Practical Reasons, Practical Rationality, Practical Wisdom

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11 (1):85-111 (2008)
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There are a number of proposals as to exactly how reasons, ends and rationality are related. It is often thought that practical reasons can be analyzed in terms of practical rationality, which, in turn, has something to do with the pursuit of ends. I want to argue against the conceptual priority of rationality and the pursuit of ends, and in favor of the conceptual priority of reasons. This case comes in two parts. I first argue for a new conception of ends by which all ends are had under the guise of reasons. I then articulate a sense of rationality, procedural rationality, that is connected with the pursuit of ends so conceived, where one is rational to the extent that one is motivated to act in accordance with reasons as they appear to be. Unfortunately, these conceptions of ends and procedural rationality are inadequate for building an account of practical reasons, though I try to explain why it is that the rational pursuit of ends generates intuitive but misleading accounts of genuine normative reasons. The crux of the problem is an insensitivity to an is-seems distinction, where procedural rationality concerns reasons as they appear, and what we are after is a substantive sense of rationality that concerns reasons as they are. Based on these distinct senses of rationality, and some disambiguation of what it is to have a reason, I offer a critique of internalist analyses of one’s reasons in terms of the motivational states of one’s ideal, procedurally rational self, and I offer an alternative analysis of one’s practical reasons in terms of practical wisdom that overcomes objections to related reasons externalist views. The resulting theory is roughly Humean about procedural rationality and roughly Aristotelian about reasons, capturing the core truths of both camps.



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Matthew Bedke
University of British Columbia

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References found in this work

What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
Moral Realism: A Defence.Russ Shafer-Landau - 2003 - Oxford University Press.

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