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Enkratic Reasoning and Incommensurability of Reasons

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  1. Raz, Joseph, “Incommensurability and Agency”, in Chang, Ruth (Ed.), Incommensurability, Incomparability, and Practical Reason (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 111.

  2. Raz is actually concerned with the incommensurability of “value”, but he also says that the fact that an option has a certain value is the paradigmatic reason for action. Raz therefore seems equally committed to the incommensurability of reasons. Ibid., 125.

  3. Ruth Chang interprets Raz’s claims about incommensurability to represent what she calls “incomparability”. Chang, Ruth, “Introduction”, in Chang, Ruth (Ed.), Incommensurability, Incomparability, and Practical Reason, 10. However, I think that Raz’s remark that “incommensurability is the absence of a common measure” is important, as it may be taken to mean that incommensurability should rather be interpreted as what Chang calls “non-comparability”. With non-comparability, reasons fail to compare for formal reasons, because of an absence of a covering value. At least this seems to be the correct way to understand the other proponents of incommensurability that I discuss here, namely Sidgwick and Copp.

  4. Broome, John, Rationality Through Reasoning (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), 23.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Copp, David, “Toward a Pluralist and Teleological Theory of Normativity”, Philosophical Issues 19 (2009): 21–37.

  7. Normative pluralism is often dismissed due to what is known as the argument from nominal-notable comparisons. I have argued elsewhere that this is in fact not a strong objection against the position. Sagdahl, Mathias Slåttholm, “The Argument from Nominal-Notable Comparisons”, The Journal of Ethics 18: 405–425. The other major objection to normative pluralism concerns its purported view of practical reasoning, which is the issue I address here.

  8. Copp, David, “The Ring of Gyges: Overridingness and the Unity of Reason”, in David Copp (Ed.), Morality in a Natural World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 285.

  9. Frankena, William, “Sidgwick and the History of Ethical Dualism”, in Bart Schultz (Ed.), Essays on Henry Sidgwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 194.

  10. Sidgwick, Henry, The Methods of Ethics (third edition), (Milton Keynes: Lightening Source, 2009), 401–402.

  11. Parfit, On What Matters vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 132–133.

  12. Broome, Rationality through Reasoning, 29.

  13. Interestingly, Copp is only interested in denying that there is ever an overall verdict as to what action is required simpliciter, in situations where morality and self-interest conflicts. He is consistently silent on the status of the plain ought when morality and self-interest do not conflict. The current proposal would allow him to say that while we cannot make a verdict about what action is required simpliciter in the absence of conflict, we can make a verdict about what action one ought to do all things considered.

  14. By ‘relevant’, I mean a standpoint that is genuinely normative and that takes the choice situation under its domain of adjudication. For example, the ‘aesthetic’ standpoint, if there is any, is arguably only evaluative rather than normative, and does not tell us what we ought to do. There are interesting questions regarding the nature and identification of normative standpoints, but I cannot go into them here.

  15. The truth of this claim depends on the supposition that we can avoid a hyperinflation of normative standpoints and the number of normative oughts. The more oughts in play, the less agreement will there tend to be. Evan Tiffany’s version of normative pluralism clearly involves such a hyperinflation. Tiffany, Evan, “Deflationary Normative Pluralism”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy Vol. 37 (2007) Supplement [vol. 33]: 231–262.

  16. Broome, Rationality Through Reasoning, 152.

  17. Ibid., 26 and 28.

  18. Although I have treated the original and the Weak Enkratic requirement as constituting two different requirements of rationality governing two different normative beliefs, an alternative is to think that there is only one enkratic requirement which is neutral with respect to how it represents an ought all things considered belief. On that construal, my proposal instead specifies another way in which that neutral requirement could apply to you. I don’t think anything of importance hangs on how these requirements are to be individuated.

  19. This emphasis on the will is what seems to have led Chang into labeling Raz’s view as quasi-existentialist. See Chang, “Introduction”, footnote 20, 257.

  20. Richard Holton, Willing, Wanting, Waiting (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), x and 68.

  21. Ibid., 60.

  22. Chang thinks that it is a problem if the difference between equality and incomparability is not “practically marked in some way”. Chang, “Are Hard Choices Cases of Incomparability?”, Philosophical Issues 22 (2012): 106–126, 122. I am not sure why she thinks it would be a problem, but the features I point to can in any case be understood as reflecting that difference.

  23. Holton, Willing, Wanting, Waiting, 129–133.

  24. Chang, “Are Hard Choices Cases of Incomparability?”, 114.

  25. Ibid., 115.

  26. Regan, Donald, “Value, Comparability, and Choice”, in Ruth Chang (Ed.), Incommensurability, Incomparability, and Practical Reason, 144.

  27. Chang, “Are Hard Choices cases of Incomparability?”, 117. In Chang’s defence, it should be said that she thinks the classical conception of human agency addresses this worry, but she also rejects this conception of human agency.

  28. For the distinction between choosing and picking, see Edna Ullmann-Margalit and Sidney Morgenbesser, “Picking and Choosing”, in Social Research 44 (1977): 757–785. With respect to the technical definitions given by the authors, choice between incomparables or incommensurables cannot fall under either category, since the categories are simply defined as choice under more reason or preference to select one option, and choice under equal reason or preference to select either option, respectively.

  29. For choice as an act, see Holton, Willing, Wanting, Waiting, 54.

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Correspondence to Mathias Slåttholm Sagdahl.

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I would like to give my thanks to Sarah Stroud, Herlinde Pauer-Studer and Kjell Eyvind Johansen for making me think more deeply on this topic.

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Sagdahl, M.S. Enkratic Reasoning and Incommensurability of Reasons. J Value Inquiry 50, 111–127 (2016).

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  • Practical Reasoning
  • Human Agency
  • Classical Conception
  • Normative Belief
  • Normative Reason