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From page 76 of Frederick Schauer’s Thinking Like a Lawyer:

What there is a reason to do is different from what should be done, all things considered, just as what there is a right to do is different from what the right-holder actually gets to do, all things considered.

Is this subject correct? If so, would someone please explain and gloss it?

I can’t pinpoint why, but it sounds wrong. I guess its meaning is “What should be done due to a reason. . . .”

Supplementary: Thanks to the answer below, I now apprehend the meaning of my sentence, but I still find the construction confusing. Would you please explain, in more detail, why this is 'essentially not (very) different from these examples'?

  • Both of those constructions using what there is a sound odd to me (AmE). – anongoodnurse Jul 21 '14 at 8:19
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What there is a reason to do...
What there is a right to do...

Can be parsed as

The things [for which there exists a reason to do them]...
The things [for which there exists a right to do them...

What the author says is that what should be done is not the same collection of things for which there is a reason for them to be done.

Let's say there is a good reason why I would quit my job (I find it boring). What the author says is that the simple fact that a reason exists for quitting my job does not mean that I should quit my job, all things considered. After all, there may be many reasons for not quitting.

The construction of the sentence may look a bit confusing but it is essentially not (very) different from these examples:

(A man's gotta do) what a man's gotta do.
What needs to be said is that not everyone agreed on this.
What vegetables were left had started rotting already. What there is evidence to believe should be further investigated.

In all cases, what refers to a concept that is described by what follows:

[a man's gotta do (something)) -> What [a man's gotta do]
[(something) needs to be said] -> What [needs to be said]
[(some) vegetables were left] -> What [vegetables were left]
[there is evidence to believe (something)] -> What [there is evidence to believe]
[there is a reason to do (something)] -> What [there is a reason to do]

  • ... 'What there is a reason to do is different from what should be done, all things considered' would more normally be phrased along these lines: 'The fact that reasons can be found for doing something doesn't guarantee that it's the wisest course of action'. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 21 '14 at 17:13
  • +1. Thanks. Would you please explain in more on detail why this is 'essentially not (very) different from these examples'? I now apprehend the meaning of my sentence, but I still find the construction confusing. Will you please to respond in your answer, and not as comments? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Jul 25 '14 at 8:42
  • @LePressentiment I added a bit, including an extra example. Hope it clears things up a bit. – oerkelens Jul 25 '14 at 9:22
  • Thank you again. Would you please check by the what follows? What does this refer to? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Oct 27 '14 at 5:54
  • I also enlarged on this at ell.stackexchange.com/q/37779/8712 – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Oct 27 '14 at 6:07

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