Reasons and Purposes: Human Rationality and the Teleological Explanation of Action

By G. F. Schueler | Go to book overview

4 Explanations in Terms of the Agent's Reasoning

The point made in Chapter 3 , that explanations of actions in terms of the agent's reasons are inherently evaluative, is in fact implicit in the account of practical reasoning that emerged earlier, even if we set aside the necessity of referring to the agent's character in the way just explained. It was argued above that practical reasoning necessarily involves an evaluative element. It was also claimed that this point is in no way undercut by the fact that it is often correct to describe the agent's reasons, from an observer's point of view so to speak, in terms of her pro attitudes toward something. I want now to explain these points in more detail. We will need eventually to look carefully at the issue of how the fact that practical reasoning must include evaluative elements shows that explanations of actions in terms of the agent's reasons are themselves inherently evaluative. But we can put that issue aside for the moment and look at the claim that practical reasoning must include an evaluative element. The most straightforward place to start is with the so-called 'practical syllogism', since it is often taken as a paradigm example of practical reasoning and, as usually described, seems to lack any evaluative element.


4.1 Problems With the Practical Syllogism

It is obvious that there are instances of genuine, explicit practical deliberation that result in actions. (People at least sometimes do actually take their mothers' advice and think before they act.) As we will see below, this a crucial fact for understanding explanations of actions in terms of agents' reasons. At the same time, probably as with any sort of reasoning, those engaged in actual practical deliberation will occasionally leave many or even sometimes all of the essential steps unstated, even 'to themselves'. Likewise, there are probably

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Reasons and Purposes: Human Rationality and the Teleological Explanation of Action
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Reasons and Purposes iii
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Contents xiii
  • 1: Purposes, Causes, and Reasons Explanations 1
  • 2: Non-Teleological Explanations of Actions 21
  • 3: Teleological Explanations of Actions 56
  • 4: Explanations in Terms of the Agent's Reasoning 88
  • 5: The Inherently Normative Nature of Action Explanations 138
  • Bibliography 166
  • Index 172
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