Reasons and impossibility

Philosophical Studies 147 (2):235 - 246 (2010)
Ulrike Heuer
University College London
In this paper, I argue that a person can have a reason to do what she cannot do. In a nutshell, the argument is that a person can have derivate reasons relating to an action that she has a non-derivative reason to perform. There are clear examples of derivative reasons that a person has in cases where she cannot do what she (non-derivatively) has reason to do. She couldn’t have those derivative reasons, unless she also had the non-derivative reason to do what she cannot do. I discuss a number of objections to this view, in particular two: (1) The objection that if there were reasons to do what one cannot do, many of those would be ‘crazy reasons’, and (2) the worry that if there were such reasons, then agents would have reasons to engage in futile deliberations and tryings. I develop an explanation of ‘crazy reasons’ that shows that not all reasons to do the impossible are crazy and only those that are need to be filtered out, and, regarding the second objecting, I show that the reasons for trying as well as for taking the means to doing something—instrumental reasons in a broad sense—are different from the reasons for performing the action in the first place. They are affected by impossibility, and we can explain why that is so. The view I argue for is that a person may have a reason to do what she cannot do, but she does not have a reason to try to do so or to take means to realizing the impossible.
Keywords Reasons for action  Impossibility  Instrumental reasons  Trying and intending  Bart Streumer on reasons and impossibility
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2010
DOI 10.1007/s11098-008-9285-2
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 34,581
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Normative Requirements.John Broome - 1999 - Ratio 12 (4):398–419.
The Myth of Instrumental Rationality.Joseph Raz - 2005 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 1 (1):28.
The Cement of the Universe.J. L. Mackie - 1974 - Oxford, Clarendon Press.
The Normativity of Instrumental Reason.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1997 - In Garrett Cullity & Berys Gaut (eds.), Ethics and Practical Reason. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

View all 9 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Reasons as Explanations.John Brunero - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 165 (3):805-824.
The Normativity of Rationality.Benjamin Kiesewetter - 2017 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Reasons, Impossibility and Efficient Steps: Reply to Heuer.Bart Streumer - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 151 (1):79 - 86.

View all 8 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total downloads
192 ( #28,393 of 2,268,377 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #145,496 of 2,268,377 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature