Moral Judgments, Normative Reasons, and the Motivation of the Practically Rational

Dissertation, University of California, Davis (1999)

Abstract
Is it conceptually possible for there to be a practically rational amoralist? That is, could there be a practically rational person who is not in the least bit motivated to act in accordance with her own judgments concerning what she morally ought to do? Recent literature in Ethics contains a debate between those who argue that the practically rational amoralist is a conceptual impossibility, and those who argue for the contrary view. Brink argues that, on the face of it, the practically rational amoralist is conceptually coherent. And so, he concludes, we ought to think the practically rational amoralist possible until we are presented with a convincing argument to the contrary. Smith tries to provide just such an argument---in fact, several such arguments. In my dissertation, I show that none of Smith's arguments are successful. ;Each of these, refutations is, of course, important for our understanding of the issue immediately at hand . However, one of these refutations is of particular importance to broader issues in philosophical psychology as well. One of Smith's arguments depends upon the claim that it is a conceptual, and hence necessary, truth that reason judgments motivate the practically rational. In subscribing to this claim, Smith follows the lead of Bernard Williams, who has elevated the view to a philosophical orthodoxy. In my dissertation, however, I argue that once we carefully examine both the kinds of reason judgments at issue and the practical reasoning process itself, we find that the orthodox are mistaken. The view that the practically rational are necessarily motivated to at least some extent by each and every one of their reason judgments depends upon an impoverished view of how it is that we are moved to action by reasons. In the course of revealing the shortcomings of the orthodox view I provide an alternative account of the practical reasoning process loosely based on suggestions contained in the recent work of Kurt Baier.
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