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).
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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
My recent presentation at the NASSP annual conference, “Justifying-To As Moral Address,” I distinguished between “access to reasons” and “moral address” views of a general sort of necessary condition for state legitimacy (or permission to coerce). In the presentation, I interpreted Bernard Williams’ view of state legitimacy as a version of the second view. And also argued that there are reasons to think that the moral-address-focused approach, while distinctive, needs to appeal to a reasons-access condition in order to get its permission-generating work done.
So far (from points -), it looks like BLD essentially involves the following things (content-wise): (i) the state offering or being in a good position to offer, to each under its power, a justification of its power and (ii) the justification or justifications being such that the interests of each person under the power of the state are adequately addressed (however we are to fill in ‘adequately’).
(4) BW (pp. 4-5): BW considers the case of a coercive state regime in which some, but not all, of those under its power are “radically disadvantaged” (RD) in that they have more to reasonably have much more to fear than others with respect to “coercion, pain, torture, humiliation, suffering, death.” Assuming that the RD are aware of their situation, the state is not in a position to offer them the right sort of justification of its power. Apparently, this is because the state has failed them in the primary task of politics (PT) and they know this.
I’ll be making a series of posts on Bernard Williams’ essay “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory.” (David R. and Derek B. and I have read and discussed this recently.) My purpose is pretty narrow: to get some idea of the content (and normative status) of what BW calls the basic legitimation demand (BLD). According to BW, when a state, in addition to adequately solving the “Hobbesian” problem of providing basic security (“the first political question”), meets BLD, it is legitimate (it comes to be permitted to make and enforce laws within some range of possible laws).
Of note, in contrast to Rawls’ liberal principle of legitimacy, BLD is supposed to apply generally – not just to liberal states or to states in conditions that are ripe for liberal constitutional democracy. According to BW, at least in principle and in some historical contexts, non-liberal states can be legitimate and BLD is meant to explain how this could be (or is or was) so. I don’t think Rawls denies this, but neither does he formulate or justify a general principle for state legitimacy. I’m interested in BW’s attempt at doing so. I have some thoughts. Continue reading
The following is an attempt at pulling the “disagreement” thread (as against the “respect for conscience” thread) of political liberalism. And doing so at what I take to be a general, fundamental starting point. Let’s see what I’ve got!
(I) When a group of people are trying to come to a collective decision together, they often aim, not at making the objectively (or rationally) best decision but rather at making the objectively (or rationally) best decision that is also acceptable to all (except those who are wicked or foolish in a way that is relevant to the decision at hand, acceptability thus being qualified acceptability or acceptability for qualified individuals). In this way, we often aim not at what is (objectively or rationally) best but rather at what is “consensus-best.” Continue reading