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The Normative, the Practical, and the Deliberatively Indispensable

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  1. This caveat emerges in Enoch’s [16] reply to Lenman [25].

  2. Unless otherwise specified, parenthetical page numbers throughout refer to Enoch [15].

  3. Enoch calls his view ‘robust realism’, claiming that what distinguishes robust realism from other realist theories is its commitment to objective and irreducibly normative truths [15]. He also claims that the deliberative indispensability argument proves metanormative realism, and it takes further steps to get to metaethical realism. For Enoch’s view on how his metaethical arguments relate to his metanormative ones, see (2011: chapter 4).

  4. On the explanatory indispensability argument for mathematical truths, see Colyvan [8]. The analogy between explanatory and deliberative indispensability is not uncontroversial. Leng [24] objects to Enoch’s use of an explicitly normative premise, while Worsnip [53] claims that the central role that the “belief-forming method” of inference to the best explanation plays in explanatory indispensability arguments has no analogue in the deliberative indispensability argument. Cline [7] suggests that explanation has a direct link to ontological commitment that deliberation lacks. For further defense of the analogy, see Enoch [17].

  5. Enoch [15: 75n60] himself cites Nagel (29: 149), Bond [4: 60], Darwall (11: 224), Kolnai [22], and Pettit and Smith [32]. McPherson and Plunkett (2015: 104) also list Korsgaard [23], Dworkin [12], and Scanlon [36].

  6. To my knowledge, little work has been done on the metaphysics of projects. For historical discussion of “projects” in analytic ethics, see Williams (1973: 108–118, and “Persons, Character, and Morality” in 1981), Railton [33], Wolf et al. [52], and Wolf (“The Meanings of Lives” in 2015). On the role of “projects” in existentialist thought, see Crowell [9].

  7. On the relationship between deliberative episodes and the deliberative project, see also Enoch (17: 241).

  8. If deliberating requires a “conclusion” in the form of an intention or normative judgment, someone with the proper dispositions to deliberate who has recently developed those dispositions, who is very short-lived, or who gets “stuck” processing a tremendous amount of information might be engaged in the deliberative project without managing to deliberate. One way to think of some such cases is as instances where one tries to deliberate but fails. While Enoch himself says “deliberation [. . .] is the process of trying to make the decision it makes most sense for one to make” (73, emphasis mine), it is unclear whether he would claim that trying is sufficient for deliberation. After all, one might try to make the decision that it makes most sense for one to make in idiosyncratic ways. I think Enoch is best interpreted as using an ‘is’ of predication rather than identity, where “the” process is a familiar one with various minimal success conditions. Thank you to an anonymous referee for helpful feedback on these points.

  9. A variety of questions remain: e.g., which worlds are relevantly close, the set of individuals denoted by ‘we’, and how exactly instrumentally indispensable entities must be usable in the project. Something else to keep in mind in precisfying a definition of instrumental indispensability is that according to Enoch (following Colyvan), instrumental indispensability is distinct from mere usefulness and ineliminability (67-68). As I have characterized instrumental indispensability, x’s instrumental indispensability to P entails that x’s, whatever they are, could not be eliminated from the world without defeating our sufficient reason for engaging in the project. Consequently, my account avoids one way of collapsing into an account of mere usefulness (although comparison of reasons across possibilities may pose other difficulties). However, since it is elimination from the world rather than elimination from, say, a theory, or one’s engagement in the project, I am optimistic that the problems Colyvan and Enoch pinpoint for identifying entities that are ineliminable from theories can be avoided. Thank you to an anonymous referee for incisive comments about instrumental indispensability.

  10. Enoch admits in a footnote: “Let’s be honest: it’s not that I’ve said so little [about rational non-optionality] because ‘saying more would take me too far astray’, or any such thing. I just don’t know what more to say” (2011: 71, note 51).

  11. For some projects and on some accounts of the relationship between rational requirements and being a rational being, one condition may support or even entail the other: e.g., if being a rational being entails the satisfaction of “core” rational requirements, and engagement in P is one such requirement.

  12. In this respect, Enoch’s view resembles those of other philosophers. According to conceptual role semanticists, normative concepts by their very nature play a regulative role in practical deliberation. See, e.g., Wedgwood [46], chapter 5,and Eklund (13: chapter 2). And in Korsgaard’s [23] language, “normative concepts like right, good, obligation, reason, are our names for the solutions to normative problems, for what it is we are looking for when we face them” (47).

  13. Thank you to an anonymous referee for pressing me here.

  14. ‘Normative’ is of course a contentious term that can be used in a variety of ways; for helpful discussion, see Finlay [18]. One thing that I do not mean by ‘normative’ is what is meant by ‘moral’ in this sense described by Dancy [10]: “[R]easoning might still be called moral, if, for instance, acting in that way is made right by the considerations adduced, even though the reasoner does not take note of that in their thought” (82).

  15. Silverstein (42: 353). In the paper, Silverstein goes on to argue that there is an additional link between normative and practical reasoning: for agents like us, “normative reasoning is reasoning about sound or successful practical reasoning” (357).

  16. In a similar vein, Enoch uses shopping for cereal at the grocery store to contrast deliberation and merely choosing. See Enoch (15: 73-74).

  17. See Silverstein (42: 354n3) for a list of authors who reduce practical reasoning to normative reasoning, and 355n4 for a list of authors who reduce normative reasoning to practical reasoning. An example of the former is Watson [45]: “Practical deliberation, as I think of it, is reasoning about what is best (or satisfactory) to do with a view to making up one's mind about what to do” (175, original emphasis). An example of the latter is Gibbard [19]: “As I put my own version of [expressivism], ought questions and reason questions are by their very nature questions of what to do [. . .] I the chooser don’t face two clear, distinct questions, the question what to do and the question what I ought to do” (9).

  18. There is a familiar difficulty with using standard weakness of will cases to illuminate the distinction between deciding what to do and determining what one ought to do. As Silverstein notes, they can be reinterpreted as cases in which the agent has actually judged something else—what she in fact does—to be what she ought to do. See, in particular, Wiggins [48]. In response, Silverstein provides examples that are extended over time. One settles on what they ought to do at some later point in time, but when the time comes they go against this judgment. Unlike standard cases of akrasia, it is hard to re-describe such a case as a process of continuing to determine what ought to be done, or determining and then reconsidering what one already settled on. See Silverstein (42: 357).

  19. Depending on one’s view, this may distinguish practical reasoning from mere picking between alternatives (in “Buridan cases”), another process that can yield intentions. While mere picking might be preceded by responses to awareness of propositions and inferences, the intention might not be formed by these responses and inferences. On such cases, see, for example, Enoch (15: 73), Bratman (5: 11-12 and 22-23),Wedgwood (46: 25 note 10 and 101), Parfit (31: vol. 2, 386-389), and Broome (6: 35).

  20. For example, Parfit (31: volume 1 part 1). Note that my claim about the potential connections between reasoning and reasons is not intended to be a linguistic one. The etymological similarity between ‘reason’ and ‘reasoning’ may be a contingent feature of English, as in other languages the words for these phenomena (if they exist at all) do not share a common root. See Wedgwood (47: 104-107) for discussion.

  21. See Silverstein (41: 518). My argument has some affinities with Kieran Setiya’s [39] argument against the ubiquity of the “guise of the good” in practical reasoning. He provides an action theory on which acting for reasons does not essentially involve taking them to be normative reasons. But Setiya’s account leans more heavily on reasons than my argument here requires.

  22. See Silverstein (42: 358).

  23. I leave open whether this reduction can be done for all normative thought and talk. For such a view, see Schroeder [37].

  24. On another relevant distinction—between acting for a reason and in light of reasoning—see Dancy (10: 10-11).

  25. I use the indefinite article so as not to commit to there being a single project of practical reason or a single project of normative reason. However, if there were only one project of each, my arguments would still go through.

  26. Replying to Enoch, Lenman [25] presents a similar dilemma. He appeals to a Humean conception of deliberation on which it requires only “modest” (reducible, mind-dependent, “subjective”) normative truths. In my version of the dilemma, the set of distinctions between practical and normative reason does the heavy lifting. My version does not rely on the plausibility of a Humean moral psychology. Moreover, while I appeal to conceptions of practical and normative reason, I do not appeal to an alternative conception of deliberation. This is dialectically advantageous. It clarifies that the central problems are the coherence of Enoch’s conception of deliberation and the role it is supposed to play, rather than whether his conception matches our intuitions about what deliberation actually is. I think my version also avoids an implicit commitment to the claim that practical reasoning is always conducted under something like the guise of the good. On the “guise of the good” see the essays in Tenenbaum [44]. On the “guise of reasons” see Gregory [20]. On the “guise of the normative” see Milona and Schroeder [28].

  27. It may be that, at least for some people (e.g., a Buddhist who attains Nirvana), it is a rational option to abandon the project of deciding what to do. Perhaps it would even be a rational option for such a person to stop responding to her awareness of propositions. I am unsure what to say about such cases.

  28. This view gains further plausibility points if we think of intentions as combinations of beliefs and desires (e.g., Sinhababu [43] or belief-like desires (e.g., Setiya [39]. On mere picking cases, see note 19.

  29. As stated above, Enoch’s defense of (2) might raise additional worries. But my rejection of the normative reading of (2) does not rely on the truth of the practical reading. Rather, it relies on the claim that our reasons to support (2) in the practical case do not support it in the normative case. That said, I think that (2) is plausible.

  30. On the notion of a mini-project, see Baker (1: 227). Baker accepts Enoch’s deliberative indispensability argument, claiming that all mini-projects within the deliberative project “involve reference to metanormative truths.”

  31. For a contrasting view that emphasizes paradigmatic instances of practical reasoning rather than necessary and sufficient conditions, see Jonathan Dancy’s “focalism” (10: 6-7 and 103-108).

  32. On the use of ‘shall’ to express intentions, see, e.g., Sellars (38: chapter 7). I mean to distinguish ‘consider’ from ‘be conscious of’, ‘perceive’, or ‘think’. A thought can pop into my head, but it is not a consideration until I treat it in a certain way, i.e., consider it. For Silverstein’s own take on the relationship between considerations, reasons, taking something to be a reason, etc., see Silverstein [40] and [41].

  33. Here is an illustration, City Council. The sudden arrival of ride-share motorized scooters is causing quite a stir in a small town. While crafting a meeting agenda, the members of the City Council are deciding which facts to discuss at the meeting, and in which order to discuss them. At a particular juncture, they are deciding which consideration from the Choice Set to present, based on the considerations in the Base Set. Choice Set: {‘Twenty townspeople complained about motorized scooters’, ‘Each motorized scooter company submitted its permit application late’, ‘The scooters are environmentally friendly’ . . . } Base Set: {‘The meeting is scheduled to end soon’, ‘The companies apologized for the issues’, ‘The townspeople might complain to the media about the scooters’ . . . }

  34. Cf.: “The essential conceptual role of normative concepts consists of a certain regulative role that these concepts play in reasoning— including practical reasoning” [46]: 80), and “It is characteristic of normative predicates that they are fit to be used in practical deliberation relating to what to do” [13]: 38).

  35. For a similar point, see Korsgaard (23: 91).

  36. On a related note, McPherson and Plunkett [27] call Enoch’s view “capacity-relative”: “the sources of epistemic justification that are basic for us may not be basic for a creature with quite different capacities” (118).

  37. Enoch’s remarks also suggest a Humanity Move: we cannot opt out of the deliberative project without ceasing to be human. This is less plausible than the Agency Move.

  38. See note 27 for related discussion of the rationality of opting out of the project of deciding what to do.

  39. Perhaps I am partly logic-blind, but Enoch’s (to be fair, perhaps tongue-in-cheek) remark looks like begging the question in favor of metanormative realism.

  40. I am indebted to an anonymous referee for their suggestions on this point.


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For their feedback on this paper, thank you to Andrew Barton, Jaime Castillo Gamboa, Mark Coppenger, Stephen Finlay, Jennifer Foster, Noah Gordon, Jasmine Gunkel, Derek Haderlie, Mahmoud Jalloh, Amber Kavka-Warren, Tatyana Kostochka, Jared Millson, Anthony Nguyen, Laura Nicoară, Daniel Pallies, Jonathan Quong, Jacob Ross, Jack Samuel, Mark Schroeder, Kenneth Silver, Rebecca Stangl, Gabriel Uzquiano, Shane Ward, Ralph Wedgwood, and audiences at the Eastern APA, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Southern California. This work was completed with the support of a USC Dornsife/Graduate School Ph.D. Fellowship.

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Stewart, A. The Normative, the Practical, and the Deliberatively Indispensable. J Value Inquiry (2022).

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