Basic Goods, Practical Insight, and External Reasons



Many basic goods theories hold the following two claims. First, the foundation of human action is in the practical grasp that all genuine agents have of the basic human goods, that is, in their grasp of basic opportunities for human flourishing.1 Different goods theories give somewhat different accounts of what these basic goods are, but the lists generally include human life and health, knowledge, excellence at work and play, friendship, integrity and practical reasonableness. The claim is thus that in some sense or other all agents have an awareness of these goods as to be pursued; such knowledge is not merely for the few, but is part and parcel of ordinary human agency.


Basic Good Aesthetic Experience External Reason Practical Understanding Practical Insight 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Germain Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. One: Christian Moral Principles (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983): 197.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Ibid: 184.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Bernard Williams, ‘Internal and External Reasons’, in his Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981): 101–2.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    John McDowell, ‘Might There Be External Reasons?’, in J.E.J. Altham and R. Harrison (eds), Mind, World, and Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 19951: 68–85: auotation at 74.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Elijah Millgram, ‘Williams’ Argument Against External Reasons’, Nous 30 (1996): 197–220.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Ibid: 211.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977): 90.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    See, for example, John Dewey, ‘Theory of Valuation’, in Jo Ann Boydston (ed.), The Later Works, 1925–1953 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988): 3–90. See also Henry S. Richardson’s criticism of Dewey’s views on this matter in Richardson, Practical Reasoning about Final Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994): 159–65.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    See Alasdair Maclntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984): ch. 14.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    See note 6.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Joseph Boyle, ‘Reasons for Action: Evaluative Cognitions that Underlie Motivations’, The American Journal of Jurisprudence 46 (2001): 177–97, at 191.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    Timothy Chappell, Understanding Human Goods (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1998): 7.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    See John Rawls, A Theory ofJustice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974).Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    See Christopher Tollefsen, ‘Sidgwickian Objectivity and Ordinary Morality’, Journal of Value Inquiry 33 (1997): 57–70.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    See, for example, Martin Buber, I and Thou (New York: Free Press, 1971); Emmanuel Levinas, Alterity and Transcendence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000); and Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1981).Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    For example, see the different interpretations of Aquinas’s first principle of practical reason in the work of Grisez, ‘The First Principle of Practical Reason: A Commentary on the Summa Theologiae, 1–2, Question 94, Article 2’, Natural Law Forum 10 (1965): 168–201; and in Chappell, Understanding Human Goods: ch. 3.Google Scholar
  19. 28.
    Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics (Indiana: Hackett Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Lewis White Beck (New York: MacMillan, 1985).Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    See, for example, John McDowell, ‘Values as Secondary Qualities’, in Ted Honderich (ed.), Morality and Objectivity (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Christopher Tollefsen 2004

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations