Con-reasons and the causal theory of action

Philosophical Explorations 18 (1):20-33 (2015)
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A con-reason is a reason which plays a role in motivating and explaining an agent's behaviour, but which the agent takes to count against the course of action taken. Most accounts of motivating reasons in the philosophy of action do not allow such things to exist. In this essay, I pursue two aims. First, I argue that, whatever metaphysical story we tell about the relation between motivating reasons and action, con- reasons need to be acknowledged, as they play an explanatory role not played by pro- reasons. Second, I respond to an argument recently developed by David-Hillel Ruben to the effect that a causal theory of action – still known as ‘the standard story’ – cannot account for con- reasons. His argument attempts to show that a fundamental principle of the causal theory cannot be reconciled with the role con- reasons play in a certain kind of imagined case. I first argue that a causal theorist is not, in fact, committed to the problematic.

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Jonathan D. Payton
Bilkent University


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