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The Normativity of What We Care About

The Normativity of What We Care About: A Love-Based Theory of Practical Reasons

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Leuven University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Normativity of What We Care About
    Book Description:

    Reasons and obligations pervade our lives. The alarm clock gives us a reason to get up in the morning, the expectations of colleagues or clients give us a reason to do our jobs well, the misery in developing countries gives us a reason to donate money to Oxfam, a headache gives us a reason to take an aspirin. Looking for unity in variety, philosophers wonder why a consideration counts as a reason to do something. The nature and source of practical reasons have been debated intensively over the last three decades in analytical philosophy. This book discusses the three most influential theories referred to as the desire-based, the value-based, and the rationality-based theories of practical reasons. The author argues that all three are defective because they overlook the role of what agents care about. In the end it is our being concerned about other people, leading a meaningful life and being healthy (among other things) that gives us reasons to do certain things rather than others. Drawing on insights from Harry Frankfurt, the author presents a love-based reason theory as a new and promising perspective in the debate on practical reasons.

    eISBN: 978-94-6166-077-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 9-10)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 11-14)

    Reasons and obligations pervade our lives. That is one crucial aspect in which humans differ from animals. Not just with regard to our beliefs, but also with regard to our actions, we are guided by norms that determine whether we have a reason to believe or to act as we are inclined to do. This book is about practical reasons (reasons to act), as opposed to theoretical reasons (reasons to believe). It starts from the observation that considerations such as ‘intentionally stepping on his toe is bad’ or ‘the food in that restaurant is excellent’ or ‘only this medicine will...

  5. Chapter 1 Internalism and externalism: some terminology
    (pp. 15-32)

    It is hard to believe that there ever was a time when a philosopher had to stimulate his fellow philosophers to use and to study more often the terms ‘internalism’ and ‘externalism’ (see Frankena 1958, 50). In recent years it has become very common for any philosopher working in the field of (moral) agency and reasons to define himself as either an internalist or externalist. Unfortunately, however, the terms are vague and ambiguous. Since calling someone ‘an internalist’ often confuses more than it illuminates, the labels threaten to lose their significance. As a first step in clarifying the terminology, it...

  6. Chapter 2 Bernard Williams on practical reasons
    (pp. 33-66)

    Judgments of the ‘I have a reason to Ф’ sort are normative judgements.¹ To assume, as judgement internalists do, that there is a connection between the judgement that one has a reason to Ф and being motivated to Ф is one thing, to explain how it comes about, however, is another. One option is to assure motivation by building it into the very explanation of what it means to have a reason. This strategy amounts to a defence of existence internalism. The most famous formulation of existence internalism was given by Bernard Williams in his article ‘Internal and External Reasons’...

  7. Chapter 3 Michael Smith on practical reasons
    (pp. 67-106)

    Michael Smith’s approach to practical reasons is integrated into an ambitious meta-ethical project. The project is driven by the ambition to find, develop and corroborate a solution for what Smith calls ‘the moral problem’. The moral problem has to do with the apparent incompatibility of two widely recognized (or, in Smith’s vocabulary, ‘platitudinous’) features of morality: objectivity and practicality. InThe Moral Problem, which could be called a philosophical bestseller, Smith presents a way to reconcile morality’s motivational relevance with its claim to objectivity and categorical authority.

    Smith offers an extraordinarily clear introduction and an engaging contribution to contemporary meta-ethics....

  8. Chapter 4 Derek Parfit on practical reasons
    (pp. 107-142)

    Roughly speaking, there are three strands of thinking in the debate on normative reasons which can be qualified as Humean, Kantian and Platonic. With Williams and Smith we illustrated the first two strands. In this chapter I present Derek Parfit as a proponent of what he himself resists calling Platonic thinking, but which is definitely anti-Humean and anti-Kantian in its insistence on the fact that reasons are sui generis, non-reducible to either natural facts or features of rational agency, and knowable through the special faculty of intuitions. Since he considers normative truths to be non-ontological (he compares them to mathematical...

  9. Chapter 5 Harry Frankfurt on practical reasons
    (pp. 143-194)

    In this chapter I would like to propose a reason theory which adopts the positive elements but avoids the difficulties of Williams’ internal reason theory. Smith and Parfit offer alternatives for the internal reason theory that suffer from their own problems, and I am not convinced that they are doing a better job than Williams in their attempt to explain normative reasons. I agree with them, however, that Williams’ theory also suffers from some flaws. Therefore, I will outline yet another reason theory, based on the philosophy of Harry Frankfurt.

    According to Frankfurt, the distinguishing feature of our species is...

  10. Concluding remarks
    (pp. 195-198)

    The topic of this book is the long-standing debate concerning the nature and source of reasons for action. The central question is whether practical reasons are generated by and essentially depend on an agent’s attitudes, or whether, on the contrary, agency is constrained by objective, agent-independent reasons. Looking back on how we processed different theories of reasons, it will transpire that intuitions about what it means toact rationallyserved as a test. I realize that normativity and rationality are different things. Otherwise many of today’s discussions would be nonsense from the start, for example the discussion on the normativity...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-208)