how not to solve the wrong kind of reasons problem

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  • How Not to Solve the Wrong Kind of Reasons Problem

    Christos Kyriacou

    Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

    1 Introduction

    Recent debates in metanormativity have paid considerable attention to the wrong

    kind of reasons (henceforth, WKR) problem that afflicts so-called buckpassing

    accounts of value.1 Let me very briefly introduce buckpassing accounts of value and

    what the WKR problem is about. Roughly, buckpassing accounts of value contend

    that for something to be valuable is to have other properties that give reasons for

    proattitudes.2 For example, a work of art might be valuable because it has certain

    properties (e.g. colourful, soft texture etc.) that give reasons to think it admirable.

    Buckpassing accounts, however, seem to run straight into the WKR problem.

    Roughly, the problem consists in the fact that agents may very easily have

    pragmatic reasons for proattitudes that may have to do with the instrumental valueof having the attitude itself and nothing to do with epistemic reasons about the valueof the object, act, event etc. itself. Thus, buckpassing accounts seem to allow for

    C. Kyriacou (&)University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus


    1 See Justin DArms and Daniel Jacobsen, Sentiment and Value, Ethics, Vol. 110, pp. 722748 (2000);Wlodek Rabinowicz and Toni Ronnow-Rasmussen, The Strike of the Demon: On Fitting Pro-Attitudes

    and Value, Ethics ,Vol. 114, pp. 391423 (2004); Jonas Olson, Buckpassing and the Wrong Kind ofReasons, The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 215, pp. 295300 (2004); Pamela Hieronymi, TheWrong Kind of Reason, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 102, No. 9, pp. 437457 (2005); MarkSchroeder, Value and the Right Kind of Reason, in R. Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies inMetaethics 5 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); Ulrike Heuer, Beyond Wrong Reasons: TheBuck-Passing Account of Value, in M. Brady (ed.), New Waves in Metaethic (Palgrave Macmillan,Hampshire, 2011), pp. 166184.2 See Timothy Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,1998); DArms and Jacobsen, 2000, op. cit.; Rabinowicz and Ronnow-Rasmussen, 2004, op. cit.


    J Value Inquiry

    DOI 10.1007/s10790-013-9368-y

  • such wrong kind of reasons that, intuitively, cant constitute the right kind ofreasons for proattitudes. They cant constitute the right kind of reasons because they

    are not epistemically justifying reasons.3 Hence, buckpassing accounts seem to get

    the facts about what is valuable wrong because they may include as valuable things

    that are obviously not valuable and exclude things that are obviously valuable as not


    For example, suppose I would like to marry someone not because I love him but

    because he is rich and can provide for a comfortable life. But this someone is

    especially shrewd and can reliably discern who is after his money and who truly

    cares about him. So, I need to bring myself to truly love him, if I will manage to

    marry him and have access to the comfortable life he can provide. But does the fact

    that he has the property of being rich\able to provide a comfortable life give me an

    epistemic reason to sincerely love him? Is this the correct (or fitting) proattitude to

    the occasion? It seems not. It seems plain wrong to try to fall in love with someone

    just in order to have a comfortable life. It is a wrong kind of reason for having the

    attitude of love. The problem is, exactly, that a buckpassing account seems to allow

    for such cases.

    Of important note is that the WKR problem is a thorny problem plaguing all kind of

    normative buckpassing accounts: moral/practical, epistemic, aesthetic and other. You

    might have a pragmatic reason to believe, to admire, to approve, to respect, to intend, to

    plan, to improve etc. that is of the wrong kind.4 Thus, the WKR problem is a quite

    general problem that afflicts buckpassing accounts in all their normative applications.

    But Heuer (2011) has recently argued that we can easily avoid the problem if we

    turn from a buckpassing account of reasons for attitudes to a buckpassing account of

    reasons for action. In this paper I argue that Heuers (2011) attempt not only fails to

    avoid the problem but it actually exacerbates it. Heuers proposal is still afflicted by

    the WKR problem in regard to reasons for attitudes and is also carried over to

    reasons for action. In what follows, in section 1 I briefly present Heuers proposal

    and in section 2 argue against the proposal. In section 3 I sum up the argument and

    close with some rumination about the possible source of the WKR problem.

    2 Heuers (2011) Novel Buckpassing Account

    Heuers (2011:172-2) interesting paper examines the source of the WKR problem

    and reaches the diagnosis that the source of the problem lies in the commitment of

    buckpassing accounts to a so-called fitting attitude analysis of value.5 According

    to fitting attitude analyses of value, to be valuable is to be a fitting object of a pro-

    attitude like admiration, desirability, love, gratitude, approval etc. It is easy to see

    how a buckpassing account of value incorporates such a commitment. It does so

    3 See Olson, 2004, op. cit.; Hieronymi, 2005, op. cit.; Schroeder, 2010, op. cit., for proposed solutions to

    the problem that try to spell out the right kind of justification.4 See Pascals famous wager and Gregory Kavka, The Toxin Puzzle, Analysis, Vol. 43, No. 1,pp. 3336 (1983).5 See A.C. Ewing. The Definition of Good (London: Macmillan, 1949); Franz Brentano, 1969, op.cit.;Rabinowicz and Ronnow-Rasmussen (2004: 394400), op. cit.

    C. Kyriacou


  • because it relies on the idea that something is valuable only if we have reason to

    respond to it with a certain proattitude. And as we have sketched, the WKR problem

    arises because we might have reason to respond with a certain proattitude that is not

    of the right kind (and, inversely, we might have reason not to respond with a certain

    proattitude that is of the right kind).

    Heuer argues that what causes the problem is not, as has been identified in

    literature, that there can be reasons for pro-attitudes towards things that are devoid

    of value but rather the commitment to a fitting attitude analysis of value per se,quite independently of whether the things the pro-attitudes are towards are devoid of

    value or not. To illustrate her point, she (2011:172-3) gives the example of a benign

    and caring benefactor that wants you to love a beautiful painting that she is going to

    bequeath to you. As the example goes, you have one reason for loving the painting,

    namely, that it is truly beautiful, and you have a further reason, because your

    benefactor wishes you so. Your reason is perhaps a reason of gratitude or a reason

    not to disappoint your benefactor. And you would have this further reason even if

    your benefactor, not being the best judge in matters aesthetic, were mistaken on this

    occasion and the painting were but a poor piece of artwork.

    Heuer goes on to correctly point out that, even if the painting is beautiful and

    merits admiration, having a reason to love it in order to show gratitude to your

    benefactor is a reason of the wrong kind. The aesthetic value of a beautiful painting

    consists not in its having properties like being commended by a person you owe a

    debt of gratitude to, but consists in its aesthetic properties, no matter what these are

    as she says, this much we know a priori. As the attitude of loving has nothing to do

    with the value of the painting but has all to do with other pragmatically justifying

    considerations (like showing gratitude to your benefactor), this is again a case of the

    familiar WKR problem.

    On the basis of this example, she diagnoses that the problem has not been clearly

    identified in the literature because (i)t is not the problem that there can be reasons for

    pro-attitudes towards things that are devoid of value. Some reasons for admiring things

    are of the wrong kind, whether or not these things are of value or admirable. Given that

    reasons for attitude can be of the wrong kind independently of the value of the object, she

    concludes that the problem is endemic to reasons for attitudes and, therefore, the sourceof the problem is the buckpassers commitment to a fitting attitude analysis of value.

    As a result of this diagnosis, she formulates a buckpassing account not tied on a

    fitting attitude analysis of value (and, hence, reasons for attitudes) but tied on

    reasons for action. She is hopeful that such an account could avoid the WKR

    problem because, remember, what causes the problem is the commitment to a fitting

    attitude analysis of value. Her (2011:179) version of the buckpassing account

    proposes that X is good consists in Xs having some other property, P, that

    provides a reason for action. As she says, her reasons for action version of the

    buckpassing account dodges the problem because both in cases of instrumental and

    final value we do not run into the WKR problem. To illustrate, first, her point about

    instrumental value, she (2011:170) gives this nice example:

    Assume that the evil demon orders you to express your admiration for him

    (or for a saucer of mud) by bowing three times, or he will torture you. Clearly

    How Not to Solve the Wrong Kind of Reasons Problem


  • you have a pro tanto reason to bow three times and do whatever else it takes toexpress admiration,