Internalism about reasons: sad but true?
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Internalists about reasons following Bernard Williams claim that an agent’s normative reasons for action are constrained in some interesting way by her desires or motivations. In this paper, I offer a new argument for such a position—although one that resonates, I believe, with certain key elements of Williams’ original view. I initially draw on P.F. Strawson’s famous distinction between the interpersonal and the objective stances that we can take to other people, from the second-person point of view. I suggest that we should accept Strawson’s contention that the activity of reasoning with someone about what she ought to do naturally belongs to the interpersonal mode of interaction. I also suggest that reasons for an agent to perform some action are considerations which would be apt to be cited in favor of that action, within an idealized version of this advisory social practice. I then go on to argue that one would take leave of the interpersonal stance towards someone—thus crossing the line, so to speak—in suggesting that she do something one knows she wouldn’t want to do, even following an exhaustive attempt to hash it out with her. An internalist necessity constraint on reasons is defended on this basis.
Keywordsinternalism about reasons normative reasons motivations practical reasoning the interpersonal stance Bernard Williams P.F. Strawson
Earlier versions of this paper were presented at a colloquium at the University of Pittsburgh, a class at Dartmouth College, a meeting of WOGAP at MIT, and the Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference (BSPC) in 2013. Section 3 contains material originally presented at Washington University in St. Louis and Cornell University in 2011, and also in the Young Philosophers’ Lecture Series held at SUNY Fredonia in 2012, thanks to Andrew Cullison. I’m grateful to all of these audiences for their helpful questions and comments on my developing ideas here. And I’m grateful to the BSPC organizers—Julia Markovits, Miriam Schoenfield, and Ned Markosian—for all of their hard work in organizing this fabulous occasion. In terms of the substance of this paper, I’d also like to thank the members of my dissertation committee at MIT—Richard Holton, Sally Haslanger, Julia Markovits, and Rae Langton—for their invaluable feedback on Chapter 2 of my dissertation, which this paper essentially grew out of. Further thanks to Kenneth Walden and Kieran Setiya for recent fruitful discussions, and also to Tyler Doggett and Hille Paakkunainen for very generous and valuable sets of written comments which they were kind enough to send me. Finally, I’m indebted to Julia Driver and Alex Guerrero for their terrific commentaries on this paper at BSPC, both of which helped me a great deal. I’ve had occasion to thank several others along the way who have helped me in thinking through various specific issues here. But I am sure I am forgetting people who were also kind enough to share in my sadness—or, alternatively, try to cheer me up a bit.
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