Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Normative powers


  1. Purely physical things have only physical powers.

  2. Normative powers (i.e., powers of producing normative effects, such as promises and commands) are not physical powers.

  3. We have normative powers.

  4. So, we are not purely physical.

I guess what I am not sure about in this argument is whether “power” is used univocally between “physical powers” and “normative powers”.


Michael Gonzalez said...

I have some serious concerns about the wording here; and, ironically, they don't have to do with the use of "power" (which I take to just mean capacity or ability):

1) What does "purely physical thing" mean? Do you mean an object which is composed entirely of matter and has no non-material or non-spatiotemporal parts?

2) What is a "physical power"? Surely the adjective "physical" is not meant to define the power itself as being a physical object. So, do you mean "powers the descriptions of which fall completely under the purview of the physical sciences"? Because, if so, I think any good Biologist will insist that even plants have powers that are not "physical powers", despite being "purely physical things" in my proposed sense in (1).

Atno said...

I guess it works, since examples such as "promises", "commands", etc (and we might add "rules") appear to be abstract. They don't refer to any particular substance or physical relation, they have determinate semantic content and "intensionality", and all of that is hard to make sense of in physical terms.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Atno: I'm very confused. I mean, these statements can often be re-worded without treating the words in question as objects at all. "He gave me a command" = "He commanded me". "I believed in her promise" = "I believed what she promised me".... "Rule" is a little harder to re-word, since it doesn't have a verb form in the relevant context. But to obey rules just means to behave as you are supposed to, or as prescribed, or as required.

Affirming the existence of abstract objects just because of statements with something in the grammatical "object" place of the sentence is just silly, in my opinion. And the Quinean idea of making existential commitments based on essentially nothing more than that is absurd and not at all how normal competent users of the language behave.

El Gerente said...

How would you contend that those powers are not abstractions of events that already occur? Promising and commanding are simply descriptions of behaviors that can be acted on or not acted on.

Michael Gonzalez said...

El Gerente: I'm not sure if you're asking me, and I'm not sure exactly what you mean; but I would just say that powers are definitely not abstractions. Someone might say that a "promise" is an abstract object. I disagree for the reasons I hinted at (above); but even if I agreed, powers are definitely not abstract.

Atno said...

But the thing is that "to command someone" and "to promise something" are not the types of acts that can be entirely captured by physical facts and such. They are inherently intentional and have a determinate semantic content which cannot be in any way reduced to physics.
Emitting sound waves while flexing an arm in such a way isn't by itself "giving a command". That we understand it to be an instance of commanding is because our mind abstracts intentional, non-physical facts or properties in that event.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Atno: That's why I originally asked those two questions of Pruss. I don't think the matter is very clear unless we know what is meant by a "purely physical thing" and also what is meant by a "physical power". As I mentioned, even plants have powers, capacities, and properties that do not reduce completely to the language and conceptual scheme of Physics. For example, you will search in vain in the conceptual domain of Physics or Chemistry for the concept of "well-being", and yet a plant has one, and has conditions that are conducive to its well-being and conditions that are not. Even talk about machines does not properly include this concept (except as a metaphor).