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In Defense of the Wide-Scope Instrumental Principle

by Simon Rippon

I make the observation that English sentences such as “You have reason to take the bus or to take the train” do not have the logical form that they superficially appear to have. I find in these sentences a conjunctive use of “or,” as found in sentences like “You can have milk or lemon in your tea,” which gives you a permission to have milk, and a permission to have lemon, though no permission to have both. I argue that a confusion of genuine disjunctions with sentences of the above form has motivated the mistaken acceptance by some philosophers of principles like the one I call “Liberal Transmission.” This is the principle that if you have a reason to do something, then you have a reason to do it in each of the possible ways in which it can be done (though not more than one of them). I argue that Liberal Transmission and its close relatives are false. Wide-scope reasons are defined as reasons that have a conditional or other logical connective within the scope of the reason operator. For example, a wide-scope instrumental reason might be: reason(if you have an end, take the means). By refuting Liberal Transmission, I show that you could have wide-scope instrumental reasons like this while nevertheless lacking any narrow-scope reason to take the means, or narrow-scope reason to not have the end. This enables me to respond to two major objections to the wide-scope approach to the instrumental principle that have been developed by Joseph Raz and by Niko Kolodny.

ISSN 1559-3061
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