A Humean explanation of acting on normative reasons

Synthese 199 (1-2):1269-1292 (2020)
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Abstract

This article presents a limited defense of Humeanism about practical reason. Jonathan Dancy and other traditional objective-reasons theorists argue that all practical reasons, what we think about when we deliberate, are facts or states of affairs in the world. On the Humean view, the reasons that motivate us are belief-desire combinations, which are in the mind. Thus, Dancy and others reject Humeanism on the grounds that it cannot allow that anyone acts from a normative reason. I argue, first, that this critique fails. What we deliberate about prior to action in cases of conflict sometimes are our desires: we consider our wants from a “normative” perspective. So normative reasons are also desire-based, but involve appeal to desires of a higher order. These second-order desires can motivate. Second, I argue that objective-reasons theorists have a reverse problem with explanation of behavior. If reasons are considerations in the world, a person has reasons to do any number of actions at any given time. I charge that theories that exclude desire-based reasons cannot explain why an agent does one particular action rather than another. Recent philosophers strike a compromise position, allowing for normative reasons in terms of facts and motivating reasons in other terms. However, I suggest that they may be subject to the same difficulty because of the relation between normative and motivating reasons that each has.

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References found in this work

What we owe to each other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
The moral problem.Michael Smith - 1994 - Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell.
Slaves of the passions.Mark Andrew Schroeder - 2007 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Intention, plans, and practical reason.Michael Bratman - 1987 - Cambridge: Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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