a puzzle and a solution regarding the rational ‘ought’

One might think that it being the case that X rationally ought to A (exhibit some action or attitude in response to relevant items) is a straight-forward function of the reasons that X has for/against A-ing. And one might think that the sort of normative reason that is relevant here is of the subjective or psychological sort (specifically a broadly cognitive mental state — e.g., a belief or a perceptual experience). One supporting thought for this last thought is that normativity is, at its core, the direct guidance of responses via rational causal tendencies in the mind of the agent (we might call this the “direct rational guidance” view of normativity).

However, quite plausibly, the rational ‘ought’ is, in some respects, a function of appropriate response to facts, not just mental states.

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contagion requiem

wet market contagion

community spread

Li cries out

then silenced


empty streets in Wuhan

people inside

doors welded shut

how many died?

Xi lies

dictatorship and national pride

crematorium ash flies

the Devil is unbound

the world oblivious



priests consecrate the wine and bread

body and blood of Christ

only to be struck down, dead

the Horsemen have arrived

the job of Christ is no earthly saving

dead in the wards

dead in the hallways

bodies fill the churches

shipped to more-spacious churchyards nearer the Vatican

the conflagration spreads



oh, American decadence!

the stupid vanity of the trumped-up man

stupidly vain righteousness

impeach the man

impeach democracy

‘I win! I shine!’ — ‘You swine!’

a glorious circus all dressed up in right and wrong

interrupted by sweeping death

Emerald City sorrow, Gotham apocalypse

the dying comes and comes


machines breathing last breaths

saviors saving only to die

the big boss strips us naked

knocks us unconscious…

we awake in fits

to face reality and find solace as we can

but back to the circus we go

winning and losing, righting and wronging, shining and stinking up the joint 

what a show

death smiles

but the end is not yet written

social injustice and individual obligation

Suppose that society can wrong individuals and groups within society (as I think it can).  If one (or some group) is wronged in any way, one can legitimately complain (object, demand, etc.). If one is wronged by society, one complains to… society.  But society is not an agent, so such a complaint cannot function as it would if one were privately wronged. And so, though we can say that society is obligated to right the wrong, it seems we must cash this out in terms of the obligations of individuals.  Continue reading

that Peloton commercial

Here we go:

My initial, emotion-driven evaluation, when I started seeing the ad (over and over and over and over, watching NFL football), was negative.  I think I was responding to the woman seeming sort of unsure of herself, maybe weak in some way — and her husband “saving her” by getting her the machine.  I think this got my feminist hackles up.  However, upon reflection, I don’t think the commercial is sexist.  I don’t think it is about a husband wanting his “116 lb wife to be a 112 lb wife.”  It is about an unsure or insecure or unhappy person find strength in accomplishment — and being helped to this by a loved one, by her partner (and, somewhat oddly to my tastes, documenting the whole adventure via selfie).  I suspect that the woman playing this role (unsure, insecure, needing support) made me uncomfortable (even though I bring no simple egalitarian ideals to the table).  For the images and story of the commercial, in addition to capturing a conventional gender reality (but perhaps also non-conventional psycho-sexual reality) that is not, in itself, obviously objectionable, also easily fits into or slides into representations of gender and marriage roles that are unjust and oppressive.  Danger, Will Robinson, danger!  My emotional reaction, but not my considered judgment, more or less line up with the negative evaluation of the commercial as sexist.  Thoughts?

why think ‘must’ implies ‘ought’?

To say that I ought to take out the garbage and to say that I must take it out is to say two different things.  And, if I ought to take out the garbage, it does not follow that I must. But — apparently — if I must take out the garbage (if I am required to), then it follows that I ought.  The ‘must’ seems in some way stronger than the mere ‘ought’ (perhaps ‘must’ is simply ‘decisively ought’ — that is one theory).

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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).

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thinking of (a version of) moral rationalism as a formal or conceptual truth

One might think that the following is true (this is a version of “moral rationalism” — not Portmore’s version, but a better version that I have invented and framed in my own way):

(1) If, after all of the moral reasons (including those associated with specific moral requirements) are considered, what morality requires of one is that one PHI (perhaps keep one’s word), then one has decisively most reason — not just decisively most moral reason — to A.

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permissibility and sorta-consent-y nonconsent doing the work

Suppose that a constructed system of deontic norms is still under construction:  there are various good candidate actions for being impermissible that we have not yet settled on as impermissible (perhaps this matter is in dispute and that there are such disputes is part of how we get impermissibility norms that are sensitive to relevant agents and their aims).  We might, and standard deontic logical systems do, stipulate that, in such cases, permissibility is the default. So such candidates for being impermissible would be permissible (until made impermissible). More generally, as a conceptual matter, permissibility is simply non-impermissibility.  What is being demarcated is something like the distinction between the social or personal normative standards that constitutes impermissibility and the sheer absence of such. And there are probably good reasons for conceptualizing things this way, having to do with how deontic rule-governed systems function and reliably achieve their aims.

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boogie-nights Ronnie and Portmore’s “teleological conception of practical reasons” (TCR)

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).

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the work of requirements (as against reasons)

It is popular, in some perhaps many circles of analytic philosophy, to analyze various normative and evaluative properties in terms of normative reasons.  There are, I think, two essential elements to this strategy. First, it seeks to explain the candidate normative or evaluative property (this thing being valuable or good for or valuable to one or that thing being what one ought to do) in terms of this putatively more basic normative valence of relevant actions or responses (reasons, an agent X having reason to A).  Second, this valence is pro tanto in that it does not, in itself, render a verdict on whether the action or response that it attaches to is to be done (in this way, it is partial, non-determinative, non-verdictive, non-ought-making).  Thus the explanatory work of reasons (X having reason to A) is done via reasons “weighing” (or having “weight”) for and against the action or response in question, one side ultimately having more “weight” (except when the two sides are equally-balanced).

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