Skip to main content
Log in

Reasons and Impossibility

  • Published:
Philosophical Studies Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Many philosophers claim that it cannot be the case that a person ought to perform an action if this person cannot perform this action. However, most of these philosophers do not give arguments for the truth of this claim. In this paper, I argue that it is plausible to interpret this claim in such a way that it is entailed by the claim that there cannot be a reason for a person to perform an action if it is impossible that this person will perform this action. I then give three arguments for the truth of the latter claim, which are also arguments for the truth of the former claim as I interpret it.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Audi R. (2004). The Good in the Right: A Theory of Intuition and Intrinsic Value. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  • Aune B. (1967). Hypotheticals and ‘Can’: Another Look. Analysis 27: 191–195

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baier K. (1963). Could and Would. Analysis 23 (Suppl.): 20–29

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blum A. (2000). The Kantian Versus Frankfurt. Analysis 60: 287–288

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brink D. (1994). Moral Conflict and Its Structure. Philosophical Review 103: 215–247

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Broad, C.D. (1952): ‘Determinism, Indeterminism, and Libertarianism’, in his Ethics and the History of Philosophy. London: Routledge

  • Broome J. (2004). Reasons. In: Pettit, P., Scheffler, S., Smith, M. and Wallace, R.J. (eds) Reason and Value: Essays on the Moral Philosophy of Joseph Raz, pp. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Chisholm R.M. (1966). Freedom and Action. In: Lehrer, K. (eds) Freedom and Determinism, pp. Random House, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Copp D. (1997). Defending the Principle of Alternate Possibilities: Blameworthiness and Moral Responsibility. Noûs 31: 441–456

    Google Scholar 

  • Dancy J. (2004a). Enticing Reasons. In: Pettit, P., Scheffler, S., Smith, M. and Wallace, R.J. (eds) Reason and Value: Essays on the Moral Philosophy of Joseph Raz, pp. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Dancy J. (2004b). Ethics Without Principles. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Donagan A. (1984). Consistency in Rationalist Moral Systems. Journal of Philosophy 81: 291–309. Reprinted in Gowans 1987

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ekstrom L.W. (2000). Free Will. Westview Press, Boulder

    Google Scholar 

  • Ewing A.C. (1964). May Can-Statements Be Analysed Deterministically?. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 64: 157–176

    Google Scholar 

  • Feldman F. (1986). Doing the Best We Can. Reidel, Dordrecht

    Google Scholar 

  • Fischer J.M. (1994). The Metaphysics of Free Will. Blackwell, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Fischer J.M. (1999). Recent Work on Moral Responsibility. Ethics 110: 93–139

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fischer J.M. (2003). ‘Ought-Implies-Can’, Causal Determinism and Moral Responsibility. Analysis 63: 244–250

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Frankena W.K. (1950). Obligation and Ability. In: Black, M. (eds) Philosophical Analysis, pp. Cornell University Press, Ithaca

    Google Scholar 

  • Frankfurt, H. (1969): ‘Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility’. Reprinted in his The Importance of What We Care About. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988

  • Frankfurt, H. (1983): ‘What We Are Morally Responsible For’. Reprinted in his The Importance of What We Care About. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988

  • Gowans C. (1987). Moral Dilemmas. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Haji I. (1998). Moral Appraisability: Puzzles, Proposals and Perplexities. Oxford University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Haji I. (2002). Deontic Morality and Control. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Hare R.M. (1963). Freedom and Reason. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Harman G. (2000). Explaining Value and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Hobbes T. (1651). Leviathan. Edited by Richard Tuck. Cambridge University Press,, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Humberstone I.L. (1971). Two Sorts of ‘Ought’. Analysis 32: 8–14

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kane R. (1985). Free Will and Values. State University of New York Press, Albany

    Google Scholar 

  • Kane R. (1996). The Significance of Free Will. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Kant I. (1781/87). Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by P. Guyer and A.W. Wood. Cambridge University Press,, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Kant, I. (1788): ‘Critique of Practical Reason’. Translated by M.J. Gregor, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996

  • Kant, I. (1793): ‘On the Common Saying: That May Be Correct in Theory, But It Is of No Use in Practice’. Translated by M.J. Gregor, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996

  • Kekes J. (1984). ‘Ought Implies Can’ and Two Kinds of Morality. Philosophical Quarterly 34: 459–467

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kramer M. (2004). Where Law and Morality Meet. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Lamb J. (1993). Evaluative Compatibilism and the Principle of Alternate Possibilities. Journal of Philosophy 90: 517–527

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lehrer K. (1960). Can We Know That We Have Free Will By Introspection?. Journal of Philosophy 57: 145–157

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lehrer K. (1966). An Empirical Disproof of Determinism?. In: Lehrer, K. (eds) Freedom and Determinism, pp. Random House, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Lehrer K. (1968). Cans Without Ifs. Analysis 29: 29–32

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lemmon E.J. (1962). Moral Dilemmas. Philosophical Review 71: 139–158. Reprinted in Gowans 1987

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Marcus R.B. (1980). Moral Dilemmas and Consistency. Journal of Philosophy 77: 121–136

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Matthews G.B. (1998). Augustine. In: Edward, C. (eds) The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, pp. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  • McConnell T.C. (1978). Moral Dilemmas and Consistency in Ethics. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 8: 269–287. Reprinted in Gowans 1987

    Google Scholar 

  • Mele A.R. and Robb D. (1998). Rescuing Frankfurt-Style Cases. Philosophical Review 107: 97–112

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Moore G.E. (1912). Ethics. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Moore G.E. (1922). Philosophical Studies. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Parfit D. (1997). Reasons and Motivation. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 71 (Suppl.): 99–130

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pereboom D. (2001). Living Without Free Will. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Pietroski P.M. (1993). Prima Facie Obligations, Ceteris Paribus Laws in Moral Theory. Ethics 103: 489–515

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Railton P. (1996). The Diversity of Moral Dilemma. In: Mason, H.E. (eds) Moral Dilemmas and Moral Theory, pp. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Raz, J. (1990). Practical Reason and Norms, 2nd edn., Oxford University Press, Oxford

  • Raz J. (1999). Engaging Reason. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Saka P. (2000). Ought Does Not Imply Can. American Philosophical Quarterly 37: 93–105

    Google Scholar 

  • Scanlon T.M. (1998). What We Owe To Each Other. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass

    Google Scholar 

  • Schnall I.M. (2001). The Principle of Alternate Possibilities and ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’. Analysis 61: 335–340

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sidgwick H. (1907). The Methods of Ethics. Hackett, Indianapolis

    Google Scholar 

  • Sinnott-Armstrong W. (1984). ‘Ought’ Conversationally Implies ‘Can’. Philosophical Review 93: 249–261

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sinnott-Armstrong W. (1985). ‘Ought to Have’ and ‘Could Have’. Analysis 45: 44–48

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stern R. (2004). Does ‘Ought’ Imply ‘Can’? And Did Kant Think It Does?. Utilitas 16: 42–61

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stocker M. (1971). ‘Ought’ and ‘Can”. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 49: 303–316

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Streumer, B. (2003): `Does ``Ought'' Conversationally Implicate ``Can''?' European Journal of Philosophy 11, 219–228

    Google Scholar 

  • Streumer, B. (2005): `Semi-Global Consequentialism and Blameless Wrongdoing: Reply to Brown', Utilitas 17, 226–230

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor R. (1962). Fatalism. Philosophical Review 71: 56–66

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • van Fraassen B.C. (1973). Values and the Heart’s Command. Journal of Philosophy 70: 5–19. Reprinted in Gowans 1987

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • van Inwagen P. (1978). Ability and Responsibility. Philosophical Review 87: 201–224

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • van Inwagen P. (1983). An Essay on Free Will. Clarendon Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • White A.R. (1975). Modal Thinking. Blackwell, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Widerker D. (1991). Frankfurt on ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’ and Alternative Possibilities. Analysis 51: 222–224

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Widerker D. (1995). Libertarianism and Frankfurt’s Attack on the Principle of Alternative Possibilities. Philosophical Review 104: 247–261

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Widerker D. (2000). Frankfurt’s Attack on the Principle of Alternative Possibilities: A Further Look. Philosophical Perspectives 14: 181–201

    Google Scholar 

  • Williams, B. (1973): ‘Ethical Consistency’, in his Problems of the Self, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Reprinted in Gowans 1987

  • Williams B. (1981). `Ought and Moral Obligation'. In his Moral Luck. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Yaffe G. (1999). ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’ and the Principle of Alternate Possibilities. Analysis 59: 218–222

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zimmerman M. (1996). The Concept of Moral Obligation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bart Streumer.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Streumer, B. Reasons and Impossibility. Philos Stud 136, 351–384 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-005-4282-1

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-005-4282-1

Keywords

Navigation