I’m reading some bits of Doug Portmore’s book, Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. According to Portmore’s “teleological conception of practical reasons” (TCR) — Chapter Three — all practical reasons are a function of reasons to desire outcomes: if X has reason to perform A this is because X has reason to desire the possible world (or set of possible worlds) in which X performs A. Moreover, because reasons to desire outcomes can be agent-relative but desirability or fitting-desire is a function of agent-neutral reasons, such a view is not a “desirability-based” or “value-based” theory of practical reasons (that then passes the normative buck to objective desire-fittingness, in particular agent-neutral reasons of fitting desire).
I have some concerns about this theory, mainly about whether the relevant desires for outcomes here are important (descriptively) and whether the relevant reasons to have such desires are important (normatively). But I want to see how this view does, how it goes, for a standard case of what are often thought of as desire-based (not reasons-to-desire-based) reasons for action. Intuitively, it seems like this sort of case should be hard for TCR to handle (and in any case I want to work out how TCR interprets or explains such cases).
So, Mark Schroeder’s “Ronnie.” Ronnie loves to dance. And so, in the broad sense of ‘desire’ in common philosophical usage, Ronnie desires the state of affairs of his own dancing. And so — Schroeder’s story goes — Ronnie has reason to realize or promote his dancing on any given occasion and, in particular, he presently has reason to take the particular action of going to some particular dance party. So let’s apply TCR to Ronnie having reason to go to the dance party. On TCR, this is necessarily correlated with and explained by Ronnie having reason to desire to go to the dance party (or to desire the world or a world in which this happens).
Now, though TCR says nothing about what makes for reasons to desire (and thus leaves open the idea that reasons to desire are themselves be psychological or specifically desire-based), it does rule this out: that Ronnie’s loving to dance is what provides the direct, fundamental explanation of both his having reason to go to the party and his having reason to desire to go to the party. But isn’t this common-cause-style explanation pretty plausible (and, in particular, more plausible than Ronnie having reason to go to the party because he has reason to desire to go to the party)?
Portmore might reply that, in this sort of case at least, the second thing (reasons to desire) explains the first thing (reasons to perform action that realizes or promotes what one has reason to desire) by way of the agent actually having a desire (the desire to dance generally) that in this case happens to be closely related to the desire that the agent has reason to exhibit (the desire to go to this dance party). My reply: I’m just not impressed with the idea of granting Ronnie’s having reason to desire to go to the party this much explanatory power. In fact, I worry that reasons to desire worlds in which one performs some action are too close to (too close to being identical to) reasons to perform the action to be of much explanatory use.
(I agree with Portmore — and what is, I think, fairly called the received view — that we can “consequentialize” all of the practical normative and evaluative things. Including the common core of all requirements — the must-do-ness of all of the things that we must do. It seems likely that the formal property uncovered or defined by this move is explanatory relative to the task of tying together disparate normative and evaluative things that might seem categorically different. That’s not unimportant. But it need not be super-relevant to the explanatory task of providing a unified substantive account of all practical reasons.)
Does it seem right that TCR would handle the putatively desire-based practical reasons cases in this way? (Portmore does not seem to consider such cases in the context of considering common-cause objections to the explanatory direction of the biconditional going in the direction that he says it does. He considers, and rejects, on the grounds that better generates only agent-neutral reasons, the idea that one relevant action-involving outcome being better than the other could explain both the reasons to desire the outcome and the reasons to perform the action. An analogous criticism would not apply to the case of “boogie-nights” Ronnie and his wanting to shake it all out whenever he gets the chance.)