Prudential Reasons

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 10 (1):63 - 81 (1980)
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Several authors, including Thomas Nagel and David Gauthier, have defended the view that reasons of self-interest (prudential reasons) are rationally binding. That is, there is always a reason, bearing on the rational advisability, based on one's self-interest and, as a result, a person may act irrationally by knowingly acting against such reasons regardless of the person's desires or values. Both Nagel and Gauthier argue from the rationally mandatory nature of prudential reasons to the conclusion that moral reasons can be rationally mandatory, challenging the neo-Humean position that practical reasons that bear on an agent's rationality are essentially grounded on the agent's subjective, contingent, conative states. I argue, pace Nagel and Gauthier, that prudential reasons are not rationally mandatory--that the rational requirement to act in one's own interest, when it exists, is, as the neo-Humean insists, grounded on one's subjective, contingent, conative states. Prudential reasons are not reasons for every (conceivable) agent--not in the sense that bears on the rational advisability of action.

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Donald Hubin
Ohio State University


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