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Swimming Upstream – Problems for Smith’s Account of the Nature of Reasons

(Original title: Swimming Upstream – Problems for Smith’s Account of the Nature of Reasons)
Organon F, 2008, vol. 15, No 3, pp. 283-294.
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In an account of what we might call fundamental practical normativity, it is helpful, I think, to distinguish between the normativity of reasons and that of rationality. But when we do so the question of the relation between these two realms arises: are these two independent kinds of normativity? Can we account for the normativity of rationality in terms of the normativity of reasons? Or is it the other way around; is ra­tionality explanatorily prior to reasons? This paper discusses a positive answer to the last of these questions. In a number of articles, as well as in his first book, Michael Smith has argued that the nature of reasons can be accounted for in terms of ideal rationality. The image of a fully rational version of an agent, A, can help us understand what the claim that A has a reason to Φ amounts to. In fact, Smith suggests, claiming that A has reason to Φ amounts saying no more or no less than that A’s ideally rational self would want A (as he is now) to Φ. In what follows, I argue that Smith is unsuccessful in his analysis of normative reasons in terms of full rationality, and that the failure of his analysis leaves his closely related argument for normative judgement internalism unconvincing.

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