Conative Transcendental Arguments and the Question Whether There Can Be External Reasons

In Robert Stern (ed.), Transcendental Arguments: Problems and Prospects. Oxford University Press. pp. 271--292 (1999)
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A characterization of transcendental arguments is proffered, whereby they yield conclusions about how things are via intermediate conclusions about how we must think that they are. A variant kind of argument is then introduced. Arguments of this variant kind are dubbed ‘conative’ transcendental arguments: these yield conclusions about how it is desirable for things to be via intermediate conclusions about how we must desire that they are. The prospects for conative transcendental arguments are considered. It is argued that, although they can never be of practical use, they may nevertheless be of use in dissolving certain applications of the debate—initiated by Bernard Williams—about whether anyone can have an ‘external’ reason to do anything, that is to say a reason that is not grounded in some desire of the person’s, in a suitably broad sense of ‘desire’. The relevance of conative transcendental arguments to this debate is that they highlight desires that we cannot help having and with respect to which the debate lacks any suitable focus. In the final section of the essay five conative transcendental arguments deriving from the work of five moral philosophers are briefly considered.

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