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The Ecology of Reasons

Auburn, Oslo, Chicago, Potsdam, Berlin, Leipzig, March-July 2013

Jason Bridges
(Parts in red were cut during delivery to save time.)

1. Rational explanation
A rational explanation of a person’s belief or action explains that belief or action by citing her
reasons for it. Such explanations explain actions and beliefs as exercises of rationality, of
the capacity to act and think for reasons.

In the recent philosophical debates on rational explanation, two issues have been at the center.
The first issue is whether rational explanations are causal—whether they do their explanatory
work by telling us something about what caused a belief or action.
The second is whether they are psychological—whether do their explaining by citing elements
in the subject’s psychology.

It tends to be common ground among parties to these debates that one’s views on the two
issues are likely to line up in a particular way. The shared presumption is that if one
regards rational explanations as causal, then one will regard them as psychological, and
that if on the other hand one regards them as non-causal, then one will regard them as
Theories of rational explanation in the literature thus tend to sort into two camps.
To adopt labels used by Eric Marcus and Jonathan Dancy, we have on the one side: views
that endorse psychologism, according to which a rational explanation is causal, with the
explanation exploiting in particular a causal nexus holding between the belief or action
being explained and a set of propositional attitudes on the part of the subject.
And on the other side is anti-psychologism, according to which a rational explanation is not
causal, and instead does its explanatory work by citing a non-causal relationship—
typically conceived in justificatory or normative terms—between the belief or action being
explained and a fact, a fact which needn’t and typically won’t concern matters of the
subject’s psychology.

I will push an alternative, which I call ecologism. Ecologism holds that a rational explanation is
causal but not psychological: it appeals to a causal nexus holding between the belief or
action being explained and facts, facts which needn’t and characteristically won’t have a
psychological subject matter.

Broadly speaking, I see two kinds of reasons for favoring ecologism. First, ecologism best
captures the significance rational explanations can be seen to have for us in the everyday
contexts in which we produce and consume them. Second, ecologism is needed for a
satisfactory conception of how our free exercise of rational capacities integrate into the
causal order of the natural world.

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I will probably have time today only to discuss the first of these points, though I may say a bit
about the other toward the end. If there were still more time, I would try to explain why,
ultimately, the two issues are two sides of a single coin. (The second point is discussed in
section 8 below.)

2. Explanations and theories of explanation
When we identify reasons for which a person does something or believes something, we offer
an explanation of why the person does that or believes that. That is what such statements
are in the business of doing: they provide a distinctive kind of explanation of action and

Suppose my friend Max asks me why a mutual acquaintance of ours thinks he’s a bad driver,
and I say, “Well, I can tell you that Rachel’s reasons for thinking you’re a bad driver are
that you speed and have a tendency toward road rage, but as to why she thinks you’re a
bad driver, I have no idea and can say nothing about it.”
Such a remark would be absurd. I have, unavoidably, said something about why Rachel
thinks you’re a bad driver, in giving her reasons for thinking that.

To understand the significance of statements of the reasons for which people think and act,
then, is to understand the character of a distinctive class of explanations.
Explanations make available an understanding, to those competent to grasp them, of why
things happen or are so. That is the point of an explanation: to furnish understanding. An
account of rational explanations is thus an account of the kind of understanding they
provide to those who can take them in.

We are all, more or less, competent in the offering and receiving of rational explanations; the
practice of rational explanations belongs, if you like to ‘folk psychology’.
It follows that if we wish to understand the significance of statements about the reasons for
which people think and act, we should be endeavoring to understand the nature of the
understanding of why people think and act that they furnish to us in the everyday contexts
in which they are actually deployed.
Such an account would be, to borrow Hempel’s term, a theory of explanation. And that is
what I will understand psychologism, anti-psychologism and ecologism to be: theories of
rational explanation.

This way of framing the issue differs from the usual way, in which we are asked to determine
what acting or think for a reason consists in, or what it is to act or think for a reason.
I think the difference can matter substantively, in ways brought about by consideration of the
naturalistic project.
But I’m going to skip over a discussion of that point for reasons of time. A sense of the
significance of the framing I favor will emerge, however, in what kinds of considerations I
focus on in what follows.

On Hempel: Hempel proposed an account of rational explanations in which they tacitly
appeal to the supposed law of nature that human beings do or believe what it is rational
for them to do or believe in light of their pre-existing attitudes. This enable him to
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assimilate rational explanations to his ‘deductive-nomological’ model of scientific
explanation, a model whose primary selling point for Hempel was the clarity and
plausibility of the story it tells us about the understanding explanations yield of their target
A [deductive-nomological] explanation answers the question “Why did the
explanandum-phenomenon occur?” by showing that the phenomenon resulted from
certain particular circumstances, specified in C
, C
, …, C
, in accordance with the laws
, L
, …, L
. By pointing this out, the argument shows that, given the particular
circumstances and the laws in question, the occurrence of the phenomenon was to be
expected; and it is in this sense that the explanation enables us to understand why the
phenomenon occurred. (“Aspects of Scientific Explanation”, 1965, p. 337)

If we can show that the occurrence of a phenomenon follows from the statement of some laws
of nature and some circumstances, then we have shown that this phenomenon was
necessitated—with whatever degree or kind of necessity we associate with the idea of a
natural law—by those circumstances. And this counts as an explanation of the
phenomenon because it shows that the phenomenon was to be expected, and to see why it
was to be expected is to understand why it occurred.
I do not think rational explanations explain actions and beliefs by showing that they were to
be expected. The insight to take from Hempel is just that we need to focus on the question
of how a rational explanation, a statement of a person’s reasons for thinking or doing what
she does, enables us—we consumers of rational explanations—to understand why she
thinks or does that.

On the naturalistic project: One of the most notable developments in late 20
philosophy was an increasingly rich sense of the range of possibilities for accounts of
essences of phenomena—for accounts of what phenomena consist in, of what constitutes
their nature. In particular, from various quarters the idea emerged that an account of what
constitutes a kind or property needn’t limit itself to conceptual materials present, even
implicitly, in our ordinary ways of thinking about and understanding the phenomena in
question. They might draw instead, for example, on specialized scientific knowledge.

This was certainly an important discovery. But it can generate an intellectual context in which
we may not feel any particular pressure, when endeavoring to say what it is to act or
believe for a reason, to query the relationship between the stories we tell under that rubric
and the significance claims about people’s reasons actually have for us when we deploy
them to explain why people are doing what they are doing or thinking what they are

We find an extreme example of this disconnect in the work on ‘naturalizing folk psychology’
that flourished in the seventies, eighties and nineties. The naturalistic project was intended
as a vindication of folk psychology. Whereas “eliminativists” regarded folk psychology,
including centrally our practice of citing the reasons for which people act and think, as a
bad theory of human behavior to be superseded by a sophisticated science, naturalizers
aimed to vindicate folk psychology, by showing how to reconstruct its central claims and
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concepts out of materials drawn from the natural sciences. Thus one can find in this
literature accounts of the nature of acting or thinking for a reason in terms of, say,
complex claims about the evolutionary functions of various cognitive systems (Millikan)
or about the role of operant conditioning in shaping behavioral dispositions (Dretske).

But folk psychology, with its crucial rational, reason-citing component, is above all a way of
explaining human thought and activity. The producers and consumers of these
explanations are we ordinary ‘folk psychologists’, who may be innocent of theories of
evolution and operant condition and were in any case around long before these theories
were on the scene.
An account of what it is to act or think for a reason in terms of, say, evolutionary function can
not possibly capture the explanatory significance that claims about people’s reasons have
those who actually deploy them to make sense of the beliefs and actions of other people
and themselves. And so it cannot tell us what rational explanations are, for the character of
an explanation is to be found in the character of the understanding it yields or purports to
yield to those competent to grasp it.
The paradox of the naturalistic project is that ‘folk’, or as I would prefer, rational psychology
invariably escapes the net of naturalization—indeed, that it does so by definition, for if we
are not reconstructing folk/rational psychology in terms of concepts that are drawn from
outside it, then we are not engaged in naturalizing it.

The “What does acting for a reason consist in?” frame threatens to obscure the true character
of our topic even if we not engaged in any explicit project of naturalization. I think we do
better to think in terms of a theory of explanation, thus keeping front and center in our
minds that our aim is to understand the explanatory significance of a mode of ordinary
thought and talk.
When we approach our question this way we will be led to attend to considerations of a rather
different sort than are usually in view in recent work on acting or believing for reasons.

3. Causation and causal explanation
A causal explanation explains a happening or circumstance by telling us something about
what caused that happening or circumstance. Since this notion is central to the three-way
dispute that is the focus of this talk, I will need to something about causation at the outset.

The first point is that in speaking of causation, I mean what metaphysicians, epistemologists
and philosophers of mind have discussed under that rubric for the last few hundred years:
Hume, Kant and Mill, and then onto the flurry of work that came after, especially in the
century. I take there to be a shared topic here, even if vast disagreement over how its
structure and nature are to be understood.
In the earlier Aristotelian tradition, philosophers distinguished among final causation, efficient
causation, and so on. What I am calling causation, and view as the topic of the modern
philosophical literature I have in mind, corresponds most closely to “efficient” causation on
this older schematization. I prefer to avoid speaking of “efficient” causation due to
distracting associations that term seems to have accrued. So I will just speak of causation,
full stop.
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(But NB: when I speak of different kinds of causation in what follows, I don’t mean the
distinction between final and efficient causation. The kinds of causation at issue here are
all kinds of (if one wishes to speak this way) “efficient” causation.)

So what is causation, in the sense of the modern philosophical tradition I have in mind? Even
slight acquaintance with this literature suggests that this a very difficult and rich question.
I cannot offer an analysis or account of causation here. As it happens, I don’t think such a
thing is possible. Following Strawson, I think that we make the most philosophical
progress in thinking about causation by looking at, and endeavoring to develop a rich
sense of, particular kinds or forms of causation. And in fact, in the second part of my talk,
I will begin to offer an account of the kind of causation rational causation is.

But it is consistent with this observation that we can sensibly seek to identify some general
marks of causation as such. These will be marks shared by all kinds of causation, which
thus serve to unify these kinds into a category. Once we have identified them, we can
appeal to these marks when attempting to determining whether given explanations are
My discussion of these marks will be sketchy, but should give us enough to go on in what

Features and marks of causation
a) Constitutive independence of cause and effect
b) Objectivity
c) Temporal directness
d) Derivativeness
e) Counterfactuality/Manipulability
f) Involvement of causal powers

a) The first mark of causation is its non-constitutiveness. That is to say, causal relationships
are precluded by relationships of constitution or identity. If x causes y, then it cannot be
the case that y is x, or that y consists in x.
For example, one might claim that an object’s being gold causes it to be yellow. We think of
being gold as having a certain atomic structure, and then offer an explanation of the visible
color in terms of processes of photon absorption enabled by that structure, which
apparently in the case of gold requires appeal to special relativistic effects.
On the other hand, if with Kant we hold that it is analytic that gold is yellow, and hence that
to be gold is in part to be yellow, this explanation is not available. That the object is gold,
on this understanding of what it is to be gold, is not causally relevant to its being yellow,
rather it (constitutively) implies that the object is yellow. (I once brought tried to bring
this sort of point to bear against various naturalistic theories of content Esp. “Does
Informational Semantics Commit Euthyphro’s Fallacy?”)
An analogous point goes for identity. If the queen’s poisoning of the king was her killing of the
king, then her poisoning of the king did not cause her killing of the king. The poisoning
caused the king’s death, certainly. But it did not cause the king’s killing, for it is that.

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b) Second, causal relationships are objective: that x causes y does not consist in a person’s
having certain judgments or beliefs about, or experiences of, relevant relationships
between x and y. That, for example, a person believes that x causes y does not suffice for
x’s actually causing y.
The objectivity of the causal relationship obtains even if the x or y in question are themselves
attitudes or experiences on the part of a person—even then, that these items are causally
related does not consist in its striking someone that a relation of some kind obtains
between them.
The objectivity of causation matters for what I want to say later about the integration of
freedom into our picture of the causal order of the natural world.

Hume and subjectivism: It is true that some philosophers in the tradition I earlier referenced
have held, or have been understood to hold, a subjectivist view of causation. Here I am
thinking of Hume. In fact, I don’t think that a subjectivist reading of him is plausible—in
contemporary terms, he is closer to being an “error theorist”.
Hume took the idea of causation to be derived from an impression or feeling of expectation,
which arises from experience of constant conjunctions of A’s and B’s. So far as his account
of causation goes (abstracting from his larger metaphysics of the material world, with their
own set of seemingly skeptical or even nihilistic implications), that A’s and B’s occur
together such that we will have experience of their conjunction can be a perfectly objective
fact. And for Hume, the fact of this conjunction is the closest one can get to there being
any fact about causation between A and B at all. There is no further subjective fact about the
obtaining of a causal relationship between them. Rather, there is a mistaken belief on our
part, born of our confusion about the origin of our “idea of causation” (which is just a copy
of a feeling of expectation), that there is indeed some further “causal” relationship that
might obtain, or fail to obtain, between A and B above and beyond their constant
And in any case, even if we read him as a subjectivist—he would be an inter-subjectivist. The
psychological contingency to which his view appeals is a feature of our shared human
nature. Even on such a view, no particular person’s attitudes and experiences of
connections suffice for genuine causal connections, and this suffices for a minimal degree
of objectivity.

c) Third, causation is temporally directed. It is difficult to pin down this idea precisely, and
there is a large and confusing literature directed at doing so. The claim that causes always
occur before their effects is impossible to give a plausible interpretation to. It is better to say
that causes cannot occur after their effects, though it is sticky to develop more precise
conditions that spell out the purport of this claim.
Matters get still stickier with rational causation. The temporal directedness condition still
applies to rational causation, but only in a particular form: namely the requirement is that
the awareness of the cause cannot follow the effect. I’m not going to have a chance to
discuss this matter during the talk.

d) The temporal directedness of causation is of a piece with what, following Anscombe, we
can call the derivativeness of the effect from the cause. Effects are derived from, come out
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of, arise from their causes, as Anscombe puts it. We might also appeal here to the language
of bringing about, sustaining and preventing.
Of course, we speak of a conclusion deriving from a premise, or of, say, a logical principle
preventing something from being possible. There is no causation at work in these cases. So
Anscombian turns of phrase do not in themselves constitute some kind of non-circular
analysis of the notion of cause.
But what we can say is that the kind of bringing about, or deriving, or preventing, or arising
from, that is causal has an essential temporal dimension. It happens in or at a time. Logical
preventing and deriving do not.

e) Causal claims are counterfactual supporting. If A caused B then, odd cases of
overdetermination and such aside, if A hadn’t obtained B wouldn’t have obtained.
It does not follow that the counterfactual approach to the analysis of causation is correct.
Because counterfactuals can be true in virtue of non-causal relationships (for example,
various constitutive relationships), they are best understood, I think, as helps toward
tracing out causal relationships rather than as basis for constructing a self-sufficient

The manipulationist approach to causation, recently the object of much discussion, is best
understood as a way of trying to isolate which counterfactuals bespeak causal connections
and which do not. The basic thought is that if A causes B, then manipulating A is a means
of manipulating B. For example, one could prevent B by preventing A. There is much
work in this literature attempting to isolate appropriate notions of prevention and
Because the manipulationist approach relies on what looks to be the transparently causal
notion of manipulation, it does not appear capable of providing an analysis of causation.
But again, we have here a useful mark of causation: considerations about the prospects for
various kinds of manipulation can be a guide to discerning causal relations and structure.
This thought has become central in recent work on statistical reasoning in areas of the
social sciences.

f) Finally, Anscombe and Strawson suggest that, at least in our everyday, non-scientific
thinking, our primary way of identifying and characterizing instances of causation is with
causative verbs like “breaking”, “lifting”, “chasing”, “melting”, “dissolving”, “ruining”,
“ending”, “blowing over” etc.

The general term, “cause” does not appear in the sentence, “the explosion blew up the house”,
or “the boulder crushed the garden gnome”, but it seems clear nonetheless that what are
being described are paradigmatic instances of causation. Effects are wrought upon things:
a house is left in ashes; a gnome is left in pieces.
If we take this idea seriously, we will see merit in supposing not merely that events can be
causes, as mainstream theories insist, but that material objects can be causes as well. For
crushing is a kind of causing, and it is the boulder that crushes the garden gnome.
This way of thinking about causation is often associated with Aristotelian talk of causal powers.

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Not every case of causation involves an exercise of a specific causal power of a particular, a
power the exercise of which is predicated with a causal verb. But where there is the
exercise of a causal power, of crushing or spilling or chasing and so on, there is causation.

Putting these various thoughts together, we arrive at the following. If we want to know
whether a particular description or statement or narrative depicts causation, we should ask
ourselves whether the connection reported appears non-constitutive and objective. We
should ask whether what is described is the bringing about or preventing of a happening
or circumstance, over, or at least in, time. We should see whether this bringing about or
preventing can be understood such that the putative effect does not precede the putative
cause. We should see whether the statement or narrative supports relevant
counterfactuals, and if those counterfactuals can be glossed in terms of possible
manipulations or related causal ideas. We should ask ourselves whether particular events
or objects are characterized as exercising causal powers. Positive answers to some or all of
these questions will suggest, with varying degrees of decisiveness, that causation is indeed
in view.

One final remark on causation: Following Helen Steward and others, I will speak of facts as
causes. (Actually Steward speaks of “causally relevant” facts, in order to avoid the
appearance that she is treating facts as particulars. I will sometimes talk that way too.)

Part of Steward’s motivation for this notion is the observation that we often are willing to
speak of causation in cases where there is no ordinary kind of particular, no event or
object, that is a plausible candidate to be the cause.
For example, I might say that the dampness of the basement apartment caused the tenant to
become ill. The dampness of the basement apartment is not an object or event. But the
causal claim is nonetheless fully intelligible. And all of the aforementioned marks of
causation (other than perhaps the exercise of a causal power) appear present.
One approach to such cases is to posit special particulars—token states, property instances,
tropes—as causes. Steward argues, I think convincingly, that we can make no good sense
of such supposed items, nor of how positing them is supposed to help us better understand
the causal claims.
The alternative is to accept that the only candidate for a cause we have here is the fact that the
basement apartment was damp. This fact caused—or as we might prefer to say, was
causally relevant—to the tenant’s becoming sick.

We can extend the idea even to include cases where an ordinary particular is at work as a
cause. If the tree’s falling on the gazebo caused my garden party to end, then we may just
as well say that what caused my party to end was that a tree fell on the gazebo. In the first
formulation, we identify an event as the cause; in the second we identify as the cause the
fact that such an event occurred.
One value in reframing causal claims in terms of causally relevant facts in this way is that the
points of contact between our causal talk and thought and related forms of talk and
thought often involve sentential constructions.
For example, counterfactuals have propositions as their component parts. The counterfactual
we rely on to underwrite our conviction that the tree’s falling ending my party is likely to
be: if the tree had not fallen, my party wouldn’t have ended when it did.
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Similarly, causal explanations generally have propositions as their component parts. They cite
facts. My party ended because a tree landed on the gazebo.
Helping ourselves to the idea of causally relevant facts thus enables a neat characterization of
causal explanations. A causal explanation is an explanation that does its work by citing
facts causally relevant to what is being explained.

To anticipate, I have one further reason for wanting to regard facts as causes. Rational
causation, as I will suggest, is causation by reasons, as reasons. It is causation by reasons
as such. And it is facts that are, at bottom, reasons, for it is facts that stand in relationships
of justification. This is a function of their propositional articulation.

4. Psychologism, anti-psychologism and ecologism
Suppose we’re out on my porch on a late summer afternoon and you go inside to fix iced tea. I
announce my intention to remain outside, watching the squirrels gather nuts. You go in,
but just a few moments later I appear in the kitchen. You ask my reason for doing so. I
1) My reason for coming inside was that there was a wolf in the yard.

You did not know why I came in. My answer tells you. You understand why I came in, as you
did not before.
Of course, further questions may present themselves. For example, how did a wolf get to be in
the back yard of a Chicagoland apartment building? But it is in the nature of all
explanations that they leave room for further explanatory questions. If it were a condition
on an explanation that it leave no room for further explanatory queries to be pressed,
explanation would be impossible. Every explanation has to start somewhere.

Another example. I am sitting with you in my dining room late at night, drinking beer. I get
up for a moment and head toward the back of the apartment. I return and say, “I believe
I’m in grave danger.”
Startled, you ask why. I say:
2) My reason for believing I’m in danger is that there is a sinister man from my past
standing in the yard.

Again, you want to know why I believe I’m in danger. I tell you my reasons, and now you

One evident feature in both of these explanations is that the cited fact in each case is
represented as a normative reason for me to do what I do or believe, a consideration
counting in favor of my doing or thinking that. This is an essential feature the category of
rational explanation as I understand it. But this observation does not in itself tells us how
rational explanations explain.

And that is our question: what it the nature of the understanding conveyed by these
explanations? How, exactly, do they do their explaining?

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Psychologism’s answer is, firstly, that the explanations are causal. They illuminate my action
and belief by telling you what caused them to be undertaken (in the case of the action) or
formed and held in place (in the case of the belief).
What causally relevant facts do the explanations cite? According to psychologism, they cite
facts about my psychology. The most obvious candidates here are, respectively, that I
believed, at the time I came inside, that there was a wolf in the yard, and that I believe that
there is a sinister man from my past in the yard.
So we have:
Psychologism about rational explanations
A rational explanation expressible by the form ‘S’s reason for !-ing is/was that p’:
a) is causal;
b) and in particular explains S’s !-ing by identifying the fact that S believes that p
(along with, perhaps, other facts about S’s attitudes) as causally relevant to S’s !-

A few points here.
First, as with the other views I will be discussing, psychologism is simply a view about
features that rational explanations have. It is not intended to provide a list of features
sufficient for an explanation’s being rational. Obviously one could cite a subject’s belief as
causally relevant to something she does or believes without thereby giving a rational
explanation of it.

Second, one might worry about a seeming failure of fit between what psychologism claims a
rational explanation to be doing and the explicit content of the claims that express those
explanations. For the forms for presenting explanations that we are considering don’t
explicitly mention S’s beliefs (except in the peculiar sort of case in which S’s believing
something constitutes the proposition p).
But this worry is not decisive. For one thing, all explanations are to some degree or another
elliptical. No explanation is explicit about everything that is relevant to grasping that
explanation; every explanation relies on context and background knowledge to situate
what is being conveyed.
More specifically, it seems undeniable the rational explanations imply that S believes the cited
fact to obtain: if it were to turn out that I did not believe that there was a wolf in the yard
(even if there was), that could not be my reason for coming inside.
And in light of this observation it seems open to hold that the possessive locution—in this
case, “my reason”, when one is talking about someone else, a third-person possessive—
signals that the explanation is citing something about the subject’s own conception of, or
orientation to, the world. And how else to capture a conception or orientation except in
terms of sets of contentful attitudes?

Third, a specific psychologistic theory may well hold that further attitudes, additional to the
belief that p, factor into a rational explanation. For example, in the case of actions, they
might specify a desire that interlocks with the belief that p (and perhaps affiliated beliefs),
and take the force of a rational explanation to be that this structure of attitude yields the
action or belief at issue. (Michael Smith offers a clear instance of this strategy.)
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Again, one might wonder how these attitudes are to be read off the statement of reasons, and
the answer might be that the role of such attitudes in yielding actions or beliefs is
constitutive of rationality, and so their presence is implicitly adverted to by the very fact
that it is said to be the subject’s reason or reasons that accounts for her belief or action.

Fourth, psychologistic accounts face the question of how to understand the nature and
structure of the psychological causality they take rational explanations to reference.
One way to frame this question is to ask how exactly we are to construe the items that do the
causing to which rational explanations, psychologistically construed, make reference.
Evidently these items are to be identified with, or at least closely associated with, beliefs
and other propositional attitudes. But what are they?
One option is to suppose that attitudes are events, or if that seems too implausible, that there
are events closely associated with attitudes (such as events of the formation of attitudes),
and thus that the causation at stake in rational explanation fits into the familiar
Davidsonian template. Another option is to posit a distinctive category of particular, such
as that of ‘token states’, and to suppose that attitudes are items in this category and as such
fit to serve as causes.
Another alternative open to the proponent of psychologism is to hold that rational
explanations belong to that class of causal explanations to which Steward draws
attention—in which the explanations do not operate by citing any particulars as causes.
Such an explanation is causal—it operates by citing a causally relevant fact—but insofar
as we insist on identifying some item as the “cause” identified by that fact, there is no other
candidate but the fact itself. This is Steward’s own view of how to understand the causal
character propositional-attitude explanations: that a person has a given such attitude may
be a fact causally relevant to her doing or thinking what she does, and thus may be cited in
causal explanation of her doing or thinking that.
I have formulated psychologism in such a way as to remain neutral among these alternatives,
and the debate amongst them does not matter directly for my purposes.

Fifth, psychologism has to offer some explanation of the feature of rational explanations I
mentioned above: that they represent the cited facts as normative reasons. In what way
does this bear on the explanatory force of the explanation on a psychologistic picture?
There are various answers a proponent of psychologism might provide here. One is that
the normativity does not bear on the explanatory work the explanation is doing. On this
view, a statement of reasons for which people act or think simply does two separate things.
This view is implausible.

What matters for my purposes today is that a psychologistic view of rational explanations is a
mechanistic view of rational explanations.
Our causal explanations of what macroscopic, material objects do, or of what changes they
undergo, tend to come in two flavors. On the one hand, we may cite facts about what is so,
or is going on, in an object’s surroundings. For example, we might cite the effects upon
that object of another object that is in some way in contact with it: “The tree is down
because a bear knocked it over.”

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On the other hand, we may cite facts about how things stand with an object itself—facts
about its states or parts—to causally explain what it does or what changes it undergoes (or
fails to undergo).
For example, there may be a question about why the bear was able to knock this tree down
when it had failed to fell others in the area. And to answer that question we might cite a
state of the tree as causally relevant to its downfall: “The tree fell because it was brittle and
diseased.” Here we are citing a state of the tree as the causally relevant factor, rather than
the causal work done by elements in the tree’s surroundings.
This suggests a contrast between two kinds of causal explanations of the things that material
objects do or that befall them.

A mechanistic explanation of O’s !-ing explains O’s !-ing by citing causally relevant
facts about O’s states or parts.
An ecological explanation of O’s !-ing explains O’s !-ing by citing causally relevant facts
about what is going on, or is so, in O’s surroundings.

These terms are not ideal, but they are not unmotivated. The point of the “ecological” label is
that explanations of this sort concern the object’s causal transactions with its environment.
The point of the “mechanical” label is that explanations of this sort treat an object as a
causal system, with states or parts that bear causally on each other or on the activity of the
system as a whole.
As the case of the tree suggests, we tend to assume that causal explanations of both sorts are
available for the things that macroscopic material objects do, or that befall them. And of
course, we might seek explanations of both sorts at once.
But it is also true that our explanatory focus can shift. We may sometimes offer a mechanical
explanation of something an object does or that happens to it, and not concern ourselves
with more distal causes. Or we may provide an ecological explanation of something an
object does or that happens to it, and not concern ourselves with the states of the object, or
the processes internal to it, in virtue of which the environment has the impact upon the
object that it does.

According to psychologism, rational explanations are mechanistic explanations of the attitudes
and actions of human beings. They causally explain a person’s actions or beliefs by citing
facts about the states of that person. They look to how things stand with the person, rather
than the world the person confronts, to account for what she does or thinks.
Of course, it is perfectly consistent with psychologism that we might, in virtue of an interest in
achieving a richer understanding of a given thought or action, look outward to a person’s
surroundings and attempt to causally relate what we find there to what the person thinks
or does. Psychologism certainly does not deny this possibility. The point is rather that
when we do look outward, we are no longer engaged in rational explanation. Rational
explanation looks not outward but inward—that is to say, to relationships among the
person’s states or parts, in particular to such relationships as obtain within her psychology.

According to anti-psychologism, rational explanations are neither mechanistic nor ecological.
For they are not causal at all.
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Anti-psychologism about rational explanations: A rational explanation expressible by the
form ‘S’s reason for !-ing is/was that p’:
a) appeals to a non-causal relationship R;
b) and in particular explains S’s !-ing by identifying the fact that p as R-relevant to
S’s !-ing.

According to anti-psychologism, when I say that my reason for coming inside was that there
was a wolf outside, I am not explaining my action by saying anything about what led to it
or occasioned it or brought it about. The fact that there was a wolf outside explains my
coming in, but it does not do so in virtue of any causal relevance it may have, to my
coming in. Rather, it bears some other kind of relationship to my coming in, and the
rational explanation accomplishes its work by adverting to that relationship.
What relationship? Answering that question is a central task for a proponent of anti-
psychologism. Typically, anti-psychologists have taken as their starting point the thought
that the fact represented as the rational explanandum of an action or belief justifies the
action being rationally explained.

Indeed, we can see anti-psychologism as motivated in part by an important insight about how
rational explanations work, namely that rational explanations are better explanations in
proportion to the degree that the facts they cite actually justify or favor the belief or action
at issue.
If you ask why I left your party early even though I knew you planned to make an important
announcement to make at midnight, and I say, “My reason for leaving then was that the
babysitter called to tell me my son had gotten hurt,” that is likely to strike you as a more
satisfactory explanation, as making better sense of my action, than if I had said, “My
reason for leaving then was that someone showed up wearing a bolo tie.” That latter
explanation is likely to seem unhelpful to you—to fail to explain to your satisfaction why I
left. And the reason is that, at least until you are apprised of some further, evidently
peculiar, background circumstances, that someone showed up to a party in a bolo tie does
not seem a good reason, or indeed any kind of reason, to leave before a friend’s important
We might call this the normativity constraint on rational explanations.
The normativity condition (roughly formulated)
The explanatory power of a rational explanation of S’s !-ing depends upon whether,
and to what extent, the facts cited in the explanation are genuine (normative) reasons
for S to !.

On the other hand, the relationship R cannot simply be the relationship of justification: as
Davidson pointed out, this view runs afoul of the evident possibility of having reasons to
do something or think something that are not the reasons for which one does or thinks
So the anti-psychologistic project will be to offer some story about the relationship R that
incorporates the element of justification without being exhausted by it.

Finally, ecologism:
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Ecologism about rational explanations: A rational explanation expressible by the form ‘S’s
reason for !-ing is/was that p’ (excepting a class of rational explanations of actions to
be discussed later):
a) is causal;
b) and in particular explains S’s !-ing by identifying the fact that p as causally
relevant to S’s !-ing.

Ecologism shares with anti-psychologism the thought that it is the fact that p, and not a
psychological attitude toward p, that is cited in the explanation of S’s !-ing. But unlike
anti-psychologism, it supposes that the explanatory relevance of this fact consists in its
causal relevance.
Ecologism shares with psychologism the view that rational explanations are causal. But it
disagrees with psychologism over where, as it were, the causally relevant fact cited by a
rational explanation must be located. For psychologism, the causally relevant fact must be
a fact about S’s psychological states: the explanation is always mechanistic.
But ecologism is consistent with the existence of rational explanations that are ecological,
explanations where the causally relevant facts concern how things stand in S’s
Ecologism does not imply that all rational explanations are ecological. It is perfectly
consistent with ecologism that a rational explanation be mechanistic as I have defined
those categories. That would be its verdict, for example, in a Dancy-style case of a person
whose reason for going to the psychiatrist is that he believes that he can fly.

But one way of bringing out what is distinctive about ecologism is that it does allow for
rational explanations that are ecological in the simple sense I just defined. Consideration of
these cases—on ecological rational explanations—will help to make clear the motivation
for the view.

Ecologism does not apply to all rational explanations of actions. As we will see, this is a virtue,
not a defect. Ecologism is a necessary component of an account of the explanation of
exercises of practical rationality that makes room for both agency and receptivity.

5. Ecological explanations of animal states and actions
As I have mentioned and as is anyway obvious, we often seek to give causal explanations of
the states and doings of material objects in terms of what is so, or is going on, in their
surroundings. We see the world of middle-sized, earthbound objects and events as
involving constant causal traffic, with objects acting on each other and being in turn acted

For example:
3) The garden gnome is on its side because the wind blew it over.
4) The garden gnome is broken because a wayward boulder smashed into it.

These sentences offer causal explanations of certain states of the garden gnome. In particular,
they appeal to the causal powers of an event and object respectively.

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Now, animals are among the material objects whose doings and states we are often interested
to explain. Animals are special in various ways, some of which I will shortly mention. But
their specialness does not consist in their being somehow aloof from participation in the
causal to-ing and fro-ing we discern amongst earthbound middle-sized objects and events.
They do not pass unscathed through the fray, as if they were ghosts. On the contrary, they
are full participants. And as with any other object, their participation has two aspects.
They both cause things, and are affected by things.

Consider 5):
5) The gnome is gone because I threw it in the trash.
6) The squirrel ran onto the roof because a wolf came into the yard.
7) I came inside because there was a wolf in the yard.

Suppose we have been sitting on your back porch on a late summer afternoon. You go inside
to fix some iced tea. You come back and your prized garden gnome is no longer at its
perch by the gazebo. “What happened to the gnome,” you ask. I answer with 5).
I have offered an explanation of the disappearance of your gnome, in terms of the activity of
an animal—me. There is no question but that this explanation is causal. I am telling you
what brought about the gnome’s disappearance. My explanation cites a particular
exercising a causal power. If I hadn’t have thrown the gnome away, it wouldn’t have been
in the trash. You could have presented the gnome from being in the trash from preventing
me from acting. All the marks are present.

Now suppose we had been sitting out on the porch watching the antics of a squirrel gathering
nuts and burying them in your yard. You go inside to make some iced tea, come out, and
see that the squirrel is gone and that I look a bit shaken. What happened to the squirrel?
you ask, and I say 6).
Here the activity of an animal is not just what does the explaining, but what is explained. But
there is, I think, no denying that the explanation is causal. I am telling you what caused
the squirrel to run onto the roof. Again, all of the marks of causation we have noted are

There is an aspect to the structure of this case that was not present with the gnome. For the
wolf to scare the squirrel away, the squirrel had to flee from the wolf, and for it to flee
from the wolf, it had to be aware of the wolf. So awareness played a role here (whereas the
gnome was aware of nothing). That means that the fact that the squirrel was aware of the
wolf—that it, say, saw the wolf—is a fact causally relevant to the squirrel’s running on the
roof, and so might be cited in a causal explanation of its doing so.
But the availability of this causal explanation does not preclude the availability of an
ecological explanation framed in terms of the wolf’s appearance.
To the contrary. The role of awareness here is precisely not to screen off the surrounding
environment from having an impact on what the squirrel does. Rather, it is to enable the
surroundings to have particular kinds of effects on the squirrel. For example, it enables the
presence of a wolf to occasion flight. This point is essential for any sensible conception of
the role of perception in enabling an animal to competently inhabit its environment. I will
return to it.
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Everything that goes for 6) are goes for 7).
7) can be used to frame a causal explanation of my coming inside. So understood, it says what
caused me to come in. There is an objective, non-constitutive connection at work here.
There is derivativeness in time. The relevant counterfactual and interventionist criteria
are satisfied. We can even conceive the case in terms of the exercise of powers on the part
of the cause: the wolf chased me off, drove me inside.
And again, my perceptual awareness of the wolf does not prevent its presence itself from
having an effect upon me. To the contrary.

Or consider cases where the effects are not actions:
8) The squirrel is afraid because there is a wolf in the yard.
9) I believe I’m in danger because there is a sinister man from the past in my yard.

These are explanations of states of animals, not of things animals do. Once again, however, it
is clear that they are naturally and intelligibly taken as causal. The wolf frightens the
squirrel. Etc.
In the case of 9) the presence of the man in the yard led to my belief. If there had been no man
there would have been no belief. Etc.

6. Rational ecological explanations
I have argued, or perhaps better, worked to remind you of something that is anyway entirely
obvious: that 7) and 9) can be used to articulate causal explanations, and indeed in
ordinary contexts for their deployment it is natural to so construe them.

However, as many philosophers have observed, it is also true that 7) and 9) can be used to
couch rational explanations. Go back to 1) and 2). Instead of uttering those sentences in
those contexts, I might just have said 7) and 9). “What are you doing here,” you ask, and I
might say, “I came in because there was a wolf outside,” thereby providing, and being
understood to provide, my reason for coming inside.
As Hornsby and Hyman and others have pointed out, “S !-ed because p” is one form a
rational explanation can take, in which the reason for which S !’s is said to be that p.
And it is natural for you to so take it. It would be highly peculiar for you to follow up my
response by asking, “But what was your reason for coming in,” as it should be evident to
you I have just given it.

So our situation, then, is that 7) (to focus on that for a moment) can express an ecological
explanation of my coming inside, or a rational explanation, and indeed that both are
extremely natural and plausible readings of 7) when it is uttered in just the sort of context
we are now considering.

Now, according to both anti-psychologism and psychologism, rational explanations are never
ecological explanations. So we must suppose that claims like 7) and 9) are, in the contexts
in which they are typically given, open to a systematic ambiguity.
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When one is presented with such explanations, one will then need to resolve the following
question: “Was that explanation meant to tell me what in the subject’s environment caused
her holding that belief or performing that action? Or was it meant to tell me the reason for
which the subject has that belief or performed that action?”
Presumably we will sometimes know which is meant and sometimes we will not, in any given
case. But our grasping the explanation offered will always depend upon coming down on
one side or the other. We must adopt the ecological reading or the rational reading if we
are to understand the intended explanation with which we have been provided. For either
might be meant on an ordinary occasion for uttering 7) or 9), and they are not the same.

But in fact it seems clear that there is no such systematic ambiguity. We do not find ourselves
asking, when we hear an explanation like 7) or 9), how the explanation is to be taken. You
would not ask yourself, when I utter 7) or 9) in the scenarios we’ve been discussing: “Is he
identifying the presence of the wolf or man as the cause of his belief or action, or as the
reason for it?”
And that is because, I suggest, there is no such question. There are no alternatives here from
which you suppose you must choose. You take me as giving both the cause of, and my
reason for, what I believe or do, and rightly so. The explanation is both rational and

The following sort of reaction would be very puzzling on your part. You ask me why I came
in so abruptly. I say, “Because there was a wolf in the yard.” You say, “Sorry, just to
clarify—are you saying that what caused you to come in was the presence of a wolf in the
yard?” I say, “Yes, of course.” Then you, say, “I apologize; I should have been clearer: I
wanted to know what your reason was for coming in. Is it safe to assume that it is also the
case that your reason was that there was a wolf in the yard?” Here I will just be baffled.
You are attempting to hold apart two readings of my remark between which we do not
recognize a difference.

It is with respect to these kinds of cases an observation of William Dray has a particular
degree of force:
Is there no important difference, then, between saying of the action of a rational agent,
‘A’s reason for doing x was y’, and saying ‘The cause of A’s doing x was y’? The
difference, I think, is one of approach, or point of view, or kind of inquiry. To say the
first sort of thing is…to adopt the point of view of an agent. To say the second is to
adopt the point of view of a manipulator—although of one well aware that he is
dealing with agents who act on rational considerations. (Dray, Laws and Explanation in
History, 1959, pp. 154-155)

Dray’s underlying thought here is that, if we take it that A’s reason for doing x was y, then to
speak of y as the cause of A’s doing x is not to change the subject; it is not to shift to a
different kind of explanation. Rather, it is just because we suppose the reason to be the
cause that identification of the reason—of the “rational consideration” on which A acts—
opens the door for various forms of causal reflection, such as, as we have mentioned
before, the prospect of manipulation.

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Of the three views we have discussed, only ecologism can accommodate the points we have
noticed about this kind of case. Ecologism allows rational explanations to be ecological.
According to ecologism, in citing the reason for which S !’s, we explain her !-ing by a
citing a fact causally relevant to it. If then, her reason concerns what is happening, or is so,
in her environment, then the resultant rational explanation will be ecological: it will be a
causal explanation that hones in on exogenous, environmentally situated factors in the
causal background to S’s !-ing.

I have formulated this argument in terms of the implausibility of discerning a certain kind of
ambiguity in certain explanations of the form, ‘S !’ed or !’s because p’, an ambiguity that
would have to exist if psychologism or anti-psychologism were correct.
But of course ecologism implies that however one formulates a rational explanation, it is
causal, and that goes in particular for rational explanations framed using the canonical
forms. Thus if you ask me what my reason was for coming inside, and I say, “My reason
for coming in was that there was a wolf in the yard,” then ecologism tells us that I have
given a causal explanation of my coming inside, in particular presenting as causally
relevant to my action the fact that there was a wolf outside.
And I think we are now in a position to see the plausibility of that gloss on my remark. In
identifying the presence of the wolf as my reason for coming in, I tell you what caused me
to do so.

I have formulated the cases I discuss first-personally, in which the subject offering the
explanation is the one whose action or belief is being explained. But everything I say here
translates smoothly to third-personal cases. We can imagine a third person on the scene,
who is the one who comes in from the outside. I, watching the scene through the window,
am in a position to site the wolf’s presence in the yard in explanation. And so on.

Once we see the point of the examples I have given, I think we can see that structurally
analogous cases are exceedingly common.
I came because you called me. Your face was so downcast I thought something terrible had
happened. Because the morning was very cold I thought you wouldn’t come. Nora took
Lakeshore because 94 was jammed. Rachel took in the lawn chairs when it started to rain.
I stopped bidding on the chest when the price got over $500. The bar was crowded so we
In ordinary contexts for their use, each of these statements is aptly understood to provide a
causal explanation of beliefs and actions. And each is aptly understood to provide a
rational explanation. And there is no choice to be made between these interpretations.

The “p, so S !-ed” construction provides for particularly stark instances of this. We might call
sentences that exploit this construction to the purpose of rational explanation Hemingway
sentences, after their greatest, or at least most fervent, practitioner. I include some
examples on the handout, all drawn from A Farewell to Arms.
Hemingway sentences.
“I got up and stood at the door to see if it was raining in but it wasn't, so I left the door
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“We were supposed to attack, but they had not brought up any new troops so he
thought that was off too.”
“When it was dark there was no use watching any more, so I went over to Piani.”
“I thought Catherine would come by but she did not come, so I hung the papers back
on the rack, paid for my beer and went up the street to look for her.”
“No one answered so I turned the handle and went in.”
“The nurse did not come out, so after a while I went to the door and opened it very
softly and looked in.”
“The men stood around but no one was leaving, so they went out. I drank another

Hemingway wrote essentially nothing but causal narratives: this caused this caused this and
then I died, or she died. The end. But one generally needs to throw in information about
people’s reasons when writing a novel, and Hemingway sentences provide a way of doing
so while maintaining the hectic pace of the one-thing-after-another narrative. A
Hemingway sentence tells us that p was the cause of S’s !-ing. But it also conveys that the
fact that p was S’s reason for !-ing. It seems evident that these are not two disconnected
pieces of information.

7. Reasons as causes
Ecologism as I have formulated it, like psychologism and anti-psychologism, just states some
features rational explanations have. It does not imply that those features are sufficient for
an explanation’s being rational.
To begin to fill out the picture, I want to briefly discuss a further condition that I think any
plausible development of ecologism must accept.

The further condition is this.
The principle of rational causation: When the fact that p is S’s reason for !-ing, the fact
that p is causally relevant to S’s !-ing because it is a (normative) reason for S to !.
(Exception must be made for cases exemplified by (12).)

When I cite the fact that you had a downcast expression as my reason for believing that
something terrible had happened, I am saying not merely that your downcast expression
caused my belief. I am saying that it caused my belief because your having such an
expression was a reason for me to believe that—because it was a consideration speaking in
favor of that belief. Here the relevant notion of reason is “normative” as some philosophers
like to say: a reason is a justifier, favorer.
The reasons for which we believe what we do and act as we do cause those beliefs and actions in
virtue of being reasons for them.

Neither psychologism nor anti-psychologism can accept the principle of rational causation.
According to anti-psychologism, that a fact is one’s reason for !-ing does not imply that the
fact was causally relevant to your !-ing. And if it were, its causal relevance would be in
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competition with its rational relevance for purposes of explanation. In citing one form of
relevance, we are not thereby citing the other.

According to psychologism, rational explanations do cite facts as causes. But the facts that are
causes are not the facts that are reasons: according to psychologism, it is the fact that S
believes that p, and not the fact that p, that is portrayed as causally relevant by the claim
that S !-ed for the reason that p. There is thus no rational causing here in the sense of our
principle. There is no fact that is causally relevant in virtue of being a reason for what is
A proponent of psychologism might attempt to make room for the fact that p to itself have
causal relevance by supposing that the fact that p might cause the belief that p. We would
have effect have a two-part story of the causation of S’s !-ing: the fact that p causes S to
believe that p, which in turn causes S to !.
But crucially, psychologism cannot allow that the first of these two causal relations is itself
rational. For psychologism the causally relevant fact in a rational explanation is always
psychological, always a matter of an attitude on the part of the thinker. Psychologism
cannot accommodate the principle of rational causation: the rational causal relationship
never reaches out beyond our psychology to the worldly facts that are actually our

The “because” in the principle of rational causation is not itself a causal “because”.
Nor is the force of the principle that the causal relevance of a reason for which S !’s consists
in its being a (normative) reason for S to !. That would entirely miss one of the main
points of this talk: such a reductive analysis of “causal relevance” cannot accommodate the
marks of causation I have been insisting on.

The force of the principle is rather this: that we can achieve an understanding of why a given
fact should be a rational cause of S’s !-ing only by recognizing that it is a reason for S to
!. The fact’s having that normative status matters crucially for its doing that particular
causal work.
Rational causation is, if you like, causation by reasons as reasons, as normatively freighted
items. This is the kind or form of causation that rational causation is. Or to put the matter
a bit differently, the principle spells out the kind of sensitivity or responsiveness exhibited
by a being whose states and doings are rationally explicable: it is a sensitivity to reasons as

I am going to say a bit to attempt to illuminate the character of this responsiveness and situate
it in a larger conception of the relevant form of life. But I am going to simplify my
treatment rather drastically by setting aside human beings and focusing on other animals.
In human beings, the exercise of rationality is essentially self-conscious, and that point is
crucial in accounting for the import of explanations of human thought and activity that
represent them as exercises of rationality.
But there are features of human rationality that arguably carry over to the case of other
animals, and so there is arguably a point to supposing such animals act, and perhaps even
think, for reasons. It is in fact easier to see the kind of basic structures I want to bring out
in that case.
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Consider an animal like a squirrel. On what we might call our ordinary conception of animal
life, we regard animals like squirrels as, first, in perceptual contact with their
surroundings, and second, as acting in the pursuit of goals.

Let us first focus on the second of these elements of the ordinary conception.
Squirrels act to avoid danger and acquire sustenance, to engage in reproduction, to ensure the
survival of their young. And they have various subsidiary goals in virtue of the particular
means that it in is in their nature to deploy when pursuing the ground floor goals of
survival and reproduction. For example, squirrels bury nuts to ensure that they are
adequately fed during the winter.
The theory of evolution by natural selection provides enormous insight into why animals have
the ground-floor goals of survival and reproduction, and of why particular species should
have come to possess the various strategies they do for pursuing those goals.
But it is worth noting that people conceived squirrels as goal-pursuers before the theory of
evolution came on the scene, and that people ignorant of evolution these days, such as
young children, regard squirrels as goal-pursuers. Our ordinary conception of animal life
is a fundamental and central component of our basic scheme for conceiving the world
around us, one that may be supplemented by and improved upon by various kinds of
scientific theorizing, but that is not grounded in such theorizing.

Because we conceive squirrels as goal-pursuers, we can say things like this:
10) The squirrel ran onto the roof to escape the wolf.

And I think there is no decisive objection to reformulating that claim this way:
11) The squirrel’s reason for running onto the roof was to escape the wolf.

To allow this transition is to suppose that having a goal can justify, speak in favor, of doing
something that would achieve that goal, and to suppose that it does so in this case.
Since to act for reasons is to have the capacity of rationality, to speak this way is to allow that
squirrels possess a kind of rationality.

Now, we might reformulate 11) using a “that”-clause to specify the squirrel’s reason:
12) The squirrel’s reason for running onto the roof was that he was escaping from the

I would not wish to endorse an ecologistic reading of 12). In the example, 12) is true only
insofar as it is a way of stating 11), and the infinitival clause in 11) should not be
understood as speaking of a fact that is causally relevant, in the sense at stake in this talk,
to the squirrel’s running onto the roof. The independence condition is not satisfied. The
squirrel’s running onto the roof is his escaping from the wolf, or at any rate a part of it.
The latter is not a cause of the former.
We might wish to call the squirrel’s escaping the wolf the ‘final cause’ of the squirrel’s running
onto the roof, but then, again, we would need to be careful to speak of efficient causation
where I have just been speaking of causation.

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When I noted that there is a class of rational explanations of action to which ecologism does
not apply, I meant cases such as these, cases in which talk of reasons captures in-order-to
relations. These explanations appeal to teleological structures.

This is not to say that there is no causation, in the sense I have been concerned with, described
in 11).
If we take seriously the idea of a causal power, then we will want to say that the squirrel’s
running onto the roof is a case of its causing something. What does it cause? One answer
is that it causes itself to be on the roof—its being on the roof is the result of its exercising
its causal power of running.
We might think that an action is, just as such, a causing. We might then enlist the action in
explanation of things that it causes. We can, for example, causally explain why the squirrel
is on the roof by citing its running up there (just as we can causally explain why the
garden gnome is in the trash by citing my tossing it there).
An explanation like 11) teleologically relates two such causal powers exercised in the action.
That is evidently one form the rational explanations of actions can take. Philosophers of
action in recent years have had insightful things to say about this form of rational
explanation of actions.

But it is not the only form.
Recall the first of the two elements of our ordinary conception of animal life: the animal’s
perceptual awareness of its environment.
A squirrel, for example, might be aware of a wolf in its vicinity. Some philosophers wish to
say that a squirrel can be aware that a wolf, or least a potential predator or threat, is
And of course, it is because the wolf is nearby, and the squirrel is aware of its presence, that it
runs away.
Recognizing the causal and teleological structure within the action of the squirrel’s running
onto the roof should not blind us to the causation that comes from outside that action. It is
the wolf’s presence that sets the whole escapade off to begin with, and that may continue
to shape what the squirrel does as it proceeds with its flight.

The idea of an animal as a goal-pursuer goes hand-in-hand with the idea of an animal as a
perceiver. Perception furnishes awareness of circumstances that bear on the animal’s
pursuit of its goals. And it responds to those circumstances, if all goes well, in ways that
facilitate its pursuit of those goals.
These thoughts make it reasonable to say that in light of the squirrel’s goals, the circumstances
of which it is aware constitute reasons to do particular things, and furthermore, that it is
because the circumstances constitute those reasons that it responds to them by doing what
it does.

And so we might say:
13) The squirrel’s reason for running onto the roof was that there was a wolf in the

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This claim is a counterpart to 11), and not in competition with it. 11) and 13) record two
related but distinct aspects of the full story of the squirrel’s agency. 11) concerns the
teleological structure of the squirrel’s action. 13) concerns the aspects of the squirrel’s
environment to which its action is a response. Both kinds of claim make the sense they do
for us in light of our conception of the animal as pursuing goals and shaping its pursuit
given its awareness of what is going on around it. We may choose, in our explanation of
what the squirrel is up to on a given occasion, to focus on one or the other of these aspects.
This generates the prospect of two kinds of rational explanation of action. One kind is
causal; the other is, if you like, final causal.

Note that in the case of states like belief and fear, for which there can be reasons, we have
only the one side of this causal story to tell. Believing and fearing lack an internal
teleological structure akin to that possessed by an action. If we to find rationality doing
work here, it can be only in determining the impacts of the world upon the animal. Here
ecologism rules the field.

In the case of the squirrel or other un-self-conscious animal, the best case for discerning
rationality of this form will lie with causal explanations exemplified by 14):
14) The squirrel’s reason for being afraid is that there is a wolf in the yard.

The basic thought at which we have arrived is simple. Psychologism and anti-psychologism
alike miss the significance and structure of our ordinary conception of animal life,
according to which animals respond to, and so are causally affected by, environmental
circumstances in certain ways because their goals give them reason to respond to those
circumstances in those ways. Rational explanations of animal activity are explanations in
terms of that conception. Hence they are at once both normative (as both psychologism
and anti-psychologism try to acknowledge) and ecological (as both psychologism and anti-
psychologism, in their differing ways, must deny).

As I noted, in focusing on what is common to squirrels and human beings, I am leaving
important things out about the latter case. In particular, the role of self-consciousness. In
the case of a human being acting or believing for a reason, facts are causes not merely
because they are reasons for what they cause, but because the human being takes them to
be such reasons for her. Rational thought and activity in a human being, a person,
essentially involves the person’s acknowledgement of the normative connections among cause
and caused. This is not by any stretch a small difference between animals that are persons
and animals that aren’t. It constitutes the personal form of mindedness. 20
philosophy of mind used to realize this, before the ascendancy of cognitive science led
philosophers of mind to blur or ignore distinctions that were once recognized as
philosophically fundamental. (Among other things, the self-consciousness of human
rationality bears crucially on the issue of freedom and causality.)

Those familiar with McDowell’s talk of responsiveness to reasons as such should thus note a
(perhaps only terminological) difference with what I say here. A squirrel, I want to say,
can be responsive to reasons as such. McDowell says that a squirrel is responsive to
reasons, but not as such (“Conceptual Capacities in Perception”). The difference is that he
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assumes that responsiveness to reasons as such must involve recognition on the part of the
animal of a reason as a reason. Whereas I want to speak of responsiveness to reasons as
such wherever we can view an animal as responding to circumstances by doing certain
things because those circumstances give it reason to do those things. We do not need to
suppose that the animal itself conceptualizes these circumstances as reasons to make sense
of this possibility, just as we do not need to suppose it recognizes itself as a goal-pursuer to
intelligibly credit it with goals.

8. Reasons and reality
8.1 Subjectivity and Marcus’ account of believing for a reason
In this final section, I turn to the other set of reasons for favoring ecologism I mentioned at the
outset, having to do with the challenge of integrating the free exercise of rational
capacities into our conception of the causal order of the natural world. I will only make a
start here on cashing out those reasons, by focusing on how an anti-psychologistic account
of rational explanation falls short in just this respect.

As I noted earlier, a fundamental challenge for anti-psychologistic accounts of rational
explanation is to say enough about the nature of the relationship R so as to make it
plausible that there really is room for an alternative here to a causal view of the
explanatory force of claims about the reasons for which people act and think.
Once we are clear that at least some of the cases in which S !’s for the reason that p will be
cases in which the fact that p is causally relevant to S’s !-ing, and so that there already is
an explanatorily significant relationship obtaining between the fact in question and the !-
ing in question, this challenge becomes still greater. For even if we should succeed in
isolating some further relationship between the fact and the !-ing, the question will arise
why we care so much, in our ordinary thought and reflection, about that relationship,
when there is already an immensely important and explanatorily fundamental connection
in play.

The force of this worry is not obvious in the abstract, so it will help to consider a particular
version of anti-psychologism. Here I will put the objectivity condition to work.

Marcus in his recent book offers IMO the richest and most fully worked out version of anti-
psychologism to date (see my blurb on the back!). His guiding thought is that while a
rational explanation is does not appeal to “efficient causation”, it is nonetheless “a non-
constitutive explanation of why the would is the way it is such that understanding the
explanation amounts to knowledge of a real connection between facts” (p. 162). This
suffices for it to count as causal in a suitably relaxed sense.
A causal explanation is…a non-constitutive explanation of why the world is the way it
is such that understanding the explanation amounts to knowledge of a real connection
between facts. (Marcus, Rational Causation, 2012, p. 162)

As evinced by this quote, Marcus thinks that we ought to extend the idea of causal
explanation to include any explanation that meets this criterion. He wants to reserve the
term “efficient causation” for a causal explanation that specifically does the work of
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showing why the world is as it is by saying something about what, as he puts it, brought it
about or sustains it. In his view, rational explanations, although “causal”, do not do that
Marcus takes it as definitional of efficient causation that efficient causal relationships are
subsumed by laws of nature, with such laws understood to pick out patterns that obtain
with natural necessity. I did not list this as a mark of causation in my sense: indeed, it is
perhaps the only important idea about causation in the tradition that I regard as entirely
misconceived. So that might suggest Marcus’s broader notion of causation can be
assimilated to my notion of causation.
But it cannot, for several reasons. I will focus on one: as exemplified by his own theory,
Marcus does not require “causal” relationships to be objective.

Marcus’s basic thought is that to believe or do something for a reason is to, as he puts it,
“represent” a certain connection to obtain between the reason and the action or belief.

To focus first on the case of belief, Marcus suggests that to believe that q for the reason that p
is to represent q as to be believed as a consequence of the to-be-believedness of p.
To believe p for reason q consists in the thinker’s representing p to herself as <to be
believed as a consequence of the fact that q is to be believed>. (Rational Causation, p.

To believe that p for the reasons that q is to represent a certain connection to obtain between
the belief that p and q, namely that the belief that p is in some way sanctioned by the fact
that believing q is itself sanctioned. Marcus tells us that to represent this connection is to
recognize a “binding obligation” to believe that p, and that “to recognize the binding
obligation is to self-consciously believe in conformity to it” (p. 32).

Marcus, as quoted above, wants his account to represent rational “causation” as a “real
connection” between facts. But just how “real” is the connection he identifies?

One important strand in the history of philosophical reflection on reality concerns objectivity.
There are many dimensions to objectivity. Arguably the most fundamental lies in the
distinction between how things are and how things seem. An objective subject matter, in
this sense, is one in which how things are and how things seem can come apart. A
subjective subject matter would thus be one in which that is not so.

Tightening this up a bit yields:
A property P is subjective if x’s having P consists in a subject’s (or subjects’)
experiencing or believing x to have P (or properties suitably related to P).
A relation R is subjective if x’s bearing R to y consists in a subject’s (or subjects’)
experiencing or believing R (or suitably related relationships) to obtain between x and

Four observations about these definitions.
First I mean talk of believing to be proxy for talk of doxastic attitudes in general, attitudes
that consist in things striking one or seeming to one to be a certain way.
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Second, the definition allows (to take the case of properties for simplicity) for the properties x
is believed or experienced to posses to differ from the property P whose presence is
secured by those very beliefs and experiences.
For example, there is a view of color according to which being red, say, consists in being
disposed to produce a perception of red in normal observers in normal conditions. But the
two occurrences of “red” in this formulation are to be understood to speak of different
properties: the property that one perceives is not the same as the property that an object
has in virtue of being disposed to produce that perception—even though we use the word
“red” in both cases. At the same time, the two properties picked out by “red” are
understood to be closely related to each other, such that both count as, albeit in different
ways, color properties.
(How exactly to decide what the relationship between the properties ought to be, such that
the experience of the one could intelligibly be understood to constitute the presence of the
other, is one of the major challenges facing their proponents. On the other hand, it is often
supposed that one of the main advantages of such a view is its avoidance of circularity or
regress, such as might appear to beset a view which takes the presence of P to be
constituted by the perception of the very property P.)
Stroud discusses a view like this at length in his book on color, and, correctly I think, treats it
as a canonical form of subjectivism. For on such a view, an object’s having a color is
constitutively a matter of how it strikes people color-wise—of what color experiences or
judgments it occasions. And it is just the question of whether a state of affairs bears this
constitutive dependence on how things strike people that is at stake in the manifold
debates about subjectivism in metaphysics and ethics.

Third, the definitions leaves open which people have the beliefs and experiences, and when they
do (once, habitually, etc.) Different ways of fixing these variables will yield different
degrees of subjectivity. At one extreme, we may take the presence of a certain property to
be a function of a “normal” tendency toward certain beliefs or experiences under “normal”
conditions. This yields a robustly intersubjective and dispositional form of subjectivity. At
the other extreme, we may suppose that a single one-off belief or experience suffices for
the presence of the property—certain ways of developing this approach yield radical forms
of relativistic subjectivity.

Fourth, that a person has a particular experience or belief does not automatically count as a
subjective property or state of that person. It would be such only on the view that one’s
having an experience or belief consists in one’s (or at least someone’s) believing or
experiencing oneself to have that belief, or to have properties in some way intelligibly
related to having that that belief. For example, the (peculiar) view that believing that p
consists in believing that one believes that p would count as a subjectivist account of belief.
But one certainly need not hold such a view. (The weaker and more plausible view that
believing that p implies believing that one believes that p does not entail that believing that
p is a subjective property by our definition.)
This reflects the fact that the notion of subjectivity at stake here is tied to the seems/is
distinction. It would be a large error to confuse this notion of subjectivity with the notion
of subjectivity according to which a state or configuration that is essentially a state or
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configuration of a subject is just as such a subjective state or configuration. These are
different notions; my concern is with the former.

Having noted these points, consider the view that to believe that p for the reason that q is to
believe that the proposition that p is to be believed in virtue of the to-be-believedness of q.
This is a very strongly subjectivist account of believing for a reason. It takes believing p
for the reason that q to consist in a person’s (in fact, the very person whose believing for a
reason is at issue) believing a certain relationship to obtain between the fact that q and the
belief that p. The relationship is one of doxastic normativity: it is one of justifying or
obligating belief. The thrust of the view is that relationships of believing for a reason are
constituted by perceptions of relationships of doxastic normativity among the relevant

Whether Marcus’s view of believing for a reason counts as subjectivist in this way depends
upon whether the “representing” he speaks of is best understood as believing, or at least as
some kind of doxastic attitude or stance. I take it that it is, for two reasons.
First, there are three possible answers to the question of what kind of representational
attitude or stance might play the role Marcus’s account identifies. Either the
representational stance is some variety of doxastic stance, or it is some variety of
intentional or agential stance, or it is some third kind of stance. Marcus does not do the
work necessary to bring a version of the third answer into view: indeed, he says almost
nothing about what kind of representational stance he has in mind. The second answer is
absurd: the idea cannot be that to believe p for reason q is, say, to intend to bring it about
that p is to be believed as a consequence of the to-be-believedness of q (perhaps by
arranging the world so that q indeed counts as evidence that p). This leaves the first
option: the attitude is believing, or judging, or being of the view, or having some other
stance that is a matter of how things strike one.
Second, insofar as Marcus says anything to indicate what kind of representational stance he
has in mind, he does so by using turns of phrase that fix the stance as doxastic. For
example, he speaks of “regarding” or “viewing” p as to be believed as a consequence of the
to-be-believedness of q.

The upshot is that Marcus’s theory of the rational causation of belief is indeed subjectivist: it
holds that there is nothing more to such causation than someone’s believing or regarding a
certain doxastic-normative relationship to obtain between the reason and the belief it

I suggest that this, contrary to Marcus’s intentions, renders rational causation quite a bit less
“real” than we should want to understand it to be for purposes of integrating rationality
into our conception of the natural world.
Before I try to say something about why that is so, let us look briefly at Marcus’s account of
rational causation of action, of acting for a reason. Here the issues are a bit more
complicated. But the complication helps to isolate just what is at issue in the question of
whether it is desirable to make sense of rational causation as objective.

8.2 Subjectivity and Marcus’ account of acting for a reason
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Marcus’s account of acting for a reason is parallel to his account of believing for a reason. To
say that S !’s for the reason that she is "-ing, on his view, is “to say that she represents the
to-be-done-ness of !-ing a consequence of the to-be-done-ness of "-ing” (p. 107). (This is
his account of the second of the two kinds of rational explanations of actions I identified in
section 7. His account of the first kind of rational explanation is based on this account, and
stands or falls with it.) This representing constitutes a rational-causal connection between
one’s !-ing and one’s "-ing.

Now, the question of objectivity is more complicated to think about in the case of intentional
action than in the case of belief because intention is not a doxastic attitude. Intending is
not believing or experiencing; that one has an intention to ! is not constitutively a matter
of how one’s !-ing seems to one or strikes one. This means that properties or relations that
consist in a person’s having certain intentions do not thereby count as subjective by the
definition I have given.

Consider final causation. That I am !-ing in order to " might consist simply in my acting with
the intention to ! in order to ". The “in order to” connection is built into the content of my
intention, and it is in virtue of its being there in the content that I am in fact acting in
pursuit of that final cause. It is in the nature of the kind of conceiving or thinking that
intention is, that by thus conceiving oneself as acting with a certain end, it can thereby be
the case that one is acting with that end. That I am breaking an egg to make an omelet
need not be a state of affairs distinguishable from my having that intention in action.

This point about intention does not imply that it is a subjective fact about me, a fact consisting
in a person’s having certain beliefs or experiences about how I am or what I am doing, that
I am, say, breaking an egg to make an omelet. For the fact that I am breaking an egg to
make an omelet consists in my having that intention in action, not in my believing or
experiencing some such thing about myself.
Subjectivist theories posit a dependence of certain regions of reality upon our receptivity,
broadly construed. But intention does not belong to receptivity; it belongs to agency. To
put the point picturesquely (if not quite accurately), consider the old saw that believing
does not make it so. The subjectivist denies the old saw, at least about color or value or
whatever. But there is no comparable old saw about intention: intending does make it so.
To acknowledge this is not to be a subjectivist about anything, but to understand the
nature of agency.

So it might seem open to hold that Marcus’ account of acting for a reason is not vulnerable to
the charge that it renders rational causation of action subjective. Perhaps the
representation-dependence built into the account is just Marcus’s way of acknowledging
the special feature of intention to which I just drew attention.
But such a reading of Marcus cannot be sustained.

Let us set aside acting or intending for a reason for a moment, and just focus on what
Marcus’s account implies about intending as such. For Marcus, to intend to ! is to
represent !-ing as to be done. As with his account of belief, we can ask what kind of
representing is at stake here. There are, again, three options. Again, Marcus does not do
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the work to bring into view a third alternative. So again, our choice is between doxastic
and intentional/agential representation.
And, though, this may seem surprising on its face, we must once again suppose that the
representing is doxastic. That is because the content of the representation is, Marcus
insists, normative. That !-ing is to be done, if it is, is a normative fact about !-ing, akin to
its being the case that one ought to !. And so if the representation were an intention, it
would be the intention to bring about or make so the normative circumstance that !-ing is
to be done. An intention of this form is conceivable: I might endeavor to make it the case
that !-ing is to be done by, say, promising someone that I will !. But that is surely not
what Marcus has in mind. Intending to ! cannot consist in an intention to arrange the
world so as to make it the case that one ought to !.
The only alternative left is that Marcus equates intending to ! with (evidently a special kind
of) belief or judgment that !-ing is to be done.

Views of intention of broadly this character are in fact common in (otherwise highly
admirable) recent work emanating from or associated with Pittsburgh. I think such views
are unacceptable, in virtue of failing to respect the crucial Anscombian/Aristotelian
principle that practical reasoning is not reasoning to the truth of a proposition (normative
or otherwise). One symptom of this failure is that these views run into the same kinds of
difficulties as do expressivist theories of practical-reasoning talk (such as Gibbard’s),
despite the otherwise large differences in the orientation and commitments of their
proponents from those who go in for expressivist theorizing. But I will not attempt to
make that case here.

Let’s return to Marcus’s view of acting for a reason. For parallel reasons to those just given,
we must suppose the representing at issue is doxastic: to ! for the reason that one is "-ing
is to believe or judge or hold (evidently in some special way) that !-ing is to be done as a
consequence of the to-be-doneness of "-ing.
This is to make the fact that you are acting for a certain reason a subjective fact, a reflection of
your discerning a certain practical-normative connection between the action and the
reason. And so Marcus’ account of reasons for action does after all fall within the purview
of the subjectivity charge. Marcus’s theory of rational causation is subjectivist in both its
compartments. It is thus not, by the lights of the concept of causation I delineated earlier,
a theory of rational causation at all.

8.3 Objectivity and freedom
Our beliefs and actions are causally related to the world around us. In particular, things that
happen or are so cause us to believe things and do things. Indeed, the very facts that are
our reasons for acting and believing cause us to believe and think those things. So much
we saw in section 5.
Why, then, should we bother to concern ourselves with a further ostensible relation between
my belief and the fact that obtains only in the manner in which subjective states of affairs
obtain? Indeed, why we should be so preoccupied with offering rational explanations of
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our beliefs or actions when we have available a more thoroughly “real” connection
between the reason and belief/action that we might exploit for explanatory purposes?
Why care about a relationship whose obtaining is subjective when right along side it obtains
the objective and manifestly explanatorily relevantly relationship of causation? Such is the
flavor of question Marcus’ account raises.

The issue might be pressed a different way: if the connections we forge to the facts when we
exercise our capacity for rationality are subjective connections—connections that hold
only in the sense that it seems to us that certain related connections hold—what good is
For the unavoidable fact is that we are material, macroscopic objects situated on the surface of
the earth, and that we are caught up in the causal order that encompasses all such objects
and the events in which they participate. If no causal explanation of what happens to me
or of what I do is rational, then my participation in that causal order is never a matter of
my exercising rationality. I take it to be a serious question whether any view of rationality
with that implication could possibly be satisfactory.

I will close by briefly considering one basis for a worry on this score, concerning freedom.

There is a longstanding tradition in philosophy of supposing that our freedom in thought and
action is to be understood in terms of our capacity to attend to, and to be swayed by,
reasons, justifications.
From whence comes so much as the idea that we are free or autonomous, that it is, ‘up to us’
what we are to do? The thought that animates the tradition I have in mind is that the
source of our idea lies in what is often called the ‘deliberative’ perspective on thought and
action. When we deliberate about what to do, we aim to settle what we will do or believe
through reflection on what to do or believe.
When we are engaged in reflection with this aim, it does not seem to us as if events or objects
or circumstances in the world around us simply do not factor into the determination of
what we end up doing or believing. It is not as if we blot out the world around us, and
make up our minds in some wholly unconditioned manner.
The world does matter, but it matters in virtue of providing us with reasons, justifications, for
doing or believing things. The world matters not by blindly compelling us, but by, as it
were, speaking to us. It offers suggestions, evidence, cautions, which we must then weigh.
The guiding thought of this tradition is that it is in virtue of our finding ourselves thus related
to the world, when we deliberate, that we can conceive ourselves as free or autonomous.

Korsgaard offers a recent expression and development of this idea. She brings it to bear in
addressing the old issue of whether determinism implies the absence of freedom. Given her
interests in moral philosophy, she focuses in particular on practical deliberation and
Occasionally one meets the objection that the freedom we encounter in reflection is
a delusion. Human actions are causally determined. The philosopher’s bugbear, the
Scientific World View, threatens once more to deprive us of something we value.
When desire calls we think we can take it or leave it, but in fact someone could have
predicted exactly what we will do.
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But how can this be a problem? The afternoon stretches before me, and I must
decide whether to work or play. Suppose…that you can predict which one I am going to
do. That has no effect on me at all: I must still decide what to do. I am tempted to play
but worried about work, and I must decide the case on its merits. (The Sources of
Normativity, p. 94)

Korsgaard’s point here is that knowing or believing that it is possible to predict what I will
choose cannot undermine my sense of myself as free when I deliberate. It may discourage
me, perhaps to the point that I am unable to deliberate. But insofar as I am deliberating,
insofar as I am engaged in reflective activity whose governing intention is to arrive at a
settled intention about what I will do through consideration of what to do, I must decide
the case on its merits. The world will present itself to me not as a deterministic source of
my decision, but as offering considerations that speak in favor or against the alternatives
open to me.

As a comment on the nature of the deliberative perspective, this seems to me, in broad outline,
correct (the role Korsgaard assigns to the ‘call of desire’ seems to me dispensable). But the
question now arises how we are to integrate the conception we have of our relation to our
beliefs and actions when we deliberate with conceptions we have of that relation when we
are not deliberating about those beliefs and actions—for example, when, on the basis of
philosophical or scientific considerations, we are led to suppose that those beliefs and
actions might be rigidly determined by what came before.

Korsgaard’s answer to this question is, I think, profoundly unsatisfactory.
She writes:
The freedom discovered in reflection is not a theoretical property which can also be
seen by scientists considering the agent’s deliberation third-personally and from
outside. It is from within the deliberative perspective that we see our desires as
providing suggestions which we may take or leave. Your will say that this means that
our freedom is not ‘real’ only if you have defined the ‘real’ as what can be identified by
scientists looking at things third-personally and from outside. (The Sources of
Normativity, p. 96)

The thought here, I take it, is that we should not worry if we cannot find a place for freedom
when we reflect on the determinants of human action “third-personally” or “theoretically”,
because the idea of freedom only has application from within the deliberative perspective.
Our possession of that idea consists in the orientation we have to our thoughts and actions
when we deliberate about them, and so it is no surprise, and nothing to worry about, when
there is no place for it in non-deliberative consideration of those thoughts and actions.
But is that really a satisfactory conception of the place of freedom in human thought and
activity? If our third-personal descriptions of the course of events by which things happen
in the world around a person, leading her to do or think something, cannot make room for
the thought that her responses, her thoughts and actions, evince her freedom—if indeed,
there is some kind of category mistake in so much as supposing that the “idea of freedom”
has application in this context—then it is difficult to see how our freedom is after all ‘real’.
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Human beings are natural objects occupying a natural environment, one that impinges upon
them and that they impinge upon. A human life is lived in the natural world, and to live in
that world means to interact with it, and so to belong to its causal order. Any attempt to
vindicate our claim to freedom that fails to find a role for freedom in these interactions—
indeed, that implies that we cannot find a place for freedom in our picture when we attempt
to understand human lives in these terms—surely does not give us what we were seeking
when we worried over freedom to begin with.

Korsgaard goes on:
The Scientific World View is a description of the world which serves the purposes of
explanation and prediction. When its concepts are applied correctly it tells us things
that are true. But it is not a substitute for human life. And nothing in human life is more
real than the fact we must make our decisions and choices ‘under the idea of freedom’.
(p. 97)

Perhaps explanations that belong to the “scientific world view” cannot make anything of
freedom. But it remains open to suppose, and I think it is very important to us to suppose,
that freedom might factor into non-scientific explanations of what we do and think. Such
explanations would at once place our thoughts and actions in objective causal relations
with the world around us, but still conceive these thoughts and actions as exercises of
freedom, because exercises of rationality.
Korsgaard appears to think it suffices, for deflecting worries about determinism, to point out
that the scientific world view is not a replacement for the exercise of practical rationality,
for living life and making choices. But this does not suffice. The problem of free will is that
of incorporating freedom into our world view, period—of finding a place for it in our
accounts of what is so and of why what is so is so. If the (alleged) absence of freedom from
the “scientific” world view seems problematic to us, that must be because of some
assumption we make about the relationship between our world view as such and the
“scientific” part of it. It is that assumption that must then be addressed to if the problem of
a free will is to be dissolved.
I think, though I will not attempt to show this, that we can best challenge this assumption by
seeing how rational explanations of human thought and action are a species of
explanations in terms of our ordinary conception of animal life.

(And really, the objection to Korsgaard’s view is not merely that it fails to solve the problem of
free will. It is not clear she is left even with an intelligible conception of that on which she
wants to rest everything: namely, our first-personal understanding of our freedom in
deliberation. Korsgaard secures a place for reflection structured by the “idea of freedom”
only by regarding such reflection as not in the business of shedding any light on why
things happen. And it is open to wonder whether we could possibly make sense of freedom
in this way. What is freedom if it is not in any part freedom in how we respond to the
world in which our lives unfold, of freedom to decide how that world is to affect us? What
are we deciding if we are not deciding that? What, on Korsgaard’s picture, do we think
we’re doing when we’re deliberating about what to do?)

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From this perspective, Marcus’s anti-psychologism is a bit of an advance over Korsgaard’s
neo-Kantianism. For Marcus works to identify an explanatory connection between the
facts that are our reasons and our beliefs and actions.
The problem is that this connection is subjective. The reality of “rational causation” is a
subjective reality. So freedom, understood in terms of the exercise of rational capacities,
would just show up in our world view in this subjective portion of it.
We can perhaps begin to see why this is unsatisfactory by noting that there seems little here
for a determinist skeptic about free will to object to. Why should a skeptic of free deny
that we might project onto the world whatever subjective properties and relations we have
a mind to project? Such properties and relations come cheaply. Their existence, such as it
is, is a function of our perceptions. And a skeptic of free ought not to want to deny that we
perceive ourselves as free, for otherwise there is nothing for her to be skeptical about.

A satisfactory solution of the problem of free must integrate freedom into the objective portion
of our world view. Since this is the portion where causation, properly understood, resides,
a satisfactory causal conception of acting or thing for reason will get us where we need to

Jason Bridges: Ecology of Reasons