The Idea of a Normative Reason

In P. Schaber & R. Huntelmann (eds.), Grundlagen der Ethik. 41--65 (2003)
Abstract
Recent work in English speaking moral philosophy has seen the rise to prominence of the idea of a normative reason1. By ‘normative reasons’ I mean the reasons agents appeal to in making rational claims on each other. Normative reasons are good reasons on which agents ought to act, even if they are not actually motivated accordingly2. To this extent, normative reasons are distinguishable from the motivating reasons agents appeal to in reason explanations. Even agents who fail to act on their normative reasons can be said to act on reasons insofar as their actions are rationally intelligible. Thus, when it is said that agents may never use violence in self-defence, this is naturally interpreted to mean that there are powerful normative reasons not to use violence even in selfdefence, even though some agents would use violence in selfdefence. Normative reasons are reasons to pursue ends, where by ends I mean a subset of objects of possible desire, such as taking a stroll or giving all your money to charity. The set of objects of possible desire might include items that are not straightforwardly ends of action. For example, you might want the world to be a better place, or want a secure basis in knowledge of relevant facts to be assigned the highest priority in the assessment of people’s preferences. Objects of possible desire are a subset of objects of possible response, where by ‘response’ I mean the whole range of prepositional attitudes, including desires, preferences, beliefs, commitments and so on. I use the term ‘option’ to refer to objects of possible response in this wider sense. Recent philosophical claims about the grounds of normative reasons can be divided into two strands. Each strand takes as its starting point what is perceived to be a fundamental constraint embodied in normative reason attributions..
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