Action by Rowland Stout PDF

By Rowland Stout

ISBN-10: 1844653544

ISBN-13: 9781844653546

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According to the motivational structure I had back then there was a reason for me to work hard even though I had not worked it out as such then. But suppose instead that I had valued above all else membership of some social group, a group whose nature as a forum for having a good time and developing one’s experiences of life would have been undermined by working hard on one’s degree. And suppose I knew that this was incompatible with being a high achiever, but I genuinely did not care. Then there would have been nothing in my motivational structure that would connect with the idea that getting a good degree was a reason to work hard.

Rather than worry about this last step I propose to focus on the first three stages of the argument. These stages exactly mirror a very famous argument presented by Hume in his Treatise of Human Nature. It is his argument for what we now call ethical noncognitivism: the view that moral judgements cannot be derived from reason alone. For our purposes, its significance is that the central premise of Hume’s argument, namely that reason alone cannot motivate action, threatens the outward-looking rationalistic approach to agency of Anscombe and others.

The example of picking up a pen because I want to sign my name is obviously an example of an instrumental action. But when I pick up the pen just because I feel like it, there is still a belief and desire that can figure as reasons for doing what I do: the desire to pick up the pen and the belief that that is what I am doing. When an England football supporter cheers when England scores a goal they are not cheering in order to achieve some further end, although in some cases they might be. But they must both want to cheer an England goal and believe that that is what they are doing.

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Action by Rowland Stout

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