Reasons and psychological causes

Philosophical Studies 122 (1):51 - 101 (2005)
The causal theory of reasons holds that acting for a reason entails that the agents action was caused by his or her beliefs and desires. While Donald Davidson (1963) and others effectively silenced the first objections to the theory, a new round has emerged. The most important recent attack is presented by Jonathan Dancy in Practical Reality (2000) and subsequent work. This paper will defend the causal theory against Dancy and others, including Schueler (1995), Stoutland (1999, 2001), and Ginet (2002).Dancy observes that our reasons are neither psychological states nor causes, and that our reasons can be both motivating and normative. I argue that these observations are fully compatible with the causal theory. According to the reductive version I develop for both cognitive and optative reasons, what it is for an action to be done for a reason is for certain beliefs and desires to cause the action in a particular way. Our reasons for action are the objects of some of those beliefs and desires. The causal process has two stages. This theory explains not only Dancys observations, but also many other facts about reasons that alternative theories leave unexplained. I argue against Schueler and others that the non-appetitive desires entailed by acting for reasons are no less distinct and independent causal factors than the beliefs entailed. I go on to rebut arguments that the relation between psychological states and actions cannot be causal because it is non-empirical, rational, normative, or non-deterministic, and that explanations in terms of psychological causes are incompatible with explanations in terms of reasons.
Keywords Philosophy   Philosophy   Epistemology   Logic   Philosophy of Mind   Philosophy of Religion
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.2307/4321545
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 16,707
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
T. Nagel (1970). Possibility of Altruism. Princeton University Press.

View all 58 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Kieran Setiya (2011). Reasons and Causes. European Journal of Philosophy 19 (1):129-157.
Christian Miller (2007). The Structure of Instrumental Practical Reasoning. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 75 (1):1-40.

View all 7 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

112 ( #26,182 of 1,726,249 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

8 ( #84,767 of 1,726,249 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.