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April 01, 2015


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Hi Jussi, I haven't had a chance to read the paper yet, but why can't buck passers deny the inheritance thesis by claiming that reasons for desires should be understood with reference to the relevant good-making features, rather than goodness itself? Imagine that pleasure is the only good thing. Buck passers could then say that a reason to desire X is something that entails that X is pleasurable (or similar).

Jussi, I don’t think Premise 2 could be right.

A typical reason to believe that p isn’t a conclusive reason to believe that p. For example, the fact that the class in room 223 is a philosophy class is a reason for you to believe that the instructor is male. But, the worlds in which you believe the instructor is a male on the basis of the class being a philosophy class are not worlds in which the fact that the class is a philosophy class rules out the instructor’s being a woman.

That's not just a quibble. I doubt there is any way to finish the analysis without including normative terminology.

Hi Alex

yes - I do think that one main way to avoid the argument is to try to avoid a commitment to the inheritance thesis in the way that Smith has formulated it.

One way you could do this would be to focus on evaluative truths other than truths about final value. These could be truths about thick evaluative properties (maybe pleasurable is such a property) that make things finally good. I think the cost of this would be that, if the argument works otherwise, we could only give a buck-passing view of the final good but not of the other thick evaluative properties. And as Pekka Vayrynen has argued, there will be problems if you go this way.

The other alternative would be to focus on non-evaluative good-making properties. I'm thinking that pleasant might one such property. Here the view would say that the reasonhood (for a final desire) of some consideration reduces to its supporting the truth that the desired state affairs has the given non-evaluative property (that is also good-making). I've got few concerns about this. One is that it seems to commit the buck-passers analytically to controversial views about what concrete, substantial first-order reasons there are just because they need a response to Smith's objection.

Anyway, in principle, this is one line to take, but it will have its costs.

Hi Jamie

as far as I can see, Smith contributes the strong thesis to Hume but distances himself from that view to accommodate inductive and abductive reasons which I take it can be less than conclusive. Here's Smith's formulation of Lewis's view which I just included in a very rough formulation (my apologies for the inaccuracy):

"We might suppose that some fact p is a reason for a subject to believe that q iff and because p is the sort of thing that could give a subject knowledge that p, where this in turn is explained by the fact that, in those possible worlds in which the subject does know that q on the basis of p, the fact that p removes all of the other possibilities except for q that the subject isn't properly ignoring, where the norms of proper ignoring are semantic norms telling us when someone's forming a belief in the ignorance of certain facts counts a knowledge."

I've got some difficulties in parsing out the view here. As far as I see, this view allows for non-conclusive reasons and you seem right that we might need normative terminology in specifying what can be properly ignored. So, yes, you are right that my formulation of this theory was sloppy, but do you think that Smith's proper formulation suffers from the same problem?

It's not that we'll need normative terms to say what can properly be ignored, or that 'proper' ignoring is already normative. It's that evidence is normative. Leave all those things aside -- those could be semantic or pragmatic norms anyway, not epistemic ones, as Michael notes.

I do think Michael's formulation suffers from the same problem, although I find it a bit hard to understand so I may be wrong. Suppose, as seems to happen in the typical cases of epistemic reasons, that p is the sort of thing that could give a subject knowledge that q, but only if it were helped along by other stuff (other reasons, some enabling conditions). So in the other worlds in which S knows that q on the basis of p, p doesn't remove all of the other possibilities at all.
For example, let p be the fact that the class in room 223 is a philosophy class, and q is the proposition that the instructor is male. So p is the sort of thing that could give you knowledge that q, but not all by itself. In those worlds in which you do know that q based on p, you have other reasons too, and maybe some defeater defeaters or other non-reason supplements. (One thing that makes it hard for me to understand is the idea of knowing something based on something; I don't really understand what that is.)

So, p is a reason to believe q, but p doesn't rule out the other possibilities, even in the worlds in which you know that q on the basis of p.

Hi Jamie

thanks this is helpful. I need to think about this more. Just two quick thoughts:

1. I can see that there might be a couple of ways to defend the view against this worry. One would be that the reason for belief is never properly just one atomic proposition but rather a full set of propositions that includes the other 'reasons' and other supplements. The other perhaps would be to take the subject's background information to the relevant worlds and say that p removes all the other relevant possibilities assuming that background information. I'm not sure whether all the problems could be solved in these ways.

2. Assume that Smith's view of epistemic reasons suffers from this problem. In this case, those reasons could not be reduced to pure entailment and truth, but rather only to evidence understood in some richer inherently normative way. I worry that this will still be enough for Smith to run the argument against buck-passing view. So, it's not clear to me that the objection depends on such an austere reduction as Smith suggests.

Of course, one alternative is that what unifies 'reason' talk is what expressivists say unifies it. I know Smith doesn't like that, but it does solve the 'No Equivocation' problem.

Hi Jussi

Its an interesting argument, but I'm not convinced it is entirely consistent.

If I understand the proposal correctly, Premise 2 says (something like) the reasons for belief are truths that entail the truth of the belief. The Inheritance Thesis says that reasons for desires must be the same sorts of things as reasons for belief, and so they must themselves be truths that have some entailment relation. But they can’t entail the truth of the content of the desire, so they must entail something closely related to the desire. The only plausible thing in the vicinity is a belief about what’s good.

This seems to me to involve its own equivocation, and thus it violates Premise 1, unless desires are themselves just beliefs about what’s good. Reasons *for* desire are not like reasons *for* belief. They are related to desire via truths about what’s good. Reasons for desires and desires have a very different relationship than reasons for beliefs and beliefs. If that degree of equivocation is accepted, I don’t see why we should buy Conclusion 1.

Derek: I'm just following Judy Thomson on this point. A single concept of a reason is in play, and that is the concept of a reason for being in a mental state with a correctness condition. A reason for being in a mental state with a correctness condition is a consideration that bears the (now let's vague it up so that we can put to one side the issue that Jussi and Jamie have been discussing) appropriate truth-supporting relationship to the proposition that is that mental state's correctness condition. Examples of mental states with correctness conditions are belief and intrinsic desire. The correctness condition of the belief that p is the proposition that p, so the reasons are the considerations that bear the appropriate truth-supporting relationship to the proposition that p. The correctness condition of the final desire that p is the proposition that p is intrinsically good, so the so the reasons are the considerations that bear the appropriate truth-supporting relationship to the proposition that p is intrinsically good. There is therefore no

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