About this topic
Summary The central question about desire and reason concerns the extent to which our reasons to act depend on our desires. According to ‘desire-based’ or ‘Humean’ theories of reasons, all of our reasons to act depend on our desires. On a simple version of such a theory, we have reason to do only what would serve one of our present desires. Many philosophers have found such theories attractive, insofar as they connect our reasons with our motivations, or insofar as they seem to make metaphysical and epistemological questions about reasons more tractable. But many other philosophers have found such theories unattractive, often on the grounds that they seem to threaten the rational authority of morality.
Key works A great deal of the recent literature has focused on Bernard Williams’ defence of his ‘internal reasons’ theory, a version of the desire-based theory, in his Williams 1979. Some central contributions to the literature on Williams’ view are Korsgaard 1986McDowell 1995, and Parfit 1997. There is also a lot of recent literature arguing against desire-based theories of reasons. See, for instance, Darwall 1983, Korsgaard 1997, Nagel 1970Scanlon 1998Parfit 2011. For a recent defence of a desire-based theory, see Schroeder 2007.
Introductions Finlay & Schroeder 2008Wiland 2012: ch.2
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  1. The Value of Dissatisfaction – Maintaining the Tension That Unites Desires and Reason.Lydia B. Amir - 2014 - Axiology and Ethics:46-57.
  2. The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination.Chrisoula Andreou & Mark D. White (eds.) - 2010 - Oxford University Press.
  3. Do Desires Provide Reasons? An Argument Against the Cognitivist Strategy.Avery Archer - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (8):2011-2027.
    According to the cognitivist strategy, the desire to bring about P provides reasons for intending to bring about P in a way analogous to how perceiving that P provides reasons for believing that P. However, while perceiving P provides reasons for believing P by representing P as true, desiring to bring about P provides reasons for intending to bring about P by representing P as good. This paper offers an argument against this view. My argument proceeds via an appeal to (...)
  4. The Rational Significance of Desire.Avery Archer - 2013 - Dissertation, Columbia University
    My dissertation addresses the question "do desires provide reasons?" I present two independent lines of argument in support of the conclusion that they do not. The first line of argument emerges from the way I circumscribe the concept of a desire. Complications aside, I conceive of a desire as a member of a family of attitudes that have imperative content, understood as content that displays doability-conditions rather than truth-conditions. Moreover, I hold that an attitude may provide reasons only if it (...)
  5. Defending Desire: Scanlon’s Anti-Humeanism.Steven Arkonovich - 2001 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 63 (3):499-519.
    In the opening chapter of What We Owe To Each Other, Tim Scanlon produces a sustained critique of a Humean conception of practical reason. Scanlon claims he will argue that unless having a desire just is to see something as a reason, desires play no role in the explanation or justification of action. Yet his specific arguments against Humeanism all employ a very austere understanding of desire , and attempt to show that desires so understood are not up to any (...)
  6. Normativity and Individualism: An Essay on Hume.Robert K. Armstrong - 2004 - Dissertation, Columbia University
    Hume's theory of practical rationality, it has been claimed, fails to account for the intrinsically social character of practical deliberation and of the norms governing action. While the standard way of pressing this critique is unsuccessful, it can be advanced in another way. It is alleged that Hume cannot explain how it is possible to act contrary to reason because he holds that practical reasons are grounded in brute desires which are beyond the reach of rational criticism. But Hume offers (...)
  7. Unprincipled Virtue: An Inquiry Into Moral Agency.Nomy Arpaly - 2002 - Oxford University Press.
    Nomy Arpaly rejects the model of rationality used by most ethicists and action theorists. Both observation and psychology indicate that people act rationally without deliberation, and act irrationally with deliberation. By questioning the notion that our own minds are comprehensible to us--and therefore questioning much of the current work of action theorists and ethicists--Arpaly attempts to develop a more realistic conception of moral agency.
  8. Précis of In Praise of Desire.Nomy Arpaly & Timothy Schroeder - 2014 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (2):490-495.
  9. In Praise of Desire.Nomy Arpaly & Timothy Schroeder - 2013 - Oxford University Press.
    Joining the debate over the roles of reason and appetite in the moral mind, In Praise of Desire takes the side of appetite. Acting for moral reasons, acting in a praiseworthy manner, and acting out of virtue are simply acting out of intrinsic desires for the right or the good.
  10. 2 Prospects for a Naturalization of Practical Reason: Instrumentalism and the Normative Authority of Desire.Robert Audi - 2007 - In Michael O'Rourke Corey Washington (ed.), Situating Semantics: Essays on the Philosophy of John Perry. pp. 41.
  11. Prospects for a Naturalization of Practical Reason: Humean Instrumentalism and the Normative Authority of Desire.Robert Audi - 2002 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 10 (3):235 – 263.
    This is an age of naturalization projects. Much epistemological work has been done toward naturalizing theoretical reason. One might view Hume as seeking to naturalize reason in both the theoretical (roughly, epistemological) and the practical realms. I suggest that whatever else underlies the vitality of Hume's instrumentalism - encapsulated in his view that 'reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions' - one incentive is the hope of naturalizing practical reason. This paper explores some broadly Humean (...)
  12. The Scope of Motivation and the Basis of Practical Reason.Robert Audi - 1999 - Philosophic Exchange 29 (1).
    This paper explores the relationship between motivation, desire, pleasure and value. I argue that the motivational grounds of action are the kinds of desires that tend, in rational persons, to be produced both by experience of the good, and by beliefs that something one can do would be good.
  13. Weakness of Will and Rational Action.Robert Audi - 1990 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 68 (3):270 – 281.
    Weakness of will has been widely discussed from at least three points of view. It has been examined historically, with Aristotle recently occupying centre stage. It has been analysed conceptually, with the question of its nature and possibility in the forefront. It has been considered normatively in relation to both rational action and moral character. My concern is not historical and is only secondarily conceptual: while I hope to clarify what constitutes weakness of will, I presuppose, rather than construct, an (...)
  14. Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism. [REVIEW]Robert Audi - 1974 - Metaphilosophy 5:242.
  15. Under the Guise of the Good: Kant and a Tenet of Moral Rationalism.Stefano Bacin - forthcoming - In Violetta Waibel & Margit Ruffing (eds.), Natur und Freiheit: Akten des XII. Internationalen Kant-Kongresses. de Gruyter.
  16. The Ambiguous Limits of Desire.Annette Baier - 1986 - In J. Marks (ed.), The Ways of Desire. Precedent. pp. 39--61.
  17. The Verdictive Organization of Desire.Derek Clayton Baker - 2017 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 47 (5):589-612.
    Deliberation often begins with the question ‘What do I want to do?’ rather than the question of what one ought to do. This paper takes that question at face value, as a question about which of one’s desires is strongest, which sometimes guides action. The paper aims to explain which properties of a desire make that desire strong, in the sense of ‘strength’ relevant to this deliberative question. Both motivational force and phenomenological intensity seem relevant to a desire’s strength; however, (...)
  18. Ambivalent Desires and the Problem with Reduction.Derek Clayton Baker - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 150 (1):37-47.
    Ambivalence is most naturally characterized as a case of conflicting desires. In most cases, an agent’s intrinsic desires conflict contingently: there is some possible world in which both desires would be satisfied. This paper argues, though, that there are cases in which intrinsic desires necessarily conflict—i.e., the desires are not jointly satisfiable in any possible world. Desiring a challenge for its own sake is a paradigm case of such a desire. Ambivalence of this sort in an agent’s desires creates special (...)
  19. Humean Theories of Motivation.Melissa Barry - 2010 - In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics , Volume 5. Oxford University Press. pp. 195-223.
  20. Slaves of the Passions by Mark Schroeder. [REVIEW]Melissa Barry - 2010 - Hume Studies 36 (2):225–228.
    In Slaves of the Passions, Mark Schroeder provides a systematic, rigorously argued defense of a Humean theory of reasons for action, taking pains to respond to influential objections to the view. While inspired by Hume, Schroeder makes it clear that he aims to develop a Humean theory, not necessarily one that Hume himself embraced, and for this reason little is said about Hume in the book. One respect in which Schroeder takes himself to be departing from Hume is in developing (...)
  21. Realism, Rational Action, and the Humean Theory of Motivation.Melissa Barry - 2007 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (3):231-242.
    Realists about practical reasons agree that judgments regarding reasons are beliefs. They disagree, however, over the question of how such beliefs motivate rational action. Some adopt a Humean conception of motivation, according to which beliefs about reasons must combine with independently existing desires in order to motivate rational action; others adopt an anti-Humean view, according to which beliefs can motivate rational action in their own right, either directly or by giving rise to a new desire that in turn motivates the (...)
  22. Sergio Tenenbaum, Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason:Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason.Peter Brian Barry - 2007 - Ethics 118 (1):181-184.
  23. A New Theory of Humean Reasons? A Critical Note on Schroeder's Hypotheticalism.Matthew Bedke - 2008 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (3):1-5.
  24. Ruling Passions by Simon Blackburn Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998, X + 334pp. [REVIEW]Piers Benn - 2000 - Philosophy 75 (3):452-462.
  25. Intentions and Intentionality.Matteo Bianchin - 2015 - Philosophy and Public Issues - Filosofia E Questioni Pubbliche:43-54.
    Michael Thompson recently advanced a “naïve action theory” as an alternative to the “sophisticated” accounts of action displayed by ordinary folk psychology. In what follows I defend the plausibility of intentional psychology and folk psychological explanations. I do this in two ways. First I question that naïve explanations are more naïve than the ones provided by folk psychology and suggest that the latter are phenomenologically prior to the former. Second, I focus on the role of intentionality in deliberation and action (...)
  26. Humanity's Natural Face.Simon Blackburn - 2000 - Philosophical Explorations 3 (3):282 – 296.
    In my article I summarize a 'Humean' view of deliberation, and in particular deliberation with an ethical aspect. I regard Hume as having paved the way for a 'naturalistic' account of these things, avoiding Kantian fantasies of agency that dominate much current work. Contrary to what is often supposed, the Humean story gives a satisfactory account of dutiful or principled motivations, and a rich account of the ways in which different aspects of character are selected as 'useful or agreeable to (...)
  27. Practical Tortoise Raising.Simon Blackburn - 1995 - Mind 104 (416):695-711.
    In this paper I am not so much concerned with movements of the mind, as movements of the will. But my question bears a similarity to that of the tortoise. I want to ask whether the will is under the control of fact and reason, combined. I shall try to show that there is always something else, something that is not under the control of fact and reason, which has to be given as a brute extra, if deliberation is ever (...)
  28. Intelligibility and the Guise of the Good.Paul Boswell - 2018 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 13 (1):1-31.
    According to the Guise of the Good, an agent only does for a reason what she sees as good. One of the main motivations for the view is its apparent ability to explain why action for a reason must be intelligible to its agent, for on this view, an action is intelligible just in case it seems good. This motivation has come under criticism in recent years. Most notably, Kieran Setiya has argued that merely seeing one’s action as good does (...)
  29. Hume, Reason and Morality: A Legacy of Contradiction.Sophie Botros - 2006 - Routledge.
    Covering an important theme in Humean studies, this book focuses on Hume's hugely influential attempt in book three of his _Treatise of Human Nature _to derive the conclusion that morality is a matter of feeling, not reason, from its link with action. Claiming that Hume's argument contains a fundamental contradiction that has gone unnoticed in modern debate, this fascinating volume contains a refreshing combination of historical-scholarly work and contemporary analysis that seeks to expose this contradiction and therefore provide a significant (...)
  30. Goodness and Desire.Matthew Boyle & Douglas Lavin - 2010 - In Sergio Tenenbaum (ed.), Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good. Oxford University Press. pp. 161--201.
  31. Communicative Rationality and Desire.Roy Boyne & Scott Lash - 1984 - Telos: Critical Theory of the Contemporary 1984 (61):152-158.
    Over the past three years or so, Telos and New German Critique have opened a debate in which Habermas's theory of communicative rationality has been counterposed to the ‘aesthetic-sensual forms of subjectivity’ advocated by certain French theorists, who have come to be known as the ‘post-structuralists’. Among the latter, the most significant figures are Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. This confrontation between theories of desire and theories of communicative rationality is perhaps only just beginning, but already (...)
  32. Rational Desires.R. B. Brandt - 1969 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 43:43 - 64.
  33. The Constitution of Agency: Essays on Practical Reason and Moral Psychology.Johan Brännmark - unknown
  34. Backsliding: Understanding Weakness of WillBy Alfred R. Mele.J. Bransen - 2013 - Analysis 73 (3):585-587.
  35. A Desire of One's Own.Michael E. Bratman - 2003 - Journal of Philosophy 100 (5):221-42.
    You can sometimes have and be moved by desires which you in some sense disown. The problem is whether we can make sense of these ideas of---as I will say---ownership and rejection of a desire, without appeal to a little person in the head who is looking on at the workings of her desires and giving the nod to some but not to others. Frankfurt's proposed solution to this problem, sketched in his 1971 article, has come to be called the (...)
  36. Dretske's Desires.Michael E. Bratman - 1990 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50 (4):795-800.
  37. Reason in Hume's Passions.Nathan Brett & Katharina Paxman - 2008 - Hume Studies 34 (1):43-59.
    Hume is famous for the view that “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.” His claim that “we are no sooner acquainted with the impossibility of satisfying any desire, than the desire itself vanishes” is less well known. Each seems, in opposite ways, shocking to common sense. This paper explores the latter claim, looking for its source in Hume’s account of the passions and exploring its compatibility with his associationist psychology. We are led to the (...)
  38. Moral Motivation.David O. Brink - 1997 - Ethics 108 (1):4-32.
  39. Reasons and Motivation: John Broome.John Broome - 1997 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 71 (1):131–146.
    Derek Parfit takes an externalist and cognitivist view about normative reasons. I shall explore this view and add some arguments that support it. But I shall also raise a doubt about it at the end.
  40. Second-Order Preferences and Instrumental Rationality.Donald W. Bruckner - 2011 - Acta Analytica 26 (4):367-385.
    A second-order preference is a preference over preferences. This paper addresses the role that second-order preferences play in a theory of instrumental rationality. I argue that second-order preferences have no role to play in the prescription or evaluation of actions aimed at ordinary ends. Instead, second-order preferences are relevant to prescribing or evaluating actions only insofar as those actions have a role in changing or maintaining first-order preferences. I establish these claims by examining and rejecting the view that second-order preferences (...)
  41. In Defense of Adaptive Preferences.Donald W. Bruckner - 2009 - Philosophical Studies 142 (3):307 - 324.
    An adaptive preference is a preference that is regimented in response to an agent’s set of feasible options. The fabled fox in the sour grapes story undergoes an adaptive preference change. I consider adaptive preferences more broadly, to include adaptive preference formation as well. I argue that many adaptive preferences that other philosophers have cast out as irrational sour-grapes-like preferences are actually fully rational preferences worthy of pursuit. I offer a means of distinguishing rational and worthy adaptive preferences from irrational (...)
  42. Silent Prudence.Donald W. Bruckner - 2009 - Philosophical Explorations 12 (3):349-364.
    It is commonly recognized that not all actions are candidates for moral evaluation. For instance, morality is silent on the issue whether to tie one's right shoe before one's left shoe or the other way around. This shoe-tying action is not a candidate for moral appraisal. The matter is amoral, for neither alternative is morally required nor forbidden, and both are permissible. It is not commonly recognized that not all actions are candidates for prudential evaluation. I shall argue, however, that (...)
  43. Review of Elijah Milgram Practical Induction. [REVIEW]Sarah Buss - 1999 - Philosophical Review 108 (4):571.
  44. Lombardo, Nicholas E. The Logic of Desire: Aquinas on Emotion. [REVIEW]Giuseppe Butera - 2012 - Review of Metaphysics 65 (4):879-881.
  45. Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good * Edited by Sergio Tenenbaum.K. Bykvist - 2012 - Analysis 72 (1):200-202.
  46. Moral Psychology Today: Essays on Values, Rational Choice, and the Will.David K. Chan (ed.) - 2008 - Springer Verlag.
    This book brings together in one volume some of the very latest developments in moral psychology that were presented at a major American conference in 2004. Moral psychology is a broad area at the intersection of moral philosophy and philosophy of mind and action. Essays in this collection deal with most of the central issues in moral psychology that are of interest to a large number of philosophers today, including important questions in normative ethical theory, meta-ethics, and applied ethics.
  47. Are There Extrinsic Desires?David K. Chan - 2004 - Noûs 38 (2):326-50.
    An extrinsic desire is defined as a desire for something, not for its own sake, but for its supposed propensity to secure something else that one desires. I argue that the notion of ‘extrinsic desire’ is theoretically redundant. I begin by defining desire as a propositional attitude with a desirability characterization. The roles of desire and intention in practical reasoning are distinguished. I show that extrinsic desire does not have its own motivational role. I also show that extrinsic desire is (...)
  48. Can Desires Provide Reasons for Action?Ruth Chang - 2004 - In R. Jay Wallace, Philip Pettit, Samuel Scheffler & Michael Smith (eds.), Reason and Value: Themes From the Moral Philosophy of Joseph Raz. Oxford University Press. pp. 56--90.
    What sorts of consideration can be normative reasons for action? If we systematize the wide variety of considerations that can be cited as normative reasons, do we find that there is a single kind of consideration that can always be a reason? Desire-based theorists think that the fact that you want something or would want it under certain evaluatively neutral conditions can always be your normative reason for action. Value-based theorists, by contrast, think that what plays that role are evaluative (...)
  49. Aspects, Guises, Species and Knowing Something to Be Good.Philip Clark - 2010 - In Sergio Tenenbaum (ed.), Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good. Oxford University Press. pp. 234.
  50. Velleman's Autonomism.Philip Clark - 2001 - Ethics 111 (3):580–593.
    People sometimes think they have reasons for action. On a certain naive view, what makes them true is a connection between the action and the agent’s good life. In a recent article, David Velleman argues for replacing this view with a more Kantian line, on which reasons are reasons in virtue of their connection with autonomy. The aim in what follows is to defend the naive view. I shall first raise some problems for Velleman's proposal and then fend off the (...)
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