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05/23/2012

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Kate Manne

Thanks for the shout-out, Marcus! I'd be very curious to see what other people think about the issue.

David Velleman

Yes, people should definitely read Kate's paper. If you'll forgive a bit of self-promotion, I'll also mention a paper of mine (more relevant than the one you've linked). See p. 8 ff.

http://nyu.academia.edu/DavidVelleman/Papers/1259541/Time_for_Action

Marcus Arvan

Of course! I love it when you describe Parfit's objections to Williams as "off the wall". If anything in philosophy is off the wall, it's gotta be reasons externalism. The externalist says to the psychopath, "You have moral reasons not to kill people". The psychopath says, "I don't care about morality". The externalist bangs the table and says, "Well, morality cares about you, and gives you normative reasons regardless of whatever *you* might care about". [Palm to forehead] How this view ever got taken seriously, I haven't a clue! ;) Anyway, I'm really glad you wrote this paper.

Kate Manne

Yes I totally agree. (I'm glad you liked that remark - I nearly cut it, but it's an accurate statement of my views.) There's something about the externalist's failure to recognize a difference between people who might be persuaded to act on a supposed reason, and people who are simply beyond the reach of reasons, which bothers me deeply.

Marcus Arvan

It drives me absolutely batty. Surely, if *anything* is a legitimate normative question, this is: "Why do I have a reason to do that?" The externalist doesn't even try to answer. They say: "You just *do*. The reasons are *out* there." To me at least, this is philosophically horrifying...and it has profoundly corrupted meta-ethics. It's led to book after book on moral realism where authors (A) tacitly or even explicitly accept the doctrine that morality is a system of categorical requirements, and then (B) make assertions about moral requirements and reasons that a significant people in this world (psychopaths, in particular, but not just them -- ordinary liars and cheats, and many of my students) simply reject. This is no way to argue. The student who asks me, "Why shouldn't I lie if I can get away with it?" has asked a legitimate question, and it is no legitimate answer to state: "Well, the moral reasons are just *out* there. Try to see them."

Kate Manne

Totally. Jamie Dreier has some excellent stuff on the reasons fundamentalist's non-responsiveness to "the normative question." I have tussled some with Jamie about how closely that worry is related to Mackie's worry (I think it's more closely related than he seems to), but it's a family squabble.

Justin Snedegar

Hi, everyone! Here's my first comment on the blog -- I hope it makes sense.

Marcus writes, "We ask, "Why should I think I have such-and-such a reason?" This very question -- the request for an explanation of what constitutes one's reasons -- suggests that (normative) reasons cannot be normatively fundamental."

I'm afraid I'm missing a step (though you did just write 'suggests'...). For reasons to be normatively fundamental, I would think, is just for them to not be explained in terms of any other /normative/ concept (good, ought, etc.). But that doesn't mean they can't be explained at all. Some reductive realists like Schroeder, for example, seem to take reasons to be normatively fundamental, but go on to analyze reasons in non-normative terms (in Schroeder's case, in terms of desires, explanation, and promotion -- none of which are normative, on his view). If we have this kind of view, we can use reasons to explain other normative concepts, and then explain reasons in non-normative terms. So reasons are normatively fundamental, but we can still explain what constitutes your reasons, why you have them, and so on.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Justin, your comment makes sense, but you should really check out Kate's paper. You're right than in Schroeder's case, normative reasons are explained in terms of other things (desires, etc.) -- but this is exactly one-half of the dilemma Kate is presenting. There are *two* ways for reasons to be normatively fundamental: an internalist way (along the lines of Schroeder, Williams, etc), and an externalist way (e.g. Parfit, Scanlon, etc.). Kate argues that neither side has any good arguments against the other side, and so we are left with an insoluble dilemma that "reasons-first" people can't resolve. Thus, Kate submits (and I agree), the notion of a reason is particularly unhelpful in meta-ethics. If reasons are taken to be normatively fundamental, one *necessarily* begs (on either side of the dilemma) crucial questions that any adequate account of normativity should have to resolve. I hope that makes sense (and that I haven't misstated Kate's argument)!

Justin Snedegar

OK, fair enough. I was going to add that I hadn't read Kate's paper yet, but just wanted to be sure we meant the same thing by 'normatively fundamental' first.

Kate Manne

That's exactly right, Marcus. Justin, I think your question is a different one from the one I'm addressing in the paper, but still a difficult and interesting one. It picks up on an issue in the above exchange - namely, why it might be a problem to think about reasons as dialectically ineffective, but still there, unaffected, enduring, eternal. Marcus and I were agreeing, I take it, that there's something strange about that idea, at several levels. If one thinks (as I like to) of reasons as interpersonal entities, i.e., constitutively the sort of thing that would feed into apt advice, then there's an explanation of why it seems strange. Namely, reasons claims will fail (according to someone like me) when and because advice falls flat. And it plausibly falls flat when someone just couldn't be moved to act out of a recognition of the relevant normative consideration. That's why one horn of the dilemma I posit pushes you in the direction of reasons internalism. Does that make sense?

Kate Manne

Another issue is that reasons' fundamentality could mean two different things. It could mean that they are unexplained explainers, the basic normative building block. I am resistant to that idea. It could also mean that they are just the convenient stipulated minimal unit of practical normativity, in which case that's OK by me. Although there is then no special reason (forgive me) bar convenience to use the concept of a 'reason' rather than talking about goodness, obligations, permissions, requirements, justifications - or whatever.

Justin Snedegar

Thanks, Kate. I still need to read your paper, but I'll just engage here anyway! Regarding your first comment, at least in some moods I agree with both you and Marcus, though I don't really have a settled view on the matter. But all of that makes sense as a way to push us towards reasons internalism. I'll just have to look at the paper to see how the other horn goes.

Regarding the second comment, you say that reasons' fundamentality could mean two different things, but I'm not sure which of the two you list I meant to be talking about -- I think it fits better with the first. The people I have in mind do think that reasons are not explained by any other normative concept, and that they do figure into explanations of other normative concepts. So in that sense, they're the basic normative building blocks. But they would, I think, resist the claim that this makes them unexplained explainers, since (as reductive realists) they think they can explain reasons in wholly non-normative terms.

Now, I'm not totally sure what you mean by the 'minimal unit of practical normativity', but that also sort of sounds like what I'm talking about. But these people would resist the claim that reasons are merely conveniently stipulated to be that, and say that in fact there are special reasons to use reasons instead of the other concepts -- namely, that we have to explain these other concepts in terms of reasons, and not vice versa.

Kate Manne

Yeah, I'm inclined to agree, Justin, that there's room for intermediate positions - i.e., holding that reasons can be built out of non-natural notions, but that they are explanatorily fundamental in normative theorizing, or some such. I'm not sure how well-motivated those positions would be, however. The challenge would be for theorists in this camp to articulate why reasons per se are explanatorily more basic than practical justifications or requirements. I suspect a lot of theorists would not want to insist that there's something genuinely special about the *concept* of a reason in particular, once they take a non-Parfittian route. But there is likely to be room to insist as much, I agree.

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