Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Grounding inhomogeneity and analogy

I ought to respect innocent human life. So I ought not feed cyanide to the innocent. I ought to respect the legitimate intellectual autonomy of others. So I ought not force my students to believe all my metaphysical views.

So, some ought claims are grounded, in part or whole, in other ought claims, and sometimes in further non-normative claims (such as that cyanide kills). This is familiar in many other cases. Thus, it's a standard libertarian view about freedom that some exercises of freedom are only derivately free: they are free insofar as they flow from a character that was formed by other free actions.

It would generate a vicious regress to suppose that all free actions are derivatively free. (In this case, the impossibility of the regress is obvious from the fact that we've only performed finitely many actions in our history.) Likewise, it would be a vicious regress to suppose all ought claims are grounded in further ought claims.

So there are some thing that are derivatively obligatory and some that are non-derivatively obligatory. (The two categories might overlap. For if I promise to fulfill a non-derivative obligation, then that obligation is both non-derivatively obligatory and obligatory by derivation from the duty to keep promises.) Likewise for freedom and many other properties. The non-derivative cases may be brute and ungrounded, or they may be grounded in a different kind of fact (e.g., maybe non-derivative freedom is grounded in alternate possibilities or non-derivative ought is grounded in divine commands—I am not advocating either option as it stands).

Here is a maxim I find plausible: Properties that exhibit this kind of grounding inhomogeneity—sometimes being grounded in one kind of fact and sometimes either ungrounded or grounded in a different kind of fact—are in fact non-fundamental.

This may lead one to say that properties that exhibit this kind of inhomogeneity are really disjunctive. That (or the related suggestion that they are existentially quantified) may be true, but I think it isn't the whole truth. Maybe freedom just is the disjunction of non-derivative and derivative freedom. But it's not a mere disjunction, in the way that being red or cubical is. It's a disjunction between related properties. In the cases of freedom and obligation, the relationship here seems to me to be precisely that of Aristotelian analogy: there is a focal sense of freedom and obligation—the non-derivative case—and there is a non-focal sense as well.

Conjecture: When we are dealing with a somewhat natural property that exhibits grounding inhomogeneity, we are precisely dealing with a disjunction (or quantificational combination) between analogous more fundamental properties.

Aquinas' thinking on divine names fits well here. St Thomas thinks that when we predicate wisdom of God and Socrates, we do so analogically, because God's wisdom is God and Socrates' wisdom is accidental to him. But this difference is precisely a grounding inhomogeneity in the property wisdom, with God being the focal case.

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