SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Time-slice Agents, Wantons and Dorian Gray
(Ethics, English)

My aim is to defend the claim that norms of diachronic rationality and hierarchical structures of self-governance are not sufficient conditions of rationality for a rational agent to access moral reasoning in principle. As I will try to show, the impossibility to reason morally is determined by the compatibility of the diachronic self-governing agent with estrangement from one's personal practical history.

Once we accept a broadly instrumental conception of rationality, satisfying norms of means-end coherence and consistency among attitudes, instrumentally rational agents can still be dysfunctional in two important ways: they could be time-slice agents (Bratman, 1987, Quinn, 1990), who act only in accordance with present evaluation and fail to extend their rationality over time, or wantons (Frankfurt, 1971, Bratman, 2007, Korsgaard 2009), who are driven only by their first order desires. A rational agent must thence be able to stick with her prior intentions and plans, other things equal, and take a stand with respect to her first order attitudes.

However, such diachronic self-governing agents can fail to access moral reasoning in principle. I will argue that this failure concerns rationality primarily, and not any specific conception of morality. A diachronic self-governing agent is still compatible with estrangement from one's personal history, in terms of previous rankings of values and principles of action. This kind of estrangement determines the impossibility to access moral reasoning.

A new kind of dysfunctional agent emerges at this point, one who is well described in Oscar Wilde's famous novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1890). The otherwise rational Dorian Gray fails to build up on his previously adopted practical identities to become a better version of himself, because his personal history gets magically reported on his portrait and leaves no trace on him. Estrangement from his personal history condemns Dorian to always start his deliberation from scratch. He is unable to feel authentic regret and abandons himself to limitless self-indulgence. Toward the end of the novel, Dorian hopelessly wishes to become good, but his wish is delusional, for it belongs to yet a different instrumentally rational agent, who fails to become moral.

Chair: Christian Feldbacher-Escamilla
Time: 17:40-18:10, 18 September 2019 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.004

Damiano Ranzenigo 
(University of Vienna, Italy)

I have recently graduated with a Master in Philosophy at the University of Vienna mit Auszeichnung. My main area of specialization is practical philosophy with a focus on theory of action and of rationality. I am currently looking for a PhD position in philosophy with a PhD proposal on Christine Korsgaard's conception of practical identity. In the meanwhile, I am participating to workshops and conferences on related topics around Europe.

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