Evaluative Beliefs First

Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 8 (forthcoming)
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Many philosophers think that it is only because we happen to want or care about things that we think some things of value. We start off caring about things, and then project these desires onto the external world. In this chapter, I make a preliminary case for the opposite view, that it is our evaluative thinking that is prior or comes first. On this view, it is only because we think some things of value that we care about or want anything at all. This view is highly explanatory. In particular, it explains (i) the special role that pleasure and pain play in our motivational systems, (ii) why phenomenal consciousness evolved, and (iii) how the two main competing theories of normative reasons for action—i.e., objectivism and subjectivism—can be reconciled. After explaining why this is so, I respond to the most serious objections to this view, including that it cannot account for temptation and willpower, or for the existence and appropriateness of the reactive attitudes.

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Ben Bramble
Australian National University


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