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  • Mistakes: A Philosophical Inquiry

(under contract with Routledge)

In this book I investigate the nature of mistakes: failures for which mistake-makers are distinctively responsible. I consider why mistakes are different from malfunctions, and why mistakes often don’t depend on irrationality, and why only some living things make mistakes. I also consider the generic kinds of mistake we make, and whether there are emotional or sensory mistakes, over and above mistakes in judgment and mistakes in performance. I argue mistakes are best construed as imperfect exercises of fallible powers, and explain why my account of such powers better accommodates the nature of mistakes than competing theories.


  • "Teleology and the Analysis of Action"

I respond Will Small's challenge to a popular conception of skill and practical reason, on which they are disjoint and play quite different roles in action. I argue that Small's challenge may prove too much, that one may be able to answer it by appeal to a distinction between voluntary and intentional action, and that in a peculiar way Small vindicates the popular conception rather than undermining it. I also reflect on the role of abstraction in practical philosophy, and how overenthusiastic abstraction threatens to obscure important differences between species of teleology at work in action.

  • "Knowledge, Explanation, and Abstraction"

In Frost (2018) I argued that practical knowledge (PK) shares features with knowledge how (KH) and knowledge that (KT), but is distinct from both, and so deserves its own epistemic category; I also warned against an urge to “unifying abstraction” when identifying different kinds of knowledge. I didn’t explain what an epistemic category is, and I only hinted at why “unifying abstraction” can be problematic. In this paper I argue that the boundaries of very general epistemic categories, like PK, KH, and KT, are best understood in terms of what they are supposed to explain and how. Unless there are distinctive ways these things explain, KT has a good (but not perfect) claim to be the most general epistemic category, of which KH and PK are species. But there are in fact distinctive ways these things explain: distinct general forms of knowledge are coordinate with distinct general forms of explanation. I apply this conclusion to debates between Stanley and Hornsby about whether KH is a species of KT, and debates between Hyman and Williamson about whether KT is an ability or a state, in order to clarify what is at stake, metaphysically speaking. At the end I consider what the conclusion implies for the old question of whether virtue is knowledge.

  • “Hegel on Knowledge of Intention”

I argue, against Pippin, that Hegel does not think knowledge of intention is retrospective. Instead, Hegel has a refreshingly pluralistic view of the varieties of knowledge relevant to knowledge of intention. Some of these varieties have intention as proper object; some do not. Some of these varieties are retrospective; some are not.

  • “Powers and their Imperfect Exercises”

I consider three senses in which powers seem to have imperfect exercises. The first, found in Cartwright's work on capacities and laws of nature, is what I call "polygenic" imperfection, which involves several bearers of powers working together to produce an effect that is not a perfect instance of what any of those powers are properly specified as powers to do. The second, found in Thompson's work on intentional action and processes, is what I call "grammatical imperfection", which involves the ongoing process of doing something that is not yet a perfect instance of doing what the relevant power is properly specified as a power to do. The third, found in Anscombe's remarks about mistakes, is what I call "preclusionary imperfection", where the bumbling of the bearer of a power precludes perfect exercise of that power on an occasion in a regard. Generalizing from an argument in Thompson, and an implicit line of thought in Cartwright, I argue that none of these forms of imperfection is liable to be well-represented in a standard system of law statements or counterfactual conditionals, because of standard assumptions about the number of ways subject terms can relate to predicate terms in such a system.

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