Practical Reasons and Internalism

Dissertation, Wayne State University (1990)

Hans V. Hansen
University of Windsor
The focus of investigation is the nature of practical reasons--i.e., reasons for acting rather than reasons for believing. I concentrate on developing an account of what practical reasons are and so I discuss moral reasons only incidentally and I do not attempt an analysis of "justified action." ;I formulate and examine various versions of the thesis that practical reasons depend on, or have their source in desires. Such a view is advocated by Harman and Mackie and others. Ultimately, I find this view wanting when it is compared to more sophisticated versions of internalism as suggested by the work of Bernard Williams, Stephen Darwall and E. J. Bond. ;In the main I argue that the theory that practical reasons are desire dependent relies on an oversimplification of practical rationality. A better conception of practical reasons holds that changes in desire sets can themselves be rationally evaluated by the standards of practical rationality. Thus what reasons there are for anyone to act depends not on the desires that an agent has or will have, but rather on the desires it could be rational for him or her to have. I call this latter view "nonbasic internalism" and argue that Williams, Darwall and Bond are nonbasic internalists. ;On the nonbasic internalist view practical reasons do not depend on desires in the sense that the reason exists because the desire exists. However, since actions do depend on desires in the sense that there is no action without desire, nonbasic internalism recognizes that if there is a reason for anyone to do something then it must be rational for the agent to desire to do that thing. A practical reason, then, is a reason that the agent could act on and which is relatable through the standards of rationality to possible desires of the agent. In the final analysis, practical reasons do not depend on desires but they do depend on rationality, and therefore they have a normative dimension as well as an explanatory aspect
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