Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Acting for the right reason

I'm not really opposed to the idea that motivating reasons are psychological states of an agent, but there's this argument that's supposed to show that this view cannot be right:

1. Normative reasons are facts and in deliberation they can be represented in the contents of the relevant mental states.
2. The psychologized view of motivating reasons alleges that mental states are what constitute motivating reasons in third-person rationalizing explanations.
3. There is a categorical divide between mental states and mental contents.
C. Therefore, the motivating reasons which rationally explain an agent's actions can never themselves be nor represent any normative reasons for action.

This is an odd argument for someone to give when he seems to think that arguments from error do show that motivating reasons are not the facts that are represented in the contents of the relevant mental states when the facts don't fit the agent's relative beliefs.* Doesn't the argument above work just as well when reformulated as follows:

1'. Normative reasons are facts and in deliberation they can be represented in the contents of the relevant mental states.
2'. The abstractionist view of motivating reasons alleges that the contents of mental states are what constitute motivating reasons in third-person rationalizing explanations.
3'. There is a categorical divide between the facts that constitute normative reasons and the contents of mental states.
C'. Therefore, the motivating reasons which rationally explain an agent's actions can never themselves be nor represent any normative reasons for action.

It seems we have an argument that you either ought to deny 1. or deny that the conclusions of these arguments matter. Myself, I can't see why the conclusions of these arguments matter because it seems that the conclusions of these arguments are perfectly consistent with a view that says that there's still a perfectly good sense in which we can act for the right reasons--that happens when the facts fit the mental states that represent those facts as reasons in reasoning.

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* This argument is odd also because it denies that the mental states that provide the reasons we reason from represent the facts that the first premise says are our normative reasons. Suppose I agree that there's no univocal sense in which my belief that p and the proposition that p represent the same thing. That's consistent with saying that there's a sense in which my belief that p represents X and a sense in which it is the proposition that p that represents X. These are just different senses. But, given the availability of the different senses, it seems that there's a sense in which someone who opts for a psychologized conception of practical reasons can represent normative reasons.

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