Reason and Value: Themes from the Moral Philosophy of Joseph Raz

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Reason and Value: Themes from the Moral Philosophy of Joseph Raz, edited by R. Jay Wallace, Philip Pettit, Samuel Scheffler, and Michael Smith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004. Pp. 429. H/b £50.00, $74.00.
Reason and Value collects essays from leading philosophers on what the editors call aptly ‘themes’ from Joseph Raz’s work on ethics and practical reason. It is necessary reading for anyone with a serious interest in those areas. The contributions to this volume would have sparked intense and illuminating debates if they had appeared in journals, and one hopes that they will eventually be similarly received, despite having debuted in this perhaps more easily overlooked setting.
This being said, one should come to Reason and Value knowing what not to expect. To begin with, there is nothing in it from Raz himself, other than the beautiful and absorbing photograph on its jacket (a view through a channel of eroded stone, which gives the illusion of atmospheric perspective). Although Raz replied to several of these papers when they were presented at a conference in his honor, these replies do not appear in the published volume.
There is also less than one might expect on Raz himself. There are exceptions: Harry Frankfurt’s plea for caution about Raz’s tendency to place reason at the center of his understanding of the human condition; and Ulrike Heuer’s and Michael Stocker’s probing examinations of Raz’s understanding of the relation between reason and value. For the most part, however, what is discussed is not Raz’s work, but instead, as the title announces, themes from it. It is regrettable that there is no collection focused on Raz himself. His body of work spans several decades, and it is famously rich in distinction and detail. All of this makes it challenging to get a clear view of the whole, despite its unmistakably systematic character. Nevertheless, it is hardly regrettable that we find ourselves with Reason and Value instead of such a collection. Nor is it, as a book devoted primarily to Razian themes instead of to Raz himself, any less fitting tribute. After all, Raz’s contribution has been, in no small part, the introduction of those themes into philosophy. For example, as John Broome observes, Raz ‘was one of the first explorers’ in ‘the age of the discovery of reasons.’ Little wonder, then, that many of the writers for this Festschrift should orient themselves not toward Raz, but instead toward the vistas he opened.
Perhaps of necessity, many of the themes from Raz go missing. There is no sustained discussion of promising or incommensurability, to mention just two examples from ethical theory. And papers on Raz’s landmark contributions to jurisprudence and political philosophy are reserved for a second volume altogether: Rights, Culture, and the Law: Themes from the Legal and Political Philosophy of Joseph Raz, edited by Lukas H. Meyer, Stanley L. Paulson and Thomas W. Pogge, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003. But this is, once again, less a shortcoming of Reason and Value than a testament to the breadth and richness of its honoree’s work.
Finally, the editors attempt no introduction or thematic organization, understandably preferring to let the contributions speak for themselves. Perhaps, however, some prospective readers would find a survey of the contents useful. So that is what the rest of this review aims to provide. I have already said something about the papers by Frankfurt, Heuer, and Stocker, which examine in depth Raz’s own work. I turn, then, to the other papers, which address themes from it.
John Broome sets his sights on an unmistakably Razian theme: the concept of a normative reason. A normative reason for S to phi, he proposes, is a fact that, perhaps in combination with other facts, explains the fact that S ought to phi. This proposal implies that normative reasons and non-normative reasons, such as the reason why the roof collapsed, are really species of the same genus. Both are facts that partly explain other facts; the only difference is in the nature of the facts explained.
Jonathan Dancy, in effect, questions whether Broome’s analysis can be correct. With characteristic sensitivity to the nuances of ordinary practical deliberation, he notes that there appear to be ‘enticing’ reasons that do not support ‘oughts.’ Enticing reasons contribute to making actions worth performing, but not to requiring them. Dancy makes a convincing case that proper attention to the distinction between ‘enticing’ and ‘peremptory’ reasons promises to broaden our understanding of normativity.
Whatever reasons are, they in some sense favor a response. But how are we to understand the way in which the recognition of a reason is linked to the response it favors? How is reason ‘engaged’—to use the terms of Raz’s collection (Engaging Reason: On the Theory of Value and Action, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)? We cannot understand this link as mediated by the judgment that the reason favors the response, Peter Railton argues, on pain of regress. Instead, he urges, we need to see the link as being sustained by what he calls ‘default trust,’ which is not itself an act of judgment.
Ruth Chang takes on the view that desires do not provide reasons for action, a view put forward by Raz (as early as his Morality of Freedom, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986, p. 141). She points out potential gaps in existing arguments against desire-based reasons, presents positive arguments for them, and then uses her conclusions to articulate a new understanding of the much-discussed distinction between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ reasons.
In other work, Tim Scanlon has strongly questioned the thesis for which Chang seeks to find a place, that desires provide reasons for action. In his contribution, he extends this questioning to the thesis that choices provide reasons for action, aiming to explain away the appearance that they do. Choosing to do something, for example, may change what one must, insofar as one is not irrational, treat as a reason, without in fact changing one’s reasons themselves. Likewise, to take another example, choosing to do something after due deliberation can make it the case that one has what Scanlon calls ‘purely pragmatic second-order reason’ not to reconsider the decision, without giving one new reason to carry out the decision.
Michael Bratman takes up a different set of questions on the same Razian theme: the connection between practical reason and decision. The paper is a keystone of sorts, joining Bratman’s work on shared intention with his work on policies concerning what to treat as a justifying reason. What emerges is an account of shared policies concerning what to treat as a justifying reason, phenomena which Bratman shows to be prevalent in cooperative activity.
Donald Regan turns our attention to the theme of well-being, about which Raz himself holds a complex view. While Raz doubts that a person’s well-being has much normative significance for him, he maintains that it has great significance for others: for example, by grounding rights. Regan questions, however, whether well-being has even this latter significance. It is clear, in his view, that we ought to pursue what is good, but it is not clear why we ought to pursue what is good for someone—or even that there is such a thing to be pursued. In this, Regan calls into question a thesis that enjoys widespread and perhaps insufficiently examined support.
As Jay Wallace observes, Raz has suggested, with increasing emphasis in recent work, that the traditional problem of the authority of morality largely disappears under scrutiny. In part, this is because, as just noted, Raz believes that we rarely see self-interest, in the form of our own well-being, as providing us with reasons at all, let alone reasons at odds with morality. Wallace suggests that the traditional opposition between morality and self-interest may be more resilient than Raz supposes. Even if morality does not compete with well-being narrowly construed, it does seem to compete with a broader class of ‘eudaimonistic’ considerations, which represent activities as contributing to the meaning of one’s life. The problem is that morality appears to be merely a matter of complying with episodic and impersonal constraints, which seems to lack eudaimonistic significance. Nevertheless, Wallace argues that a deeper understanding of morality may help to resolve the conflict between morality and self-interest, thus recast.
Sam Scheffler suggests, in effect, that at least part of the traditional opposition between the moral and the nonmoral reappears within the class of familiar eudaimonistic considerations. Both our personal projects and our interpersonal relationships are ordinarily taken to contribute to the meaning of our lives. Yet whereas the former give rise only to permissions, the latter seem to give rise to requirements—indeed to requirements that many might be inclined to count as moral. The question, which Scheffler pursues, is how this asymmetry is to be explained.
The ‘Truth in Deontology’ that Philip Pettit and Michael Smith’s title proclaims is that the rules that constitutively govern the public exploration of reasons for belief and action are deontological in character. One cannot justify, within this practice of ‘deliberative exchange,’ the violation of one such rule on the grounds that it prevents further violations. However, it does not follow, the authors caution, that compliance with these rules is not justified, when it is, in consequentialist terms. The truth in deontology does not establish the truth of deontology.
For the past two decades, political philosophy has been dominated by the enterprise of specifying precisely how to make the distribution of social goods insensitive to luck, but sensitive to choice. Seana Shiffrin questions the latter half of this enterprise. Is choice-sensitivity, she asks, always something to welcome, let alone to strive after? With a keen eye for the phenomena, Shiffrin observes that we engage in, and accept as justified, widespread practices of accommodation, which have the opposite aim of insulating individuals from the costs of their choices, by shifting some of these costs onto others. She argues forcefully that accommodation makes available a certain kind of deliberation, which is free both in the sense of being independent of distorting influences and in the sense of being directly responsive to reasons. Such accommodation thus represents an important social condition of individual autonomy, one which needs to be included among those identified in Morality of Freedom.
Michael Thompson’s contribution touches on a different theme from Morality of Freedom: what it is for a person to have a right against another. Thompson’s topic is the more general category of ‘bipolar’ normative relations: three-place relations that bind an agent X, an act A, and another person Y, such as are expressed by ‘Y has a right against X that X do A’ and ‘X wronged Y by doing A.’ Simply by drawing attention to this special dimension of normative thought and insisting on its diversity, importance, and irreducibility, Thompson already does a great service. But, as it happens, this is only by way of introduction. The broader aim is to motivate a hitherto unrecognized puzzle about specifically moral bipolar relations: what we might call relations of right or justice. The crux of the puzzle is the claim, roughly, that agents can stand in a bipolar relation only if it is no accident that they can share thoughts about that bipolar relation. This is possible for Humeanism, which grounds bipolar relations on established social practices, as well as for Aristotelianism, which grounds them on life forms. However, Humeanism and Aristotelianism seem to make it impossible for members of one practice or life form, respectively, to wrong members of another practice or life form. The intuition that such wrongs are possible might suggest a ‘neo-Kantian’ view, according to which rational beings as such stand in bipolar relations. But neo-Kantianism, Thompson argues, lacks the resources to underwrite this possibility. The only way to underwrite it is to hold, as Thompson suspects Kant may have held, that there is ‘a single intelligible cause’ of rationality in all of its diverse manifestations: in you, me, Raz, and the angels. So we are left at an impasse: either we accept Humeanism or Aristotelianism and deny wronging across practices or life forms, or we accept the neo-Kantian view and fail to make sense of wronging at all, or we accept Kant’s view and make peace with its outlandish metaphysic.
Thompson’s essay alone is sufficient reason to examine Reason and Value. But, as I hope to have conveyed, there are many such reasons. Unlike the choices about which Raz taught us so much, the choice to read this book is overdetermined.
Department of Philosophy NIKO KOLODNY

Harvard University

313 Emerson Hall

Cambridge, MA 02138

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