Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Normal human limitations mean that when people decide how to act, they often have to base their decisions on flawed information or reasoning. Even when agents reason to the best of their ability, and form intentions consistent with that reasoning, they sometimes get things wrong. Dominant theories about reasons for action argue that all good, or ‘normative’, reasons for acting are objective normative reasons. But objective normative reasons for action are derived from facts about the world that ignore certain facts about human agents. On these accounts of reasons, real human agents can be unable to learn what they have normative reason to do. A common response to this problem is to say that in such situations people act in a praiseworthy way, but their actions are based on false beliefs, and false beliefs cannot be good reasons. I argue that when agents reason to the best of their ability and form intentions consistent with that reasoning, agents act appropriately in response to states of the world that are normative reasons for action. To support my claim, I develop an account of what I call ‘justifiable reasons’, normative reasons for action that human agents can always use as a basis for action, and the form of reason that underpins rationality.
I discuss the similarities and differences between my account of justifiable reasons and several approaches to reasons that resemble my account. I show that, in spite of objections, justifiable reasons are normative reasons, not motivating reasons. Accounts of subjective normative reasons are based on examples that look similar to mine. So, I explain why justifiable reasons are not subjective normative reasons. Some features of internal reasons also resemble features of justifiable reasons. But, I show that there is nothing about justifiable reasons that entails that they must be internal or external reasons. I take it that justifiable and objective normative reasons serve different purposes, so I explain these different purposes. Finally, I argue in support of my claim that to be rational, agents must act appropriately in response to justifiable reasons.
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