Direction of Fit and Motivational Cognitivism

In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics. Oxford University Press. pp. 235-64 (2006)
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The idea of direction of fit has been found appealing by many philosophers. Anscombe’s famous examples have persuaded many of us that there must be some deep difference between belief and desire that is captured by the metaphor of direction of fit. Most of the aim of the paper is to try to get clear on which intuitions Anscombe’s example taps into. My view is that there is more than one intuition in play here, and I will try to show that various distinctions and points are confused in the literature on direction of fit. But I also want to argue that once the proper distinctions are made, it’s not clear that the notion of direction of fit can do any of the philosophically significant work that it was supposed to do. I first argue that the best way to unpack the notion of direction of fit would indeed be by means of the constitutive relation between truth and belief. In particular, the notion of direction of fit is best understood as different ideals, or formal ends, guiding the inference, from what I call “prima-facie” attitudes to what I call “all-out” attitudes respectively in the theoretical and practical realm. However, I’ll argue that there’s no non-circular way of making this distinction. But even if no definition of “belief” and “desire” come out of the distinction between directions of fit, it does elucidate the different natures of practical and theoretical enquiry. However, understood this way, the notion of direction of fit does not seem to capture the distinction illustrated by Anscombe’s example. I try to argue in the last section that Anscombe’s compelling example is best explained not by a distinction between directions of fit, but by a distinction between two different inferential mistakes: one from general to general or particular to general, and the other from general to particular. There’s an important asymmetry between practical and theoretical endeavours in this neighbourhood. However, noticing this asymmetry will also fail to deliver the philosophical payoffs that the notion of direction of fit was supposed to have.
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