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One of the dividing lines in writings in theoretical ethics today is between those who think that practical reasons are provided by universal, and therefore, impersonal values (the value-based approach, as I shall call it), and those who find reasons, or at least moral reasons, personal or inter-personal in ways which are incompatible with the thought that they are all provided by values. I think of recent criticism by Kamm (Intricate Ethics) and Darwall (Second-Personal Reasons) of my accounts of rights and of authority as belonging with this critique of aspects of the value-based approach, which I pursue. In Sections 3 to 5 of a new paper, still in an early draft, on ‘The Possibility of Partiality’ I attempt a reply to these criticisms. Those interested will find it on my website (, in the unpublished papers page.


  1. 1. Posted by Jussi Suikkanen | June 4, 2008 8:35 am

    Dear Joseph,

    I much enjoyed this paper when you presented it so thank you. I had a general question that I never got to ask. When you were describing the ‘value-based’ approach, at some point in the paper you had written that evaluative properties are universal and impersonal. This sounds like a general claim about the nature of value. I was very interested to hear about whether you hold it and why. Many people think that there are agent-relative evaluative properties (even if such properties have been brilliantly criticised by Mark Schroeder). If there were such reasons, one could accept a value-based approach in which agent-relative values provide directly partial reasons.

  2. 2. Posted by Joseph Raz | June 5, 2008 10:44 am

    Thanks Jussi
    The question you raise is discussed in the part of the paper which I have temporarily excluded from the website. Generally, and briefly, and just to explain the view, not to defend it: I do not assign any role to the distinction between agent-relative and agent-neutral, which is hard to define in a way which meets the expectations of those who believe in its importance. What I do think is that personal reasons, such as the reasons one has towards one’s friends because they are one’s friends, etc., are valid (or to put it the other way round there are such reasons) only if the friendship etc. has value. The value is of a relationship (or institution or whatever) which is itself normatively constituted (it is part of what friendship is that friends have certain friendship-based reasons) but those putative reasons are not valid unless the relationship is valuable. So it all comes back as it were to universal values (which are not themselves agent-relative). Hope that that makes sense.

  3. 3. Posted by Jussi Suikkanen | June 5, 2008 3:27 pm

    Thanks Joseph. That makes plenty of sense. I’m very symphatetic to the view too. I’m tempted to see the dependence going the other view. We have a biconditional:

    My friend X gives me personal reasons if and only if the friendship-relationship we have has universal value.

    You seem to read this biconditional from right to left – the reasons depend on the value. As a buck-passer, I’m inclined to do the opposite and read it from left to right. On this view, the sort of relationship we are in has universal value in virtue of the personal reasons in this sort of relationships being good reasons.

    I guess my inclination is based on the naive idea that I feel somewhat offended if my friend tells me that I give her reasons only on the condition that our relationship belongs to a type that has universal value. I should be reason enough…

    I agree about the difficulties of the agent-relative and agent-neutral reasons. I have a novel approach to this but that is another story.

  4. 4. Posted by Joseph Raz | June 6, 2008 1:11 am

    As we both know this is not the place to discuss the mistakes of the buck-passing view. So I will just mention that your buck-passing tendency is much stronger than Scalon’s whose book revived this unfortunate idea. For he only applies the doctrine to the Good, and denies that it applies to more specific value properties, whereas you seem to apply it to all value properties, or at least to all properties which apply to relationships of the kind which give rise to practical reasons.
    Leaving that on one side we seem to agree. At least we agree that (a) the biconditional is true, and (b) underlying its surface symmetry is an asymmetry in the order of justification. Beyond that we disagree. You think that friendship is valuable because people have special reasons towards their friends, and I believe that they have such reasson only if their particular friendship has some value, its value justifies and explains why they have those friendship-based reasons. For each of us to substantiate our views we have to be able to show how the asymmetry works. I think that I can do that. For example, a friendship based entirely on humiliation, or expploitation has no value and though there are such friendships the friends do not in fact have friendship-based reasons. I can explain humiliation and exploitation independently of anything to do with friendship and that is what I have to do to substantiate my view. I cannot see how you can substantiate your view, i.e. I cannot see what conditions friends have to meet to have friendship-based reasons you can offer other than some test which relies on the value of the friendship.

  5. 5. Posted by Jussi Suikkanen | June 6, 2008 8:43 am

    We agree about a lot then and have identified an interesting difference between two views. I think this is great so I’m thankful. I’m also sorry about passing the buck.

    Here’s first pass to meet the challenge. My friend and my relationship to her gives me certain substantial reasons to do many acts – treat her kindly, care about her, spend time with her, help her and so on. Acting on these reasons is constitutive of the kind of relationship we have. That she and our relationship gives me reasons to act in this kind of particular type of relationship constituting ways makes this kind of relationship good.

    Neither she nor our relationship thus far gives me reasons to humiliate or exploit her (if anything ever does). Therefore, were I to humiliate or exploit her, I would not be acting on good reasons provided by her or us, and hence the relationship that would be formed as a result would not be good. I, like you, can also give an account of humiliation and exploitation that is independent of friendship. All of this looks pretty natural to me so thus far the positions seem to be equally well off.

  6. 6. Posted by Jussi Suikkanen | June 6, 2008 8:56 am

    To put the above more theoretically, your view has to specify some concrete good-makers and bad-makers of different relationship types. I can say that those same things provide some concrete reasons to act on some particular ways which are constitutive of those relationships. I can then explain the value of these sorts of relationships by these very reasons.

  7. 7. Posted by Joseph Raz | June 6, 2008 12:42 pm

    I am not sure that I made myself clear in my previous comment. We agree that the biconditional: ‘For all reasons R and relationships F, there are relationship-based Rs if and only if there is value in F’ is true. We also agree that it is possible to verify one side of the biconditional, but only one, independently of invoking the truth of the other. I claim that the value side can be established independently of the reason side, but not vice versa. I gave an example of how it can be done in my previous comment. You claim that the reason side can be established without invoking the value side, which I deny. But you gave no explanation of how that can be done. In your comment above you simply assume that the reason proposition is true of a particular relationship.

  8. 8. Posted by Jussi Suikkanen | June 6, 2008 5:35 pm

    This is what I’ve never got even though I know people like Philip Pettit and Pekka Vayrynen say similar things as you. I’m in the minority here against people I know are always right so I am missing something. But, I describe the ‘partial reason’-providing features of a type of relationship – the mutual respect within it, its happiness-induciveness, and so on. Not every relationship has these features. Then I say that any relationship is good because it has these features. What more is there to say or explain about those reasons? Compare two explanations:

    1. Relatioships in which friends respect one another, admire one another, make each other happy, and so on provide reasons to treat the friend in certain ways.

    2. That friends respect one another, admire one another, make each other happy, and so on makes the relationship good. Because relationships in which friends respect one another, admire one another, make each other happy , and so on are good because of these features, these relationships provide reasons to treat the friend in certain ways.

    I’m happy with 1. I don’t think anything is left to be explained about those reasons. You seem to think that there is and that 2 gives the explanation. I don’t see that. I don’t see how the value mentioned in 2 adds to the explanation. I’m sorry that I fail to see this.

    I also worry that your biconditional fudges the issue because it swithes from some things features providing reasons to there being reasons.

  9. 9. Posted by Francesco Orsi | June 6, 2008 8:00 pm

    Dear Joseph and Jussi,
    even if one denies the buck-passing account, claims of value must align to some claims of reasons. The value-based picture is that a certain relationship gives me reasons to act in certain partial ways only if the relationship has some value, where this value is over and above the value-for the people involved in the relationship. A way to understand this is: A certain relationship gives one reasons to act partially only if some features of the relationship give everyone reason to value the relationship. My puzzle is about what happens when it is not clear that everyone (not just those involved) has OVERALL reason to value the friendship, because, e.g., it involves violent encounters even if by mutual consent, or the joint and heavy use of alcohol or drugs, or a mutual agreement to cut off any other relationship. We can of many features that do not add and possibly subtract universal value from the relationship. However, it is not clear that these friends lack reasons of friendship or even that their reasons of friendship are weaker when compared to those stemming from a nice and clean relationship.

  10. 10. Posted by Joseph Raz | June 8, 2008 3:53 pm

    Dear Francesco,
    I agree. It is not my view that the relationship must be good on balance for there to be reasons based on it, only that it must have some value. Of course, how good it is may affect the stringency or strength of the reason, but it need not be decisive. Other factors apply as well.

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