Thu Oct 4, 2012
Howison Library, 4:10–6 PM
Julia Markovits (MIT)
What is it to have a reason to do something? is one sort of question; what is it we have reason to do? is another. The two questions can be, and often are, explored separately. But our answers to these two different questions may turn out not to be independent: what reasons are may have implications for what reasons there are. So the door is opened to a troubling kind of tension – it could be that the account of what reasons are that is most plausible in its own right entails a view of what we have reason to do that is independently implausible. In fact, it looks very much like this is the case.
I will defend a version of a (loosely-speaking) desire-based, internalist, account of what normative reasons are. But does that account entail that there are no moral reasons that apply to all of us, regardless of what we happen to desire? It may look obvious that it does, and that a bullet must be bitten somewhere, either in our metaethical or in our first-order moral theory. If having a reason depends on having a relevant desire, and if desires differ from person to person, there seems to be no basis for assuming that everyone has reason to be moral. But looks can be deceiving, and the bullet may yet be avoided. That, in any case, is what I hope to suggest. I aim to provide an internalist defense of universal, or categorical, moral reasons.