On the Objectivist view, what makes something count as a reason? When I say, "You have a reason not to beat your wife", why is that the case? Is it because you have a motive/set of preferences that contradict that action, or is it some external fact that gives you this reason independent of your preferences? I am thinking that maybe, on the Objectivist view, what it would mean to have a reason to do something is similar to what it means to value something: you are a being with certain goals and there are facts about how that goal can be achieved (which are external), and so neither "internalism" nor "externalism" about reasons gives the full picture. Is this correct?
This is the alternative as put forth by Bernard Williams (in his paper Internal and External Reasons) with regard to what reasons could be:
"The internal reasons thesis is a view about how to read sentences of the form “A has reason to ?”. We can read such sentences as implying that “A has some motive which will be served or furthered by his ?ing” (1981: 101), so that, if there is no such motive, it will not be true that “A has reason to ?”. This is the internal interpretation of such sentences. We can also read sentences of the form “A has reason to ?” as not implying this, but as saying that A has reason to ? even if none of his motives will be served or furthered by his ?ing. This is the external interpretation of such sentences, on which, according to Williams, all such sentences are false."
A reason is a fact informing and motivating a particular decision.
Consider when someone asks a "why" question: "Why did you take this exit?" "Because I'm hungry and there was a sign back there indicating food." The reasons are the facts informing and motivating a particular choice.
Explaining an action requires indicating reasons. Given a sufficient marshaling and integration of reasons, a particular action becomes the obvious choice.
When we say "there are good reasons not to do X," we are simply saying that there are facts, which if observed and properly considered, would motivate a rational person not to do X.
The above content regarding "internal" and "external" reasons isn't really relevant, except that a personal motive, unanalyzed, should not rationally be considered to be a reason for doing something. "Why did you hit her?" "I was mad at her." Here, an emotion is being presented as a reason. Yes, the emotion is a fact, but it is left unexamined, and so cannot, alone, be rationally used as a moral excuse for striking a woman. "She had a knife, and was cutting my thumb off." is an actual, moral reason.
Emotions, unexamined, cannot stand as reasons.
answered May 08 '12 at 09:34
John Paquette ♦
I see two aspects in this question: the linguistic aspect (meaning of "a reason" or "reasons"), and the views of Bernard Williams (1929-2003).
The linguistic issue centers around what people mean when they say something like, "Person 'A' has a reason (or reasons) to perform (or not perform) some action 'B'." Linguistically, people may mean either or both of the following:
(1) 'A' has "a motive/set of preferences that motivate (or contradict) that action," or
(2) There is some "external fact that gives 'A' this reason independent of his preferences." (I.e., it can serve his life if he understands and accepts it, even if he does not yet see such a connection.)
The linguistic issue is further complicated by the question's attempt to focus specifically on an Objectivist view, if any, of which meaning is endorsed (or not) by Objectivism. In everyday usage, the context normally makes clear (or ought to) which usage is intended by whoever is expressing the thought. Ambiguity could be a problem if the speaker is equivocating in some way essential to his overall view, in which case the speaker would need to sharpen the precision of his choice of words and/or clarify the context.
Objectivism, as far as I know, takes no position on the linguistic issue (since linguistics is really one of the special sciences), although Objectivism has a great deal to say about what constitutes a valid reason or not (for anything, not just human motives). "Reason" does, after all, have a wider "causality" usage beyond its applicability to motives. For example, it is common to observe that phenomenon 'X' happens because of some causal factor 'Y', with 'Y' considered to be the "reason" that 'X' happened or existed. Moreover, Objectivism is generally more concerned with "reason" as the name of man's distinctive cognitive faculty, rather than with the linguistic issue of what "having a reason" means. ("Reason" also has a verb or participle usage, of course, as in "ability to reason" and "the reasoning mind.")
The question also includes an excerpt purportedly written by, or summarizing the views of, Bernard Williams. When I checked the topic of "Bernard Williams" in Wikipedia for additional understanding, I found a clearer picture of what his views were. Here is a key excerpt from Wikipedia:
Reasons for action
Another Wikipedia topic, "Internalism and Externalism," provides further insight. Here is a sampling:
The Objectivist view (as I understand it) is that man's higher-level choices and actions are the result of his chosen values (often automatized) and of his continuous and ultimate choice to focus (or remain in focus) or not. In that respect, man's choices and actions are, indeed, the result of factors within man's consciousness. But Objectivism also holds that consciousness is consciousness of existence, and existence provides reasons for acting, too, insofar as existence is comprehended by man's consciousness. Man's ultimate value is his life (though he may not fully realize it explicitly), and man faces the alternative of life or death continually. Normally man will seek to remain alive, and that endeavor will drive innumerable further choices and actions by man in relation to all the other conditions of man's existence, as man comprehends and experiences them.
Regarding one who "wants to follow the moral law," Objectivism recognizes that everyone does, indeed, have a choice about what values and moral principles to accept and follow. Morality, in Objectivism, is "a code of values accepted by choice." All too often, philosophical arguments over internal or external "reasons" (and similar debates) tend to disregard the element of conscious choice and free will in man's motives and actions, treating man (in effect, if not always explicitly) as some kind of deterministic automaton (who, at best, can be influenced in action by physical force applied to him, just as the path of a billiard ball can be affected by collisions with other billiard balls).
If the question is, "What is the cause of human action," the answer is man -- first and foremost -- man acting in response to his conscious choices and comprehension of reality. But man's "reasons for acting" include external elements, as well, insofar as man is aware of them and chooses to comprehend their meaning and implications. Man also has the capacity to "act on whim" in a state of mental drift (out of focus), with disastrous consequences wherever thinking is needed for man's survival, as it always is eventually. Man learns not to act on whim, and survives; or he doesn't learn, and perishes.
answered May 10 '12 at 00:43
Ideas for Life ♦