I have a roughly formulated and half-baked inquiry:
Suppose that rationality endorses maximizing utility, but there is room for rational supererogation, and so it is sometimes rationally permissible to drink a coffee even if doing so does not maximize utility.
Would you say that there is no decisive reason against drinking the coffee because, although drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, it is still rationally permissible? Or would you say that, because drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, there is decisive reason against drinking the coffee even though drinking it is rationally permissible?
I am attracted to a usage of decisive reason according to which the consideration that C pinpoints a decisive reason against A’s X-ing if and only if, because C, A should not X. Given this usage, there is no decisive reason against drinking the coffee (from the point of view of rationality) because, although drinking the coffee is rationally inferior to another available option, drinking the coffee is still rationally permissible and so it is not true that one should not drink the coffee. I wonder if folks would balk at this implication and see usages with this implication as thereby counter-intuitive.
Hi everyone, and thanks to PEA Soup for providing this forum and inviting me to contribute.
1. The Issue
Standard theories on normative reasons rarely mention roles* and their attendant reasons and obligations, and when roles are mentioned, they are accorded derivative normative significance. The particulars of the theories vary wildly, but the general picture they give is as follows: while there are standards for what constitutes a good parent (and a good doctor, friend, citizen, and so on), these standards are not normative, where ‘normative’ means or entails ‘reason-giving’. The standards of a role ground reasons for its members – the standards become normative – only if some other, more foundational, normative conditions are met. So occupying a role need play no important role in a theory of practical reason. But here, I offer arguments in support of the following thesis.
Role Thesis: By virtue of occupying a role, and by that alone, one has reason to do that which is conducive to achieving the ends of that role and obligations to refrain from doing that which defies the ends of that role.
I’ve been interested recently in the ways in which norms from some domains impinge on norms from other domains. To that end, I’ve been writing about cruel jokes, wherein the funny and the moral intersect. I don’t at all deny that some cruel jokes are funny; I’ve been known to be amused by many. But there are some cruel jokes that, somehow in virtue of the cruelty, just aren’t jokes. The example I’ve been using is from Stephen King’s book (and/or Brian De Palma’s great film) Carrie. Carrie is raised by a rather terrifying fundamentalist mother, and she is so ignorant about her sexuality that she doesn’t realize what’s happening when she gets her first period in the shower at school. Her classmates tease her relentlessly, and the most cruel among them devise a prank: They make Carrie think she’s the prom queen, and as she’s standing up on stage, soaking in the applause, they dump a bucket of pig’s blood on her. They all find this absolutely hilarious…until Carrie gets a little irritated (for the rest, read the damn book!).