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Having reasons and the factoring account


It’s natural to say that when it’s rational for me to φ, I have reasons to φ. That is, there are reasons for φ-ing, and moreover, I have some of them. Mark Schroeder calls this view The Factoring Account of the having reasons relation. He thinks The Factoring Account is false. In this paper, I defend The Factoring Account. Not only do I provide intuitive support for the view, but I also defend it against Schroeder’s criticisms. Moreover, I show that it helps us understand the requirements of substantive rationality, or what we are rationally required to do when responding to reasons.

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  1. 1.

    Note that when I say one correctly responds to her reasons I mean that she actually responds correctly to her reasons—i.e. forms beliefs and intentions in a way that is appropriately connected to her reasons. I don’t mean that she merely has dispositions to respond in the right way to her reasons. I thank Michael Young for pointing this ambiguity out to me.

  2. 2.

    Note that I am using the ‘reason to [judgment sensitive propositional attitude]’ construction to mean the same thing as the ‘reason for [judgment sensitive propositional attitude]-ing’. So, ‘reason to believe’ means the same thing as ‘reason for believing’.

  3. 3.

    For our purposes here, read this sentence only to be about evidential reasons for belief. Some hold that there are pragmatic reasons for belief. For example, some think that because I would be happier if I believe my spouse isn’t cheating on me, there is a reason to believe that she isn’t cheating on me, even if I have very good evidence that she is. Many argue that pragmatic reasons for belief don’t exist—for example, Parfit (forthcoming). My official stance here is agnosticism. If pragmatic reasons exist, then my claims here are only about evidential reasons.

  4. 4.

    Cf. Williamson (2000, Chaps. 9 and 10, 2007, Chap. 7). For a nice summary of how orthodox Raises is, see Kelly (2006).

  5. 5.

    Raises is compatible with non-factive views about reasons for belief—i.e. views that hold that a proposition p can be a reason to believe q even if p is false. And if one combined a non-factive view of reasons for belief with a non-factive epistemic property—e.g. believes that—then one would have a factoring account that clearly avoids Schroeder’s objections. His arguments crucially turn on one’s account of reasons being factive. In personal communication he admits that he has no problems with these non-factive factoring accounts. The views he is mainly concerned with refuting are accounts that factor the reasons had out of factive accounts of reasons for belief.

  6. 6.

    Concerns about access have traditionally led philosophers to internalism about epistemic justification. I show in (unpublished-a) that a commitment to access doesn’t commit one to internalism. In fact, a commitment to access strongly supports a type of externalism. See also Gibbons (2006).

  7. 7.

    Again, I’m not going to argue for this here. See my (unpublished-a) for several arguments. See also Gibbons (2006).

  8. 8.

    As David Chalmers has pointed out to me, it’s plausible that one’s intuitions about the matter don’t change much when you lower the bar from being in a position to know to being in a position to being justified. A close cousin of the view defended here is the view that A has reason R just in case A is in a position to be justified in believing R (i.e. has propositional justification for R). For reasons that cannot be gone into here, I favor my version. See my (unpublished-c) for more.

  9. 9.

    A proposition p will fit the Practical Model just in case p is a practical reason. I’ll remain mostly neutral as to what it takes for some proposition to fit the Practical Model. I will assume, however, that practical reasons are also factive. Also, see the appendix for some discussion about Schroeder’s view of what it takes to fit the Practical Model.

  10. 10.

    If we were to spell the case out in more detail, it is plausible that Bernie would know that many people were drinking potable liquids. That is, he would see them drinking and not getting sick, enjoying the drinks, not having unusual reactions etc.

  11. 11.

    As readers of Schroeder’s paper will know, the main motivation for arguing against The Factoring Account in the practical case is to motivate a case against epistemic factoring accounts. He sketches the upshot for epistemology at the end of (2008). He makes his case more fully in (forthcoming). For my reply to his main arguments against the Factoring Account in (forthcoming), see my (unpublished-c).

  12. 12.

    In (unpublished-a) I argue for the general principle that if p is an epistemic reason to believe q and q is a question of practical importance for some agent A, then necessarily p is also a practical reason for A.

  13. 13.

    There are obviously implied facts about Bernie that contribute to his intention being rational. For example, it is implied that he is not dangerously allergic to gin and tonic, that drinking won’t put him in any other danger etc. If those things weren’t true, it’s plausible to think that he wouldn’t have sufficient reason to drink, although he would still have the reasons above to drink.

  14. 14.

    Remember that we’ve already been through this dialectic when we talked about Tim and Steve in the introduction.

  15. 15.

    TFA might not endorse this conclusion given the information Schroeder provides. He only states that Ronnie doesn’t know that there will be dancing. He doesn’t state that he isn’t in a position to know that there will be dancing. I take it he has the latter in mind when he states the former. If that is the case, then TFA endorses his conclusions.

  16. 16.

    In Bernie’s case, there will be other reasons to drink. But I assume the same is true for Freddie as well.

  17. 17.

    For reasons mentioned in footnote 5, it’s false to say that all factoring accounts cannot endorse the view that the content of Bernie’s belief is the reason that he has. Only factoring accounts that hold that reasons are factive are forced into this conclusion. Nevertheless, I obviously cannot hold that the content of Bernie’s belief is a reason he has since I think the reasons had are factive.

  18. 18.

    In effect, Schroeder argues that the reasons that make attitudes and actions rational are all motivating reasons. In (unpublished-b) I argue that something close to his account of motivating reasons is correct. However, I maintain that the reasons that justify one’s action need not only be one’s motivating reasons, provided that they fulfill some counterfactual requirements. Also see my (unpublished-c) for more.

  19. 19.

    Of course, this sounds really bizarre. It’s equivalent to saying that Bernie has a reason to φ even though there is no reason to φ.

  20. 20.

    In (2008) Schroeder wishes to be agnostic about what the relationship between subjective and objective reasons is. I take this view from Schroeder (2007) and (2009).

  21. 21.

    Moreover, even if Bernie was clear about the question, why should we think that he is an expert about what his normative reasons are? I don’t see why his answer supports any view one way or another. I thank David Sobel for pointing this out to me.

  22. 22.

    Note that what Schroeder and I agree about is that one is rational only if one does/believes what one has in the possession sense of has most reason to do. One can have a reason on Schroeder’s view, remember, even if the proposition constituting that reason isn’t an objective normative reason. I obviously deny that. Schroeder implies Has-Rational in (2009). He explicitly states it in (2004) and (forthcoming).

  23. 23.

    Has-Rational is only a necessary condition because plausibly one can be irrational even if she does/believes what she has decisive reason to do/believe. For it might be that her act/belief doesn’t have any connection to the reasons she has to do/believe what she does/believes. And so in order to be rational, one must both do/believe what one has decisive reason to do/believe and one’s act/belief must be appropriately connected to the reasons one has.

  24. 24.

    See especially my (unpublished-a, d).

  25. 25.

    There is a second type of rational criticism having to do with the structure our attitudes take. I am open to this type of criticism if I, for example, believe a contradiction.

  26. 26.

    This example is lifted from von Fintel and Iatridou (unpublished). It is also discussed at length in chapt. 4 of Huitink (2008).

  27. 27.

    P. 59.

  28. 28.

    It’s very important for Schroeder’s overall view that the condition placed on propositions by Reason is only a background condition. In other words, the role that desires play with respect to the existence of reasons is not constitutional. This allows Schroeder’s account to give answers to long-standing objections to so-called Humean theories of practical reasons.

  29. 29.

    An immediate problem with this is that he has a hard time explaining why we often have reasons to do nothing; a fortiori, he has problems explaining why we sometimes have most reason to do nothing.

  30. 30.

    In fact, in (pers. comm.) he confesses that he doesn’t have many answers to these types of questions.

  31. 31.

    In personal communication Schroeder admits that most of the reasons I cite are the reasons Bernie has are reasons according to Hypotheticalism. However, he denies the general thesis (which I accept) that any epistemic reason can be a practical reason given certain background conditions. Again, see my (unpublished-a) for a defense of this general principle.

  32. 32.

    For another worry of this kind, see Bedke (2008).


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Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the 2008 University of Texas at Austin Graduate Philosophy Conference. I thank both audiences for their feedback. I especially thank Neil Sinhababu for preparing comments in Austin. I also thank David Chalmers, Janice Dowell, Cullen Gatten, Aidan McGlynn, Mark van Roojen, David Sobel, Steve Swartzer, and Tim Loughlin. I also thank Shyam Nair, Mark Schroeder, and Michael Young for very helpful comments, both written and spoken.

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Correspondence to Errol Lord.

Appendix: Schroeder’s hypotheticalism and Bernie’s reasons

Appendix: Schroeder’s hypotheticalism and Bernie’s reasons

A key claim in my argument above was that there are reasons for Bernie to drink from his poisoned glass (i.e. there are objective reasons for Bernie to drink). Schroeder argues that if there are objective reasons for Bernie to drink, they are not reasons that he has in the relevant sense. One of my claims was that this is false. There are reasons for drinking that Bernie has—e.g. that there is a clear liquid in the glass, that Bernie received his drink from a reliable bartender, and that others are enjoying potable alcoholic beverages. Together with the background condition that Bernie desires to drink a gin and tonic, these types of considerations are reasons to drink. And, since Bernie is in a position to know these propositions, he has those reasons according to TFA.

I will suggest in this appendix that it is plausible that Schroeder is committed to the view that those propositions are objective reasons for Bernie to drink from the glass. In order to see this, we must understand his Humean theory of reasons for action—which he calls Hypotheticalism—that he meticulously defends in (2007).

Hypotheticalism’s main claim is expressed by Reason:

reason: :

For R to be a reason for X to do A is for there to be some p such that X has a desire whose object is p, and the truth of R is part of what explains why X’s doing A promotes p.Footnote 27

In short, Reason holds that in order for a proposition p to be a reason R for some agent X to do A, X must have some desire that would be promoted by doing A. Thus, Reason places a necessary condition on what it takes for some proposition to be a reason—viz. doing the thing that the proposition speaks in favor of must promote some desire that the agent has.Footnote 28

But the curious reader will wonder exactly what this promotion relation amounts to. For there are many ways in which one could cash out the promotion relation. One possible view holds that as long as there is greater than 0 probability that the thing that one desires will come about by doing the action, the condition is satisfied. This is not the view Schroeder holds, however. He holds that in order for the condition to be satisfied the probability that the object of the desire will obtain by doing the action must be higher than the probability that the object of the desire will obtain by doing nothing.Footnote 29

The question we are concerned with here, then, is whether the probability that Bernie will receive a gin and tonic conditioned on the truth of the propositions in question is higher when he acts than when he does nothing. Now it is not at all clear exactly how we are supposed to determine these probabilities. Moreover, Schroeder gives us little to no guidance.Footnote 30 My intuitions on the matter suggest that the probability that his desire is promoted is greater when he acts than when he does nothing.Footnote 31 If this is correct, then the condition on R being a reason presented in Reason is satisfied. And it is not far from here to the conclusion that the propositions I cite as the reasons for drinking that Bernie has are in fact reasons on Schroeder’s hypotheticalist theory of reasons.

Furthermore, if those propositions don’t pass Schroeder’s test in Bernie’s case, then I think that Hypotheticalism is open to a version of what Schroeder calls the Too Few Reasons objection to Humeanism. For I take it that in Billy’s case those propositions would pass Schroeder’s test. And I cannot see any good explanation in the offing about why those propositions are reasons in Billy’s case but not in Bernie’s.Footnote 32

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Lord, E. Having reasons and the factoring account. Philos Stud 149, 283–296 (2010).

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  • Rationality
  • Mark Schroeder
  • Internalism/externalism
  • Normative Reasons
  • Metaethics
  • Epistemology