In virtue of what does a consideration provide a practical reason? Suppose the fact that an experience is painful provides you with a reason to avoid it. In virtue of what does the fact that it's painful have the normativity of a reason – where, in other words, does its normativity come from? As some philosophers put the question, what is the source of a reason's normativity?
This question should be distinguished from two others. One is: Which sorts of consideration ultimately provide practical reasons? That is, are practical reasons given by one's desires, by evaluative facts about what one desires, or by some hybrid of the two? This question concerns which considerations are the ultimate bearers of practical normativity. The question of source, by contrast, concerns that in virtue of which the considerations that ultimately bear normativity – whichever they are – do so. Another question is: What is the nature of normativity? That is, is normativity an irreducibly distinct justificatory force, a motivational force, or a volitional force? This question concerns normativity's essential features. The question of source, by contrast, concerns that in virtue of which something has normative force, whatever the nature of this force.
The questions of the source, bearers, and nature of normativity are logically distinct but naturally related. If normativity is a an irreducibly distinct justificatory force, then it is natural to think, as Plato did, that its ultimate bearers are irreducibly normative facts and that its source is an irreducible normative reality.
It seems an inevitable fact of life that morality sometimes asks us to do something that requires a sacrifice in our own well-being. Should we keep a promise to accompany a friend to the dentist or go off to hear a rare performance of our favorite artist? Go out of our way to help a stranger in distress or hurry on our way to an important business meeting? Give a certain percentage of our income to charity or fund our own nest egg? Conflicts between moral and prudential values are thought to raise concerns about the normativity of morality and the scope of practical reason. If being moral involves making one's life go worse, why should one be moral? And if conflicts between moral and prudential values are genuine, how in such cases can practical reason guide decision about what to do?
Both worries stem in part from an alluring picture of the relationship between morality and prudence. On this picture, moral and prudential values issue from two “fundamentally distinct points of view,” points of view so different that there is no more comprehensive point of view from which values from the one point of view and values from the other can both be given their normative due.For example, from the moral point of view, I should send my year-end bonus to Oxfam, but from the prudential point of view I should invest the money in my own retirement.
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