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March 26, 2010


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Hmm, I always figured that talk of "all things considered" oughts was just another way of clarifying that we're talking about what I (just plain) ought to do, rather than what I "ought" to do in some restricted or relativised sense (e.g. 'prudentially ought').

So I guess I'm not sure why you think that ATC oughts are different from what I ought, simpliciter, to do.

I seem to recall that Ruth Chang has a paper on this topic, somewhere. Too rushed to check now, apols.


I'm not understanding your complaint against O3. You offer several accounts of what you dubbed 'ATC-oughts.' I understand your reasons for rejecting O1 and O2, but I don't see how a regress problem emerges for O3 (or why there isn't a similar regress problem for O1-O6).

I hear a more fundamental problem hinted at in your post though: NJI posits a necessary connection between judging that one ATC-ought to ø and intending to ø. You're asking what the relevant A in ATC is, or put differently, what the scope of considerations is that rationally commit one to intending. My worry is that after ruling out O1 and O2 as too weak and O5 and O6 as too strong, we may be left with something in the neighborhood of O3 or O4. Call it O3.5:

O3.5: Based on everything I ought to consider relevant in determining whether to ø, I ought to ø.

O3.5 is true (I think). But for the purposes of making sense of NJI, it's not only uninformative but circular, for then whether one is rationally committed to øing depends on whether one has considered everything relevant to intending to ø. In short, O3.5 is plausible but uninteresting.

In any case, I think you've identified an important problem, and it would be a shame if NJI floundered because there is no substantive and defensible demarcation of what considerations matter in the formation of ATC-ought judgments.


You write that O1 - O6 are to be distinguished from the simple unconditional judgement that one ought to V. That seems right. But you don't consider whether NJI might be defined in such terms. Why not? That's exactly how I'd always understood it. (I suspect I'm partly influenced by Davidson on weakness of will here).

Here's a suggestion, along similar lines to Richard's above. 'All things considered, p' is equivalent to 'p', but the former carries an additional implicature: that there is some reason to think it's not the case that p, though this reason is outweighed.

I don't have Ralph's book with me and I shouldn't speak on his behalf, but I wonder if this:

"The plausibility of NJI rests, then, upon the specification of these ATC-ought judgments."

is the right way to look at his theory. I think the order of explanation is supposed to go in the other direction. I'm not quite sure how to explain this though, but here's a first stab at it.

You might alternatively begin from NJI. And, this seems fair enough in some respect. We do make some judgments (using some concept - whatever they are) by relying on our faculty of practical reason that we take, by our own lights, to constitute our definitive beliefs about what the thing to do is in a given situation. If we make such judgments, then, by our own lights again, we are not guided by our reason if we fail to intend accordingly. So, we are irrational if we fail to have the matching intentions.

You might then think that NJI understood in this sense speficies a conceptual role. It is constitutive of whatever concept we are using in making the previous judgments that they have the normative connection described by NJI to our intentions.

I think it's a further claim (and a fairly plausible as such) that it is our ordinary concept of 'ought' which we use in way that makes this concept to play the conceptual role specified by NJI. Nothing about this relies on anything like O1-O6. Yet, as Richard points out, it's clear that none of the other concepts of legal oughts, prudential oughts, and so on play the conceptual role speficied by NJI.

I think it would be fine for Ralph if no word in ordinary language fully fitted with the conceptual role he is investigating. It might be that this is a concept in 'language of thought' that isn't expressible or analysible by using ordinary language. But, he does give full semantics to describe the concept that plays the right role in our normative thought.

Thanks to everyone for your comments! They're helpful. I'll try to respond,

** I don't see how the plain 'ought' is equivalent to any all-things-considered 'ought'. I don't even understand what the latter means. But I do understand what the former means: I ought to floss daily; I ought to end my sentences with a punctuation mark; I ought to save for my retirement; I ought to give examples when doing philosophy. None of these examples are ATC.

** The regress problem for O3 might go like this. O3 is the judgment: "Based upon everything I ought to consider, I ought to V." Now, what ought I to consider? Is this just some plain "ought" or pro tanto "ought"? If so, there will be no necessary rational connection to intention, for reasons similar to why there isn't for O1 or O2. Alternatively, is it an ATC ought? If so, I'll want to know in what sense, and can run the same list of possible specifications again -- not about 'ATC ought to do', but 'ATC ought to consider'. This problem reemerges every level up.

** "The simple unconditional judgement that one ought to V" bears no necessary rational connection to intention. We make far too many unconditional ought judgments for that. E.g., I do judge that I ought to drink two glasses of red wine daily. But if I miss a day, this is probably because I also think that I ought to work in the evening. (And, I never get around to making an ATC judgment about which to do. I'm not that intellectualist.) I suspect that the temptation to think otherwise rests upon the thought that judgments like the one above are not unconditional, but are conditional upon considerations like "from the perspective of coronary health." But this too is over-intellectualist. Most of the time, we just judge things like "You ought to hear the new Dinosaur Jr. record". We don't conditionalize these things.

** One suggestion was: "ATC, I ought to V" is equivalent to "I ought to V, even though there is some reason not to V". But that's not right. I often think I ought to V, and I also think that there's some reason not to V-- but I don't have a a clue about what to think about what I ought to do were I taking into account *all* considerations. "All" means "all", not "two or more".

** I'm only a bit of the way through Ralph's book, so I still need to see how the conceptual role semantics works. It would be odd if there were no way to express this putatively important and common judgment in natural language. I think I never make ATC-ought judgments, and that I am not unusual in this respect. But I'll keep reading!

Thanks, again, to all so far who are helping me think about this.

I have not read Wedgwood's book, but I think I agree with Richard Chappell and Campbell Brown. S atc ought to F is a technical term or term of art used to designate the action that is objectively choiceworthy --- i.e., the action that there is conclusive reason for the agent to perform. The need for the term arises because there are often competing reasons for different courses of action. However, the term can also be used when there are no such competing reasons.

If someone comes to judge, "I atc ought to F," we may take them to believe that they are adequately factually informed, that they have sized up the main relevant competing reasons for action, and that F is the action that there is most (and conclusive) reason to do. Of course, they might be mistaken in believing any or all of these things.

I do not see how this involves any vicious regress, even if judging that "I atc ought to F" requires the person to also believe that they know what they atc ought to know. After all, we can analyze having an atc reason for actionwithout invoking the concept of the information that one atc ought to have. It's only when it comes to believing that one has an atc reason for action that things get more complicated. But even then, all we find is that believing one has an atc reason for action requires also believing that one knows all that one atc ought to know. And ought to do and ought to know are different things.


It's been a while since I read the Wedgwood, so he might have an answer to this, but I confess I'm also a little confused as to why we're talking about intentions and not motivation. I understood NJI to usually be understood in terms of motivation, and only pro tanto motivation at that. And in that sense it seems perfectly plausible to think that if you genuinely judge that you ought to drink two glasses of red wine each day, you'll be motivated, to some extent, to do so. (Or at least, if this isn't plausible, then that's a reason to think that NJI is false, not that we've misformulated it.)

(If this were right, then Wedgwood's formulation of NJI would still be mistaken, though not in the way you suggest. At any rate, I took your post to be about NJI in general, not just Wedgwood's version of it.)

Eric, you say: 'One suggestion was: "ATC, I ought to V" is equivalent to "I ought to V, even though there is some reason not to V".' But in fact that's not what I suggested (I assume you're talking about me here). My suggestion was that 'ATC, p' is equivalent to 'p'. By 'equivalent' I mean they have the same truth conditions. The difference between them, I suggested, is pragmatic.

You also say that 'ATC, I ought to V' is not equivalent to 'I ought to V'. But then what do you think of the following sentences?

  1. All things considered, I ought to floss daily, but it's not the case that I ought to floss daily.
  2. I ought to floss daily, but it's not the case that, all things considered, I ought to floss daily.

These seem bad to me.


sorry - I don't find it plausible that you never make ATC-ought judgments. You describe making pro tanto ought judgments - I ought to drink to classes of wine, I ought to hear the new Dinosaur Jr record (ah - the memories...), and so on. I take it that in some situations you make conflicting judgments about what to do. I ought to go to work and I ought to go to gym, but I cannot do both. In these cases, unless you want to become Buridan's ass, you need to judge which one of the actions you ought to do most. Only then you can get yourself to intend to do one of the acts.

One way to think about the ATC-ought judgment is to think of it as the balancing judgment about the strengths of oughts you already recognise in the situation. And, for me it seems plausible that there is a requirement of rationality to intend to do what one judges one ought to do most in a given situation.

There's a certain sort of contextualism in the semantics which Ralph gives for these judgments. The issue is going to turn which of the planned worlds have the correctness property - the ought judgments will be beliefs about this. And, the contextual parametres will make a contribution to what the relevant set of worlds under consideration is for a given judgment.

Hi Jussi,

regarding the bit that ends like this:

"...In these cases, unless you want to become Buridan's ass, you need to judge which one of the actions you ought to do most. Only then you can get yourself to intend to do one of the acts."

and this

"...for me it seems plausible that there is a requirement of rationality to intend to do what one judges one ought to do most in a given situation."

Can it not be fully rational to decide to do what you think you have sufficient reason to do without thinking that it is what you have most reason, or what you ought most, to do? Faced with the two bales of hay, the ass could rationally think to itself, "well, both options are equally good; I'll just go for the one on the left, but I could as well have gone for the one on the right. They are, after all, equally good".

Perhaps there could be a person who always makes her decisions like that. This person would be happy to do what is sufficiently good and doesn't care so much about what she ought, all told, to do. I don't think she is necessarily irrational because this.

I don't think that that's conflict with anything I said. There could be a person that always thinks that in the conflicts of contributing oughts the oughts are equally strong. It can also be rational in those cases to just act without making an ATC-ought judgments. But, sometimes many of us come to think that I ought to choose one option more that I ought to choose any of the other options. This 'toti-resultant' judgment seems like an ATC-ought judgment to me, and it seems like that sort of judgment creates a requirement of rationality. But, you are right, if there is no such judgment, then there is no rational requiment either. It just doesn't seem likely that all cases for everyone (even for Eric) are like this.

Thanks, all, for keeping this going.

Jason, I agree that the very notion of an ATC-ought judgment is a coherent technical notion. I even grant that right now that there's something that, relative to all considerations, I ought to do. I'm just questioning whether people actually make such judgments, and, if they do, whether they rationally require intention.

Alex, Wedgwood's NJI is "necessarily, someone who is rational and judges, 'I ought to φ' will also intend to φ" (from Schroeder's NDPR review of the book.) I agree that intention is much stronger than motivation.

Campbell: I now see you were talking about pragmatics. Good distinction! So, you hold that "I ought to V" and "ATC, I ought to V" have the same truth-conditions. I need to think about that. I might agree if I understood better what ATC judgments are. Which, if any, of O1-O6 do you propose? I agree that your two flossing examples sound bad, but since I don't know what an ATC judgment is, my problem with them might be different from what you see.

Jussi: I disagree that I need to make an ATC ought judgment in order to decide whether to go to the work or the gym. If I am reflective, I'll decide that, say, I'd be better off going to the gym: I'll compare these two things. But I do not pretend that I've considered everything, or everything relevant. I know that perhaps I ought to do something else entirely, such as read PEA Soup.

Can anyone give a plausible realistic example of an ATC judgment that you believe you've made?

All things considered, I should stop reading this blog and get back to work.

I believe I just made and expressed an O4 judgment.

Ha! Indeed, you probably ought to work instead of blog.

Still, I want to understand better this O4 judgment you say you made. Did you in fact consider everything that is relevant? If so, you are god-like. Or, is it that you believe that if you were to consider everything relevant, you would judge that you ought to work. I can buy that! But I myself never make such judgments, and I don't think that people who haven't read post-Davidson philosophy really do either. And I also think that it is unwise to make such judgments, since we really have no clue what we would think that we ought to do were we able to consider *every* relevant thing. Here, I agree with the spirit of Mark's Schroeder's suggestion that I have some reason to eat my car....and millions of other acts too.

What would I think that I ought to do if I were to consider everyone's needs and wants? I neither know nor even have much of an opinion on the matter. Of course, I wish I did know!

Eric! Now you are really partially to blame for my procrastination.

I still believe I made an O4 judgment.

I would not, however, claim to know that I make one, let alone claim to know that I know that I did.

I agree that it would be a big mistake to think that people are often making O4 judgments, esp about complicated matters such as whether and when to have kids.

I also suspect that people quite often believe they have made 04 judgments when they have not, and often irresponsibly believe they have made 04 judgments.

Since I am a philosopher I am more stingy than most when it comes to believing I or others have make O4 judgments. But sometimes I am willing to stick my neck out; this is one of those cases, in part because the subject matter is not very complicated.

Finally: I admit that there could be some relevant reason that I have not considered (that is why I hesitate to claim I know or know that I know), but I am confident enough that there is actually no such reason to believe I have made an O4 judgment.

P.S. If Mark were right, then I would have reason to eat a car now, but that reason would be irrelevant to my judgment that I should stop reading this blog and get back to work

You can change my mind if you mention a relevant consideration you suspect I did not consider.

I will be honest, I promise!

Brad: did you consider doing all of these things before deciding whether to blog or work today?

Surely, some of them are the source of relevant considerations.


A. We need to clarify whether my judgment was (1) that I ought not blog and that I ought to work, or (2) that I ought to choose working over blogging.

I may have been confusing those options when I wrote the first post, but given your search for a single example, let's go with option 2, which I now believe to have been what I judged (but poorly expressed).

On that assumption, a quick glance suggests that your links do not point to any relevant considerations I failed to consider. Those links point to various good making features of other options but they do not point out good or bad making features of the two pertinent options (working and blogging) that would bear on the choice between them - features I failed to consider.

Maybe I should just look at more details of those links though!

B. Can you say something about how you understand "relevant"?


about this:
"I disagree that I need to make an ATC ought judgment in order to decide whether to go to the work or the gym. If I am reflective, I'll decide that, say, I'd be better off going to the gym: I'll compare these two things. But I do not pretend that I've considered everything, or everything relevant. I know that perhaps I ought to do something else entirely, such as read PEA Soup."

I don't think that it is part of Ralph's notion of ATC that you have to consider all things. The semantics in the later chapters is contextualist. The content of the ATC-belief is about which one of the planned worlds have the correctness property out of the relevant set that is restricted by the contextual parametres. The point here is about the contributing and over-all levels. You described making ought judgments on the contributing level. When you solve conflicts between these judgments you are making the relevant kind of judgments that have the crucial rationality requirement.

It's a different question what one ought to consider. Ralph's semantics should work for this ought too though.

Brad: right, for the purposes of the present argument, I concede that you considered all relevant things in your decision whether to blog or to work. Ranking two options is not always very hard. But NJI is not framed comparatively. It's phrased in terms of what single thing I ought to do, all things considered. This implies (I think) that if ATC, I ought to V, then ATC, I ought to V instead of do anything else. But I don't make any practical judgments that commit me to a very long list of such comparative judgments. I just pick among a few options. I am lazy that way. I think others are too.

Perhaps contextual parameters can constrain the the domain of things to be considered in the ATC judgment. As I was saying, I'm working my way through the book, and look forward to seeing how this works. But he presents NJI as a datum to be explained, arguing that his semantics explains it better than others. I'm still unclear on the explanandum.

Still, my point is not to give Ralph any trouble. I think many practical philosophers, including myself, talk about ATC ought-judgments as though we know what we mean. I've just experienced some self-doubt about that!

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