The Objectivity of Practical Reasons

Dissertation, Harvard University (2001)

This dissertation examines what is required for judgments about practical reasons to have the objectivity we ordinarily accord to them and which accounts of practical reasons can explain objectivity in this sense. ;In the first section of this dissertation, I assume that objectivity involves "independence from attitudes" but suggest that this can be explained in terms of the notion of invariance. In particular, the judgment that some consideration is a good reason is objectively true if, and only if, its truth is invariant with respect to any possible difference in attitudes. I explain how our ordinary aspiration to objectivity, so understood, extends beyond moral claims to prudential judgments, instrumental judgments, and even judgments in "matters of taste." Though our claim to objectivity is in this sense more radical than is commonly believed, it does not, contrary to received opinion, presuppose any idea of "metaphysical independence." It matters for objectivity that the truth of a practical judgment is invariant with respect to attitudes; but our claim to objectivity presupposes no particular explanation as to why this relation of invariance holds. ;In the second main section of this dissertation, I set out a constructivist account of practical reasons, namely: a judgment about reasons is true if and only if it is the judgment one would make provided excellent practical reasoning, in conditions ideal for practical reflection. Constructivism, so characterized, captures objectivity in the sense of invariance with respect to attitudes. But it does so, I claim, without collapsing into either conventionalism or Platonism. I distinguish constructivism from these other positions by articulating its core notion, the notion of a norm of practical reasoning. ;The third section of this dissertation argues that two forms of "naturalism" fail to capture objectivity in the sense that ordinarily matters to us. Dispositional theories of reasons, on the one hand, either tacitly assume the idea of a norm of practical reasoning or straightforwardly fail to capture objectivity. Expressivist accounts of practical judgment, on the other hand, trivialize our claim to objectivity
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