On the Social Status of Reasons
Mark Risjord has argued that we should not regard explanations of intentional behaviour that appeal to reasons as causal explanations. His approach is to differentiate between the possession of pro-attitudes (usually belief-desire pairs) and having reasons for action. In his view, although having a pro-attitude can cause an action and thereby figure in a causal explanation, having a pro-attitude is not sufficient for having a reason for action. For a pro-attitude to count as a reason it must satisfy certain social conditions. In his view, the social status of reasons precludes regarding them as causes, in which case explanations appealing to an agent’s reasons cannot be causal explanations. I argue that Risjord’s approach is unsuccessful because it works with an excessively thick conception of normativity and because the contrast he identifies between reasons and pro-attitudes is extremely unstable in fairly simple explanatory contexts. While some minimal degree of rationality must be present in order to regard a pro-attitude as a reason, this can involve a fairly radical disconnect between an agent and his or her community, in which case reasons need not be as deeply social as Risjord assumes.
Keywords: Reason, Cause, Explanation, Normativity
Dr. Neil Campbell
Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Wilfrid Laurier University