The scope of instrumental reason

Philosophical Perspectives 18 (1):337–364 (2004)
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Allow me to rehearse a familiar scenario. We all know that which ends you have has something to do with what you ought to do. If Ronnie is keen on dancing but Bradley can’t stand it, then the fact that there will be dancing at the party tonight affects what Ronnie and Bradley ought to do in different ways. In short, (HI) you ought, if you have the end, to take the means. But now trouble looms: what if you have dreadful, murderous ends? Ought you to take the means to them? Seemingly not. But fortunately, an assumption made by deontic logics1 comes to the rescue. Since ‘‘ought’’, according to this assumption, is a sentential operator, HI must really be ambiguous. It could be read either as (Narrow) You have the end ! O(you take the means) or as (Wide) O(you have the end ! you take the means). Now if Narrow is true, then you really ought to take the means to your murderous ends. But this doesn’t follow from Wide. All that follows from Wide is that you ought to either take the means to these ends or else give them up. Conclusions: (1) Since HI is on some reading true, but Narrow isn’t, Wide is true. (2) Wide accounts for the relationship between your ends and what you ought to do. This elegant scenario repeats itself in many other domains in which it seems like something can have a bearing on what some particular agent ought to do. Does what you know affect what you ought to do? Do your beliefs about what you ought to do affect what you ought to do? Do your promises affect what you ought to do? Do your beliefs affect what you ought to believe? On each of these counts, the intuitive answer is ‘‘yes’’. And so each of these questions leaves something for the moral philosopher or the epistemologist to investigate. On each count, it seems that what we all know, is that (Account) you ought, if p, to do A. But on each count, the Narrow-scope reading of the ‘‘ought’’ in this claim yields unintuitive consequences. So since Account is true, it must be true on the Wide-scope reading..



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Mark Schroeder
University of Southern California

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Slaves of the passions.Mark Andrew Schroeder - 2007 - New York: Oxford University Press.
The methods of ethics.Henry Sidgwick - 1874 - Bristol, U.K.: Thoemmes Press.

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