Deliberation and Acting for Reasons

Philosophical Review 121 (2):209-239 (2012)
Abstract
Theoretical and practical deliberation are voluntary activities, and like all voluntary activities, they are performed for reasons. To hold that all voluntary activities are performed for reasons in virtue of their relations to past, present, or even merely possible acts of deliberation thus leads to infinite regresses and related problems. As a consequence, there must be processes that are nondeliberative and nonvoluntary but that nonetheless allow us to think and act for reasons, and these processes must be the ones that generate the voluntary activities making up ordinary deliberation. These nondeliberative, nonvoluntary processes by means of which we are able to deliberate for reasons are the fundamental processes by means of which we can think or do anything for a reason: once it has been seen that they must exist, it can be recognized that they are ubiquitous. As a result, the usefulness of deliberation to rational belief and action is intermittent, contingent, and modest. Deliberation is a tremendously valuable tool for increasing human capacities to think and act for good reasons in challenging contexts, but in the end it is merely a tool, wielded by people through the same nondeliberative, nonvoluntary capacities to think and act for reasons that they are enhancing the effectiveness of by deliberating.
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