Skip to main content

Pain for Objectivists: The Case of Matters of Mere Taste


Can we adequately account for our reasons of mere taste without holding that our desires ground such reasons? Recently, Scanlon and Parfit have argued that we can, pointing to pleasure and pain as the grounds of such reasons. In this paper I take issue with each of their accounts. I conclude that we do not yet have a plausible rival to a desire-based understanding of the grounds of such reasons.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Brandt, R., A Theory of the Good and the Right. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chang, R., Can Desires Provide Reasons for Action?, in R. J., Wallace, P., Pettit, S., Scheffler and M. Smith, (eds.), Reason and Value. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sobel, D. and Copp, D., Against Direction of Fit Accounts of Belief and Desire, Analysis 61(1) (January 2001), pp. 44–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Copp, D. and Sobel, D., Desires, Motives, and Reasons: Scanlon's Rationalistic Moral Psychology, Social Theory and Practice 28(2) (April 2002), pp. 243–276.

    Google Scholar 

  • Copp, D. and Sobel, D., Morality and Virtue, Ethics. April 2004, pp. 514–554.

  • Darwall, S., Because I Want It, Social Philosophy and Policy 18(2) (Summer, 2001), pp. 129–153.

    Google Scholar 

  • Darwall, S., Impartial Reason. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hare, R. M., Moral Thinking. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.

    Google Scholar 

  • Foot, P., Natural Goodness. Oxford University Press, 2001.

  • Gauthier, D., Morals By Agreement. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

    Google Scholar 

  • Griffin, J., Well-Being. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harsanyi, J., Morality and the Theory of Rational Behavior, in Sen and Williams (eds.), Utilitarianism and Beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hursthouse, R., On Virtue Ethics. Oxford University Press, 1999.

  • Lewis, D., Dispositional Theories of Value, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Suppl. Vol. 63 (1989).

  • McDowell, J., Might There Be External Reasons?, in Altham and Harrison (eds.), World, Mind, and Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

  • Mill, J.S., Utilitarianism. Hackett Publishing, 1979.

  • Quinn, W., Putting Rationality in its Place, in Quinn, Morality and Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    Google Scholar 

  • Parfit, D., Rationality and Reasons, p. 18, inExploring Practical Philosophy, edited by Egonsson, D., Josefsson, J., Petersson, B., and Ronnow-Rasmussen, T., Ashgate Publishing, 2001.

  • Railton, P., Facts and Values, Philosophical Topics 14 (1986).

  • Rawls, J., A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971.

    Google Scholar 

  • Raz, J., Incommensurability and Agency, in hisEngaging Reasons, Oxford University Press, 1999.

  • Scanlon, T., What We Owe to Each Other. Harvard University Press, 1998.

  • Scanlon, T., Replies, Social Theory and Practice, April, 2002.

  • Senor, D. and Fotion, N. (eds.), Hare and Critics. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shaver, R., Sidgwick's False Friends, Ethics 107(2) (1997), pp. 314–320.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sidgwick, H., The Methods of Ethics, 7th edition, Hackett Publishing Co., 1981.

  • Smith, M., The Moral Problem Blackwell, 1994.

  • Sobel, D., Reply to Shaver, BEARS online, 1997.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to David Sobel.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Sobel, D. Pain for Objectivists: The Case of Matters of Mere Taste. Ethic Theory Moral Prac 8, 437–457 (2005).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • practical reason
  • subjectivism
  • Scanlon
  • Parfit
  • tastes