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“Because I Want It”*

  • Stephen Darwall (a1)

How can an agent's desire or will give him reasons for acting? Not long ago, this might have seemed a silly question, since it was widely believed that all reasons for acting are based in the agent's desires. The interesting question, it seemed, was not how what an agent wants could give him reasons, but how anything else could. In recent years, however, this earlier orthodoxy has increasingly appeared wrongheaded as a growing number of philosophers have come to stress the action-guiding role of reasons in deliberation from the agent's point of view. What a deliberating agent has in view is rarely his own will or desires as such, even if taking something as a reason is intimately tied to desire. Someone who wants to escape a burning building does not evaluate her options by considering which is likeliest to realize what she wants or wills. She is focused, rather, on her desire's object: getting out alive. The fact that a successful route would realize something she wants is apt to strike her as beside the point or, at best, as a trivial bonus.

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Philip Pettit and Michael Smith , “Backgrounding Desire,” Philosophical Review 99, no. 4 (1990): 565–92

J. David Velleman , “The Possibility of Practical Reason,” Ethics 106, no. 4 (1996): 707–26.

Samuel Scheffler , The Rejection of Consequentialism, rev. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994)

David McNaughton and Piers Rawling , “Agent-Relativity and Terminological Inexactitudes,” Utilitas 7, no. 2 (1995): 319–25.

John Broome , “Normative Requirements,” Ratio 12, no. 4 (1999): 398419.

Patricia Greenspan , “Conditional Oughts and Hypothetical Imperatives,” Journal of Philosophy 72, no. 10 (1975): 259–76

Stephen Darwall , “Empathy, Sympathy, Care,” Philosophical Studies 89, no. 2 (1998): 261–82.

John Rawls , “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory,” Journal of Philosophy 77, no. 9 (1980): 543.

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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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