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Donald Davidson'sTriangulation Argument, with Claudine Verheggen, Routledge, 2016.

Blurb: According to many commentators, Davidson's earlier work on philosophy of action and truth-theoretic semantics is the basis for his reputation, and his later forays into broader metaphysical and epistemological issues, and eventually into what became known as the triangulation argument, are much less successful.  This book by two of his former students aims to change that perception.  In Part One, Verheggen begins by providing and explanation and defense of the triangulation argument, then explores its implications for questions concerning semantic normativity and reductionism, the social character of language and thought, and skepticism about the external world.  In Part Two, Myers considers what the argument can tell us about reasons for action, and whether it can overcome skeptical worries based on claims about the nature of motivation, the sources of normativity and the demands of morality.  The book reveals Davidson's later writings to be full of innovative and important ideas that deserve much more attention than they are currently receiving.

Self-Governance and Cooperation, Oxford University Press, 1999.  (Paperback edition, 2003.)

Blurb: Robert Myers presents an original moral theory that charts a course between the extremes of consequentialism and contractualism.  He puts forward a radically new case for the existence of both agent-neutral and agent-relative values, and gives an innovative answer to the question how such disparate values can be weighed against each other.  Practical judgement is shown to be guided in this by two very different ideals: an ideal of cooperation, which is held to shape the content of morality’s demands, and one of self-governance, which is held to determine the nature of reason’s requirements.  Examination of the ideal of cooperation reveals that principles of impartial beneficence and rights protecting individual freedoms are equally fundamental to morality.  Examination of the ideal of self-governance reveals that morality’s dictates, though not necessarily overriding, are always in an important sense inescapable.  The result is a theory of morality that combines a balanced account of its content with a ringing affirmation of its authority.

"Holism in Action," in C. Verheggen, ed., Wittgenstein and Davidson on Language, Thought, and Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017,

AbstractAlthough Davidson always acknowledged that his causal theory of action faces a number of serious difficulties, he maintained throughout his career that they should be regarded as problems of detail, not as problems calling into question his basic idea that reasons for actions are causes of actions and that rationalizing explanations are causal explanations.  I argue, first, that these difficulties are actually fatal to Davidson's view as it is often interpreted and as he himself often presented it in his classic papers on philosophy of action, but, second, that, on a different interpretation, Davidson's view fares better, and that this different interpretation is closer to his real meaning.

"Interpretation and Value," in E. Lepore and K. Ludwig, eds., A Companion to Donald Davidson, New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

Abstract: Davidson's theory of radical interpretation, and his principle of charity, are well known in their application to beliefs and meanings, but rarely discussed in their application to desires and values.  This is a pity, for they provide the makings of an argument for normative realism that is definitely worth pursuing.  After introducing Davidson's interpretation argument, I work through some familiar grounds for doubting that it applies to desires and values.  Foremost among these are doubts about the extent to which holism is true of desires and about the sense in which values or reasons could be thought to be objective.  I conclude that. while Davidson does not always address these doubts as thoroughly or as carefully as one might wish, he clearly sees how the argument here has to go, and he has at his disposal plausible responses to a good number of the challenges that are likely to arise.

"Desires and Normative Truths: A Holist's Response to the Sceptics", Mind, vol. 121, no. 482, April 2012, pp. 375-406.

Abstract: According to the practicality requirement, there could be truths about what people have reason to do only if people’s motivating states could be, in an appropriate sense, either correct or incorrect. Yet according to the Humean theory of motivation, people’s motivating states are a species of desire, and these desires are not a species of belief, being neither identical to nor entailed by them; and according to the standard view of desire, P’s desire to ø is, at bottom, a disposition to act in whatever ways she believes will increase her chances of ø-ing. As there is no obvious sense in which such disposition are aiming to get P’s reasons right, they seem incapable of satisfying the practicality requirement and scepticism about normative truth seems to follow. I argue, first, that this sceptical conclusion is best avoided, not by rejecting either the practicality requirement or the Humean theory of motivation, but by rejecting the standard view of desire, and, second, that this is best done by endorsing a holistic view, according to which the contents of people's desires depend importantly, though not essentially, on the contents of their normative beliefs.

"Cooperating to Promote the Good", Analyse und Kritik, vol. 33, no. 1, June 2011, pp. 123-139.

Abstract: I argue that the aim of moral activity is to cooperate with others in the promotion of value, where the concept of cooperation denotes not a formal ideal to be given content through reasoning but a substantive way of engaging with others.  I show how this approach to ethical theory can provide better accounts of many of our moral convictions than consequentialist or contractualists approaches can, and defend it against the objection that, by downplaying moral reasoning, it robs itself of any explanatory force.

"Finding Value in Davidson", Canadian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 34, no. 1, March 2004, pp. 107-136.

Abstract: Can an effective argument against skepticism about objective values be modeled on Donald Davidson's familiar argument against skepticism about external things? Davidson evidently thought so, but many of his followers are not so sure. Some worry that charity need not govern attributions of desires in the way it must govern attributions of beliefs; others grant that the need is the same but worry that the implications are different. I argue that these worries stem from a failure to appreciate how much distance Davidson's views about propositional content put between his conception of desire and the various Humean conceptions that dominate the literature.

"The Inescapability of Moral Reasons", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 59, no. 2, June 1999.

Abstract: According to Thomas Nagel, morality’s authority is determined by the extent to which its way of balancing agent-neutral and agent-relative reasons resembles reason’s.  He himself would like to think that the resemblance is close enough to ensure that it will always be reasonable to act as morality demands.  But his attempts to establish this never really get off the ground, in large part because he never makes it very clear how these two perspectives on value are to be characterized.  My goal in this paper is to show how we might flesh out Nagel’s conception of these matters by construing reason as a kind of self-governance and morality as involving a certain kind of cooperation.  The challenge will therefore be to determine what self-governance and cooperation require of people given the assumption that there are objective values and that they take both the agent-neutral and the agent-relative forms.  What we shall find is that their requirements differ rather more than Nagel allows, but perhaps not enough to prevent morality from being in some significant sense inescapable.

"On the Explanation, the Justification and the Interpretation of Action", Nous, vol. 29, no. 2, June 1995, pp. 212-231.

Abstract: I begin by arguing that, given the internalist thesis about reasons for action and a dispositional analysis of goals and desires, the only way to avoid the instrumentalist conclusion that people's reasons depend on their desires is to adopt a Davidsonian conception of what desires are.  I then go on to consider whether the Davidsonian conception of desire offers any particular support to moralism, the view that people's reasons for action are primarily determined by the demands that morality directs at them.  I conclude that it does not because, while it shows that some values must be both objective and universal, it does not show that any must be agent-neutral.

"Prerogatives and Restrictions from the Cooperative Point of View", Ethics, vol. 105, no. 1, October 1994, pp. 128-152.

Abstract: Prerogatives respond to the worry that, in some cases, morality may permit us to bring about the best available outcome without actually requiring us to do so; restrictions respond to the worry that, in other cases, morality may forbid us to perform certain actions even though they would bring about the best available outcome.  Both departures from act consequentialism have a strong intuitive appeal; the difficulty is to anchor these intuitions in deeper theory.  This is accomplished by construing morality as a cooperative undertaking of a special sort – one aiming at fair promotion not of individual advantage but of the overall good.

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sliced image Robert Myers, Philosophy Department, York University