Engstrom, S. (2009): The form of practical knowledge

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author = {Engstrom, Stephen},
title = {The Form of Practical Knowledge},
shorttitle = {The Form of Practical Knowledge},
volume = {},
pages = {},
editor = {},
publisher = {Harvard University Press},
address = {Cambridge, MA},
year = {2009},
file = {~/Library/Mobile Documents/iCloud~com~sonnysoftware~bot/Documents/be-library/engstrom2009_the_form_of_practical_knowledge.pdf},
doi = {},
url = {},
langid = {},
beref = {20715},
abstract = {},
keywords = {kant; agency; ethics; practical reason}}

Practical Thought

Engstrom wants to read Kant as saying that an intention is a distinctively practical form of thought, and thus that there is something called “practical thinking”. I think this requires reading Kant’s conception of the faculty of desire “in accordance with concepts” (MM 6:213) in a strange way, since what Kant says in “in accordance” with concepts, not identical with concepts.

He also wants to distinguish intention (or practical thought) from inclination by means of the efficacy of self-consciousness. Intention is such that it is self-consciousness that is efficacious, while inclination is such that by means of its efficacy is one self-consciousness of it.

The difference between the two ways in which desire can be efficacious, then, is that while in the case of inclination the awareness of the efficacy depends on the efficacy, in practical thought the efficacy depends on the awareness. The efficacy either has an effect on or is an effect of the subject’s consciousness. In the one case we are aware of the efficacy from its effect, in the other from its cause. (p. 30)

One worry about this is that it puts too much weight on self-consciousness.

Desire & Efficacy

Engstrom claims that “we can characterize desire in general as efficacious representation” (p. 27). This means that intellectual intuitions are also desires.

It also makes me worry that there is no clear distinction here between theoretically efficacious representation and practically efficacious representation. After all, in my view all “reasoning” or thinking in the broad sense involves a recognition of causal basing relations – I transition to state B on the basis of (such that B is caused by) my awareness of state A. But then isn’t this efficacious representation? What then is the relevant difference with desire?

Intention & Self-Constitution

To intend to do something is to specify, in an act of practical thought, what one means to do, and this is just to specify one’s conception of what one, as a practical subject, means to do, which in turn is to specify one’s conception of oneself as an agent, or what we may call one’s practical self-conception. And since this self-conception is efficacious, it constitutes the agent, the practical subject, itself. (p. 33)

Practical Reason & Ought

I think (I need to look through the text to be sure) that Engstrom conceives of practical reason as concerned with what ought to be. But this can’t be right for practical reason as such (i.e. the pure will), since there no ought is generated. So the distinction between theoretical and practical reason in terms of what what is vs. what ought to be can’t really be the right distinction. It also would fail to respect the way in which there are clear epistemic oughts, such that one can say that it ought to be the case that one believes or opines, etc., but this doesn’t mean that one is involved here in a case of practical as opposed to theoretical reasoning.

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