The Iffiest Oughts: A Guise of Reasons Account of End‐Given Conditionals

Ethics 119 (4):672-698 (2009)
It often seems that what one ought to do depends on what contingent ends one has adopted and the means to pursuing them. Imagine, for example, that you are applying for jobs, and a particularly attractive one comes your way. It offers excellent colleagues in a desirable location, the pay is good, and acquiring a job like this is one of your ends. If practicing your job talk is a means to getting the job, the following seems true: (1) If you want1 to get the job, then you ought to practice your job talk. Let us call conditional ought sentences that purport to express an end in the antecedent and a means to the end in the consequent end-given oughts. Some end-given oughts run into the problem of detachment; i.e., some end-given oughts seem true, and yet we do not think the consequent by itself, detached from the conditional, is true even if the antecedent is true. Consider a case where you want revenge on Bill for some slight offense. You happen to have the opportunity to poison Bill’s drink while he is away, which is the only thing that would lead to his demise. What of: (2) If you want to kill Bill, then you ought to poison his drink. (2) runs up against the problem of detachment because of the following modus ponens argument: • If you want to kill Bill, then you ought to poison his drink. • You want to kill Bill. • Therefore, you ought to poison his drink. In fact, you ought not poison Bill’s drink. You ought to avoid him and seek counseling.
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DOI 10.1086/600130
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Christopher J. G. Meacham (2016). Understanding Conditionalization. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 45 (5-6):767-797.
Jonathan Way (2010). The Normativity of Rationality. Philosophy Compass 5 (12):1057-1068.

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