Setiya’s “Reasons”: The Diagnosis

Why is Setiya’s
principle vulnerable to the problems that I listed in my previous post? What exactly is the diagnosis?

I suggest
that the diagnosis is that there are in fact two sorts of reasons. These two sorts of reasons do not always
coincide; and Setiya is implicitly conflating these two sorts of reasons here.

1. One way of thinking of “reasons” insists
on a close connection between reasons and reasoning.
Basically, the idea is that a reason for
φ-ing is a starting point for a bit of reasoning
that terminates in
φ-ing. (We can understand “reasoning” very broadly here, as any process of thought
that results in your being motivated to act intentionally in a certain way or to
change your beliefs or intentions or other attitudes, etc..)

Even if we think of reasons in this first way,
we could still distinguish between motivating reasons and normative reasons. We
could say that your motivating reason
for φ-ing is whatever actually
motivated you to φ, while a normative
reason for you to φ is something that could
rationally
move you to φ. But it
still seems to me that if we think of reasons in this first way, then all of
your reasons – both normative and motivating reasons – must be facts
about your mental states, since (pace
Jonathan Dancy) it seems to me that it is only ever facts about your mental states
that could possibly motivate you to act.

Of course, if you were asked what your
reasons are, you would normally cite an external-world fact. (E.g. you might
say, “Why did I fly via Iceland? Well, I just had to get to my aunt’s funeral, and all the direct flights were ridiculously expensive.”) But if you really are motivated by this external-world fact, that must be because you believe that this external-world fact
obtains. So, if we continue thinking of reasons in this first way, but also
identify reasons with these external-world facts, we run the risk of seriously
exaggerating the role that belief
plays in our reasoning (and correspondingly underestimating the role that is
played in our reasoning by other mental states besides belief). As a result, it seems
to me that a cleaner way of conceiving of reasons of this first kind is to
think of them as always consisting in facts about the relevant agent’s mental
states.

2. A second way of thinking of a normative reason
for you to φ is as a fact that plays a role in a certain sort of normative explanation – e.g., an
explanation of why your φ-ing has the positive normative status that it has. So, e.g., a paradigmatic reason of this second kind would be some fact that explains why you ought to
φ, or why it is permissible for you to φ  (or in other words, the reason would be the reason why you ought to φ, or why it is permissible for you to φ). Reasons of this second
kind are certainly not restricted to facts about the agent’s mental states: the
explanation of why you ought to φ, or of why it is permissible for you to φ, will
very often consist of some
external-world fact about your situation at the relevant time.

Now, it will certainly sometimes happen that a reason of the first sort is (a true belief whose
content is) a fact that also explains
why the action has the positive normative status that it has. But this need not
always be the case. It is rational for you to be moved to φ by your rational
belief that Diotima has advised you to φ; but the fact that Diotima has advised
you to φ does not in itself explain why it is a good idea for you to φ. On the
contrary, Diotima’s advice is merely evidence
that it is a good idea for you to φ, not an explanation
of why it is good idea for you to
φ.

So, why do I think that Setiya’s principle
implicitly conflates these two ways of thinking about reasons?

  1. On the one hand, there are certain elements in his principle
    that are clearly suitable for the first way of thinking about reasons. The principle centrally
    deploys the idea of a good disposition
    of practical thought
    . Such dispositions involve responding to a “collection
    of mental states” by being “moved” to φ. So talking about a
    good
    disposition of practical thought
    is in effect just a way of talking about
    rational reasoning.

  2. On the other hand, there are certain other elements that are
    really only suitable for the second way of thinking. Reasons are
    identified with facts
    normally facts about the external world; and it is also required that the collection
    of mental states that (along with belief in the fact that constitutes the reason)
    must be capable of rationally moving the agent must contain no false beliefs. These elements are, it seems to me,
    out of keeping with the first approach, since we can certainly be
    rationally moved to act by rational beliefs that happen to be false.

The first three problems that I raised in
my previous post — (1), (2), and (3) — all highlight implications of Setiya’s principle
that would all be perfectly reasonable if we are thinking of reasons in the first way,
but seem quite wrong if we are thinking of reasons in the second way (i.e., if we require reasons to play an explanatory role in
normative explanations).

The fourth problem that I raised (4) highlights
a claim that Setiya makes that would indeed be true of reasons of the first
sort (since reasons of this sort do seem to supervene on facts about the
relevant agent’s mental states), but which is in fact not true of his own
principle, on account of the element that he incorporates into his own
principle in order to make it cover reasons of the second sort.

18 Replies to “Setiya’s “Reasons”: The Diagnosis

  1. Ralph,
    Since I haven’t yet read Setiya’s book, I can’t say anything helpful about whether your worries about his own views are right, though now I do want to read the book. And I don’t think I can help all that much in any event. But, given your statement of the Reason principle, it seems to me that your instincts about it are right. Setiya’s principle is a very nice statement of what we’d like to have in a theory of reasons, a strong connection between facts on the one hand and mental states that are motivating on the other. On the LHS we have something objective, on the RHS we’ve got mental states. But it does fall in with a very long line of attempts to put on the LHS one sort of reason and another sort of reason on the RHS. Maybe that’s a holy grail: to find a fact on one side, and then go find a motivating state on the other that is connected in the right way to the fact. But maybe it’s just a confusion of two different kinds of reasons, or maybe it’s a confusion in our folk theory of reasons.

  2. Ralph: thanks again! Not surprisingly, I doubt that there are two sorts of reasons distinguished in the way that you suggest. I do accept a distinction between the following uses of “reason”:
    A’s reason for doing φ is that p.
    The fact that p is a reason for A to φ.
    If you like, we can talk about motivating reasons and normative ones, respectively. But I don’t see that normative reasons further divide. There is a distinction between good practical reasoning and its premises, on the one hand, and facts that explain what we ought to do, on the other. But it is hard to believe that these things are not quite intimately connected. In effect, that is what “Reasons” asserts, i.e. that premises of good practical thought (the objects of beliefs that motivate it, which belong in your #1) are, when true, facts partly in virtue of which there is something to be said for acting in a certain way (roughly, #2). What is your view about the relationship here?
    About #1: I agree that mental states other than beliefs can motivate good practical thought and that we should not neglect them; but they don’t correspond directly to reasons. If it is good practical thought to be moved by final desires and means-end beliefs, for instance, the right thing to say is not that desires are reasons but that, if you have a final desire for E, facts about means to E are reasons for you to act.
    About #2: you are interested in explaining why someone ought to φ or why it is permissible to φ, not just why there is something to be said for it; hence the qualification above. But this doesn’t affect the basic point. In order to get from normative reasons, as I understand them, to facts about what one should do, all things considered, we need to attend to the relative weight of reasons. I offer a parallel principle about that in the book. In each case, I mean to be relating the things that figure in what you call “normative explanations” to the standards of good practical thought and the psychogical states that figure in it.
    Finally, in reply to Robert Johnson: the right hand side of “Reasons” appeals to good dispositions of practical thought, not to our “subjective motivational set” or motivational capacities. It is thus consistent with a form of externalism on which some of us have reasons by which we could not be moved – although it is also consistent with instrumentalism. It is not about the content of our reasons or of good practical thought, just how they are related to one another.

  3. Kieran (and Ralph),
    thanks for this discussion – it is very helpful. I have a quick question to Kieran. In the previous thread, when you were discussing enablers, you seemed to think that the Dancyan considerations do not show that what he thinks are enablers are not reasons themselves. Thus, that the fact that the promise was not made under duress or the fact that I can keep my promise are taken to be reasons to keep the promise. It’s just that these reasons do not add to the overall strength of what reason I have already to keep my promise.
    Now, when I read this the first thought was that you must be using the reasons in some non-standard sense. But, above, you seem to say that reasons are ‘facts partly in virtue of which there is something to be said for acting in a certain way’. This seems to be the basic idea that reasons ‘count in favour of’ attitudes and actions. Putting this together, you seem to think that what Dancy thinks are enablers really do count in favour of the actions – that your promise was not made under duress and that you can keep your promise are count in favour of keeping the promise, i.e., in virtue of them something can be said for keeping the promise. This is so even though because of these facts there is no *more* to be said for keeping the promise altogether. Is this right? I think I do have different intuitions about whether these considerations count in favour of the actions.

  4. Yes, my view is that, in the circumstance in which you have made the promise etc., though not in other circumstances, the following sentences are true.
    “That the promise was not given under duress is a reason to keep it.”
    “That I am able to keep the promise is a reason to do so.”
    And since reasons are considerations that count in favour, the following sentences are true as well:
    “That the promise was not given under duress counts in favour of keeping it.”
    “That I am able to keep the promise counts in favour of doing so.”
    The sentences above are often pragmatically odd, since duress is rare, and since we (almost) always can do what we have any reason to do. Asserting them will typically violate Gricean maxims. That explains some of the intuitive resistance.
    You are worried about the suggestion that absence of duress and presence of ability count in favour of action, in that “in virtue of them something can be said for keeping the promise.” What is true is that partly in virtue of them, something can be said for keeping the promise. Neither of them is sufficient by itself for there to be such a reason; in a different circumstance, I might be able to keep my promise and have no reason at all to do so. But that is true of paradigm reasons, such as the fact that I promised, which can fail to provide a reason elsewhere. Dancy is surely right about that.
    My liberal use of “reason” for any premise of sound practical reasoning may be a partial regimentation of the ordinary use. An alternative would be to identify reasons with conjunctions of all the premises of a given pattern of sound practical reasoning. These “complete reasons” would obey the constraint that, when p is a reason for A to φ and q is a reason for A to φ, the conjunctive fact that p & q is a stronger reason than either of them by itself. (It may be worth mentioning that Dancy rejects this sort of additivity for reasons, as such; see Ethics without Principles, 15.) But even “complete reasons,” defined in this way, may not be sufficient by themselves for the existence of a reason, regardless of the circumstance, as when they correspond to a pattern of sound practical reasoning that also depends on non-cognitive psychological states.

  5. Kieran —
    You say, “premises of good practical thought … are, when true, facts partly in virtue of which there is something to be said for acting in a certain way”.
    I have a completely different view of the relationship here. In one sense, the hallmark of “good” practical thought is that it non-accidentally reaches the right conclusion; but such good practical reasoning needn’t involve any insight into *why* the conclusion that it has reached is the right one. In just the same way, an episode of good theoretical reasoning can lead to knowledge of a true proposition, without involving any understanding at all of *why* this proposition is true. (It often takes scientists decades or more to advance from knowledge *that* p is true to an understanding of *why* p is true!)
    Indeed, even if we do not focus on reasoning that is “good” in the sense of non-accidentally reaching the “right” or “correct” conclusion, and focus instead on *rational* reasoning (which may be based on justified false beliefs, etc.), a rational believer can rationally come to believe that p in response to an *experience* or some other non-doxastic mental state, in which case the rational believer may have no *belief* the content of which explains why it is rational for her to come to believe that p.
    Mutatis mutandis, I think the same is true of practical reasoning. A rational agent may respond, rationally and appropriately, to emotions that are triggered by subtle perceptual cues without having any belief that this is what she is doing, or that this is what explains why her motivation is rational.
    In general, I would insist that what makes the reasoning rational, and what makes the conclusion of the reasoning correct, need not in any way be the object of any belief that the reasoner has, let alone any belief that is itself part of that reasoning.

  6. Thanks Kieran. That is again very helpful. I need to think about the explanation for the unintuitiveness of these claims on the basis of Gricean maxims.
    One might think that those claims violate the requirements to be informative and relevant and therefore they are odd. This would be similar to asserting in a conversation that sky is blue or 2+2=4. It would be odd. But, this oddness does not make me think that those platitudes are false. So, why would the oddness of the similar uninformative and irrelevant reasons-claims, make me think that they are false and not just pragmatically odd?

  7. Ralph,
    I agree with your last three paragraphs and don’t think they conflict with “Reasons.” Good practical thought need not depend on beliefs as opposed to desires, appearances of value, emotions and the rest. The claim is just that, when it does depend on beliefs, the contents of those beliefs are, if true, reasons for acting in the relevant way, apt to figure in a normative explanation of why one should.
    I also agree that good theoretical reasoning to the belief that p need not involve any insight into why it is true that p. But that is not what corresponds to the denial of “Reasons” in the theoretical case. To deny the theoretical analogue of “Reasons” is to claim that, even when good theoretical reasoning relies on beliefs, the contents of those beliefs, if true, need not be reasons to believe the conclusion, apt to figure in a normative explanation of why one should believe it. And that seems wrong to me.
    I wonder if there’s a background disagreement at work. Roughly following Anscombe, I think of practical reasoning as reasoning to action, intention or motivation. Some others (e.g. Raz) think of it as reasoning to a deontic belief, as for instance a belief about what I should do. It may be true that not all premises of sound reasoning to the conclusion that I should φ are reasons for me to φ. But that observation conflicts with “Reasons” only in conjunction with a further premise about the nature of practical reasoning that I reject.
    What do you make of all this?

  8. Jussi,
    I don’t have a firm view about this, but my tentative thought is that, when we ask for normative reasons, we are looking for a pattern of sound practical reasoning. Answering “I am able to do it” is not just uninformative; it gives us no reason to believe that any such pattern exists. By contrast, that I promised is normally pretty good evidence that there is a pattern of sound reasoning that would motivate me to act in a certain way, and a decent guide to what it might be.

  9. Kieran, et. al.,
    I will boldly, though ill-advisedly no doubt given I’ve not yet read anything, follow up my comment above with a question. I don’t think I have dog in this fight, yet anyway.
    I take it the “just in case” in the doctrine ‘Reason’ signals the material bi-conditional. I think I was just referring to your phrase, on the RHS of ‘just in case’ “A has a collection of psychological states”. I see now that those states don’t need to be or include desires, say. But psychological states, dispositions, and good reasoning are subjective things, aren’t they? (Or maybe the term ‘subjective’ is just not a very clear one.)
    Maybe my question is really this: Is ‘Reason’ an epistemic or a metaphysical principle? That is, does the RHS merely give us *a way to locate* those facts in the world that are reasons? In the RHS, that is, are we being given the evidence that would justify our belief that a given fact is a reason? Maybe this is what you were saying above. So maybe you think something like this: “For all I know, what reasons *are* are facts touched by God. But we find out which facts are touched by God or whatever, and so are reasons, by way of which facts are involved in the right way with good patterns of reasoning.”
    Or, by contrast, does the RHS tell us something about what reasons are in your view? Does it carve up the facts into reasons and non-reasons, as it were? Reasons just are facts that figure in the right way in good patterns of reasoning.
    The former seems like a view than the latter.

  10. Kieran (if I may) –
    I’m a bit late to this discussion, but I had the pleasure of reading “Reasons without Rationalism” with some graduate students at the U of A last term. I should say that I loved the book, and I’m excited to be rid of the “guise of the good” business. But we had a worry that might (I’ll let Ralph be the judge of that) be on a similar page to the worry in Ralph’s first post. There he seems to be giving us some false positives (whether he’s correct I’ll leave aside). But I wonder also if Reasons also doesn’t give some false negatives.
    For instance, I think that the fact that Suzy is drowning is a reason for me to push this button that would rescue Suzy. But let’s say that “C”, for me, includes the belief that I would look like a hero doing so, I would be paraded around town, and I would be able to add to my legacy as a great man. Assume, however, that “C” also includes a strong desire to see Suzy drown, but that this desire gets outweighed overall by the personal glory that would come to me as a result of pushing the button.
    In this case, the question is whether my disposition to push the button by “C-and-the-belief-that-Suzy is drowning” is a good disposition of practical thought. (Assume C’s beliefs are all true.) I’m tempted to say that the answer is no: this disposition of practical thought is megalomaniacal to the full. And if that’s right, it appears that according to Reasons, that Suzy is drowning is no reason for me to push the button because being moved to do so on the basis of my psychological states would be megalomaniacal.
    Alternatively, one might say that that disposition is a good disposition of practical thought. But then it’s hard for me to see how this could arise from a substantive account of good dispositions (like the virtue account your propose) rather than a more deflationary account: an account that says something like “a good disposition of practical thought is one that generally leads to a person acting in accordance with the reasons that apply to them.” Alternatively you might deny that I have a reason to push the button in this case. But in that case I’d resist on intuitive grounds.

  11. Thanks for the further comments!
    Robert: the short answer is that “Reasons” is intended as a metaphysical principle saying what it is for a fact to be a reason to act. The right hand side mentions states that are “subjective” in the sense of being psychological. But this could be misleading. What it ascribes to the agent is a collection of psychological states, C, such that the disposition to be moved by them is a good disposition of practical thought. It need not be true that the agent has that disposition, as opposed to the states in C, in order for the relevant fact to be a reason for her to act. And while facts about good practical thought and its dispositions are facts about psychology, they are evaluations of it, and are not (or need not be) “subjective” in the sense that contrasts with objectivity.
    Dale: I’m still amazed and pleased that people are reading the book; so, thanks!
    In your example, the reasoning looks bad to me, as it does to you, on substantive grounds. But it doesn’t follow from that, together with “Reasons,” that the fact that Suzy is drowning is no reason for you to save her. According to “Reasons,” the relevant question is whether you have some collection of psychological states, C — not necessarily your whole psychological profile — such that the disposition to be moved to press the button by C, together with the belief that Suzy is drowning, is a good disposition of practical thought. Nothing in your example shows that you don’t.
    For instance, maybe it is a good disposition of practical thought to be moved to help those in need, and thus to be moved to press the button by the following three beliefs: that Suzy is drowning, that if she’s drowning, she needs help, and that pressing this button will save her. If that is so, and if you have the second and third beliefs, the fact that she is drowning is a reason for you to press the button, according to “Reasons,” even if you have other mental states that could motivate you to do so only in defective ways.

  12. Sorry, Kieran, my last post was written much too quickly. Let me try to clarify.
    I would certainly agree with you that practical reasoning is the sort of reasoning that terminates in one’s acting intentionally (or at least in one’s revising one’s intentions or desires about how to act).
    Still, I think that in many cases, the very same beliefs and other mental states that rationally move you to form the belief that you ought to φ (or that it is permissible for you to φ) can also rationally move you to form an intention to φ. This is why I think that the belief that Diotima has advised you to φ can (at least so long as it is itself a rational belief) rationally move you to φ. Likewise, the belief that you have compelling reason to φ, if it is itself a rational belief, can also rationally move you to φ.
    Still, I would argue that neither the fact that Diotima has advised you to φ, nor the fact that you have compelling reason to φ, explains why there is something to be said in favour of φ-ing. The first fact is just *evidence* that *there is* something to be said in favour of φ-ing, not itself an explanation of *what* is to be said in favour of φ-ing; while the second fact is in effect just the explanandum itself (i.e. the fact that there is a reason, or something to be said, in favour of φ-ing), and so cannot constitute any sort of explanation of that explanandum.
    Then, I would try to reinforce my case by arguing that the analogous principle for theoretical reasoning fails. You say that the principle for theoretical reasoning that is analogous to “Reasons” is the principle that when good theoretical reasoning relies on beliefs, the contents of those beliefs, if true, must be “apt to figure in a normative explanation of why one should believe” the conclusion.
    But what do you mean here by speaking of what one “should believe”? (I take it that you’re not referring to what it is practically advantageous to believe!) In one sense, what one should believe is whatever it is *correct* to believe – i.e., whatever is the true answer to the question that one is considering. Understood in this way, however, your theoretical analogue to “Reasons” fails: you can come to believe p by a piece of reasoning that is good enough to count as the acquisition of knowledge, even though the beliefs that this reasoning starts from do not include a belief in any proposition q that, if true, would explain why p is true.
    In a second sense, what you “should believe” is what it is *rational* for you to believe. However, the explanation of why it rational for me to come to believe p will, I claim, always be some fact about my mental states. Yet the reasoning that leads me to believe p need not involve any beliefs about my mental states at all. E.g., it is not the fact that fossils of trilobites are found in Wales that makes it rational for me to believe that some Welsh rock is Cambrian: what makes it rational is rather that I *believe* that there are fossils of trilobites in Wales; but it is quite possible that none of the beliefs on which I base my beliefs about the age of Welsh rocks are beliefs about my beliefs at all! Either way, then, the theoretical analogue of “Reasons” fails.
    Finally, I would emphasize that your principle seems, in an unmotivated way, to privilege *beliefs* in contrast to the other mental states involved in reasoning. There are many other mental states involved in good reasoning. Moreover, these other mental states play just as important a role in explaining the rationality of the reasoning as the beliefs that are involved. So why should it be a constraint on the beliefs that form the starting points for rational practical reasoning that their content must be apt to explain what there is to be said in favour of the course of action in question, when it is not a constraint on the other mental states? The asymmetry just seems to me ad hoc and implausible.

  13. That’s very helpful, Ralph. Thanks!
    I now think I was too quick to agree that reasons, as considerations that count in favour of doing something, fit the explanatory characterization in your #2, at least without saying more about the kind of explanation involved.
    If we are looking for an explanation that tells us “that in virtue of which” A should φ, all things considered, some of the facts to which we appeal will not be reasons for A to φ. This will typically be so, on my account, for A’s psychological states. But it is also true on your account, I think. For instance, if “ought” implies “can,” the fact that A can φ will be one of the facts in virtue of which A should φ, even though you deny that it is a reason for A to φ.
    When I said that reasons explain why one should φ, I had in mind the sort of explanation that gives the reasons for doing it, drawing on the assumption that what one should do, all things considered, is what there is most reason to do. If this assumption is right, the facts about what is a reason and about the relative weight of reasons – which are in turn equivalent to facts about sound practical thought – determine what one should do, by the following recipe:
    Let S be the total set of reasons for acting one way or another in C. If p is a reason to φ in C and q is a reason to φ in C, then p & q is a reason to φ in C. Call the conjunction of all reasons to φ in C the total reason to φ in C. One should φ in C just in case the total reason to φ in C is stronger than the total reason to do anything else.
    (Most commonly, I suspect, we focus on a limited range of reasons for acting, i.e. there is room for quantifier domain restriction in “all things considered.”)
    Against this background, your objection about the asymmetrical treatment of beliefs and other psychological states might come to this: if “Reasons” is correct, and there are patterns of good practical thought that don’t involve beliefs, they won’t correspond to reasons, and so it may not be true that what I should do is just what there is most reason to do. Suppose that I have some collection of non-cognitive psychological states, N, and that it is a good disposition of practical thought to be moved to φ by N. This pattern of good practical thought is surely relevant to what I should do, but it is neglected by the recipe above.
    It’s a good problem, and I hadn’t considered it before. Here are some tentative thoughts in response:
    (1) Although I agree that psychological states other than belief can play a role in good practical thought, I don’t think any pattern of good practical thought is wholly non-cognitive, which is what the objection needs. Beliefs are always involved, so nothing is neglected. (This modifies what I said in an earlier comment, which now seems to me too concessive.)
    (2) At least as formulated here, the objection challenges the view that what one should do is what there is most reason to do, on my understanding of reasons. It does not threaten “Reasons,” per se. And more significantly, even if it works, it does not challenge the basic idea that facts about reasons, and facts about what we should do, are equivalent to facts about sound practical thought. That is what the argument of the book requires.
    In the end, I agree that there is nothing special about the beliefs that figure in practical thought, in contrast to other psychological states. So it is a mistake for the study of practical reason to focus exclusively on the contents of such beliefs, i.e. on reasons. Our topic is, or ought to be, good practical thought in general.
    No doubt you won’t be convinced by my line on this, and I need to think much more about yours. But I hope these remarks do something to clarify the dispute.
    A final note on the analogy with theoretical reasoning. I’m wary of such analogies in general, and I probably should have been more cautious about this one. The difficulty is that is not clear what stands to theoretical reason as what one should do, all things considered, stands to practical reason. What I should do, all things considered is, very roughly, what it would be rational for me to do if I knew all the reasons and had no false beliefs. (The recipe above attempts to sketch a more precise account of this.) As you point out, in the theoretical case we can ask what it would be correct to believe and what it would be rational for me to believe given the evidence I have. But “all things considered”? What would it be rational for me to believe if I knew all the evidence and had no false beliefs? It is hard to know what to make of these questions and consequently hard to see what reasons for belief, as opposed to reasons for acting, could help to explain.

  14. I’m late to the party, and maybe you’ve all packed up your toys and gone home. But I have to call Ralph out on some of his reasoning (and in defense of the Dancy line). Ralph writes,
    “[On] One way of thinking of “reasons” …a reason for φ-ing is a starting point for a bit of reasoning that terminates in φ-ing…
    We could say that your motivating reason for φ-ing is whatever actually motivated you to φ, while a normative reason for you to φ is something that could rationally move you to φ. But it still seems to me that if we think of reasons in this first way, then all of your reasons – both normative and motivating reasons – must be facts about your mental states, since (pace Jonathan Dancy) it seems to me that it is only ever facts about your mental states that could possibly motivate you to act.”
    I think, with Dancy, that this is just mistaken. It stems from understanding the concept of MOTIVATING as equivalent to the concept of CAUSING. But motivating isn’t simply causing; it involves a special agential sort of causation. I think it’s causation via mental representation. For S to be motivated to A by p is, approximately, for S to be caused to A by her belief (or representation) that p. Typically the facts that motivate us are not facts about our mental states at all. (Our mental states themselves motivate us, in a different sense, but typically not FACTS about them). As you acknowledge,
    “Of course, if you were asked what your reasons are, you would normally cite an external-world fact.”
    This is all notwithstanding the truth of your observation, “if you really are motivated by this external-world fact, that must be because you believe that this external-world fact obtains.”
    In general, I’m with Kieran on the debate in these threads — although I see his principle more as a platitude, and less as an informative analysis.

  15. Thanks, Kieran! That’s very interesting and illuminating.
    On second thoughts, however, I’ve come to think that the objections that I’ve been trying to develop in these recent comments on PEA Soup don’t really undermine the central argument of /Reasons without Rationalism/. This is why.
    The fact is that everyone — including even me — is going to say that there is *some* connection between what one should do, all things considered, and sound practical thought. (In my view, the connection is really only with the *conclusion* of sound practical thought, not — as Kieran seems to think — with the intermediate steps that lead to that conclusion. More specifically, according to my view, if your practical thought is sound, it will terminate in your *choosing correctly* — i.e., in your making choices that you will actually carry out, in such a way that you thereby act in a genuinely choiceworthy manner. In other words, if your practical thought is sound, you will end up choosing a course of action that you have sufficient reason to do; and any such course of action will involve your doing everything that you should do, all things considered, in the circumstances.)
    So everyone is going to acknowledge *some* such connection; and I think whatever the right conception is of this the connection, the arguments of /Reasons without Rationalism/ could be adapted to work within the framework of this conception.
    After all, whatever exactly the connection is between good practical thought and what one should do all things considered, we can still ask: Is there any way of understanding what good practical thought could possibly *be*, other than as the sort of thought that manifests ethical virtue? And Kieran could still try to argue that the answer is No, by arguing that the alternative is committed to some version or other of the bad idea that we only ever intend anything “under the guise of the good”.
    So, if I’m right, all of this discussion on PEA Soup only touches the periphery, and not the heart, of the arguments of /Reasons without Rationalism/!

  16. Hi Steve — thanks for your comment!
    Unsurprisingly, I don’t agree with you (or with Dancy) about motivation. Of course motivation isn’t equivalent to causation. (Not all causation of an intention or of a bit of intentional behaviour counts as motivation!) Motivation is *psychologically intelligible causation*. But this distinction between motivation and causation does nothing to block the conclusion that all motivating reasons are facts about the relevant agent’s mental states.
    My argument against Dancy is fairly straightfoward. First, I argue fiercely for the factiveness of explanations: explanatory statements of the form ‘p because q’ are false unless both ‘p’ and ‘q’ are true. Then, I also insist on the soundness of a version of the “argument from hallucination”; so the same motivational explanation will count as true both (i) in the case where one’s beliefs are true (and one’s experiences are veridical, etc.) and (ii) in the case where one’s beliefs are false (and one’s experiences are hallucinations, etc.).
    The conclusion then seems inescapable: in motivational explanations, the explanandum (e.g. a revision to one’s intentions, or a volition, or the like) is explained by a fact about the relevant agent’s mental states.

  17. Hi Ralph,
    Thanks. At the risk of taking this thread off on a tangent:
    You’re right, the line I’m defending has certain bullets to bite. An agent can act for a reason even when there is in fact no corresponding normative reason (because it’s false that p). The right thing to say, I think, is that we can be motivated by reasons that don’t exist (just as we can be scared of bogeymen that don’t exist). However, I agree that reasons talk is presumptively factive. If it is false that p, then we say ‘His reason was that HE BELIEVED that p’. I also accept the argument from hallucination. This means that either the reports of veridical motivation, or the reports of nonveridical motivation, are misleading. My preference is to say that the presumptive factiveness of reasons explanations leads us to insert ‘he believed’ in order to cancel the implicature or implication that we believe that p, thereby distorting the case somewhat. (As Dancy suggests, the more perspicuous thing to say is, ‘His reason was that p, as he believed’.)
    Admittedly this involves some awkward contortions. But the rival solution that you favour also faces difficulties, which seem to me more severe. In particular, it seems (to me) unacceptably to divorce motivating and normative reasons. Normative reasons are most plausibly external facts, not psychological facts or states. This means, on your (Smithian) view, that we are never motivated by our normative reasons/ the reasons for which we act are never the reasons that count in favour of our acting. That seems to me a far worse pill to have to swallow, and so I prefer the contortions that my/Dancy’s view requires.
    These are probably familiar arguments, and you probably have a response. (You probably gave one in your book, but I’m afraid I can’t remember). I’d be grateful to be set straight.

  18. OK, Steve. I accept that there is something slightly awkward about the position that I accept. But I don’t think it’s quite as awkward as you make out.
    1. My position isn’t fully Smithian. I am willing to say that on one way of thinking about them, “normative reasons” are facts that *could rationally* motivate the relevant agent to act in the relevant way. Strictly speaking, these facts are always facts about the agent’s mental states. But we often do report people’s reasons by talking about their mental states. So this isn’t obviously such a problem.
    2. On a second way of thinking about normative reasons, reasons for acting in a certain way are (roughly) facts that *explain why* it is a good idea to act in that way. Often (although as I was emphasizing in my debate with Kieran, not always), when you are rationally motivated to act, part of what motivates you is your belief in some proposition which, if true, would explain why it is a good idea to act in the relevant way. When the belief in question is true (or at least when it counts as knowledge), it is intelligible that we would ordinarily report this as a case of your being motivated by the *fact* that makes the content of the belief true.

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