It is very plausible, and rarely disputed except by way of minor qualification (e.g., adding a knowledge condition), that:
- If one has a reason to pursue an end e, and m is a means to e, then one has a reason to pursue m.
Maybe (1) as it stands is false. After all, there is reason to eliminate educationally useless courses at a university. One means to doing this is to shut down the university. But does that mean that one has even a prima facie reason to shut down a university just because there are some educationally useless courses there? Speaking more generally, suppose there are two incompatible means, m1 and m2, each of which is a means to e. It is plausible that this gives me a reason for the disjunctive pursuit of m1 or m2, but why should it give me a reason for pursuing m1?
I think (1) can still be held up in the light of the above criticisms, but perhaps what these criticism push one to is accepting:
- If one has a reason to pursue an end e, and there are some means to e, then one has reason to pursue at least one of the means to e.
Oddly enough, I think (2) can still be questioned. Suppose you are capable of achieving e directly, in addition to an indirect way. For instance, let's say that e is having one's arm be raised. Well, one can do this directly—one just raises one's arm.[note 2] But one can also bring it about that one's arm is raised by building a Rube Goldberg contraption that raises one's arm. Does one's reason to have one's arm be raised give one reason to build the contraption? I think it is rather plausible that it does not. And if not, then (2) is problematic in the same way that (1) was. Perhaps a clearer way to see this is to imagine a being like God who can act directly.
But something of (2) can survive. Let us say that m is a necessary means to e provided that e cannot be achieved but through m. The "cannot" can have different amounts of modal force, but I am not going to worry about this. Then:
- If m is a necessary means to e, and one has reason to pursue e, then one has reason to pursue m.
But whether what we accept is (1), (2) or (3), the question of why it is true remains. Here is one approach to a solution. Sometimes one has reason to pursue something solely by a particular means. Thus, ideals of sportsmanship give the Olympic runner reason to win by means of training and hard work, and give her no reason to win by means of drugs, disabling opponents, vel caetera, since a victory achieved by such means would not be a victory that satisfies the reasons of sportsmanship. (On the other hand, reasons of financial gain give one reason to win by any means possible that does not preclude the financial gain.) If this is right, then sometimes a reason to pursue an end includes in itself a specification of the appropriate means.
But we can simplify this. Rather than talking of the reason as including a specification of the ends, we can include the means in the end. Sportsmanship thus gives one reason to achieve victory by means of training and hard work.
Now what if we say that the means is always included in the end? Then some ends are of the form victory by any means or directly, others are of the form victory by any means, or directly, as long as this is compatible with one's survival, and so on. And then, I think, the mystery about why reason to pursue the end gives a reason to pursue the means is somewhat dispelled. If the end one has reason to pursue always carries a specification of how that end is to be achieved, then it seems plausible that doing anything that falls under that specification is doing something one has reason to do, or at least is doing something that satisfies a reason one has.