The Ockham Society (Wednesday - Week 3, HT21)

Ockham Society

This essay raises a puzzle for Kearns & Star's account of normative reasons – the Reasons as Evidence (short: RaE) view. Their basic idea is that reasons can be analysed in terms of evidence for ought propositions. This view, I argue, faces an "asymmetry charge". That is, evidence and reasons behave differently in our deliberations about what we ought to "do" (in a broad sense including action and belief). On the one hand, strong reasons (if assessed correctly) lead to determinate ought statements. On the other hand, evidence for ought statements (even if strong and assessed correctly) only indicates the truth of an ought statement and, hence, can be misleading.  

I spell out this asymmetry charge by looking at different readings of "ought". In particular, I consider perspectivism and objectivism about the deliberative ought. Roughly, perspectivism holds that what an agent A ought to do depends only on those facts that are (in some sense) epistemically available to A. Objectivism denies this.  

First, I argue that the ought propositions, featuring in an agent A's evidence, cannot be read in a perspectivist way. Combining this result with perspectivism about the ought connected to (decisive) reasons, we get the beforementioned asymmetry. Therefore, we can get non-equivalent ought statements if we spell out A's deliberations in terms of reasons and evidence for ought propositions respectively. This violates, as I will show, a minimal commitment of the RaE view.  

Second, I consider whether (pure) objectivism about "ought" might avoid this asymmetry charge. I argue, however, that objectivism, for a different reason, is inconsistent with the RaE view. To the extent that my argument holds, the RaE view has not the tools to either (i) accept the alleged asymmetry of reasons and evidence for ought propositions or (ii) to explain it away.

Additional Information: Ockham will be held on MS Teams during HT21. Please email if you wish to attend. 

Ockham Society Convenor: Steven Diggin | Ockham Society Webpage