, Volume 82, Issue 3, pp 561–582 | Cite as

Three Cheers for Dispositions: A Dispositional Approach to Acting for a Normative Reason

  • Susanne MantelEmail author
Original Research


Agents sometimes act for normative reasons—for reasons that objectively favor their actions. Jill, for instance, calls a doctor for the normative reason that Kate is injured. In this article I explore a dispositional approach to acting for a normative reason. I argue for the need of epistemic, motivational, and executional dispositional elements of a theory of acting for a normative reason. Dispositions play a mediating role between, on the one hand, the normative reason and its normative force, and the action on the other hand. Thereby, they help to deal with problem cases such as cases of deviant causal chains and improper instrumental motivation.


Causal Chain Normative Reason Lightning Strike Causal Account Dispositional Account 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to thank the participants of the colloquium of Holmer Steinfath for insightful comments on an earlier version of this paper. Special thanks is due to Benjamin Kiesewetter and Ralf Stoecker, who provided me with valuable feedback concerning the dispositional approach on a symposium on my book manuscript “Acting for a normative reason: A competence account” in Berlin in 2015. Further thanks goes to Christoph Fehige, Frank Hofmann, and Eva Schmidt, as well as to two anonymous referees for Erkenntnis.


  1. Armstrong, D. (1975). Beliefs and desires as causes of action. Philosophical Papers, 4, 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arpaly, N. (2003). Unprincipled virtue: An inquiry into moral agency. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Arpaly, N., & Schroeder, T. (2014). In praise of desire. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Ashwell, L. (2010). Superficial dispositionalism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 88(4), 635–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bird, A. (1998). Dispositions and antidotes. The Philosophical Quarterly, 48, 227–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bird, A. (2007). Nature’s metaphysics: Laws and properties. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brandom, R. B. (1994). Making it explicit. Reasoning, representing, and discursive commitment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bridges, J. (2011). Dispositions and rational explanation. In J. Bridges, N. Kolodny, & W. Wong (Eds.), The possibility of philosophical understanding: Reflections on the thought of Barry Stroud (pp. 182–216). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Broome, J. (2013). Rationality through reasoning. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clarke, R. (2010). Opposing powers. Philosophical Studies, 149, 153–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dancy, J. (2000). Practical reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Davidson, D. (1963). Actions, reasons, and causes. Reprinted in D. Davidson (Ed.), Essays on actions and events (pp. 3–20). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.Google Scholar
  13. Davidson, D. (1971). Agency. Reprinted in D. Davidson (Ed.), Essays on actions and events (pp. 43–62). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.Google Scholar
  14. Gillessen, J. (MS). Flat intentions – crazy dispositions?.Google Scholar
  15. Goldman, A. (1967). A causal theory of knowing. The Journal of Philosophy, 64(12), 357–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Handfield, T., & Bird, A. (2008). Dispositions, rules, and finks. Philosophical Studies, 140, 285–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hornsby, J. (2008). A disjunctive conception of acting for reasons. In A. Haddock & F. Macpherson (Eds.), Disjunctivism: Perception, action, knowledge (pp. 244–261). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hyman, J. (1999). How knowledge works. The Philosophical Quarterly, 49(197), 433–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hyman, J. (2014). Desires, dispositions and deviant causal chains. Philosophy, 89(1), 83–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Johnston, M. (1992). How to speak of the colors. Philosophical Studies, 68(3), 221–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kant, I. (1785/6). Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals (A. W. Wood, Trans.). New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.Google Scholar
  22. Lewis, D. (1997). Finkish dispositions. The Philosophical Quarterly, 47, 143–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lord, E. (2013). The importance of being rational. Dissertation, Princeton University.Google Scholar
  24. Lord, E., & Sylvan, K. (forthcoming). Prime time (for the basing relation). In P. Bondy & J. A. Carter (Eds.), Car The basing relation: New essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Mantel, S. 2014. No reason for identity: On the relation between motivating and normative reasons. Philosophical Explorations, 17(1), 49–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mantel, S. 2016. How to be psychologistic about motivating but not about normative reasons. Grazer Philosophische Studien: Internationale Zeitschrift für Analytische Philosophie, 93(1), 80–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Markovits, J. (2010). Acting for the right reasons. Philosophical Review, 119(2), 201–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. McHugh, C., & Way, J. (MS). What is reasoning?Google Scholar
  29. McKitrick, J. (2003). A case for extrinsic dispositions. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 81, 155–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mele, A. (2009). Intention and intentional action. In B. P. McLoughlin (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of philosophy of mind (pp. 691–712). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Molnar, G. (2003). Powers. A study in metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Mumford, S., & Anjum, R. L. (2011). Getting causes from powers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Parfit, D. (2011). On what matters. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Scanlon, T. M. (1998). What we owe to each other. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Setiya, K. (2007). Reasons without rationalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Smith, M. (1994). The moral problem. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
  37. Smith, M. (2009). The explanatory role of being rational. In D. Sobel & S. Wall (Eds.), Reasons for actions (pp. 58–80). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Smith, M. (2011). Beyond belief and desire: Or, how to be orthonomous. In N. Vincent, I. van de Poel, & J. van den Hoven (Eds.), Moral responsibility: Beyond free will and determinism (pp. 53–70). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sosa, E. (2007). A virtue epistemology: Apt belief and reflective knowledge (Vol. 1). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stoecker, R. (2003). Climbers, pigs and wiggled ears. In S. Walter & H.-D. Heckmann (Eds.), Physicalism and mental causation (pp. 295–322). Exeter: Imprint Academic.Google Scholar
  41. Turri, J. (2011). Believing for a reason. Erkenntnis, 74(3), 383–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Unger, P. (1975). Ignorance: A case for scepticism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  43. Wedgwood, R. (2006). The normative force of reasoning. Noûs, 40(4), 660–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophisches InstitutUniversität des SaarlandesSaarbrückenGermany

Personalised recommendations