Featured Philosopher: Hille Paakkunainen

Thanks so much to the Daves for inviting me to contribute!

I’m working on a book, Natural Reasons through Virtue, and I’d love your feedback on some of its central moves. The book’s thesis is that what it is to be a normative reason for action is to be a certain kind of premise in good practical deliberation, where the goodness of good deliberation is cashed out in terms of virtue, naturalistically understood in terms of the psychological dispositions that our virtue terms refer to. Call this the Naturalistic Virtue Theory of reasons for action.

My defense of the Naturalistic Virtue Theory turns partly on a response to a familiar objection to normative naturalism: the objection that the normative is “just too different” from the natural to be capturable in naturalistic terms—and specifically, that naturalistic views eliminate rather than capturing the peculiar “normativity of the normative” (Enoch 2011: 104-8). I argue that once we think through what it would take to capture the “normativity of the normative,” in the case of reasons for action in particular, we’re pushed towards a family of views of which the Naturalistic Virtue Theory is a particularly promising member. And surprisingly, the most prominent non-naturalist views, on which the property of being a reason for action is an irreducibly normative non-natural property, turn out to do worse at capturing normativity than the Naturalistic Virtue Theory.

What does it take to capture the “normativity of the normative”? The debate is intractable without defending some reasonably clear hallmarks of normativity, hallmarks that we can then use as criteria of adequacy for our theories. I argue that the following necessary connection between reasons and good deliberation is a hallmark of the normativity of reasons for action:

Deliberative Constraint:  p is a normative reason of strength for A to Φ in C only if there’s a course of non-normatively well-informed good deliberation that A could undertake in C, therein taking into account and weighting p’s strength as s. Good deliberation concludes in acting on the weightiest reasons, in the way that they support, or in forming an intention to so act.

My argument for this claim draws on my (2017) paper “Can There Be Government House Reasons for Action?” In brief, the argument is that normative reasons for action are capable of imposing authoritative demands on people; but reasons couldn’t do that if the Deliberative Constraint were false. So the Deliberative Constraint is true, and moreover, it’s true precisely because of the peculiar normativity of normative reasons—because of reasons’ ability to impose authoritative demands. The Deliberative Constraint is a hallmark of the normativity of normative reasons.

I don’t want to focus on the argument for that claim in this post. What I’d like feedback on is the following (I’ve broken it down to four numbered claims, for ease of reference).

Claim 1: If the Deliberative Constraint is a hallmark of the normativity of reasons for action, then our account of reasons should explain why it holds—should explain why there’s this necessary connection between reasons and good deliberation. The following Virtue Theory of reasons can explain it:

Virtue Theory:   What it is for p to be a normative reason of strength s for A to Φ in C is for to be a premise in a possible course of non-normatively well-informed virtuous deliberation in C that would weight p’s strength as s, and if is decisive, would conclude in A’s Φ-ing or intending to Φ on the basis of p.[1]

On the Virtue Theory, the Deliberative Constraint follows from the nature of reasons. It holds because what it is to be a reason for action just is to be the relevant sort of premise in good deliberation, where the goodness of good deliberation is a matter of virtue.

Note that the Virtue Theory isn’t as such naturalist: the naturalist part of my view enters with a further naturalistic reduction of virtue in terms of the psychological dispositions that our virtue terms refer to. Note also that to avoid circularity, we must characterize good deliberation in terms other than responsiveness to normative reasons for action. This is what reference to virtue does. The virtues are, inter alia, dispositions of deliberation, of certain shapes whose nature doesn’t in turn involve the property of being a reason for action; and yet these dispositions, when plugged into the Virtue Theory, yield an extensionally plausible account of our reasons. For example, prudence involves weighting facts about one’s long-term well-being above facts about mere short-term well-being; honesty involves weighting the importance of telling the truth in certain characteristic ways and acting accordingly; etc. The idea is that facts about such virtuous ways of deliberating in a circumstance are metaphysically prior to, and help to articulate the nature of, facts about normative reasons for action.

Claim 2: The Virtue Theory’s ability to explain the Deliberative Constraint doesn’t depend on whether virtue can be naturalized. A naturalistic version of the Virtue Theory thus promises to capture the normativity of normative reasons, at least insofar as explaining the Deliberative Constraint is sufficient for that.

Claim 3: Besides the Virtue Theory, the only other accounts of reasons that can explain the Deliberative Constraint are alternative versions of “good deliberation” views: views on which reasons are premises in good deliberation, but the goodness of good deliberation is cashed out in termsother than virtue. For instance, certain types of constitutivistview, on which good deliberation is deliberation that accords with the constitutive norms of deliberation as such, could do the trick.[2]Likewise, the view that reasons are premises in good reasoning, and good reasoning is a matter of fittingness-preservation, would do (McHugh & Way 2016, 2018). If the Virtue Theory is superior to such views, it’s not because they can’t in principle explain the Deliberative Constraint. But notably, any view that’s not a “good deliberation” view looks unable to explain the Deliberative Constraint. Importantly, reasons brutism—the view that the property of being a normative reason cannot be analyzed further, and can merely be characterized e.g. in terms of the idea that normative reasons “count in favor” of responses (Parfit 2011, Enoch 2011)—can’t explain it. Likewise for views on which reasons are evidence that we ought to Φ (Kearns & Star 2009), or on which reasons are certain sorts of explanations of why we ought to Φ (Broome 2013)—unlesswe add to these views that the relevant sorts of explanations or evidence must be essentially such as to be able to figure in deliberation towards the action that they are reasons for, making these views into types of “good deliberation” view.

Surprisingly, then, the Naturalistic Virtue Theory does better at capturing the normativity of reasons for action than do non-naturalist reasons brutist views of the type that those pressing the “just too different” intuition against naturalism tend to favor.

Claim 4: One might object that our account of reasons needn’t explain the Deliberative Constraint, because our account of good deliberation can: perhaps what it is for a course of deliberation to be good is for it to take account of the normative reasons there are, and to weight them appropriately. However, this won’t do. While such a view could explain the Deliberative Constraint, it would make a mystery out of the further idea that the Deliberative Constraint is a hallmark of the normativity of normative reasons. On the proposed view, there’s nothing in the nature of reasons that explains the necessary connection to good deliberation, yet this necessary connection is needed for making sense of an essential feature of normative reasons themselves—namely, their peculiar normativity. This makes no sense. If the normativity of normative reasons is an essential feature of reasons, then whether reasons have this feature can’t be due to the nature of something else entirely, something that might or might not obtain as far as the nature of reasons is concerned. It can’t be the case that if (perhaps per impossibile) the nature of good reasoning were different, then normative reasons wouldn’t be normative. But this would be the case on the proposed type of view.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to your comments.

[1]See Setiya 2007 for a defense of a different version of a virtue theory of reasons, on different grounds than mine.

[2]Cf. e.g. Korsgaard 2009; and see my (2018) “Doing Away with the ‘Shmagency’ Objection to Constitutivism,” section 4, for a slightly more detailed explanation of how such a constitutivist view might go.

References:

Broome, J. 2013. Rationality through Reasoning. Wiley: Blackwell.

Enoch, D. 2011. Taking Morality Seriously: A Defense of Robust Realism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kearns, S. & Star, D. 2009. Reasons as Evidence. Oxford Studies in MetaethicsVol 4:215-242.

Korsgaard, C. 2009. Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity and Integrity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McHugh, C. & Way, J. 2016. Fittingness First. Ethics126 (3): 575-606.

McHugh, C. & Way, J. 2018. What is Good Reasoning? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research96 (1):153-174.

Paakkunainen, H. 2017. Can There Be Government House Reasons for Action? Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 12 (1):56-93.https://doi.org/10.26556/jesp.v12i1.213

Paakkunainen, H. 2018. Doing Away with the “Shmagency” Objection to Constitutivism. Manuscrito41 (4):431-480.  http://www.scielo.br/pdf/man/v41n4/2317-630X-man-41-04-431.pdf

Parfit, D. 2011. On What Matters. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Setiya, K. 2007. Reasons without Rationalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

20 Replies to “Featured Philosopher: Hille Paakkunainen

  1. Interesting stuff!

    I’m not sure I follow claims 3 & 4. I’d expect non-naturalists to hold that, while we can’t *analyse* reasons further, still we can recognize that it’s part of their “favouring” nature that they are the sort of thing to which good deliberation should be responsive (indeed, such responsiveness is criterial for whether a course of deliberation is really “good”). Are you assuming that it’s part of reasons primitivism that we can’t recognize any such general truths about the nature of reasons?

    I’d also worry about claim 2. Once you give a reductive account of what “good reasoning” amounts to in the Deliberative Constraint, open-question type worries arise. Precisely because there’s nothing obviously normative about “the psychological dispositions that our virtue terms refer to” (they could, in principle, be anything!), it’s no longer clear that the normativity of reasons can be captured simply by relating them to deliberation that accords with such dispositions.

  2. Thanks for the great questions!

    On the first question, I do think that non-naturalists could insist that it’s simply part of the nature of reasons that the relevant necessary connection (Deliberative Constraint) holds. But that doesn’t seem to be much of an explanation of why it holds. Compare: non-naturalists could claim to explain why supervenience holds by saying that it’s simply part of the nature of non-natural normative properties that there can’t be a normative difference without a non-normative difference. But this doesn’t seem like a very good explanation. We want to hear something more about the nature of the relevant normative properties, something that would shed some light on why the necessary connection holds. My point is that there doesn’t seem to be anything about the nature of reasons, on reasons brutist views, that would provide such an explanation. (And likewise for other views that aren’t versions of a “good deliberation” view.)

    I’ll respond to your second question in a separate comment below.

  3. On your second question, Richard: one could understand this question in a couple of different ways (perhaps there are more, but the following two sprang first to mind for me).

    *The first way*: a naturalistic version of the Virtue Theory doesn’t actually explain why the Deliberative Constraint holds, because once we go naturalist about virtue, it’s no longer clear that “virtuous deliberation” counts as “good deliberation” in the sense at issue in the Deliberative Constraint.

    *The second way*: a naturalistic version of the Virtue Theory does explain why the Deliberative Constraint holds, but there’s a further problem to do with open questions. In particular, it’s an open question whether virtue naturalistically understood is virtue in any evaluatively or normatively significant sense; and that’s a problem for the view.

    My current response to the first way of understanding the worry is the following. While I haven’t explained why in the post, I think the right way to understand “good deliberation” in the Deliberative Constraint leaves it open precisely what such good deliberation looks like — *except* that it involves taking account of the reason-giving facts, p, giving them their appropriate weights, and being moved to act accordingly. The Deliberative Constraint alone doesn’t settle whether good deliberation of this sort is merely instrumentally good, morally good, or what. Against this background, I’m thinking that any substantive theory of good deliberation, in the sense relevant to plugging into a “good deliberation” view of reasons and thereby explaining the Deliberative Constraint, will be subject to two desiderata. First, our account of good deliberation should generate largely intuitively plausible results regarding what’s a reason for what. (After all, good deliberation in the sense relevant to the Deliberative Constraint should involve responding in intuitively appropriate ways to what are, intuitively, reason-giving facts.) I’ve gestured at (though of course, in the post, merely gestured at) how I think the account of good deliberation in terms of virtue does this. The virtues are dispositions of certain characteristic shapes that involve responding to certain sorts of considerations in certain sorts of ways — I gave the examples of prudence and honesty in the post, but we could say similar things about courage, humility, respectfulness, temperance, kindness, etc. The second desideratum is that our account of good deliberation will have to be consistent with the nature of deliberation as such: good deliberation is a kind of deliberation, and so the contours of good deliberation are limited in part by what’s possible in the way of deliberation, just as such. I haven’t said anything in the post about why an account of good deliberation as virtuous deliberation can respect this desideratum, but I do think it can. (I should say: *if* it should turn out that respecting the second desideratum puts severe limits on the extent to which we can respect the first, then I’m inclined to think that the second desideratum takes precedence. But that would be an unfortunate predicament that I don’t think we’re forced into.)

    Now, I’m not seeing why going naturalist about virtue affects whether and how the Virtue Theory and its account of good deliberation as virtuous deliberation can meet these desiderata. With respect to the first desideratum in particular: If we accept that the various virtues have the relevant characteristic “shapes,” so that they involve responding to intuitively reason-giving considerations in intuitively appropriate ways, then why does it matter if the virtues are, further, identical to psychological dispositions that have just these “shapes”?

    In this connection, it may help to mention that I’m not claiming that we have any good normatively or evaluatively non-question-begging way of picking out the relevant dispositions as the virtues. Our epistemic access to which patterns or dispositions of deliberation are virtuous / good may have to go via our virtue concepts, as well as perhaps via our intuitions about what’s a reason for what. But this epistemic claim is compatible with the metaphysical claim of the Virtue Theory, including in its naturalistic version. Even if we can’t identify a psychological disposition as a virtue except through deploying our normative and evaluative concepts, that’s compatible with the claim that what it is for something to be a reason is for it to be a premise in virtuous deliberation, where the virtues are psychological dispositions of the relevant characteristic shapes.

    I think that responds to your worry re: my Claim 2, on the first way of understanding it, Richard; but let me know if I’ve misunderstood something.

    This is already very long (sorry!), so I’ll address the second way of understanding your worry re: my Claim 2 on a yet further comment.

  4. Here’s my response to Richard’s worry re: my claim 2, on the second way of understanding the worry. Recall that the worry thus understood is this: a naturalistic version of the Virtue Theory does explain why the Deliberative Constraint holds, but there’s a further problem to do with open questions. In particular, it’s an open question whether virtue naturalistically understood is virtue in any evaluatively or normatively significant sense; and that’s a problem for the Naturalistic Virtue Theory.

    This seems to amount to the claim that, even though the Naturalistic Virtue Theory can explain one hallmark of the normativity of reasons–the Deliberative Constraint–there’s a further hallmark to do with open questions that it can’t respect. If that’s the concern, then I want to hear some more about what, precisely, the relevant hallmark of normativity is, and why we should accept it.

    Here’s one proposed hallmark of normativity in this vicinity. A true theory of (the metaphysics of) normative reasons shouldn’t leave open questions, in the sense that if someone who is competent with all the relevant concepts and fully understands the theory can nonetheless intelligibly doubt the theory, then the theory is false. But this proposed hallmark strikes me as much too strong, and I don’t see why we should accept it. In general, even true conceptual analyses needn’t seem intuitively compelling to anyone who understands them. The analysis and the argument for it may be complex, and even if each step in the argument for the analysis is intuitively compelling, we needn’t ever get to a stage where, upon contemplating the analysis as a whole, it seems intuitively compelling. The same is true for reductive accounts that aren’t conceptual truths: e.g. a reduction of heat to molecular kinetic energy needn’t ever seem intuitively compelling to someone contemplating the reduction, even if there’s plenty of good, undefeated evidence for the reduction. I don’t see why things should be different in the case of analyses or reductions of normative notions such as reasons. If they are, then I want to hear an argument supporting that claim.

    (By the way, I don’t mean to put forward the Naturalistic Virtue Theory as a conceptual analysis of reasons.)

    Perhaps there’s some different hallmark of normativity in the vicinity that has to do with open questions? If so, I’m curious to hear what it is and why we should accept it.

    Thanks again for the great questions!

  5. Thanks for the interesting post and discussion so far! I have a question about claim 4. You want to explain the Deliberative Constraint via an account of reasons in terms of good reasoning and you reject an explanation via an account of good reasoning in terms of reasons, because this wouldn’t explain why the Deliberative Constraint is an essential feature of normative reasons. I wonder what you think about a third kind of view according to which the notions of a reason and good reasoning are mutually dependent, although neither can be reduced to the other, and it is part of the essential nature of both that they depend on each other in this way. Something like this seems to be Raz’s view in ‘From Normativity to Responsibility’, which is also motivated by the idea of a deliberative constraint (in his terms, the mutual dependence is between reasons and the capacity of Reason, and the constraint is the normative/explanatory nexus).

  6. Thanks a lot, Hille! I just have a general question. Early in your post you consider the question, ‘What does it take to capture the “normativity of the normative”?’, and suggest that with regard to reasons for action, the Deliberative Constraint captures this. I wonder simply how you think of the normativity of relations and properties other than reasons.

    Of course, people construe the class of “the normative” in different ways (and I’m sometimes not sure whether there is a genuine or a merely verbal disagreement to be had here). But among the candidates I had in mind are at least properties pertaining to different kinds of value, virtue, oughts, blame- and praiseworthiness, rationality, epistemic properties like justification, and so on. Is your view that something corresponding to the Deliberative Constraint holds for these other cases too, and that this captures their normativity? If not, I’d be curious to hear why you think these cases differ from that of reasons. If yes, then do you also think that something similar to Virtue Theory can be used to account for these other things too?

    Thanks again!

  7. Hi Benjamin! Thanks for the helpful question. I do need to think more about the type of view you mention, and I should have said something about it in the post. One reason to prefer the Naturalistic Virtue Theory to the type of view you mention is just the usual benefits of naturalism. But this has nothing to do with the view’s ability to explain the Deliberative Constraint. I need to think more about how good of an explanation of the Deliberative Constraint the interdependence view gives.

  8. Thanks for the post! I had a worry similar to the second way of understanding Richard’s open question worry, or maybe a sort of companion worry: either our standards for any given virtue are themselves normative or not. That is, courage is not just a matter of having a disposition toward risk-taking, but having a disposition toward taking the right risks at the right times and in the right ways (thus to avoid foolhardiness or cowardice), which involves the wisdom to recognize which kind of situation one is in. So, either we can give an account of when risk-taking is wise and when it is foolish in non-normative terms, in which case there’s something in the neighborhood of a more local open-question apartment, which is just to say that there’s a substantive and disputable reduction of a normative notion to a pattern of non-normative facts; or we cannot give such an account, in which case the normative has been reigned in considerably but there’s still an element of non-natural normativity in each virtue. (The same problem arises at a higher level of you accept the unity of the virtues, viz. the disposition to correctly balance e.g. risk against justice, but I think even if you reject the unity of the virtues the worry arises.)

  9. To clarify: maybe I illicitly presumed the unity of the virtues in throwing wisdom into my explanation of courage, but I think in principle one could reject the unity of the virtues and still think each virtue has it’s own particular kind of practical judgment that works this way, but that isn’t necessarily integrated with the others. So, courage requires a specific recognitional capacity to operate in the right ways and at the right times, and justice requires a different specific recognitional capacity to operate in the right ways and at the right times, and so on, and each recognitional capacity is independent of the others.

  10. Thanks, Olle — that is an important question, and I don’t have a complete answer to it yet. I think that, for example, what it is for it to be the case that we ought to do something, in the robustly normative, ought simpliciter sense, is for it to be the case that we have decisive reason to do it.* But note that this falls short of the claim that all kinds of ought-facts are ontologically analyzable in terms of reason-facts, where reasons are understood as normative in the sense of being capable of imposing authoritative demands, and thus as premises in good deliberation. For example, it may be a fact that I ought-relative-to-the-standards-of-etiquette to refrain from saying anything, but if the standards of etiquette aren’t authoritative in the situation, then it needn’t be the case that I have decisive reasons—in the sense capable of imposing authoritative demands—to refrain. (I may of course have “etiquette reasons” to refrain; and these might be analyzable, for example, in terms of the “ought” of etiquette, as reasons that help to explain why I ought-relative-to-standards-of-etiquette to PHI, or something like that. We can define lots of different notions of “reasons”, relative to different standards of evaluation or different oughts. [See e.g. Ch. 4 of Wedgwood’s The Value of Rationality for a discussion of this.] But it’s a further question which of these various kinds of “reasons” are authoritative reasons, in the sense linked to good deliberation.)

    (*This is roughly right; a more precise formulation would take account of distinctions between reasons of requiring, justifying, and enticing / recommending strength, of the sort discussed by e.g. Joshua Gert, Douglas Portmore, and Jonathan Dancy. But I set this aside here. By the way, I think these distinctions can be captured in terms of the Virtue Theory with minor modifications, but that’s a longer discussion.)

    That says a little bit about oughts. But you also ask about lots of other normative and evaluative notions. The short answer is that I’m not trying to give a totalizing account of all normative and evaluative notions in terms that somehow relate to the Deliberative Constraint, or to some analogue of that. Though I’m tempted by the view that, in the practical realm, robust or authoritative normativity is a matter of being related in some way to (authoritative) reasons for action, and thus to good deliberation. For example, perhaps virtue matters because it grounds reason-facts, via the truth of the Virtue Theory. (Though of course I’m not advocating the view that we can analyze virtue in terms of reasons, or in terms of good deliberation. The ontological analysis goes the other way around.) And perhaps blameworthiness for an action, of the sort we should care about, necessarily involves lacking sufficient reason to perform that action. (Not that that’s an analysis, either.) ‘Rationality’ can mean many things, and in one sense of rationality, I think practical rationality is a matter of virtuous deliberation, given one’s information. And of course on my view, that kind of rationality is related to reasons, and thus to the Deliberative Constraint, in the ways that I’ve sketched in the post. But this doesn’t say anything about how to account for synchronic constraints of coherence, for instance, and in particular what their relationship to reasons or good deliberation is.

    Finally, with respect to epistemic justification and epistemic reasons: I’m exploring the idea of a parallel virtue-theoretic view of epistemic reasons and justification, but I think that if some parallel of the Deliberative Constraint applies here, and can serve to motivate a virtue theory, the arguments are going to have to be somewhat different. This is because my argument for the Deliberative Constraint in the case of reasons for action relies on the idea that reasons for action can place authoritative demands on agents. (To see the argument in detail, see my (2017) “Can There Be Government House Reasons for Action?” paper.) I’m unsure that the same kind of argument applies to the case of epistemic reasons.

    This is all pretty quick and hand-wavy. But in sum, my attitude to these issues is to take each normative or evaluative property as it comes, while keeping an eye out for its relations to other properties; and if some kind of a unified account of some or all of the terrain emerges, that’s great. If not, then it should be instructive to see why not.

  11. Thanks for the post, Hille. I hope you don’t mind me jumping in on your behalf to add to your (compelling!) response to the streak of OQA concerns that are cropping up.

    Richard, you write: “Once you give a reductive account of what “good reasoning” amounts to in the Deliberative Constraint, open-question type worries arise.”

    Jack, you write: “So, either we can give an account of when risk-taking is wise and when it is foolish in non-normative terms, in which case there’s something in the neighborhood of a more local open-question apartment, which is just to say that there’s a substantive and disputable reduction of a normative notion to a pattern of non-normative facts…”

    Like many others, I suspect that feelings of openness tell us more about the concepts we’re using than the underlying metaphysics that we’re trying to get at in using them. But put that concern aside. Both of you seem confident that any metaphysical reduction that Hille could propose would leave questions open. Why? Isn’t a ‘wait and see’ attitude the right one to have here? Why forestall looking into the details of a new proposed reduction out of concern that it _might_ not close all questions?

  12. Thanks, Jack, for the great question, and thanks, Nick, for your suggested response!

    In your question, Jack, you write: “courage is not just a matter of having a disposition toward risk-taking, but having a disposition toward taking the right risks at the right times and in the right ways (thus to avoid foolhardiness or cowardice), which involves the wisdom to recognize which kind of situation one is in. So, either we can give an account of when risk-taking is wise and when it is foolish in non-normative terms, in which case [open-question worries arise]…”

    I agree with you that courage, and the virtues generally, aren’t simply characterizable as e.g. dispositions towards risk-taking, towards truth-telling, etc. They’re more complex than that, involving weighting considerations in certain characteristic ways given the nuances of the situation, and if all goes well, resulting in taking only the kinds of risks that are worth taking in the situation, at the time they’re worth taking, and in the ways they’re worth taking. BUT: I’m not trying to give an account of when risk-taking is wise and when it is foolish in non-normative terms, if that means specifying, in non-normative terms, precise conditions for wise v. foolish risk-taking. I don’t think a naturalist needs to do that. It may help for me to repeat here something that I said in response to Richard: I’m not claiming that we have any good normatively or evaluatively non-question-begging way of picking out the relevant dispositions as the virtues. Our epistemic access to which patterns or dispositions of deliberation are virtuous / good may have to go via our virtue concepts, as well as perhaps via our intuitions about what’s a reason for what. But this epistemic claim is compatible with the metaphysical claim of the Virtue Theory, including in its naturalistic version. Even if we can’t identify a psychological disposition as a virtue except through deploying our normative and evaluative concepts, that’s compatible with the claim that what it is for something to be a reason is for it to be a premise in virtuous deliberation, where the virtues are psychological dispositions of the relevant characteristic shapes.

    The thought is, roughly, that even if our epistemic access to the precise shape of the relevant dispositions goes via our normative and evaluative concepts–so that we can’t characterize these dispositions and their precise shapes very well in non-normative terms–there’s still ultimately some psychological disposition here, of the shape we’re talking about, that involves weighting just these sorts of considerations in just these sorts of ways in just these sorts of circumstances. And those dispositions are the ontological reduction basis for facts about our reasons for action.

    Coming back to the issue of open questions, then, I’m not going to try to even offer a naturalistic reduction of the virtues in the sense of a description, in non-normative and non-evaluative terms, of their precise shapes as dispositions. I agree that, were I to offer such a description, someone might well doubt the description, and in that sense its accuracy might be an open question. (Though as I also said in response to Richard, it’s not clear that such a bare doubt is a good objection; it’s not generally a good objection to analyses or reductions in other areas.) But I’m not offering such a description, and I don’t think I need to, in order to be a naturalist.

    (It might help to note that the kind of naturalism I’m proposing is in some ways similar to Nick Sturgeon -style naturalism (which he calls non-reductive naturalism), on which we lack ready-made non-normative vocabulary for the relevant normative properties, but we have good reason to think that these properties are natural nonetheless. See e.g. Sturgeon’s 2006 “Ethical Naturalism.”)

  13. I pressed send on the previous reply a bit too soon. I wanted to say: I hope this helps — but do let me know of any remaining open question style worries! I’m very interested in this topic, and I want to hear the best articulations of such worries, including why we should worry about them.

    And Nick, I do like your “wait and see” response as well. I think that one could raise an open question worry at an earlier stage in my account than the stage that, in my response to Jack above, I refuse to even embark on. One could worry that, whatever the psychological dispositions are to which our virtue terms refer (and we don’t even need a precise description of them in non-normative terms), if they are ultimately mere psychological dispositions, then we shouldn’t think that they are normatively or evaluatively significant in the way that we’d need them to be for the reduction of reason-facts to virtue-facts to work. I (perhaps mistakenly) took Richard to be proposing such a worry, on one way of understanding his worry about open questions. And here, the “wait and see” attitude seems relevant in the following way: if the account of reasons in terms of virtuous ways of deliberating gives us plausible results about what’s a reason for what, and if it can explain the hallmarks of normativity that we can actually offer arguments for, then the account looks to be on pretty good footing. (Assuming it beats out competitors that can also do similar things.) And if the account is true, then virtue-facts are indeed normatively significant, in the sense that they help to ground, and articulate the nature of, the facts about what’s a reason for what.

  14. Thanks Hille! I think I was reading into your proposal a different kind of naturalistic ambition than you have, and what you say here sounds great to me. Incidentally, I think by the Sturgeon standard we wind up with a few surprising entires in the list of naturalistic philosophers, e.g. McDowell (The last time I saw Nick I was haranguing him about this), and I imagine it’s no accident that Aristotelean virtue ethics in general probably inclines one this way so this probably wouldn’t be surprising to you. I was looking at Sturgeon’s older stuff when I started thinking this, so I’ll have to check out the 2006 paper!

    Nick–since Hille embraced the non-reductive side of my suggestion maybe this is moot, but I liked your point so I’ll try to address it anyway. I am in general not one who thinks any time an open question appears the non-naturalist automatically wins, but I actually think that in the case of trying to specify virtues reductively things are going to be harder than usual.

    You might try to specify the virtue of courage, for example, by appealing to more basic values, which in turn can be reduced in such a way that the open question can be confidently answered. But then virtues stop playing the role in Hille’s proposal that they’re supposed to, because that more basic values provide the real answer. On the other hand, you might try to specify each virtue in terms of naturalistic criteria particular to each, and I’m much more skeptical that that’s going to work than in the standard case. To briefly say why, the worry is just that the more complicated and local the stories are (we specify the virtue of justice using non-normative concepts x, y, z… and the virtue of courage using x1, y1, z1…) the more open the question will be, and I would bet that they’ll be counterexample-able, because specifying when courage is called for without referring to more general values just seems super hard!

    That’s likely not very satisfying as an argument, but it’s a gesture toward the basis of my skepticism.

  15. Nice points, Jack! I’m a big fan of McDowell on virtue (another Pittsburgh PhD over here, so perhaps this is not surprising. High five?). And I do see the kind of naturalism I’m offering as McDowellian in certain respects — for present purposes, in particular with respect to the idea that there may be no “external validation” available of the ethical outlook embodied in our conception of the virtues, and in our associated conception of what’s a reason for what. (See McDowell’s 1995 “Eudaimonism and Realism in Aristotle’s Ethics” for a great discussion of this in the context of McDowell’s reading of Aristotle.) But this doesn’t destroy the prospects for naturalism, nor for realism.

    I also like McDowell on “uncodifiability” of the virtues (see his 1979 “Virtue and Reason”), and that is one reason why I’m skeptical about whether we could achieve a totally accurate description of virtuous dispositions in non-normative, non-evaluative terms. I’m not sure whether you’re alluding to this idea in saying that attempts to specify the virtues in non-normative terms are likely counterexample-able, and that this project seems super hard. (Your claims could be true even if the virtues were in principle codifiable, of course; it could just be very hard to codify them.)

  16. Thanks for the responses, Hille and Jack!

    I still take issue with the following thought, Jack. You write, “the worry is just that the more complicated and local the stories are (we specify the virtue of justice using non-normative concepts x, y, z… and the virtue of courage using x1, y1, z1…) the more open the question will be”

    In general, I don’t think we learn all that much about reductive views from evaluating them schematically, in the abstract. It’s kind of unsurprising that someone would be suspicious of reductivism, when all they’re doing is reading proposals of the form “x1, y1, z1”. After all, “x1, y1, z1” doesn’t explain anything of the things we want to explain (like the virtues, in this case). Until we actually fill in values for x, y, and z, I think we should be neutral about whether any particular values are going to leave questions open. The point I want to emphasize is that that’s not the sort of thing we get to decide in advance.

    Hille, would you mind saying a bit about what you find attractive about the “uncodifiability” concern for reductive views from McDowell?

  17. High five indeed! I am also definitely sympathetic with the uncodifiability of the virtues, though I was trying to be a bit more ecumenical re: Nick. The thought is that the virtues cannot be naturalized (i.e. specified in non-normative terms) *and* still play the kind of foundational role you want in the OP. And I’m not sure if naturalizing them, in this sense, is the same as codifying, in McDowell’s. It’s been a while since I’ve read the paper but my recollection is that codifiability involves generating something like a decision procedure.

    One plausible way of naturalizing the virtues would be to invoke more general normative terms and then naturalize those. So, for example, on a Railton-style indirect consequentialist view courage might be a disposition to take the kinds of risks that, over the course of a life, tend to lead to the best consequences. This seems to me still pretty indeterminate, from a decision-making standpoint, but if you can then naturalize the conception of good consequences (as Railton thinks you can) then you’ve naturalized courage without necessarily converting it to a decision procedure. But you’ve done so at the expense of giving up on the project in the OP, and Nick was trying to suggest something friendly to it. That you could naturalize the virtues while keeping them normatively fundamental is the thing I am especially skeptical of, and I think you can reject uncodifiability and still agree.

    Nick: I certainly don’t take myself to be entitled to decide in advance! That’s why I’m cautiously committed only to what I think is justified skepticism. I mean, I am sympathetic with the uncodifiability argument, i.e. that there is an ineliminable role for a capacity of judgment, which would be a reason to think that the virtues are in principle un-naturalizable but not for open question-ish reasons. Setting that aside, however, my skepticism is based on two thoughts: first, I think that the more complicated the substantive analysis is the more open the question will be, so the task is just harder in that case. The point of the schematic variables was just meant to be that you need a lot of them to naturalize the virtues while keeping them in the role Hille wants for them. Second, and more simplemindedly, naturalizing general normative terms seems more promising because the aim is a unified story about what in fact is good (or choiceworthy or whatever), and I can get myself to feel the appeal of thinking that the way talk of goodness works is amenable to a unified substantive analysis, whereas *if* the virtues are normatively fundamental then I just can’t even imagine what a substantive analysis would look like. My limitation, perhaps.

    Of course, all that is consistent with being open in principle to considering some candidates for x, y, and z…, and maybe being convinced. I think there’s reason to be more doubtful in the case of virtues as fundamental than in the case of the good. Maybe what I am now learning about myself is that I find the open question argument probative but not dispositive. If you think we ought to be neutral in advance you surely will not find any of this convincing, but I don’t think we ought to be neutral in advance, just perhaps open-minded.

  18. Hi Nick and Jack,

    Sorry for the delayed response — and thank you for the continued engagement!

    Nick, you ask: “Hille, would you mind saying a bit about what you find attractive about the “uncodifiability” concern for reductive views from McDowell?”

    I take it that by a “reductive” view of the virtues, you mean a view that states, in non-normative and non-evaluative vocabulary, the precise nature and shape of the dispositions that are the virtues. (Is that right?) Here’s how I was thinking that uncodifiability might interact with that project. The virtues are, inter alia, dispositions to act on certain sorts of considerations, in certains sorts of ways, on certain sorts of occasions. These dispositions embody the virtuous person’s ethical outlook. I take it that by saying that such outlooks aren’t codifiable, McDowell partly means that we can’t lay down “general rankings” of concerns or types of considerations that are important, and to what degree and in what ways, in a given situation, “in advance of all the predicaments with which life may confront one” (McDowell 1979, p.344). In other words, there’s not going to be some general formula that will tell us what kind of weight to give which types of considerations and when, a formula that we could then straightforwardly apply to the situation at hand. Now, I agree that much of what McDowell says seems to concern the unavailability of such a formula *as a decision procedure* for the virtuous person. (Or the misguidedness of thinking of the virtuous person as operating in terms of some such decision procedure.) But if a general formula accurately specifying exactly which considerations to give what kind of weight to and when isn’t available to the virtuous person, then I tend to think we should be skeptical that it would be available to the rest of us, in theorizing about the precise shape of the virtues. (And in the context of the Virtue Theory of reasons, if we want to give a “reductive” view of the virtues in the above sense of “reductive,” then what would be relevant would be precisely a formula that states, in non-normative and non-evaluative vocabulary, exactly which kinds of considerations a person with the relevant disposition gives what kind of weight to in which kinds of situations.)

    Maybe there’s something wrong with the above line of thinking. But a couple of notes:

    First, even if the above line of thinking correct, I’m not sure it rules out the in principle possibility of a fiendishly complex descriptive specification, in non-normative and non-evaluative terms, of the dispositions at hand–a specification that an omniscient being could perhaps give. I just think it suggests that the prospects of our arriving at such a specification seem pretty bleak.

    Second, and perhaps more importantly, I don’t think that we need such a specification in order to be naturalists about virtue. *Here I want to reiterate to Jack*: the sense of “naturalizing” the virtues that you employ in your comment (that of specifying them in non-normative terms) isn’t the only respectable sense of “naturalizing” the virtues. We can also argue, somewhat in the style of Nick Sturgeon, that even if we can’t give a non-normative and non-evaluative specification of the referents of our virtue terms, these referents are nonetheless naturalistic, in that they are psychological dispositions. (Of course, Sturgeon appeals to the causal-explanatory role of X to explain why X is naturalistic; we might do something similar, but I don’t want to commit to that here.) And in another sense of “reduction,” we might call those psychological dispositions the reduction base for facts about reasons.

  19. I should have added: It’s this second type of naturalistic project that I’m engaged in.

    Thanks again for all the helpful questions and comments!

  20. Hi Hille! I’m a little late to the party, so I’m not sure if you’re still following the thread. Thanks so much for posting this — fascinating stuff.

    As I think you know, I’m a fellow traveler with regard to the outlines of your Virtue Theory (modulo the virtue part, and the naturalism, and a few other things). So I’m going to ask you a somewhat self-serving question, in that it’s a question about how you solve a problem that both of our versions of this kind of theory face. 🙂

    The basic question is how to square the idea that reasons are (contents of) premise states in pieces of practical reasoning with the idea that the fact that I want something can be a reason for me to try to get it. More slowly, the problem arises because I want a theory of reasons that can allow for both of these ideas:

    (A) Sometimes our conative states (desires/intentions/preferences/whatever) give us reasons. That is: sometimes *that I want X* is a reason to do Y (say, when Y-ing will make X the case, or whatever),

    (B) Conative states typically enter into reasoning directly. That is: when my practical reasoning involves my desires/intentions/whatever, those mental states are themselves premise states in the transition of thought that is my piece of reasoning. I transition from the desire (and relevant beliefs) to the decision to act. This contrasts with the view according to which practical reasoning involves *beliefs about* desires and intentions, but doesn’t involve the desires/intentions themselves. On that “indirect” view, practical reasoning involves the transition from a *belief about a desire* or *a belief about an intention* (and other beliefs) to a decision.

    I want to accept (A) because of David Sobel-type arguments involving reasons of taste. I want to accept (B) because of Michael Bratman-type arguments about the nature of conative attitudes and the nature of practical reasoning.

    Unfortunately, (A) and (B) together don’t sit very well with principles like your Virtue Theory, or my version of the Reasoning View. If I understand you correctly, your theory is Setiya-like in that you use the word “premise” (in the slogan “reasons are premises of good reasoning”) to refer to belief contents. If that’s right, then in order to get (A) you need to say that virtuous deliberation involves beliefs about desires/intentions, not the desires/intentions themselves. (If you said that it could involve desires/intentions directly, then the contents of those desires/intentions would end up being reasons, which isn’t the result I want…those contents are imperatives, or propositions about worldly states of affairs.) However, that result is in conflict with (B), which maintains that virtuous reasoning can involve the direct contribution of conative states.

    So, to summarize: it looks like you either need to deny the Sobelian idea that reasons of taste are grounded in conative states, or the Bratmanian idea that intentions and desires can play a direct role in (virtuous) practical reasoning. Neither seems appealing to me.

    In my paper “Rational Internalism” I jump through a bunch of hoops to try to solve this problem. I end up denying that normative reasons are the *contents* of premise states in pieces of practical reasoning, and instead claiming that reasons are propositions that are “appropriately related” to the premise states in pieces of practical reasoning, where P is appropriately related to mental state M just in case either P is the content of M or P is the fact that you are in M. This solution is awkwardly disjunctive, though, so I would LOVE to have a better solution.

    Any thoughts? Do you accept (A) and (B)? If not, why not? If you do accept (A) and (B), do you have thoughts about how to reconcile them with Virtue Theory?

    Note that I’m thinking (A) and (B) are plausible regardless of whether one identifies intentions with beliefs. When a person has a reason of taste, we don’t want the result that *that I will do A by way of this very intention* is my reason for doing A, or whatever. We (well, I) want the result that *that I want X* or *that I intend X* is my reason.

    I’m not sure if this problem grips you as much as it grips me, but I’d be very curious to know what you think!

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