Quote of the Week: Robert Nozick on Charitable Interpretation

The most charitable interpretation presents only one facet of something’s nature.

– Nozick, The Nature of Rationality, p. 158

Nozick’s quote tempts one to read more into it than Nozick intended. He does not make a deep point about the nature of agents always being a mix of good and evil or something along the lines. The quote amounts to well phrased reminder of the limits of the principle of rational interpretation.

However, I want to propose that Nozick’s quote points at least to one wider ranging assumption: a picture of agency as firmly embedded in the natural world.

In the interpretivist literature on agency I have found a tendency to isolate the interpretation of something as an agent from describing it as a system with natural flaws. Dennett’s distinction between the physical, the design, and the intentional stance comes to mind. On such an interpretivist picture, as soon as you start describing the flaws you switched to a different level of description (from the intentional to the physical stance). As I read Nozick he does not distinguish such levels of description. Things have one nature and there is one level of description to capture it.



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