To suggest that the objectivist position is at least not hopeless, he offers the following as a case where someone seemingly has a desire-transcendent reason to act in a certain way:
Suppose you are hiking along a cliff path and notice a stranger who is absent-mindedly walking from the opposite direction. You see that he's about to take a wrong step and plunge to his death. There is a reason to yell to him and alert him of the danger. And this reason applies to you even if you don't care about the stranger or about the pats on the back you'll receive when the story gets out. There is something to be said on behalf of your warning him, something that favors it, that justifies it, that makes it a legitimate thing to do. These are just different ways of saying the same thing: There is a reason for you to save that stranger's life, even if doing so won't make you any better off or get you anything you care about.But this is very weak. Shafer-Landau tells us repeatedly that there is a reason, but he doesn't tell us what it could possibly be ... and I've got to say that I can't imagine what he thinks it is.
Now, as it happens, I would have reasons to save the stranger's life. I immediately feel sympathy for him, and want to help him as I see him in his dire and immediate peril. I can help him by yelling out. Hence, I have a reason to do so. Yelling out will achieve my purpose of helping him. From my viewpoint, it's a productive action.
But there's a sleight of hand here. I have a reason because of something about my desire-set: my sympathies generate or amount to (it doesn't matter which) a desire to help others who are in danger. So Shafer-Landau claims that I would still have the reason even if I didn't have the desire-set. That claim might have some psychological force, but that's because I can't really imagine myself without the desire-set.
I suppose I might have other reasons, but none of them transcend my desire-set. E.g., I may wish to conform to a code of social norms that I've internalised. Or I may fear the law (particularly in a jurisdiction that has an obligation of easy rescue).
Really, ordinary human beings who are not psychopaths or anything of the sort will have plenty of reasons to yell out, but that's because ordinary human beings care about each other, at least in some minimal or basic way, and because they care about other things such as how they are regarded, whether they are obeying the social expectations that they encounter every day, whether they are obeying the law (this may contain a lot of bad norms, but most of us have at least some residual wish to obey it), and so on.
Shafer-Landau asks, in effect, whether I'd still have a reason if I turned into the sort of person who'd be regarded as a monster - someone who doesn't care about, and is not restrained by, any of these things. I can't imagine myself as such a monster, so I feel emotionally bullied into agreeing that I'd still have a reason. But on reflection, it seems clear that I wouldn't. I'm not sure in what sense I'd still be me if I turned into such a monstrous creature, so perhaps it's better to ask what would be the case if I were replaced by such a creature.
Suddenly I've been whisked away by an act of Zeus who has sent in my place an evil demon that has no compassion for human beings, no fear of humans and their laws, no identification with human social codes. This being is too powerful to be constrained by human expectations and requirements and is totally without sympathy. It regards the death of a human being with a sort of clinical fascination, and nothing more. It is, however, intelligent and rational - at least rational in the "thin" sense of being able to find out facts about the world and to avoid acting in ways that are counterproductive to its own purposes.
Does this creature have a reason to call out? I can't see it. We may have a reason to regard the creature as evil - such a creature is horribly dangerous to our interests, we can't reason with it or appeal to its sympathies or anything of the kind - but it has no reason to save the guy's life. It's in no sense making a mistake about the world, drawing a false inference, acting against its own purposes, or anything of the kind, when it watches in silence then observes (and makes notes) as the man falls to his death.
Again, our moral systems are created for us ... for creatures that, by and large, are animals that are responsive to each other (and to a lesser extent to other animals and to various other things). It is perfectly rational for someone like me to yell out, and for my society to develop a norm according to which I am required to yell out. Nothing in this picture is irrational or arbitrary.
Morality is not arbitrary or irrational for creatures like us (though many specific moral norms may be, and some moral systems may contain a lot of norms like that). But it can't get a grip on powerful, rational monsters. Fortunately, we don't encounter many things like that. Business corporations sometimes emulate the actions of powerful, rational monsters ... but even they usually restrain themselves to some extent, given that their decisions are made by actual human beings. You can draw simialr conclusions about churches, armies, governments, and other powerful corporate entities whose purposes can become unyoked from ordinary human sympathies.
When and if we do encounter such things, they are a danger to us, and it's rational for us to protect ourselves from them if we can. But that's not what Shafer-Landau is saying.