We are pleased to provide the first of two threads discussing the recent articles in Ethics on various kinds of reasons (right, wrong, state-given, object-given). Both are introduced and critically discussed by Wlodek Rabinowicz and Toni Ronnow-Rasmussen. The first is on Mark Schroeder's "The Ubiquity of State-Given Reasons," beginning below the fold, and the second (which will assume some exposition from the first) is to follow. We invite you to join in on the discussion.
Mark Schroeder’s paper offers an ingenious and novel argument against the so-called “object-given/state-given” theory (OST). This theory claims that the distinction between the right and the wrong kind of reasons for attitudes coincides with the distinction between ‘object-given’ and ‘state-given’ reasons. The contrast between epistemic and pragmatic reasons for belief is viewed by the theory as a paradigm of this latter distinction.
But, according to Schroeder, OST is an incorrect view. It shows its weakness when we consider reasons against attitudes. Intuitively, there can be state-given right-kind reasons not to intend or not to believe. For example, it may be rational for an agent not (yet) to intend to do A if he has more urgent matters to attend to at present or if he soon expects to receive relevant information concerning A. Such reasons for not intending are intuitively state-given, as they have to do with the disvalue of forming an intention at a given time and not with the disvalue of the intention’s object—action A, but—as Schroeder argues—they are nonetheless reasons of the right kind. Similar examples exist for beliefs. In particular, if further evidence concerning a proposition that p is known to be forthcoming, this can be a reason for not (yet) believing that p: a reason of the right kind that intuitively is state-given.
That the reasons mentioned are in fact of the right kind is shown according to Schroeder by the fact that they have the “earmarks” of such reasons. He introduces four earmarks of the right-kind/wrong-kind distinction, which are drawn from the consideration of the paradigm case: from the contrast between the epistemic and the pragmatic reasons for belief. The first earmark—the “asymmetry of motivation”—highlights that it is much harder to believe a proposition on the basis of pragmatic reasons than on the basis of the epistemic ones. (Cf. Jonathan Way’s first ‘common mark’ of the distinction between right- and wrong-kind reasons in his “Transmission and the Wrong Kind of Reason”, in the same issue of Ethics.) The second earmark—the “asymmetric effects on rationality”—concerns the fact that while epistemic reasons make it rational to believe a proposition, as far as the distinctive rationality criteria for belief go, this is not the case with pragmatic reasons. (Even if Pascal had been right in his suggestion that belief in God maximizes expected utility, this consideration wouldn’t make that belief more rational, epistemically speaking.) As to the third earmark (which corresponds to Way’s second “common mark”), Schroeder notes that epistemic and pragmatic reasons bear differently on truth, which is the standard of correctness for belief: The former are conducive to our having true beliefs; the latter are not. (Given that the standards of correctness for other attitudes, and in particular for intentions, are less clear, Schroeder plays down this earmark in his paper.) The fourth and final earmark refers to the “recognizable ‘flavor’” of pragmatic reasons “that makes them feel intuitively like reasons for other attitudes that exhibit some of the other characteristics of pragmatic reasons for belief.” (p. 460) This is “arguably not a proper earmark in its own right, but just the report of the intuitive naturalness of classifying various putatively wrong-kind reasons together.” (ibid., fn. 3)
The examples of reasons not to intend or not to believe that Schroeder provides exhibit according to him both the first and the second earmark of right-kind reasons and they lack the characteristic flavor of the reasons of the wrong kind. In addition, in the case of belief, that new evidence concerning p is forthcoming is a reason not (yet) to believe p that exhibits the third earmark of right-kind reasons.
Schroeder goes further: He suggests that there can be state-given right-kind reasons for attitudes and not just such reasons against them. This holds at least for intentions (though not for beliefs). An agent’s goal to coordinate his actions with those of other agents might be a reason for him to intend to do A, despite the fact that some relevant information concerning A still is forthcoming. This reason is state-given (as it has to do with the benefits of having an intention concerning A) but it is has the earmarks of a reason of the right kind: At least in certain circumstances, it can be easy to form an intention to do A in part on the basis of that reason and it may well be a rational thing to do. In addition, in Schroeder’s view, the reason in question lacks the characteristic flavor of the reasons of the wrong kind. This claim, when it comes in the paper, is not easy to understand, but the explanation is provided by Schroeder in the last section.
There, Schroeder outlines a substantive account of the right-kind/wrong-kind of reasons distinction. On this account, all reasons for and against attitudes consist in the benefits and costs of the attitudes in question. (This means that, in a sense, all reasons for attitudes can be said to be ultimately state-given. So-called ‘object-given’ reasons are, in this sense, only a special subclass of state-given reasons.) To the extent, however, that the benefits and costs of an attitude are typical for the kind of an attitude that is in question, that is, to the extent they directly relate to the distinctive nature or the point of this kind of an attitude, they can be said to be reasons of the right kind. For example, the point of intending seems to be to close off practical deliberation “in order to allow us to coordinate and control our own actions across time [or in order to coordinate our own actions with the actions of other agents] and make decisions at times at which we have more available cognitive resources.” (p. 483) This explains why the examples of reasons against and for intentions that Schroeder highlights in his paper are cases of reasons of the right kind. Similarly, the distinctive role of belief seems to be to close off uncertainty, so that “we have something to rely on, in reasoning.” (p. 484) Since there are benefits if we in reasoning rely on truth, this explains why evidence is a reason of the right kind. But it also explains why the fact that further evidence is forthcoming can be a right-kind reason to postpone making up one’s mind.
Moving now to our questions, there is one thing it would be good to learn more about: What exactly is the relation between the earmarks and the distinction they are supposed to mark out? A passage in the paper suggests that the earmarks define the distinction: “If these considerations bear all of the marks of right-kind reasons, they are right-kind reasons—after all, the ‘right-kind’/‘wrong kind’ distinction was just a catch-all label designed to cover an important class of differences that arise in a variety of domains.” (p. 466) At the same time, as we have seen, Schroeder presents an account of that distinction in terms of the characteristic roles or functions of attitudes. How does the latter account relate to the earmark approach? A possible suggestion might be that conceptually speaking the distinction boils down to the earmarks, while the account in terms of the characteristic attitudinal roles and functions is a substantive theory about the phenomena marked out by the concepts of right- and wrong-kind reasons that the earmarks define. On this interpretation, the substantive account is a ‘real definition’ of the distinction under consideration. Is this how Schroeder views the matter? It would be interesting to know the answer.
Our second question concerns reasons that exhibit a mixed earmark pattern: They possess some earmarks of right-kind reasons but at the same time they have the flavor of a wrong-kind reasons. To illustrate, let us first consider Schroeder’s example with an agent who is being paid for intending not to drive to LA. His reason to drive to LA would be to visit his brother, but though he thinks it is very likely that his brother will be there, the remaining uncertainty makes the trip unattractive in view of the expected traffic jams. The brother is going to call the agent in the evening and resolve his uncertainty one way or the other, most probably by letting him know that he will be in LA. But the agent would get a financial reward if he were to form an intention now, in advance, not to drive to LA. The offer of a reward is clearly a wrong-kind of reason in this example. The case strongly reminds of Kavka’s toxin puzzle: It is hard to form an intention not to drive to LA if one believes it is very likely that one will find this course of action to be irrational when the time comes. Let us, however, change the example a little and suppose that the agent considers it to be unlikely that his brother will be in LA. If the example is modified in this way, it loses its similarity to Kavka’s puzzle. Now it is quite easy for the agent, if there is money to be gained, to form an intention in advance not to drive to LA. It is easy, because the agent thinks it unlikely that he will later find this course of action irrational. Thus, the offer of a financial reward has one of the earmarks of the right-kind reasons. At the same time, it has a typical flavor of the wrong-kind reasons: The flavor of being paid for intending appears to be exactly the same in the modified example as in Schroeder’s original one. Also, it appears that the offered reward has another earmark of wrong-kind reasons: The intention not to drive is not made more rational by a promised payment, as long as it is the intention and not the action that the agent is being paid for.
So, what kind of reason do we have here: the wrong kind or the right kind? Or perhaps neither? One might try to decide this issue by going to Schroeder’s substantial account. On the latter, a financial reward for intending comes out as the wrong kind of reason: It is a benefit that doesn’t relate to any of the characteristic roles or functions of intending—to its role as deliberation closure or its function to coordinate actions. This suggests that perhaps there is a disparity between the conceptual distinction, as fixed by the earmarks, and the substantive account. Should one then modify the latter, or rather revise the earmark approach?
The third question exclusively focuses on the substantive account. Suppose the agent is offered a financial reward if he closes off his deliberation concerning some practical issue at hand. Now, the most natural way to do close off deliberation is to form an intention with respect to the matter under consideration. In this case, it seems that the benefit of intending does relate to the characteristic point of intention—to its role in closing off deliberation. But, intuitively, the reward attached to the closure of deliberation seems to be an instance of the wrong kind of reason for intending (just as in the case when the agent is rewarded for intending as such, one way or another). So, one might wonder whether Schroeder’s substantive account can be correct as it stands.
The last question concerns the relation between Schroeder’s proposal and the Wrong Kind of Reasons problem (the WKR Problem), which has been much discussed, not least by Schroeder himself, in connection with the fitting-attitudes account of value. On that account, in its well-known ‘buck-passing’ version put forward by Scanlon, an object is valuable to the extent that there are reasons to favour it. The right kind of reasons. Intuitively, such reasons are provided by the value-making properties of the object in question, even though this intuitive explication is unavailable to the fitting-attitude value analysts themselves, on pain of circularity. That one would be paid for favouring or that favouring would itself be of value might be seen as reasons for favouring, but such reasons are of the wrong kind from the point of the buck-passing account. The WKR Problem comes down to the question whether the relevant distinction between the right and the wrong kind of reasons can be defined in a non-circular way, without presupposing the very notion of value that is to be analyzed.
Now, what we wonder is whether Schroeder’s proposal can be of help in this enterprise. Does it give us the non-circular definition we have been after? We are not sure, but we doubt it. Schroeder’s substantive account of the distinction relies on the notion of benefits and costs of an attitude. To that extent, it presupposes some value notions as given. As for his earmark approach to the distinction, there is a comparable problem. One of the earmarks, the third one, appeals to the standard of correctness for an attitude under consideration. For beliefs, this standard is the truth of the proposition that is the object of belief, but what about favourings? A natural answer seems to be that favouring is correct to the extent that its object is valuable. But then the notion of value is being brought in into the very formulation of the earmarks. To be sure, Schroeder plays down the role of the third earmark in his paper, but, if we understand him correctly, this is only because he finds it unclear what the standard of correctness for intentions might be. The same problem does not arise for favourings. It seems then that the earmark approach does not provide a non-circular solution to the WKR problem.