A Self-Interest Theory of Reasons for Action

Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley (1989)

Robert H. Myers
York University
In my dissertation, I develop and defend a normative theory of reasons for action, then discuss its implications for some questions about the nature and importance of the reasons that people have to act morally. ;The theory that I develop is a sort of self-interest theory, for it says that a person has some reason to perform an action in so far as, and only in so far as, she can optimize the satisfaction of her own interests over time by performing that action. It is a self-interest theory of an unusual sort, however, for it says that the magnitudes of a person's interests depend primarily on facts that, though not as objective as facts about the prerequisites of human flourishing, are not as subjective as facts about the intensities of her desires. I describe these special facts as facts about the orders of her desires. ;Why should we acknowledge that a person's higher-order desires have this special authority? I argue that a self-interest theory is better able to account for the judgments that we make about the reasons for action that people have if it incorporates a theory of interests like mine, in part because a theory of interests like mine makes it easier for a self-interest theory to account for our judgments about the reasons that people have to try to alter their interests in the hope that they will be as readily satisfied as possible in the future. Thus my claim is that my theory offers an attractive account of rational autonomy. ;On the basis of my theory, I then argue, first, that a person is not guaranteed to have any reason to act morally at all, but second, that a person who does have some reason to act morally is likely to have more reason to act morally than in any other way
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