Baier's Justification of the Rules of Reason

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Baier's Justification of the Rules of Reason

Hector Neri Castaneda Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 22, No. 3. (Mar., 1962), pp. 366-373. Stable URL:

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Baier's Justification of the Rules of Reason Hector Neri Castaneda Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 22, No. 3. (Mar., 1962), pp. 366-373. Stable URL: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research is currently published by International Phenomenological Society.

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DISCUSSION BAIER'S JUSTIFICATION OF THE RULES OF REASON My purpose here is to examine Professor Kurt Baier's arguments to show: (i) that, everything else being equal, we ought to do whatever we enjoy doing, (ii) that, everything else being equal, we ought to prefer our interest to that of others, and (iii) that we ought to be moral. In his recent book The Moral Point of View1 he claims that (i)-(iii) are (among others) true rules of reason. Thus, his arguments are intended to justify them as well as all the rules mentioned in the phrase 'to be moral,' uiz., the moral rules. Baier presents those arguments as part of a very serious effort to develop Toulmin's "good reasons" approach to the problems of moral philosophy. Baier does succeed in saying many interesting things of his own (e.g., on motives and reasons in chapter 6), and he skillfully brings Toulmin's views, often merely suggested in The Place of Reason i n Ethics,2 to a new level of clarity, detailed formulation, and depth of discussion. But here I want to limit myself to the arguments above mentioned. They constitute chapter 12 of his book. I t seems to me: (1)that Baier commits serious fallacies in those arguments; (2) that some of them he could have avoided by giving his main argument immediately; (3) that his main argument has a very dubious premise; (4) that he could have eliminated that premise, but then his argument would have left him with a sort of utilitarianism more obscure than Mill's. 1. Baier's Rule (i). On page 298. Baier sets himself the task of proving the truth of ( R l ) "The fact that if I did x I would enjoy doing x is a reason for me to x." Earlier in the book he explains that 'reason' appears in ( R l ) in the sense of a justificatory reason (p. 150 ff.). He also asserts: "There is, therefore, no difference between saying. 'One ought to . . . ' and 'There is a reason for ... ' " (p. 280). He indicates that his talk of reasons is equivalent to Ross' talk of prima-facie duties, i.e., duties-everything-else-being-equal (pp. 103, 1 Kurt Baier, The Moral Point of View (Cornell University Press, 1958). It will be cited in the text by page number. 2 S. Toulmin, The Place of Reason in Ethics (CambridgeUniversity Press, 1950).


171). Baier prefers to use the term 'ought' for the case of Ross' duties sansphrase, i.e., duties simpliciter, which he also calls 'the best courses' (pp. 56 ff., 85 ff., 102 ff., 170 ff., etc.). Thus, (Rl) can be formulated as: (i) One ought to do whatever he enjoys doing, everything else being equal. 2. Baier's argument for (RI).I t begins by insisting on the role of ( R l ) in reasoning :


(A) The function of consideration-makingbeliefs [or rules of reason . . is] to serve as major premises in practical arguments. These arguments are supposed to yield true answers to questions of the form "What shall I do?' or 'What is the best course of action open to me 1" (p. 299).

Immediately after this quotation Baier lays down the principle (B) Premises of an argument are true if the argument is valid and the conclusion is true (p. 299).

Obviously (B) is false - it is a principle of the fallacy of affirming the consequent. Baier's next statement is an application of (B) to practical arguments as characterized in (A). Then he passes to discuss (Rl). He gives next what I take to be for him the general form of practical arguments in which (Rl) plays its characteristic role: Our practical arguments runs as follows: (C)

(i) The fact that if1 did x I would enjoy doing x is a reason for me to do z. (ii) I would enjoy doing x if I did x. (iii) Therefore I ought to do x (other things being equal) (p. 299).

In the light of No. 1, arguments of the form (C) are valid. Yet we should notice that its premise (i), i.e., (Rl), can also be used in fallacious arguments. And Baier goes on: (D) Hence our consideration-making belief (i) is true (since the argument is valid) if our conclusion is true (p. 300).

His next two immediate steps are intermingled, but worth separating: (E) As pointed out above, our conclusion is true if the course recommended is the best, other things being equal, (F) that is, if it is better than its contrary and its contradictory - better than (iv), I ought not to do x, and (v), it is not the case that I ought to do x, (p. 300; his italics).

Baier now seems to make a special application of principle (B) : (G) The problem of the truth or falsity of consideration-making beliefs is thus reduced to the question whether it is better that they, rather than their contraries or contradictories, should be used as rules or reason, that is, as major premises in practical arguments (p. 300; my italics.).

So, Baier's argument divides at this junction into a discussion of the contrary of (Rl) and a discussion of the contradictory of (Rl). The former goes as follows :

.. .


(H) if its contrary became the prevailing rule, . "Reason" would counsel everyone always to refrain from doing what he enjoys, from satisfying his desires. "Reason" would counsel self-frustration for its own sake. (p. 300). (I) Our very purpose in "playing the reasoning game" is to maximize satisfactions and minimize our frustrations. Deliberatelv to frustrate ourselves and minimize the satisfaction would certainly be to ;go counter to the very purpose for which we deliberate and weigh the pros and cons. (p. 301).

(J) But need we accept that purpose? Is this not just a matter of taste or prefer-



It is perverse or ence ? . No, it is not just a matter of taste or preference. crazy if it is done every now and then, mad if it is done always or on principle. (p. 302).

Baier's discussion of the contradictory of ( R l ) runs: (K) [if it were a rule of reason] "following reason" might be less rewarding than following instinct or inclination. Hence this cannot be following reason, for it must pay to follow reason a t least as much as to follow instinct or inclination,

or else it is not reason, (p. 303).

3. Comments. Step (B) clearly invalidates Baier's argument, even if he were to restrict it to practical reasonings. Granted (B), Baier is entitled to assert (D). Granted his discussion (mentioned in section 1above) to the effect that 'X ought to do A' means the same as 'A is for X the best course of action,' Baier is entitled to assert (E). Now, step (F) is obscure. The first part may very well be just another way of putting (E). For this we need only to speak of the act which is the contrary, or the contradictory, of a given act. And there is no difficulty in allowing this way of talking. So, let us agree that the first part of (F) merely repeats (E). However, the second part ("better than (iv), . . ., and (v), . . .") seems to be altogether different. Judging from the hyphen, presumably Baier wants to claim that the second part of (F) just spells out the details of the first part. At any rate, if the second part of (F) is correctly written, it cannot be a consequence of (E) together with the first part of (F). TO begin with, it is not clear what is meant by saying that an assertion (or proposition or statement) or conclusion is better than another. And that is what Baier seems to be saying in (F) - that he conclusion of (C) is better than both its contrary and its contradictory. Secondly, it is fallacious to go from "X is better than Y" to "The conclusion or assertion 'X is better than Y' is better than the possible conclusion 'X is not better than Y.' " That the second part of (F) was printed in the way Baier wanted it can be inferred from his step (G), where the term 'better' applies to rules of reason, not to acts, together with the fact that the claims that (G) follows from (F), or from (A)-(F). The transition from (F) to (G) is analogous to the move that (B) allows. The difference is that now we pass from the conclusion being better than

both its contradictory and its contrary to the major premise of argument (C) being better than both its own contradictory and its own contrary. Clearly, the move from (F) to (G) is a variation of the same fallacy of asserting the consequent. Hence, we can conclude that Baier has not established (G). The interesting thing about (G) is that it is like a restatement of Baier's own proposed task, namely, to prove that a proposition (or assertion) of the form "X is better than Y" or "One ought to prefer X to Y" is true. A reader might suspect an infinite regress. But there need not be any vicious regress. Baier has transferred the truth of "Acts A are better than acts B" to the truth of "Rules R are better than rules P." And even though his way of making the transference is a complete failure, one may still hope to find another way of accomplishing it. One such way might, for instance, consist in saying that statements of the form "act A is better than B" or "act A is obligatory (ought to be done, etc.)" are true if and only if there is a rule prescribing the doing of acts of a class which includes A. Rules (or statements of rules) are true, one could go on, if they are enacted or accepted or something of the sort. Clearly, one ought to accept or enact the best possible rules. So, in a sense, the true rules of reason, whether enacted or not, are the better possible rules. The argument just outlined would essentially be a proposal to give a use to 'R is a true rule of reason.' I t is mentioned only to suggest that Baier needed neither the argument from (A) to (G) nor a general equation of 'true' with 'better' to speak of true rules. Moreover, since (G) is very much like a restatement of what he wants to do, one can suspect that, if there is no regress, the argument from (H) to (K) is perhaps all that Baier needs. In fact, after reading the preceding chapters of his book one expected Baier to say something like this: "We know that certain acts are in accordance with reason by applying to them the rules of reason prevailing in our society. We can determine whether our society follows the true rules of reason by finding out whether the rules which our society accepts are in accordance with the purpose of reasoning, namely, the maximization of satisfactions and the minimization of frustrations." To say this would have been (in one respect) to deepen Toulmin's discussion of the two levels of moral reasoning. Moreover, the frank contrast between the reasonableness of acts and the reasonableness of rules (emphasized by Toulmin, but blurred by Baier) would have saved Baier from the chain of fallacies linking (A) to (G). Furthermore, he could have used his points in (H)-(J) to construct a complete argument for (RI), as follows: (M) ( R l ) recommends (or prescribes) the increase of satisfactions and the decrease of frustrations whereas the contrary of ( R l ) recommends the reverse, and the contradictory of ( R l ) recommends nothing a t all. Thus, by (I),( R l ) is in accordance, while neither its contrary nor its contradictory (possible) rules are

in accordance, with the purpose of reasoning. Therefore, (Rl) is a true rule of reason, whereas neither its contrary nor its contradictory are true rules of reason. Hence, the latter two are false rules of reason.

Then Baier could employ (J) and (K) to justify his use of the phrase 'true rule of reason.' Now, argument (M) (i.e., the one contained in Baier's steps from (H)(J) to (G) includes the premise "The purpose of reasoning is to maximize satisfactions and minimize frustrations." In all fairness to Baier it must be emphasized that he forgot to write the word 'practical' after "reasoning.' I do not think he is claiming that the purpose of reasoning, whatever its subject-matter, e.g., in pure mathematics, is to maximize satisfactions. (If he does, his claim is plainly false.) Since his examples of practical reasonings are simple deductions by modus ponens, he must mean that the application of the rules of deduction to value judgments (i.e., for him assertions about reasons for actions, or ought's, or duties) is made with the purpose of maximizing satisfactions and minimizing frustrations. This seems to conform with his discussion of why value judgments guide conduct: "when we ask 'What shall I do'? we already want to act in accordance with the outcome of our deliberations, or else we could not begin to deliberate" (p. 147). Baier seems to mean by (I)that if we play, engage in deliberation, i.e., in practical reasoning, we are precisely doing something with the purpose of finding out what we want to do more than anything else. Yet, it is false that whenever we are seeking to know what out moral duty is, which may conflict (as Baier acknowledges) with self-interest, we are engaging in the "game" of practical reasoning with the purpose of maximizing satisfactions and minimizing frustrations. All we are considering may very well: be just the rules of reason or rules of prima-facie duty, at the first level of practical reasoning which Toulmin tried to describe in some detail. I f the Utilitarian account that Toulmin and Baier give of moral rules is correct, it may be the case that we are in fact maximizing satisfactions when we do our moral duty. But from that it does not follow that the moral agent went through his moral deliberation with the purpose of maximizing satisfactions (either via his delibaration itself or via choosing the act he decides to do or via doing his moral duty). Perhaps the moral reformer or the moral critic may engage in criticism of moral rules with the interest of finding some to be false (or bad) rules of reason, so that ultimately the community may come to adopt the rules which in fact maximize satisfactions and minimize frustrations. Here is another place in Baier's argument where the latter suffers from the former's blurring of Toulmin's important distinction between two levels of practical reasoning. Baier is, of course, interested in bringing in the purpose of practical

reasoning, because it seems verbally correct to say that something is in accordance with reason if it somehow conforms with the purpose of reasoning. Reasoning is indeed the activity par excellence in which reason is involved. But the price is a false premise concerning the purpose of reasoning. However, Baier could have again simplified his argument by dropping his mention of the purpose of reasoning, as follows : (N) (Rl)prescribes the increase of satisfactions at the cost of frustrations, and whatever prescribes the increase of satisfactions and the decrease of frustrations is in accordance with reason, the more so indeed the more in accordance with reason it is. Therefore, (Rl)is in accordance with reason.

This argument (N) may be gotten out of (K) above, i.e., Baier's argument to show that the contradictory of ( R l ) is a false rule of reason. I n (K) the crux is "it must pay to follow reason a t least as much as to follow instinct or inclination." Clearly, he could have argued against the contrary of (Rl) along these lines. (N) also seems to be Baier's argument in his discussion of other rules, as we shall see. Be it as it may, argument (N) is unconvincing or evasive. Its major premise seems ad-hoe; it looks like a definitional assertion. But the issue Baier is discussing should not be decided by a definition. 4. Maximization of satisfactions. There are, of course, many difficulties in Baier's crucial premise, be it "The purpose of reasoning is to maximize satisfactions and minimize frustrations," be it "Whatever increases satisfactions and/or decreases frustrations is in accordance with reason." They are all known to the students of Utilitarianism. Some of them have been met by the distinction (already adumbrated by Mill) between two levels of practical reasoning, which we have seen Baier blurring at some crucial moments. One question a reader of the passages quoted from Baier immediately asks is: "Is the maximization Baier mentions that of the agent's satisfactions"? An affirmative answer would seem required by the considerations that give some plausibility to Baier's premise about the purpose of reasoning. If a person's purpose in reasoning is maximizing satisfactions, very likely those satisfactions are his. That interpretation would immediately justify his concluding that (R2) below is a true rule of reason: (R2) Self-Regarding reasons are better than other-regarding ones (p. 306). However, Baier argues for (R2) in two ways: (P) When we have eliminated all possible moral reasons, such as standing in a special relationship to the person, then it would be strange for someone to prefer pleasing someone else to pleasing himself (pp. 304f.).

(Q) Surely, in the absence of any special reasons for preferring someone else's

interests, everyone's interests are best served if everyone puts his own interests first (p. 307).

From (P) alone he derives (R2), which he then justifies by giving (Q). (Q) can justify (R2) only if the maximization or increase of everybody's satisfaction is in accordance with reason. But it is quite an open question whether everybody "plays the game of reasoning" with the purpose of maximizing everybody's satisfactions and minimizing everybody's frustrations. Therefore, (Q) cannot be used to justify (R2) in connection with argument (M), but only with argument (N). (P), however, can be used together with (M). 5. Moral reasons. Baier claims that moral reasons are the highest of all, and that that justifies why one should be moral. His argument runs : (S) The very raison d'6tre of a morality is to yield reasons which overrule the reasons of self-interest in those cases in which everyone's following self-interest would be harmful to everyone. Hence moral reasons are superior to all others (p. 309; my italics). (T) I ought to be moral, for when I ask the question 'What ought I to do?' I am asking, "Which is the course of action supported by the best reasons?" But since it has just shown that moral reasons are superior to reasons of selfinterest, I have been given a reason for being moral, for following moral reasons rather than any other, namely, they are better reasons than any other (p. 310).

Thus, (8) is Baier's main argument for the justification of morality. I t is very much like argument (N) or (K) for (RI). By definition, moral rules prescribe the doing of actions whose nonperformance would be harmful to everyone. But why are they superior to rules which prescribe everybody to perform actions which bring some satisfaction to me, without my having to do anything for other people? These rules would doubtless maximize my satisfactions and minimize my frustrations. These would not be moral rules, but nothing can make them inferior to moral rules, unless everybody's satisfactions taken together are superior to my satisfactions. Clearly, the latter proposition cannot come from the fact (if it is a fact) that my purpose in engaging in practical reasoning is to maximize satisfactions. For my purpose (once again) may just be to maximize my own satisfactions. Thus, rather than (I), Baier needs here something like (N), modified so as to make a rule more in accordance with reason if it maximizes the satisfactions of more people. This change in the direction of "the greatest happiness for the greatest number" will have to be formulated with precision. Otherwise, it will be open to all the objections that have been made against Bentham and Mill's formulas. They are too well known to be rehearsed here. I t should also be noted that the characterization of morality that Baier

includes in (8) leaves it as an entirely open question whether rules like "One ought to keep promises, everything else being equal," "One ought not to kill, except if one is an executioner, etc.," and "One ought to return to its owner whatever one finds" are true moral rules, i.e., truly among the highest formulations of reasons.