Irresistible Reasons, Immovable Minds, and the Miracle of Rational Persuasion
My dissertation is about good arguments and why they fail to persuade. Besides being a common experience of everyday life, this is an old worry of Plato's that continues to motivate two contemporary lines of research. The first concerns what makes something a good argument, and the second concerns what a mind must be like to be moved by one. Together, these lines guide my project and divide it into two parts. Part I is about good reasons, specifically epistemic reasons. In my first chapter, I defend epistemic instrumentalism, the position that epistemic reasons are good reasons only relative to one's epistemic preferences. I acknowledge that epistemic instrumentalism opens the door to a terrible proliferation of incompatible preferences, but claim that this is merely a potential problem, and not an actual problem to be solved. In my second chapter, I discuss the nature of reasonhood, and argue, contrary to orthodoxy, that there is no compelling reason to accept the skeptic's claim that, because of the inconsistency of three very basic epistemic preferences, it is impossible for any position to be conclusively safe to hold. Part II is about immovable minds. Immovable minds are minds that are unpersuaded by good reasons. In my third chapter, I argue that for good reasons to be persuasive, the properties that make them good reasons must be identified, through habituation, with other desirable qualities like pleasure or success. Identifying the merits of good reasons with other rewards cultivates intellectual character, and intellectual character, as I argue in my final chapter, remains worth cultivating, notwithstanding situationist doubts about the existence of character and intuitionist concerns about human rationality.
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