The argument from indirect motivation establishes that there are practical state-reasons for belief. I therefore agree with Rinard (2019b, 775) that it would be absurd to ‘say that, in general, we do not have motivating reasons for anything we do indirectly’. There is a sense in which we can have a motivating reason for being in a non-intentional state. Therefore, there can be practical reasons for being in states of belief in precisely this same sense. However, as long as the pragmatist does not present us with an argument why state-reasons aren’t just reducible to reasons to act, they do not support the view that there are genuine practical reasons for belief.
Since the new pragmatists want to show that practical reasons can meet the motivational constraint, this section will be concerned with the following question:
Are state-reasons irreducible if the motivational constraint is true?
In a first step, I will argue that the strictest version of the motivational constraint implies that whenever you have a state-reason, you also have a reason to act (i.e., a reason to bring the state about, or to maintain it) (Sect. 6.1). In a second step, I will argue that even the weakest version of the motivational constraint still implies that whenever you have a state-reason, you also have a reason to respond to this state-reason (i.e., a reason to act, to try, to intend, or to desire) (Sect. 6.2). In a final step, I argue that the new pragmatists therefore face the challenge of giving us an account of the theoretical purpose for assuming irreducible state-reasons as normative entities over and above the reasons for the responses that these state-reasons imply (Sect. 6.3). Without such an account, we have no reason to assume that there are irreducible state-reasons.
One last preliminary: my discussion will focus on reasons for non-intentional states. My argument throughout Sects. 2–5 has revealed that they are central for discussions about practical reasons for belief. However, just to be clear, I will briefly summarize why reasons for non-intentional states are relevant. My main point up to now was that the new pragmatist’s strategy relies on an analogy between practical reasons to be in non-intentional states and practical reasons for being in belief states. It establishes that there can be practical reasons for belief as there can be practical reasons to be in non-intentional states. These are what I have dubbed ‘state-reasons’ for belief. The new pragmatist treats states of belief as if they were non-intentional states one can be in (cf. esp. Rinard, 2017). This is why any argument concerning reasons for non-intentional states will be applicable to state-reasons for belief: state-reasons for belief just are the kinds of practical reasons for belief that we get when we treat belief like just another non-intentional state.
State-reasons and reasons to act
Consider the strictest version of the motivational constraint:
Motivational Constraint (strict version) (MC). A consideration R is a reason for you to φ only if you can φ for R.
If we apply MC to state-reasons, it says that R is a reason for you to be in a state s only if you can be in s for R. But what does it mean to be in a state for a reason? It means that you brought the state about for that reason, or that you are maintaining the state for that reason. Therefore, MC implies:
state-reasons imply reasons to act (SRRA). R is a reason for you to be in s only if R is a reason for you to bring s about, or to maintain s.Footnote 31
The only step that requires clarification is why ‘being in a state for a reason’ means that you brought it about for that reason, or that you maintain it for that reason. To see the plausibility of this step, we have to remember that we are concerned here with non-intentional states. Consider, for instance, your reason to be at the top of a mountain (say, you would be rewarded with an enjoyable view). There are of course countless ways in which you might end up complying with that reason. You could climb up to the top, for instance, or stay at the top if you are already there because you want to enjoy the view a little longer. In these cases, you can be said to be at the top for a reason: you climbed up for the enjoyable view, or you stayed there for the enjoyable view. In other cases, you might comply with your reason to be at the top because you are brought to the top by external forces: someone else might drag you up against your will, or a strong gust of wind might carry you up. In these cases, you still end up complying with your reason—after all, you end up being in the state that your reason supports. However, you won’t be at the top of the mountain for a (normative) reason. Rather, you merely comply. We can then merely explain why you are up there by citing the causal factors that brought you there. But these factors are not reasons for which you are at the top—i.e., they are not your motivating reasons. Therefore, you can only be said to be at the top of the mountain for a reason if you are, in a broad sense, exercising your own agency by climbing up for that reason, or by staying there for that reason.
This seems to hold for all non-intentional states. Whenever you are brought into or kept in a state without exercising your own agency, you are not in that state for a reason. But the only ways of exercising your agency that would get you into a non-intentional state are bringing yourself into the state for a reason and maintaining the state for a reason.Footnote 32 Therefore, whenever you are in a non-intentional state for a reason—and thus whenever you are in a state of belief for a state-reason—you have either brought yourself into that state for that reason or you maintained that state for that reason. I conclude that MC implies SRRA.Footnote 33
Before proceeding to the final step of my argument—namely, to show that the new pragmatists face a serious challenge if they accept SRRA but maintain that state-reasons are irreducible—we need to consider whether weaker versions of the motivational constraint than MC also imply SRRA. For the new pragmatists might argue that MC is too strong, and instead accept a weaker version of the constraint in order to avoid SRRA. I will argue that weaker versions of MC either do imply SRRA or at least imply a claim similar to SRRA that will give rise to a challenge very similar to the one to which SRRA gives rise.
State-reasons and reasons to respond
To see how MC might be too strong, consider first how it is incompatible with Reisner’s (2009, 271) ‘argument from blocked ascent’. Suppose that you would get a huge reward for being at the top of the mountain, but that you won’t get the reward if you take any means to get up there (e.g., climbing). Suppose furthermore that you are not already at the top of the mountain. Reisner thinks the reward still provides you with a reason to be at the top even though you have no reason to bring yourself to be at the top. This would be a counterexample to SRRA. However, MC rules out that you have a reason for being in the state when ascent is blocked in this way: since you cannot even comply with your state-reason in such cases by exercising your own agency, you can also not be at the top of the mountain for this reason. If we accept MC, all we can say is that it would be good for you to be at the top of the mountain, but not that you have a genuine reason to be there. However, Reisner could then just reply that MC is too strong and must be formulated less strictly.
Weaker versions of the motivational constraint might allow Reisner’s argument to go through. SRRA would then turn out to be false if we assume such weaker versions. What is the weakest version of the motivational constraint? One central feature of the motivational constraint is, as we just saw, that it allows us to distinguish the merely evaluative (what is merely good) from the normative (what is good and provides us with a normative reason) in terms of an agent’s abilities. Since making this distinction is one of the main motivations for endorsing a version of the motivational constraint (cf. Way & Whiting, 2016, 215), I will assume that any claim that could plausibly count as a version of the motivational constraint must allow us to draw such a distinction between the evaluative and the normative. The following claim fulfills this condition:
Motivational Constraint (weak version) (MCW). A consideration R is a reason for you to φ only if R can motivate at least one of your responses (i.e., you can φ for R, or try to φ for R, or intend to φ for R, or desire to φ for R, etc.).
MCW implies that if there is a valuable state that cannot motivate any of your responses, then this state does not provide you with a reason. Such states might include states that you are unable to know about, or states you are psychologically incapable of forming any attitude towards. This weak version therefore still captures the spirit of the motivational constraint by drawing a line between the merely evaluative and the normative. Furthermore, it is hard to see how we can formulate an even weaker version of the motivational constraint that would still draw such a line: if we allow for values that provide us with genuine reasons even though they cannot motivate any of our responses, then we will blur the line between the evaluative and the normative that the motivational constraint is meant to draw. Therefore, MCW is the weakest version of the motivational constraint. Any claim that could count as a version of the motivational constraint will at least imply that your reasons are such that they can motivate one of your responses.Footnote 34
Now return to Reisner’s cases of blocked ascent. If we reject MC and merely accept the weak version MCW, then the reward that you get for being at the top of the mountain might still provide you with a reason to be at the top, even if you have no reason to climb up (remember that you won’t get the reward if you take any means to get to the top). This is because the reward might still motivate one of your responses: you could desire to be at the top of the mountain for the reason that you would get a reward, or (in some possible worlds) hope that Scotty will beam you up. For all that MCW says, this might be sufficient for the reward to provide you with a genuine reason to be at the top—i.e., a genuine state-reason. Therefore, it seems that state-reasons do not imply reasons to act if one endorses MCW rather than MC. It seems that the weakest version of the motivational constraint does not imply SRRA.
In reply, I grant, for the sake of argument, that you might have a state-reason to be at the top of the mountain even in cases of blocked ascent. However, even if one can avoid SRRA in this way, state-reasons will still have the following implication if we accept MCW:
State-reasons imply reasons to respond (SRRR). R is a state-reason for you to be in s only if R is a reason for you [to bring yourself into s, or to maintain yourself being in s, or to try to bring yourself into s, or to try to maintain yourself being in s, or to intend to bring yourself into s, or to intend to maintain yourself being in s, or to desire to be in s, or to hope to be in s, or …].
While SRRR won’t allow us to say that state-reasons are reducible to reasons to act, it still leaves open the possibility that state-reasons are reducible to reasons for the various responses that a state-reason implies (reasons to act, try, intend, desire, hope, etc.). SRRR will therefore still give rise to a very similar challenge for the new pragmatists as SRRA does. I now turn to this challenge.Footnote 35
The challenge for new pragmatism
I have argued that MC implies SRRA, and that any weaker version of the constraint will at least imply SRRR. To see the challenge that SRRA/SRRR gives rise to for the new pragmatists, we first have to remind ourselves that their strategy consists in showing that practical reasons for belief—which they understand as state-reasons—can meet MC. If they consequently accept SRRA/SRRR, they must argue that state-reasons are still not just reducible to the reasons for the responses that are implied by state-reasons. Rather, they would have to claim that state-reasons are normative entities over and above the reasons for the responses that they imply.
However, this claim faces a serious challenge. As Derek Parfit (2011, 432) pointed out, ‘I might truly claim, for example, that I have a reason to be in Paris next April. But […] such reasons would have no importance. It would be enough to claim that I have reasons to want to be in Paris next April, and to go there, if I can’. He also states that ‘it is not worth claiming’ that one has a reason to be in a state (cf. ibid., 51). The point is, I take it, that it is not obvious at all why we should say that we have a state-reason additionally to the reasons for the responses this state-reason implies. What is the theoretical purpose of assuming such normative entities over and above the reasons for the implied responses? One such purpose is to defend new pragmatism. Obviously, however, the new pragmatists have to find an independent purpose for irreducible state-reasons.
To illustrate what I mean by such a ‘theoretical purpose’, consider the following possible attempt by the new pragmatist to meet this challenge. They could appeal to some explanatory relation between the state-reason and the reasons implied by it that precludes that the state-reason is just analyzable in terms of the reasons it implies: whenever a subject has a reason to bring a state about (or to maintain it, or to try to do so, etc.), this is so because they have a reason to be in the state.Footnote 36 However, the main challenge for this view is to tell us why this amounts to anything more than to just saying that whenever one has a reason to bring a state about (or to maintain it, etc.), this is so because the state is valuable. It does not seem that the normative can explain my reason to bring myself to be in the state (or to maintain it) better than the evaluative. And remember that, as I have pointed out above, as long as one wishes to retain some version of the motivational constraint, one commits to a distinction between the normative and the evaluative: the new pragmatists cannot, while pursuing their argument that state-reasons for belief satisfy the motivational constraint, just say that every good state provides one with a state-reason to be in that state. For blurring the distinction between the evaluative and the normative in this way would amount to giving up on the motivational constraint even in its weakest form.
This is, of course, not the end of the matter. I hope that my discussion gives us an idea of the kind of questions and arguments that are relevant for deciding whether state-reasons are reducible to reasons to act—which is, as I have argued in the previous sections, the central question for deciding the prospects of the new pragmatist’s strategy. I have argued in this section that if pragmatists wish to preserve a version of the motivational constraint on reasons (as our new pragmatists do), they should accept either SRRA or at least SRRR. Furthermore, I have posed a challenge for any pragmatist who accepts SRRA/SRRR and at the same time wants to maintain the irreducibility of state-reasons: they have to give an account of the theoretical purpose for assuming the existence of state-reasons over and above the reasons for the responses that state-reasons imply. Finally, I have just objected to one such intuitively plausible account.