SOPhiA 2018

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Should We Respond Correctly to Our Reasons?
(Ethics, English)

I argue that we should not always respond correctly to our reasons. This is because there are no normative reasons for attitudes (I focus especially on belief and intention). My argument calls into question recent defenses of the normativity of rationality. Furthermore, its conclusion implies that we are never directly responsible for our attitudes.

My first step relies on cases in which we ought to cause ourselves not to respond correctly to our decisive reasons for attitudes. An example is the case of an eccentric billionaire who offers you money for believing against your decisive evidence. The central argument is this:

(1) Sometimes, you ought to act in such a way that you thereby cause yourself not to respond correctly to your decisive reasons for attitudes.

(2) If you ought to cause yourself not to φ, then it cannot be the case that you ought to φ.

(3) Thus: sometimes, it is not true that you ought to respond correctly to your reasons for attitudes.

The alternative to (2) would be to claim that there are cases in which we ought to cause ourselves not to φ, but at the same time ought to φ. In such cases, we would necessarily have to flout at least one normative requirement when we obey to the other. But it seems that we are reacting to the situation in the right way if we are doing what we ought to (causing ourselves), rather than forming the attitude.

I reject objections against (2). In the course of this, I defend two claims that are currently often disputed: first, that only one response is normatively required in a situation as described in (1) (namely, the response of causing oneself not to φ); secondly, that irrationality is not necessarily criticizable. Furthermore, I argue that cases of rational irrationality, as described by Parfit (1984/87, 12-13), pose no problem for (2).

In a second step, I argue that the conclusion of the argument above is incompatible with reasons for attitudes being pro tanto normative reasons. If they were, we would either commit us to the possibility of weighing reasons for actions against reasons for attitudes, or to incommensurable normative directions when deciding how to respond to reasons, all things considered, in a situation like (1).

I finally defend my understanding of "decisive reasons for attitudes" that is central to the argument. There I criticize a recent conception of decisive reasons put forward by Kiesewetter (2017).

Chair: Julia Mirkin
Time: 14:40-15:10, 12 September 2018 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.007

Sebastian Schmidt 
(Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany)

Sebastian Schmidt is a PhD student and Research Assistant at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU). There he also finished his M.A thesis in 2015, which was supervised by Gerhard Ernst at FAU and David Owens at the University of Reading. The thesis was awarded with a prize of the FAU. He also received two essay prices from the German Society for Analytic Philosophy (Gesellschaft für Analytische Philosophie). His PhD project on the "ethics of mind" is funded by the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes). He was main organizer of the conference on "Ethics of Mind. Responsibility, Normativity, and Rationality" in July/August 2017 at FAU. Two of his articles (one on irrationality, and one on believing at will) appeared in the journal Grazer Philosophische Studien, and he wrote reviews for Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung and Tierstudien. For more information see:

Testability and Meaning deco