Monday, November 14, 2022

Reducing goods to reasons?

In my previous post I cast doubt on reducing moral reasons to goods.

What about the other direction? Can we reduce goods to reasons?

The simplest story would be that goods reduce to reasons to promote them.

But there seem to be goods that give no one a reason to promote them. Consider the good fact that there exist (in the eternalist sense: existed, exist now, will exist, or exist timelessly) agents. No agent can promote the fact that there exist agents: that good fact is part of the agent’s thrownness, to put it in Heideggerese.

Maybe, though, this isn’t quite right. If Alice is an agent, then Alice’s existence is a good, but the fact that some agent or other exists isn’t a good as such. I’m not sure. It seems like a world with agents is better for the existence of agency, and not just better for the particular agents it has. Adding another agent to the world seems a lesser value contribution than just ensuring that there is agency at all. But I could be wrong about that.

Another family of goods, though, are necessary goods. That God exists is good, but it is necessarily true. That various mathematical theorems are beautiful is necessarily true. Yet no one has reason to promote a necessary truth.

But perhaps we could have a subtler story on which goods reduce not just to reasons to promote them, but to reasons to “stand for them” (taken as the opposite of “standing against them”), where promotion is one way of “standing for” a good, but there are others, such as celebration. It does not make sense to promote the existence of God, the existence of agents, or the Pythagorean theorem, but celebrating these goods makes sense.

However, while it might be the case that something is good just in case an agent should “stand for it”, it does not seem right to think that it is good to the extent that an agent should “stand for it”. For the degree to which an agent should stand for a good is determined not just by the magnitude of the good, but the agent’s relationship to the good. I should celebrate my children’s accomplishments more than strangers’.

Perhaps, though, we can modify the story in terms of goods-for-x, and say that G is good-for-x to the extent that x should stand for G. But that doesn’t seem right, either. I should stand for justice for all, and not merely to the degree that justice-for-all is good-for-me. Moreover, there goods that are good for non-agents, while a non-agent does not have a reason to do anything.

I love reductions. But alas it looks to me like reasons and goods are not reducible in either direction.

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