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Internal reasons

Metaethics course.
by

Francisco Gallego

on 21 December 2012

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Transcript of Internal reasons

Bernard Williams in : Internal & external reasons Against Externalism Argument reconstruction & the argument unfolds Shafer-Landau's article The explanation of Williams' internal reasons thesis reads: it is unintelligible to suppose that something could genuinely be a reason for me to act which yet had no relation either to anything I care about, nor to anything that I might, without brainwashing or other violence to my deliberative capacities, come to care about.

He turns to admit what is his main stance about externalism. In "Moral Luck" we read the following: “no external reason statement could by itself offer an explanation of anyone's action.”
(Williams, 1981, 106). External reasons statements can be true independently of the agent's motivations. However, nothing can explain an agent's (intentional) actions except something that motivates him to act.
“So something else is needed besides the truth of the external reason statement to explain action, some psychological link.” (ibid, 107)

This would seem to be a belief. However, is the belief that a particular consideration a reason for the agent to act? Probably not, but for the sake of the argument Williams admits it. If so, then it would be so plausible that we could say that the agent has an appropriate motivation in his S, otherwise stated, “an internal reason statement could truly be made” (idem).

The content of the external reason statement would be revealed “by considering what it is to come to believe such a statement” (ibid, 108). As Williams understands it, “coming to believe” would involve acquiring a new motivation. According to Hume reasons cannot give rise to a motivation, but the external reasons theorists opposes this view by conceiving “in a special way” the link between acquiring a motivation and coming to believe the reason statement. It is essential that the agent acquires the motivation because he comes to believe the reason statement, which is the same as saying that the agent had deliberated correctly.

This implies the claim that “if the agent rationally deliberated, then, whatever motivations he originally had, he would come to be motivated to (act)”. (ibid, 109).
But this seems to be a circular argumentation.
If the argument up to this point makes sense, then it is very plausible to suppose that all external reasons are false. For external reason statements to be true, then it must be possible to rationally arrive to a new motivation granted the earlier ones and the kind of rational relation should not be the one proposed by the deliberative path, as that would imply that the internal reason statement would have been true since the beginning. According to Williams reasons bear a necessary connection to our capacities for motivation, which must be understood by reference to our capacities for rational deliberation. The way Williams understands rational deliberation is important, for it must be rooted in one's existing motivations to be considered rational.

That is, all motivation that is deliberately unrelated to those already existing motivations cannot be hold as rational. (Shafer-Landau, 2011)

The criticism of externalism is basically that it allows for ‘browbeating’; for criticizing someone for failing to adhere to reasons whose existence he denies (Williams 1981: 105–6). Externalism allows for this because it allows for the existence of reasons that have no appropriate link to an individual's motivations.Internalism is thought to prevent this, because on its view all reasons must be within deliberative reach of the agent for whom they are reasons. The problem with blame There is a further implication that needs to be considered, that is the one of blame. If the conclusion depicted above is true, then there will be no possibility of deploying the notion of blame in the way that the morality system wants to deploy it. “Blame involves treating the person who is blamed like someone who had a reason to do the right thing but did not do it” (Making Sense of Humanity, 42). But in cases where someone had no internal reason to do (what we take to be) the right thing that they did not do, it was not in fact true that they had any reason to do that thing; for internal reasons are the only reasons. How can be say that someone has to have that reason if reasons are something completely changeable from one person to another? Threat to rationalism Williams poses a threat to the tradition of rationalism in ethics, which insists that if moral demands cannot be founded on moral reasons, then there is something fundamentally suspect about morality itself. Moral demands, for example the demand not to rob banks (following Williams' example), are not grounded on universally-applicable moral reasons. Williams seems to agree with the Humean idea that empathy is a better way to ground moral demands than the appeal to reasons.

The apparent solution to the rationalistic threat was based on the presupposition that as a rational agent living withing a similar society to ours the bankrobber would follow the same sound deliberative route. The problem is that the applicability of moral reasons is conditional on people's actual motivations, and local to those people who have the right motivations. But it seems to be a central thought about moral reasons, as they have traditionally been understood, that they should be unconditionally and universally overriding Implications A way to escape this is to describe a common human or agent nature, that is to say that every person fundamentally has the same motivations. This answer suits the Aristotelians and the Kantians alike, however even if both theories of practical reason don't invoke to external reasons, they are simply not right.

Reasons for action, given one's circumstances, are something different for every individual. The S (subjective motivational set) differs from individual to individual, thus a generalization of what any agent would choose cannot be done. This is the same as to say that there is no human nature, but a plurality of individuals crisscrossed by difference (a pluralist society if we are to take it to the philosophical political realm).

If there is no absolute conception of ethics available there won't be an idea of impartiality to refer to. Agents' reasons, and what agents' reasons can become, will always be relativised to their particular contexts and their particular lives, which means nothing else that we are facing a historicised way of doing ethics. (1929-2003) References Questions Is it by morally educating our children that we will make them have an appropriate S?
Can we speak of such a thing as an appropriate S? How to acquire it?
If not, isn't morality a matter of mere luck?
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