Reasons Explanations: Skepticism About Causal Theories

Dissertation, The University of New Mexico (2002)

In this dissertation I argue for a skepticism regarding the possibility of a satisfactory causal account of reasons explanations. Davidson has famously argued that causation is the best way to account for the explanatory relation between reasons and actions. However, [ argue that in order to be convincing Davidson's argument must be supplemented with a satisfactory causal account. I review three of the leading causal accounts given by Davidson , Fodor and Dretske , but I find that none gives an adequate account of reasons explanations. ;One problem that faces a causal account of reasons explanations is that it must establish a causal law that connects reasons, qua reasons, with the action they explain and which preserves the rational agency of the person. This is no easy task. Davidson despairs of finding strict psychophysical laws and so offers his "anomalous monism" as a way of circumventing this difficulty. Fodor, on the other hand, thinks that appropriate psychophysical laws do exist, but they are hedged, not strict laws. The problem is that for both Davidson's account and Fodor's account the appropriate explanatory relation fails to appeal to reasons, qua reasons. The net result is that reasons become explanatorily irrelevant. ;In order to avoid this problem Dretske offers a different type of causal theory. He argues that reasons are "structuring causes" of actions. Although his account avoids some of the problems faced by Davidson and Fodor, Dretske's account has serious difficulties in preserving the rationality of the agent, especially in cases where the agent has multiple and conflicting reasons for acting. In effect, Dretske's account turns what an agent does, into something that merely happens to the agent. ;I take the failures of these three causal theories as representing a general failure of all causal theories to account for reasons explanations. I conclude that skepticism regarding causal theories of reasons explanations is, thus, justified. Furthermore, I suggest this will probably always be the case because reasons explanations and causal explanations each have non-complimentary conditions of adequacy. In closing I examine a possible framework for a non-causal account of reasons explanations
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