Reasons and Motivation
Parfit (Derek)
Source: Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 71 (1997), pp. 99-146
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. As rational beings, we can ask:
    → What do we have most reason to want, and do?
    → What is it most rational for us to want, and do?
  2. These questions differ in only one way. While reasons are provided by the facts, the rationality of our desires and acts depends instead on what we believe, or-given the evidence, ought rationally to believe. When we believe the relevant facts, these questions have the same answers. In other cases, it can be rational to want, or do, what we have no reason to want, or do. Thus, if I believe falsely that my hotel is on fire, it may be rational for me to jump into the canal; but I may have no reason to jump. Since beliefs aim at truth, and to be rational is to respond to reasons, it is the first question that is fundamental.
  3. This question is about normative reasons. When we have such a reason, and we act for that reason, it becomes our motivating reason. But we can have either kind of reason without having the other. Thus, if I jump into the canal, my motivating reason was provided by my belief; but I had no normative reason to jump. I merely thought I did. And, if I failed to notice that the canal was frozen, I had a reason not to jump that, because it was unknown to me, did not motivate me.
  4. Though we can have normative reasons without being motivated, and vice versa, such reasons are closely related to our motivation. There are, however, very different views about what this relation is. This disagreement raises wider questions about what normative reasons are, and about which reasons there are. After sketching some of these views, I shall discuss some arguments by Williams, and then say where, in my opinion, the truth lies.


See "Broome (John) - Reasons and Motivation" for a reply.

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