The Locative Analysis of Good for Formulated and Defended

By Fletcher, Guy | Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, November 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Locative Analysis of Good for Formulated and Defended


Fletcher, Guy, Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy


THE STRUCTURE OF THIS PAPER IS AS FOLLOWS. I begin [section] 1 by dealing with preliminary issues such as the different relations expressed by the "good for" locution. I then ([section] 2) outline the Locative Analysis of good for and explain its main elements before moving on to ([section] 3) outlining and discussing the positive features of the view. In the subsequent sections I show how the Locative Analysis can respond to objections from, or inspired by, Sumner ([section] 4-5), Regan ([section] 6), and Schroeder and Feldman ([section] 7). I then ([section] 8) reply to an imagined objector who claims that the Locative Analysis generates implausible results with respect to punishment, virtue and agent-centered duties.

1. Introduction

Before examining the Locative Analysis, it is necessary to deal with some background issues. The first of these is the different ways that we use the locution "good for" and the fact that we use it to express different relations. The good for relation that I am interested in here is that connected to well-being. (1) A helpful initial characterization of this comes from Scanlon:

The intuitive notion of well-being that I am concerned with, then, is an idea of the quality of a life for the person who lives it that is broader than material and social conditions, at least potentially broader than experiential quality, different from worthiness or value, and narrower than choiceworthiness all things considered. (2)

Even if less than fully informative, these remarks give an approximate indication of the good for relation examined here. But there are many other ways in which we use the phrase "good for" that clearly do not express the same relation and it is helpful to distinguish these briefly.

Sometimes people use "good for" to express the relation of being good from the perspective of. There are at least two versions of this. One treats something's being good from the perspective of X as its being believed,, by X, to be good. We use this locution in belief ascriptions such as in: "The repeal of Obama's healthcare law is good for X," where we mean only to report that X believes the repeal to be, generally, good. This is not the relation I seek to analyze here. This is because it is only a belief that is relativized to X in this analysis (a belief about what is simply good). But this is not the same as saying that it would be good for X, that it would contribute positively to X's well-being.

A second way of spelling out good from the perspective of X is as that which has agent-relative value for X, or what X has reasons to adopt pro-attitudes towards. (3) But this is not the same as the good for relation. Something that is good from the perspective of X need not be good for X. (4) Your child's happiness might have agent-relative value for you without itself being good for you.

A third usage of "good for" to set aside is that found in sentences such as: "It would be good for X to run the department." This sentence can be parsed in at least two ways:

(a) It would be good .

(b) It would be to run the department.

Someone who asserts the original sentence could be making claim (a) or claim (b). The first is a claim about what is generally good. The second is a claim about what would be good for X in the sense connected to well-being. We can see this difference because if they utter the sentence with the emphasis as placed in (b) but went on to add--"but it would be bad for X, of course!"--we would find their utterance puzzling. They could, however, add this to the utterance with the emphasis in (a) without incoherence. They could just mean that although it would be bad for X herself, for her to run the department, the benefit to others would be too great to overlook. The good for relation that I am interested in here is that expressed by the sentence with emphasis placed as in (b), where the person means that it is good for X.

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