The explanatory objection to the fitting attitude analysis of value


The fitting attitude analysis of value states that for objects to have value is for them to be the fitting targets of attitudes. Good objects are the fitting targets of positive attitudes, while bad objects are the fitting targets of negative attitudes. The following paper presents an argument to the effect that value and the fittingness of attitudes differ in terms of their explanations. Whereas the fittingness of attitudes is explained, inter alia, by both the properties of attitudes and those of their fitting targets, the explanation of value tends to have a different content. In particular, objects have value in virtue of the features that make them valuable, and these need not involve any attitudinal properties. If this is right, then there are reasons to doubt the claim that for objects to have value is just for them to be the fitting targets of attitudes. Insofar as value is a property, it appears to be distinct from the property of objects being the fitting targets of attitudes.

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  1. 1.

    I.e. in terms of their “normative explanation” (Väyrynen 2013)—an explanation citing the properties in virtue or because of which something is good, right, fitting etc. We take no stand on how normative explanation relates to notions of supervenience or grounding.

  2. 2.

    Our focus in this article is on the FA analysis of thin value properties. In Sect. 4 we consider a point related to the thin/thick distinction.

  3. 3.

    In line with most of the literature, we understand FA as stronger than the claim that there is merely a necessary coinstantiation of value and fitting attitudes. For the sake of simplicity and concision, we also deliberately choose the fitting attitude analysis as our target rather than the buck-passing account of value (Scanlon 1998; Rowland 2019), which relies on the notion of reasons for attitudes. While we believe that many of the points we will be making can be applied to the buck-passing account as well, cashing this out in detail would require a longer investigation into the nature of reasons that would take us beyond the scope of the paper. See also Jacobson (2011) on differences between FA and the buck-passing account.

  4. 4.

    We are assuming that a reduction of one property to another does not entail that there is an identity between them.

  5. 5.

    If these examples fail to convince, we can reformulate premise 1 in terms of best explanation: If a fact explains the instantiation of Q, but fails to explain the instantiation of P, then a view on which P is not identical with nor reducible to Q is pro tanto more plausible than a view on which P is identical with or reducible to Q.

  6. 6.

    Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen (2004) have pointed out that the properties of fitting attitudes A inevitably give rise to corresponding properties in their fitting targets O. For the sake of illustration, suppose artistic achievements are the fitting targets of admiration and that admiration has the property of being V. This entails that artistic achievements have the property of being such that they are the fitting targets of attitudes that are V. While this may seem to complicate matters somewhat, it does not constitute a big problem for the explanatory objection or the claims just made. It just needs to be remembered that whenever the properties of O are addressed in what follows, we have in mind specifically the properties of O that are not ultimately explained by the properties of A.

  7. 7.

    Note that there may be cases where it is fitting to be angry at an artistic achievement, but the point is that it will not be in virtue of the properties that make it an artistic achievement. The question discussed here is what attitudes it is fitting to direct toward artistic achievements as such.

  8. 8.

    Another example involves a person’s own artistic achievements, which may be the fitting targets of pride, while the artistic achievements of complete strangers are not. The nature of pride as a typically self-regarding attitude helps explain the difference in fit.

  9. 9.

    Cases can of course be imagined where it is fitting to be amused at kind people, but as before, it will not be in virtue of the properties that make people kind. It is important to remember that the question discussed here is what attitudes it is fitting to direct toward kind people as such.

  10. 10.

    See Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen (2004) and Gertken and Kiesewetter (2017) for excellent discussions.

  11. 11.

    Proponents of the strategy just described include Parfit (2011: App. A), Skorupski (2007), Rowland (2014), and Way (2012).

  12. 12.

    This kind of solution is considered, though rejected, in Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen (2004: 422–423). It is defended by Danielsson and Olson (2007), albeit in terms of correctness rather than fittingness, and by McHugh and Way (2016).

  13. 13.

    This objection was put to us by an anonymous referee.

  14. 14.

    Whether these other facts are only non-normative is not important for our point here.

  15. 15.

    If the complaint is that the explanation throws no real light on the fittingness of having a negative attitude toward undeserved pain, then our reply is just a reminder that the notion of explanation that is used in this context refers to a genuine metaphysical relation that does not necessarily have any epistemic benefit. The fact of the matter is that the shape of attitudes is often taken as a given and therefore rarely mentioned explicitly. It might even seem bizarre in most cases to ask why a negative response is the fitting one in the face of undeserved pain, but this is just because people are expected to know about the nature and relevance of the negative response. What seems more interesting from an epistemic standpoint are the other factors that play a role for the response in question, but of course, this does nothing to show that attitudinal properties are metaphysically irrelevant.

  16. 16.

    Where these properties do not include or mention facts about the very fitting attitudes, although of course they might include facts about attitudes, if the valuable object is itself an attitude, e.g. love for knowledge.

  17. 17.

    See the otherwise very informative (Howard 2018).

  18. 18.

    It might be said that p counts in favour of believing that p. But this truism is better expressed as a claim about p making it fitting to believe that p—and this is so partly, as our story goes, because of the shape of belief.

  19. 19.

    We thank a reviewer for inviting us to expand on this.

  20. 20.

    We prefer to remain neutral, for reasons of space, about whether premise (ii) is true.

  21. 21.

    Note that Value does not need attitudes does not beg the question against FA. FA as such does not require that value be partly explained by the shape of fitting attitudes. As remarked in the text, there is an alternative for FA: accepting (2) and rejecting (1), hence maintaining that neither value nor the fittingness of attitudes are partly explained by attitudinal properties. This is a problematic but genuine alternative, which means that it is not a necessary claim of FA that value be explained by the shape of attitudes. For example, rejection of (1) is explicit in Olson (2004), who rules out any reference to the fitting attitude as part of the explanation why it is fitting to take that attitude towards a given valuable object. Rejection of (1) might also be implicit in Rowland’s quote reported above (see also Ewing 1948: 172).

  22. 22.

    We thank a reviewer for pressing this point.

  23. 23.

    See Rowland (2019).

  24. 24.

    A similar worry would apply, were FA to borrow from the toolkit of contemporary constructivism and subjectivism, by claiming that rather than playing the role of value-makers or enablers, the properties of attitudes are part of the constitutive grounds of value. While this may help FA advocates avoid the explanatory objection, it seems fair to point out that a version of FA that does not need to borrow from the toolkit of particular meta-ethical views (such as constructivism and subjectivism) would be preferable, all else being equal. See Rønnow-Rasmussen (2011, ch.1) and Fritzson (2014) for discussions of constitutive grounds.

  25. 25.

    That is probably why he is among the few to explicitly mention the “inherent qualities” of attitudes as part of the explanation of why attitudes are fitting.

  26. 26.

    We are not making the bold claim that axiology must talk about value simpliciter. We do recognize that some of these views are put forward, for example, only as theories of well-being.

  27. 27.

    Of course we do not mean to deny that these terms in English may also have purely descriptive, non-evaluative meanings, e.g. “such as to arouse admiration (envy, fear etc.)”.

  28. 28.

    On the problem of solitary goods (intuitively good states of affairs that, apparently, it is not fitting or there is no reason for anyone to favour), see Dancy (2000), Bykvist (2009), Orsi (2013), Reisner (2015).


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Both authors are very grateful to Wlodek Rabinowicz and Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen for commenting on an early draft of the paper. We are also grateful to two reviewers of this journal for their extremely helpful comments. Francesco Orsi thanks audiences in Tartu, Moscow (HSE) and Geneva (Thumos Seminar) for their feedback. Orsi’s contribution was supported by Eesti Teadusagentuur (Grant No. PUT1630). Andrés G. Garcia presented this paper at the colloquium for practical philosophy at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and at the Centre for Aesthetic, Moral, and Political Philosophy at Leeds University. Gratitude is owed to all the participants of these events for their suggestions as well, especially Tomas Schmidt, Razvan Sofroni, Philip Fox, Jack Woods, Pekka Väyrynen, Gerald Lang, and Alex Jackson. Garcia’s contribution was supported by the Swedish Research Council (Grant No. 2018-06612).

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Orsi, F., Garcia, A.G. The explanatory objection to the fitting attitude analysis of value. Philos Stud 178, 1207–1221 (2021).

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  • Fitting attitude analysis
  • Fittingness
  • Value
  • Attitudes
  • Normative explanation