Rice Unconventional Wisdom

Reasoning First, February 17, 2017, 4:15 PM - 6:15 PM

Lecture/Lecture Series


Pamela Hieronymi
Professor of Philosophy

From: University of California Los Angeles

Humanities Building

Philosophers have been fascinated, lately, with reasons, as such. Though we boast a long history of attention to Reason, and even to reasoning, the current interest is in reasons—not particular reasons, but reasons as a class, reasons per se. While we would do well to consider both how we were led to this interest in reasonsology and what we hope to gain from it, I will not directly pursue those questions. I will instead suggest we should think about reasons, as such, differently than many now do. Many now think of reasons as facts, propositions, or considerations standing in some relation to attitudes, actions, states of affairs and/or rational agents. The relation may be an explanatory one or what is sometimes called a “normative” one, such as the “counting in favor of,” “supporting,” or “justifying” relation. This model of reasons raises a host of questions and problems, which I will sketch (not least, how to understand “normativity”). I will suggest that we should, instead, see reasons as items in pieces of (actual or possible) reasoning. Reasons thus relate, in the first instance, not to states or events or states of affairs (psychological or otherwise), but rather to questions. The relation they bear to a question is neither explanatory nor “normative.” (If we must give it a label, we could call it “rational”—but this will not be informative.) By thus reconceiving reasons, we avoid some of the vexed problems that arise on other models. We also put certain ambitions—ambitions that might be driving some of the interest in reasons per se—out of reach.