Many normative claims are substantive claims about reasons— claims, for example, about the reasons that a person in certain circumstances has to do or to believe something. But not all normative claims are substantive claims about reasons. In particular, some claims about what it would be irrational for someone to do are normative claims but not claims about the reasons that person has. Here are some examples. (I will state these in terms of “reasons for belief” and “reasons for intending,” (...) although I will later raise doubts about whether this is the best way of describing these cases.) If a person believes that p, then it would be irrational for him to refuse to rely on p as a premise in further reasoning, and to reject arguments because they rely on it. To say this is not to say that the person has good reason to accept these arguments. Perhaps what he has most reason to do is to give up his belief that p. The claim is only that as long as he believes that p, it is irrational of him to refuse to accept such arguments. Similar claims hold in regard to practical reasoning: if a person intends to do A at t, and believes that in order to do this she must first do B, then it is irrational for her not to count this as a reason for doing B. This is not to say that she has any reason to do B. Perhaps what she has most reason to do is to abandon her intention to do A, or to change her mind about.. (shrink)
It is a particular pleasure to be able to participate in this symposium in honor of Amartya Sen. We agree on a wide range of topics, but I will focus here on an area of relative disagreement. Sen is much more attracted to consequentialism than I am, and the main topic of my paper will be the particular version of consequentialism that he has articulated and the reasons why he is drawn to this view.
[T. M. Scanlon] It is clearly impermissible to kill one person (or refrain from giving him treatment that he needs in order to survive) because his organs can be used to save five others who are in need of transplants. It has seemed to many that the explanation for this lies in the fact that in such cases we would be intending the death of the person whom we killed, or failed to save. What makes these actions impermissible, however, is (...) not the agent's intention but rather the fact that the benefit envisaged does not justify an exception to the prohibition against killing or the requirement to give aid. The difference between this explanation and one appealing to intention is easily overlooked if one fails to distinguish between the prospective use of a moral principle to guide action and its retrospective use to appraise the way an agent governed him or herself. Even if this explanation is accepted, however, it remains an open question whether and how an agent's intention may be relevant to the permissibility of actions in other cases. \\\ [Jonathan Dancy] My first four sections concentrate on the second section of Professor Scanlon's contribution (hereafter IP), where he lays out his conception of moral principles and of the role they play in theory and practice. I will raise questions on the following issues: 1. Scanlon's initial introduction of the notion of a principle. 2. His rejection of the standard view that principles are concerned with the forbidding, permitting and requiring of actions. 3. His rejection of pro tanto conceptions of principles in favour of a conception of them as conclusive. 4. The resulting account of what it is for a principle to face and survive exceptions. Scanlon's discussion of these matters here both appeals to and is in some respects more detailed than the relevant section of his recent What We Owe to Each Other (hereafter WWO). The topic is interesting both for the role played by principles in Scanlon's present discussion of intention and permissibility, and more generally because of his account of wrongness: an act is wrong iff it is ruled out by principles that nobody could reasonably reject. The remainder of my contribution is concerned with the ostensible focus of IP, namely the relevance (if any) of agent-intentions to the permissibility of what is done. (shrink)