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Reasons for action

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L3582-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2015
Retrieved April 15, 2024, from

Article Summary

There are many reasons for wanting to understand what reasons for action are. Moral philosophers, for instance, consider the question of whether everyone has a reason to comply with morality. This debate produces further questions, such as: are evildoers by their actions shown to be unreasonable? Understanding what reasons for action are should shed light on how to resolve this. Other moral philosophers inquire not only whether moral values are objective, but also whether the normativity of reasons is likewise objective. Many philosophers specialize in the theory of action. Some argue that there is an internal connection between reasons for action and the nature of action itself, namely that intentional action can seem to be simply action performed for a reason. More generally, it is commonly held that we are rational animals, and so self-understanding requires us to grasp what it is to act for a reason.

Contemporary work on practical reasons tends to explore various ways in which reasons for action are connected to the first person. Many philosophers think that there is some sort of important and nonaccidental connection between a reason for action and the person whose reason it is. That is, your reasons for action have something special to do with you.

But different philosophers specify this abstract thought in very different ways, ways that need to be carefully distinguished. Some argue that agential elements constrain the content of the practical reason. For example, egoists think that you have reason to do only what is good for you. Subjectivists instead think that you have reason to do only what you want. Internal reasons theorists think that you have reason to do only those acts the thought of which can motivate you. Although these views seem to resemble each other, there are important differences between an agent’s wellbeing, desires and motives.

Other philosophers are impressed by the distinctive epistemic relation that one bears to one’s own practical reasons. When you act for a reason, you typically know that reason in a distinctively first-personal way. And some philosophers think that reasons for action are themselves psychological parts of the agents whose reasons they are. If they are correct, there is an internal metaphysical relation between agents and their practical reasons.

Citing this article:
Wiland, Eric. Reasons for action, 2015, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L3582-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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