On the idea that normative reasons are indistinguishable from their force

I think that the following claims have no practical normative force. i.e., regardless of the form of normative discourse (legal, moral, etc.) we have in mind, each of these claims are either paradoxical, or guilty of equivocation because their truth is strictly irrelevant to the project of guiding the actions of persons.

a) “The asylum inmate is responsible for what he did.”
b) “My personal reasons for acting are never minimally good reasons for action.”
c) “There is a pretty useful short-cut, but you should ignore it if you’re trying to get there quickest.”
d) “You shouldn’t put anti-septic on your wound, just because that feels bad.”
e) “The doctor probably knows what’s best for me, but that’s no reason at all to follow their advice.”
f) “The fact that state terrorism is a horrible thing has no bearing on whether or not we ought to endorse it.”
g) “There is never any difference between blameworthiness and responsibility.”

Notably, none of these claims are absurd — that is, none of them are straightforwardly incoherent or nonsensical. Rather, it seems to me that they are only false or irrelevant on reflection.

Of course, they are problematic in their own ways: on my reading, (a) denies that practical responsibility involves epistemic responsibility, (b) alienates the agent from their own rational agency, (c) is imprudent, (d) confuses feelings for reasons, (e) is mindlessly anti-deferential, (f) takes an oddly ironic stance towards what matters, and (g) fails to recognize that individual capacities for practical action are almost never at their peak. They are all false, or fallacious, by some standard or other. Hence, they lack normative force.

That said. It seems reasonable to expect that for more of these defects that a claim about practical action has, the more it will seem absurd or internally incoherent. i.e., like contradictions. And if that were the case, then it should tell us something about how the truth-conditions of practical normative claims have an important connection to their reason-giving force. That, in other words, the semantics of a claim is intimately connected with its practical effects.

I put this forward as a line of inquiry, a speculation. Whether it is true or not will have to wait for another occasion.

One thought on “On the idea that normative reasons are indistinguishable from their force

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s