Decisions in Action: Reasons, Motivation, and the Connection Between Them

Dissertation, Harvard University (2001)

Authors
Mary Coleman
Illinois Wesleyan University
Abstract
In my dissertation I aim to further our understanding of practical reasons and practical reasoning. In chapter one I evaluate and reject the most commonly accepted accounts of practical reasons, viz., Objectivism and Humeanism. They each offer an account of the conditions under which we have reasons, but they cannot tell us why these conditions have normative significance for us. I also argue that we cannot use a claim about the relationship between reasons and motivation to determine the nature of practical reasons. ;In chapter two I claim that an acceptable account of what motivates us to act must be compatible with the fact that actions are things we do. I argue that neither desire-based nor belief-based accounts of motivation can accommodate this fact, and I sketch an alternative account according to which we are motivated to act by our decisions. ;I argue in chapter three that to make decisions is to hold oneself subject to certain constitutive laws about how to make decisions. I also claim that person P has a reason to do A if and only if it would be correct for P to decide to do A. A decision is correct, I contend, just in case it conforms with the constitutive laws of decision-making. Furthermore, the conditions under which we have reasons to act have this special status for us because we cannot avoid making decisions about how to act. ;In chapter four I claim that it seems as if there is no room in the world, as science understands it, for the performance of actions. I respond to this worry in two steps. First, I claim that our making decisions and carrying them out in action is compatible with the fact that our bodies move in accordance with physical laws. Second, I argue that our decisions are our own doings in a very deep sense. Therefore, the scientific world view does not preclude the kind of self-expression essential to action
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