Here is the second of the two threads, on Jonathan Way's "Transmission and the Wrong Kind of Reason." Critical precis begins below the fold.
Jonathan Way’s paper offers a novel and fascinating argument defending the skeptical solution of the Wrong Kind of Reasons Problem (WKR problem) for the Fitting-Attitudes analysis of value (FA-analysis). According to the skeptics, such as Gibbard, Parfit and Skorupski, there really are no wrong-kind reasons. The incentives for attitudes, which one might be inclined to consider as wrong-kind reasons for the attitudes in question, are in fact right-kind reasons for wanting these attitudes or for bringing them about. Thus, the “WKR skeptics” claim that the WKR-problem is spurious. The “WKR defenders”, who assume the existence of wrong-kind reasons, cannot dismiss the WKR problem in this way.
The standard argument used by the skeptics appeals to one of the two “common marks” of the wrong-kind reasons: to the difficulty of responding to those considerations in a direct way, by an immediate adoption of the relevant attitude. (Cf. Mark Schroeder’s first “earmark” in “The Ubiquity of State-Given Reasons”, in the same issue of Ethics. The second “common mark” Way mentions corresponds to Schroeder’s third earmark: The wrong-kind reasons might make the relevant attitudes required, but they do not bear on their correctness; they do not make them “fitting”.) According to the standard skeptical argument, the fact that we cannot respond to these consideration by a direct adoption of the attitudes they provide incentives for shows that they aren’t reasons for the attitudes in question.
Way finds this argument appealing but also problematic. As he points out, “it is difficult to specify a notion of ‘responding to a reason’ that will vindicate its … premises”. He therefore sets this line of reasoning aside and instead proposes a new argument that turns on the pattern of reason transmission.
Way’s argument takes off from the plausible idea that reasons transmit: “there is often reason for one action or attitude because there is reason for another.” (p. 493) He begins with describing a transmission pattern for actions (Action Pattern): “If there is a reason to A, then the fact that B-ing facilitates A-ing is a reason to B.” (p. 494) B can facilitate A in at least three ways: by being a means, an enabling condition, or a “constitutive means”, i.e. a way of A-ing. There are qualifications that need to be made if we are to accept Action Pattern, such as the requirement that B is not a superfluous facilitator, but Way takes it that given the appropriate qualifications the Action Pattern can be assumed to hold. The transmissions patterns for right-kind reasons for different attitudes are similar to the Action Pattern. But for attitudes the right-kind reasons are transmitted across the facilitative relations between their objects. Thus, given the analogous qualifications as in the case of the Action Pattern, the “Intention Pattern” looks like this: “If there is a reason of the right kind to intend to A, then the fact that B-ing facilitates A-ing is a reason of the right kind to intend to B.” (p. 496) And the “Desire Pattern” (p. 497) has the same format: “If there is a reason of the right kind for you to desire x to F, then the fact that y’s G-ing facilitates x’s F-ing is a reason of the right kind for you to desire y to G.” (It is somewhat unclear to us why Way needs this complex formulation. The idea, after all, seems to be that if you have a reason of the right kind to desire A and B facilitates A, then you have a reason of the right kind to desire B.) Transmission patterns for other attitudes concerning right-kind reasons are not described in any detail, even though Way mentions that for beliefs right-kind reasons transmit across logical implications. Given that the focus is on the WKR-problem and thus on the Fitting-Attitudes account of value, it is a pity that there is no intimation concerning transmission of right-kind reasons for such pro-attitudes as admiration, awe, love, etc. But perhaps the explanation is that, unlike as in the case of desire, the right-kind reasons for these other kinds of pro-attitudes do not exhibit any general patterns?
As for the (purported) reasons of the wrong kind, the pattern of their transmission is different. The wrong-kind reasons are transmitted across the facilitative relations between attitudes themselves and not between the corresponding relations between their objects. Subject to appropriate qualifications, we thus get the following “Wrong Reason Pattern: “If there is a reason of the wrong kind for attitude A, then the fact that attitude B facilitates attitude A is a reason of the wrong kind for attitude B.” (p. 498)
Now, Way presents a challenge to the WKR defenders: What is the explanation of the Wrong Reason Pattern? Why do wrong-kind reasons transmit in this way?
He considers this question to be easily answerable by the WKR skeptics. On their view, the alleged wrong-kind reasons for attitudes are in reality right-kind reasons for wanting those attitudes (or reasons for bringing them about). Thus, the transmission pattern for wrong-kind reasons reduces to the transmission pattern for right-kind reasons: Transmission of reasons goes in this case through the facilitative connections between objects of attitudes of higher order. If there is a right-kind reason to want an attitude A and an attitude B facilitates A, then there is a right-kind reason to want B.
Way takes it that from the point of view of the skeptic this provides “a straightforward explanation of why the Wrong Reason Pattern appears to hold.” (p. 502) Is it so? We are not fully convinced. First, Way doesn’t explain why wrong-kind reasons for attitudes appear to be reasons for those attitudes and not just reasons for wanting them or bringing them about. Some psychological explanation of this alleged misapprehension would need to be a part of the WKR skeptic’s account. Second, Way doesn’t explain why the right-kind reason patterns are valid. Thus, his reduction of the wrong-kind pattern to a right-kind pattern leaves us with some questions unanswered.
But what about the WKR defenders? Way considers two avenues the defenders might try to explore in order to explain the Wrong Reason Pattern. The first one takes its departure from the WKR defenders’ own account of the distinction between the right and the wrong kinds of reasons. There are several such accounts but Way convincingly shows that most of them aren’t helpful in this respect: They focus on the right-kind reasons, since it is in terms of those that the FA-analysis is supposed to be framed, and thus they have little to say about reasons of the wrong kind. The account proposed by Sven Danielsson and Jonas Olson is the most informative in this respect, but even that one ultimately fails to meet the challenge. Since Way’s discussion of the Danielsson-Olson proposal to a large extent follows the same thread as his discussion of the second way to meet the explanatory challenge, we will only focus on the latter approach. The idea here is to account for the Wrong Reason Pattern in terms of the value of the attitudes. This is, in fact, how wrong-kind reasons often are intuitively explicated: The suggestion is that such reasons for an attitude have to do with the value of the attitude itself rather than with the value of its object. Thus, to take the well-known example, the reason to desire a saucer of mud has nothing to do with the value of the object of this desire, but everything to do with the value of the desire itself—with its being a means to avoid punishment by the evil demon. This makes it a reason of the wrong kind.
On the "Value-Based Theory," "[f]or p to be a reason of the wrong kind for attitude A is for p to be a respect in which it is good to have attitude A" (p. 506). On this theory, the Wrong Reason Pattern is very easy to explain: If reasons of the wrong kind have to do with the value of an attitude itself, then they obviously transfer from an attitude A to an attitude B that facilitates A. If A has value, then B thereby has a derived value and thus there are reasons of the wrong kind to have it.
However, the problem with this “Value-Based Theory” of the wrong-kind reasons is that, as it stands, it makes the FA-analysis circular: “It looks circular to hold both that the valuable is what there is reason to value [as the FA-analysis would have it], and that reasons to value are to be understood in terms of what is valuable.” (p. 506) In our view, this is perhaps not as worrying as it looks: To begin with, it is by no means obvious that a proponent of the value-based approach to wrong-kind reasons would want to analyze such reasons for an attitude in terms of the value of the attitude in question. It is more plausible to see the claim that the value-making features of an attitude provide reasons (of the wrong kind) for this attitude as a substantive view about (wrong-kind) reasons and not an analysis of this notion. In that case, there is no circularity in the analysis. But even if we waive aside this response, it is possible to argue that the FA-analysis can be informative even if it is circular. As we suggest elsewhere, “[c]ircular analyses still allow us to exhibit structural connections between central concepts (value, reason, pro-attitude). Thereby, they can provide relevant information to those who have the concepts but are not clear about their mutual relationships” (Rabinowicz & Ronnow-Rasmussen, "Buck-Passing and the The Right Kind of Reasons," Philosophical Quarterly 56 (2006): 114-120, p. 120).
Anyway, Way thinks that the WKR defenders who are wedded to the FA-analysis can break out of the circle if they manage to define right-kind reasons without appealing to the notion of value. For it is only such reasons, and not reasons of the wrong kind, that the FA-analysts appeal to. However, in Way’s view, combining the Value-Based Theory with the FA-analysis implies Reductionism—the claim that “[f]or p to be a reason of the wrong kind for attitude A is for p to be a reason of the right kind to want attitude A.” (p. 507) If we understand Way correctly, Reductionism makes an identity claim: It identifies the property of being a reason of the wrong kind for A with the property of being a reason of the right kind to want A. The argument for this implication from the Value-Based Theory to Reductionism is that, on the Value-Based Theory, for p to be a wrong kind of reason for an attitude is for p to be a feature in virtue of which this attitude is valuable, and thus, on the FA-analysis, a feature that is a right kind of reason for favouring the attitude in question. And wanting is a paradigmatic form of favouring. Is this a good argument? We doubt it. What it proves is only that the following equivalence holds: p is a reason of the wrong kind for attitude A if and only if p is a reason of the right kind to want attitude A. But an equivalence is not an identity. At least prima facie, being a reason for an attitude does not seem to be the same as being a reason for another attitude, of the higher order. Thus, the WKR defenders who appeal to the Value-Based Theory and accept the FA-analysis might well refuse to accept Reductionism.
But let us round up our presentation. Reductionism, if accepted, goes some way towards meeting the explanatory challenge, since it allows us to reduce the Wrong Reason Pattern to the Right Reason Pattern for higher-order attitudes. However, as Way points out, what distinguishes Reductionism from WKR skepticism is the reductionist’s claim that wrong-kind reasons for attitudes are reasons for those attitudes. This is the central claim of the WKR defenders and, in Way’s view, the reductionists have not presented any satisfactory argument on its behalf. Which means that this attempt to meet the explanatory challenge also fails, after all.
Here are two problems that we would like to put forward for discussion.
(1) It is interesting to note that Way does not draw the distinction between right- and wrong-kind reasons when it comes to actions. This is surprising, because one would think that the distinction is applicable in this case as well. If we think of an action as bringing about a state- of-affairs, then the reasons to perform the action that have to do with the value of the state-of-affairs in question are right-kind reasons, while the reasons that have to do with the value of bringing that state about rather than with the value of the state itself are wrong-kind reasons. This is analogous to the case, of, say, intentions. The reasons that have to do with the value of what is intended are right-kind reasons, while the reasons that instead have to do with value of the intention itself are reasons of the wrong kind. Or, if we take the case of, say, desire: The reasons that have to do with the value of the object of desire are right-kind reasons, while the reasons that instead have to do with value of the desire itself are wrong-kind reasons.
Now, the thing to note is that in the case of actions it seems very convincing to say that wrong-kind reasons are bona fide reasons for action, and the skeptic’s position in this case would appear to be highly counter-intuitive. Why is it so? What’s the relevant difference between actions and attitudes? Well, the difference seems to do with the fact that actions can be done at will, while attitudes are not under direct voluntary control. This means that what makes the skeptic’s position strong in the case of attitudes is precisely the argument that we are not responsive to wrong-kind reasons for attitudes in the direct way, in contrast with the right-kind reasons. However, as pointed out above, Way in his paper puts this argument aside and endeavors to present a different argument against wrong-kind reasons—an argument that turns on their transmission pattern. The problem is that the latter argument would be just as applicable to the case of wrong-kind reasons for actions. This makes one wonder how good Way’s argument really is, in view of the fact that the WKR skeptic’s position is so counterintuitive in the case of actions.
One might object against our reasoning above by an appeal to the common marks of the wrong-kind reasons. These marks are absent in the case of reasons for actions that have to do with the value of bringing about a state-of-affairs rather than with the value of that state itself. As we have seen, it is not difficult to perform the action for those reasons and they also bear on the correctness of the action. However, it seems to us that this only shows that the so-called “common marks” do not characterize wrong-kind reasons in general. Some such reasons do not exhibit them at all. At least, this is so if we relate the distinction between the right and the wrong reasons for an action or an attitude A to the distinction between the value of the object of A and the value of A itself.
(2) In his paper, Way assumes that the transmission pattern for wrong-kind reasons requires explanation. But he does not consider the similar challenge concerning the transmission pattern for the right-kind reasons. Why this difference? It seems to us that the answer might have to do with the FA-analysis of value. If we accept that format of analysis, then we take it that the value of an object consists in the existence of right-kind reasons for various positive atitudinal and behavioral responses towards the object in question. Now, if x is valuable and y facilitates x, then—one might argue—y thereby has a derived value, at least ceteris paribus, which means that there normally are right-kind reasons to positively respond to y as well. This explains the transmission pattern for right-kind reasons that follows facilitating relations between objects. The mystery about wrong-kind reasons is that there doesn’t seem to be a comparable explanation for the transmission pattern across facilitating connections between attitudes towards objects.
Now, we think that the solution to this mystery might be found in the value-based approach to wrong-kind reasons. Let’s take the case of actions first, before we consider the case of attitudes. Consider an action A. If this action is valuable, then, obviously, there is a reason to perform it. The reason in question is the feature that makes the action valuable. If that feature makes the action valuable rather than its object (i.e. the state-of-affairs that it bring about), then the reason it provides is of the wrong kind. Since it is A itself that is valuable, then an action B that facilitates A has a derived value. So there is a reason to perform B as well. This reason, the fact that B facilitates a valuable action, is of the wrong kind, since it makes B itself valuable, independently of whether B’s object, the state B brings about, has any value.
Now, if we move from actions to attitudes and like Way set aside the non-voluntariness issue (see above), we can similarly argue that a value-making feature of an attitude A provides a reason for the attitude in question. If this feature makes the attitude valuable rather than its object, then the reason it provides is of the wrong kind. Since it is A itself that is valuable, then an attitude B that facilitates A has a derived value. So there is a reason for B as well. This reason, the fact that B facilitates a valuable attitude, is of the wrong kind, since it makes B itself valuable, independently of whether the object of attitude B has any value. The value-based approach thus gives us an explanation of the Wrong Reason Pattern that we guess many WKR-defenders would be willing to accept. It is not clear to us that Way has provided any convincing argument against this proposal.
_________________ In footnote 29, Way seems to suggest that the alleged reasons of the wrong kind always have to do with instrumental, or at least non-final, value of the attitude. This cannot be correct. To take an example, a proponent of the axiological view that locates all final value in certain kinds of mental states might think that some such finally valuable mental states consist in favouring, for their own sake, certain non-mental objects, which – by hypothesis – lack any final value. If a proponent of such a view takes it that we have reasons to have the attitudes in question, then these reasons are of the wrong kind, even though they are provided by the features that make these attitudes finally valuable. For this example, see Rabinowicz & Rønnow-Rasmussen, “The Strike of the Demon: On Fitting Pro-attitudes and Value”, Ethics 114 (2004), 391-423.  This route from the Value Based Theory via Reductionism to the explanation of the Wrong Reason Pattern is, in fact, unnecessary. As we have seen, the Value Based Theory itself provides an immediate explanation of the pattern in question provided that the circularity issue mentioned above can be dealt with. And if it cannot be dealt with, then what’s the point of appealing to that theory in conjunction with the FA analysis in order to derive Reductionism?  It would be different if the facilitator of A were B's object–the state B brings about. Then that state would have a derived value. Therefore, the reason to perform B would then be of the right kind, if we assume that bringing about a state-of-affairs is a positive response to that state of affairs.  But in the special case in which this facilitating attitude B is a proattitude towards A, there is also a reason of the right kind for B. The reason of the right kind has to do with the fact that B is a positive response to a valuable object (attitude A), the reason of the wrong kind is that B facilitates this object.