"Reasoning, Inference and the Ontology of Reasons"


Mar. 5, 2024, 3pm to 5pm

Office/Remote Location

Room 138


Marc Moffett, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Texas, El Paso

The question of what kind of things reasons are – the ontology of reasons – is not independent of the question how one thinks actions and beliefs are justified. This is particularly true if one accepts (as I do) Dancy’s Unity of Reasons thesis:

There is one kind of reason for acting/believing that can function as both a motivating reason and a normative reason.

Motivating reasons are reasons that that rationally explain why someone X-ed, while normative reasons account for why someone should or should not X (things that “count in favor of” X-ing). As Dancy notes, it would be possible to act for good reasons (and surely it is possible) only if motivating and normative reasons were of the same kind. While there may be room to resist Dancy’s reasoning, I propose to accept it. But accepting the Unity of Reasons seems inherently problematic: (1) On the one hand, it is immensely prima facie plausible that motivating reasons are psychological states; indeed, non-factive psychological states. (2) On the other hand, it is also immensely plausible that normative reasons are not psychological states, but rather the sorts of things that can be invoked in logical and practical reasoning in support of X-ing. And it is standardly thought that what is invoked in reasoning are propositions or, perhaps, states-of-affairs. Consequently, any philosopher who takes her cue from the naïve ontology of motivating reasons, will find pressure to explain how psychological states can serve as normative reasons.

Similarly, any philosopher who takes her cue from the naïve ontology of normative reasons, will find pressure to explain how propositions (or states-of-affairs) can serve as motivating reasons. (The schadenfreude of disunity theorists is palpable.)

In this paper, I am going to give a partial defense of psychologicism about reasons – the thesis that reasons are (non-factive) mental states – by arguing that the view of reasoning invoked in support of anti-psychologicism is overly simplistic. A realistic and fully developed theory of reasoning instead supports psychologicism. Specifically, I will argue that reasoning (or more specifically, inference) involves us in normative (justificatory) questions only insofar as we think of reasoning (inferring) as a cognitive act. Furthermore, the act of reasoning invokes ineliminable psychological states as motivating reasons for accepting (or rejecting) the results of our reasoning. That is, these psychological states are motivating reasons for our practically or logically inferring something. Removing them, moreover, would leave us without a good reason for so inferring. Thus, non-factive psychological states serve as both motivating and normative reasons for inferential acts. Finally, the normative status of any resulting states-of-affairs is at least partially inherited from the normative status of these underlying actions. On this basis, I conclude that reasoning and inference, properly considered, support psychologicism about reasons.



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