Reasons for and reasons against

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What an agent ought to do is determined by competition between reasons bearing on the options open to her. The popular metaphor of balancing or weighing reasons on a scale to represent this competition encourages a focus on competition between reasons for competing options. But what an agent ought to do also depends on the reasons against those options. The balancing metaphor does not provide an obvious way to represent reasons against. Partly as a result of this, there is a serious lack of work on reasons against. A simple view is that there is no problem here, since reasons against an option are really just more reasons for—in particular, reasons for certain alternatives. This simple view lets us maintain the balancing metaphor, and more importantly, it simplifies theorizing about the competition between reasons. This is because if it’s true, there is really just one kind of competition, the competition between reasons for competing options. This paper challenges the simple view, arguing against several ways of identifying which alternatives to an option the reasons against it are reasons for. I also sketch a competing view, according to which reasons against are distinct from reasons for—these are two different normative relations. If this kind of view is correct, then our theory of the competition between reasons will need to recognize at least two kinds of competition: the one between reasons for competing options, and the one between the reasons for an option and the reasons against it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-743
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number3
Early online date3 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • Weight
  • Ought
  • Practical reasoning
  • Reasons against
  • Reasons


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