About this topic
Summary Discussions of moral reasons and reasoning occur in action theory, moral epistemology, meta-ethics, and normative ethics. The papers listed here as laying claim to this categorization therefore represent a broad array of ongoing conversations in philosophy. They ask questions like the following: how do agents apprehend and respond to (weigh, sort, disregard) moral reasons when deliberating about what to do? What is the best way of modeling reasoning in situations of moral conflict? Does moral reasoning include learning from experience, inculcating habits, or changing one's mind? Are moral reasons and their uptake meaningfully distinct from other sorts of practical reasons, and if so, how might this matter?
Key works Some of the most important conversations about moral reasons have been initiated and continued by the work of Joseph Raz, especially (Raz 1975Raz 1999, and Raz 2001).
Introductions The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Moral Reasoning (Richardson 2013) provides an overview of some key issues.
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  1. Alfred Archer (2014). Moral Rationalism Without Overridingness. Ratio 27 (1):100-114.
    Moral Rationalism is the view that if an act is morally required then it is what there is most reason to do. It is often assumed that the truth of Moral Rationalism is dependent on some version of The Overridingness Thesis, the view that moral reasons override nonmoral reasons. However, as Douglas Portmore has pointed out, the two can come apart; we can accept Moral Rationalism without accepting any version of The Overridingness Thesis. Nevertheless, The Overridingness Thesis serves as one (...)
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  2. Steven Arkonovich (2013). Varieties of Reasons/Motives Internalism. Philosophy Compass 8 (3):210-219.
    Under what conditions do you have a reason to perform some action? Do you only have reason to do what you want to do? Reasons-motives internalism is the appealingly simple view that unless an agent is, or could be, motivated to act in a certain way, he has no normative reason to act in that way. Thus, according to reasons-motives internalism, facts about an individual’s motivational psychology constrain what is rational for that agent to do. This article canvasses several ways (...)
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  3. Selim Berker (2007). Particular Reasons. Ethics 118 (1):109-139.
    Moral particularists argue that because reasons for action are irreducibly context-dependent, the traditional quest in ethics for true and exceptionless moral principles is hopelessly misguided. In making this claim, particularists assume a general framework according to which reasons are the ground floor normative units undergirding all other normative properties and relations. They then argue that there is no cashing out in finite terms either (i) when a given non-normative feature gives rise to a reason for or against action, or (ii) (...)
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  4. Scott Berman (2003). A Defense of Psychological Egoism. In Naomi Reshotko (ed.), Desire, Identity and Existence. Academic Printing and Publishing.
    The purpose of this paper is to argue for psychological egoism, i.e., the view that the ultimate motivation for all human action is the agent’s self-interest. Two principal opponents to psychological egoism are considered. These two views are shown to make human action inexplicable. Since the reason for putting forward these views is to explain human action, these views fail. If psychological egoism is the best explanation of human action, then humans will not differ as regards their motivations for their (...)
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  5. Lorraine Besser-Jones (2012). The Role of Practical Reason in an Empirically Informed Moral Theory. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (2):203-220.
    Empirical research paints a dismal portrayal of the role of reason in morality. It suggests that reason plays no substantive role in how we make moral judgments or are motivated to act on them. This paper explores how it is that an empirically oriented philosopher, committed to methodological naturalism, ought to respond to the skeptical challenge presented by this research. While many think taking this challenge seriously requires revising, sometimes dramatically, how we think about moral agency, this paper will defend (...)
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  6. Curtis Brown (1986). Overriding Reasons and Reasons to Be Moral. Southern Journal of Philosophy 24 (2):173-187.
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  7. Hugh Chandler, Some Remarks on Hills's The Beloved Self.
    Here are a few remarks in regard to the first section of Alison Hills’s The Beloved Self. The topic is various forms of ‘Egoism.’ These are taken to be theories of practical reason – alternative answers to the question ‘what have I reason to do?’.
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  8. Ruth Chang (2004). All Things Considered. Philosophical Perspectives 18 (1):1–22.
    One of the most common judgments of normative life takes the following form: With respect to some things that matter, one item is better than the other, with respect to other things that matter, the other item is better, but all things considered – that is, taking into account all the things that matter – the one item is better than the other. In this paper, I explore how all-things-considered judgments are possible, assuming that they are. In particular, I examine (...)
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  9. Ruth Chang (2002). Making Comparisons Count. Routledge.
    The central aim of this book is to answer two questions: Are alternatives for choice ever incomparable? and, In what ways can items be compared? The arguments offered suggest that alternatives for choice no matter how different are never incomparable, and that the ways in which items can be compared are richer and more varied than commonly supposed. This work is the first book length treatment of the topics of incomparability, value, and practical reason.
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  10. Ruth Chang (2001). Against Constitutive Incommensurability or Buying and Selling Friends. Noûs 35 (s1):33 - 60.
    Recently, some of the leading proponents of the view that there is widespread incommensurability among goods have suggested that the incommensurability of some goods is a constitutive feature of the goods themselves. So, for example, a friendship and a million dollars are incommensurable because it is part of what it is to be a friendship that it be incommensurable with money. According to these ‘constitutive incommensurabilists’ incommensurability follows from the very nature of certain goods. In this paper, I examine this (...)
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  11. Wayne Christensen & John Sutton (2012). Reflections on Emotions, Imagination, and Moral Reasoning Toward an Integrated, Multidisciplinary Approach to Moral Cognition. In Robyn Langdon & Catriona Mackenzie (eds.), Emotions, Imagination, and Moral Reasoning. Psychology Press. 327-347.
    B eginning with the problem of integrating diverse disciplinary perspectives on moral cognition, we argue that the various disciplines have an interest in developing a common conceptual framework for moral cognition research. We discuss issues arising in the other chapters in this volume that might serve as focal points for future investigation and as the basis for the eventual development of such a framework. These include the role of theory in binding together diverse phenomena and the role of philosophy in (...)
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  12. David Copp & David Sobel (2002). Desires, Motives, and Reasons: Scanlon's Rationalistic Moral Psychology. Social Theory and Practice 28 (2):243-76.
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  13. Jonathan Dancy (2002). Practical Reality. Oxford University Press.
    Practical Reality is a lucid original study of the relation between the reasons why we do things and the reasons why we should. Jonathan Dancy maintains that current philosophical orthodoxy bowdlerizes this relation, making it impossible to understand how anyone can act for a good reason. By giving a fresh account of values and reasons, he finds a place for normativity in philosophy of mind and action, and strengthens the connection between these areas and ethics.
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  14. 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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  15. Stephen L. Darwall (2006). The Second-Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect, and Accountability. Harvard University Press.
    The result is nothing less than a fundamental reorientation of moral theory that enables it at last to account for morality's supreme authority--an account that ...
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  16. Stephen L. Darwall (1983). Impartial Reason. Cornell University Press.
  17. Daan Evers (2013). Weight for Stephen Finlay. Philosophical Studies 163 (3):737-749.
    According to Stephen Finlay, ‘A ought to X’ means that X-ing is more conducive to contextually salient ends than relevant alternatives. This in turn is analysed in terms of probability. I show why this theory of ‘ought’ is hard to square with a theory of a reason’s weight which could explain why ‘A ought to X’ logically entails that the balance of reasons favours that A X-es. I develop two theories of weight to illustrate my point. I first look at (...)
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  18. 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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  19. P. S. Greenspan (1975). Conditional Oughts and Hypothetical Imperatives. Journal of Philosophy 72 (10):259-276.
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  20. Patricia Greenspan (2010). Making Room for Options: Moral Reasons, Imperfect Duties, and Choice. Social Philosophy and Policy 27 (2):181-205.
    The notion of an “imperfect” obligation or duty, which most of us associate with Kantian ethics, affords a way of mitigating morality’s demands, while recognizing moral obligation as “binding” or inescapable, in Kant’s terms – something an agent cannot get out of just by appealing to ends or priorities of her own.2 Understood as duties of indeterminate content, imperfect duties such as the charitable duty to aid those in need leave leeway for personal choice – of whom to aid and (...)
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  21. Patricia Greenspan (2007). Practical Reasons and Moral 'Ought'. In Russell Schafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. II. Clarendon Press. 172-194.
    Morality is a source of reasons for action, what philosophers call practical reasons. Kantians say that it ‘gives’ reasons to everyone. We can even think of moral requirements as amounting to particularly strong or stringent reasons, in an effort to demystify deontological views like Kant’s, with its insistence on inescapable or ‘binding’ moral requirements or ‘oughts.’¹ When we say that someone morally ought not to harm others, perhaps all we are saying is that he has a certain kind of reason (...)
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  22. Kelly Heuer, Rights and the Second-Person Standpoint: A Challenge to Darwall's Account.
    Stephen Darwall’s The Second Person Standpoint is built around an analysis of the “second-person standpoint,” which he argues builds in a series of presuppositions which help shape (and perhaps even give content to) morality. This paper argues that there is a kind of paradox tied up in the two central claims at the heart of this project – that second-personal address directs one practically rather than epistemically by giving reasons for action one otherwise would not have had, and that all (...)
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  23. Kelly Heuer, Hypotheticalism and the Objectivity of Morality.
    Mark Schroeder’s Slaves of the Passions defends a version of the Humean Theory of Reasons he calls “Hypotheticalism,” according to which all reasons an agent has for action are explained by desires that are in turn explained by reference to her psychology. This paper disputes Schroeder’s claim that his theory has the potential to allay long-standing worries about moral objectivity and normativity within a Humean framework because it fails to attain the requisite level of agent-neutrality for moral reasons. The particular (...)
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  24. Ulrike Heuer (2012). Thick Concepts and Internal Reasons. In Ulrike Heuer & Gerald Lang (eds.), Luck, Value, and Commitment: Themes From the Ethics of Bernard Williams. Oxford University Press, Usa. 219.
  25. Ulrike Heuer (2010). Wrongness and Reasons. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (2):137 - 152.
    Is the wrongness of an action a reason not to perform it? Of course it is, you may answer. That an action is wrong both explains and justifies not doing it. Yet, there are doubts. Thinking that wrongness is a reason is confused, so an argument by Jonathan Dancy. There can’t be such a reason if ‘ϕ-ing is wrong’ is verdictive, and an all things considered judgment about what (not) to do in a certain situation. Such judgments are based on (...)
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  26. Pamela Hieronymi (2011). Of Metaethics and Motivation: The Appeal of Contractualism. In R. Jay Wallace, Rahul Kumar & Samuel Richard Freeman (eds.), Reasons and Recognition: Essays on the Philosophy of T. M. Scanlon. Oxford University Press.
    In 1982, when T. M. Scanlon published “Contractualism and Utilitarianism,” he noted that, despite the widespread attention to Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, the appeal of contractualism as a moral theory had been under appreciated. In particular, the appeal of contractualism’s account of what he then called “moral motivation” had been under appreciated.1 It seems to me that, in the intervening quarter century, despite the widespread discussion of Scanlon’s work, the appeal of contractualism, in precisely this regard, has still been (...)
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  27. Graham Hubbs (2013). How Reasons Bear on Intentions. Ethics 124 (1):84-100.
    This paper is a critical response to Mark Schroeder’s recent “The Ubiquity of State-Given Reasons.” In this essay, Schroeder claims that it is possible for a right-kind reason to bear on an intention without that reason bearing on the object of the intention. I examine Schroeder’s central argument for this claim and conclude that it does not deliver the result Schroeder desires. My critique turns on explicating and extending some of G. E. M. Anscombe’s remarks in Intention on the structure (...)
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  28. D. Clayton Hubin (1980). Prudential Reasons. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 10 (1):63 - 81.
    Several authors, including Thomas Nagel and David Gauthier, have defended the view that reasons of self-interest (prudential reasons) are rationally binding. That is, there is always a reason, bearing on the rational advisability, based on one's self-interest and, as a result, a person may act irrationally by knowingly acting against such reasons regardless of the person's desires or values. Both Nagel and Gauthier argue from the rationally mandatory nature of prudential reasons to the conclusion that moral reasons can be rationally (...)
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  29. Vaughn E. Huckfeldt (2007). Categorical and Agent-Neutral Reasons in Kantian Justifications of Morality. Philosophia 35 (1):23-41.
    The dispute between Kantians and Humeans over whether practical reason can justify moral reasons for all agents is often characterized as a debate over whether reasons are hypothetical or categorical. Instead, this debate must be understood in terms of the distinction between agent-neutral and agent-relative reasons. This paper considers Alan Gewirth’s Reason and Morality as a case study of a Kantian justification of morality focused on deriving categorical reasons from hypothetical reasons. The case study demonstrates first, the possibility of categorical (...)
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  30. Andrew Jordan (forthcoming). Whole-Hearted Motivation and Relevant Alternatives: A Problem for the Contrastivist Account of Moral Reasons. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice:1-11.
    Recently, Walter Sinott-Armstrong and Justin Snedegar have argued for a general contrastivist theory of reasons. According to the contrastivist account of reasons, all reasons claims should be understood as a relation with an additional place for a contrast class. For example, rather than X being a reason for A to P simpliciter, the contrastivist claims that X is a reason for A to P out of {P,Q,R…}. The main goal of this paper is to argue that the contrastivist account of (...)
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  31. Andrew Jordan (2014). On Reasons, Evidence of Oughts, and Morally Fitting Motives. Philosophia 42 (2):391-403.
    In a series of papers, Stephen Kearns and Daniel Star defend the following general account of reasons: R: Necessarily, a fact F is a reason for an agent A to Φ iff F is evidence that an agent ought to Φ.In this paper, I argue that the reasons as evidence view will run afoul of a motivational constraint on moral reasons, and that this is a powerful reason to reject the reasons as evidence view. The motivational constraint is as follows: (...)
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  32. Andrew Jordan (2013). Reasons, Holism And Virtue Theory. Philosophical Quarterly 63 (251):248-268.
    Some particularists have argued that even virtue properties can exhibit a form of holism or context variance, e.g. sometimes an act is worse for being kind, say. But, on a common conception of virtuous acts, one derived from Aristotle, claims of virtue holism will be shown to be false. I argue, perhaps surprisingly, that on this conception the virtuousness of an act is not a reason to do it, and hence this conception of virtuous acts presents no challenge to particularist (...)
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  33. Leonard Kahn (2011). Moral Blameworthiness and the Reactive Attitudes. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 14 (2):131-142.
    In this paper, I present and defend a novel version of the Reactive Attitude account of moral blameworthiness. In Section 1, I introduce the Reactive Attitude account and outline Allan Gibbard's version of it. In Section 2, I present the Wrong Kind of Reasons Problem, which has been at the heart of much recent discussion about the nature of value, and explain why a reformulation of it causes serious problems for versions of the Reactive Attitude account such as Gibbard's. In (...)
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  34. Stephen Kearns & Daniel Star (forthcoming). Weighing Explanations. In Andrew Reisner & Iwao Hirose (eds.), Weighing and Reasoning: A Festschrift for John Broome. Oxford University Press.
  35. Stephen Kearns & Daniel Star (2013). Reasons, Facts‐About‐Evidence, and Indirect Evidence. Analytic Philosophy 54 (2):237-243.
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  36. Stephen Kearns & Daniel Star (2013). Weighing Reasons. Journal of Moral Philosophy 10 (1):70-86.
  37. Stephen Kearns & Daniel Star (2009). Reasons as Evidence. Oxford Studies in Metaethics 4:215-42.
    In this paper, we argue for a particular informative and unified analysis of normative reasons. According to this analysis, a fact F is a reason to act in a certain way just in case it is evidence that one ought to act in that way. Similarly, F is a reason to believe a certain proposition just in case it is evidence for the truth of this proposition. Putting the relatively uncontroversial claim about reasons for belief to one side, we present (...)
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  38. Stephen Kearns & Daniel Star (2008). Reasons: Explanations or Evidence? Ethics 119 (1):31-56.
  39. Clayton Littlejohn (2009). ‘Ought’, ‘Can’, and Practical Reasons. American Philosophical Quarterly 46 (4):363-73.
    Some recent defenses of the 'ought' implies 'can' (OIC) principle try to derive that principle from uncontroversial claims about reasons for action. Reasons for action, it's said, are reasons only for 'potential' actions, which are actions that an agent can perform. Given that 'ought' implies 'reasons', it seems we have our proof of OIC. In this paper, I argue that this latest strategy for defending OIC fails.
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  40. Michelle Mason (2005). Hume and Humeans on Practical Reason. Hume Studies 31 (2):347-378.
    I introduce a distinction between two divergent trends in the literature on Hume and practical reason. One trend, action-theoretic Humeanism, primarily concerns itself with defending a general account of reasons for acting. The other trend, virtue-theoretic Humeanism, concentrates on defending the case for being an agent of a particular practical character, one whose enduring dispositions of practical thought are virtuous. I discuss work exemplifying these two trends and warn against decoupling thought about Hume's and a Humean theory of practical reason (...)
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  41. David McNaughton & Piers Rawling (2002). Conditional and Conditioned Reasons. Utilitas 14 (02):240-.
    This paper is a brief reponse to some of Douglas Portmore's criticisms of our version of the agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction.
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  42. David McNaughton & Piers Rawling (1995). Agent-Relativity and Terminological Inexactitudes. Utilitas 7 (02):319-.
  43. Tristram McPherson (2012). Mark Schroeder's Hypotheticalism: Agent-Neutrality, Moral Epistemology, and Methodology. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 157 (3):445-453.
    Symposium contribution on Mark Schroeder's Slaves of the Passions. Argues that Schroeder's account of agent-neutral reasons cannot be made to work, that the limited scope of his distinctive proposal in the epistemology of reasons undermines its plausibility, and that Schroeder faces an uncomfortable tension between the initial motivation for his view and the details of the view he develops.
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  44. Thomas Nagel (1970). The Possibility of Altruism. Oxford Clarendon Press.
    Just as there are rational requirements on thought, there are rational requirements on action. This book defends a conception of ethics, and a related conception of human nature, according to which altruism is included among the basic rational requirements on desire and action. Altruism itself depends on the recognition of the reality of other persons, and on the equivalent capacity to regard oneself as merely one individual among many.
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  45. Sven Nyholm (forthcoming). Ingmar Persson, From Morality to the End of Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) Pp. 336. [REVIEW] Utilitas 2014.
    Persson argues that common sense morality involves various “asymmetries” that don’t stand up to rational scrutiny. (One example is that intentionally harming others is commonly thought to be worse than merely allowing harm to happen, even if the harm involved is equal in both cases.) A wholly rational morality would, Persson argues, be wholly symmetrical. He also argues, however, that when we get down to our most basic attitudes and dispositions, we reach the “end of reason,” at which point we (...)
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  46. Fabienne Peter (2013). The Procedural Epistemic Value of Deliberation. Synthese 190 (7):1253-1266.
    Collective deliberation is fuelled by disagreements and its epistemic value depends, inter alia, on how the participants respond to each other in disagreements. I use this accountability thesis to argue that deliberation may be valued not just instrumentally but also for its procedural features. The instrumental epistemic value of deliberation depends on whether it leads to more or less accurate beliefs among the participants. The procedural epistemic value of deliberation hinges on the relationships of mutual accountability that characterize appropriately conducted (...)
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  47. Douglas W. Portmore, Chapter 5: Dual-Ranking Act-Consequentialism: Reasons, Morality, and Overridingness.
    This is Chapter 5 of my Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality. In this chapter, I argue that those who wish to accommodate typical instances of supererogation and agent-centered options must deny that moral reasons are morally overriding and accept both that the reason that agents have to promote their own self-interest is a non-moral reason and that this reason can, and sometimes does, prevent the moral reason that they have to sacrifice their self-interest so as to do more to (...)
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  48. Douglas W. Portmore, Moral Reasons, Overridingness, and Supererogation.
    In this paper, I present an argument that poses the following dilemma for moral theorists: either (a) reject at least one of three of our most firmly held moral convictions or (b) reject the view that moral reasons are morally overriding, that is, reject the view that moral reasons override non-moral reasons such that even the weakest moral reason defeats the strongest non-moral reason in determining an act’s moral status (e.g., morally permissible). I then argue that we should opt for (...)
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  49. Douglas W. Portmore (2008). Are Moral Reasons Morally Overriding? Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11 (4):369 - 388.
    In this paper, I argue that those moral theorists who wish to accommodate agentcentered options and supererogatory acts must accept both that the reason an agent has to promote her own interests is a nonmoral reason and that this nonmoral reason can prevent the moral reason she has to sacrifice those interests for the sake of doing more to promote the interests of others from generating a moral requirement to do so. These theorists must, then, deny that moral reasons morally (...)
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  50. Elizabeth S. Radcliffe (2013). Moral Sentimentalism and the Reasonableness of Being Good. Revue Internationale de Philosophie 2013 (no. 263):9-27.
    In this paper, I discuss the implications of Hutcheson’s and Hume’s sentimentalist theories for the question of whether and how we can offer reasons to be moral. Hutcheson and Hume agree that reason does not give us ultimate ends. Because of this, on Hutcheson’s line, the possession of affections and of a moral sense makes practical reasons possible. On Hume’s view, that reason does not give us ultimate ends means that reason does not motivate on its own, and this makes (...)
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