Reasons: Wrong, Right, Normative, Fundamental

Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 15 (1) (2019)
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Reasons fundamentalists maintain that we can analyze all derivative normative properties in terms of normative reasons. These theorists famously encounter the Wrong Kind of Reasons problem, since not all reasons for reactions seem relevant for reasons-based analyses. Some have argued that this problem is a general one for many theorists, and claim that this lightens the burden for reasons fundamentalists. We argue in this paper that the reverse is true: the generality of the problem makes life harder for reasons fundamentalists. We do this in two stages. First, we show that reflection on the generality of the distinction between wrong-kind reasons and right-kind reasons shows that not all right-kind reasons are normative reasons. So, not only do reasons-based analyses require a distinction between right-kind reasons and wrong-kind reasons, they also need a distinction between normative right-kind reasons from nonnormative right-kind reasons. We call this the Right Kind of Reasons Problem. In the second stage of the paper, we argue that reasons fundamentalism places tight constraints on its proper solution: in particular, it forbids one from appealing to anything normative to distinguish normative RKRs from nonnormative RKRs. It hence seems that reasons fundamentalists can only appeal to natural facts to solve the problem, but it is unclear which ones can do the job. So, reflection on the generality of the distinction only multiplies the fundamentalist’s problems. We end by exploring several solutions to these problems, and recommend a form of constitutivism as the best.

Author Profiles

Errol Lord
University of Pennsylvania
Kurt Sylvan
University of Southampton


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