In my recent thinking about the ethics of suicide, I've been compelled to confront a methodological issue in practical ethics that I'd not really given much thought to before now. (Nor, as best I can tell, have other ethicists thought much about the issue either.)

Traditionally, we assign act tokens to one of three deontic categories: forbidden, (merely) permissible, or obligatory.  And prior to careful investigation of the morality of an act, our default assumption appears to be that an act is permissible. Furthermore, those who claim the act is either forbidden or obligatory bear the burden of proof to give reasons or arguments in favor of their claims.

But  often the philosophical literature develops in such a way that with respect to a given act type, the default assumption changes, so that it is no longer assumed that the act type is permissible.  What intrigues me is that where the burden of proof is presumed to lie can frame a debate is ways that might end up appearing prejudicial to a given position. Curator, the keeper of the 'View from Hell' blog, takes me to task for framing the ethics of suicide in a way that is prejudicial to the view that suicide is morally permissible:

The moral issue of suicide has usually been stated in terms of whether suicide is morally permissible, under any circumstances. For instance, Michael Cholbi puts the question this way:

    Are there conditions under which suicide is morally justified, and if so, which conditions?

This formulation assumes a major premise: that it is the suicidal person who must justify his refusal to live, rather than the community being required to justify the action of forcing him to live.

In my own defense, I took myself simply to be reporting the state of the literature, both historical and contemporary, on the ethics of suicide, and in fact, I think there is no burden of proof concerning the ethics of suicide — that there are no sufficiently strong arguments for its permissibility or for its impermissibility to swing the burden of proof either way. Suicide is a genuinely open moral question in this regard.

Nevertheless, this example raises some provocative methodological questions in practical ethics:
1. Is permissibility in fact the default assumption?
2. if so, why? Is this a methodological commitment or an ethical one, perhaps stemming from a form of liberalism implicit in much of our moral thought?
3. When should the burden of proof shift away from permissibility?

19 Replies to “Shifting burdens of proof in practical ethics

  1. Why think that there are facts about where burdens of proof lie, apart from particular contexts of argument?
    My own assumption when doing philosophy is that if I’m arguing for something other people in my audience disagree with or might reasonably disagree with, the burden is on me to make my case. For an issue like the above, it would seem to me that advocates of any position have a burden to show that their view is correct, since reasonable people disagree about the root issue.
    That said, I don’t see that your question committed you to any view about the burden of proof, since it admits of answers compatible with every position.

  2. When you ask, “Is permissibility in fact the default assumption?” what do you mean by ‘in fact’? ‘de facto’ or ‘really, genuinely’?
    If you mean ‘de facto’, then I think the answer is ‘yes’. If you mean ‘really, genuinely’, then I say the answer is ‘no’. The proper attitude to start with is suspension of judgment, which is different from assuming permissibility.
    If Wittgensteinians are right, this won’t be true for all assessments — it won’t apply to “hinge propositions.”

  3. I’m posting the following for Kris McDaniel, who wasn’t able to post it for some reason.
    I tried to post something like this a while ago, but it didn’t go through. So here is a second attempt…
    I want to explore whether there is a metaphysical sense in which permissibility is the default moral state.
    First, an analogy. Obligation is to necessity as permissibility is to possibility. Possibility is the default state for propositions. Absent a reason to think that a proposition is necessary, other things being equal, you ought to think that it is possible. Being necessary is a special status; being possible is the default.
    Second, a picture. being permissible, being obligatory, being wrong are in some sense ‘inter-definable’: there are interesting necessary connections between the features. But it doesn’t follow from this that they are metaphysically on a par. Perhaps there is a phenomenological reason for preferring one of the three over the others. When I reflect on my moral experiences, it seems to me that sometimes the properties of being wrong and being obligatory present themselves. But permissibility per se doesn’t manifest itself. Occasionally, I sometimes experience, when considering some particular course of action, a *lack* of wrongness or obligation not to do it. Maybe other philosophers’ moral phenomenology is similar. If the phenomenology is to be trusted, then permissibility is a kind of negative property: to be permissible is to lack the property of being wrong.
    Negative properties are less basic, less fundamental, less joint-carving, less natural in the sense of David Lewis than their positive counterparts. Being wrong is more fundamental than being permissible.
    The more fundamental a property, the more reason you need to posit that something exemplifies.
    This hypothesis would, if true, provide a metaphysical reason for thinking that being permissible is, in some sense, the default status.
    That was pretty impressionistic.

  4. Michael – thanks for engaging my question. I actually wasn’t taking you to task personally – I also thought your entry in the encyclopedia captured the state of the literature, and that was what I wanted to address.
    I now see my original formulation as being untidy, because there’s always the “permissible but wrong” possibility – that it’s wrong to force someone to stay alive (by e.g. prohibiting barbiturates), but it’s also wrong to commit suicide. I don’t think this is true, but it’s a possibility that kinda slips out from the burden of proof problems.

  5. I wish I was able to formulate this better but I worry that the whole notion of burden of proof is ill suited for philosophical and ethical debates. There seems to be a link between burden of proof and having a limited to make a decision. This works well in courts. The presumption is innocence and then the prosecution has a limited time to make their best case for guilt whilst the defence tries to find holes in the case. If the case is not made well enough in the set time, the judgment is made so as to hold the presumption of innocence.
    However, in philosophical and ethical debates, there is no set time by which we have to decide whether something is wrong or not. We’ve already had thousands of years and we still have a while to go. This means that we don’t have to pick a presumption and we have time to hear the arguments on both sides and to investigate them. So, given that we don’t have to come to a definite conclusion before a set deadline, I don’t think it makes sense to argue about who has the burden of proof. No one really – each side has enough time to make their best case. Sorry, perhaps that wasn’t explained as well as it could, but it’s my five pence anyway.

  6. The statement that ‘permissibility is the default’ seems ambiguous.
    1. On one interpretation, the default is what we should believe about the (im)permissibility of a given action in the absence of decisive arguments on either side of the question. To say that permissibility is the default is to say something about the burden of proof. The action in question is permissible until proven impermissible. Unless someone puts forward a convincing argument to the contrary, we should believe the action is permissible.
    2. On another interpretation, however, the default is what things would be like in the absence of morality. To say that permissibility is the default position is to say something about the effects of morality. Morality has the effect of contracting one’s sphere of permissible action, not expanding it. It renders some actions impermissible which otherwise would be permissible, but not the opposite. Think of a sort of Hobbesian view: in the state of nature, where there is no morality, anything goes.
    I’m sympathetic to the second interpretation, but not the first. On the first, I tend to agree with Mark that the default position depends on context, in particular, on what arguments have been given previously, on what the widely held position is, on what one’s audience believes, and so on. I wonder whether the first interpretation seems more plausible to some because they conflate it with the second.

  7. I agree with Jussi, and I suppose with Mark too.
    There must be a burden of proof in law, because we can’t have the jury coming back with a verdict of “Neither side really proved its case so we just don’t know”. We need rules about what to conclude when neither side proves its case.
    But in philosophy we should very often conclude that neither side has proved its case. We can comfortably note that no reason has been given for believing either side. Not happily, but comfortably.

  8. Does not the question revolve around what type of action we are talking about? There are many actions that are normatively neutral outside a specific context – going to a movie for example – that makes them permissible in the first place. It is permissible for me to do x unless I have a reason why I should not do x. Something being permissible means that it has been decided by the person contemplating performing the action that there are no compelling reasons not do it. (Of course, we might make a mistake in our analysis, but that is a different issue.) This being the case, two people might have different answers to a specific action being permissible given the different contexts within which they are deciding what to do. It is permissible for Jim to go to a movie because he has not promised anyone that he would do something else. It is not permissible for Sara to go to a movie because she promised to meet Jane for dinner.
    What seems to be the default position is the normative conceptual framework itself that is made up of certain rules/principles/standards – we should tell the truth, we should keep our promises, etc. – that we are obligated to abide by unless there are compelling reasons that make not following them in a specific situation permissible. It seems strange to say ‘it is permissible for me to tell the truth’ because this implies that there is nothing to blame me for if I do not do tell the truth. But this is certainly not what we believe about the normative status of telling the truth, or other important normative standards. The context that we find ourselves in would determine the permissibility of lying or telling the truth. Our general obligation to tell the truth is the default position until we have a good reason that allows us to justifiably not tell the truth and then that becomes the obligatory thing we should do. This is what we expect people, including ourselves, to do. The fact that going to a movie is permissible does not entail, or even imply, that I must go to the movie. I have a tendency to think that we attach to much normative significance to the notion of ‘permissibility’ when in fact in does very little ‘heavy lifting’ in helping us to determine what we should do in practice. It is correct to say that, “if x is obligatory it is also permissible” in that I am allowed to do it, but not, “if x is permissible it is also obligatory” in that I should do it. This being the case, something being permissible tells us nothing about its normative status and therefore cannot be the default position.

  9. Isn’t there a weak presumption that voluntary acts done for a reason are permissible? If a reasonable person voluntarily acts for a reason, the default presumption ought to be that the reason justified them in doing it, so that the act is permissible.

  10. There are two sense of ‘permissible’ being discussed here, which might be affecting people’s judgements. Ben, for instance, writes that “[o]bligation is to necessity as permissibility is to possibility” and John Alexander that “[s]omething being permissible means that it has been decided by the person contemplating performing the action that there are no compelling reasons not do it.” On these readings (I take it), to say that something is (merely) permissible is to deny that there are any moral reasons for or against performing the action (setting aside supererogation). So to say that something is (merely) permissible is really just to deny that it has any positive moral status at all—it is not impermissible and it is not obligatory. This view seems to me correct, as it allows us to retain the natural inclination to see permissible and impermissible as logical opposites, while not begging the question against the skeptic (I discuss this more in an earlier thread, here).
    On the other hand, Curator writes “[T]here’s always the “permissible but wrong” possibility – that it’s wrong to force someone to stay alive (by e.g. prohibiting barbiturates), but it’s also wrong to commit suicide.” This is an incompatible sense of ‘permissible’. If something can be permissible but wrong, then permissible and impermissible (I assume something that is wrong is impermissible) are not logical opposites. Taking Ben’s analogy, this would then be like saying that something can be both possible and impossible.
    So, we have two senses of ‘permissible’. The first, Permissible1, simply means ‘not impermissible’. Permissible2 means something like “ought to be permitted.” I think that which sense one has in mind is likely to affect this burden of proof debate. If one has Permissible1 in mind, then one might simply agree with John Turri: It’s not that by default we should believe that acts are permissible, but that we should suspend judgement until arguments are made. But, of course, as in anything, it is easy to confuse suspension of judgement with negative judgement. Consider how often agnostics are charged with “practical atheism”; just so one who (as yet) assigns no moral status to suicide might easily be confused (or confuse themselves!) with believing it to have no moral status, to be permissible. But, of course, if one has Permissible2 in mind, then things are not this simple. It is—as it should be—extremely controversial that our default attitude towards actions should be that they ought to be permitted.

  11. Firstly I am not as sure that Burden of Proof is primarily an issue of urgency. I suspect we still might want to discuss who needs to prove the case even if there is no urgency to decide.
    However suppose it is mainly an issue of urgency than I would argue counter Jussi, Jamie and Mark when we are doing “Practical Ethics” (as Michael picked for the topic of this discussion) there is a significant sense of urgency. When doing actual practical ethics (as opposed to normative ethics or the brand of “practical” ethics that consists primarily of abstract thought experiments with little connection to practice) we need to have some notion of what the outcome is. In these circumstances the burden of proof is important precisely because we may not know the right answer. If the right answer isn’t clear, then knowing the burden of proof gives us a default position we can follow in the absence of certainty.

  12. Thanks everyone for these comments. Let me pick up on a couple of threads within them.
    I agree with you, Mark, that when we are acting as advocates of a philosophical position, we bear the burden of proof, i.e., we must adduce positive arguments in favor of our position (though a common strategy is indirect proof, which does not *quite* assume that the position we favor is the correct one). I think what I’m imagining are contexts where we are charged with fairly presenting the dialectical terrain surrounding an issue, and it strikes me that a particular view on a practical issue is sometimes assumed as the default in those contexts. So if you pick up applied ethics anthologies, you see chapters with headings like “Is it ever OK to lie?” (indicating that the burden of proof is on those who would defend occasional lying) and “Is capital punishment wrong?” (indicating that the burden of proof rests with its opponents) This seems to me important because the first question we ask about a topic shapes the debate and what philosophical tasks we take to be central to that debate. I mentioned Curator’s remarks because they seemed to highlight a debate where the assumed burden of proof might frame the debate in a prejudicial way. I was thus attempting to ask whether there are defensible principles concerning where we should assign the burden of proof prior to advocating a position.
    I agree with Jamie, Jussi, and others about urgency and the need for reaching settled judgments in both ethics and law. Though I’d also point out that where the burden of proof rests in the criminal law doesn’t seem solely a matter of exigency. We could, for example, put the burden of proof on the defense, assuming guilt until innocence is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and it probably wouldn’t take any longer to reach judgments under that assumption. So there looks to be a normative basis for putting the burden of proof where it is, and the same ought to be the case in practical ethics.
    Campbell, your first interpretation of ‘permissible’ sounds correct to me, and I’m not sure what to make of ‘permissibility’ in the absence of all morality. Perhaps echoing Kris’ point about the interdefinability of these notions,I wonder if the concept of moral permissibility loses its content absent its contrast concepts, impermissible and obligatory. Is there a coherent sense of non-morally permissible, and if so, does that have any moral implications?
    David and Kris/Ben – I’m attracted to the notion that wrongness is a genuine property and permissibility is just the absence of that property (and in some cases, the absence of the property of obligatoriness). If that line of thought is correct, then perhaps permissibility as the default assumption makes sense on ontological grounds. It’s just more likely that any act is morally permissible than it is either wrong or obligatory, just as it’s more likely that a proposition is possibly T or F than it is that the proposition is necessarily T or F. But David, it sounds as if you think that there’s a sense of ‘permissible’ (‘ought to be permitted’) where it expresses a positive commitment, something more than just the absence of wrongness or obligatoriness. But I fear I’ve misunderstood you.

  13. OK, I’ll bite. My answers to the initial questions are as follows: 1) Yes, permissibility is the default assumption. 2) The reason why it is the default assumption doesn’t stem from an implicit assumption that anything like liberalism is true (unless ‘liberalism’ is defined _very_ broadly), but is rather the sort of reason that could and would be accepted even by people in a very conservative society that had never encountered liberal ideas. The reason, as I see it, is simply that everyday life requires us to do all sorts of things for which the moral rules we will have considered up to that moment will not have given us either explicit or implicit permission. Let’s take, for example, Curator’s decision to respond to Michael. Is that permissible? Suppose that we cannot assume that it is, and that Curator has to first positively show (or determine) that it is. There doesn’t seem to be a very general rule that actions of this type are permissible (sometimes, responding to certain people in certain ways is not permissible; and it would appear to be approaching impossibility to list, in the formulation of a rule, all the ways in which doing that might be impermissible). Furthermore, the action of writing a response to Michael involves many other actions, like typing an ‘h’ after a capital ‘T’, which are in some cases clearly not permissible (such as when typing in the ‘h’ after the capital ‘T’ is the code for launching a nuclear missile, etc.) And when it comes to justifying this particular instance of typing these two letters together, to what could one refer by way of justification other than the fact that it doesn’t harm anyone and doesn’t do anything else wrong, which seems tantamount to saying that it’s permissible because the burden of proof that it isn’t hasn’t been met? It seems to me that this reasoning would be readily accepted by non-liberals. And 3) the burden of proof should never shift away from permissibility.
    To get around John Alexander’s post (July 30th), I should add that I intend the default position of permissibility to extend to particular actions, not to types of actions. Taking John’s example of Jim and Sara contemplating going to the movie, they can both justify their going to the movie by default if, and only if, there is not some good reason of which they are aware that prohibits them from doing so (as is the case with Sara, who is prohibited on the grounds that she made a prior engagement). And the prohibiting reason, as in this case, can (and I imagine always will) be a general as opposed to a particular reason: it is generally wrong to break an engagement, unless there is some further reason that justifies doing so. Hence, when I say (by appeal to the default position) ‘It is permissible for me to tell the truth’, I am not — as John seems to see it — making a claim about truth-telling in general, but rather about this particular instance of truth-telling. I think that gets around John’s reason for thinking that it strange to say it is permissible to tell the truth.
    Finally, a word on the role of burden of proof in speculative philosophy (which I admit, incidentally, that practical ethics is not): would it really be possible to do philosophy _without_ having some role for a burden of proof? I haven’t yet worked this through to any great extent, but I can see some fairly good candidates for problems. For instance, consider the brain in a vat hypothesis. Is this a hypothesis we need to take at all seriously? Well, it seems that we do, because after all there is nothing we experience that guarantees that we are not BIVs: all our experiences can be accounted for plausibly on the BIV hypothesis. But suppose that some philosopher isn’t persuaded by this. She demands of us that we demonstrate to her that none of our experiences have this property. We try to make the point to her by listing a number of experiences, and types of experiences, showing her how all of them could be engineered by a brilliant neuroscientist. However, she is not convinced: how do we know that we have covered all the experiences and experience-types that we ever have? After all, there are too many experiences for us to count. What would we do at this point? Why don’t we take her response as a serious challenge to a major assumption behind much epistemology? The only way I can see now of responding to her is by pointing out that she has the burden of proof of coming up with an example of an actual or possible experience that would guarantee that we are not BIVs.
    Am I missing something?

  14. Michael,
    It does seem to me as though this sense exists, exemplified by Curator’s claim:

    I now see my original formulation as being untidy, because there’s always the “permissible but wrong” possibility – that it’s wrong to force someone to stay alive (by e.g. prohibiting barbiturates), but it’s also wrong to commit suicide.

    I take it that in his example, suicide is “permissible” only in this positive sense: we ought to permit it. My point was just that we need to be clear on which sense we are talking about in the burden of proof debate (and elsewhere). Asking whether by default things ought to be allowed is very different from asking whether by default we ought to assume things are neither wrong nor obligatory. I think the “real” sense of ‘permissible’ is yours, and agree that it sometimes should be the default ontological position.

  15. Michael,
    By the ‘absence of morality’ I didn’t mean the absence of moral *concepts*; I meant the absence of moral *properties*. Suppose, for example, we accept error theroy, à la J.L. Mackie: we think there are moral concepts, but no corresponding properties. What then should we say about the truth-values of the following sentences?
    (W) F-ing is wrong.
    (R) F-ing is right.
    (For simplicity, I’ve used the predicates ‘wrong’/’right’, but could have used instead ‘impermissible’/’permissible’, ‘forbidden’/’allowed’, etc.)
    Here’s one thing we might say. (W) says that F-ing has a certain moral property, wrongness. (R), on the other hand, says not that F-ing *has* a moral property, but rather that it *lacks* a moral property, the same property which (W) says it has, wrongness. We might say the predicate ‘right’ is *positive*, because it denotes the presence of a property, whereas ‘right’ is *negative*, because it denotes the absence of a property (the same property, wrongness, in each case). Now, given our error theory, F-ing in fact does not have this property, which (W) says it has and (R) says it hasn’t, because there is no such property; therefore, (W) is false and (R) true.
    On this view, being right (permissible) is the default. In the absence of morality, i.e. the absence of moral properties, everything is right. To be right is to lack the moral property of wrongness. If there is no such property, then nothing has it, and thus everything is right.
    Alternatively, we might say ‘right’ is positive, and ‘wrong’ negative, in which case (W) is true and (R) false. Then we would hold that being wrong is the default.
    Finally, we might say ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are both positive, in which case (W) and (R) are both false. On this last view, however, we would have to reject the ‘interdefinability’ of these predicates. That is, we’d have to deny the equivalences ‘x is right iff x is not wrong’ and ‘x is wrong iff x is not right’.
    The first position, where being right is the default, seems preferable to me.
    This seems quite close to Kris’s suggestion, but I’d prefer to talk about positive/negative predicates, as opposed to positive/negative properties. Also I’m not convinced by the idea that the metaphysical default position determines the epistemic default position (i.e. where the burden of proof lies).

  16. Justin
    Sorry I did not reply earlier, but a wedding and family visits kept me away.
    You write: “It is permissible for me to tell the truth’, I am not — as John seems to see it — making a claim about truth-telling in general, but rather about this particular instance of truth-telling. I think that gets around John’s reason for thinking that it strange to say it is permissible to tell the truth.”
    You and I are in agreement that if something is permissible it has not been ruled out by some normative consideration. I also agree that the reasons will be general in nature – we should tell the truth, keep our promises, etc. I believe that these (and similar) rules are the default position in that we do not normally think about doing the right thing – we simply do it. We normally tell the truth, keep our promises, do not needlessly and avoidable harm others, etc. Through habit we ‘naturally’ do what we should. When questions of permissibility enter into the analysis is when we are confronted with situations that seem to suggest that we should break a general rule so that it becomes permissible, or even obligatory, to lie or break our promise in these situations.
    My underlying problem with the role that ‘permissibility’ plays in understanding our moral lives is that to say that x is permissible is not to tell us what we should do. This is why it seems strange to me to say that telling the truth is permissible – no, telling the truth is something we should do unless we have good reason not to. If x is permissible this seems to be saying that it is supererogatory – I can do x if I wish and may be praised for doing so (donating a kidney to a stranger for example), but cannot be blamed if I fail to do it. But this seems a rather incomplete account of our moral lives in so far as I think we are concerned with what we are required to do such that we can both praise and blame people for their actions. If Sara, for example, promised Jane to meet her for dinner and goes to a movie instead then it seems that Jane’s action is blameworthy. On the other hand, if Sara missed Jane for dinner because Sara’s child was sick and needed her to be at home, then we would excuse Sara from keeping her promise, and in fact, would blame her if she kept it. It seems to me that the very idea of the permissibility of an action does not even enter into the analysis of what makes the action praiseworthy or blameworthy, hence it cannot be the default position for understanding what we should do.

  17. Thanks for the reply, John. But I’m afraid I still disagree! Here’s why.
    To begin with the analysis of ‘permissible’: There seem to be a number of ways in which that term is meant. People sometimes use the term, I think, to mean ‘not morally prohibited’. However, I agree with you that it seems somewhat strange to say that an obligatory action is permissible, which is what this analysis would have us say. Therefore, I propose the following analysis of ‘permissible’: An act X is permissible for Y in circumstance Z iff a) Y is not obligated to perform X in Z, and b) Y is not obligated to refrain from performing X in Z. This, I think, captures all you intended by the term: no prohibited act is permissible, but neither is any obligatory act. Also, on this analysis, all supererogatory acts are permissible, but not all permissible acts need be supererogatory (since there is something good about all supererogatory acts, but not necessarily about all permissible acts).
    Now, to the point. Let’s suppose that Smith is at a party, and there is a table with food on it. All the guests are helping themselves to the food, and the table seems clearly to be set up for this purpose. Smith considers taking one of the sandwiches from a big serving plate on the table. She isn’t aware of any reason why she shouldn’t take the sandwich (though there might be a non-obvious one, for all she knows); and she isn’t aware of any reason why she needs to take the sandwich (though again, for all she knows, there might be some reason why she must). The default position, it seems to me, is that she may take the sandwich or not take it, as she chooses, and is not blameworthy either way. Someone might bring it to her attention that that particular sandwich is intended for the guest of honour, or that terrorists are going to kill everyone if she doesn’t eat the sandwich; but barring such extra information being brought to her attention, she is entitled to maintain the default position that she can take it or leave it. Further, suppose that she has mentioned to Jones that she is deliberating over whether to take the sandwich. It would surely, I hold, be wrong of Jones to insist that she produce an argument to the effect that there are no considerations that prohibit her from taking the sandwich. That would clearly, it seems to me, be a case of Jones putting the burden of proof on the wrong side.
    In other words, the default assumption for both Smith and Jones to make is that it is permissible for Smith to take the sandwich.
    I further hold that, for countless actions each of us considers performing every day for which we are not aware of any reasons to do them or not to do them, permissibility is the default position for very similar reasons.
    Where do you think my reasoning is going wrong, if you still think it is?

  18. Justin
    Thanks for your comments. I am not sure that your reasoning goes wrong, or that it leads to a conclusion that I am not committed to given what I said earlier. Smith has no overriding reason not to eat a sandwich so it is permissible for her to eat it. But the question of having an overriding reason has already been settled. As I said in my 1st comment, there are actions that are normatively neutral and I think this is one of them. It is at this point that I think our disagreement arises – over the neutrality of actions. For me, neutrality equals permissible, given the lack of overriding reasons to act differently. I think, if I understand you correctly, that you maintain that there are no neutral actions. I am willing to concede this because I think we agree on the idea that what makes an action permissible is that it is not overridden by a reason to act differently. We would both agree that it is permissible for Smith to eat the sandwich because there are no overriding reason for her not to do so. But you start the process with permissibility while I start one step back with resolving the question of whether there is an overriding reason. Does this make sense?
    You make another intersting comment when you say: “I further hold that, for countless actions each of us considers performing every day for which we are not aware of any reasons to do them or not to do them, permissibility is the default position for very similar reasons.” My response to this is that we are acting out of habit in those situations (Smith’s eating may be one of them)and have resolved the normative issues earlier on in the process of ingraining certain values (virtues) in our lives that we do not think about until circumstances warrant a reevaluation.
    I will be on a road trip for a few days so if you respond it may be a few days before I respond.

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