Group-based reasons for action

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 6 (2):215-229 (2003)
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Abstract

This article endorses a familiar, albeit controversial, argument for the existence of group-based reasons for action, but then rejects two doctrines which other advocates of such reasons usually accept. One such doctrine is the willingness requirement, which says that a group-based reason exists only if (sufficient) other members of the group in question are willing to cooperate. Thus the paper argues that there is sometimes a reason, which derives from the rationality of some group action, to play one's part unilaterally in that group action. This seems implausible only because we tend wrongly to accept a second doctrine, monism about the unit of agency. Monism claims that, for any given deliberative problem, there is only one unit of agency to which reasons attach. If we are monists who believe in group-based reasons, the willingness requirement will seem necessary in order to avoid recklessness. We should reject monism, and if we do so we can recognise genuine conflict between individual-based and group-based reasons, and in doing so we can explain, without endorsing the willingness requirement, why we should not act recklessly.

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Christopher Woodard
Nottingham University

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