The indeterminacy of desire and practical reason

In David K. Chan (ed.), Moral Psychology Today: Essays on Values, Rational Choice, and the Will. Springer: Philosophical Studies Series (forthcoming)

Patrick Fleming
James Madison University
Bernard Williams has famously argued that all reasons for action are internal reasons.1 The internalist requirement on reasons is that all reasons must be linked to the agent’s subjective motivational state by a sound deliberative route. This argument has been the subject of a great deal of debate. In this paper I wish to draw attention to a much less discussed aspect of Williams’ papers on internalism. Williams believes that there is an essential indeterminacy regarding what an agent has a reason to do. In this paper I explain indeterminacy in practical reason and give a qualified defense of it. I argue that indeterminacy has two sources according to Williams. One source is that deliberation is guided by imagination, not by rules. The second is that agent’s motivational set can be indeterminate. I do not attempt to evaluate or defend the first sort of indeterminacy. Rather, I argue that even if we reject this sort of indeterminacy we are still left with the indeterminacy of desire. The indeterminacy of desire sheds light on some little discussed problems in practical reason.
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