The right and the wrong kind of reasons

Philosophy Compass 12 (5):e12412 (2017)
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In a number of recent philosophical debates, it has become common to distinguish between two kinds of normative reasons, often called the right kind of reasons (henceforth: RKR) and the wrong kind of reasons (henceforth: WKR). The distinction was first introduced in discussions of the so-called buck-passing account of value, which aims to analyze value properties in terms of reasons for pro-attitudes and has been argued to face the wrong kind of reasons problem. But nowadays it also gets applied in other philosophical contexts and to reasons for other responses than pro-attitudes, for example in recent debates about evidentialism and pragmatism about reasons for belief. While there seems to be wide agreement that there is a general and uniform distinction that applies to reasons for different responses, there is little agreement about the scope, relevance and nature of this distinction. Our aim in this article is to shed some light on this issue by surveying the RKR/WKR distinction as it has been drawn with respect to different responses, and by examining how it can be understood as a uniform distinction across different contexts. We start by considering reasons for pro-attitudes and emotions in the context of the buck-passing account of value (§1). Subsequently we address the distinction that philosophers have drawn with respect to reasons for other attitudes, such as beliefs and intentions (§2), as well as with respect to reasons for action (§3). We discuss the similarities and differences between the ways in which philosophers have drawn the RKR/WKR distinction in these areas and offer different interpretations of the idea of a general, uniform distinction. The major upshot is that there is at least one interesting way of substantiating a general RKR/WKR distinction with respect to a broad range of attitudes as well as actions. We argue that this has important implications for the proper scope of buck-passing accounts and the status of the wrong kind of reasons problem (§4).

Author Profiles

Jan Gertken
Humboldt-University, Berlin
Benjamin Kiesewetter
Bielefeld University


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