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Summary The central question about desire and reason concerns the extent to which our reasons to act depend on our desires. According to ‘desire-based’ or ‘Humean’ theories of reasons, all of our reasons to act depend on our desires. On a simple version of such a theory, we have reason to do only what would serve one of our present desires. Many philosophers have found such theories attractive, insofar as they connect our reasons with our motivations, or insofar as they seem to make metaphysical and epistemological questions about reasons more tractable. But many other philosophers have found such theories unattractive, often on the grounds that they seem to threaten the rational authority of morality.
Key works A great deal of the recent literature has focused on Bernard Williams’ defence of his ‘internal reasons’ theory, a version of the desire-based theory, in his Williams 1979. Some central contributions to the literature on Williams’ view are Korsgaard 1986McDowell 1995, and Parfit 1997. There is also a lot of recent literature arguing against desire-based theories of reasons. See, for instance, Darwall 1983, Korsgaard 1997, Nagel 1970Scanlon 1998Parfit 2011. For a recent defence of a desire-based theory, see Schroeder 2007.
Introductions Finlay & Schroeder 2008Wiland 2012: ch.2
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  1. Steven Arkonovich (2001). Defending Desire: Scanlon's Anti-Humeanism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 63 (3):499-519.
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  2. Robert Audi (2002). Prospects for a Naturalization of Practical Reason: Humean Instrumentalism and the Normative Authority of Desire. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 10 (3):235 – 263.
    This is an age of naturalization projects. Much epistemological work has been done toward naturalizing theoretical reason. One might view Hume as seeking to naturalize reason in both the theoretical (roughly, epistemological) and the practical realms. I suggest that whatever else underlies the vitality of Hume's instrumentalism - encapsulated in his view that 'reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions' - one incentive is the hope of naturalizing practical reason. This paper explores some broadly Humean (...)
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  3. Melissa Barry (2010). Humean Theories of Motivation. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics , Volume 5. Oxford University Press. 195-223.
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  4. Melissa Barry (2010). Slaves of the Passions by Mark Schroeder. [REVIEW] Hume Studies 36 (2):225–228.
    In Slaves of the Passions, Mark Schroeder provides a systematic, rigorously argued defense of a Humean theory of reasons for action, taking pains to respond to influential objections to the view. While inspired by Hume, Schroeder makes it clear that he aims to develop a Humean theory, not necessarily one that Hume himself embraced, and for this reason little is said about Hume in the book. One respect in which Schroeder takes himself to be departing from Hume is in developing (...)
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  5. Melissa Barry (2007). Realism, Rational Action, and the Humean Theory of Motivation. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (3):231-242.
    Realists about practical reasons agree that judgments regarding reasons are beliefs. They disagree, however, over the question of how such beliefs motivate rational action. Some adopt a Humean conception of motivation, according to which beliefs about reasons must combine with independently existing desires in order to motivate rational action; others adopt an anti-Humean view, according to which beliefs can motivate rational action in their own right, either directly or by giving rise to a new desire that in turn motivates the (...)
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  6. Simon Blackburn (2000). Humanity's Natural Face. Philosophical Explorations 3 (3):282 – 296.
    In my article I summarize a 'Humean' view of deliberation, and in particular deliberation with an ethical aspect. I regard Hume as having paved the way for a 'naturalistic' account of these things, avoiding Kantian fantasies of agency that dominate much current work. Contrary to what is often supposed, the Humean story gives a satisfactory account of dutiful or principled motivations, and a rich account of the ways in which different aspects of character are selected as 'useful or agreeable to (...)
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  7. Simon Blackburn (1995). Practical Tortoise Raising. Mind 104 (416):695-711.
    In this paper I am not so much concerned with movements of the mind, as movements of the will. But my question bears a similarity to that of the tortoise. I want to ask whether the will is under the control of fact and reason, combined. I shall try to show that there is always something else, something that is not under the control of fact and reason, which has to be given as a brute extra, if deliberation is ever (...)
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  8. Michael E. Bratman (2003). A Desire of One's Own. Journal of Philosophy 100 (5):221-42.
    You can sometimes have and be moved by desires which you in some sense disown. The problem is whether we can make sense of these ideas of---as I will say---ownership and rejection of a desire, without appeal to a little person in the head who is looking on at the workings of her desires and giving the nod to some but not to others. Frankfurt's proposed solution to this problem, sketched in his 1971 article, has come to be called the (...)
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  9. Michael E. Bratman (1990). Dretske's Desires. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50 (4):795-800.
  10. David O. Brink (1997). Moral Motivation. Ethics 108 (1):4-32.
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  11. John Broome (1997). Reasons and Motivation: John Broome. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 71 (1):131–146.
    Derek Parfit takes an externalist and cognitivist view about normative reasons. I shall explore this view and add some arguments that support it. But I shall also raise a doubt about it at the end.
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  12. Donald Bruckner (2011). Second-Order Preferences and Instrumental Rationality. Acta Analytica 26 (4):367-385.
    A second-order preference is a preference over preferences. This paper addresses the role that second-order preferences play in a theory of instrumental rationality. I argue that second-order preferences have no role to play in the prescription or evaluation of actions aimed at ordinary ends. Instead, second-order preferences are relevant to prescribing or evaluating actions only insofar as those actions have a role in changing or maintaining first-order preferences. I establish these claims by examining and rejecting the view that second-order preferences (...)
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  13. Giuseppe Butera (2012). Lombardo, Nicholas E. The Logic of Desire: Aquinas on Emotion. The Review of Metaphysics 65 (4):879-881.
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  14. David K. Chan (ed.) (2008). Moral Psychology Today: Essays on Values, Rational Choice, and the Will. Springer Verlag.
    This volume is an edited collection of original papers on the theme of Values, Rational Choice, and the Will.
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  15. Garrett Cullity & Berys Nigel Gaut (eds.) (1997). Ethics and Practical Reason. Oxford University Press.
    These thirteen new, specially written essays by a distinguished international line-up of contributors, including some leading contemporary moral philosophers, give a rich and varied view of current work on ethics and practical reason. The three main perspectives on the topic, Kantian, Humean, and Aristotelian, are all well represented. Issues covered include: the connection between reason and motivation; the source of moral reasons and their relation to reasons of self-interest; the relation of practical reason to value, to freedom, to responsibility, and (...)
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  16. Jonathan Dancy (1993). Moral Reasons. Blackwell.
    This book attempts to place a realist view of ethics (the claim that there are facts of the matter in ethics as elsewhere) within a broader context. It starts with a discussion of why we should mind about the difference between right and wrong, asks what account we should give of our ability to learn from our moral experience, and looks in some detail at the different sorts of ways in which moral reasons can combine to show us what we (...)
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  17. Stephen Darwall (2003). Desires, Reasons, and Causes. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (2):436–443.
    Jonathan Dancy’s Practical Reality makes a significant contribution to clarifying the relationship between desire and reasons for acting, both the normative reasons we seek in deliberation and the motivating reasons we cite in explanation. About the former, Dancy argues that, not only are normative reasons not all grounded in desires, but, more radically, the fact that one desires something is never itself a normative reason. And he argues that desires fail to figure in motivating reasons also, concluding that neither the (...)
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  18. Stephen L. Darwall (2001). ''Because I Want It&Quot;. Social Philosophy and Policy 18 (2):129-153.
    How can an agent's desire or will give him reasons for acting? Not long ago, this might have seemed a silly question, since it was widely believed that all reasons for acting are based in the agent's desires. The interesting question, it seemed, was not how what an agent wants could give him reasons, but how anything else could. In recent years, however, this earlier orthodoxy has increasingly appeared wrongheaded as a growing number of philosophers have come to stress the (...)
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  19. Stephen L. Darwall (1983). Impartial Reason. Cornell University Press.
  20. Heiner F. Klemme Dieter Schönecker & Manfred Kuehn (eds.) (2006). “Practical Reason and Motivational Scepticism”, in Heiner F. Klemme, Manfred Kuehn, Dieter Schönecker, Eds., Moralische Motivation. Kant Und Die Alternativen. Kant-Forschungen. [REVIEW] Felix Meiner Verlag.
  21. Franz Dietrich & Christian List (2013). A Reason-Based Theory of Rational Choice. Noûs 47 (1):104-134.
    There is a surprising disconnect between formal rational choice theory and philosophical work on reasons. The one is silent on the role of reasons in rational choices, the other rarely engages with the formal models of decision problems used by social scientists. To bridge this gap, we propose a new, reason-based theory of rational choice. At its core is an account of preference formation, according to which an agent’s preferences are determined by his or her motivating reasons, together with a (...)
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  22. Franz Dietrich & Christian List (2013). Where Do Preferences Come From? International Journal of Game Theory 42 (3):613-637.
    Rational choice theory analyzes how an agent can rationally act, given his or her preferences, but says little about where those preferences come from. Preferences are usually assumed to be fixed and exogenously given. Building on related work on reasons and rational choice, we describe a framework for conceptualizing preference formation and preference change. In our model, an agent's preferences are based on certain "motivationally salient" properties of the alternatives over which the preferences are held. Preferences may change as new (...)
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  23. James Dreier (1997). Humean Doubts About the Practical Justification of Morality. In Garrett Cullity & Gaut Berys (eds.), Ethics and Practical Reason. Oxford Clarendon Press. 81--100.
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  24. Daan Evers (2009). Humean Agent-Neutral Reasons? Philosophical Explorations 12 (1):55 – 67.
    In his recent book Slaves of the Passions , Mark Schroeder defends a Humean account of practical reasons ( hypotheticalism ). He argues that it is compatible with 'genuinely agent-neutral reasons'. These are reasons that any agent whatsoever has. According to Schroeder, they may well include moral reasons. Furthermore, he proposes a novel account of a reason's weight, which is supposed to vindicate the claim that agent-neutral reasons ( if they exist), would be weighty irrespective of anyone's desires. If the (...)
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  25. Stephen Finlay (2009). Against All Reason? Skepticism About the Instrumental Norm. In Charles Pigden (ed.), Hume on Motivation and Virtue. Palgrave MacMillan.
    A naturalistic project descended from Hume seeks to explain „ought‟ and normativity as a product of motivational states such as desires and aversions.2 Following Kant, rationalists reject this thesis, holding that „ought‟ rather expresses a command of reason or intellect independent of desires. On Hume‟s view the only genuine form of practical reason is theoretical reason operating in the service of desire, as in calculation of means to ends. Reason at most discovers normative requirements, which exist through the interrelation of (...)
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  26. Stephen Finlay (2009). Oughts and Ends. Philosophical Studies 143 (3):315 - 340.
    This paper advances a reductive semantics for ‘ought’ and a naturalistic theory of normativity. It gives a unified analysis of predictive, instrumental, and categorical uses of ‘ought’: the predictive ‘ought’ is basic, and is interpreted in terms of probability. Instrumental ‘oughts’ are analyzed as predictive ‘oughts’ occurring under an ‘in order that’ modifer (the end-relational theory). The theory is then extended to categorical uses of ‘ought’: it is argued that they are special rhetorical uses of the instrumental ‘ought’. Plausible conversational (...)
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  27. Stephen Finlay (2007). Responding to Normativity. In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, Vol. 2. Clarendon Press. 220--39.
    To many it seems obvious that normativity or justification depends upon desire. Few answers to the question, ‘Why should I?’ seem more natural than ‘Because I want to,’ and if we are told, ‘You should do this,’ there is something natural about the objection, ‘But I don’t want to, so why?’ I believe that the very nature of normativity can be comprehensively explained in terms of desire: the mysterious ‘force’ of value, reasons, and obligation are explicable by appeal to the (...)
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  28. Stephen Finlay (2006). The Reasons That Matter. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 84 (1):1 – 20.
    Bernard Williams's motivational reasons-internalism fails to capture our first-order reasons judgements, while Derek Parfit's nonnaturalistic reasons-externalism cannot explain the nature or normative authority of reasons. This paper offers an intermediary view, reformulating scepticism about external reasons as the claim not that they don't exist but rather that they don't matter. The end-relational theory of normative reasons is proposed, according to which a reason for an action is a fact that explains why the action would be good relative to some end, (...)
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  29. Stephen Finlay & Mark Schroeder, Reasons for Action: Internal Vs. External. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Often, when there is a reason for you to do something, it is the kind of thing to motivate you to do it. For example, if Max and Caroline are deciding whether to go to the Alcove for dinner, Caroline might mention as a reason in favor, the fact that the Alcove serves onion rings the size of doughnuts, and Max might mention as a reason against, the fact that it is so difficult to get parking there this time of (...)
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  30. Patrick Fleming (forthcoming). The Indeterminacy of Desire and Practical Reason. In David K. Chan (ed.), Moral Psychology Today: Essays on Values, Rational Choice, and the Will. Springer: Philosophical Studies Series.
    Bernard Williams has famously argued that all reasons for action are internal reasons.1 The internalist requirement on reasons is that all reasons must be linked to the agent’s subjective motivational state by a sound deliberative route. This argument has been the subject of a great deal of debate. In this paper I wish to draw attention to a much less discussed aspect of Williams’ papers on internalism. Williams believes that there is an essential indeterminacy regarding what an agent has a (...)
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  31. Danny Frederick, Adversus Homo Economicus: Critique of Lester’s Account of Instrumental Rationality.
    In Chapter 2 of Escape from Leviathan, Jan Lester defends two hypotheses: that instrumental rationality requires agents to maximise the satisfaction of their wants and that all agents actually meet this requirement. In addition, he argues that all agents are self-interested (though not necessarily egoistic) and he offers an account of categorical moral desires which entails that no agent ever does what he genuinely feels to be morally wrong. I show that Lester’s two hypotheses are false because they cannot accommodate (...)
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  32. Joshua Gert (2003). Brute Rationality. Noûs 37 (3):417–446.
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  33. Alex Gregory (2013). The Guise of Reasons. American Philosophical Quarterly 50 (1):63-72.
    In this paper it is argued that we should amend the traditional understanding of the view known as the guise of the good. The guise of the good is traditionally understood as the view that we only want to act in ways that we believe to be good in some way. But it is argued that a more plausible view is that we only want to act in ways that we believe we have normative reason to act in. This change (...)
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  34. Elizabeth Harman (2009). I'll Be Glad I Did It" Reasoning and the Significance of Future Desires. In John Hawthorne (ed.), Ethics. Wiley Periodicals, Inc.. 177-199.
    We use “I’ll be glad I did it” reasoning all the time. For example, last night I was trying to decide whether to work on this paper or go out to a movie. I realized that if I worked on the paper, then today I would be glad I did it. Whereas, if I went out to the movie, today I would regret it. This enabled me to see that I should work on the paper rather than going out to (...)
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  35. Allan Hazlett, Belief and Truth, Desire and Goodness.
    There seems to be a special relationship between belief and truth that can be metaphorically expressed by saying that belief “aims” at truth or that belief’s “direction of fit” is “to fit the world.” There is an Aristotelian thesis, according to which the special relationship between belief and truth is the same as the special relationship between desire and goodness. Assuming that belief “aims” at truth, then, desire “aims” at goodness. This contrasts with a Humean thesis, on which, while belief (...)
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  36. Joseph Heath (1997). Foundationalism and Practical Reason. Mind 106 (423):451-474.
    In this paper, I argue that Humean theories of moral motivation appear preferable to Kantian approaches only if one assumes a broadly foundationalist conception of rational justification. Like foundationalist approaches to justification generally, Humean psychology aims to counter the regress-of-justification argument by positing a set of ultimate regress-stoppers-in this case, unmotivated desires. If the need for regress-stoppers of this type in the realm of practical deliberation is accepted, desires do indeed appear to be the most likely candidate. But if this (...)
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  37. Ulrike Heuer (2004). Reasons for Actions and Desires. Philosophical Studies 121 (1):43–63.
    It is an assumption common to many theories of rationality that all practical reasons are based on a person's given desires. I shall call any approach to practical reasons which accepts this assumption a "Humean approach". In spite of many criticisms, the Humean approach has numerous followers who take it to be the natural and inevitable view of practical reason. I will develop an argument against the Humean view aiming to explain its appeal, as well as to expose its mistake. (...)
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  38. Donald C. Hubin (2003). Desires, Whims, and Values. Journal of Ethics 7 (3):315-35.
    Neo-Humean instrumentalists hold that an agent’s reasons for acting are grounded in the agent’s desires. Numerous objections have been leveled against this view, but the most compelling concerns the problem of “alien desires” – desires with which the agent does not identify. The standard version of neo-Humeanism holds that these desires, like any others, generate reasons for acting. A variant of neo-Humeanism that grounds an agent’s reasons on her values, rather than all of her desires, avoids this implication, but at (...)
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  39. Donald C. Hubin (1999). What's Special About Humeanism. Noûs 33 (1):30-45.
    One of the attractions of the Humean instrumentalist theory of practical rationality is that it appears to offer a special connection between an agent's reasons and her motivation. The assumption that Humeanism is able to assert a strong connection between reason and motivation has been challenged, most notably by Christine Korsgaard. She argues that Humeanism is not special in the connection it allows to motivation. On the contrary, Humean theories of practical rationality do connect reasons and motivation in a unique (...)
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  40. Donald C. Hubin (1999). Converging on Values. Analysis 59 (264):355–361.
    In 'The Moral Problem', Michael Smith defends a conception of normative reasons that is nonrelative. Given his understanding of normative reasons, nonrelativity commits him to the convergence hypothesis: that, as a result of the process or correction of beliefs and rational deliberation, 'all' agents would converge on having the same set of desires. I develop several reasons for being pessimistic about the truth of this hypothesis. As a result, if normative reasons exist, we have a reason to be skeptical of (...)
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  41. Donald C. Hubin (1996). Hypothetical Motivation. Noûs 30 (1):31-54.
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  42. Donald C. Hubin (1991). Irrational Desires. Philosophical Studies 62 (1):23 - 44.
    Many believe that the rational evaluation of actions depends on the rational evaluation of even basic desires. Hume, though, viewed desires as "original existences" which cannot be contrary to either truth or reason. Contemporary critics of Hume, including Norman, Brandt and Parfit, have sought a basis for the rational evaluation of desires that would deny some basic desires reason-giving force. I side with Hume against these modern critics. Hume's concept of rational evaluation is admittedly too narrow; even basic desires are, (...)
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  43. Ferenc Huoranszki (2006). Reasons and Passions. Acta Analytica 21 (2):41-53.
    Jonathan Dancy has argued that agents’ reasons for their actions are facts or features of the situations rather than their psychological states. The purpose of the paper is to show that even if we grant that this is so in most of the cases, there is a class of mental states that can be reasons. Although beliefs and desires are not reasons for actions, some emotional states—like loving, liking or disliking someone—can generate reasons. The distinctive feature of these states is (...)
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  44. Christine M. Korsgaard (1986). Skepticism About Practical Reason. Journal of Philosophy 83 (1):5-25.
    Content skepticism about practical reason is doubt about the bearing of rational considerations on the activities of deliberation and choice. Motivational skepticism is doubt about the scope of reason as a motive. Some people think that motivational considerations alone provide grounds for skepticism about the project of founding ethics on practical reason. I will argue, against this view, that motivational skepticism must always be based on content skepticism. I will not address the question of whether or not content skepticism is (...)
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  45. James Lenman (1996). Belief, Desire and Motivation: An Essay in Quasi-Hydraulics. American Philosophical Quarterly 33 (3):291-301.
    My concern here is with the Humean claim that no purely cognitive state could, in combination with appropriate other beliefs, but with nothing else, originate a process of rational motivation. The starting point of such motivation must always include some other element: a desire. Let's call this claim, following David McNaughton the belief-desire theory, or BDT for short. The theory is widely believed but intensely controversial. I argue here that it is true.
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  46. Dean Lubin (2009). External Reasons. Metaphilosophy 40 (2):273-291.
    Abstract: In this article I consider Bernard Williams's argument against the possibility of external reasons for action and his claim that the only reasons for action are therefore internal. Williams's argument appeals to David Hume's claim that reason is the slave of the passions, and to the idea that reasons are capable of motivating the agent who has them. I consider two responses to Williams's argument, by John McDowell and by Stephen Finlay. McDowell claims that even if Hume is right, (...)
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  47. Duncan MacIntosh (2013). Assuring, Threatening, a Fully Maximizing Theory of Practical Rationality, and the Practical Duties of Agents. Ethics 123 (4):625-656.
    Theories of practical rationality say when it is rational to form and fulfill intentions to do actions. David Gauthier says the correct theory would be the one our obeying would best advance the aim of rationality, something Humeans take to be the satisfaction of one’s desires. I use this test to evaluate the received theory and Gauthier’s 1984 and 1994 theories. I find problems with the theories and then offer a theory superior by Gauthier’s test and immune to the problems. (...)
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  48. Duncan MacIntosh (2010). Intransitive Preferences, Vagueness, and the Structure of Procrastination. In Chrisoula Andreou & Mark D. White (eds.), The Thief of Time. Oxford University Press.
    Chrisoula Andreou says procrastination qua imprudent delay is modeled by Warren Quinn’s self-torturer, who supposedly has intransitive preferences that rank each indulgence in something that delays his global goals over working toward those goals and who finds it vague where best to stop indulging. His pair-wise choices to indulge result in his failing the goals, which he then regrets. This chapter argues, contra the money-pump argument, that it is not irrational to have or choose from intransitive preferences; so the agent’s (...)
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  49. Duncan Macintosh (2007). Reasons and Purposes: Human Rationality and the Teleological Explanation of Action - By G.F. Schueler. Philosophical Books 48 (1):86-88.
  50. Duncan MacIntosh (2001). Prudence and the Reasons of Rational Persons. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 79 (3):346 – 365.
    Hume said that the reasons that determine the rationality of one's actions are the desires one has when acting: one's actions are rational iff they advance these desires. Thomas Nagel says this entails calling rational, actions absurdly conflicting in aims over time. For one might have reason, in one's current desires, to begin trying to cause states one foresees having reason, in one's foreseen desires, to prevent. Instead, then, real reasons must be timeless, so that current and foreseen reasons cannot (...)
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