We speak, not only of X having reason to A (or of R being a reason for X to A), but also of X having reason to A rather than B (or to A as against B). According to Justin Snedegar, we should always read ‘rather than’ or ‘as against’ in such constructions as meaning but-not. So if I have reason to write this post rather than start scrolling down my Facebook feed, this means that I have reason to take the former option and do not have reason to take the latter option.
And this leads to the following strange result in certain ordinary-enough cases like the one below. (Adapted from Snedegar. The main difference between his case and mine is that I put the [X having reason to A] feature as against the [R is a reason for X to A] feature front-and-center, roughly in line with Daniel Fogal’s framing or reasons and having-reason.) Here is the case:
I’m deciding between running, biking or driving to work and there is one salient goal: my avoiding wearing myself out (as I am out of shape). (We’ll suppose that the goal of getting to work, or doing so in a timely-enough manner, is equally well promoted by each option.) Now suppose that (a) I have reason to drive rather than bike. Reading ‘rather than’ as indicating but-not (and supposing that the driving will not wear me out but the biking will) we should infer that (i) I do not have reason to bike. And suppose as well that (b) I have reason to bike rather than run (again due to the wearing-me-out factor). From this, trivially, we should conclude: (ii) I have reason to bike. And now we have an apparent contradiction.
We might think we can get out of the contradiction by denying, contra Snedegar, that ‘rather than’ in these constructions always indicates but-not. I’m pretty sure that Snedegar is wrong here — but I think ‘rather than’ does in some contexts does indicate but-not and we have stipulated such a situation for [a] (and I have filled in the case to show how and why this is so).
Snedegar suggests that we solve the problem here by treating [i] and [ii] as shorthand versions of [a] and [b], versions that simply focus on one of the two options in each contrast. And this reflects the general idea that having-reason (and reasons) is, in all cases, relative to a contrasting alternative (or set of alternatives) — “contrastivism” regarding reasons (or having-reason) is what Snedegar calls this. The more standard, non-contrastivist view of having-reason (and reasons) looks to be stuck with the contradiction.
Snedegar is wrong (or at least his case does not work). He is wrong because, in cases such as this, what appears to be one salient outcome (value, goal) across [a] and [b] (and [i] and [ii]) might be two distinct, though closely-related, outcomes. In the above case, for [a] (and [i]), the relevant outcome is binary, something like (I) not getting worn out beyond a certain amount. But this same outcome is not of the right sort to get the contrastive having-reason feature for [b]. What we need is some gradable quantity like this: (II) minimizing the amount that one is worn out. So then we get (i*) I do not have reason, relative to the outcome of not getting worn out beyond extent n, to bike and (ii*) I have reason, relative to the outcome of minimizing the extent to which I am worn out, to bike. And there we are: non-contrastivist framing, no contradiction. In this way, we can save the more natural explanation of contrastive having-reason features: they are explained by more basic, non-contrastive having-reason features that options have entirely apart from being related to some other option (or set of options).
Of course, one might try to come up with a case like the above, but in which it is clear that both (a) some one outcome really is the sole outcome that is salient to each contrastive normative feature and (b) both of the statements about the contrastive having-reason (or reason) are true. I suspect that this challenge will be hard to meet. If so, the puzzle here goes away — and with it the big problem for the non-contrastivist view of having-reason (and reasons). If I’m right here, the correct positive task here is coming up with a detailed, convincing account of (outcome- or other response-object-specific) contrastive normative valence (for some option or between options) in terms of (outcome- or response-object-specific) non-contrastive normative valences for individual options.
Snedegar on contrastive reasons:
Fogal on ‘there is reason’ (or ‘having reason’) and something being a reason: