Vindicating the Normativity of Rationality

Ethics 119 (1):9-30 (2008)
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I argue that the "why be rational?" challenge raised by John Broome and Niko Kolodny rests upon a mistake that is analogous to the mistake that H.A. Pritchard famously claimed beset the “why be moral?” challenge. The failure to locate an independent justification for obeying rational requirements should do nothing whatsoever to undermine our belief in the normativity of rationality. I suggest that we should conceive of the demand for a satisfactory vindicating explanation of the normativity of rationality instead in terms of the demand for a philosophical characterisation of rationality that can do something to explain why rational requirements are the kinds of things that are, by their very nature, normative. I consider several accounts that have recently been offered – the distinctive-object account, the proper functioning account, and the subjective reasons account – and argue that none succeeds in meeting this challenge. I then sketch a new account, the “first-personal authority account”, which holds that rational requirements are what I call “standpoint-relative demands” concerning the attitudes we ought to have and form; and that complying with rational requirements is a matter of honouring our first-personal authority as agents. I suggest that the first-personal authority account does a better job of meeting the challenge



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Nicholas Southwood
Australian National University

Citations of this work

The Normativity of Rationality.Benjamin Kiesewetter - 2017 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The Importance of Being Rational.Errol Lord - 2013 - Dissertation, Princeton University
Respect and the reality of apparent reasons.Kurt L. Sylvan - 2021 - Philosophical Studies 178 (10):3129-3156.

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References found in this work

Why be rational.Niko Kolodny - 2005 - Mind 114 (455):509-563.
Normative requirements.John Broome - 1999 - Ratio 12 (4):398–419.
Structural Irrationality.Thomas Scanlon - 2007 - In Geoffrey Brennan, Robert Goodin, Frank Jackson & Michael Smith (eds.), Common Minds: Themes From the Philosophy of Philip Pettit. Clarendon Press.
Does rationality give us reasons?John Broome - 2005 - Philosophical Issues 15 (1):321–337.

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