what non-teleological practical reasons might be like and why “consequentializing” them would be a mistake

Plausibly, in certain sorts of cases X having reason to A (where A is either the performance of an action or the having of an attitude), the specific or contributory valence of A-ing for X is not a function of X’s A-ing realizing or promoting some outcome O.  Rather it is a function of X’s A-ing being an appropriate or fitting response to some condition, feature or circumstance C.  I’ll call these reasons appropriate-response type reasons (with the larger, catch-all category being “non-teleological” reasons). We can, for such reasons, rig up an outcome that plausibly might explain the normative valence. For example, we could say that [X-A-ing-when-C-is-present] or [X-A-ing-when-X-registers-that-C-is-present] is agent-neutrally valuable or beneficial to X, thus making it such that X has reason to A in virtue of realizing or promoting one of these valuable or beneficial outcomes.  However, there is this element that is not captured by the “consequentializing” strategy: the valence (for X) is supposed to attach to X’s A-ing — but not due to X’s A-ing being related (including identical to) some condition (the outcome) that itself has some normative or evaluative valence. So it seems plausible that this sort of case of X having reason to A is non-teleological and, in this, not fully or truly “consequentializable” (unless we weaken the conditions for “consequentializability” such that the “original” normative character of these sorts of reasons need not be captured in the move).

Perhaps no practical reasons (X having reason to A) are like this, in which case, all practical reasons are teleological (leaving, perhaps, only reasons of appropriate or fitting attitude in the category of non-teleological reasons).  But I suspect this is not the case. I suspect that deontological practical reasons — the reasons of moral requirement — are reasons of appropriate or fitting response to particular sorts of condition or circumstance. In which case such reasons (again, more precisely, cases of X having reason to A) are similar to reasons of fitting attitude (such as reasons to blame, admire, etc.).  To have a name, call these reasons (non-teleological reasons) of appropriate response.

It is important that these reasons are (or would be) actual reasons.  They are not overall normative valences (e.g., the ought-valence or the has-sufficient-reason valence), even if, in many contexts, they carry the day and yield corresponding overall valences and or verdicts on overall ranking, they need not (if it is appropriate for X to respond to C by A-ing, then perhaps typically X ought or is required to respond to C by A-ing).  To some degree, such reasons of appropriate response compete with other considerations (other reasons of appropriate response, purposes of instrumental pursuit or teleological reasons) and hence are not only specific (to the condition C) but also at least potentially contributory without being decisive.

I suspect that recognizing this class of reasons is essential to getting the right explanation for the distinctive features of normative, including moral, requirement (and for other fitting response, such as fitting attitudes).  Though we might, as Portmore does, with a lot of work, explain the same features via some very fancy “consequentializing” moves (treating all reasons as teleological, albeit some in a very complicated way), I don’t think such moves do the explanatory work very well — or through things that we have independent reason to think are true (independently, we should think that apparent reasons of appropriate response are just that, not extra-tricky teleological reasons).  And, as noted, the independence of such valence over the valence of any outcomes to be realized or promoted is simply not captured by the consequentializing move.

Portmore offers this reason for consequentializing all of the practical reasons:  all practical reasons are explained by (not merely associated with) reasons to desire the overall world-outcomes associated with each option in any practical choice. 

But this idea is false. The two normative items here (reasons for action, reasons to desire the world in which the action is taken) are always explained by some third normative element. Sometimes (in the teleological reasons case), both of the things are caused by X having most reason to intrinsically desire or value various items that are at stake (and X’s A-ing doing an overall better job at “maximizing utility” than her other options); other times (in the appropriate-response reasons case), both of the things are explained by it being appropriate for X to A as a response to C (and by other reasons X has against A-ing not outweighing).  So Portmore’s correlation between X’s reasons to A (or X having most reason to A) and X’s reasons to desire the world in which she A’s (or X having most reason to desire this option-associated outcome) is not explanatory — in either direction, either of the two main cases. And so I’m doubtful that there are very good reasons (even high-level theoretical ones) to consequentialize non-teleological, appropriate-response-type practical reasons (or appropriate-response-type reasons generally).

8 thoughts on “what non-teleological practical reasons might be like and why “consequentializing” them would be a mistake

  1. I see where you’re headed with this, but I’m tempted to say that because the devil is in the details, it’s hard to know how to evaluate your proposal, at least as stated (also hard to evaluate Portmore’s, as stated).

    Broadly speaking, you’re saying that there are non-teleological (i.e., deontic) reasons that involve fitting or appropriate attitudes rather than goal-satisfaction. Either they can’t be consequentialized, or the price of consequentializing them is triviality: if they can be consequentialized, anything can, but if anything can be consequentialized, “consequentialization” becomes a trivial idea with no real foil. And fitting attitudes can’t be consequentialized, because consequentialization is (naturally enough) a causal-explanatory concept, but, you suggest, it’s not in fact explanatory.

    Problem: independently of your initial assumption that fitting attitude-reasons aren’t consequentializable, I don’t see why what you say blocks anything that Portmore could say. In other words, we just seem to be left in a head-butting contest of p versus ~p without a sense of the higher-order reasons (sorry) for adopting p or ~p. Of course, I haven’t read Portmore, so I don’t know what he does say. But my point is, your argument seems to give out at this claim:

    So Portmore’s correlation between X’s reasons to A (or X having most reason to A) and X’s reasons to desire the world in which she A’s (or X having most reason to desire this option-associated outcome) is not explanatory — in either direction, either of the two main cases.

    Why not?

    I guess what I would ask is: what is it that makes fitting attitudes fitting? Whatever your answer to that question, it not only has to exclude Portmore’s, but be plausible enough on its own to command assent. So it’d be helpful to know what kind of account (or whose) you have in mind. I don’t know this literature very well (fitting attitude: shame), hence the question.

    Incidental point: if you want some historical perspective on this, you might want to take a look at Kelly Rogers’s old paper, “Aristotle’s Conception of To Kalon,” (Ancient Philosophy 13:12, [1993]). It’s relevant because Aristotle’s conception of to kalon (“the noble” or “the fine”) is his account of (the functional equivalent of) fitting attitudes. (If I remember, Rogers partly cashes to kalon out in terms of to prepon, the appropriate.) The question that Rogers sets out to solve is how you fit (so to speak) a fitting attitude account into a teleological ethics like Aristotle’s. Not sure whether she solves it, or whether she gets Aristotle right, but that may not matter for you. Just might be helpful to get a suggestive account on the same topic (however anachronistically conceived) to give you some perspective on the issues.

    https://philpapers.org/rec/ROGACO-3

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  2. Much thanks for the feedback. I pretty much agree with your bottom line, here. And I might take a quick look at KR’s piece — from what you say, it does seem relevant.

    The essential background question is whether *X A-ing in response to registering condition C being appropriate or fitting* — something we might think of in terms of X having normally-decisive fittingness-type *reason* to exhibit A upon registering C — can be reduced, in an explanatorily useful way, to something like *X having decisive reason to A in virtue of X’s A-ing realizing the outcome [X A-ing upon registering condition C]*. Or whether this kind of reduction/unification is plausible for practical reasons in particular (even if it is not for fitting-attitudes-type reasons). I don’t pretend to have made a convincing case against this explanatory reduction/unification, just to have raised some potentially good reasons against it (the most important if unsophisticated being: appropriate response just seems different from having reason to do something because some outcome is realized or promoted).

    But the cash-money idea here, based on the above, is that, hey, maybe those usually-decisive “deontological” reasons (or having-reason) — the reasons to keep one’s word, not murder other people, etc. — are types of fitting/appropriate response (and the reasons of this, if reasons-talk here makes sense). This is really just a speculative hypothesis that will have some appeal if (a) you are suspicious of the idea that your reason not to pick the option that involves torturing someone is a function of your not torturing realizing or promoting some end (perhaps something like the end of one not torturing now, though capturing all of the roughly rule-following elements of our “reasons of duty” is tricky) and (b) you think that the normally-decisive reasons of fitting attitude (or more broadly of appropriate response) are not teleological (in the broad sense that would include both practical reasons on desire-based models and on value-based models, broadly including Portmore’s model). I’m unsure just how seriously to take this hypothesis, ultimately. I’d need to look at more details. But it does good work that we need done, at least on certain pretty-widely-held assumptions that I have some sympathy for.

    Portmore’s particular version of practical reasons being teleological (in a way that is analogous to thinking of practical reasons as value-based as against merely desire-based) has its own problems. But he at least provides something of a rationale for treating all practical reasons as teleological (in his particular sense) and that is why I addressed his view. To perhaps just repeat: though Portmore has identified a correlation (reasons to A and reasons to desire the world in which one performs A) and a plausible sort of explanatory schema (roughly, a fitting attitudes account of personal and impersonal value plus a value-based account of practical reasons), he has not ruled out a third cause or common explanation for the correlation *that also better fits his general explanatory schema* (viz., it being fitting to *intrinsically* desire or value particular items — and, in virtue of this, getting both practical reason to choose an option and reasons to desire associated world-outcomes). However, as it is always open to put lots of weight on the total explanatory power of a theory, so, on this basis, Portmore might reasonably stick to his guns (even if this local point or argument of mine is pretty strong) and then we are at some version of p/not-p head-butting.

    Again, much thanks. I know some of my recent posts have been pretty context-dependent (with important elements of context — like being in the midst of reading Portmore’s book — not shared with my co-bloggers!) so I really appreciate your efforts to wade through.

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  3. Got it.

    The essential background question is whether *X A-ing in response to registering condition C being appropriate or fitting* — something we might think of in terms of X having normally-decisive fittingness-type *reason* to exhibit A upon registering C — can be reduced, in an explanatorily useful way, to something like *X having decisive reason to A in virtue of X’s A-ing realizing the outcome [X A-ing upon registering condition C]*

    Right. That’s the $64 million dollar question, of course–whether every morally salient, reason-giving property can be reduced to an outcome-realization, and if so, in what sense.

    Not having read Portmore, I will leave things there, and just wallow in the fitting shame that arises when I realize how ill-read I am in my chosen field.

    Ironically, I was thinking of this very issue–teleological reasons vs. non-teleological ones conceived as responsiveness-to-what-is-fitting–in a slightly different connection. Oddly enough, it came up not by reading Portmore, but because I started giving thought to our forthcoming seminar on the Objectivist Ethics in Lewisburg.

    Pardon my lapse into Objectivese, but think about the so-called “choice to live” in Objectivist contexts. The choice to live is the choice to accept an ultimate value as ultimate. Objectivists often waver between saying that there is no reason to make that choice (it’s “pre-rational”), and all the reason in the world to make it (Peikoff says something to this effect in OPAR).

    Suppose we say that there is reason to make the choice. In that case, ex hypothesi, the reason can’t be teleological: since the ultimate value is not teleologically related to any further end, it can’t be chosen as a means to or constituent of some further end. So much for that.

    But it’s not as though any old thing can serve as an ultimate end, either; some specific end does, conceived a specific way–survival qua human. So there’s got to be some sense, even on the Objectivist view, in which the features of that end are fitting objects of choice without its being the case that the relevant sense of “fitness” is teleological. The point is obvious if we claim that there is “reason” to make survival qua human one’s ultimate end, but it remains even if we eliminate the reasons-talk. (I sort of prefer eliminating it.) Whether we have “reason” to pursue it or not, survival qua human is still the only thing that’s fit to be an ultimate end on the Objectivist view, so that it’s fit to be chosen as an ultimate end in a way that other things (pleasure, desire-satisfaction, wealth, the approbation of others, service to society, maximizing utility, doing God’s will, etc.) are not.

    The point of this excursion or digression or whatever it is is that even if Douglas Portmore isn’t vulnerable to your criticism, Ayn Rand is. (You can’t have everything.) There may or may not be a chink in Portmore’s armor that allows for the legitimacy of your criticism, but arguably there is in Rand’s case. She wants to insist that all practical reasoning is teleological, but once she does, she can’t quite account for the basis in practical reason for making survival qua human the ultimate value. Obviously, the basis for making something your ultimate end has to be different from the basis for any particular end, but in the interests of slaying the Kantian dragon (in “Causality Versus Duty”), she adopts so reductive a conception of practical reason that she leaves the most important part of her own view a mystery.

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