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Resisting buck-passing accounts of prudential value

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This paper aims to cast doubt upon a certain way of analysing prudential value (or good for), namely in the manner of a ‘buck-passing’ analysis. It begins by explaining why we should be interested in analyses of good for and the nature of buck-passing analyses generally (§I). It moves on to considering and rejecting two sets of buck-passing analyses. The first are analyses that are likely to be suggested by those attracted to the idea of analysing good for in a buck-passing fashion (§II). The second are the buck-passing analyses of good for proposed by John Skorupski (§III), Henry Sidgwick (§IV), and Stephen Darwall (§V). Along the way the paper shows that Michael Smith’s and Peter Railton’s analyses of other concepts—analyses that could be (and have been) taken to be analyses of good for—are similarly unsuitable as analyses of it. The paper concludes by suggesting that the fact that none of the buck-passing accounts of good for considered here is satisfactory, coupled with an appreciation of the various problems that a buck-passing analysis of good for would have to avoid, suggests that we should be sceptical about the prospects of finding such an analysis and should look for one of a different type.

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  1. Adapting Moore’s (1903/2000) terminology, I use ‘the good for’ to refer to that which is good for.

  2. Writing about good for is replete with synonyms. At least as used by some writers, these include: prudential value, personal good, personal welfare, utility, well-being, and welfare.

  3. Crisp (2006, p. 100) (My italics).

  4. Feldman (2004, p. 13) (My italics).

  5. Scanlon (1998, p. 113).

  6. Brentano (1889), Ewing (1947, 1959).

  7. The term ‘pro-attitude’ is credited to Ross by Ewing (1947, p. 149).

  8. Scanlon (1998, p. 11).

  9. Buck-passers often claim that (2) follows from (1). For discussion of this see Schroeder (2009).

  10. Such a suggestion is found in Parfit (forthcoming).

  11. Alternatively, what makes aesthetic reasons aesthetic (and epistemic reasons epistemic) is the kind of responses the properties of the thing favours, such as some kind of appreciation (or belief). The question, then, is whether there is some distinctive kind of response that characterises some reasons as prudential. It is hard to see that there is one.

  12. This example is taken from Dancy (2004, p. 173).

  13. This leaves open which account of special the analysis uses, if any.

  14. Skorupski (2007).

  15. Smith (2003).

  16. Smith (2003, p. 584) (My italics).

  17. Railton (2003, p. 54 n. 9). C.f. Rosati (1996, p. 298 n.2).

  18. I should point out that in addition to not being analyses of good for, Railton’s and Smith’s analyses are arguably not buck-passing analyses. I include them because they could be taken to be analyses of good for (and Railton’s sometimes is) and because they are useful in demonstrating the breadth problem for Skorupski’s account.

  19. Sidgwick (1907/1981, p. 112) (My italics).

  20. Sidgwick (1907/1981, p. 109) (My italics).

  21. Darwall (2004). Darwall uses ‘welfare’ but (quotations apart) I retain my terminology for the sake of continuity. Darwall (2006a, p. 434) explicitly claims that the terms label the same concept.

  22. Darwall (2004, p. 9).

  23. For discussion of issues with the formulation of Darwall’s theory see: Feldman (2006) and Hurka (2006).

  24. Darwall (2004, p. 8) (My italics).

  25. Ibid (Italics in original).

  26. Darwall (2004, p. 9).

  27. For further discussion see Raz (2006, p. 413).

  28. Darwall (2004, pp. 47, 12).

  29. Darwall (2004, p. 69) (Italics in original).

  30. Darwall (2006b, p. 651).

  31. Darwall (2004, p. 50).

  32. For further discussion of this kind of response see Shah (2004, p. 580).

  33. Kraut (2007, p. 182 n.32) mentions and endorses this objection to Darwall.


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For comments and discussion of this paper and its ancestors I am grateful to: An anonymous reviewer, Jonathan Dancy, Alex Gregory, Brad Hooker, Mike Ridge, Debbie Roberts, Philip Stratton-Lake, Chris Woodard.

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Correspondence to Guy Fletcher.

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Fletcher, G. Resisting buck-passing accounts of prudential value. Philos Stud 157, 77–91 (2012).

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