Pattern-Based Reasons and Disaster


Pattern-based reasons are reasons for action deriving not from the features of our own actions, but from the features of the larger patterns of action in which we might be participating. These reasons might relate to the patterns of action that will actually be carried out, or they might relate to merely hypothetical patterns. In previous work, I have argued that accepting merely hypothetical pattern-based reasons, together with a plausible account of how to weigh these reasons, can lead to disastrous consequences. In this paper, I argue that this problem is not limited to hypothetical pattern-based reasons: I show that there are analogous issues for reasons deriving from actual patterns. I then suggest that we can avoid this problem by adopting a different account of the weight of pattern-based reasons.


6 thoughts on “Pattern-Based Reasons and Disaster

  1. Roth, Abe says:

    Hi Alex,

    This is neat; thanks for the talk. This is just a clarificatory question about pattern-based reasons (it arose when I was trying to understand what the pattern-based reason was supposed to be in your case). Specifically, what governs how patterns generate reasons? Take the case of voting. Suppose I have a pattern-based reason to vote for my favored candidate – the other candidate would be a disaster. My vote would fit into a pattern wherein my candidate wins, so that’s a pattern-based reason to vote. But my vote also fits into a pattern where my candidate loses. So that seems not to be a reason to vote. Perhaps it’s even a pattern based reason not to vote??? In any case, my vote fits into many patterns, and it’s not clear which one will occur. How do I know which pattern is relevant for generating a reason for me to act? I suppose that if I knew that my vote will make a difference, then I would have an answer. But if my vote makes a difference, then what need to I have for pattern-based reasons? Wouldn’t my act based reason do the job?

    Having written this, it seems that my question bears some relation to Olle’s. Both stem from questions about what reasons are generated from what patterns.

    1. Dietz, Alexander says:

      Hi Abe,

      Thanks for the question! (Olle also brought this up in the Q&A.) I think determining which patterns generate reasons is a big challenge for the theory of pattern-based reasons, and I don’t really have an answer to it.

      I think we wouldn’t want to be too liberal about this and just allow any old set of actions to count as a reason-generating pattern. For one thing, that wouldn’t match our ordinary intuitions about when you have a reason to (or to refuse to) do your part. For another thing, there’s a worry that if we allow both sets like and to count as reason-generating patterns, then we’ll end up having pattern-based reasons both for and against every action, and they’ll all just cancel each other out.

      So if we want to vindicate our ordinary intuitions about pattern-based reasons, then we need to come up with some constraints on which patterns are relevant. For example, one idea I’m tempted by is that you’re only participating in a good/bad pattern if your action is what part of what *causes* the good/bad pattern. Then, in the voting case, if the good candidate loses, you don’t count as participating in a bad pattern, because surely the votes for the good candidate aren’t part of what causes the victory of the bad candidate. Another idea is that the relevant patterns are those where everyone’s action counts as “helping” in Julia Nefsky’s sense. Or you could be even more restrictive and say that the pattern has to count as an exercise of group agency. Christopher Woodard has a good paper, “Three Conceptions of Group-Based Reasons,” that goes into this more.

    2. Dietz, Alexander says:

      *part of what causes the good/bad outcome

    3. Roth, Abe says:

      Thanks, Alex. I will look at the piece you recommend. Sorry I missed the session – was sleeping!

  2. Blomberg, Olle says:

    Interesting stuff!
    Question: couldn’t one say that in addition to the ABR that one has to administer the drug, one also has a PBR, call it PBR2, to avoid participating in the actual pattern where the villain administers his or her drug but you omit to administer yours? If one can participate in a pattern by omitting to do anything, then ABR + PBR2 would outweigh PBR and the Proportionality hypothesis can be saved.

    1. Dietz, Alexander says:

      Hi Olle, thanks again for this question! We talked about this in the Q&A, but basically my reply is that I think we wouldn’t intuitively consider this “participating” (at least in some versions of the example), and that being too liberal about what counts as a relevant pattern would end up undermining pattern-based reasons (because they would all end up canceling each other out). See also my reply to Abe above which goes into the broader issue a bit more.

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