# The Buck-Passing Account of Value and a False Dichotomy

Consider the
following passage from Scanlon:

[B]eing
good, or valuable, is not a property that itself provides a reason to respond
to a thing in certain ways. Rather, to be good or valuable is to have other
properties that constitute such reasons. (Scanlon 1998, 97)

Thus Scanlon is a proponent of the buck-passing
account of value (BPV) who accepts both the following negative thesis and the
following positive thesis:

BPV- Being good is not a property that
itself provides us with, say, reasons to act so as to promote what has this
property.

BPV+ Something’s being good is just its
possessing the purely formal, higher-order property of having some lower-order
properties that provide us with, say, reasons to act so as to promote it.

Now, in the quoted passage, Scanlon
seems to be suggesting that if BPV+ is true, then BPV- can’t
be true. [Update 8:40 1/24: There’s a typo. Replace ‘can’t’ with ‘must’.]  But this
seems to be a false dichotomy. As a number of people have pointed out, I
believe, BPV- may not follow from BPV+. Something’s being good could just be
its possessing the purely formal, higher-order property of having some
lower-order properties that provide us with, say, reasons to act so as to
promote it while that purely formal, higher-order property itself provides
additional reasons to act so as to promote it. Have I got that right?
(Admittedly, I’ve only skimmed a small fraction of the relevant literature.)

But I’ve always had what seems to me
to be a different worry. Even if BPV- did follow from BPV+ as stated above in
terms of reasons for action, it doesn’t follow that one can’t adopt a version
of BPV+ while rejecting the negative thesis that goodness does not itself
provide us with reasons for action. Let me explain.

Suppose that it’s true that something’s
being good cannot provide us with reasons for having a certain response to it
if its being good just amounts to its having other properties that constitute
reasons for having that exact same response to it. Nevertheless, the claim that
being good is a property that provides us with reasons for responding to what
has that property in a certain way (say, by intending to act so as to promote
it) is compatible with the claim that something’s being good is just its
possessing the purely formal, higher-order property of having some lower-order
properties that provide us with reasons for having a different response to it
(say, desiring it). That is, the following seem compatible:

~(BPV-) Being good is a
property that itself provides us with reasons to act so as to promote it.

BPV(D)+ Something’s being
good is just its possessing the purely formal, higher-order property of having
some lower-order properties that provide us with reasons to desire it.

It seems to me, then, that one can
accept a positive version of the buck-passing account of value while accepting
that the reasons we have to desire certain states of affairs (i.e., their
goodness) provide us with reasons to act so as to bring them about. Does this
seem right?

## 138 Replies to “The Buck-Passing Account of Value and a False Dichotomy”

1. Jussi Suikkanen says:

No Doug. I think you got it the wrong way around. What most commentators have pointed out is that the positive thesis does not follow from the negative thesis. This is for instance Dancy’s and Vayrynen’s view and others have endorsed it too. So, these people think that the reasons an object provide are provided by its first-order properties but that the object still has evaluative properties that are independent of merely having reason-providing properties. They just are not reason-providing. Vayrynen for instance says that the evaluative properties explain the reason-providing relations. But, as far as I know, no-one has held that the implication does not hold the other way round. No-one has even suggested that it would. Scanlon runs the argument the opposite way.
The compination of views you give is really odd too unless you think that reasons to so to act as to promote the thing and reasons to desire it come apart in a radical way. I mean you get an odd double-counting feature. You start from the first-order non-evaluative properties that provide reasons. By that token, you get the second-order property of having first-order properties that provide reasons. And, by having those formal properties, you get even more substantial reasons to do things. Dancy is good in arguing that such reasons are redundant. You already have enough reasons on the first-order level. Whether they are provided by evaluative properties or not is another matter. Anyway, motivating the idea that a purely formal property of having reason-providing properties would in itself be reason-providing seems like an uphill struggle.

2. Jamie Dreier says:

First, I think there is a small mistake in the entry. Doug writes

Now, in the quoted passage, Scanlon seems to be suggesting that if BPV+ is true, then BPV- can’t be true.

I think the can’t is supposed to be a must. Right?
Second, since (as far as I can tell) BPV- does not follow from BPV+, it’s hard to think about Doug’s question of what else would be true if it did follow. The best sense I can make of this is to ask myself whether BPV+ follows from Doug’s BPV(D)+. I’m sure it doesn’t! But Doug, is that what you were asking?
(I also think Jussi is wrong, but I’ll leave it to Mark Schroeder to say why, since Mark has definitely argued that the negative thesis doesn’t follow from the positive one.)

3. Robert Johnson says:

True, BPV- doesn’t follow from BPV+, but (isn’t this implicit in what Jussi says??) just add:
That something has a purely formal, higher-order property of having lower-order properties that provide reasons to promote a thing does not itself provide us with an additional reason to desire that thing.
And that seems true, doesn’t it? What additional reason could that higher-order property possibly provide?

4. Sven Nyholm says:

Robert,
Here’s an example of something that people may take to be a reason given by the kind of higher-order fact about reasons that is discussed in this thread.
Derek Parfit imagines that he is told by some friendly and reliable adviser that he has a strong, but confidential reason to immediately go home. Since he does not know what that reason is, he only knows the higher-order fact that something gives him a strong reason to go home. If this gave him no reason to go home, Parfit then argues, he could rationally stay where he is. But, he cannot rationally stay where he is. So, Parfit concludes, the higher-order fact that he has some reason to go home does give him a reason to do so. But, he adds that this is not a non-derivative, independent reason; its normative force derives entirely from the actual confidential reason that he has to go home.
Is this an example in which the higher-order fact that something gives us some reason itself gives us a practical reason? Here is an alternative way of looking at this situation. We may instead claim that the fact that some reliable and friendly adviser has told us that we have reason to do something gives us reason to do this thing. Thus it might be that Parfit’s reason to go home is given by the fact that some reliable, friendly adviser has told him that he has reason to do so. But, as before, it seems that this is only a reason insofar as our advisers are right in saying that we have reasons to do these things. That is, something seems to count as good advice only insofar as we actually have reason to do what we are told that we have certain reasons to do. So, if advice provides reasons, these reasons also seem to derive their normative force from other reasons.

5. Jamie and others,
Yes, what I should have said (and what I was thinking) was that Scanlon seems to be suggesting that if BPV+ is true, then BPV- must (not can’t) be true. Sorry about the mistake.
What I’m asking is whether one can accept both BPV(D)+ and ~(BPV-). It seems to me that one can. And if one can, then one can accept a version of BPV, viz., BPV(D)+, and still be a teleologist in that one holds that the property of being good is itself a property that provides us with reasons to promote what’s good.

6. Jussi,
You write,

The compination of views you give is really odd too unless you think that reasons to so to act as to promote the thing and reasons to desire it come apart in a radical way. I mean you get an odd double-counting feature.

I don’t follow.
The thought is that the fact that I have a reason to desire an end, E, provides me with a reason to perform an act, A, that is a means to bringing it about that E obtains. On BPV(D)+, to say that there is reason to desire E is just to say that E is good, and it’s this property, the teleologist supposes, that provides us with reasons to act in ways that will achieve this end. Where’s the doubling counting? Where the radical coming apart?

7. Jamie Dreier says:

Doug, there’s still so much tangle that I can’t get my mind around the question. I’m going to assume that a property provides us with a reason to do something just in case it is a reason to do that thing. (If not, then I need help understanding provision of reasons by properties.)
In that case, I think you are asking whether the fact that there is a reason to desire something could itself be a reason to promote that thing. Hm. Maybe. Can you give an example?

8. Jamie,
An Example: I have a reason to want Jones to be happy. My doing X would make Jones happy. Since I have a reason to want Jones to be happy and my doing X is a means to making Jones happy, I have a reason to do X.
“Reasons for me to make something my end are, owing to the hypothetical imperative, equally reasons for me to take the necessary means to it” (Darwall 1983, 16).

9. Heath White says:

I think the spirit of the buck-passing account is that there are a number of different evaluative properties–goodness, but also desirability, choiceworthiness, admirability, respectworthiness, etc.–all of which are higher-order properties whose analysis is in terms of lower-level properties which give one reasons to take up some attitude or action toward the object. The proposal you have, Doug, raises the question of why you would be a buck-passer about some but not all of these properties. That is, why are reasons to desire lower-level facts, but not reasons to promote? The distinction may be possible but needs some motivation. (Which, for all I know, you can provide.)
On a different note, re Parfit’s example: I think the buck-passer’s reply should be that Parfit has a reason to go home, he just doesn’t know what it is.

10. Jamie Dreier says:

Doug,
If I understand the main question right, what has to be true in that example is that the reason you have to do X is: that you have a reason to want Jones to be happy.
Is that how you’re understanding it?
It’s not exactly obvious that that’s a reason to do X. It’s not obvious that it isn’t.

11. Heath,
I don’t see why I can’t be a buck-passer about all evaluative properties. To say that a state of affairs is desirable is to say that it has other lower-order properties that provide us with reasons to desire it. Ditto for admirable and admire, choiceworthiness and choose, etc.
But intention is not an evaluative property. So I’m saying that I can be a buckpasser who accepts BPV(D)+ and the others above and claim that the fact that some state of affairs is desirable provides us with a reason to intend to act so as to bring that state of affairs about.

12. Robert Johnson says:

Sven,
Thanks for that helpful example, and I’m inclined toward your alternative understanding (and with Heath’s point). Advice derives it force from the reasons it’s advising you of. Likewise, it’s not the higher order property of having other properties that are reasons that is providing the reason to go home. It’s the lower order properties that are providing that.

13. Robert Johnson says:

Jamie & Doug,
Perhaps Doug is thinking this: If for something to be good is for there to be a reason to want it, and there is always a reason to do what is good, then the reason you have to do something will be that you have a reason to want it.
Is that it?

14. Jamie and Robert,
Pretty much.
I would say: the reason you have to do X is: the fact that it’s true both that you have a reason to want Jones to be happy and that your doing X would make Jones happy.

15. I think that I accept BPV+ without BPV-.
I think that reasons are supposed to be the sorts of things which can both explain and justify/rationalize, and that when you justifiably act on a reason the reason you act on is the one that justifies/rationalizes you in so acting.
I might know that an action has some lower order property which if I knew about it would give me a reason to do it. But I might not know which one that is. The sorts of knowing that one has a reason by testimony mentioned above by Sven seem characterisable in that way.
Suppose I now do the action. I have justifiably acted on a reason, but it doesn’t seem that I have exactly acted on the reason my friend knows about but that I do not. Nor do I want just to say that the reason was that my friend told me, since it was also that my friend told me truthfully that goes into my being so justified. So it looks like the only reason in a position to both explain what I did and rationalize it is the one I then had some access to and that was the higher order reason that I knew there was some lower order property the action had which, if I knew it, would give me a reason to do that action.
So I think I’m with Doug on this.

First off, I don’t think the ‘higher-order property’ talk is very illuminating. As I understand the positive buck-passing thesis, it is the view that facts about what is good are a certain sort of quantificational fact about reasons. That means that for the buck-passer, the fact that something is good is like the fact that there is a reason to do something.
Now lots of philosophers find it obvious that the fact that there is a reason to do something cannot itself be a reason to do it. (The ‘provides’ talk I find totally unhelpfully ambiguous in sometimes pernicious ways.) If that is so, then if the positive buck-passing thesis is true, then so is the negative one. This appears to be taken for granted in a lot of literature, but I think, as predicted, that it is false.
After all, why think that existential facts about reasons are not themselves reasons? Perhaps the thought is that they can’t be _extra_ or _additional_ reasons. They can’t _add up_ with other reasons, to make a weightier reason overall. That’s true. So if we assumed that if R and S are both reasons to do A, then together they must be a weightier reason to do A than either is separately, then that would give us an argument that the fact that there is a reason to do A is not itself a reason to do it. But this ‘additivity’ theory about how the weights of reason add up is very rejectable, and I think it is false.
Other than that argument, though, or one resembling it, I’ve never come across any reason to think that existential facts about reasons are not themselves reasons.
So, for the other side: why think that they are? This follows from some very general theoretical motivations. When someone acts for a reason, and her action is for a _good_ reason, then we expect there to be some close connection between the reason for which she acted – her motivating reason – and the good reason for her to act – her normative reason – such that in acting for that motivating reason, her action counts as grounded in that normative reason.
For example, suppose that Jon, noticing that the child is drowning, steps into the pond to save her. He acts for a good reason. The normative reason for him to act is that the child is drowning, and his motivating reason consists in or involves in some way his belief that the child is drowning. That is why, in acting for that motivating reason, his action is grounded in that normative reason.
Now go back to the case of merely existential facts about reasons. Suppose that Nate’s friend tells him that there is a reason for him to go home, but doesn’t tell him what that reason is. And suppose that this is true, and that Nate believes his friend, and so he goes home. If Nate is acting for a good reason – if his action is well-grounded – then the preceding principle motivates a connection between his motivating reason and his normative reason. If his motivating reason stems from his belief that there is a reason for him to go home, then the principle requires that that must be a normative reason for him to go home.
Now, of course you can react in different ways. You can say that his motivating reason is that his friend told him that there is a reason for him to go home. But this looks ad hoc, unless you think that if his friend had told him that there is a fire in the building, his motivating reason for going outside would have consisted in his belief that his friend told him that, rather than his belief that there is a fire in the building.
You can also resist my principle. You can insist that Nate’s action is able to be well-grounded in the normative reason that his friend told him about (say, that there is a surprise party waiting for Nate at home), even though he does not know what that is. This starts to look like a fairly bizarre view, to me.
The primary considerations that seem to be in play have to do with 1) how we measure the weight of reasons, and 2) the relationship between motivating reasons and normative reasons in cases in which an action is well-grounded. Since I think that adding up the ‘weights’ of reasons is complicated anyway, I don’t see the force of 1). And at the same time I think 2) is under-appreciated.
So that is the answer that Doug wants, I think. At the same time, nothing I’ve said bears on what I think he cares most about: namely, whether the only reasons for _action_ can either be, or be explained by, facts about what is good, on the assumption that facts about what is good are quantificational facts about reasons to have certain _attitudes_. I think that view is coherent, but I’m still skeptical about how well-motivated it can be.

17. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Jamie,
Sorry, I misphrased my claim. I didn’t suggest that the negative thesis follows from the positive one. I meant to say that no-one has denied the implication because no-one has even suggested that it holds.
They way I see the dialectic is that many people took Scanlon to argue from the truth of the negative thesis to the positive one. Many people pointed out to him that the positive thesis does not follow from the truth of the negative thesis and therefore the argument is not a good one. I agree that the implication doesn’t follow to other direction either. My point just was that if the positive thesis is true, then it is more difficult to argue for the negative one.
Doug,
~(BPV-) Being good is a property that itself provides us with reasons to act so as to promote it.
BPV(D)+ Something’s being good is just its possessing the purely formal, higher-order property of having some lower-order properties that provide us with reasons to desire it.
By substitution we get:
Possessing the purely formal, higher-order property of having some lower-order properties that provide us with reasons to desire it itself provides us with reasons to so as to act as to promote it.
I took it to be the case that this view is more plausible if reasons for actions and reasons for desires come apart in the way that reasons for actions are reasons to satisfy desires. If same things were reasons for desires and actions, then the thesis is not as plausible.
Scanlon does not phrase the negative and positive thesis as thesis about reasons for different things – desires and actions. In that way you have changed his view quite radically. He would say that when we talk about reasons for actions we just are talking about our reasons for various attitudes like intentions. If you only talked about reasons for either one then your combination would be odd. You would have, for instance, the claim that good is the property of having properties that provide reasons for actions and having that property provides more reasons for the same actions. That’s not quite double counting but it does lead to a regress. So taking apart reasons for desires and reasons for actions is an essential requirement for holding your view.
Then you write that:
“The thought is that the fact that I have a reason to desire an end, E, provides me with a reason to perform an act, A, that is a means to bringing it about that E obtains. On BPV(D)+, to say that there is reason to desire E is just to say that E is good, and it’s this property, the teleologist supposes, that provides us with reasons to act in ways that will achieve this end.”
Notice that this does not exactly fit the two thesis you give. BP+ account does not say that for there *to be a reason* to desire E is to say that E is good. That is reductive claim about the term ‘good’ not a buck-passing account of value. Having a reason to desire E is not the same claim as the claim that E has properties that provide reasons to desire it. That there is a reason to desire E may well be a fact that gives reasons to act so as to promote E. However, for your negative claim you need that the fact is something quite different. You need that the fact [that E has properties that provide reasons to desire] provides reasons to act in the appropriate way.
I know Stratton-Lake is working on the view where the latter derivative, instrumental reasons can only be empty of normativity and guide the real normativity of the first-order, basic reasons around.
Here’s an example Dancy uses to show why that’s something quite odd anyway. Say you have a toothache. That seems like a good reason to desire to the dentist. It also seems like a good reason to go the dentist. In order for us to need more reasons, we should think that these reasons are not sufficient as such for actions – the toothache is not enough reason to go the dentist. It only is reason to desire to go the dentist. That is for the going to the dentist to be good. And, the fact that going to the dentist is good, i.e., there is a reason to desire it, then gives you the reason to go there. I just cannot see the need for that reason over the fact that the tootache suffices as a reason to go there.

18. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Mark,
great comment.
Doug,
I also wonder about the quote from Darwall you gave:
“Reasons for me to make something my end are, owing to the hypothetical imperative, equally reasons for me to take the necessary means to it” (Darwall 1983, 16).”
Isn’t this the opposite view you want to hold? This is the idea that the first-order considerations are both the reasons for desires for the ends and for the actions that are means. Your view would hold that the fact that you have reasons for the desire gives you reasons for the actions. Here it is different considerations that count as reasons for desires and actions.

19. I hope you don’t mind if I ask a slightly tangential question.
Here’s your statement of the positive component of the buck-passing account:

(BPV+) Something’s being good is just its possessing the purely formal, higher-order property of having some lower-order properties that provide us with, say, reasons to act so as to promote it.

I find this rather puzzling. On the standard definition of higher-order and lower-order properties, it just doesn’t make any sense.
The standard definition is roughly as follows. First-order properties are properties of individuals. Higher-order properties are properties of properties: second-order properties are properties of first-order properties; third-order properties are properties of second-order properties; and so on. So, for example, greenness is a first-order property, instantiated by individuals like the coffee cup on my desk, whereas being a colour is a second-order property, instantiated by first-order properties like greenness. (Example adapted from one in the SEP entry on properties.)
It follows that higher-order and lower-order properties cannot be instantiated by the same things. For example, it’s impossible for one thing to instantiate both a first-order property and a second-order property. However, according to BPV+ the higher-order property, being good, is instantiated by the same thing as the lower-order, reason-providing properties. What’s good is not the reason-providing properties themselves, but the thing that has those properties. To be good is to have a reason-providing property; it’s not to be a reason-providing property. So, given the standard definition of higher-order properties, BPV+ is just incoherent.
What’s going on here? Is Scanlon operating with some non-standard notion of “higher-order”? Or did he simply screw the pooch?

20. Hi, Campbell. That’s among the reasons I think the ‘higher-order’ talk is incredibly unhelpful. The view is better characterized as the view that facts about what is good are quantificational facts about reasons.

21. Jussi Suikkanen says:

I’m not sure I see the problem. Here’s how a difference between certain versions of functionalism is defined in Stanford:
“A Functional State Identity Theory (FSIT) would identify pain (or, more naturally, the property of having a pain or being in pain) with the second-order relational property. Other theorists, however, take a functional theory merely to provide definite descriptions of whichever first-order physical (or other) properties satisfy the functional characterizations and for those properties themselves to be the pains, beliefs, and desires.”
On one view then, the property of being in pain is a second-order property that is instantiated by a first order property of being in a certain physical state. Does that make being in pain a property of the first-order property of being in the physical state? No. Being in pain, even on this view, is my property just as is being in the physical state. That doesn’t seem to make functionalism of this sort incoherent. That’s just a common way of talking.

22. Robert Johnson says:

Mark vR,
What if you come to know the first order reasons. I want to say then “I knew it! I just knew there was a reason for me to do that”. And that fact in turn makes it plausible that, after all, it was that reason, not the second-order property, that was the reason. Or that’s now my intuition.
Mark S,
The reason not to think that existential facts about reasons are not themselves reasons is, How do you stop a regress of reasons?

23. Robert Johnson says:

I meant, “The reason to think…”
[Editor: A missing HTML tag was inserted 9:24 AM, 1/25.]

24. Robert,
I agree that I knew there was a first order reason to do it. But that just falls out of the story since that is precisely what I know on the basis of my friend’s having told me I have a reason.
But what rationalizes my action when I act on the reason I have before I have been told what that reason is? It doesn’t seem like it is that reason, since I don’t know what that reason is. It seems like what rationalizes an action has to be something that can make it make sense to do from my perspective as I act. (If I act on one reason but am only made rational by some other reason then I think what is really going on is that the other reason makes other possible tokens of that general act type rational – those motivated by that reason as Mark S nicely puts it – but not this particular act token because it was not in fact motivated by that reason.)
So it has to be something about my reason for acting, the reason that I act on, or as Mark S says the reason which motivates me to act when I act that rationalizes it. And the thing that can play that role is my belief that there is some other feature the action has which would make it make sense to do if I knew about it (add “absent defeater” clauses or what have you to make this come out right) I have access to it. If you wonder why I did the action, only that will serve the role of making sense of my action and explain why I did it.
It may well be part of the story that there in fact has to be a first order reason for my second level or quantificational reason to be well grounded or count as knowledge or to count as a completely adequate justification or rationalization. But that is just to say we can have an reasonably externalist account of justification, not that we should have one that is so externalist that the only things that count as our reasons for acting when we justifiably act are things that we don’t know.
On regresses: they don’t go very far. Whenever you know there is some reason to do an action you know that the action has some property which, if you knew it, would make sense of your going in for that action. So all well-grounded reasons will either be of a sort that allows you to cite the particular first level fact or to quantify over these reasons to say that you know there is some reason of that general sort. You don’t have to quantify over reasons of this sort again to ensure that your reason is included, because knowing that there was some quantificational reason (to coin a phrase) for doing the action would require knowing that you had some reason which itself required there to be a first level reason so you can just stop at the second level because the claims about higher levels all entail that there is a feature at the first level which would be a reason to act if I knew about it.

25. This message is just to add a close italics code, since an unclosed italics code from the message previous one ne seems to have italicized everything that follows including my whole message. I can’t undo that, but I can end it.

26. I agree with Mark vR in response to Robert: first, the ‘regress’ doesn’t go very far. Compare: the fact that the building is on fire is a reason for Jon to step outside. So, there is a reason for Jon to step outside. Is that fact itself a reason for Jon to step outside? Suppose that it is. Since it is, there is a reason for Jon to step outside. Is that fact itself a reason for Jon to step outside? This isn’t a new question – it’s the one we already settled.
In any case, even if it turned out that if there are infinitely many reasons to do something if there are any at all, there wouldn’t be anything ‘regressive’ about this, and certainly not anything vicious. Compare: if anything, P, is true, then infinitely many things are: that P, that P is true, that it is true that P is true… there’s no regress there. This only gets puzzling if you think that all of these extra truths somehow change something important. Similarly, as I suggested above, the existential fact’s being a reason only gets puzzling if you think that it somehow makes a difference for what you should do, by ‘adding up’ with your other reasons. But I insisted that that doesn’t happen, and no one has ever articulated to me a defensible and well-motivated principle that would lead us to expect that it would. So even if infinitely many reasons are generated, there doesn’t appear to be anything problematic about that.

27. Robert Johnson says:

Mark vR,
You said that the thing that can play that role is my belief that there is some other feature the action has which would make it make sense to do if I knew about it.
But supposing that is indeed a reason, isn’t it different from the supposed reason provided by BV-? The reason, in this case, is that I believe something, that there is a reason of some sort or other, to do something. And that belief is made true by the existence of that reason, whatever it is.
Mark vR and Mark S,
It does go far. If the fact that there is a reason to leave the room is also a reason, then the fact that it’s a fact that there is a reason to leave the room is a reason. And so on. That we tire of thinking about these doesn’t matter.
I don’t know what to think about there being infinitely many reasons to do anything there is reason to do.

28. Robert Johnson says:
29. Jamie Dreier says:

Robert, is the fact that it’s a fact that there is a reason to leave the room really different from the fact that there is a reason to leave the room? If not, then the blossoming of reasons ends there.
In any case, I don’t see any problem with there being infinitely many reasons to do one thing, as long as we don’t have to assess them indepedently or work out piecemeal how they combine. For instance, suppose your dentist has a new procedure, which is exactly like the old way of filling a cavity except that its duration is ten seconds less. Then the fact that it is ten seconds shorter is a reason to prefer it; so is the fact that it is at least nine seconds shorter; so is the reason that it is at least 9.713 seconds shorter; and so on.
[This entry is not italicized in Preview.]

30. Doug,
Small point. Above you give the impression that your goal in all this is to show that the buck-passing account is consistent with teleology. But Scanlon has already explicitly said that these are consistent: “One could accept [the buck-passing account] while still holding a purely teleological conception of value” (WWOTE, p. 98).
Jussi,
Apparently there’s another usage of “higher-order property”, which is common in the philosophy of mind. For example, here’s Jaegwon Kim:

For something to have a second-order property M is for it to have some first-order property or other meeting a certain specification.

The difference between this and the definition I gave earlier might be put like this: according to Kim’s definition, to have a second-order property is to have a first-order property that has a certain property, whereas according to mine, it is to be a first-order property that has a certain property.
I confess I’m a little sceptical of Kim’s definition. For one thing, I don’t see how it can be extended to give a general definition for all orders of properties. This is fairly easy to do for my definition. Say that individuals (particulars, objects) are 0-order properties. Then here’s the general version of my definition: for any n>0, to have an n-order property is to be an (n-1)-order property that has a property. But if we try the same thing with Kim’s definition, we get this: for any n>0, to have an n-order property is to have an (n-1)-order property that has a property. This doesn’t work for the case of n=1, because you cannot have a 0-order property, which by definition is just an individual.
Let me ask a different question. (Sorry Doug, this is still a bit tangential.) What is the point of including the stuff about higher-order properties in the buck-passing account? At times Scanlon seems to think this allows him to dodge Moore’s open-question argument. He seems to be saying: “Moore’s argument causes trouble only for analyses according to which goodness is a natural property. But on my analysis, goodness can’t be a natural property, because it’s a higher-order property. So my analysis is immune to the open-question argument.” Do you think that’s Scanlon’s reason for including the “higher-order property” stuff?

31. Campbell,
Yes, I’m aware of that quote. But I believe that this is one of those areas where Scanlon is being unclear. Scanlon sometimes refers to the “teleological conception of value,” which holds that states of affairs are the only or primary bearers of intrinsic value and so the only proper response to value is to bring it about or promote it. At other times, though, Scanlon refers to the “teleological conception of reasons,” which holds that reasons for action must appeal to the desirability or undesirability of the result at which the given action aims. So the quote doesn’t necessarily show that Scanlon thinks that BPV is compatible with the teleological conception of reasons. Regardless, R. Jay Wallace has a paper that seems to be claiming that the BPV and the teleological conception of reasons are incompatible — see “Reasons, Values, and Agent-Relativity”.
Regarding the lower-order/higher-order properties stuff, I was just following Scanlon’s formulation: see p. 97.
Jussi:
I would like to have time to respond to some of your comments, but I don’t have time today. I may have time later on.

32. Hasn’t it already been fixed by MvR? Or what exactly do you want me to do?

33. Jussi Suikkanen says:

I’d like to think that BP is compatible with a version of teleology. I take it that for a teleologist there are two essential claims: states of affairs are bearers of value and the more states of affairs have value the more they are to be desired and promoted. Nothing in buck-passing as such denies this. A buck-passing teleologist can say that the value of states of affairs is their ability to give reasons and these reasons states of affairs have require desiring and promoting. This is compatible with the idea that the reasons are provided on the level of first-order considerations.
Many teleologists make additional claim that goodness is the reason-provider. I don’t see why this would be essential for the view. What Scanlon seems to oppose more in the view is the substantial claim that all reasons are for desiring and promoting. He seems to think that there are values that should be responded to in other ways.
Campbell,
I think I agree that nothing in BP hangs on the use of the term ‘higher-order’ property. If you say merely that value is the property of having other properties that provide reasons I don’t see that anything is lost. But, it does seem to be a good way of making the contrast to what the value properties are not. You are right that here we get to the open question argument in making the difference.

34. Doug, it’s not really fixed. Despite Mark’s efforts, the html code is still invalid, and the page displays incorrectly in some browsers (e.g. Safari). To fix it properly, you need to edit Robert Johnson’s comment, adding an “</i>” where required.

35. Thanks, Campbell. There wasn’t a problem on my browser so I didn’t understand what needed to be done.
In any case, it appears to be fixed now. Let me know if I’m wrong about that.

36. Robert – reasons, I’m taking it are facts. Or true propositions (I actually take them to be true propositions and think the ‘fact’ talk is harmless so long as we’re clear). Some facts are existential. For example, if there is a reason for Jon to leave the building, then it is a fact that there is a reason for Jon to leave the building, and that is an existential fact.
I claimed that existential facts about reasons are also reasons – to do the same thing as the reason which makes them true. Of couse, they can’t be the _only_ reasons to do that thing, because they have to be true to be reasons, but there has to be a reason to do that thing, for them to be true. So there has to be some other reason to do that thing. But I claimed that they are still reasons.
In contrast, I never said that facts about facts are reasons. Maybe the fact that it is a fact that there is a reason for Jon to leave the building is also a reason for him to leave the building, but I didn’t say so, and saying so is not required in order to say that existential facts are reasons. So no, it does not follow that there are infinitely many reasons for Jon to do it, let alone that this is vicious in some way.
In fact, suppose that your inference were a good one – that if some fact is a reason, then the fact that it is a fact is also itself a reason to do the same thing. Then we would have your regress without my thesis that existential facts are themselves reasons. Just start with the reason for Jon to leave the building – the fact that it is on fire. By your principle, the fact that it is a fact that the building on fire it also a reason for him to leave the building, as is the fact that it is a fact that it is a fact that the building is on fire, and so on. So if there is anything bad about that conclusion, we can get it without my assumption, anyway.

37. Robert,
But supposing that is indeed a reason, isn’t it different from the supposed reason provided by BV-?
[Is this supposed to be ‘BPV+’?]
The reason, in this case, is that I believe something, that there is a reason of some sort or other, to do something. And that belief is made true by the existence of that reason, whatever it is.
My formulation of an access requirement in the comment was sloppy. I think that a buck passer can say that the reason is the fact, while hanging on to the claim that facts can rationalize only when they are known or accessible.
I agree that the quantificational claim is made true by what’s going on with the things quantified over. But that doesn’t show that I know or have access to the specific reason which makes it true that the quantificational claim is true. I just know that there is such a reason, and it is this knowledge which explains and rationalizes my action.

38. Francesco says:

Doug,
quoting from a previous post of yours, the teleologist says: “S has a reason to do x if and only if S has an object-given reason to intrinsically prefer Ox to Oø, where Oø is the “outcome” where S does nothing.” In this, there is no explicit connection with the good. Indeed, the teleologist, perhaps surprisingly but not obviously incoherently, can express his view without (thin) evaluative concepts. Anyway. If it’s true that “S has an object-given reason to intrinsically prefer Ox to Oø if and only if Ox is intrinsically better than Oø”, then the principle reads “S has a reason to do x if and only if Ox is intrinsically better than Oø”. I take it this the view we are discussing. The view is compatible with different views about what makes the biconditional hold good: 1) the fact that Ox is better is itself the reason to do x; 2) the fact that S has reason to prefer Ox is the reason to do x; 3) the fact, whatever that is, that makes Ox better (or that gives a reason to prefer Ox) is the reason to do x. The truth of teleologism is pretty much independent of which view is correct. BTW, Wallace has clearly in mind a non-buck-passing teleologist, but he’s wrong if he thinks that you need to be teleologist to deny buck-passing.

39. Francesco says:

Mark S.,
I do agree that the connection motivating/normative reasons is underappreciated in the buck-passing debate. But that there is such a connection doesn’t mean that everything that is an acceptable motivating reason is thereby an acceptable normative reason. If P is an acceptable motivating reason for F-ing then this means that the relation between P and F-ing tracks some (say) favouring relation. However, it doesn’t mean that the favouring relation is between P and F-ing. It may be between what P implies (or what makes P true, etc.) and F-ing.

40. Jonas says:

Robert and Mark S,
I am puzzled by the regress discussion.
Suppose that it is a fact that the building is on fire. Call this fact F. Suppose that F is a reason for Jon to leave the building. By existential generalization we get, It is a fact that [F is a reason for Jon to leave the building]. Call this fact F*. Is F* itself a reason for Jon to leave the building? That is to say, does F* have the same property as F, namely the property of being a reason for Jon to leave the building? I am not sure what to say but I am inclined to answer no. In general, anyway, it seems that higher-order facts need not have the same properties as the lower-order facts that they are facts about. Suppose that G is an interesting fact. Is the fact that G is an interesting fact itself an interesting fact? It may be, but it may also not be.
Have I gone wrong? I find reason talk terribly puzzling.

41. Jussi Suikkanen says:

I think I can handle reasons but what I have really hard time with is the facts. I have no idea how they are individuated or what they actually even are. I can make sense of Strawson’s minimalism about facts but if they are something REAL and FACTS, then I’m lost what they are and how to count them.

42. Heath White says:

I, like Jonas, am a little puzzled, but without a firm intuition here. Suppose the fact that there is a fire is a reason to leave the building; I don’t know there’s a fire. Someone tells me, however, that there is a reason to leave the building. Now, how many reasons to leave the building are there?
1. there is a fire.
2. there exists (at least) one reason to leave the building, namely #1.
3. there are (at least) two reasons to leave the building, namely #1 and #2.
4. …
I just don’t know what to say here; maybe there is something wrong with counting reasons. We might get some light on this from epistemological discussions of evidence, about which I know nothing. E.g., suppose there is smoke in the building, but I don’t know this. However, someone tells me that there is evidence (=reason to believe?) there is a fire in the building. Now, how many pieces of evidence for fire in the building are there?
1. there is smoke in the building
2. there is evidence that there is fire in the building.
Are claims about evidence, evidence themselves? Does anyone know?

43. Robert Johnson says:

Mark & Mark, et. al.,
I think I too am getting confused by the fact-talk, but I’m fine with MarkS’s view as stated. But let’s go back to property-talk, which MarkS finds unhelpful. For Scanlon, it is properties that are reasons. But not the second-order property of having a property that is a reason. That’s what goodness is.
So, I think there is still an point in the area here to make. Just to recap that bit of the discussion, that I had said that all that you need to add to BPV+ and BPV- to get an inference from the one to the other was:
That something has a purely formal, higher-order property of having lower-order properties that provide reasons to promote a thing does not itself provide us with an additional reason to do that thing.
That seemed right to me. But then Both Sven and Mark vR suggested this:
My knowing that an action has the higher-order property of having some lower order property which is a reason to do it is itself a reason to do it.
I agreed that my knowing that it has this second-order property is a reason, but I denied that the second-order property itself is a reason.
Now I’m inclined, in response to Mark vR’s last comment, to think that the reason I doubt that the second-order property is a reason is that my knowing about it gives me an epistemic connection to the first-order reason — the real and only reason.
In any case, if the property of having a property that is a reason is also a reason, then it just follows straightaway that the property of having the property of having a property that is a reason is itself also a reason, and so on.

44. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Robert,
I think that’s right 🙂 I’m not sure though that Scanlon would go as far as to say that reasons are properties. To make things very confusing he actually says that reasons are propositions but that’s another story. My take on him is that he’d more probably say that when some object has certain property then the object having that property is the complete reason to do something. Properties provide reasons in as much and when they are instantiated in some objects. As a result, an object is valuable by having properties which thus instantiated provide reasons.

45. Francesco – I didn’t say that any acceptable motivating reason is an acceptable normative reason. That’s clearly false. One obvious reason why it is false is that acceptable motivating reasons can involve false beliefs. For example, Jon may leave the building because he believes that it is on fire, even though it is not. In such a case, he has an acceptable motivating reason, but his action is not well-grounded. The reason he does it for is not, intuitively, a normative reason for him to do it.
I was also trying to be neutral about the ontology of motivating reasons. According to Smith, for example, they are belief-desire pairs. According to others, they are beliefs. According to Dancy, they are states of affairs. I happen to think that they are propositions. But the point I was trying to make was supposed to be neutral between these conceptions.
It was simply supposed to be that whatever they are, you have to have a belief or be in some similar state in order to have one. Then, I invited us to examine cases in which actions are intuitively well-grounded. In those cases, I maintained – or at least, in all of the paradigm ones – there has to be a connection between the belief that is involved in your having the motivating reason, and the normative reason in which it is well-grounded. On Dancy’s view or on mine, the motivating reason and the normative reason have to be identical, but there is a wide family of views that will do the same work. If you think that motivating reasons are beliefs, then the claim is that the action is well-grounded only if the content of the motivating reason is a normative reason. Etc.
Then I described Jon’s case, in which he acts on testimonial knowledge of the existential fact that there is a reason for him to leave the building, and I claimed that this is a well-grounded action. Given that assumption, it follows from any of the views in the class I considered that the existential fact is a reason.
Jonas – Just to reiterate – I never claimed that existential facts always have whatever properties their truth-makers have. That’s obviously false – for example, there is a banana in my kitchen. It is yellow. But the fact that there is a banana in my kitchen is not yellow. QED. All I claimed was that it is not obvious that existential facts about reasons are not themselves reasons, and I gave an argument in favor of thinking that, in fact, they are. I just repeated it again in the first part of this comment.
Heath – I agree. The numbers don’t matter unless they make a difference in how the reasons ‘add up’ to determine what we ought to do. That’s been one of my key points. So how do we judge the issue? Just based on intuitions? I proposed a test. If something can be the reason for which you act in a case in which your action is well-grounded, then it should get classed as a reason. Then our account of how reasons ‘add up’ to determine what we ought to do should be constrained so as to not make those further considerations which are, additionally, reasons, turn out to be ‘additional reasons’, in the sense that they contribute further to fixing what we ought to do.
Your point about the epistemic reasons is a good one. One way to think about literature that bears on it, is to compare it to the Principle of Reflection. The Principle of Reflection basically says that your degrees of belief now should reflect your best judgment about the quality of the evidence that you expect to encounter in the future, even if you haven’t encountered that evidence, yet. Of course, Reflection is a much stronger principle, but it’s the sort of thing in the neighborhood of the idea.

46. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Mark,
can you accept both of these claims at the same time:
“The reason he does it for is not, intuitively, a normative reason for him to do it.”
and
“On Dancy’s view or on mine, the motivating reason and the normative reason have to be identical’.
I know Dancy would not accept the first claim just because it doesn’t fit the second.
If there are motivating reasons that are not normative reasons, I could accept that in Jon’s case he has a motivating reason that is the existential fact. This fact and his knowledge about it helps us to understand Jon’s actions. I could also accept that his action is well-grounded because there is a good normative reason for it (even he doesn’t have direct access to that reason).
I still don’t know whether I would want to say that that existential reason is a good normative reason that comes with its own favouring force.

47. Jussi –
It’s not enough for your action to be well-grounded, that you do it for a reason, and there be a good reason to do it. Suppose that Jon leaves the building because he believes that it is on fire, but it is not. Yet, unbeknownst to him, there really is a reason for him to leave the building – say, that there is about to be an earthquake. In that case, Jon’s leaving the building is not well-grounded.
So there has to be match between the reason for which you act and the normative reason for you to act, in order for your acting to be grounded in that normative reason. My claim is that the most natural principles about how match works will lead us to conclude that existential facts about reasons are themselves normative reasons for action.
If you feel the need to resist this totally natural view, then explain why. So far in this thread, I haven’t really seen any argument that the existential fact that there is a reason for Jon to leave the building is not itself a reason for him to leave the building. You seem to want to resist my principle in order to be able to say that. But why?
And what principle about well-groundedness will you defend, instead? Given the earthquake case, there has to be some connection between the motivating reason and normative reason in order to get well-groundedness. So what is it? Is it that the normative reason must be part of what makes true the consideration that you bear in mind when you act?
If that’s the proposal, then we can test it on other cases. Suppose that Jon leaves the building because he thinks that it smells like roses. And suppose that it does smell like roses to Jon, because there is a fire, which has caught the florist downstairs, among other things. Jon’s belief is true, and it is true because of the fire. But his leaving the building because it smells like roses is not well-grounded in the normative reason for him to leave the building – that there is a fire.
In general, if you want to say that Jon’s action can be well-grounded in the fact that there is a fire, when he acts in light merely of the information that there is a reason for him to leave, and that is not itself a reason for him to leave, then you have to be able to defend a principle about how well-groundedness works that gets you that result but doesn’t lead to the wrong results in other cases. I don’t know how to do this, and I don’t see what the motivation is for trying to do it. The picture looks totally simple, to me. You’d need some kind of motivated reason to deny that existential facts about reasons are themselves reasons, in order to feel the need to resist these kinds of principles and come up with your own. But I still haven’t seen where that motivation is supposed to come from.

48. Oh. And again in response to Jussi’s question about consistency. I only think that your motivating reason is identical to your normative reason in the case in which your action is well-grounded. Non-well-grounded action is action for motivating reasons that are not normative reasons. Simplifying somewhat, to be a motivating reason, a proposition has to be believed. To be a normative reason, it has to be true.

49. Jussi
Another question. Scanlon says explicitly that, on his buck-passing account, goodness is a non-natural property. Is that sheer stipulation? Or is it supposed to follow from some other feature of the account. As I said before, it’s tempting to read Scanlon as saying that goodness is non-natural because it’s higher-order. But you say it’s inessential to the account that goodness is higher-order. So, is it also inessential that goodness is non-natural? Or is its being non-natural not supposed to follow from its being higher-order? (Okay. That was more than another question.)

50. Jussi Suikkanen says:

I’ll go with Campbell first because that looks easier…
I don’t know what Scanlon means by natural and non-natural properties. But, one thing he might have in mind is that a natural property is something that has at least certain unified causal powers that sciences can investigate. I think the idea is that it is unlikely that all instantiated properties that provide reasons share any single causal nature. If to be of value is to have reason-providing properties, then this would imply that it is unlikely value is a natural property, i.e., uniform in its causal nature. I don’t think it would be impossible for it to be the case so I don’t think BP implies non-naturalism but somehow it seems to support this idea. It’s actually interesting that this doesn’t yet introduce any weird metaphysical commitments. We get those only after we think that to be in the reason-relations is something additional metaphysically to the ontology of science.
Mark,
I think I have to think about this. Couple of points. First, the motivation to resist the idea that existential facts about reasons are reasons comes from their abstract nature. It’s hard to think why they would favour actions especially when we are not even told what facts are. Also, they are not the kind of considerations we think about when we think about good reasons. So, if possible I’d do without.
In the earthquake case you give, my initial intuition is that Jon’s actions are well-grounded. I think I have this intuition both because (i) I can understand his actions because he has a motivating reason which in other, almost similar circumstances, would have been a good reason, and (ii) because he actually has another good reason to go out. I think you can do well-grounded actions accidentally and and sometimes without any good reasons. I’m not sure how to match (i) and (ii). I’d like to say that the smelling of roses case action is not well-grounded because it fails (i).
Second, I don’t see how the existential facts as reasons handles this case any better. There is a good reason in the situation – the earth-quake. The existence of that reason fact on your view creates another reason – the fact that there is a reason to run out of the house. But, this is not Jon’s motivating reason either. He believes that the house is on fire and therefore he should run out. So, if you need a good motivating reason to make the action well-grounded, then the existential facts are not going to help you either.

51. Jussi –
In reverse order: I didn’t say that in the earthquake case Jon’s action was well-grounded. The whole point of that case is that it is not.
2nd: You think that someone can do well-grounded actions accidentally. But that’s not what well-groundedness is. Well-groundedness is what is supposed to distinguish the case in which you do something for the reasons that there are to do it, from the case in which you do it, and there are good reasons to do it, but you don’t do it for those reasons. Well-groundedness is therefore importantly different from mere rational or justified action. This distinction is extremely familiar and important in epistemology, which is why I used the words ‘well-grounded’ in this discussion. Perhaps I’m not succeeding at communicating my argument because you’re not following this part.
And 3rd, to your first: No matter what satisfactory ontology you have for reasons, I can restate the view. Here’s why: any time that you can mention something as the normative reason for someone to do something, there is always also a fact or true proposition that can be cited equally well, in naming the reason to do that thing. So, for example, the height of the Empire State Building is a reason not to jump off – that’s a perfectly natural thing to say, and I presume that you’re not worried that heights are ‘abstract’ or too weird to go on. I can also say, however, and perfectly naturally, that one reason not to jump off of the Empire State Building is that it is so high. And moving to the beginning of the sentence, I can say that the fact that the Empire State Building is so high is a reason not to jump off. These are just the kinds of things that people say, and they all sound fine. Of course, you might think that it would be double- or triple-counting to add all of these reasons up, as if: ‘my goodness! I have three reasons not to jump off!’ So then you might start wondering: are reasons heights? Are they facts? Are they designated by ‘that’-clauses? Which one is really the reason?
Different cases will suggest different alternatives. So, for example, HIV is a reason to avoid casual unprotected sex with strangers. Michael Smith is a reason to study metaethics at Princeton. The weather is a reason to study metaethics at USC. And Schrodinger’s wave equation is a reason for physicists to study partial differential equations and for the non-mathematically inclined to stay out of physics. These are all perfectly fine things to say. So are reasons viruses? People? Weathers? Equations or other abstracta? In every case, there is a fact or true proposition that can be cited that it would intuitively be double-counting to ‘add up’. But there isn’t a person in every case, or an equation, or a weather.
I infer that reasons, if they are any kind of thing, are something like facts or true propositions. You’re welcome to infer whatever you like. But it does look clear that whenever there is a normative reason for someone to do something, I can always inform you about it by saying, ‘one reason for him to do it is that such-and-such’ or ‘the fact that such-and-such counts in favor of it’. So long as your ontology for reasons makes this perfectly common feature of ordinary language turn out to be acceptable, it gives me everything that I need to be able to state the view.
Finally, true propositions are the kinds of things that we think about when we reason. At least, we think about propositions, and when we believe them, we think they are true. That’s just because thought is propositional. We don’t think, ‘hey, here is a proposition!’ but we do think, ‘hey, this building really is on fire!’ and that’s having a propositional thought.
Finally (really, this time) in any case, if you’re skeptical about facts being reasons, then that totally cross-cuts my thesis, anyway. My thesis was just that if the fact that P is a reason for X to do A, then the fact that there is a reason for X to do A is also a reason for X to do A. If facts aren’t reasons at all, then we just re-formulate in terms of whatever is. Say that it is properties. Then the thesis is that if the property of being P is a reason for X to do A, then the property of there being a reason for X to do A is a reason for X to do A. I don’t really understand this talk, so add whatever twist you need in order to get it to make sense, after you interpret what sort of thing P is supposed to be a property of. You’re still not giving me any cause to doubt this thesis – you just don’t seem to like it.

52. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Mark,
I take the last point. You don’t need facts to state your view. However, that there is a reason seems to be an odd consideration to have independent normative force to count for actions. And, true, I was confused about the point of the case. I don’t need to say that Jon’s actions are well-grounded. Just that there are good reasons for them.
I don’t see however why it is my burden of proof to show that there are no such reasons. I put out my motivations for thinking why there are no such extra favouring relations between the existential facts and actions. I guess I want to do with as few such relations as possible. That’s not because I don’t like them. We just should not assume entities beyond what is required for explanations especially when there are regress worries. This is a good epistemic principle in most areas of investigation. So, it seems like it’s your task to convince us that these relations are needed.
You gave the argument concerning Nate to argue that we need to postulate these additional relations to explain the well-groundedness of his actions. If it was the case that there was something such that we could not explain without these relations, I would begin to believe that these relations really do exist. But, I don’t find that argument establishing that.
Without assuming these relations, I can say that Nate had a good motivating reason to go home – that he believed that there is a reason for him to go home. This is not a normative reason but makes his actions understandable. It would make his actions just as understandable when he would have been lied to. And, I can say that there is a good reason for him to go home whatever that is – the existence of which he is aware. So he was both minimally and ideally rational in Scanlon’s sense. I’m happy with all of that.
Now, you want to add that we say that his actions were in the technical sense well-grounded and this can only be explained by positing extra reason relations. I don’t see that as compelling at all. His action is well-grounded in this sense only if the existential fact provides a reason. But, that this is the case hasn’t been really argued for yet. Seems more like begging the question. Do we miss something if we say that his actions are not well-grounded in the technical sense? I don’t see what. So, I don’t see the explanatory gap here at all for my view.
I just want to also point out that there is another use of well-grounded actions. Take Huck Finn and his not turning Jim in. That seems like a well-grounded action. He responded to a reason that was a good reason. But, that wouldn’t satisfy the epistemologists definition of well-groundedness. He didn’t have any belief about a reason even if he responded to one. I had this version in mind, whatever it is.

53. Jussi – two things. First, Nate’s case is not like the case of Bill, who I tell that the building is on fire, and he leaves because he believes it is on fire. Even though he is only acting on testimony, his testimony gets it right. The fact that he is acting on partial information does not make it a mistake. Still, you’re welcome to reject my assumption that his action is well-grounded and lump it in with Bill’s case; that is what assumptions are for.
Second: nowhere in this thread have I said that the fact that there is a reason for Jon to leave the building has ‘independent normative force’. If I thought that was entailed by what I had said, then I would take it back. In fact, if you go back to my first comment, I considered an argument that it is not a reason, which proceeded by way of the assumption that if it were, additionally, a reason, it would have to be an ‘additional reason’, in the sense of having independent normative force.
Just to make clear: first, its force is not independent, because as I’ve emphasized all along, it cannot be a reason unless there is another one. That follows from the fact that it can’t even be true, unless there is another reason. And second, I’ve insisted all along that it does not ‘add up’ with the other reason, or in any other sense have any ‘force’ of its own.
If you have a picture of how the weight of reasons adds up that implies that if R and S are both reasons for X to do A, then together they are a weightier reason for X to do A than either is separately, then you have an argument against the view I’ve been defending. It is the best argument against it that I know of. But I think any picture of the weight of reasons that has that result is independently a bad picture.
You say, along with everyone else, that ‘that there is a reason seems to be an odd consideration to’… be itself a reason. I’ve offered a hypothesis about why that seems odd. It seems odd because you’re inferring that to be so, it must have, as you put it, ‘independent normative force’. And that is false – it has no independent normative force. I say – go back to my first comment to check – that this inference is a bad one.

54. Francesco says:

Mark S,
Jim is a very self-confident man. Everything he does, he thinks he has (sufficient) reason to do it, nor does he want to bother with which these reasons are–and reasonably so, we may assume: he’s too busy thinking about something else. When asked why he does what he does, he just answers ‘because I have reason to, end of the story’. Sometimes he gets it right. He does what there is sufficient reason to do upon the true belief that that is what there is sufficient reason to do. Is Jim’s acting well-grounded in these cases?
As for the motivations:
I guess that for some the very fact that reason-facts, and in general facts about thin normative properties, have no independent normative force is a motivation strong enough not to include them in our final catalogue of normative reasons, which has somehow to contain only “normatively indispensable” reasons. This may have an analogue with causation. Some may say that if a property P has no independent causal powers, then it shouldn’t be included in our catalogue of causes, although it may still have explanatory relevance of some sort = be a good, well-grounded, motivating reason.
Moreover, some may have in mind the following constraint: A normative reason to do x must also be an explanatory reason why there is a reason to do x. Does the fact that there is a reason to do x count as an explanatory reason why there is a reason to do x? It doesn’t, it merely restates the explanandum. (However, this constraint doesn’t by itself rule out all reason-facts as normative reasons [eg, that I have reason to prefer Ox might explain why I have reason to do x; or again, the fact that I had reason, at t1 in C, to do x might explain why I now have reason to do an act of the same kind, at t2 in exactly the same circumstances]).

55. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Mark,
I think we no longer disagree about anything really. Maybe about what it takes to be called a reason. If you really say that the existential fact as a reason does not have any independent normative force or even add any normative force to the reason that is within the fact, then I’m fine with it. I’m not sure I get what we mean by such reasons if it still is supposed to be a normative reason. I’ve assumed that by normative reasons we mean good reasons ones that have normative force or add to it.
But, I think I can live with normatively transparent, derivative reasons that are existential facts about reasons. If they explain well-groundedness in the case, and that’s something one needs to explain, then fine.

56. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Looking back at your first comment – you do give the first argument where you say that these reasons don’t have independent normative force or add up to the force of the other reasons. I remember that. Then, in the end of the comment you say that you don’t see the force of that argument. When I read the comment and thereafter, I’ve taken that remark to be a denial of the argument that implies that these are not reasons that come with independent normative force or add up to the force of the other reasons. But, it must have meant something else.

57. Francesco says:

Doug,
if I may add something about teleology. TCR says: “S has a reason to do x if and only if S has an object-given reason to intrinsically prefer Ox to Oø, where Oø is the “outcome” where S does nothing.” In a previous post some months ago you were asking for a possible counterexample. Here it is. It may be the case that S has a reason to do x but it’s false that S has reason to intrinsically prefer Ox to Oø. This is when Ox and Oø are equally good, or “on a par”, or non-comparable. In these cases it’s still true that S has some reason to do x, because Ox has good-making, reason-providing properties. What isn’t true is that S has reason to do x rather than nothing. Does teleology rule out non-comparability, on-a-par-ness, and equality in value?

58. Jamie Dreier says:

Jussi,

I’m not sure I get what we mean by such reasons if it still is supposed to be a normative reason. I’ve assumed that by normative reasons we mean good reasons ones that have normative force or add to it.

Good reasons have normative force, but they aren’t in general additive. This seems right to me, anyway. What do you think of this example:
A reason not to read Klapisch’s new book is that it is boring.
A reason not to read Klapisch’s new book is that it is very boring.
A reason not to read Klapisch’s new book is that it is excruciatingly boring.
These all seem true to me. It’s obvious that these reasons do not combine in an additive way; they are not independent from one another.
One could insist that something without independent weight isn’t a reason. But dependence is symmetric, so one will then have the problem of having to choose which candidate is the reason and which the pretender.

59. Thanks, Jamie. Jussi – that was my point. If you accept additivity, then you get an argument that existential facts aren’t reasons. I reject additivity, so I don’t think the argument is sound.
Francesco – I agree with your suggestion, that the view that they are not reasons can be motivated based on other tests. And I even agree that some people hold the view that you mention – that a normative reason must be part of the explanation of why there is a reason to do it, and think that is a totally interesting view, worth testing in its own right. I discuss and test it in chapter 2 of Slaves of the Passions.
I don’t think it’s true, unless in a trivial sense that doesn’t make your argument work. In the trivial sense, the principle is true of anything: a tin can has to be part of the explanation of why there is a tin can. That’s just to say that it is a truth-maker for the existential claim. This interpretation doesn’t get the argument going, because if my view is right, then there are 2 truth-makers for the existential reason claim – the original reason, and the existential fact that there is a reason, which, since it is a reason, is a truth-maker for itself. Of course, it can’t be the only truth-maker for itself, but that’s just a distraction.
So it looks to me like a stronger reading is needed for the argument – like that what normative reasons are is explanatory reasons of why there is a normative reason to do that thing. This interpretation puts some meat on the bones of the explanation that is required so that mere truth-making won’t do. But it doesn’t look to me like a coherent view. It anaylyzes R’s being a reason to do A in terms of there being a reason to do A. But if ‘there being’ is an existential quantifier, then that amounts to analyzing R’s being a reason to do A in terms of there being some S, such that S is a reason to do A. The thing it proposes to analyze shows up as part of the analysis. That’s a circle.

60. Francesco,
Earlier I had said: “S has a reason to do x if and only if S has an object-given reason to intrinsically prefer Ox to Oø, where Oø is the ‘outcome’ where S does nothing.”
I’ll retract that, and concede your point. It was only supposed to be a derivative claim anyway. What’s essential to TCR is: “S has better reason to do x than to do y if and only if S has better object-given reasons to intrinsically prefer Ox to Oy than to intrinsically prefer Oy to Ox, where Ox and Oy are the outcomes resulting for S’s doing x and S’s doing y, respectively.

61. Heath White says:

Mark, Francesco,
It seems to me that we need a distinction between “justifying” and “explanatory” reasons (to use some more or less neutral terms) in any case. For one thing that reasons (for action) are supposed to do is explain why one should have done something; and facts of the form “there was a reason to do it” don’t explain. So regardless of what we want to say about “normative” or “motivating” reasons, we need this distinction. And it captures the confusion several of us have had, by distinguishing in kind between “there is a fire in the building” (which explains why you should leave) and “there is a reason to leave the building” (which doesn’t).
And I don’t think it is incoherent in the way Mark suggests. One might say
p is an explanatory reason to do A iff p helps explain why one ought to do A (or: why it would be good to do A).
This doesn’t have the appeal to existential generalizations on reasons.

62. Heath – it can’t be a necessary condition on normative reasons that they help to explain why one ought to do something, because there are normative reasons to do things that you ought not to do. This is just the familiar point that some reasons are only pro tanto. Francesco’s argument needed a necessary condition on normative reasons, in order to generate an argument that existential facts about reasons aren’t.
Moreover, once you switch from the existential fact about reasons to the ought fact as the explanandum, it’s no longer clear why you would think the existential fact about reasons can’t be the explanans. With the former explanandum, Francesco thought that it couldn’t be its own explanans, so that was an argument. I do, in fact, think that quantificational facts about reasons are part of the explanans of ought facts, because I think that what you ought to do is just what there is most reason for you to do. So ought facts consist in quantificational facts about reasons, and hence are explained by them in the same way that the fact that something has three sides explains why it is a triangle.

63. Francesco says:

Mark,
the necessary condition was this: a normative reason to do x must also be an explanatory reason why there is normative reason to do x. The fact that there is a reason to do x cannot be explanatory of itself, thus cannot be a reason to do x. Your answer is that there are two readings of the condition, one in truth-making terms–on which the reason-fact is a normative reason, albeit trivially; and the other as an analysis of ‘normative reason’–implausible because circular. I had in mind something like the former, with the addendum that explanation is more fine-grained than truth-making: not all truth-makers of P are explanatory of P. When P is the fact that there is a normative reason to do x, P has countless truth-makers, among which P itself. But I want to claim that only some of them are relevant for explanatory purposes: and P itself isn’t. All this is very tentative of course; I’d better read your book I guess…

64. Francesco says:

Doug,
I wonder whether you should concede my point. My worry is that TCR only yields a conception of what there is better reason to do. If you concede my point, which alternative conception of what there is pro tanto reason to do period does TCR yield? Is perhaps an essential feature of TCR that reasons for actions must be thought of as reasons “to do this rather than [that/nothing]”? (Some analogously understand value in essentially comparative terms by defining good in terms of better than nothing, so it may be worth pursuing that suggestion all across the normative board.)

65. Francesco,
Here’s a couple possibilities:
(1) S has a reason to do x if and only if S has better object-given reasons to intrinsically prefer Ox to __, where the blank is filled in with something appropriate. What’s that appropriate something? I don’t know. But then I think: X is flat if and only if X is flatter than __, and I’m not exactly sure what to fill in for this blank either. And it may be contextual.
(2) S has a reason to do x if and only if S has a reason to desire that Ox obtains.
I’m not advocating either of them. I’m not sure what the teleologist should say about ‘a reason’. But I don’t think that there is any reason to think that an essential feature of TCR is that reasons for actions must be thought of as reasons to do this rather than that/nothing. Indeed, there are a number of possible accounts that the advocate of TCR could give.

66. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Jamie,
I’m confused by this example:
‘A reason not to read Klapisch’s new book is that it is boring.
A reason not to read Klapisch’s new book is that it is very boring.
A reason not to read Klapisch’s new book is that it is excruciatingly boring.’
First, can the same book be ‘boring’, ‘very boring’ and ‘excuciatingly boring’? I’m not sure. Second, one might say that these descriptions pick out the very same consideration as a reason. Third, the reasons do seem additive in a weaker sense. If the book is just boring, there is a weaker reason not to read it. If it is also excuciatingly boring, then that feature does add up to the reasons not to read it.
To me it seems right that the fact ‘that there is a reason’ does not add to the normative force of the first-order reason. Even if there are normative reasons that do not add to the normative demands of other reasons, sure there must be some explanation about in virtue of what we call this fact a reason. I haven’t heard one yet.

67. Jussi – Are very tall people tall? Are very big cities big? Are very boring books boring? For sure. So something can be both tall and very tall, big and very big, boring and very boring. So those three facts are not identical. So if only one of them is the reason, then which one is it?
If they are all three reasons, but additivity doesn’t work for them because they are not independent, in some sense, then what makes it obvious that the existential fact that there is a reason for Jon to do something is not itself a reason for Jon to do it? It isn’t independent, either.
I haven’t been insisting that you have to agree with me that it is a reason. I’ve just been pointing out that it is a natural thing to think, and that it makes sense of how our actions can be well-grounded in cases in which we act in partial ignorance. I haven’t given a general account of reasons from which it falls out as a prediction, although I do that in Slaves of the Passions.
None of my arguments are designed to force you to agree with me; just to point out that the view is intelligible, natural, and explanatory. You seem to want to explain the same things in different ways, but so far the best reason you’ve given to do so is that your view ‘seems right’ to you. What ‘seems right’ about it?

68. Jamie Dreier says:

Jussi,
[I’ve changed ‘excuciatingly’ to ‘excruciatingly’ in two occurrences.]

First, can the same book be ‘boring’, ‘very boring’ and ‘excruciatingly boring’? I’m not sure.

Of course.
Suppose I ask you, “Was Klapisch’s book boring?” You say, “Yes, very boring.” Did you contradict yourself?

Second, one might say that these descriptions pick out the very same consideration as a reason.

I don’t follow. Do you mean that each sentence names the same fact or proposition? I don’t see how that could be right. So how do they ‘pick out’ the same consideration if the propositions or facts they are expressing are different?

Third, the reasons do seem additive in a weaker sense. If the book is just boring, there is a weaker reason not to read it. If it is also excruciatingly boring, then that feature does add up to the reasons not to read it.

What sense of ‘additive’ is that? We don’t take the weight of the first reason and add it to the weight of the second and then add the weight of the third. That would result in too much weight. So I can’t see that you’ve given any sense of ‘additive’.

To me it seems right that the fact ‘that there is a reason’ does not add to the normative force of the first-order reason.

Yes, I meant to be agreeing with that, but pointing out that it is not an objection. That the book is boring doesn’t add to the normative force of the fact that it is very boring, but is no less a reason for that.

Even if there are normative reasons that do not add to the normative demands of other reasons, sure there must be some explanation about in virtue of what we call this fact a reason. I haven’t heard one yet.

I thought Mark’s (January 24, 2007 at 11:41 AM) gave one. But in any case, my point was not to say what the explanation is. My point was to show that reasons are not additive. If that’s right, then an argument against the existential generalizations about reasons being themselves reasons is not sound.

69. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Well, is the excruciatingly hot curry at the Indian restaurant also a hot and a very hot curry? I’m not sure it is. Boring sounds the same to me but that’s not here or there.
Say that the first descpription characterises the first fact. So, ‘boring’ picks out fact, F1 – mere boringness of the book. The next description ‘very boring’ picks out this fact and a further fact – it’s not only boring but also *very boring*, F2. Very boring then picks out facts, F1 and F2. Excruciatingly boring then picks out both of these facts and also the fact that it is *excruciatingly* boring – F1, F2, and F3. F1 gives a weak reason not to read the novel. F2 adds to this reason by whatever force there is to F2 over and above F1 and similarly with the case of excriatingly boring. The three descriptions all pick out boringness and the second two some further considerations. It’s true that we don’t add the reasons, when we look at the three reasons as the earlier reasons are included in the latter two facts. But, each facts comes with independent normative force – that is additional to the normative force of the previous facts.
And, surely there can be different propositions that are co-referential anyway? ‘Superman is Clark Kent’ and ‘Clark Kent is Clark Kent’ comes to mind.
“That the book is boring doesn’t add to the normative force of the fact that it is very boring”
True but of course being boring is a consideration that has independent normative force unlike the existential facts.
The argument Mark gaved in the post you refer to seemed to assume that the existential fact has some independent normative force and is therefore a good reason. But, if that’s not the case then there is still no explanation what makes the existential fact a reason.

70. Jamie Dreier says:

I don’t get it. What does “independent normative force” mean? Independent from what?
I would have said, the normative force of the fact that the book is boring isn’t independent of the normative force of the fact that the book is very boring. So, reasons don’t have to have any independent normative force. But you seem to be saying that the fact that the book is boring does have independent normative force. I don’t see why you think that.
Mark’s argument did not assume that the existential reason has independent normative force, as far as I can tell. It does suppose that the existential reason has normative force. It does not suppose that that force is independent (of the particular reason that makes the existential one true).
But I’m probably not understanding what independent force is.

71. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Well, at least in the book case there’s two things that make it independent or distinct. You can first get counter-factuals going. That it is boring speaks in favour of not reading the book even if it was not true that the book was very boring. I guess I’d want to say that the boringness just is a consideration that counts against reading the book irrespective of other considerations. Maybe there can be disablers and enablers here but that’s another matter.
That very boring is a reason that has independent force of course cannot be established in the same way unless a book can be very boring without being just boring. But, that the book is very boring seems to give more reason to read it than if the book was just boring. In that sense there is independent normative force to the *very* boring feature of the book.
I know that a similar feature of non-additiveness of reasons can be found from instrumental reasons. So, I have reason to come to office everyday. Thereby, that the bus takes me near the office gives me a reason to take the bus. Here we have a different fact that is a good reason but which has the same normative force as the original reason. I agree that in these cases we have good non-additive reasons that inherit their normativity from elsewhere.
I’m open to the suggestion that existential facts work in the same way as good reasons. I’m just not yet convinced by the arguments but maybe that’s my fault.

72. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Come to think about it, I’m not even sure what to say about the instrumental case. Are there two different reasons to take the bus – the fact that I need to get the office and the fact that this bus takes me to the office (the facy that is supposed to be the instrumental reason) – or just one fact? I’m not sure. I might even want to say that there is only one reason and we can give more or less complete descriptions about the fact which is that reason.

73. Jussi. How do your counterfactuals work? I can see how it could be boring without being very boring, and that would still be a reason not to read it. But we don’t get the flip side: it couldn’t be very boring without being boring.
On the face of it, something similar goes for my case, given my view. There could be a reason to leave the building without it being on fire, and that would still be a reason to leave the building.
What’s important to me is that the reasons don’t add up. We don’t say, ‘omigod, not only is the building on fire, there’s a reason to exit, too!’ Realizing the latter when we already know the former doesn’t make leaving the building more rational. Nor does the latter’s being true contribute further toward determining what we ought to do. But once we give up on additivity, why think they can’t both still be reasons? Finding out the latter does make leaving the building more rational, if you don’t already know the former, and I can explain why.

74. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Mark,
In the reverse case we compare the actual case to the counterfactual where the book is merely boring and ask whether there is *more* reason to read the book in comparison. This is because very boring includes being boring and whatever normative force that consideration has.
I’m not sure to what ‘that’ refers here:
“There could be a reason to leave the building without it being on fire, and that would still be a reason to leave the building.”
I agree with what you say in the last bit. But, I think I have an explanation too without assuming that the existential fact is a reason. Leaving the building is rational if you have judged that you have good reasons to do so. This is a judgment you can make even when you don’t know the particulars of the considerations that are the reasons. You can make the judgment on the evidence that there is some reason that you cannot specify. Here I’m assuming that rationality is internal coherence. Of course your previous notion of well-groundedness demands more but that’s another matter.
I’m starting to be intrigued by the non-additivity. Consider these two sets of claims:
1. Mom’s cookies are a reason for Nate to go home.
2. That there is a a reason for Nate to go home is a reason for him to go home.
How many reasons does Nate have for going to home? One really – the concept of a reason is such that the reasons don’t add up.
1*. The Father is a God.
2*. The Son is a God.
3*. The Holy Spirit is a God.
How many Gods are there? One really – the concept of a God is such that Gods don’t add up.
I wouldn’t be happy to accept the second set. Probably the logicians during the middle ages or the Church would not be either. The talk about non-additiveness just doesn’t seem to take away the problem. This makes me wonder about the first set. I’m pushed to think that either claim 2. is therefore false or that Nate really does have two reasons. The latter might be more acceptable if you think that the normative force of the reasons don’t add up even if reasons do. Mom’s cookies seem to carry all the basic force and the existential fact inherits that force.
Here’s, by the way, another intuition test. Jane is an undergrad philosophy student. Her logic Professor tells her that there is conclusive evidence for the truth of the incompleteness theorem. As it is the logic 101, he doesn’t go through Gödel’s proof yet. In any case, as a result of the lecture Jane believes that the theorem is true. What is the good reason for which Jane adopted this belief:
1. The fact her professor told her that there is a conclusive evidence for the theorem.
2. The fact that there is a conclusive evidence for the theorem.
3. Gödel’s proof of the theorem.
My intuitions are not at all clear about this. The initial reaction is 1. I’m also not sure about whether 2. and 3. refer to different considerations on different levels of specificity.

75. Jussi,
On the additivity point and the trinity analogy. The claim that the reasons don’t add is not the claim that you can’t count them as numerically distinct (that is non-identical) reasons. If A is a reason and B is a reason, and A is not identical to B then we have two reasons.
The claim is something more like the claim that in some cases once you are aware of the one reason, finding out about the second gives you no more justification for acting than you have already in virtue of the one you know about. Sometimes that claim is symetrical and sometimes it isn’t (as with the boring and very boring case – that it is very boring gives you more reason not to read the book than that it is boring, but not the other way around).
And finally, the claim is not (as what you say about the trinity would suggest) that the concept of a reason is such that reasons don’t add up. It is that nothing about reasons (or the concept of a reason if you like) is such that it is required that two reasons always add up to a stronger reason. For all that, reasons sometimes do add up, just not in the kinds of cases we’ve been discussing here.

76. Jussi,
You wrote,

No Doug. I think you got it the wrong way around. What most commentators have pointed out is that the positive thesis does not follow from the negative thesis. This is for instance Dancy’s and Vayrynen’s view and others have endorsed it too.

I’ve just been reading Vayrynen’s “Resisting the Buck-Passing Account of Value” (available on his web site) and it’s clear that he is arguing that the negative thesis does not follow from the positive thesis. He says,

Buck-passers often present (BP-) as essential to their view, apparently because they assume that (BP-) follows from (BP+). Scanlon also appears to assume that (BP+) and the negation of (BP-)…exhaust the options. But each of these assumptions is mistaken.

77. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Doug,
Thanks. That’s good. I’ve misremembered what Pekka wrote. But, at least I got Jonathan right.
Here’s him from his ‘Should We Pass the Buck?”:
‘In short, value adds no reasons to those generated by the ground for that value [the negative thesis]. Does it follow from this that to be of value just is to have reason-giving features [does the positive thesis follow?]? I do not see that it does. Two further views remain to be refuted.’
I also think that Pekka’s been rather uncareful here. In the quote you give, Pekka places a footnote to Scanlon page 97 for a place where a buck-passer assumes that the negative thesis follows from the positive thesis. If you look at that page, Scanlon presents the positive thesis first and then gives two reasons for thinking that it is true. The first supporting evidence for the positive thesis he gives is the negative thesis that value does not seem to be reason-providing. So, Pekka probably got this wrong – Scanlon’s argument seems to be from the negative thesis to the positive one. He doesn’t claim that the negative follows from the positive.
Mark vR,
about the *some cases* you talk about, I think the explanation in those cases is that we are talking about the *same* reason. That’s clear in the very boring/boring case. If the book is very boring, then that includes it being boring. Therefore, it being boring cannot add to the reason. The other way round it can because there is an extra element to the reason of being ‘very boring’ than there is to the reason of mere boredom.
I’m more and more dissatisfied with the boring book case. It doesn’t show anything. Basically, the feature of the book we are talking about is certain experience or experiences it gives rise to. A book is boring because it makes you bored. Now, how many experiences does an excruciatingly boring book give rise to? Three? The experience of being bored, being very bored, and being excruciatingly bored? That sounds silly. It’s more plausible that the book gives rise to just one experience. This experience satisfies whatever criteria there are for boring, very boring, and excruciatingly boring experiences. And, this is the one reason there is not to read the book. Because we can refer to this experiences with different terms it only look as there are many non-additive reasons involved.

78. Christian says:

Okay so I haven’t followed the debate above. So I don’t know if this comment was hashed out, sorry. But…
Why think that something’s being good or valuable gives us a reason to promote it??? That claim seems false.
C.E. Suppose the world is valuable and good. Does that give us a reason to promote it? No. It makes no sense to say we have a reason to promote the world. So something’s being valuable and good does not, by itself, give one a reason to promote the thing which is good.
C.E. Suppose God exists and is good….again, we cannot promote God.
C.E. Suppose Jane has spontaneous uncontrollable orgasms. They are valuable and good. But they are uncontrollable, a fortiori, we have no reason to promote them, we cannot.
Anyways, counterexamples seem a dime a dozen. Am I missing something?

79. Christian,
Note the word “say” in the formulations of both BPV+ and BPV-, indicating that the appropriate response might be to promote. Of course, if concrete entities (such as, the world and God) as opposed to states of affairs (such as, that the world exists) are the fundamental bearers of intrinsic value, then the appropriate response should be some non-propositional attitude like admire or respect as opposed to promote. But the issue in this post is not what the appropriate response is, but whether the buckpasser’s negative thesis follows from her positive thesis.

80. Arto Laitinen says:

Jussi,
In the first quote, Scanlon writes that properties constitute reasons. That may be sloppy. Elsewhere he writes that reasons are propositions. It is quite widely agreed that reasons are propositionally structured (say, facts or states of affairs or propositions), and can be expressed with “that such and such is the case”.
You suggest that it is the objects that are complete reasons. So, say, one’s reason for going home can be “a dinner”, or one’s reason for running may be “an earthquake”. Of course, counting objects is different from counting facts (about objects) – there are many facts about one experience or one book (that it is boring, that it is very boring etc).
I wonder what the reason might be to think that objects (which are not propositionally structured) are reasons? Doesn’t that make it hard to account for reasons that are provided by the features of the action itself? (the reason for doing x is that it is a polite thing to do). Would one say simply that the action (and not the fact that it would be polite) is the reason for doing it? That seems to invite the further question “what is it about the action that gives you the reason to do it?”. (And similarly for any other reason-giving object).
I haven’t come across this view before, so I’d be curious to hear more,

81. Jussi Suikkanen says:

Arto,
good questions. I hope you are well. I’m not at all sure what to say about facts. I’d like to think the talk about facts is deflationist – we just happen to call true propositions facts. It’s just a convenient way of making noun-phrases out indicative sentences. Sometimes I wonder about whether the world really comes with a propositional structure in itself. I know McDowell and others think this is the case but there is something odd about the thought. This makes me wonder occasionally whether either reasons are not really out there or whether non-propositional things of the world can provide justification for thoughts with propositional content. Wright’s critical essay on McDowell is good on the latter idea.
Be that as it may, most facts are just objects being in some way or another. We call ways in which objects might be properties. I think when we talk about objects as reasons this talk is elliptic. We assume that those objects have certain qualities and then objects instantiating those qualities really are what counts for or against certain actions. This would fit well what you say about qualities of actions being reasons.

82. Arto Laitinen says:

Good, the view sounds a bit like what Michael Zimmerman writes about bearers of intrinsic value. He thinks that concrete states of individuals are bearers of value. A state [x,P,t] exists/occurs if object x has property P at time t.
[He defends the view that they are to be individuated finely (John’s being pleased and John’s being pleased at Mary’s pain are different states).]
So a promising candidate concerning reasons might be that what (literally, non-eliptically) counts for or against actions are concrete states of individuals.
I suppose that view may remain neutral on the ontology of facts and propositions.

83. Jussi Suikkanen says:

I think that’s true. Even though, I might add that it is a good candidate for what reasons are. I’m probably quite liberal about what kind of things can be reasons on the first order level. We talk about events, persons, objects, mental states, properties, properties instantiated by objects, objects having certain properties, possibilities, and so on as reasons. I’m not sure that I’m in position as wannabe philosopher to say that much of this talk is not true on some theoretical grounds.
Even in the case of properties, I’d like to leave to the real metaphycisians to sort things out. There are interesting debates about whether value bearers are real universals or tropes. I’m happy to think that once the debate is settled generally whether objects bear universals or tropes, then whatever the answer is is the bearer of value.

84. Christian says:

–Doug
You said that “Note the word “say” in the formulations of both BPV+ and BPV-, indicating that the appropriate response might be to promote.”
I’m not sure what ‘say’ contributes to the formulation, but if we do accept that something’s being good “might” give us a reason to promote it, then we have a very uninteresting thesis. The same goes for admire, or desire. If something’s instantiating the good, or lower level properties that mke it good, only makes it such that we “might” have a reason to promote it, then why should we really care about those properties at all.
I think we need a stronger thesis. But then, as far as I can tell, the counterexamples work. That means the weaker thesis is uninteresting and the stronger thesis is false and that would be a problem.

85. Christian,
You’ve misunderstood. The buckpasser holds that X’s being good is the property of having other properties that provide us with reasons to respond to X in a certain way. In what way is it appropriate to respond to X? Well, it might be that these other properties provide us with reasons to promote X. Or it might be that these other properties provide us with reasons to admire X. I never said anything to suggest that the buckpasser holds that X’s being good is the property of having other properties that might provide us with reasons to respond to X in a certain way. I was suggesting that the “certain way” might be “to promote X”, not that there might be a reason to respond to X in a certain way.

86. Christian says:

Oh no, I didn’t misunderstand. First, there are different ways to respond to something. For example, desiring it, promoting it, admiring it, etc. Second, there are things that are good. Now, their goodness may consist in having some properties that provides us with a reason to promote it, or it could be having the property of being good, which is itself, a property that provides us with a reason to promote it.
My objection goes through, as far as I can tell, on either view about the relation between goodness and reasons to promote things that are good. I am not objecting to the buck-passing account. I am objecting to the idea that:
If x is good (either by instantiating a basic property of goodness or by virtue of instantiating some other properties), then we have a reason to promote, desire, or admire x.
I take my counterexamples to be counterexamples to that thesis. I do not think we have a reason to admire Jane for having uncontrollable orgasms, or to try to promote her uncontrollable orgasms, or to desire her uncontrollable orgasms.

87. Christian –
First thing: the word ‘good’ works in lots of different ways in English. Compare:
‘God is good’
‘That is a good knife’
‘This is good for her’
‘It would be good if society were less unequal’
I take it to be more or less controversial how these various senses of ‘good’ are related, but more or less obvious that the sense that traditional consequentialists have been interested in is the last. Promotion gets discussed in connection with buck-passing because the traditional consquentialist view has been that there is some connection between good in this last sense and promotion.
Your first two examples look like different kinds of uses of the word ‘good’, and I can’t tell whether your third is, or not. Do you really think it would be better if Jane had more of her uncontrollable orgasms? Maybe you think they are good for her, because she enjoys them, without thinking it would be better if there were more of them. Or maybe your worry can be answered by clarifying that by ‘promote’ we mean, ‘do what you can to bring about’, so that in cases like yours in which there is nothing we can do, nothing ends up being required.
Your first two examples make the point of your objection harder to assess, but if the third one is driven by the idea that there is a version of ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ for reasons, but not for value, then presumably this kind of clarification should straighten things out.
Strictly speaking, of course, all of the talk about good is kind of beside the point, because in all of these cases, ‘good’ is plausibly analyzed in terms of its comparative, ‘better’. So what we should really care about is sentences like:
‘It would be better for Clinton to win the presidency than for McCain to win it.’
The basic idea of buck-passing or fitting-attitudes accounts is that if this is true, its truth consists in a quantificational fact about reasons: for example, one account might hold that it consists in the fact that the totality of the right kind of reasons to prefer that Clinton wins the presidency to McCain winnning it outweighs the totality of the right kind of reasons to prefer that McCain wins the presidency to Clinton winning it.
A similar account might appeal to reasons to ‘promote’ Clinton’s winning versus to ‘promote’ McCain’s winning. The first account, which takes a more familiar ‘fitting-attitudes’ form. The question that Doug originally asked, was about whether an account of the former kind can agree that there are reasons to ‘promote’ Clinton’s winning. That’s because he wants to defend such a view. But most of the discussion in this thread didn’t get that far – it has mostly been about whether, given the first account, the fact that it would be better if Clinton won than if McCain won could itself be a reason to _prefer_ Clinton’s winning. It has mostly been about whether the quantificational fact about reasons could itself be a reason to do the very same thing as the reason that is its truth-maker.
To see why this question is interesting without getting caught up on whether you think that the truth of sentences of the fourth kind I listed requires there being a reason to promote equality, notice that buck-passing or fitting-attitudes accounts can also be offered of other kinds of property. For example, consider:
A buck-passing analysis of admirability might say that if this is true, its truth consists in the fact that the totality of the right kind of reasons to admire Jon outweighs the totality of the right kind of reasons to not admire Jon.
Now, obviously something can be good without there being any reason to admire it. But can something be admirable without there being any reason to admire it? Counterexamples of your kind are harder to come by.
Now our controversy is about whether the fact that Jon is admirable is itself a reason to admire him. Some claim to have the direct intuition that the answer is ‘no’. Some seem to have the direct intuition that the answer is ‘yes’. Many seem to think that it follows from the buck-passing account I just gave that the answer _must_ be ‘no’ – and split, depending on their former intuition, over whether this spells glory or doom for the theory. Mark vR and I have been insisting that it is perfectly intelligible and perhaps even well-motivated for the buck-passer to claim that the answer is ‘yes’. My point is: the interest of the question is independent of the details about what we substitute for ‘promote’.

88. Christian says:

–Mark S.
Wow, thanks for the extensive response! I’ll just respond to (some of) your points as they were raised.
1. I don’t see the different senses of ‘good’ in your examples, but rather, only one ‘goodness’ that is common to each. I can’t argue that here, but I think Thomson argued that ‘x is good’ is elliptical for ‘x is a good F’ and I like that view. Goodness is then analyzed as the most general F such that for any x, x is a good G iff x is a good F. I think that goodness, the only one, is what us Consequentialists are interested in.
2. I think Jane’s orgasms are good orgasms. If she likes them, let’s say she does, then they are good “for her” in some colloquial sense. You said “maybe your worry can be answered by clarifying that by ‘promote’ we mean, ‘do what you can to bring about’, so that in cases like yours in which there is nothing we can do, nothing ends up being required.”
Maybe it can. I understood having a reason to promote x as having a reason to bring x about. But if one cannot, and let’s stipulate one knows one cannot, then one has no such reason. If that means there is no requirement, then I agree, but then that’s because one has no reason to promote the thing in question, which was one idea behind the counterexample. And if nobody has a reason to promote x, then I guess it remains to be seen whether there is a reason to promote x.
3. I’m not sure about analyzing goodness in terms of ‘better than’ but that would be cool. However, ‘is a good F’ seems to communicate more and different information than ‘is better than’. If I say x is a good F (car), I am saying somthing positive about x, but if I say x is a better F (car) than y, that is consistent with also thinking x is a terrible F (car). So I’d like to hear the details of the account.
4. The buck-passing account, as you understand it, entails that something’s betterness (goodness) consists in there being certain reasons to prefer it, reasons that are not outweighed by reasons to dislike it. Well, if we are subjectivists about reasons, that their existence is mind-dependent, then this doesn’t work. There could be good things without subjects. But we are not subjectivists. Reasons as I understand you to be taking them are mind-independent. I guess then that I think the order of explanation goes the other way. It is the fact that something is a good F that gives us a reason to prefer it, and if we are not subjectivists, I cannot see the advantage of accepting an order of explanation that is any different.
5. You said “It has mostly been about whether, given the first account, the fact that it would be better if Clinton won than if McCain won could itself be a reason to _prefer_ Clinton’s winning. It has mostly been about whether the quantificational fact about reasons could itself be a reason to do the very same thing as the reason that is its truth-maker.”
Oh boy, I may be confused. I think that if it would be better for Clinton to win than McCain then (if we are aware of the fact and the relevant conditions for reason possession are met) that gives us a reason to prefer Clinton’s winning. But that is because I accept the other order of explanation of reasons to prefer in terms of facts about goodness. I suppose, however, that one could have “overdetermined” reasons, if that is what they would be, but it isn’t clear to me that anything like that would be going on. I guess I would have to see how the view is spelled out.
6. You said “Now, obviously something can be good without there being any reason to admire it. But can something be admirable without there being any reason to admire it? Counterexamples of your kind are harder to come by.”
I just meant to be arguing for what you said was obvious! So that’s good. The second question is harder. “I’m” inclined to say that x is admirable iff x deserves admiration from certain people (people that are receptive to the good, not lovers of the naughty!). And if x deserves admiration from certain people, then there is a reason to admire x. However, this is consistent with nobody whatsoever having a reason to admire x, since the existence of a reason does not entail the possession of a reason. But then, I’d also analyze admirability in terms of goodness. So I’m off the boat before it leaves the dock.

89. Christian:
1) I didn’t say the senses of ‘good’ were unrelated; I said that it is controversial how they are related.
3) ‘tall’ is analyzed in terms of ‘taller than’. ‘fat’ is analyzed in terms of ‘fatter than’. So there’s no problem about how ‘good’ can be analyzed in terms of ‘better than’. The standard account of ‘tall’ holds that ‘x is tall’ is true relative to a context of utterance C just in case x is taller than most members of the comparison class that is contextually relevant in C. The same goes for ‘good’.
4) Everything I said was supposed to be neutral on ‘subjectivism’ about reasons. Moreover, there are a lot of different things you might mean both by ‘subjectivism’ and by ‘mind-dependent’, so I won’t venture into sorting that out. There is a sense in which I don’t think reasons are mind-independent, though there is also a sense in which they are.
5) That is what this discussion thread has been about. It is about whether someone who adopts the ‘other order’ of explanation can still say that the fact that it would be better is a reason to prefer, even if you accept the positive buck-passing thesis.
6) Several of your comments suggest that you think that a buck-passing account can only work if there are agents who have certain reasons. For example, when you suggest that something could be good even if there were no agents to have those reasons. This is an important issue for buck-passers. But how it works depends on the structure of the buck-passing account.

90. Christian says:

Hey Mark:
Just a few replies.
1. Yeah, it’s controversial. I was just stating what I thought and it seemed to be inconsistent with what you were assuming. You said the Consequentialist was interested in the fourth kind of goodness and I’m a Consequentialist and I’m interested in all of them.
3. Consider a world with only two really nasty smelling piles of sh@#. One is better smelling than the other and hence, better smelling than most objects in its world. It does not smell good though, even for a pile of stuff.
4. Me too. But I point out the distinction because it seemed to be glossed over.
6. You said that “Several of your comments suggest that you think that a buck-passing account can only work if there are agents who have certain reasons. For example, when you suggest that something could be good even if there were no agents to have those reasons.”
Wait! No to the first and yes to the second. There can be reasons even if nobody is aware of them and some reasons people are aware of. If everybody went out of existence right now there would still be a reason not to destroy the universe, I think.
And I totally agree that the right kinds of reasons are independent of whether someone has reasons. That’s why I said above that “However, this is consistent with nobody whatsoever having a reason to admire x, since the existence of a reason does not entail the possession of a reason.”
Anyway, sorry if I was unclear, but this all seems to me a bit off the topic. I just meant to be arguing that something’s being good does not entail the existence of a reason to promote or prefer it. I gave a counterexample that I thought was okay.

91. Christian: You’re misunderstanding how context-dependence works. You described a world with only bad-smelling things, but you described it from a context in which a comparison class was salient that included nice-smelling things. The fact that there could be a world where everyone was short doesn’t disprove the standard treatment of ‘tall’, either. There’s nothing novel and shouldn’t be anything controversial about the idea that ‘good’ is related to ‘better’ in the same way that ‘tall’ is related to ‘taller’.

92. Christian says:

Mark S: First, fair enough. My example did run afoul of the worry you mentioned. Now, if I understand you correctly you think the following account is plausible and should not be controversial:
1. X is good iff X is better than Y (or the Ys).
The relevant Ys, on a particular occasion of use of the word ‘good’ in an attribution of goodness to something varies depending upon the context. Here the predicate ‘is good’ functions like ‘is tall’.
Well…this view may be right. I really don’t know, but as far as I can tell, it may be wrong. I mean ‘better than’ expresses a relation, but ‘is good’ seems to express an intrinsic property. The analysis would seem to make goodness a relation. I think a world with only God in it would have something good in it, even if there were no relata in that world such that God is better than them.
Secondly, it seems that we must have a prior understanding of good to understand ‘is better than’ because making a ‘better than’ attribution requires the ability to identify a feature in virtue of which something is said to be better than another. But then, why not say that possessing that very feature is sufficient for being good. Can we understand that feature and make the better than attribution without understanding that feature as good?
If not, then that would be a reason to favor an analysis of better than in terms of goodness.

93. Jamie says:

Christian,
A.

Goodness is then analyzed as the most general F such that for any x, x is a good G iff x is a good F.

I’m trying to figure out what you meant by that.
The ‘F’ is apparently a bound variable ranging over kinds. The ‘G’ does not appear to be bound, though I expect it is also a variable ranging over kinds. If I try adding a “for all G”, then the analysis looks absurd, entailing that all good priests are also good prostitutes.
B.

I mean ‘better than’ expresses a relation, but ‘is good’ seems to express an intrinsic property. The analysis would seem to make goodness a relation.

No, the analysis makes goodness a property.
As Mark said, it is very common to explain gradable adjectives in terms of their comparatives. To call somebody ‘rich’ in a context is to say that she has more than \$X, where X is determined by the context (to oversimplify somewhat, it might be the median wealth in \$ of the people in the domain of the context). But having more than \$X is a property, not a relation, so ‘rich’ denotes a property. It’s a separate question whether it’s an intrinsic property — nothing in the logic of this type of analysis says whether the property is intrinsic or extrinsic.

94. Christian says:

Hi Jamie. This is what I have in mind. Goodness is the most general normative property p such that: whenever something is a good F, it instantiates p. To be a good F is a way to be good. I am not offering an analysis. I want to leave open the possibility, which I’m inclined to think is true, that ‘goodness’ is unanalyzable (You’ll see the affinities here with Williamson’s account of knowing).
Now, I don’t follow your second point. I agree that one can analyze ‘rich’ in the way you say and also think that ‘rich’ expresses a property (although it’s not obvious that having money is not a relation). But is ‘is rich’ really like ‘is good’? What I need to ask is: what is the logical form of the propositional function ‘x is good’? Also, what is the logical form of ‘x is better than y’? Can an instance of ‘x is better than y’ be true if there is only one thing in the world?
It seems to me the answer is no the last question, making it a relation, and if ‘is good’ is analyzed in terms of it, then it follows that ‘is good’ expresses a relation.

95. Jamie says:

Christian,

Goodness is the most general normative property p such that: whenever something is a good F, it instantiates p.

Do you really mean ‘whenever’, or do you mean ‘when and only when’? It seems to me that the property of being good or vicious is more general than goodness, and fits the criterion.
My second point was that when a gradable adjective is analyzed in the way a few people have been suggesting, it does not turn out to be a relation. I think you now agree with this.

Can an instance of ‘x is better than y’ be true if there is only one thing in the world?

I don’t know. I am having a hard time imagining there being only one thing in the world, and a harder time imagining that there is one thing in the world and it is a good one.

It seems to me the answer is no the last question, making it a relation, and if ‘is good’ is analyzed in terms of it, then it follows that ‘is good’ expresses a relation.

I don’t think so. Maybe by ‘relation‘ you mean ‘extrinsic property‘?

Jamie,
First, I do not think that that by the name of the link to the stanford entry on relations Christian means the name of the link to the stanford entry on extrinsic properties. (Sorry, lame attempt at a joke)
Second, are you denying that “better than” denotes a relation and asserting that it denotes an extrinsic property instead?
Or, I hope, that goodness is an extrinsic property whose presence or absence is *explained* by the relevant bearer being (or not being) in the better-than relation to some other objects.

97. Jamie Dreier says:

<joke>We can’t form the names of links by enclosing them in quotation marks, but only the names of strings of characters. </joke>
Second: hm, I wasn’t denying either of those. “better than” denotes a relation (it has two argument places, which is a good sign). I’m not denying or asserting that second thing, but only pointing out that if calling something ‘good’ is saying that it is better than some standard, that doesn’t entail that it’s a relation. It could denote an extrinsic property; it could still be an intrinsic property, I think.
For example: suppose saying that Frosty is cold is saying that he is colder than a certain standard, determined by the context. And suppose that in the context in question, the standard is exactly 32 degrees F. Then in the context, ‘big’ denotes an intrinsic property of Frosty.
Doesn’t that seem right?

98. Jamie Dreier says:

Uh, the (only occurrence of) the word ‘big’ in my last comment ought to be (an occurrence of) the word ‘cold’. (I changed the example in mid-writing and forgot to mutate all of the mutandi.)

Jamie,
About the joke..that is why I said ‘attempt’…
Not sure this matters. but any way…
You write: “Suppose saying that Frosty is cold is saying that he is colder than a certain standard, determined by the context. And suppose that in the context in question the standard is exactly 32 degrees F. Then in the context, ‘cold’ denotes an intrinsic property of Frosty.”
Say Frosty is 5 degrees F. His being that temp is, let us grant, quite independent of non-Frosty things and his (or it’s) relationships to those things. It is an intrinsic property of Frosty.
But to say that frosty is cold is not to say he is 5 degrees. It is to say that his temp, which happens to be 5 degrees, is lower than the some standard, which happens to be 39 degrees. The relevant standard is fixed by things in the context — presumably which standard is relevant is not fixed by Frosty’s temp (or his other intrinsic properties). It might be fixed, e.g., by features of the speaker, her context of utterance, features of Frosty’s environment, etc.
If so, I take it that ‘cold’ is an extrinsic, not intrinsic property. His being cold is dependent on how his temp relates to a standard that is “outside of him” at least in the sense that the content of the standard is fixed by facts that are outside of (independent of) him and his temp.
Maybe I am being dense

100. Jamie Dreier says:

I think there are two different issues.
First, does the predicate ‘cold’ denote a certain property, say the property of being below 32 degrees, in a the given context, or does it denote the property of being colder than a certain standard thing (say, Chilly) who is only contingently 32 degrees? If the latter, then I grant you the property is extrinsic; but if the former, then it could still be intrinsic. I am suggesting that ‘cold’ might denote the former. (Compare: the word ‘yesterday’ in a context denotes a day, not a relation, even though we need a relation, namely, the day before, to pick out which day it denotes.)
But second, what about the property, being colder than 32 degrees? Is that intrinsic or extrinsic? I suppose this is a matter of how we use the words (‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’). As I think of things, the property of being colder than 32 degrees is intrinsic, because it is a property shared by all duplicates. But one might say, no, it is a relational property, because it “refers to something outside itself” (namely, the temperature 32 degrees). I don’t want to quibble about how to use the words.

Jamie,
Nice distinction.
I guess we just disagree about “cold” I guess – I think it is fixed according to different contingent standards in different contexts.

102. Christian says:

Jamie: I think I see what the problem is now. By relational I just meant non-intrinsic. If there is a distinction between relational and extrinsic such that there can be two ways of being non-intrinsic, then I am saying that and instance of ‘x is better than y’ is non-intrinsic. But goodness is intrinsic, so goodness is not analyzable in terms of ‘is better than’. I think I can imagine a world in which the only concrete thing in it is God and that world has something good in it. So goodness is intrinsic. Otherwise I take it the standard theistic story is unimaginable and I don’t think that is the case.
You ask: “Do you really mean ‘whenever’, or do you mean ‘when and only when’?”
Yes. I don’t mean when and only when because that would make the account trivially false. Something is good not only when, for some particular F, it is a good F. There are other Gs such that it could be a good G and so good.
You said: “It seems to me that the property of being good or vicious is more general than goodness, and fits the criterion.”
Yeah. So I will either restrict my thesis to non-disjuntive normative properties or else I will not count that disjunctive property as a normative property. Whichever.
Now, for what it’s worth, like Brad (I think this is Brad’s opinion), I think ‘is cold’ expresses a non-intrinsic property. I also think ‘being yesterday’ and ‘being tall’ and probably ‘being rich’ are also non-intrinsic.

103. Jamie says:

Brad: I suspect things are kind of messy, and that it sometimes means what you say and sometimes means what I say. This sounds false:
“Michelle would not be tall if all her classmates were five inches taller.” (So that supports my view.) But, well, to make a long story short, I can think of other examples where your interpretation seems better.

104. Jamie says:

Christian:
(i) Okay. You said the analysis made goodness a relation. I would not have objected if you’d said it made it a relational property. But I would like to know why goodness couldn’t be relational in the same way that other gradable adjectives are. I think it is. Suppose I am watching Sebastian Telfair playing against the Spurs. “He is not a good player,” I say. The next night he shows up at our pick-up game, and I pick him first. “He’s a very good player,” I explain. But Telfair has not improved, and I have neither changed my mind nor contradicted myself. This is just the same kind of sensitivity to context that’s displayed by ‘tall’ (and indeed exactly the same example works!).
(ii)

Yeah. So I will either restrict my thesis to non-disjuntive normative properties or else I will not count that disjunctive property as a normative property. Whichever.

The problem isn’t that there are disjunctive properties; the problem is that there are more general properties of which goodness is a determinate. So, for instance, being not horribly bad is normative and more general, so it satisfies the condition. (I didn’t get your point about rejecting the ‘only when’, but in any case I agree it won’t turn out well that way.)

Jamie,
I agree that cases seem to split.
And now that I think about it, your line seems right for neo-Aristotelians who ground good-for in a species-specific norm of proper functioning or flourishing. On their view – well, and on any sensible view – “It would be good for Joe to drink paint thinner if everyone else was doing it/wanted him to do it/etc.” is false.
But then there are other uses of ‘good’ that go the other way: “It would be good for Joe to score 40% on the exam if everyone else in the class scored 10%” might well be true.
Of course neo-Arists would likely try to ground uses of the later sort in uses of the former sort, by some route or other.

106. Christian says:

Jamie: I suspect you will not like this move, but I think that (plausibly anyway) when you say:
“He is not a good player” you say something false. He is a good player. But you convey a true proposition, a comparative, that “He is not as a good a player as the others in the NBA” and that is true. So, one is confusing the conveyed proposition with the asserted one, mixing up their tuths values, since the context makes the conveyed proposition appropriate. And no wonder, we have other predicates like ‘is tall’ where the comparative semantics works.
As to the second point I don’t think disjuntive properties have determinates. They have disjuncts that may have determinates, but the disjunctions don’t. Determinables are not analyzable in terms of their determinates, but disjunctions are analyzable in terms of their disjuncts. Determinates from a common determinable necessarily exclude one another, disjuncts from a common disjunction do not. So disjunctive properties are ill-suited for the determinable role.
But is there a more general non-disjunctive normative property than being good? I just can’t think of one.

Christian,
Prof. Pushover curves like crazy
(Year 1) Ann gets 40% which is the highest in the class. I say to her, “40% is a good score”
(Year 2) Ann gets 40% which is the lowest in the class. I say to her, “40% is not a good score”
Did I say something false one of these times?
If not, would you say ‘good’ is ambiguous?

108. Jamie Dreier says:

Christian,
That doesn’t seem so bad to me, actually. So if I said that Sebastian wasn’t a good player, you might reply, “He is a good player, but he isn’t good for an NBA player.”
But the same trick works with ‘tall’. I say, “Sebastian isn’t tall” (the conversational context is one in which the salient domain is NBA players). You say, “Well, he is tall, but he’s not tall for an NBA player.”
So it seems to me this just is to say that being good (a good player) is extrinsic in whatever way being tall (a tall guard, say) is extrinsic.
Okay, so disjunctive properties don’t have determinates. I give you the word ‘determinate’. My point was that there are more general ways that things can be, and then more specific ways of being that general way. Disjunctive ways and their disjunct ways are among these; so are determinables and determinates. And the problem doesn’t have especially to do with disjunctions. That’s why I then gave another, non-disjunctive example (being not horribly bad). That is more general than being good. So it is a better candidate for the most general non-disjunctive normative property shared by all things correctly called a ‘good F’ for some F.

109. Christian says:

Call me crazy but I don’t think scores are good. Atoms aren’t good either, nor abstract objects, etc. So the first claim is false and there is probably a presupposition failure in the assertion. I still don’t think ‘good’ is ambiguous, but I suppose it’s possible.
Jamie,
You said “So it seems to me this just is to say that being good (a good player) is extrinsic in whatever way being tall (a tall guard, say) is extrinsic.”
I think ‘being tall’ is extrinsic, but not because of intuitions about assertions like the one you mention. ‘Taller than’ just seems to me to express an extrinsic property. Ascribing the property to something in isolation seems mistaken.
But I think ‘being good’ is different, not because I intuitively think the assertions above are false, rather, it just seems to me to express an intrinsic property since it does seem to be the kind of property something could have in isolation.
You said: “You might reply, “He is a good player, but he isn’t good for an NBA player.””
What if I replied this way: He is a good player, but he isn’t better than most NBA players.”
Haven’t I captured what someone who may have wanted to assert the first claim meant and done so without implying ‘goodness’ is extrinsic, but rather, only that ‘better than’ expresses an extrinsic property?
This does make me worry about one thing. It is one thing to say ‘x is a good F’ and it’s another to say ‘x is good for an F’. I want to say the first expression will, under an assignment, commit one only to an intrinsic property of goodness. But the second expression of which ‘is good for an NBA player’ may be different, I don’t know?
Okay, is ‘being not horribly bad’ more general than ‘being good’? Oh God. I suppose in some sense yes it is. There are more things in logical space that are not horribly bad than are good. But, you’re going to hate me, the predicate contains a ‘not’ and so is complex and so I want to exclude it. So perhaps I should restate the view:
Goodness is the most general basic property P something has whenever it is a good F, for some kind of thing F.

110. Jamie Dreier says:

‘Taller than’ just seems to me to express an extrinsic property. Ascribing the property to something in isolation seems mistaken.

Uh.
Huh?
‘Taller than’ expresses a relation. (Note the two argument places.) What does that have to do with it? ‘Better than’ also expresses a relation. What I said was that ‘good’ seems to be extrinsic in just the way that ‘tall’ is, for the same reasons.

What if I replied this way: He is a good player, but he isn’t better than most NBA players.”
Haven’t I captured what someone who may have wanted to assert the first claim meant and done so without implying ‘goodness’ is extrinsic, but rather, only that ‘better than’ expresses an extrinsic property?

‘better than’ expresses a relation. But yes, you could put it that way. But you could also put it the way I put it. So ‘good’ expresses an extrinsic property. Doesn’t that follow from the fact that you can put the same thing both ways?

Goodness is the most general basic property P something has whenever it is a good F, for some kind of thing F.

What’s a basic property — and what’s the reason for thinking that goodness is one and being not horribly bad isn’t? Maybe being not horribly bad is being okay, or acceptable, passable. Why isn’t being okay basic?

111. Christian says:

Geez Jamie!
I still haven’t figured out what you mean when you say extrinsic rather than relational, or relational property rather than a relation. I just mean not intrinsic. By intrinsically good I mean something could be good independently of other things. I mean something can instantiate the property of being good and it could do so whether or not there is some other thing related to it in a certain way. So ‘taller than’ is not like that. Whether something instantiates the property ‘being taller than x’ or stands in the relation of ‘being taller than x’ that depends upon whether there is some x.
Oh and I like my way better. We could put things your way but then that would be a counterexample to my view here, so I don’t like putting things that way.
“Doesn’t that follow from the fact that you can put the same thing both ways?”
No, all that follows is that one of us is right. The linguistic evidence, I say, doesn’t decide for us. We have to do metaphysics.
And being okay isn’t obviously normative to me, or passable, although not being horribly bad is definitely normative. A basic property is one that at least is not disjunctive, conjunctive and has no negations in it, like being red.
Here’s an argument that ‘is good’ is not like ‘is tall’. We say things like Gorgione is tall, he is taller than Herald and the tallest guy in the room. But we can’t say (correctly) that Gorgione is good, he is gooder than Herald, he is the goodest guy in the room.
We can’t do that with better either. So ‘is tall’ and ‘is rich’ and these other gradeable adjectives are unlike is better’ and unlike ‘is good’. Also, as a friend pointed out to me, ‘is good’ comes in degrees but is better than doesn’t, so one cannot analyze goodness in terms of betterness. I’m a little sketchy on this last argument though, but I’ll throw it out there.

112. Christian: ‘is tall’ comes in degrees but ‘is taller than’ doesn’t. And why is the fact that English uses a different root for the comparative relevant?

113. Christian says:

Mark: Prima facie we introduce different words to pick out different concepts. So prima facie ‘better’ and ‘good’ pick out different concepts. And perhaps the reason ‘is tall’ comes in degrees is that it quantifies over heights which come in degrees. Together with a relation of ‘taller than’ relating an individual to members of a comparison class fixed by the context we explain the degrees of ‘is tall’ in terms of something more basic. And then, by extension, the idea is that ‘is better than’ does not come in degrees, but ‘is good’ does, so we to explain the degrees of ‘is good’ in terms of something other than ‘is better than’. But what?
Argument: there is nothing to explain this. However, if we take degrees of goodness as primitive, since goodness is a primitive scalar property, we can explain why certain things seem to be much better than others, rather than a little bit better than others.
x is good to degree 1 and y is good to degree n + 1000 and y is better than x = y is much better than x.
x is good to degree 1 and y is good to degree 2 and y is better than x = y is a little better than x.

114. Jamie says:

I still haven’t figured out what you mean when you say extrinsic rather than relational, or relational property rather than a relation.

Hm. Well, I suggested (twice) that you count the argument places; that will tell you whether the item is a relation or a property. I also gave links to the Stanford Encyclopedia where extrinsic properties and relations are explained. I’m afraid I can’t think of any other ways to help.

So ‘taller than’ is not like that. Whether something instantiates the property ‘being taller than x’ or stands in the relation of ‘being taller than x’ that depends upon whether there is some x.

Yes, but this is completely irrelevant. Nobody has suggested that ‘good’ is like ‘taller than’. The suggestion is that ‘good’ is like ‘tall’.

And being okay isn’t obviously normative to me, or passable, although not being horribly bad is definitely normative.

Of course those are normative. If something is okay or passable, it follows that it is not horribly bad.

Here’s an argument that ‘is good’ is not like ‘is tall’. We say things like Gorgione is tall, he is taller than Herald and the tallest guy in the room. But we can’t say (correctly) that Gorgione is good, he is gooder than Herald, he is the goodest guy in the room.

I’m assuming this is a joke. I see that you stuck with it in reply to Mark, but come on. ‘better’ is the comparative of ‘good’. We all speak English, so we all know that.

Also, as a friend pointed out to me, ‘is good’ comes in degrees but is better than doesn’t, so one cannot analyze goodness in terms of betterness.

In the first place, that’s a non sequitur; in the second place, ‘better than’ does come in degrees. That’s why it makes sense to say “much better” and to ask “How much better?”

And perhaps the reason ‘is tall’ comes in degrees is that it quantifies over heights which come in degrees. Together with a relation of ‘taller than’ relating an individual to members of a comparison class fixed by the context we explain the degrees of ‘is tall’ in terms of something more basic. And then, by extension, the idea is that ‘is better than’ does not come in degrees, but ‘is good’ does, so we to explain the degrees of ‘is good’ in terms of something other than ‘is better than’. But what?

Values, which come in degrees. (values: good :: heights: tall)

115. Christian says:

First, are there records for longest threads? We’ve got to be close here.
Second, this is what the Standfors link says:
“Some properties are instantiated by individuals because of the relations they bear to other things. For example the property being married is instantiated by Bill Clinton because he is married to Hillary Clinton. Such properties are sometimes called extrinsic or relational properties. Objects have them because of their relations to other things. By contrast, intrinsic or non-relational properties are properties that a thing has quite independently of its relationships to other things.”
I mean a relational property (in the sense above) when I say something has the property of being better than something distinct from it. I thought you wanted to analyze ‘is good’ in terms of the property ‘is better than some Xs’ where those Xs are specified by the context. By virtue of the analysis I assumed that ‘is good’ will turn out to express a relational property. If that’s not your proposal, I’m sorry, I just don’t understand.
Third, you said “Of course those are normative. If something is okay or passable, it follows that it is not horribly bad.” Okay. Was that last use of ‘okay’ normative? If not, then your saying that it is obvious some use of ‘okay’ is normative. You’re probably right, I wasn’t denying that, I just said it wasn’t obvious to me partly do to the fact that I hadn’t given thought to how one might disambiguate ‘okay’.
Fourth, you said “but come on. ‘better’ is the comparative of ‘good’. We all speak English, so we all know that.” I agree that better is the comparative of good, but I suspect there is a reason we use ‘better’ instead of ‘gooder’. I don’t know what that reason is, but with ‘tall’ and ‘rich’ we have not created another word to be the comparative. This fact needs explaining and if the use of a different word is evidence of the expression of a different concept, then that might help to explain the phenomena which I think it would be interesting to explain.
Fifth, you seem to be saying betterness comes in degrees and that you can explain this by appealing to values which come in degrees. If we disagree (I think) then something can be a value on your view when it is not good. Otherwise betterness will turn out to be analyzed in terms of goodness after all, or does that not seem right to you?

116. Christian
Above you introduce the notion of degrees of goodness. This raises the following question.
Suppose one says simply “x is good”, without specifying any degree. What does one thereby say (or commit oneself to saying) about the degree to which x is good? I see four possibilities.
First possibility: one says nothing about the degree to which x good. The questions whether x is good and to what degree x is good are entirely independent. What one says about the former makes not the slightest difference to what one may say about the latter.
But this is implausible. Surely, for example, if one says “x is good but y is not”, one cannot then consistently say “x is good to a lesser degree than y is”.
Second possibility: one says that x is good to the maximum degree. There is some degree m such that it’s impossible for anything to be good to a degree greater than m, and a thing is good iff it’s good to degree m.
But again this is implausible. It’s doubtful that there is a maximum degree of goodness (even on the “good-for-an-F” approach you seem to favour). And even if there were a maximum, surely very few things attain it. Yet we say that things are good all the time. It’s implausible that we speak falsely so often.
Third possibility: one says that x is good to some degree greater than the minimum. There is some degree n such that it’s impossible for anything to be good to a degree lesser degree than n, and a thing is good iff it’s good to a greater degree than n.
Again, implausible. We often say things are not good even when we think they could be good to a lesser degree.
Fourth possibility: one says that x is good to a degree at least as great as c, where c is a contextually sensitive parameter.
This is more plausible. But, as far as I can tell, it’s just Mark Schroeder’s definition of “good” in terms of “better than”, except expressed in different terms.

117. Actually, I take back the very last thing I said. The analysis suggested in my “fourth possibility” is not equivalent to Mark’s analysis. It implies, but is not implied by, Mark’s analysis.
Consider:
(1) x is good to a greater degree than y is.
(2) x is better than y.
I think that (1) implies (2), but not the converse. It’s possible that the relation better than (or, if you like, more good than) cannot be given a numerical representation, in which case we couldn’t make sense of degrees of goodness, at least not if these degrees are supposed to be numbers. So it’s possible that (2) is true and (1) false.
For this reason, I’d say betterness is primary, and degrees of good are defined, if at all, in terms of betterness.

118. Jamie says:

I agree that better is the comparative of good, but I suspect there is a reason we use ‘better’ instead of ‘gooder’. I don’t know what that reason is, but with ‘tall’ and ‘rich’ we have not created another word to be the comparative. This fact needs explaining…

I entirely agree so far.

and if the use of a different word is evidence of the expression of a different concept, then that might help to explain the phenomena which I think it would be interesting to explain.

I don’t understand that part. Comparatives and the gradables of which they are comparatives always express different concepts. But the concepts are related: the one is the comparative of the other. We agree that ‘better’ is the comparative of ‘good’. So I don’t understand what is left that is supposed to explain why we use etymologically unrelated words.
Let me reiterate that it does seem to me to be something that needs an explanation. (And furthermore the same phenomenon occurs in other languages, so it isn’t just an accident of the hodgepodge of English; and furthermore we also have a special, etymologically unrelated comparative for ‘bad’.) It’s just that I don’t see what you think the explanation is.

Fifth, you seem to be saying betterness comes in degrees and that you can explain this by appealing to values which come in degrees. If we disagree (I think) then something can be a value on your view when it is not good. Otherwise betterness will turn out to be analyzed in terms of goodness after all, or does that not seem right to you?

First: I wasn’t saying that, no. I do think betterness comes in degrees, and I do think values come in degrees, but, like Campbell?, I think neither of these facts explains the other, but rather they are explained together by some other facts.
Second: I don’t know what you mean by “something can be a value on your view when it is not good.” Value plays the role that height plays in the account of being tall. Can something be a height when it is not tall? Heights are things like two meters and five feet eleven inches, and they are not tall. So the things that can be values are things like one hundred and eleven utiles. And that isn’t good. Values aren’t good, and heights aren’t tall.

119. Second Campbell’s second recent post. It seems worth leaving open, to me, whether the better than relation can be given a numerical representation. For example, some discussions of incommensurability of value seem to presuppose that there have to be incommensurable numbers that represent the degrees of goodness of each thing. But that seems silly and over-committing to me. The simplest way of understanding such cases is as ones in which the better than ordering is incomplete.
This is an independent reason why it’s philosophically important to get the priority of good and better sorted out.
I also appeal to it for another reason, in response to an idea of Doug’s, in my article in Ethics that should be coming out any day, now. Doug, along with Michael Smith and Tom Hurka and others, wants to have a buck-passing style account of agent-relative value. But if good-relative-to needs to be analyzed in terms of better-than-relative-to, then the buck-passing account must be of the latter. I argue in the paper that if you give buck-passing accounts of both better than and of better-than-relative-to, then you either get the wrong results about better than in order to be able to accommodate constraints, or else you get the wrong results about better-than-relative-to in order to be able to explain them by appeal to agent-relative value.
This is just to tie the question back to why it was supposed to be interesting.

120. Christian says:

Campbell:
Thanks, you always have interesting objections. Here’s my response. Unlike you, I think there is both a minimum degree of goodness which is infinitesemal and a maximum which is infinite. But I don’t know if ‘infinity’ and ‘infinitesimal’ actually pick out a quantity and so maybe the answer is different. I don’t see any need to appeal to a ‘better than’ relation to explain degree talk. I think pleasure is good, it comes in degrees, and we can explain the degree to which a pleasure is good in terms of, perhaps, a measure of the intensity and duration of the pleasure itself. If this is right, then ‘is a good F to degree n’ will not be semantically basic and I’m now starting to think that’s not so bad. The property expressed by ‘is a good F to degree n’ will remain intrinsic if duration and intensity are intrinsic and ‘is a good F’ will remain intrinsic regardless, even if duration turns out extrinsic. So thanks for bringing that to my attention (So I accept the third possibility and say we are wrong if we say something can be good to a lesser degree that an infinitesimal quantity).
Jamie: On the one hand you say that “Comparatives and the gradables of which they are comparatives always express different concepts” but then I thought the original proposal was that ‘is good’ expresses the same concept as ‘is better than’. Hence, comparatives do not express different concepts from the gradables for which they are comparatives. The proposal as I understood it involved analyzing gradables in terms of their comparatives.
As to the point about why we don’t use ‘gooder’ instead of better, I’m just going to leave that alone. I am just not surprised if ‘is tall’ expresses an intimately related concept to ‘is taller than’ since they share a word, but I am when it comes to ‘is good’ and ‘is better than’. I have no theory whatsoever.
As to whether ‘better than’ comes in degrees, you say yes, I say, strictly speaking, I doubt it. It does not make sense to say x is better than y to degree n. I know we say things like x is five times better than y, but I think that is true because x is better than y and x has five times as much of some feature than y has. But that in no way makes ‘better than’ gradable. That makes the feature in virtue of which one thing is better than another gradable. Honestly, I’m not sure I really can understand the idea that ‘better than’ comes in degrees. What would that be like?
You say utiles, and 111 utiles at that!, are not good. We must be talking past one another. If utiles are measures of pleasure experiences, then I take pleasure experiences to be paradigms of good things. So I deny that utiles are not good. And yes, heights are not tall, things that have heights are tall. But this is different from pleasure experiences, I think they are good. Anyway, I don’t know what you mean by ‘value’. What does value measure, if it is like height? I would have thought goodness. But that was the point I raised earlier that you denied, where I suggested analyzing value in terms of goodness leads the view into a circle.

121. Christian
You need to read what others write more carefully.
You say:

I thought the original proposal was that ‘is good’ expresses the same concept as ‘is better than’. … The proposal as I understood it involved analyzing gradables in terms of their comparatives.

Look, it’s one thing to say X can be analysed in terms of Y; it’s another to say X is Y. No one has proposed that “‘is good’ expresses the same concept as ‘is better than'” (that would be a very silly view!), though some have proposed that the concept expressed by the former can be analysed in terms of the concept expressed by the latter. Mark has suggested, in particular, that “is good” expresses the concept of being better than some contextually salient standard. Obviously, this is not the concept expressed by “is better than”.
Is that clear enough?

122. Jamie says:

Christian,
Like Campbell, I think it’s obvious that nobody in this discussion has suggested that t ‘is good’ expresses the same concept as ‘is better than’.

It does not make sense to say x is better than y to degree n.

Yes it does. When someone asks “How much better?”, the only satisfactory answer will give the degrees by which it is better. I am taller than you, by two inches. I am better than you at basketball, by 6.7 BVU/game. (BGU are basketball value units.)

You say utiles, and 111 utiles at that!, are not good. We must be talking past one another. If utiles are measures of pleasure experiences, then I take pleasure experiences to be paradigms of good things. So I deny that utiles are not good.

This again seems to be a joke. Try this:
If inches are measures of power forwards, then I take power forwards to be paradigms of tall things. So I deny that inches are not tall.

And yes, heights are not tall, things that have heights are tall. But this is different from pleasure experiences, I think they are good.

Pleasure experiences are good. Utiles, though, are not pleasure experiences. As you say yourself, they are measures of (the goodness of) pleasure experiences. They, like inches, are not the things of which they are the measure. Things that have heights are tall; things that have value are good. The things measured in inches are tall; the things measured in utiles are good; but the inches themselves aren’t tall nor the utiles good. The analogy is perfect.

Anyway, I don’t know what you mean by ‘value’. What does value measure, if it is like height? I would have thought goodness. But that was the point I raised earlier that you denied, where I suggested analyzing value in terms of goodness leads the view into a circle.

Value, indeed, measures goodness. I certainly didn’t deny that. You must have misread something I wrote. I thought I made it very clear by writing: values: good :: heights: tall.

123. Christian says:

Hi Campbell:
Thanks for the clarification. When I asked whether Jamie meant to be analyzing the concept expressed by ‘is good’ in terms of that expressed by ‘is better than’ I intended to ask whether he meant to be analyzing ‘is good’ in terms of ‘is better than some thing, or group of things’ where the relevant things are determined by the context. Since I discussed that this was the view I thought was wrong, earlier in the thread, because it makes goodness extrinsic, I left out the ‘some thing, or group of things’. I attempted brevity in hopes for a charitable reading.
Now, you say “Look, it’s one thing to say X can be analysed in terms of Y; it’s another to say X is Y.” You may be right. I haven’t yet heard an argument for this claim, nor do I find it particularly self-evident and that’s why I didn’t assume it. If ‘is good’ expresses the concept of ‘being better than some (or most of some) things’ determined by the context, then I wonder why the concept expressed by ‘is good’ is not that very concept, and hence, identical to it. I’ve always of thought of analysis as an identity relation. Perhaps you have a view of conceptual analysis that is different, one that makes the claim that: if a concept x is analyzed completely in terms of a concept y, then x is not identical to y. Whether that view is correct I will not prejudge. But I do hope that was clear.
Hi Jamie:
You said “When someone asks “How much better?”, the only satisfactory answer will give the degrees by which it is better. I am taller than you, by two inches. I am better than you at basketball, by 6.7 BVU/game.”
I too hope it is clear that I do “not” deny that we ask and answer questions like the ones above. We correctly say things like Tim is much taller than Tony, Tina is five times as rich as Tonya, Tiny is twice as kind as Terrance, etc. I think these questions and their respective answers make perfect sense, and at first blush, it may even seem as though the sensibility of these questions and their answers entail that, for example, the ‘y is better than x’ relation comes in degrees.
But I do not think the truth-conditions for these answers really suggest that the relation of ‘x is better than y” itself, or if you prefer, the relational property of x of “being better than y” itself comes in degrees. I don’t think relations or relational properties, in general, come in degrees.
Quanitites come in degrees and relations are not quantities, and yet, heights, levels of well-being or pleasure come in degrees. Now, I’m not certain, but “perhaps” the reason these quantities can come in degree is the fact that we can order them into greater than and less than relations. So we need a fixed relation ‘x is greater than y’ to explain the degrees of height, for example, not a relation itself that comes in degrees or else the explanation will be circular. So, I think ‘x is better than y’ is true when x and y share some property that comes in degrees, like goodness, whose degrees itself may be explained in terms of the degrees of pleasure in virtue of which x and y are good. It could be true that ‘x is five times better than y’ when, for example, x has 1 unit of pleasure and y has five units of pleasure. But I say that all of this does not imply that the ‘better than’ relation comes in degrees itself.
You said “This again seems to be a joke.” No, it wasn’t, it was just a mistake. You’re right, utiles are not good if they measure pleasure, just like inches are not tall. That was only a slip.
If you think values can measure goodness then that’s great. So do I and we don’t disagree here. I can’t put my finger on it, but something fishy seems to be going on. You want to explain goodness in terms of a relational property of being better than some class of things, to explain the degrees of this relation property in terms of values which come in degrees, and these values can take goodness as an object. Question: Is this goodness intrinsic? Does it come in degrees?
Finally, I’ve been playing defensive here for awhile and that’s okay, but what do you all think about the claim that, for example, there could be a single pleasure experience in the universe. If there could, and if pleasure is good, does this possibility show that goodness, of at least one variety, is intrinsic? That’s why I objected in the first place. It seems intuitive to me that goodness is an intrinsic property of things which, for me, casts doubt on accounts of goodness that make it extrinsic (relating it to standards or other objects) like the approach suggested above does.

124. Christian says:

I think I have a simple counterexample to any relational account of goodness.
It is true that if x is good, then x is as good as itself (x is as good as x).
That’s necessary, I think. But no relational account can make sense of the truth that something can be as good as itself. The ‘as good as’ relation is about goodness, gradable and reflexive, but the ‘x is better than y’ relation is irreflexive. It cannot be that ‘x is better than x’. So the relational account cannot work.

125. Jamie says:

Christian, that again sounds like a joke. Were you serious?
Do you think that ‘as tall as’ can be defined in terms of ‘taller than’? Is the problem especially about ‘good’ and ‘better’, or were you thinking it was general?
It would be a fun assignment for students to define ‘as F as’ using ‘F-er than’. There may be some pitfalls in the case of ‘good’ and ‘better’. I think I’ll use that in some class.

126. Christian – Your ‘counterexample’ is a nonsequitur. No one has said that ‘as good as’ expresses the same relation as ‘better than’, any more than they said, as you were alleging earlier, that ‘good’ expresses the same relation as ‘better than’.
You’ll also notice, if you inspect more carefully, that your same argument works for ‘as tall as’ and ‘taller than’, so it doesn’t help you to maintain your dubious claim that the relationship between ‘good’ and ‘better’ is different than that between ‘tall’ and ‘taller’.
I say ‘dubious’ because you know as well as I do what answer you would be expected to give on an analogy question on an IQ test that goes like ‘tall:taller::good:______’.
Moreover, there is are some perfectly familiar ways of defining ‘as good as’ in terms of ‘better than’. According to one, X is as good as Y just in case Y is not better than X (perhaps with a further condition that X and Y be the kinds of thing such that it makes sense to ask which is better). A second is perhaps more sensitive to the possibility of incommensurable values (possibly one of Jamie’s pitfalls), and says that X is as good as Y just in case X is better than everything Y is better than (though we have to be careful about the domain of the quantifier in order for this to get the right results in sparsely populated worlds – perhaps another pitfall, but plausibly no different than for ‘taller’).
The point is: both of these are analyses of ‘as good as’ in terms of ‘better than’; neither identifies these two relations; and both respect the datum that ‘as good as’ is reflexive and ‘better than’ is irreflexive.
These are perfectly ordinary phenomena about how reflexive orderings are related to their irreflexive counterparts – the relationship, in general, between > and >/=. None of that settles which ordering is primitive. And the question certainly doesn’t settle whether ‘good’ is analyzed in terms of ‘better’.

127. Christian says:

Oh my, I can’t seem to communicate. I’ll let it go. For the record though I know that ‘tall:taller’ as ‘good:better’, nor did I ever doubt that fact. Jamie, I’m not making jokes. And I know the claim is not that ‘is good’ expresses a concept analyzable in terms of ‘is better than’ nor did ever think anybody thought that. The relevant concept has been either ‘x is better than y’ where y is distinct from x, i.e. a comparison class, or ‘being better than y’ where y is a distinct object from x, a comparison class.
Mark, I don’t think the first analysis above will not work for ‘is as good as’ since x is as good as x does not mean ‘x is not better than x’. The second claim is trivially true since the ‘better than x’ relation cannot be borne to x. However, I like the second analysis and cannot answer it without begging questions and so I’ll have to think about it.
Oh, and nobody responded to what I think is the crucial point, that there can be lonely states of affairs that are good, thus making goodness, whatever it is, intrinsic. Thanks for all the feedback though, you guys are sharp.

128. Jamie says:

1. That’s not a sensible criterion for intrinsicness, since being alone is not intrinsic. (David Lewis pointed this out a long time ago.)
2. There can be lonely tall things; none of us thinks this refutes the view that tall is analyzed in terms of taller than.
3. I am not really convinced that the comparative analysis of gradables is correct, by the way. I am sure that gradable adjectives are typically context-dependent, but I’m not at all sure about the order of explanatory priority. (For instance, it might be that x is taller than y means that x is tall in every context in which y is tall, but not vice versa.)

129. Christian says:

You’re right about ‘being alone’. That’s not intrinsic and so we can’t analyze intrinsicness as a property something would have in a world in which it was alone. But then again, I didn’t think this is how we should analyze intrinsicness, I don’t know how to analyze intrinsicness. That’s tough.
My claim is much, much weaker. It’s that something could be good, even if there were nothing it was better than. I use ‘intrinsic’ as a placeholder for this claim and my intuitions concern it, not the application of ‘intrinsic’ to a particular property. But whatever, I’m surprised you think that something could be tall if it were the only thing in its world. I actually think that’s false! I think ‘tall’ is relational! Now I don’t have a clue as to what would refute the claim that ‘tall’ is analyzed in terms of ‘taller than’ on your view?
I mean, take Sider’s discussion of maximality as a case study. He thinks many ordinary predicates express maximal properties. These are properties that are instantiated by objects, but not large parts of them. Their instantiation depends upon whether an object is a part of an object that instantiates it. So whether something is a house, for example, depends upon whether it is a proper part of something that is a house, if it is, it is not a house. The point is just that it is intuitions about the dependence on outside objects (surrounding houses) that motivates the claim that such properties are extrinsic. That’s the intuition I’m appealing to, that whether something is good does not depend upon other objects outside of it, or standards outside of it, or the context…I think that is all I need to do, and I can leave the debate regarding ‘intrinsicness’ alone.

130. Jamie says:

Christian,

But whatever, I’m surprised you think that something could be tall if it were the only thing in its world.

My intuition is that this is false:
Shaq would stop being tall if all the other people in the world disappeared.
But I’m quite sure ‘tall’ is context relative. I just think the context is determined in a complicated way, not simply by whatever world or neighborhood the subject lives in. Now, according to the comparatives first view, the context delivers a standard, and the object counts as ‘tall’ just in case it is taller than the standard.
Similarly, this strikes me as false: Shaq would stop being a good basketball player if all the other basketball players in the world disappeared. But I’m sure ‘good’ (in that attribute use) is context sensitive. The context (according to the better first view) delivers a standard, and Shaq counts as ‘good’ iff he’s better than the standard.

131. Christian says:

Hm. “Shaq would stop being tall if all the other people in the world disappeared” seems true to me. We need to take a vote. But ‘tall’ also seems to me to be context relative, determined in a complex way.
I am not going to be pedantic here, but…”According to the comparatives first view, the context delivers a standard, and the object counts as ‘tall’ just in case it is taller than the standard.” That can’t be right, literally. Standards aren’t tall, they are abstract. Now, I know you don’t mean to say that people are taller than a standard, but then it just is not clear to me what the metaphysics are here. It has to be other objects that an object is taller than, right?
I mean if something is tall in a context just in case it is, say, 6 feet tall, then being tall is intrinsic is spatial metrics are intrinsic. The ‘taller than’ relation doesn’t creept in at all.
The same goes for ‘good’ and what you say about it. Things are not better than standards since standards are not good.

132. Christian: are you taller than six feet, or not?

133. Christian says:

Mark: I’m 6′ 1″. Why the personal questions?
But seriously, the question is how to understand the claim that someone is taller than six feet. For example, does its truth conditions require other objects?

134. Jamie Dreier says:

Christian,
Yes, that’s complicated. But why does it matter? Plainly one can be taller than six feet, so even if that is the sort of thing that a standard is, there is no problem here.
Is there supposed to be a problem with the idea that ‘good’ and ‘tall’ are context sensitive in the way I suggested? If so, does it have something to do with the proper analysis of x is taller than six feet?

135. Christian says:

I agree that one can be taller than six feet, in some sense, but I emphasize that we need to uncover why. Strictly, it is false that someone is taller than six feet. ‘Six feet’ is a measure of something, and as you pointed out yourself, it makes no strict sense to say that inches are tall. Likewise, it makes no strict sense to say something is taller than six inches, and likewise, taller than six feet. What does make sense to say is that someone is six feet, or something is six feet, and something else is six-foot-one and that six-foot-one measures a quantity greater than six foot, and that these facts make true the claim that someone can be taller than six feet. But these futher claims make reference to another object, making taller than extrinsic. Now I ask, how does one carry out the same project for ‘good’ and ‘better than’? Since we are leaning on an analogy with ‘tall’ with standards that refer to heights, what plays the analogous role of heights wrt ‘better than’ when we analyze its context sensitivity?
So the answer to your last question is yes. If the proper analysis of “x is better than (I don’t know what is supposed to go here that is analogous to ‘six feet’)” makes the claim depend for its truth on a distinct object from x, then I deny it. I haven’t seen a plausible account that does not do this, not yet. I haven’t even seen an account yet. But I do not, I might add, deny that ‘tall’ is, in some sense, context-sensitive. That has to be right. I am trying to place constraints on how one is to analyze this context sensitivity to that it turns out true that goodness is intrinsic.

136. Jamie says:

Christian,
It’s pretty clear that we’ve now reached the stage where we’re just repeating ourselves; anyway, I have. So this will be my last entry.

I agree that one can be taller than six feet, in some sense, but I emphasize that we need to uncover why. Strictly, it is false that someone is taller than six feet. ‘Six feet’ is a measure of something, and as you pointed out yourself, it makes no strict sense to say that inches are tall. Likewise, it makes no strict sense to say something is taller than six inches, and likewise, taller than six feet. What does make sense to say is that someone is six feet, or something is six feet, and something else is six-foot-one and that six-foot-one measures a quantity greater than six foot, and that these facts make true the claim that someone can be taller than six feet. But these futher claims make reference to another object, making taller than extrinsic.

‘Taller than’ is a relation. I don’t know what you mean by calling it extrinsic. But we’ve been through this before, so probably there’s no point in pursuing it.
It is pretty clear to me that being taller than 6’1″ is intrinsic to an object, but this may be just a matter of how we’re using the words ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’.

Now I ask, how does one carry out the same project for ‘good’ and ‘better than’? Since we are leaning on an analogy with ‘tall’ with standards that refer to heights, what plays the analogous role of heights wrt ‘better than’ when we analyze its context sensitivity?

values: good :: heights: tall
See February 08, 2007 at 08:03 PM, and then also February 10, 2007 at 02:39 PM.

So the answer to your last question is yes. If the proper analysis of “x is better than (I don’t know what is supposed to go here that is analogous to ‘six feet’)” makes the claim depend for its truth on a distinct object from x, then I deny it. I haven’t seen a plausible account that does not do this, not yet. I haven’t even seen an account yet. But I do not, I might add, deny that ‘tall’ is, in some sense, context-sensitive. That has to be right. I am trying to place constraints on how one is to analyze this context sensitivity to that it turns out true that goodness is intrinsic.

Height is intrinsic. But ‘tall’ is context sensitive. One way of analyzing the sensitivity is by giving the analysis in terms of ‘taller than’.

137. Christian says:

Well Jamie I don’t know if we broke the record with this posting, but it had to be pretty close. I’ll make this my last posting too.
You said we keep repeating ourselves, but we’re not only doing that. In fact, you appear to be converging on/with my main point. In your last posting you said:
“It is pretty clear to me that being taller than 6’1″ is intrinsic to an object,” and also “Height is intrinsic.”
From this quote I infer that you think ‘six-foot-one’ is a height, it is intrinsic to an object; and, supposing this object is six-foot-two, this object is taller than something intrinsic to it. And look at what you wrote earlier.
You said: “As you say yourself, they [utiles] are measures of (the goodness of) pleasure experiences. They, like inches, are not the things of which they are the measure. Things that have heights are tall; things that have value are good. The things measured in inches are tall; the things measured in utiles are good; but the inches themselves aren’t tall nor the utiles good.”
And yet earlier you said: “Value plays the role that height plays in the account of being tall. Can something be a height when it is not tall? Heights are things like two meters and five feet eleven inches, and they are not tall. So the things that can be values are things like one hundred and eleven utiles. And that isn’t good. Values aren’t good, and heights aren’t tall.”
In these two postings you make it clear that you do not think heights are tall, it is things measured by heights like “five-feet-eleven” that are tall. You are then stuck accepting an untenable pair of claims:
(A) Something can be taller than a height. For example, something can be taller than six-foot-one.
(B) Heights are not tall. For example, five-feet-eleven is not tall.
You are committed to (A) and (B) which committs you to saying something like this: Someone can be taller than something which couldn’t be tall. This is my first objection. One should not hold (A) and (B).
Here is my second objection: It makes no sense to say something is taller than one of its intrinsic properties as you say above. Likewise, and here is the upshot, it makes no sense to say that something is better than one of it’s intrinsic properties. Hence, the mundane claim that things can be tall for a midget but not tall for a basketball player, or good for an American but not for a Monk, if upon analysis yield results like that which follows from your proposal for ‘tall’, then those accounts are likewise unacceptable.
Thanks for the conversation Jamie, Mark and Campbell.