in domains from welfare to practical reasons shouldn’t make much difference here.) Here she writes:

The truth of judgment internalism might seem to support the claim that a plausible account of the good for a person must satisfy existence internalism, at least in the form of simple internalism. An account of the good for a person must permit judgments about a person’s good to serve their characteristic action-guiding functions. It must be able to explain how it is that, at least normally, judgments about a person’s good motivate, and it must also preserve their characteristic recommending and expressive functions or normative force. An account can succeed in this, without embracing noncognitivism and its antirealist implications, only if it satisfies simple internalism. By limiting a person’s good to some subset of those things that can matter to her, an account insures that it will at least be possible for judgments about a person’s good to perform their characteristic functions, (310-11).

I think this argument is intuitive, at least initially. For how could judgments about a person’s good (or reasons) necessarily motivate under the assumption of cognitivism unless a person’s good were confined to those things that a person cares about?

But I worry. Seems to me that in order for the argument to work, the existence internalist owes us some sort of explanation–why judgment internalism holds–that only appeals to resources that are brought to the table by existence internalism itself (Rosati explicitly asks this of any theory of prudential value). But as far as I can see, there is no such explanation. And the reason is simple: existence internalism only requires that there is a necessary connection between an agent’s judgments and that agent’s motivational states when that judgment is true, rather than false. For all existence internalism says, I could go around all day long claiming that I have reason to y when in fact I have no reason to y because I have no motivation to y. Nothing about existence internalism itself rules this out. If so, we require something else to explain why I will only make a normative judgment when I have a corresponding motivation. But what could this explanation possibly be (compatible with the denial of noncognitivism)? (No, really – what could this be?) It seems to me that the “at least normally” modifier doesn’t do much. Existence internalism still needs an explanation for why, at least normally, I only judge that I have reason to y when I am motivated to y.

One possibility is a psychological connection, of the sort hinted at (and ultimately rejected) by David Lewis (cf. “Desire as Belief II”). It might be that there is a de re form of necessity between normative judgment and desire. Alternatively, one could claim that as a matter of concept, having a corresponding desire or motivation is part of the functional role of normative judgment as a matter of a priori psychological explanation. (Don’t ask me how this would work.)

But if either of these explanations are true, I don’t see how existence internalism draws any support from judgment internalism. Consider a totally externalist theory:

The Keith Emerson Theory of Reasons: x has reason to y if and only if Keith Emerson would have y’ed under similar circumstances.

This is a ridiculous theory, but I don’t see that its ridiculousness stems from its incompatibility with judgment internalism. After all, if JI is true as a matter of psychological principle, all this entails when combined with the Keith Emerson theory is that people are generally pretty irrational (insofar as the coincidence between any given individual’s motivations and Keith Emerson’s motivations are imperfect, at best). It’s perfectly compatible with the Keith Emerson theory that people will be motivated to act on their judgments (or, reversing the order of explanation, why they will only judge in accordance with their motivations). Of course, one could reject that JI can be explained as a matter of a psychological link between normative judgment and desire. But then one would have to offer an explanation for JI that is exclusive of all externalist theories of reasons, and inclusive of existence internalism. But I’ll just register my skepticism that such an explanation could be found.

Anyway, I think that’s what’s bugging me about this argument. Have I left out any possibilities?

12 Replies to “Internalisms: Judgment and Existence

  1. Dale,
    Isn’t the answer just this: It would be a very good explanation of why judgments about my own good motivate me that they are judgments about facts that motivate me. And it is just that fact that argues for existence internalism.

  2. Hi Robert –
    Thanks for the comment. That’s what I thought at first. In other words, because existence internalism puts constraints on the truth conditions of normative claims, it must also put constraints on the semantic conditions of reason claims, viz., self-referential normative claims must refer to my own motivations, or to facts about things that motivate me. I think this is a perfectly legit move, but I don’t think it solves the problem. In order for existence internalism to explain JI, it must be the case that existence internalism explains more than what it takes for normative judgments to properly refer. It must also explain why (necessarily) these judgments actually refer. But it certainly doesn’t do that, at least, I don’t think it does. So far as existence internalism is concerned, I could go around sincerely uttering tons of non-referring normative claims, imparting normative status to things that don’t motivate me. In that case, EI could not explain JI. There must be something else operating. Or have I missed the upshot?

  3. Dale,
    I’m very symphatetic to everything you say. One sociological thing in support of your thesis is that most of the expressivists I know of accept the motivational internalism but reject reasons-internalism.
    I think why this is coherent comes up nicely if you think of different perspectives. Say I judge that Ben has reason to phi. Motivational internalism requires that I’m motivated to phi in Ben’s circumstances. Nothing about this refers to Ben’s motivation. Reasons-internalism on the other hand makes a claim that he has this reason only if he is motivated. But, in effect, I can be motivated to phi in Ben’s circumstances even if he isn’t.
    Thus I can perfectly fine be an expressivist and deny reasons-internalism. This is to express my motivatedness in the person’s circumstances to do something he isn’t motivated to do. Of course, I could also express my attitudes of being motivated only in the cases in which the agent herself is motivated to act.
    I think this shows that reasons-internalism is a normative claim. Expressivism and motivational internalism in contrast are metalevel claims that should be neutral about the normative.

  4. Hi Dale,
    I am a little confused about your confusion.
    I think you take the Rosati quote to expresses (roughly) this claim:
    (C) If you endorse Judgment Internalism and cognitivism, then you must endorse existence internalism.
    And the main premise seems to be this:
    (P1) You cannot explain the truth of JI while embracing existence externalism.
    You then seem to object that existence internalism cannot explain JI all by itself.
    I am unclear why someone asserting C on the basis of P1 is committed to this; the advocate claims that EI is a nec condition for explaining JI, but need not claim it is sufficient…why can’t the proponent of the argument Agree that EI cannot explain JI, but still hold that JI entails EI because you can explain the former only by appeal to the later (although you might need to appeal to more too, to give a full explanation of JI)
    I think I may just be missing your point, though.
    So I think I need to hear more about why, “in order for the argument to work, the existence internalist owes us some sort of explanation–why judgment internalism holds–that only appeals to resources that are brought to the table by existence internalism itself”
    Maybe you mean to just argue that P1 is false? I think you might have a good argument for that in the post…will have to think about it.

  5. Jussi –
    Seconded.
    Brad –
    (I take it that you mean ‘without’ rather than ‘while’ in P1?)
    You’re right that EI could draw support if it were a merely necessary condition rather than a sufficient condition. I perhaps wasn’t super-clear in laying out the argument I was trying to make. But I think EI does need to explain JI on the basis of EI itself. Why? This isn’t knock-down, but here goes: in order for the argument from JI to EI to work, JI must not be explained in a way that is compatible with other theories–in other words, it must not be explained in a way such that EI is not necessary for its explanation. Because EI doesn’t explain it itself (and by that I mean EI along with what EI implies at a semantic level), it seems to require an explanation at the level of psychology. (And here, as I tried to indicate, I’m a little unsure–it might be that there’s some other explanation, but I can’t see what that might be.) But if the explanation of JI is cast at the level of psychology, EI, as far as I can tell, isn’t necessary for its explanation. Furthermore, if JI is explained at the level of psychology, I (like Jussi) don’t see why any theory of reasons should be called upon to explain it, in which case no theory of reasons, including EI, can draw support from it.

  6. Hi Dale,
    I actually did mean to have ‘while’ there but only because I put “externalism” rather than “internalism” in P1…but no matter.
    I take it that Rosanti is only claiming EI is a nec condition b/c of the ‘only if’ in this part of the quote:
    “An account can succeed in this, without embracing noncognitivism and its antirealist implications, only if it satisfies simple internalism.”
    I think you can better put your point as a straight-up attack on the necessity claim. As you say, “if the explanation of JI is cast at the level of psychology, EI, as far as I can tell, isn’t necessary for its explanation.”
    Why get into the side issue about EI being sufficient?
    Any way, nice post!

  7. 1. D’oh!
    2. I think you’ve basically hit my argument on the head, but the reason I framed it as I did (potentially misleadingly) was just to allow the possibility that EI might explain JI on its own. If it does, then there’s no need to ascend to the psychological domain; but it doesn’t, so we’ve got to ascend to the psychological domain, in which case EI is no longer necessary.

  8. Oh – I see. That makes sense now that you say it. But my first reaction was to rise to the defense of the argument because you were being unfair…
    The more I think about your argument and example though, the more I like it!
    I wonder whether some fans of this argument would not want to reformulate it and start from Rational judgment internalism…esp since they are not non-cognitivists. I am not sure whether this will avoid your objections.

  9. It seems to me that (EI) entails (At least normally, JI) just in case “At least normally, reasons-judgments are true.” So the key is to defend the latter claim.
    I can think of a couple grounds: (1) in general, skepticism about large classes of claims is not convincing. (2) Constructivists of different varieties would want to say that our reasons are constituted by our judgments about them, so that necessarily, reasons-judgments are normally true. (3) Insofar as we judge others and ourselves to be rational actors, we cannot interpret each other, or ourselves, as widely mistaken about reasons-judgments.
    I don’t know that any of those approaches are totally persuasive. But they gesture at a productive place to look.

  10. Heath –
    Thanks for the comment, and sorry it’s taken so long to respond. I think that’s one interesting way to go, but I’m not sure I’m convinced of any of the claims you’re making.
    1. Skepticism. It’s true that wholesale skepticism is not plausible in any domain. But I don’t see how this supports the claim that, normally, our judgments are true. The rejection of skepticism in the normative domain would just mean that truths about the normative can be known, not that they are normally known. For instance, skepticism about the wholesale structure of the universe is wrong, but that doesn’t mean the claims we make about it are (normally) true.
    2. Given that I find constructivism plausible and the claim that, “necessarily, reason-judgments are normally true” implausible, I would want to allow that constructivism could come up with some substantial distance between our actual judgments and their truth (or correctness) conditions. And most do: I favor a coherence condition, others favor strict rationality, veils of ignorance, ideal observers, etc., etc. But even leaving this aside, I don’t see how constructivism helps existence internalism. In fact, how would this argument go? We try to explain JI by saying: 1. On EI, judgments are about facts that would motivate me. 2. Hence, according to EI, for such a claim to be true, it must be compresent with a corresponding motivation. 3. According to constructivism, most of our judgments are true. Hence, 4. when I judge I have reason to y, I will normally be motivated to y. I worry about an equivocation in this argument. (2) and (3) issue separate truth conditions for normative claims; EI says the truth conditions must include properly “corresponding” to motivations, but constructivism, as you note, says nothing like this. This leaves it open that they will be true on a constructivist standard, but false according to the internalist. (I think.) Offhand, this sounds like an equivocation to me.
    3. It seems like you’re making reference to a principle of charity here, but I worry that it’s too strong. It certainly seems to be the case that we shouldn’t interpret others as not making sense, viz., as not having coherent mental states. But I’m not sure if that requires us to interpret others as rational in the way you mention. Furthermore–and this suggestion is tentative–I’m not sure why we should believe such a claim independently of a prior commitment to something like EI. If we believe the Keith Emerson theory, (3) sounds implausible to me. It also sounds implausible on other externalist theories, such as perfectionism, etc. So I worry that this principle might be available only insofar as we’re already committed to something like EI, or some other theory that makes an agent’s reasons readily accessible.

  11. Dale,
    Just to clarify, I am not personally committed to any form of internalism. My three suggestions were just for those who were interested in thinking along these lines. However,
    Re 1: I meant by skepticism something like, “We have no knowledge.” It seems to me terribly implausible that we are commonly wrong about whole classes of judgments. Maybe you think differently?
    Re 2: I had in mind pretty simple constructivisms. E.g. subjectivism, I have a reason if I think I do. Or cultural relativism, I have a reason if most of my cultural peers would think I do. More sophisticated (and plausible) constructivisms wouldn’t necessarily support JI.
    As far as the argument you mention, I was arguing from the conjunction of EI and constructivism to JI. So if most of our reasons-judgments are true, and all reasons-truths entail motivations, then most reasons-judgments entail motivations. Yes? I can’t see any equivocation.
    Re 3: I was referencing the principle of charity. It seems to me that if we think others are generally mistaken about their reasons-judgments, we will see them as acting for no reason, hence unintelligible. Conversely, if we do find them intelligible, we will think they are acting for a reason (even if not the best reason) and we will think their reason-judgments are mostly true. We might resist this by saying that people often act for what plausibly appears to be a reason, but isn’t, however we can understand their error so they’re intelligible anyway. But I don’t think the class of things which are not reasons at all, but plausibly appear to be reasons, is very big. (Perhaps this is part of my resistance to skepticism.) If that’s right, this tactic wouldn’t get you very far. But if you are a Keith Emerson theorist, then maybe you think that class of things is a lot bigger.

  12. Hi Heath –
    I certainly didn’t mean to insinuate that you were an internalist!
    Re 1: I do think it’s possible that at least many people are very commonly wrong about a lot of judgments in a lot of domains. (Cf. Sarah Palin-types on dinosaurs, abortion, the age of the earth, etc., etc., etc.) Furthermore, I would think that any plausible theory of rationality would allow claims about rationality to be sufficiently revisionary of one’s preferences, desires, attitudes, etc. (Cf. Hubin’s “Groundless Normativity of Instrumental Rationality.”) This seems to be predicated on the thought that many people can be wrong about what reasons they have. I just don’t see this as being implausible. But maybe this is one way for the internalist to go.
    Re 2: You’re right. It’s probably not an equivocation. I revise my initial worry. It now sounds like one way to justify conjoining these two views requires one to make the psychological move I note originally. Does this work? EI says: normative judgment true only if there is a corresponding motivation! Constructivism says: normative judgment true if and only if one judges it! But how could these both be true? Well, they could both be true only if there were an independent psychological link between judgment and motivation. If there were no such link, it strikes me that constructivism and EI are views that are in strong tension with each other.
    Re 3: “It seems to me that if we think others are generally mistaken about their reasons-judgments, we will see them as acting for no reason, hence unintelligible.” I don’t see this as following. I think there’s a normative/explanatory reason distinction that’s worth making here. People are unintelligible if they act for no reason. But this is true only in the explanatory sense: if, literally, there is no explanation for them acting in the way they did. But it isn’t true in the normative sense. I can perfectly well make sense of why Fred did x, even if I think he acted irrationally, and uttered false reason-claims. To find people intelligible I don’t need to assume they’re acting on genuine normative reasons, or even something that plausibly appears to be a genuine normative reason, I only need to assume that they’re acting on some principle they *take* to be a reason, even if I find it utterly ridiculous. I only need some explanation of their actions.

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