Wrongfulness rewarded?: A normative paradox

Synthese 199 (3-4):6897-6916 (2021)
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In this paper, we raise and discuss a puzzle about the relationships among goods, reasons, and deontic status. Suppose you have it within your power to give someone something they would enjoy. The following claims seem platitudinous: you can use this power to reward whatever kind of option you want, thereby making that option better and generating a reason for that person to perform it; this reason is then weighed alongside and against the other reasons at play; and altogether, the reasons determine the deontic statuses of that person’s options. We show, however, that in a certain class of cases at least one of these apparent platitudes must be false. In particular, we show that in a certain kind of case wrongfulness cannot be rewarded. In some cases, if one tries to reward wrongfulness, something surprising must go awry: either what you attempt to give as a reward would not, in fact, be good, or it would not generate a reason, or it would have a surprising effect on the deontic status of the relevant options. The upshot is that the relationships among goods, reasons, and deontic status are complicated in ways that have not previously been remarked.

Author Profiles

David O'Brien
Harvard University
Ben Schwan
Case Western Reserve University


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