Elusive Reasons and the Motivational Constraint

Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 20 (1) (2021)
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Abstract

The motivational constraint on normative reasons says that a consideration is a normative reason for an agent to act only if it is logically possible for the agent to act for that reason, or at least to be moved so to act. The claim figures Zelig-like in philosophical debates about practical reasons: on hand, occasionally prominent, but never the focus of discussion. However, because it is entailed by a number of prominent views about normative reasons—including various forms of internalism and some views that closely connect reasons to good practical reasoning—its truth or falsehood has important implications. Mark Schroeder (2007) and Julia Markovits (2014) have recently criticized the Motivational Constraint on the grounds of so-called “elusive reasons”: reasons for some agent to act that are such that it is logically impossible both that they are normative reasons for that agent and the agent is moved to act for those reasons. In response, a number of philosophers (Sinclair 2016; Ridge and McKeever 2012; Paakkunainen 2017) have attempted to reconcile blindspot reasons with the motivational constraint. My aim in this paper is to show that these conciliatory strategies fail to overcome the challenge posed by elusive reasons. First, I examine each strategy and argue that it unsuccessful on its own terms. Second, I adduce another type of elusive reason not heretofore discussed in the literature, and I argue that these strategies also cannot make this kind of reason consistent with the motivational constraint. Finally, I defend the existence of this kind of reason against an important objection.

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Benjamin Rossi
Duke University

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