The Reasons Aggregation Theorem

Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 12:127-148 (2022)
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Often, when one faces a choice between alternative actions, there are reasons both for and against each alternative. On one way of understanding these words, what one “ought to do all things considered (ATC)” is determined by the totality of these reasons. So, these reasons can somehow be “combined” or “aggregated” to yield an ATC verdict on these alternatives. First, various assumptions about this sort of aggregation of reasons are articulated. Then it is shown that these assumptions allow for the proof of a “Reasons Aggregation Theorem” – parallel to John Harsanyi’s 1955 “Social Aggregation Theorem”. All reasons for action are grounded in reason-providing values; and, for every such reason-providing value, there is in principle a way of measuring how strongly this value counts against each alternative. The theorem tells us that the appropriate measure of how much reason ATC there is against each alternative is simply a weighted sum of the strengths with which these values count against that alternative; the agent ought not ATC to perform an action iff there is ATC more reason against it than against some available alternative.

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Ralph Wedgwood
University of Southern California


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