Thinking How to Live

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Harvard University Press, Jun 30, 2009 - Philosophy - 320 pages

Philosophers have long suspected that thought and discourse about what we ought to do differ in some fundamental way from statements about what is. But the difference has proved elusive, in part because the two kinds of statement look alike. Focusing on judgments that express decisions--judgments about what is to be done, all things considered--Allan Gibbard offers a compelling argument for reconsidering, and reconfiguring, the distinctions between normative and descriptive discourse--between questions of "ought" and "is."

Gibbard considers how our actions, and our realities, emerge from the thousands of questions and decisions we form for ourselves. The result is a book that investigates the very nature of the questions we ask ourselves when we ask how we should live, and that clarifies the concept of "ought" by understanding the patterns of normative concepts involved in beliefs and decisions.

An original and elegant work of metaethics, this book brings a new clarity and rigor to the discussion of these tangled issues, and will significantly alter the long-standing debate over "objectivity" and "factuality" in ethics.

Table of Contents:

I. Preliminaries
1. Introduction: A Possibility Proof
2. Intuitionism as Template: Emending Moore

II. The Thing to Do
3. Planning and Ruling Out: The "Frege-Geach" Problem
4. Judgment, Disagreement, Negation
5. Supervenience and Constitution
6. Character and Import

III. Normative Concepts
7. Ordinary Oughts: Meaning and Motivation
8. Normative Kinds: Patterns of Engagement
9. What to Say about the Thing to Do: The Expressivistic Turn and What it Gains Us

IV. Knowing What to Do
10. Explaining with Plans
11. Knowing What to Do
12. Ideal Response Concepts
13. Deep Vindication and Practical Confidence
14. Impasse and Dissent


This is a remarkable book. It takes up a central and much-discussed problem - the difference between normative thought (and discourse) and "descriptive" thought (and discourse). It develops a compelling response to that problem with ramifications for much else in philosophy. But perhaps most importantly, it brings new clarity and rigor to the discussion of these tangled issues. It will take some time to come to terms with the details of Gibbard's discussion. It is absolutely clear, however, that the book will reconfigure the debate over objectivity and "factuality" in ethics.
--Gideon Rosen, Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University

Gibbard,/author> writes elegantly, and the theory he develops is innovative, philosophically sophisticated, and challenging. Gibbard defends his theory vigorously and with admirable intellectual honesty.
--David Copp, Professor of Philosophy, Bowling Green State University

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II The Thing to Do
III Normative Concepts
IV Knowing What to Do

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About the author (2009)

Allan Gibbard is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan.

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