Reasons without principles

Inquiry 47 (2):143 – 167 (2004)
Abstract
What is required for one thing to be a reason for another? Must the reason, more precisely, be or involve a principle? In this essay I target the idea that justification via reasons of one's beliefs (e.g., epistemic or moral) requires that the 'justifying reasons' be or involve (substantive and significant) principles. I identify and explore some potential sources of a principles requirement, and conclude that none of them (i.e., the normative function of reasons, the abstract structure of reasons, the universalizability constraint on [moral] reasons, and even the pragmatic considerations that attenuate 'real-world' reason-giving) mandate that reasons be principles. I then explore implications of this conclusion, and note especially the resultant and paradoxical permissibility of justifying reasons that manage to be lawlike (a sine qua non for justifying reasons) even while consisting of highly-detailed and situation-specific proposition sets, e.g., novel-length narratives.
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