I ask you to X. You now have a reason to X. My request gave you a reason. How? One unpopular theory is the epistemic account, according to which requests do not create any new reasons but instead simply reveal information. For instance, my request that you X reveals that I desire that you X, and my desire gives you a reason to X. Peter Schaber has recently attacked both the epistemic account and other theories of the reason-giving force of requests. Schaber defends a new theory of the reason-giving force of requests according to which request give reasons because it is valuable for requesters and requestees that requests have this power. In this paper I argue that Schaber's attack on the epistemic account fails, and that his own theory ought to be rejected because it faces compelling objections.
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Aside from me, the only defenders of the epistemic account I am aware of are Laskowski and Silver, who very briefly defend it (Laskowski and Silver 2021).
For an example of perfunctory dismissal see (Cupit 1994, 449).
Schaber's account is similar to the one Monti briefly defends (Monti 2021, 3752–53).
For defenses see (Laskowski and Silver 2021; Weltman Forthcoming; n.d. manuscript a.; n.d. manuscript b).
What exactly is normatively relevant depends on where reasons come from, a question about which I am neutral. If for instance desires are irrelevant to our reasons but instead we have reasons based on what is objectively good regardless of our desires, then a request can reveal information about what is good, or about how to achieve what is good.
Allegedly in Ik society, people found the reciprocity norm so onerous that they went out of their way to avoid situations where they might come to owe someone a favor (Bicchieri 2005, 9). People in a situation like this would say it is terrible that requests can give rise to the sorts of relations Schaber discusses.
For an additional objection based on whether we must intend to make a normative difference with our requests, see (Weltman Forthcoming). For an additional objection based on whether request normativity depends on relationships, see (Weltman n.d. manuscript a.).
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I thank two referees for this journal, whose feedback greatly improved the paper.
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Weltman, D. How Requests Give Reasons: The Epistemic Account versus Schaber's Value Account. Ethic Theory Moral Prac (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-022-10338-0