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Realism, Rational Action, and the Humean Theory of Motivation
Author(s): Melissa BarryReviewed work(s):Source: Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol. 10, No. 3, Papers presented at the AnnualConference of the British Society for Ethical Theory, Southampton, July 2006 (June 2007),pp. 231-242Published by: SpringerStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40602508 .Accessed: 15/10/2012 22:59Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. .Springer is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Ethical Theory and MoralPractice.http://www.jstor.org
Ethic Theory Moral Prac (2007) 10:231-242 DOI 1 0. 1 007/s 1 0677-007-9074-6 Realism, Rational Action, and the Humean Theory of Motivation Melissa Barry Accepted: 4 April 2007 /Published online: 5 June 2007 © Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2007 Abstract Realists about practical reasons agree that judgments regarding reasons are beliefs. They disagree, however, over the question of how such beliefs motivate rational action. Some adopt a Humean conception of motivation, according to which beliefs about reasons must combine with independently existing desires in order to motivate rational action; others adopt an anti-Humean view, according to which beliefs can motivate rational action in their own right, either directly or by giving rise to a new desire that in turn motivates the action. I argue that the realist who adopts a Humean model for explaining rational action will have a difficult time giving a plausible account of the role that desire plays in this explanation. I explore four interpretations of this role and argue that none allows a Humean theory to explain rational action as convincingly as an anti-Humean theory does. The first two models, in different ways, make acting on a reason impossible. The third allows this possibility, but only by positing a reason-sensitive desire that itself demands an explanation. The fourth avoids this explanatory challenge only by retreating to an empty form of the Humean view. In contrast, an anti-Humean theory can provide an intuitively plausible explanation of rational action. I conclude that the realist about reasons should adopt an anti-Humean theory to explain rational action. Keywords Anti-Humean theory of motivation • Belief-desire model • Explanation of rational action • Desire • Humean theory of motivation • Normative belief- Realism • Reasons According to the realist, reasons for action are truths about which considerations count in favor of acting. While realism has the benefit of capturing certain common intuitions about the objectivity of reason judgments, it faces the challenge of explaining how these judgments motivate rational action. For the realist, judgments about reasons are beliefs. The M. Barry (El) Department of Philosophy, Williams College, Williamstown, MA 01267, USA e-mail: mbarry@williams.edu Present address: M. Barry Department of Philosophy, 208 Emerson Hall, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA â Springer
232 M. Barry worry is that there is a gap between beliefs about reasons and rational action that realism has difficulty crossing in an intuitively plausible way. If the realist is to explain how such beliefs give rise to rational action, she needs to supplement her account of normative reasons with an account of motivation that specifies which psychological elements are responsible for generating rational action.1 One familiar option is the Humean theory of motivation, according to which belief in a reason combines with an independently existing desire…