Opting for the Best: Oughts and Options

New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press (2019)
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The book concerns what I take to be the least controversial normative principle concerning action: you ought to perform your best option—best, that is, in terms of whatever ultimately matters. The book sets aside the question of what ultimately matters so as to focus on more basic issues, such as: What are our options? Do I have the option of typing out the cure for cancer if that’s what I would in fact do if I had the right intentions at the right times (e.g., the intention to type the letter T at t1, the intention to type the letter H at t2, the intention to type the letter E at t3, etc.)? If I can’t form intentions voluntarily, does that mean that I don’t have the option of forming the intention that I ought to form? Which options do we assess directly in terms of their own goodness and which do we assess in terms of their relations to the goodness of other options? What do we hold fixed when assessing how good an option is? Do we, for instance, hold fixed the agent’s future beliefs, desires, and intentions? And do we hold fixed the agent’s predictable future misbehavior? Lastly, how do the things that ultimately matter determine the goodness of an option? If one of the things that ultimately matters in determining the goodness of an option is that the option doesn’t involve violating anyone’s rights, do we evaluate the option itself in terms of whether it involves violating anyone’s rights or do we evaluate the option’s prospect in terms of this and then the option in terms of its prospect? And what if there is indeterminacy or uncertainty with regards to whether an option would involve violating someone’s rights?


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Douglas W. Portmore
Arizona State University

References found in this work

Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1969 - Journal of Philosophy 66 (23):829-839.
Internal and External Reasons.Bernard Williams - 1979 - In Ross Harrison (ed.), Rational Action. Cambridge University Press. pp. 101-113.
Responsibility for believing.Pamela Hieronymi - 2008 - Synthese 161 (3):357-373.
Why be rational.Niko Kolodny - 2005 - Mind 114 (455):509-563.
Ifs and Oughts.Niko Kolodny & John MacFarlane - 2010 - Journal of Philosophy 107 (3):115-143.

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