The Value of Practical Reason

Some thought-experiments just grab you and so you think about them for months. Here’s one that I’ve been pondering about for awhile now. It’s from Roger Crisp’s Mill on Utilitarianism (p. 60-62) but adapted from Griffin (Well-Being, p. 9):

The Committee          When you are 22 years old, you are approached by a committee composed of friends and family. One of the members tells you that the committee will, if you wish, take over the running of your life for you. The committee will decide which job you take, where you should live, which hobbies you should indulge in and so on.

Your first doubt will probably concern whether the committee would in fact make the correct decisions. But let us assume that that doubt can be put aside: your own past record of decision-making is pretty bad, while the committee can produce evidence of its success with others. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to hand over the control of your life like this [my emphasis].

       Crisp takes the fact that handing the power over to the committee would be a mistake to be an argument for the fact that ‘practical reason is also a value in itself’, i.e., intrinsically valuable. Griffin agrees with this argument. He writes that:

Even if you convince me that, as my personal despot, you would produce more desirable consciousness for me than I do myself, I shall want to go on being my own master, at least so long as your record would not be much better than mine.

       Notice Griffin’s reservation in the end. He seems to think that practical reason has only some intrinsic value that can possible be outweighed by other instrumental values.

     Why I am interested in the case is that I am not quite convinced. I keep wavering about whether it would be a mistake to hand over my practical reasoning to the committee. Thus, I would like to hear whether the Pea Soupers agree with Crisp. I would like to also hear from those who do why they agree with him. What are the features of practical reason that make it intrinsically good?

       So, why do I hesitate? First, I think there might be something wrong with the thought-experiment. Someone might say that, when ‘your own past record of decision-making is pretty bad’, this shows that you lack practical reason. This would mean that the value of practical reason cannot explain why one should not accept the offer. That would have to be some other value like the value of autonomy. If one had practical reason, one’s decisions would be much better. But, in that case there would necessarily be instrumental benefits from practical reason too. If one’s decisions were successful in that way, there would be no need for the committee. Thus, the committee, as an argumentative tool, would be ineffective to establish the value of practical reason.

       But, I also waver for more personal reasons. I can certainly relate to the thought-experiment. I think I would be very tempted accept the offer and don’t anything really ghastly about it. First, I am pretty bad in practical reasoning. My reason rarely suggests worthwhile, feasible ends and, when it does, the means it picks to those ends tend to be pretty lousy. So, in my case, it would not be that hard for the committee to be successful. Practical reason doesn’t really have much instrumental value for me.

       Furthermore, I think it has some disvalue. When you use your own practical reason, you can only blame yourself for your failures. In contrast, you could blame the committee for its failures and this would certainly be a pleasure. I know that the Sartreans amongst you will say that this would be just an instance of bad faith. You would still be using your practical reason in choosing to carry out the decisions of the committee and thus it would be an illusion to avoid the responsibility. This seems to be a good argument against the thought-experiment – there is no option in which you would not be using your practical reason and thus its value cannot be compared. But, if we set this objection aside, I think I could live with the illusion.

       So, my practical reason does seem to lack instrumental value and it seems to have some disvalue. At this point, I would like to be convinced that it has intrinsic value so that I could accept more readily that it would be mistake for me to accept the committee’s offer.

Crisp says that what makes practical reason valuable is that practical reasoning is running one’s own life for oneself. I would like to also hear more about this. It does seem to me that having one’s own life requires some success in practical reasoning. For this reason the threat that practical reason is only instrumentally valuable in creating a life of value for one is back in the picture.

       I guess that in a way this corresponds to Adeimantus’s challenge to Socrates in the end Book 2, chapter 5 in Plato’s Republic. We could just as well ask:

We put it to you, Socrates, with all respect, in this way. All you who profess to sing praises of [practical reasoning], from the ancient heroes whose legends have survived down to the men of the present day, have never denounced [lacking practical reason] or praised [practical reason] apart from the reputation, honours, and rewards they bring; but what effect either of them in itself has upon its possessor when it dwells in his soul unseen of gods or men, no poet or ordinary man has ever yet explained.

…    So, I want you, in commending [practical reason], to consider only how [practical reason], in itself, benefits a man who has it in him, and how [lacking practical reason] harms him, leaving rewards and reputation out of account.

26 Replies to “The Value of Practical Reason

  1. Great question. I think I’m with Griffin, but I’m not sure I understand the terms clearly. Which of the following is the thing of intrinsic value that we are being asked to give up?
    (a.) the power to exercise my practical reason
    (b.) the power to have my practical reason play some determinative role in how I behave
    (c.) the power to use my practical reason to good effect
    I originally thought the answer was (b), but some things you say make me think you might have (a) in mind. And the following remark seems to suggest (c):
    Someone might say that, when ‘your own past record of decision-making is pretty bad’, this shows that you lack practical reason.

  2. I think Justin asks a good question. For now, I’ll assume that you mean (b) by “practical reason” or “the value of practical reason”, but you might mean something else.
    I’m also not sure what is at stake in the thought experiment. Seems to me that there are many ways practical reason could be valuable. It could be valuable instrumentally or intrinsically. If practical reason’s value is not purely instrumental, it could be intrinsically valuable necessarily or contingently, where “contingent” implies that practical reason is intrinsically valuable for me if I care about it, not if not, and “necessary” implies that practical reason is intrinsically valuable for me no matter what I care about. I take it that Griffin’s claim is compatible with the intrinsic, but contingent, value of “controlling one’s fate”, whereas, perhaps I’m reading this incorrectly, Crisp’s account seems to defend the intrinsic, but necessary, value of running one’s own life. (Compare Mill’s discussion of this in OL 3 iv.) Another way of putting this is might be that Griffin’s claim argues that controlling one’s fate can have intrinsic value, Crisp’s claim argues that controlling one’s fate always has intrinsic value. (It’s possible I’ve got them wrong.)
    I’m tempted to agree with Griffin (at least as I’m reading him), as opposed to Crisp, or the pure instrumentalist. Do you disagree that practical reason can be of intrinsic value at least sometimes?

  3. When you read the example, it is tempting to focus on what might be called the “outward” consequences of your decisions: what job you have, whom you marry, what car you buy, etc. Focusing on those, it is very easy to conclude that practical reason must have intrinsic value, because it seems like making your own decisions must have value that goes beyond these sorts of results. Crisp’s subject Mill, though, would remind us to take into account the “inward” consequences of exercising one’s own practical reason, which might very generally be described in terms of promoting one’s internal development. (These consequences might include, for Mill, a greater ability to enjoy the higher quality pleasures.) Once we take into account these consequences of deciding for oneself, it becomes a little less clear to me that autonomy (which really seems to be what we’re talking about here) has intrinsic rather than merely instrumental value. I’m not saying it doesn’t, but I don’t have a strong intuition that it does. (N.B., you might take the inward consequences to have intrinsic value. You certainly don’t have to follow Mill in seeing them as having value only insofar as they contribute to promoting pleasure/avoiding pain.)

  4. This is a complex topic, but I think you’re right, Jussi, that the value of practical reason depends on using it well, but only in a minimal sense. I.e., confronting an individual who routinely and predictably failed to use her ‘practical reason’ well would lead us to withdraw our ascription of ‘practical reason’ to her altogether. So I suspect that the normativity of practical reason implies that having it (and by extension its being of value) requires at least some minimal threshold of success. The possibility of failure requires the possibility of success. But it wouldn’t follow that the value of practical reason is thereby exclusively instrumental.
    Dale M. mentions autonomy, and I’d say practical reason is a capacity that correlates with autonomy. One way to make Crisp’s thought experiment plausible is to note that we take satisfaction in acting on our conception of what we think is good, even if we turn out to be wrong. (I’m assuming here the thesis that attitudes about goodness are premises in our practical reasoning.) I’m not sure that’s autonomy exactly – perhaps authenticity or integrity more accurately captures it. You seem a glimmer of that in the Platonic idea that acting from knowledge of the good is intrinsically valuable.

  5. Thanks all for great set of comments. Sorry for the slowness in responding but it is the time-difference… Here’s few thoughts:
    Justin,
    I’m not sure I had any of those in mind. I had in mind more something like ‘practical reasoning’ or ‘exercising or using practical reason’. I think this is different from anything starting with power. Powers seem like dispositions and it’s difficult to think how you could lose such a thing.
    Dale D.,
    that’s really interesting. I read them to make a similar claim but with a difference in how much value they attribute to practical reason. Griffin seemed to say that practical reason only has some pro tanto value, whereas Crisp seemed to think that it has more value than that.
    I think it would be an interesting result if practical reason turned out to be only contingently intrinsically valuable. I’m not sure I care about practical reason as such. So, for me, it would lack intrinsic value and for me it would not be a mistake to accept the offer.
    I’m slightly worried about whether a value of a thing is anymore intrinsic to it if it’s having that value depends on our attitudes towards it. I’m not sure whether in that situation the value of the object still supervenes on its intrinsic properties.
    I’m not sure whether I disagree with the claim you pose or not. I’d like to see a situation in which it is clear that practical reason has intrinsic value.
    Dale M.,
    That’s very good. When I initially concentrate on jobs, marriage, and so on, I do think the instrumental value of practical reason comes to my mind. But, you are right that there seems to be an element of value that goes beyond that. This reminds me of Scanlon’s discussion of the different varieties of value of choice. So, in buying gifts, that you have chosen the gift is valuable because it allows the gift to act as an expression of your feelings.
    I wonder though whether you can retain the value of been given choices even when you are guided by the committee.
    Michael,
    I think that’s right. I do worry though that if there has to be an element of success, it will be very difficult to argue that practical reason has both kinds of value, intrinsic and instrumental. A sceptic will always try to explain our praise of the practical reason by the good consequences and say that it is unnecessary to attribute intrinsic value to it.
    The relation to autonomy is interesting. I would initially think that practical reason is an enabling condition for autonomy – necessary but not sufficient. If autonomy is intrinsically valuable, then this would be some ground to attribute some value to practical reason.

  6. Hi Jussi –
    By “intrinsic value” I just meant “non-instrumental value”. (I was interpreting “value in itself” to mean “non-instrumental value”.) If you meant “value that wholly supervenes on intrinsic properties” I think I’d be tempted to say that practical rationality (i.e., running one’s own life) is not intrinsically valuable in that sense, but neither is it always merely instrumentally valuable: it can be of non-instrumental value to those people who value living their lives in the way they decide.
    Re: Griffin. I took him to be riffing on the experience machine and claiming, with Nozick, that there are things that we want besides “desirable consciousness,” including being “our own masters.” But if this is a value claim at all, it is a value claim that attributes non-instrumental value to practical rationality on the basis of our desires/valuings. I was reading Crisp as saying that even if you wanted to have some despot control your life, you’re wrong to do so; practical rationality is non-instrumentally valuable for you. (Actually, I think Mill holds that view, too.)
    How might practical rationality be contingently non-instrumentally valuable? Let’s say I’m a typical Steve McQueen-type character who wants to live my own life, no matter what mistakes I make along the way. This is one desire I have that might come into competition with other desires, but if I had the choice of two lives, both identical save for the fact that one includes me choosing for myself, I’d choose the latter. In that sense, it seems to me, “choosing for myself” has non-instrumental value for me.

  7. I am wondering if it is even possible to give up one’s practical reasoning to a 3rd party. Let us grant that the outcome of Person A’s practical reasoning (PR) is usually not very good, i.e.; either the goal/objective itself was not well thought out or the means to achieve the goal/objective was not well thought out. Let us grant that Person A decides to turn over decision-making regarding her future courses of action to a committee as described in the thought experiment. This is itself the result of using PR. A problem arises when the committee makes its 1st decision. Let us assume that this decision is in regards to taking a job in a certain company. Does not Person A still need to utilize her PR in order to understand what the committee is choosing for her and even to agree to join the company? It seems that the committee needs to give Person A some assurances that joining this organization is in her best interest. After all, even the committee is not 100% correct in all its decisions. It just has a better track record then Person A., that is why A decided to turn over decision-making to the committee. But does not A have to agree with the committee regarding what is in her best interest in this case and if so how does she reach this agreement except by using her PR. Even if A agrees with the committee that her best interest is served by taking the job it is still her PR that allows A to concur with the committees recommendation. If this is so, then Person A is continually utilizing her PR to give continued assent to the committee’s decisions regarding her future courses of action.

  8. Dale,
    that’s good. True – maybe final value is a better term for what we are talking about.
    I’m curious about this:
    ‘But if this is a value claim at all, it is a value claim that attributes non-instrumental value to practical rationality on the basis of our desires/valuings.’
    There’s two ways to read the case against the experience machine. The first is the way you read it that our (rationally?) valuing certain states of affairs makes it take case that other things outside pleasures are valuable (but their value depends on our valuing them). The other is to say that our valuing other things is evidence that there are other things that have final value (where you think that their value is not dependent on our valuing them). Maybe Griffin has the first reading in mind that but I cannot recall whether he obviously has that in mind at that point.
    By the way, I think the experience machine is not really relevant here as I think the way the thought experiment goes you could do practical reasoning in the machine the same as always.
    The case you describe – there is a worry that what makes the one life better is that there is one desire of yours that is satisfied in this life and not in the other. You might think that practical reasoning is instrumental in satisfying this desire and gets its value from this.

  9. Jussi,
    “Power” may have been a poorly-chosen word, but I was trying to point to the distinction between exercising practical reason and exercising it well. You say that a past record of bad moral decisions indicates that you never really exercised practical reasoning in the first place. I say you did exercise practical reasoning, you just exercised it poorly. (You and Michael do a nice job of articulating your position on this issue, by the way.)
    As I understand it, you think exercising one’s practical reasoning is like exercising one’s ability to ride a bicycle: if you can’t do it reasonably well, you’re not really doing it at all. I tend to think that it’s more like bowling or baseball: even when I’m a dismal bowler–putting every ball in the gutter, dropping it on my feet, etc.–I’m still bowling. That’s because the activity of bowling consists in large part in trying to bowl.
    Of course, there are cases where having a bad record of moral decision-making indicates that no practical reasoning is going on at all, but I doubt that’s true in your case. I assume you were at least trying to weigh alternatives, considering what would be the right thing for you to do (thus probably taking a kind of moral responsibility for your decisions), and doing a number of other things that constitute practical reasoning. I think this bears significantly on the autonomy issue, but I’m not sure.

  10. John,
    I’m with you. That was the Sartrean worry I set aside. If you are right about this, then the case cannot be used to show that PR has intrinsic value.

  11. Justin,
    right. Now we are on the same page. I think I might agree that what is at issue is the activity – using your practical reason. I was just thinking that someone might reply to Crisp’s argument by saying that you need to do this activity well in order count as someone whose practical reason is at work. But, I think, I might be with you that doing well is not needed. In this case, Crisp’s case becomes relevant for assessing the value of the activity – should we give it up with the results are instrumentally bad. I would like to know what is so good in the relevant activity that giving it up would be a mistake.
    I was trying to set moral issues aside not to complicate things.

  12. Dale D. (I wonder what the odds are that a small group like the list of PEA Soup’s contributors would include two “Dales.”),
    If I read you correctly, you’re claiming that you believe that Mill takes making your own decisions to have intrinsic value. Which presumably means that you deny that he is a hedonist. Is that correct? If so, I’d be interested in your reasons why. Dan. B. tells me that he started a history of ethics section when he added me to the contributors list, because he knows I’m interested in Mill. This might make an interesting topic to inaugurate the section.
    The other Dale

  13. Dale M. –
    Now if we could just get Dale Jamieson on board, we’d have a trifecta!
    My considered judgment is that Mill isn’t a hedonist, as you say. (Mostly I’ve been convinced by Brink on this issue.) There are a few passages in U that are strongly suggestive, including the “dignity” passage. Also chapter 3 of OL is chocked full of stuff that makes Mill seem like he holds that deciding one’s own life for one is an important element of well-being in a non-instrumental way. But I’d love to talk more about this in a new topic!

  14. I started to begin a Mill thread, but I guess that would be considered bad form, because this thread is still pretty active. I’ll do it in a couple of days, unless someone else does. I’m anxious to try out my line that Mill believes that dignity is a higher quality pleasure, or at least that it is a source of higher quality pleasure.

  15. Jussi
    Sorry I overlooked your point regarding Sartreans. But to move on with the ‘illusion,’ why not look at the issue of the intrinsic value of practical reason in terms of what is essential when defining what it means to be a person. I am still a person even if I lose an eye or a leg or speech, but am I one if I ‘lose’ my ability to reason? It seems that practical reason really “pertains to the nature” of what it means to be a person. If this is the case then I think that issue of how well we utilize it is related only to its instrumental value.
    A person can have x as being inherently essential to its nature, but not be very good at using x. The same thing applies to non-essential elements of what we are. My eyes are not a good as they once were; therefore I wear glasses to correct the problem. If this makes sense, then relying on a committee to ‘make’ decisions for me, may very well function in improving my outcomes the same way that glasses do for my eyesight; it improves my chances of being successful in achieving goals/objectives that are important to me – being happy (whatever that means) for example. Is not the idea of relying on a committee similar in nature to joining a particular religious or political organization? (I have in mind here Hoffer’s analysis.) Joining these types of organizations is seen as a way to improve one’s position regarding some important factor in one’s life; it gives it meaning or grounds it, whatever.
    I have a question that may bear on the general topic; if one gives over control of one’s decision-making to a committee due to one’s inability to instrumentally utilize it properly, is it possible to take this control back at some later date? Can one learn from the committee’s choices how to improve utilizing one’s practical reason instrumentally and in doing so regain control of one’s life? Is this not what education is about? Do we think that the practice of education is a failure to recognize the inherent value of practical reason, or rather, as a means to build and strengthen a person’s ability to utilize their practical reason that we recognize as being an essential part of our nature?

  16. Dear John,
    I think those are very good questions. I think that it depends. There is education and then there is education as there are religious organisations and religious organisations. The ideal, good versions I take it help you to learn to utilise your practical reason well. They do not offer you direct results but rather options and reasons for them for you to assess. But, then on the other end, you have the boot camp type of training where the aim is to get the demands to bypass your practical reasoning so that you comply automatically. In the committee case, I had something like this in mind. It may be that one loses one’s personhood in the progress and that does seem like a genuine worry. But, I am not sure about this.

  17. A further question (slightly tangential to the current discussion, so apologies): there are at least some cases where we do hand over some control of our lives to committees or similar (legislative bodies, doctors, etc.), and where this is unobjectionable. So I take it that our intuitions permit this kind of trade-off between autonomy and well-being; but assuming that our intuitions agree with Crisp, where’s the cut-off point (and what explains it)?
    [I’m tempted by the following thought: in order to possess certain goods, such as having certain life projects, we need to have chosen them for ourselves – so autonomy is important as a condition of possessing these goods. I suppose that’s in the Sartrean ballpark . . . ]

  18. Sorry to join the thread rather late, but I wanted to comment on John Alexander’s suggestion that Person A would have to agree with the committee’s decisions. Raz’s discussion of pratical authority seems pertinent here. (“Authority and Justification”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1985 )
    According to Raz, a person has practical authority over another if his directives function as pre-emptive reasons for their subject – meaning that the subject should take this directive as a reason, which replaces in his decision making the reasons that would otherwise apply. I think Raz says the the committe’s dictates function as “exclusionary reasons”: reasons which rule out appeal to other reasons.
    So, if Person A has really agreed to be governed by the committee, then their directives will act as exclusionary reasons for him: they will rule out appeal to his own evaluation of the case.

  19. Ezra,
    that’s a good question. I’m sure what I would say about this is not very satisfactory. In questions about value, I’m drawn towards pluralism and maybe even particularism about value and value-bearers. There just are things that are valuable to different degrees just like some things have more weight than others. That sounds like something very basic.
    I take it that many have the intuition that autonomy has a lot of value. But, maybe there are situations in which the value-losses in missing out on autonomy can be compensated by the value of other things. The cut-off point just would be that in these cases there is more values on the other side of the balance than the autonomy side. I’m not sure what the explanation you ask for would be like for such a basic fact(unless the value of all these things could be reduced to something more basic like desire-satisfaction).
    Fiona,
    that sounds good. I do wonder whether an agent can exclude the other considerations as reasons without taking the demands of the committee to be (exclusionary) reasons to do so. This is to say that whether there is a more direct and less reasoning-involving way to stop using practical reason to consider the status of other considerations. If there isn’t, then we are tied to some amount of practical reasoning anyway. If there is, then it seems that we could in principle do without this activity.

  20. Jussi,
    Hmm. I take it that there are a few options other than the straightforward balancing-values model (and that there are some reasons not to think that autonomy has intrinsic value; specifically, it seems to me that autonomy obeys some kind of law of diminishing returns, such that there’s a great difference between some and no autonomy, but not much difference between ‘lots’ and ‘even more’).
    Specifically, either:
    i. Autonomy is a constitutive element of well-being (such that you can’t compromise it entirely in an attempt to maximise well-being),
    ii. Autonomy is a necessary condition for well-being (such that . . . etc)
    or
    iii. It’s just a fact that what matters is having *enough* autonomy (like some other basic goods, e.g. food, water, and so on). But I’m assuming that this itself needs explanation, and that either of (i) or (ii) will do the work.
    The upshot of all of this being that we can make sense of our intuitions about the cases without maintaining that autonomy is intrinsically valuable. But I realise that this isn’t particularly convincing to anyone who’s not as cynical about autonomy as I am 🙂

  21. Fiona
    Interesting point. I am not qualified to discuss Raz, but I am inclined to think that it is simply not possible for Person A not to have to come to agree (or disagree) with what the committee decides is in his best interest. It seems to me that if A’s decisions that he has made for himself have not been that good then even if he has decided to turn his decision making over to a committee he is going to be faced with the paradox that the committee will choose something for him that he probably will not initially agree is in his best interest. It can be assumed that his decision would have been different then the one made by the committee, or why turn over decision making authority to it. So it seems that A must reflect upon the committee’s decision in order to come to agree to follow whatever it dictates. The committee’s decisions may in time become ‘excusionary’ as A gains cionfidence in its decisions, but I do not think it could start out that way.
    Here is a question for all: why would A agree to turn over his decision-making to a committee? Yes we know that his own decision-making has not been successful, but if this is so then why does he think this decision is going to be any better? Is the evidence that the committee brings forth to justify its claim that it has been successful with others in the past sufficient to warrant A’s decision to turn over his decision-making to the committee? After all there have been failures. If the committee is bringing forth evidence to support its claim that A would be better off given up his decision-making to the committee, the committee is relying on his decision-making ability to be able to successfully and correctly evaluate this evidence and reach the proper conclusion and make the correct decision. The committee’s own actions towards A presuppose that it thinks that A is competent to make at least one practically important decision. This seems paradoxical.

  22. Ezra,
    absolutely. Values are related in a more variety of ways than mere weighing. But, I think in this case it has to come down to that at some point. If autonomy was a necessary condition or a constituent of well-being, then it is not clear how it could be that, as you said earlier, at some point there comes a time where we intuitively would say that it would be better to hand over the controls. If autonomy was a necessary requirement for well-being, then it’s not clear what value wins out in these cases – at least it couldn’t be the value of well-being because that would require autonomy which is now lost.
    John A,
    I’m not sure that is the question. Crisp put the question from a neutral, third-person perspective. Would it be a mistake for someone to do this? This is an interesting question even when it could be that the person for whom it would not be a mistake would probably go wrong with this question too. From my own point of view, I might think that A loses confidence to his own practical reasoning because of the bad track-record. At that point, it does seem to be the case that anything else probably works better – especially the decisions of those who seem to be doing fine in their practical reasoning.

  23. Jussi
    I have not read Crisp’s or Griffin’s account of this, but the way it was presented above the issue seems to be presented in the 1st person; what should I do if I am this type of person. But, even from a 3rd person perspective I think the paradox remains. I might think that Person A should agree to turn over his future decision-making to the committee, but A’s ability to reach this agreement is questionable if I think that A’s performance in the past has been poor. It seems that inductively I have no reason to think that A will agree to turn his decision-making over to the committee given A’s past performance. It still seems paradoxical; A’s agreeing to abide by the decisions of the committee is derived from him making a good decision, but the basis for the committee asking him to abide by it’s decisons rests upon it’s belief that he makes bad decisions.
    I think an interesting problem remains. If we do look at from the 3rd person perspective why would we not conclude that we should force A to abide by the decisions of the committee? It seems that if it is stated in the 1st person that the problem is one of our autonomy and ability to use our practical reasoning to achieve good ends. However, I think that it becomes paternalistic if viewed from the 3rd person perspective. If I know (inductively) that A’s decision-making results in poor outcomes for him then should I intervene in his life and limit his autonomy? Certainly a good case can be made for this. This type of intervention happens all the time especially in cases where the agent’s decision-making is compromised and/or is leading to self-destructive behavior and outcomes. In these cases we do not ask, we ‘force’ the agent to change. We do not ask for A’s agreement, we demand his compliance to our reasoned decision regarding what is in his best interest. However, the issue as you presented it is that we are not going to intervene if A decides not to agree to abide by the decisions of the committee; we are simply trying to determine if we think A should agree to turn over his decision-making to the committee.
    Did not JS Mill agrue that we have no right to intervene in a person’s life even if that person’s behavior is self-destructive?

  24. Well, you might think that it would not be a mistake for the agent to give up his practical reasoning and that she should place her decision-making in the hands of the committee even if we cannot get her to agree on this. I’m also not sure why it would follow in any direct way that if we say this that it would follow that we should force her to give up her reasoning (yes – this would be paternalistic). You are right that in some cases there is reason to do so – when the agent’s are self-desctructive. But, maybe there are less extreme bad-reasoners in the case of whom the value of the activity of practical reasoning could be outweighed by other values. All of this fits Mill’l harm-principle well.

  25. Jussi
    I agree that from the 3rd person perspective it is not necessarily the case then we should force someone to agree to abide by the decisions of a third party. I was simply asking the question regarding paternalism; is this in general a paternalistic framework regardless of utilizing force, or simply thinking that I should follow the committee, or actually asserting that I should follow the committee’s decision regarding what is best for my life? I guess the question becomes at what point do we think that people should give over their autonomous decision-making to a third party? Simply making more bad decisions then good ones re outcomes may not be a sufficient reason although it may be a necessary one. Sartre persuades me that even if I decide to have others make my decisions or merely ask others their advice, this decision to give up my ‘autonomy’ or ask for advice is an act of an autonomous agent (and must continually remain so ). I guess I would like to know if there is a point where the committee should refuse to give me direction (like Sartre does the young man asking him if he should join the Free French Army or stay home and care for his mother) and tell me to rely on my own abilities and/or to improve my abilities if they are lacking is some way. Does this change the nature of the discussion? If the committee tells me to do something and I have agreed to follow their advice/decisions, am I still responsible for the outcome if I have given up my autonomy?
    Anyway this has been a very interesting and informative discussion for me. Jussi (and others), I appreciate the fact that you take the time to respond to my comments.

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