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Reasons
Joshua Gert

Introduction
The notion of a reason for action – a practical reason – is not a specifically moral
notion. We can sensibly talk about the reasons that favor and disfavor a choice of
career or, less momentously, a choice of vacation options, even when morality is
simply not an issue. Indeed, we can talk about the reasons that someone stranded on
a desert island might have – for building a shelter in a certain way, or for storing
food – even if we think that morality is exclusively concerned with behavior toward
other people. Although individual practical reasons need not, therefore, have any
particular moral significance, it is no surprise that the notion of a reason plays a
central role in much of ethical theory. There have been many attempts to ground
morality in such reasons. And it is quite common to encounter the thesis – whether
it is being affirmed or denied – that moral behavior is always favored by the balance
of reasons (see overridingness, moral). This thesis is consistent with the plausible
idea that there can be particular reasons that oppose moral action. Such reasons
would be present, for example, in any case in which morality requires a sacrifice of
some sort.
Although much current work on practical reasons retains a relatively close connection with moral theory, reasons are also central to a certain kind of theory of free
will, according to which the will is free when it is disposed to respond appropriately
to reasons (see free will). The general idea behind such accounts is that freedom is
freedom from distorting influences – not from all influences. Since reasons are what
the will is meant to respond to, to be free is to be influenced solely by reasons, and
not, for example, by fear, or unreflective habit, or addiction. The notion of a practical
reason also plays an important role in value theory quite generally. A popular thesis
in that area is that for an object to be of value is simply for there to be practical
reasons that favor regarding it with some sort of favoring attitude (see buck-passing
accounts). In fact, some theorists hold that the notion of a reason is the basic
normative notion: that what it is for a claim to be normative is that it entails some
claim about reasons.
Of course, not everything that might be called “a reason for action” can play the
kinds of roles just discussed. We can distinguish two importantly different broad categories of reasons for action: explanatory and normative (see reasons, motivating
and normative). Imagine coming across someone behaving in a very odd way: trying to fly, or scratching the skin off of his legs, or something of that sort. These kinds
of actions call out for explanation. On some occasions the explanatory demand can be
met by citing abnormal chemical or biological factors, and these can count as reasons
The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Edited by Hugh LaFollette, print pages 4389–4401.
© 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2013 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
DOI: 10.1002/ 9781444367072.wbiee063

ethical). However. cannot play the right kind of role in justifications of morality or in theories of free will or of value. We might call this subclass of explanatory reasons motivating reasons. one might explain why someone is putting a coin in a machine by citing the person’s desire for a soda. however. of course. One important difference is that they need play no role at all in explaining an action that is actually performed. discussed in the following text. Despite this. but they want to do so in a way that does not make the truth of substantive . That role is played by what are called normative reasons for action. although one important issue is the relation of normative reasons to motivating reasons. or something else. the administrator might well completely ignore them. beliefs. those reasons continue to be relevant to the question of whether or not his action is justified or rational. a standard and plausible assumption is that it is typically possible for people to act on them. and. In contrast with explanatory reasons of either of the preceding kinds.2 why the person behaves as he does. and his belief that the means for getting one include putting the coin in the machine. propositions. normative reasons are different from motivating reasons. takes there to be a very tight relation. equally clearly. However. One popular account of this subclass of reasons holds that they are belief/desire pairs. how is it that we know anything about our reasons? Whatever normative reasons might be. if that is right. and to explanatory reasons of other sorts. rather than to what we actually do do. Consider a stubborn administrator who has many good reasons to change his mind regarding an illinformed and poorly thought-out decision made in haste. stick to his former decision. Even after having been made aware of those reasons to change his mind. However. Within the broad class of explanatory reasons – a class that will include chemical imbalances and neurological conditions – a special subclass will consist of those that appeal to the standard or normal psychological causes of action. and builds this relation into the essence of normative reasons by claiming that a consideration gets to count as a normative reason simply by bearing the right kind of relation to the motivational setup of the agent for whom it counts as a reason. even when they are directly relevant to that action. Other theorists also want to defend the claim that there is a very tight connection between normative and motivating reasons. all the standard questions about our epistemic access to ought-facts arise: it does not seem to be a matter for scientific investigation that we ought to perform this or that action (see nonnaturalism. For example. one central question regarding normative reasons is: what is their relation to motivating reasons. It is normative reasons that will be the focus of the rest of this essay. or to explanatory reasons more generally? One group of theorists. Another general question is: what does it take for a fact (if that is the kind of thing a reason is) to be a reason? Given the relation of reasons to what we ought to do. One general question is: what kinds of things are they? They might be facts. Normative reasons present philosophical challenges that explanatory reasons do not. normative reasons have the role of showing that certain actions are justified or rational (or are not). out of pure bull-headedness or a fear of appearing weak. Normative reasons are quite different from explanatory reasons. we want to explain normal and unproblematic human action as well. Even these reasons. Hence.

A more illuminating account of reasons is endorsed by John Broome (2004). providing no real explanation of their nature or of our knowledge about them. For example. I ought to take it. Derek Parfit (2011) takes the same view. Understood in this way. we can pick out the reasons that favor and disfavor the action. Broome defines practical reasons as considerations that explain facts about what an agent ought to do. they are also sometimes called contributory reasons. the explanation for the fact that an agent ought to perform an action takes the form of what he calls “a weighing explanation. and explicitly refuses to give any account of what it is for a reason to count in favor of an action. even if. Broome contrasts his view with one in which reasons are understood as evidence that an agent ought to perform a certain action. This is a problem. And Jonathan Dancy (2004: 29) also explicitly leaves unexplained the nature of the “favoring relation. For example. In the absence of such clarification. Given these two notions. reasons are typically thought of in a pro tanto or contributory way. yielding an overall verdict as the result of something like a balancing of these weights. since it is common to think of reasons as making contributions to the overall normative status of an action – contributions that might be opposed by the contributions of other reasons relevant to the very same action. Given such an explanation. very often. then the fact that the pill will do this counts as a reason for taking it. then this might count as a reason against taking it. if it is true that what explains why I ought to take a certain pill is that the pill will take away my annoying headache.3 claims such as “Wealthy people have reasons to use their wealth to lessen the suffering of the very poor” hostage to the contingent motivations of wealthy people. General Frameworks for Theorizing about Reasons A surprising number of philosophers seems content to take the concept of a normative reason (hereafter simply “a reason”) as primitive. For the same purpose. and associates something like a weight with each relevant consideration. and also the notion of an explanation of a fact. if the pill in the headache example has some unpleasant side effect. it turns out that there can only be reasons for actions that we ought to perform.” Such an explanation cites considerations on both sides of the issue. all things considered.” which reasons bear to actions. When it is necessary to be explicit that reasons are being thought of in this way. This view has been defended by . And still other theorists want to deny that the connection between normative and motivating reasons is always particularly tight: they want to hold that there are many occasions on which it is not irrational to ignore some of the reasons of which we are aware. yielding the commonsensical notion of a pro tanto reason. Thomas Scanlon (1998: 17) takes the notion of a reason as basic. though. For example. Broome deals with the need to account for contributory reasons by pointing out that. they are sometimes called pro tanto reasons – to distinguish them from what might be called overall reasons. His account of reasons takes the notion of a practical “ought” as primitive. and which is essentially definitive of their being reasons.

as so far described. A second thesis is that the strategies are really general recipes that one would apply within different normative domains. These are Humean accounts. and reasons relevant to any other normative domain one countenances. or the agent’s belief that this is the case.4 Stephen Kearns and Daniel Star (2009). and that all normative statuses are to be understood in terms of this one basic category. the explanatory strategy of Broome. however. on all of the views. One problematic sort of case for Kearns and Star takes the form of testimony-based evidence that one ought to perform a certain action. One very popular account of reasons combines two of these possibilities: reasons are facts. under certain counterfactual circumstances. or a relevant desire on the part of the agent. Naturalistic versions of this view specify the counterfactual circumstances in nonnormative terms: . All of the strategies so far discussed for explaining (or refusing to explain) the nature of reasons are compatible with two very different theses. a reason might be some substantive fact. If one takes the former view. For example. The first is the thesis that there is one basic category of reason. or between rationality and morality. Humean Accounts Almost all Humean accounts involve some counterfactual claim: for example. prudential reasons would determine prudential status. and prudential status might be determined by considering only the subset of reasons that have to do with the agent’s own welfare. If one takes this latter view. rather than merely evidence for the existence of other considerations that really are reasons for X-ing: the considerations that formed the basis of the advisor’s recommendation. such a view might hold that A has a reason to perform action φ if and only if. or perhaps the fact that the agent has a relevant desire. prudential reasons. It is important to note that the strategies so far offered – the quietist strategy of Scanlon and Parfit. reasons of relevance to practical rationality. According to their view. the evidential view of Kearns and Star – say very little so far as to what kind of thing a reason might be. while moral status might be determined by considering the reasons that a certain sort of idealized person might have for punishing or rewarding someone who performs the action. and so on. then there are problems one must solve that arise when there are conflicts between the overall verdicts of different normative domains – especially conflicts between prudence and morality. but the status of these facts as reasons depends on a relation to the desires of the agent. the rational status of an action might be determined by a function that takes into account all the basic reasons of relevance to the action. there might be moral reasons. the fact that a reliable source recommends X-ing itself is a reason to X. That is. Moral reasons would determine moral status. A would have some desire to perform φ. Indeed. largely on the grounds that it provides a unified account both of reasons for action and reasons for belief – the latter of which are quite plausibly regarded as bits of evidence that one ought to believe the proposition for which they are said to be reasons. then there may be the even more troubling possibility that the balance of practical reasons requires one to act in an immoral way. such as the fact that the relevant action will save someone’s life.

Whatever the source of the motivational thesis. to perform it.” The motivational thesis. which is meant to apply to pro tanto reasons. then it must be the case that the person could be sufficiently motivated actually to perform it. most versions of the Humean view do not have naturalistic or reductive ambitions. it is often claimed that if no amount of argument could persuade an agent to care at all about φ-ing. patterns of emotional response. and it may be the result of a generalization of the ought-implies-can principle. an agent-relative reason is a reason that has. 2001). However. morality and). this counts strongly against the idea that the agent in fact has any reason to φ. holds that an agent has reason to perform some action only if there is what he calls “a sound deliberative route” from that person’s existing set of desires. Bernard Williams (1981. This feature of the view makes it obvious that the Humean will have difficulties supporting the idea that we always have reasons – let alone adequate or sufficient reasons – to perform any morally required action (see reasons for action. At least this will be true on the commonsense view according to which some of the moral requirements that apply to a person are independent of her desires. to that person’s being motivated to perform that action (see williams. The Humean can avoid this difficulty by embracing a moral relativism according to which moral requirements are themselves generated by an agent’s commitment to a set of norms (see relativism. while the other agent is quite altruistic. as an ineliminable part of its content. For example. This latter idea seems to stand behind Bernard Williams’ defense of his neo-Humean view. At least this is true on the technical understanding of the phrase “agent-relative reason” that is found in the literature (see agent-relative vs. seems to be an extension of the idea that if a person has decisive reason to perform a certain action. However.” or “S” for short). The fact that Humean accounts of reasons will. This might happen because one of the agents is by nature quite indifferent to the welfare of the people who will be affected by the action. One distinctive feature of Humean views of reasons is the support they lend to the idea that different agents who find themselves in precisely the same (external) circumstances might nevertheless have very different reasons. Let us call this “the motivational thesis. some reference to the agent. there is no prospect of giving a naturalistic or reductive account of what Williams means by “sound deliberative route. agent-neutral). On that understanding. commitments.” One of the primary motivations for contemporary Humean views of reasons seems to be the idea that if a person has a reason to perform some action. bernard). This principle has its home in the moral domain. for example. then it must be the case that the person could be motivated. as is the fact that . and so on (what he calls the person’s “subjective motivational set. but some philosophers think it is applicable wherever we have an overall ought claim.5 typically something involving full information. quite plausibly. the fact that an action will cause the agent some pain is an agent-relative reason. moral). at least to some degree. yield different reasons for different agents in the same circumstances should not be confused with the fact – if it is a fact – that such accounts underwrite agent-relative reasons.

some other agent may care about his child precisely because she is his child. If. so that the argument from rationality to specific substantive reasons is much more complex. he tried to argue from the idea that. we act on maxims that we give to ourselves. Christine Korsgaard (1996) similarly tries to argue from the idea that we are reflective creatures who step back from our impulses and cannot act on them unless we endorse them. to be concerned for one’s own substantive welfare. the fact that an action will cause someone (who might or might not be the agent) some pain. and deduce from that the conclusion that such creatures will be motivated by certain substantive considerations. However. and only care about his own welfare inasmuch as he himself is a person. of course. even if the Humean view is correct.6 the action will save the life of the agent’s child or husband. Kantian and Value-Based Accounts Opposed to Humean accounts of reasons are accounts that ground reasons either in facts about rationality. For example. and so on. partly. and conclude that the prospects of increases or decreases in our welfare provide us with reasons for and against the various options open to us. one might simply assert that to be rational is. plausibly. his welfarerelated reasons for action will be agent-neutral ones. or the fact that the action will save the life of someone (who might or might not have a special relationship with the agent) both count as agent-neutral reasons. to the conclusion that it is irrational to tell a lie to get money. Kantians typically have a more formal understanding of rationality. the result is a view in which certain substantive considerations will count as reasons. It is characteristic of Kantian accounts to start with claims about the nature of human rationality and to argue on the basis of such claims that any rational agent would take certain substantive considerations to be reasons. or to seek knowledge (see value realism). then this view is not really distinct from the views just . and that this objective value is what makes it the case that there is always a reason to avoid pain. Kant. famously tried to argue in this way: for example. An agent may be concerned with people in general. one understands reasons to be considerations that can or would motivate rational creatures. If a defender of such an account explains the nature of value in terms of rational desire. and then defined reasons as the objects of those concerns. What is distinctive about such Kantian accounts is that they endorse some conception of what it is to be a rational creature. or in facts about the objective value of certain objects or states-of-affairs. as rational creatures. insofar as we are rational. Of course. we could all be brought to act on certain moral considerations. and the reasons he has to protect her from harm may be agent-relative ones. The most direct form of such an argument would be one that simply characterized rationality in terms of a set of substantive concerns. have objective value (or disvalue). The Humean view of reasons does not entail anything about the content of a specific agent’s reasons. In contrast. to the conclusion that. In that case. Also opposed to the Humean or desire-based account of reasons are accounts that take it as basic that such things as pleasure and pain. freedom and knowledge.

Others hold that if an agent makes a sincere judgment (true or false) that she has a reason. even someone who takes reasons to be grounded in objective facts about the values of various consequences of action could endorse internalism – as Korsgaard presents it – simply by understanding rationality as the disposition to be motivated by reasons so understood. externalism. since judgment internalism has more to do with the nature of normative thought than it has to do with the nature of reasons themselves. and therefore inherits the same ambiguity. When one understands internalism in Korsgaard’s way. and of rationality. at least under appropriate conditions. motivational. Any view deserving the label will hold that there is some necessary connection between reasons and motivation. motivational. The role of rationality in this formulation of internalism makes room for non-Humean accounts of reasons that nevertheless satisfy the internalist thesis. internalism will always be understood as existence internalism. reasons. to some degree. “Externalism” is simply a name for the denial of a corresponding internalist thesis. on particular occasions. it is implicit in the widely held judgment that we are not irrational in virtue of being unmoved. This form of externalism is not widely held by philosophers. In what follows. is an importantly ambiguous phrase. For example. It is also plausible to regard this form of externalism as implicit in the judgment that sufficiently careful criminals are not acting irrationally – but merely immorally. since such an account simply defines reasons in terms of the motivations of an agent after sound deliberation. and to define the notions of reasons. And someone – such as the Kantian described in the previous section – who understands rationality to be conceptually prior to the notion of a reason could argue that a rational agent will come to be motivated by certain substantive reasons quite independently of that agent’s subjective motivational set. it is also possible to take evaluative claims to be basic. However. Nevertheless. motivated by those reasons that apply to her and that she is aware of. However. “Internalism about reasons. by the possibility of alleviating the suffering of those in the poorest nations. externalism becomes the thesis that even rational agents might remain unmoved by at least some of the reasons of which they are aware. the nature of the connection can be very different in different formulations of the view. this entails the existence of a relevant motivation. However. Internalism and Externalism Closely related to the debate between Humeans and their opponents is the debate  between internalists and externalists about reasons (see internalism. internal and external). Korsgaard (1986) has pointed out that a plausible formulation of internalism will only claim that a rational agent must be. . Some versions hold that the mere existence of a reason for an agent to perform some action entails the existence of a relevant motivation.7 discussed. Internalism is directly underwritten by a Humean account of reasons.” even understood solely as a thesis about normative reasons. choosing instead to expend resources or time for our own personal ends. in terms of value.

For it is the prospect of the beauty or the knowledge that justifies the costs involved in getting . to φ. on the part of the idealized version of that agent. to φ: the very connection that the internalist was most concerned to preserve.” In order to avoid this problem. in A. These sorts of counterexamples to internalist accounts are instances of what has been called “the conditional fallacy. but points up a general problem for internalist accounts. and only act against if there is some opposing reason. there is no real distinction in kinds of reasons. for example. This move solves one specific problem. some reasons seem to be of a sort that no rational agent could ignore: if an action is going to cause the agent pain. there are phenomena that suggest that this kind of simple view of reasons is too simple. it will turn out that we judge the actual agent to have a reason that we know will not correspond to any motivation in her idealized counterpart. we can say that there is a tension between a normative requirement on reasons. However. However. might simply be a reason in favor of refraining from that option. In many cases. One problem with such conditional accounts has been discussed by Robert Johnson (1999). On the other hand. on the part of an idealized version of that agent. some reason to become more rational. In a slogan. that the unidealized agent φ. it does this by severing the connection between A’s reason to φ and a motivation. this by itself does not suggest that there are two different kinds of reasons: favoring and disfavoring. they claim that an agent’s reason to φ corresponds to a desire. For example. such things as the prospect of a beautiful view or the abstract knowledge that comes from philosophical inquiry certainly seem to provide reasons to some rational agents. this seems to be the sort of thing that a rational agent must take into account.8 Most internalist accounts of reasons centrally feature a conditional of the following form: There is a reason for agent A to φ ⊃ A would be motivated to some degree to φ if A were idealized in certain ways. To take one obvious example. A reason against an option. when we consider an actual agent and her idealized counterfactual counterpart. while any actual agent will have. at least on occasion. and an explanatory requirement. Rather than claiming that an agent’s reason  to  φ corresponds to a motivation. The change that Smith and Railton make to the internalist formula preserves the link between reasons and idealized conditions – thus preserving what we might call the normativity of the reasons. internalists such as Michael Smith (1994) and Peter Railton (1986) change the internalist formula in a subtle way. as it might be. On a simple model of reasons as units of rational force. and against them. no fully rational agent will have any motivation to become more rational. However. so this problem is a serious one for them. or risk the agent’s life. Most internalists take the explanatory requirement very seriously. More Complex Views It is quite clear that reasons can count both in favor of options.

say that it would be silly to act against enticing reasons. for example. but without its being the case that we ought to act on them – even when they are the only reasons of relevance. Joshua Gert (2007) distinguishes not between two grounds for reasons.” That is why it is not irrational to make great sacrifices for others. what would be pleasant or fun. Peremptory reasons are those which generate an ought-claim. a number of philosophers have proposed accounts of reasons that include a distinction within the domain of reasons: either a distinction in kind. her disjunctive view also allowed for the intuition that our reasons often depend on our contingent desires. and (2) the agent’s desires. In order to capture these truths. Jonathan Dancy also has a disjunctive view of reasons. and do not differ only in degree.” The two strength values that characterize any given reason can be specified by giving answers to the following two questions (R) How much can this reason rationally require me to sacrifice? (J) How much can this reason rationally justify me in sacrificing? Gert claims that some reasons with a great deal of justifying strength do not have a correspondingly high degree of requiring strength. on which it is the objective needs and the subjective values of agents that determine the rationality of their actions. and whether his unwillingness to say that they generate oughts simply stems from the weighty connotations of the word “ought. for example. but David Copp (1995) continues to defend something very similar. Rather. though it does not appeal to the distinction between interest and desire. enticing reasons concern. Rather. However. Gert’s requiring and justifying roles are clearly logically distinct. or in constitutive essence. for example. freedom from pain. It is relatively uncontroversial that the distinction between requiring and justifying exists in the moral domain. Foot later abandoned this view. his claim is that any given reason has two kinds of strength. However. but also not irrational to tend primarily to oneself.” He does. For Dancy. that if someone is indifferent to his future welfare. this does nothing to undermine the reason he has for paying attention to it. Philippa Foot (1978) once endorsed a view according to which reasons stemmed from two distinct sources: (1) the agent’s interests – which are quite objective and include. a reason of the following sort: that one’s action will spare some third party a great deal of pain. and let others fare as they may. as Foot and Copp do. paradigmatically. which he calls “requiring strength” and “justifying strength. For such a reason. the answer to (R) is plausibly “Not very much. while enticing reasons function to make an action rationally attractive in some way.” but the answer to (J) is plausibly “Quite a lot. since considerations of self-defense can . as Dancy does. not all rational agents need be moved at all by such reasons. Unlike Dancy’s peremptory and enticing reasons. It is not entirely clear whether Dancy’s enticing reasons are actually different in any way from weak peremptory reasons.9 them. nor between two kinds of reasons. Dancy distinguishes what he calls “peremptory” reasons from what he calls “enticing” reasons. Consider. at least when they are unopposed by other reasons. or in function. if there were no reason to do so. This allowed her to say. in contrast to Bernard Williams.

Particularists take the domain of the normative to be so complex and claims about reasons to be so context-dependent that we cannot make such claims as “the prospect of avoiding pain always provides a pro tanto reason against performing an action. that if A releases B from his promise.” The best we can do is make particular claims of the form “in  this circumstance. consider a case in which one is contemplating going to a party at which one expects to see an old friend. However. Dancy. Particularism Behind the views of Copp. and they count as reasons only because of this relation. Gert. Similarly. it will be necessary to distinguish basic reasons from derivative ones. His version of the view includes the idea that there are a number of normatively relevant considerations – not themselves reasons – that can affect the strength of a reason in a given context. then the fact that B promised to do something – which would otherwise have counted as a reason to do it – thereby has its status as a reason cancelled. then the pain may provide a reason in favor of performing it. Gert’s thesis can be understood as the view that the same logical structure also characterizes the domain of practical rationality. or cancel its normal relevance. might seem to support the particularist. turning it from a favoring to a disfavoring consideration. if it is wrongly taken to be a basic reason (or if the basic/derivative distinction is overlooked entirely). For example.” Jonathan Dancy is one of the most vocal and extreme advocates of particularism. A different kind of response to the recognition of this same complexity is the thesis that there simply are  no interesting general claims to be made about what sorts of considerations provide reasons. The prospect of seeing one’s old friend. Dancy might claim.10 morally justify a great deal without morally requiring very much (or indeed anything). and the early Foot lies a recognition of the complexity of the normative. and a resistance to the idea that we can reduce all reasons to one source or that all reasons behave in the same way. for example. or about their strengths. This is because those who deny particularism will hold only that basic reasons make an invariant contribution to overall rational status. this consideration provides a reason that favors this action with this strength. This is because the contribution . A derivative reason in such a situation might be that one’s old friend will be there. or even change its valence. Whether one wishes to defend particularism or criticize it. This view is called “particularism” (see particularism). Derivative reasons. since it counts as a reason only because it explains why it is that the party is likely to cause one some pleasure. if the pain is part of a merited punishment. the fact that it will cause one a certain amount of pleasure counts as a basic reason: one does not explain its status as a reason by saying that it entails or makes likely some further consideration that is a reason. are considerations that – given a context – entail or make likely that there is a basic reason. in contrast. Dancy might hold that while the fact that an act will cause someone else pain normally counts as a reason against doing it.

and that these values vary from context to context in ways that cannot be captured by any finite or surveyable principles. certain reasons will strike us as relatively strong or relatively weak. externalism. However. it is very unclear what is meant by the claim. by reference to the overcoming of countervailing motivations. For example. on simple Humean views according to which reasons correspond to counterfactual desires. overridingness. nonnaturalism. in the mouth of a particularist. And on a non-Humean view. the strength of a reason is plausibly associated with the strength of the corresponding desire. our intuitions about the strengths of reasons in particular contexts constitutes a prima facie case against the particularist. value realism. buck-passing accounts. her likely presence at a party may count against your going. motivating and normative. free will. However. relativism. This problem is especially pressing for a particularist who holds that what one ought to do is determined by the strengths of the reasons relevant to one’s choices. or very weak. it remains plausible that the fact that an action will cause one a certain amount of pleasure always favors an action to which it is relevant – though of course some such actions will be opposed by sufficient reasons to make it irrational to perform them. moral. particularists refuse to endorse the relevant counterfactuals. The Strength of Reasons Central to the particularist view is the idea that reasons have strength values. See also: agent-relative vs. some content must be given to these seemings. ethical. However. that a given reason – even on a particular occasion – is very strong. This implication makes it important for the particularist to give some account of what the strength of a reason consists in. It is true that. However. and strength values can be understood as indicating locations in this ranking. internal and external. in any given situation. reasons. after a falling-out between you and your old friend. And the strength of these desires can plausibly be understood in counterfactual terms.11 of this derivative reason to overall rational status is not systematic. reasons for action. so they cannot establish the strength of a reason in this way. and depends on complex and contingent matters. agent-neutral. moral. to the degree that we agree that strength values imply counterfactuals. Indeed. morality and. That is. internalism. motivational. one reason counts as stronger than another in the justifying (or requiring) role. As a result. such as Gert’s. williams. particularism. bernard . This serves to establish at least a rough ranking of reasons along the justifying and requiring dimensions. reasons. a particularist cannot rest content with such bare seemings. For many nonparticularistic views. The most plausible content of one reason seeming to be roughly twice as strong as another is that it could overcome roughly twice the countervailing reasons. motivational. this sort of counterfactual analysis is not available to the particularist. the answer is fairly straightforward. For example. just in case it could justify (or require) greater sacrifices.

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