Practical Steps and Reasons for Action

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 27 (1):17 - 45 (1997)
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There is an idea, going back to Aristotle, that reasons for action can be understood on a parallel with reasons for belief. Not surprisingly, the idea has almost always led to some form of inferentialism about reasons for action. In this paper I argue that reasons for action can be understood on a parallel with reasons for belief, but that this requires abandoning inferentialism about reasons for action. This result will be thought paradoxical. It is generally assumed that if there is to be a useful parallel, there must be some such thing as a practical inference. As we shall see, that assumption tends to block the fruitful exploration of the real parallel. On the view I shall defend, the practical analogue of an ordinary inference is not an inference, but something I shall call a practical step. Nevertheless, the practical step will do, for a theory of reasons for action, what ordinary inference does for an inferentialist theory of reasons for belief. The result is a general characterization of reasons, practical and theoretical, in terms of the correctness conditions of the relevant sorts of step.



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Philip Clark
University of Toronto, Mississauga

Citations of this work

Choice and Action in Aristotle.A. W. Price - 2016 - Phronesis 61 (4):435-462.
Another Particularism: Reasons, Status and Defaults.Alan Thomas - 2011 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 14 (2):151-167.

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References found in this work

Skepticism about practical reason.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1986 - Journal of Philosophy 83 (1):5-25.
Michael Smith: The Moral Problem. [REVIEW]James Lenman - 1994 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 1 (1):125-126.
The authority of desire.Dennis W. Stampe - 1987 - Philosophical Review 96 (July):335-81.

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