The structure of instrumental practical reasoning

Abstract

The view to be defended in this paper is intended to be a novel and compelling model of instrumental practical reasoning, reasoning aimed at determining how to act in order to achieve a given end in a certain set of circumstances. On standard views of instrumental reasoning, the end in question is the object of a particular desire that the agent has, a desire which, when combined with the agent’s beliefs about what means are available to him or her in order to satisfy that desire, can cause the formation of an independent desire or intention to engage in the relevant means. One of the main goals in what follows is to show that such views provide an inadequate understanding of instrumental practical reasoning when it comes to the practical lives of agents. We shall proceed as follows. After some background assumptions are outlined in the next section, two important and largely neglected challenges will be raised to any view of instrumental practical reasoning (hereafter IP reasoning) which only countenances the role of end-directed desires and means-end beliefs in the mental economy of agents. In my view, neither of these challenges can be met, or at least not in any straightforward way. Hence the remainder of the paper is devoted to articulating and defending a new approach to understanding the structure of instrumental practical reasoning. The heart of this positive view will involve the addition of a normative belief concerning the desirability of the agent’s end.

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References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford University Press.
Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person.Harry Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
Actions, Reasons, and Causes.Donald Davidson - 1963 - Journal of Philosophy 60 (23):685.
Reasons and Persons.Joseph Margolis - 1986 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 47 (2):311-327.

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