Practical reasons, theoretical reasons, and permissive and prohibitive balancing

Synthese 200 (2):1-23 (2022)
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Philosophers have often noted a contrast between practical and theoretical reasons when it comes to cases involving equally balanced reasons. When there are strong practical reasons for A-ing, and equally strong practical reasons for some incompatible option, B-ing, the agent is permitted to make an arbitrary choice between them, having sufficient reason to A and sufficient reason to B. But when there is strong evidence for P and equally strong evidence for ~ P, one isn’t permitted to simply believe one or the other. Instead, one must withhold belief, neither believing that P nor believing that ~ P. This paper examines what explains this contrast, focusing in particular on a proposal recently developed by Mark Schroeder across several papers. Schroeder aims to explain the contrast by an appeal to non-evidential, epistemic reasons against belief. But, I argue, it’s not clear exactly what those reasons are, nor how those reasons are to be weighed against evidential reasons. Despite these challenges, I argue that there are grounds for optimism that the contrast can be explained within the broad framework Schroeder provides, and I aim to provide resources to meet the aforementioned challenges.

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John Brunero
University of Nebraska, Lincoln


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