End-Relational Theory: Extra Short Version
'Ought' — when used in an imperative rather than merely predictive sense — breaks down into an implied end (the goal kind of end) and a claim that a particular action is the most likely available way to realize that end.
Suppose I say, "You ought to look both ways before crossing the street." There is an implied end here: not being hit by an automobile while crossing the street. Further, I'm claiming that looking both ways is the most likely available way to not be hit by an automobile while crossing the street.
If that sounds ridiculously obvious, good!
Reasons to Look Both Ways
According to Evers, 'You ought to look both ways' entails 'There are reasons for you to look both ways' as well as 'The collective weight of the reasons for you to look both ways is greater than the collective weight of reasons for you not to look both ways.'
Also, we should be able to start from 'The balance of reasons favors that you look both ways' and validly conclude 'You ought to look both ways.' (I'm inserting the street-crossing example into Evers' more abstract language.)
Sounds reasonable enough to me. Evers goes on to show how an end-relational understanding of 'ought' can be translated into 'the collective weight of reasons.' But then he questions whether it can be made to work in the other direction, i.e. whether we can start with 'the collective weight of reasons' and validly conclude with an end-relational 'ought.'
Ought —> Weight of Reasons
Evers constructs a theory of reasons in steps I won't reproduce here. Instead, I'll skip to his definition of what it means to say a person has 'most reason' to do something relative to an implied end. (Again, I'm paraphrasing and making his abstract language into more specific terms):
You have most reason to look both ways (relative to the goal of not being hit by an automobile while crossing the street) iff the reasons to look both ways collectively raise the probability of not being hit to a value higher than alternate options do.So the claim "You ought to look both ways..." can be translated into "You have most reason to look both ways..." in a way that retains end-relational and probabilistic aspects.
Weight of Reasons —> Ought
Now suppose we start with:
You have most reason to never point a gun at a person you don't intend to shoot (relative to the goal of you not accidentally shooting a person).Can we translate this to an 'ought'? Yes!
You ought to never point a gun at a person you don't intend to shoot (in order that you not accidentally shoot a person).But if this seems to work, then what criticism is Evers raising?
Without paraphrasing this time, I'll let Evers introduce the problem...
So Most Reason generates intuitively plausible results for the weights of reasons relative to a common end. However, our reasons derive from many different ends, and a theory of weight should allow for comparisons of the strength of reasons derived from different ends. As I will argue now, Most Reason fails here.Oh. He's appealing to the intuition that the weight of reasons to take one action rather than another is often not relative to a single end, but relative to a multiplicity of ends. Evers offers two strategies to save the theory of weight he previously explained:
- Deny that reasons properly 'derive their status as reasons from different ends.'
- Claim we can always construct a 'superend' composed of lower-level ends, and so preserve the single-end semantics which didn't cause a problem.
My argument for (1) will be by analogy.
Philosophers have, at times, argued for the existence of a simple ought or 'ought simpliciter' or 'ought all things considered.' Though playing the rebel and rejecting this notion, Finlay's end-relational theory 'reveals remarkable unity both within normative language, and between it and related nonnormative constructions.' Additionally, as shown in this paper, end-relational theory 'generates intuitively plausible results for the weights of reasons relative to a common end.'
So why not consider playing the rebel again and reject the notion of simple reasons or 'reasons all things considered'? Or, more to the point, 'all ends considered'? In other words, why not affirm that having most reason for an action implies a specific end, just as affirming that one ought to perform an action implies a specific end?
3. http://www-rcf.usc.edu/%7Efinlay/OughtsandEnds.pdf (preprint PDF)