Is there a liberal principle of instrumental transmission?


Some of our reasons for action are grounded in the fact that the action in question is a means to something else we have reason to do. This raises the question as to which principles govern the transmission of reasons from ends to means. In this paper, we discuss the merits and demerits of a liberal transmission principle, which plays a prominent role in the current literature. The principle states that an agent has an instrumental reason to whenever -ing is a means for him to do what he has intrinsic reason to do. We start by discussing the objection that this principle implies counterintuitive reason statements. We argue that attempts to solve this “too many reasons problem” by appealing to pragmatic strategies for debunking intuitions about so-called negative reason existentials are questionable. Subsequently, we discuss three important arguments in favor of Liberal Transmission, and argue that they fail to make a convincing case for this principle. In the course of the discussion, we also provide alternative, less liberal transmission principles. We argue that these alternative principles allow us to accommodate those phenomena that seem to support Liberal Transmission while avoiding its problems.

Author Profiles

Jan Gertken
Humboldt University, Berlin
Benjamin Kiesewetter
Bielefeld University


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