A Puzzle About Morality and Rationality

Dissertation, Wayne State University (1999)

The task of this dissertation is to solve a puzzle about morality and prudential rationality. The puzzle is that we want to always act both morally and rationally but sometimes we cannot. Many philosophers try to solve the puzzle by showing that morality and prudential rationality are always consistent or showing that one is always superior to the other, but, as I shall argue, this is impossible. I explore different theories of practical rationality under four major categories: agent-relative internalism and externalism, and agent-neutral internalism and externalism. I believe that moral reasons are identical to certain sorts of agent-neutral reasons. Therefore, it should always be rational to act morally, though in a sense of rationality different from that of prudential rationality. Thus, the puzzle becomes the puzzle about certain agent-neutral reasons and agent-relative reasons. In this dissertation, I try to show that the incommensurability between the grounds of moral reasons and agent-relative reasons makes comparison between the powers of the two kinds of reasons impossible. Therefore we cannot prove that morality and prudential rationality are always consistent or that one is always superior to the other. To remove the puzzle, we have to give up the desire to always act both morally and prudentially. If we still want to determine what the agent has most reason to do when the two sorts of reasons conflict in a particular situation, what we can do, at most, is to appeal to our normal sense or intuition, which can be defined as an ability or power to recognize some self-evident truths or statements. If there is no universal normal sense or intuition, what we can do is to vote or appeal to reflective public opinion, which is justified by intuitions of the majority of the rational people in a community who really understand the relevant situation. If voting and reflective public opinion still cannot determine what the agent has most reason to do, in that case we can only determine what the agent has reason, but not most reason, to do
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 68,944
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Self-Love and Altruism.David O. Brink - 1997 - Social Philosophy and Policy 14 (1):122-157.
Prudential Reasons.D. Clayton Hubin - 1980 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 10 (1):63 - 81.
Practical Reasons and Internalism.Hans Vilhelm Hansen - 1990 - Dissertation, Wayne State University
The Shape of Practical Reasons: A Defense of Agent-Neutralism.Michael Raymond Ridge - 1999 - Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Internal Reasons and Practical Limits on Rational Deliberation.Carolyn Mason - 2006 - Philosophical Explorations 9 (2):163 – 177.
Reason Internalism.Alan H. Goldman - 2005 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 71 (3):505 - 533.
Internalist and Externalist Theories: The Diversity of Reasons for Acting.Linda Marie Paul - 1990 - Dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park
The Inescapability of Moral Reasons.R. H. Myers - 1999 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 59 (2):281-307.
A Puzzle About Desire.Chase B. Wrenn - 2010 - Erkenntnis 73 (2):185-209.
The Moral Grip.Chrisoula Andreou - 2001 - Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh
Rationality and Reflection.Jeffrey S. Seidman - 2003 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 6 (2):201-214.
Humean Agent-Neutral Reasons?Daan Evers - 2009 - Philosophical Explorations 12 (1):55 – 67.


Added to PP index

Total views

Recent downloads (6 months)

How can I increase my downloads?


Sorry, there are not enough data points to plot this chart.

My notes