Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More claims about reasons I suspect might be mistaken

This is a follow up on a few posts previous to this one. Concerning the case where Jones is approached for alms, is fresh out of alms, but has the means for murdering another for his alms, I wanted to say the following:
(4) There is a reason for Jones to give alms to the poor.
(5) The reason Jones has for giving alms to the poor, which is associated with the duty of beneficence, is not a reason that has among its demands that Jones do whatever is necessary given the circumstances to give alms to the poor.
(6) The reason Jones has for giving alms to the poor, which is associated with the duty of beneficence, is not a reason for Jones to murder the passerby and take his alms.

But, there's an obvious objection. While it might seem intuitive to assert (4) and intuitive to say that Jones has no reason to murder the man, these claims are inconsistent. Given the circumstances, Jones' murdering the man is a necessary means for giving alms to the poor. Reasons to pursue ends become reasons to pursue the means necessary. The absence of reasons to pursue means necessary for some end is an indication that there is no reason to pursue that end. Can't have it both ways, someone might say. This is all consistent with Foot's point, provided we read Foot as saying something to the effect that reasons associated with duties of beneficence are conditional reasons and we simply have no such reasons on the condition that improving the welfare of others requires us to act unjustly.

It is a general principle, the objector says, that if R is a reason for S to Φ and there is only one means by which S might Φ given the circumstances, R is a reason for S to pursue those means. And, as a consequence, if R is a reason to Φ and S is forced to choose between Φ-ing and Ψ-ing, R is a pro that favors Φ-ing iff R is a con that speaks against Ψ-ing. (Assuming, of course, that you would sacrifice the good by Ψ-ing). So, in the case at hand, insofar as the duty of beneficence says that there is a reason to give alms and that necessitates murder, it is a reason to murder and a con associated with the decision not to murder.

According to this line of reasoning, in conflict situations where S is forced to choose between Φ-ing and Ψ-ing, it would follow from this assumption that the reasons that spoke in favor of Φ-ing would thereby speak against Ψ-ing. In other words, any consideration that pointed to a pro of Φ-ing that could not be attained if the agent Ψ’d rather than Φ’d would be a reason to refrain from Ψ-ing. And, any of the cons associated only with Ψ-ing would thereby be a reason to Φ. That seems wrong, however.

Jones is out for his morning constitutional when he sees a man fall into the creek. Seeing that the man was struggling to pull himself out and is in serious danger of being pulled away from the shore, he rushes over to lend a hand. Smith is heading out to meet Jones the next day for lunch when he sees a different man fall into the same creek. Seeing that this man was struggling to pull himself out and in danger of being pulled away from the shore, he rushes over to lend a hand knowing full well that his assisting this stranger would prevent him from keeping his appointment with Jones. It seems that the strength of the case for Φ-ing is a function of both the reasons to Φ and the reasons to refrain from Φ-ing. It seems that the case for Smith to assist and the case for Jones to assist is equally strong. It follows that the reasons that favored keeping the meeting rather than helping the man were not reasons to refrain from helping the man. So, it seems that unless it is qualified significantly, the assumption needed to show that (4) is incompatible with (5) and (6) is false.

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