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Social Agency and Practical Reasons

A Practice Account

Christine Chwaszcza

Tying in with major traditions of ordinary language philosophy, the author presents an account of practical reasons in social agency that radically challenges the two mainstream accounts of practical reasons, the desire-belief model and the neo-Aristotelian «sub-specie-boni» model of practical reasons. She argues that the traditional focus on instrumental rationality and teleological reasoning ignores important types of non-purposive and agent-related reasons that play a major role in rule-based context of social agency and reciprocal interaction. The argument contributes to the analysis of promising and social conventions, reconstructions of acting together and shared intentions, and develops a new account of institutional and rule-based agency in terms of non-moral normativity.

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Chapter 2. Conventions, Rules, and the Limits of the Desire-Belief Model of Practical Reasons

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As argued in the preceding chapter, social agency is to a large extent embedded in rule-guided practices. In other words, social agency is largely conventional. How do conventions relate to the concept of practical reasons? The function or point of conventions and non-moral rules is, as I will argue, to replace personal reasons. “Replacing”, here, is not to be understood as “eliminating”. The point of conventions is to facilitate intersubjective coordination by articulating general and usually impersonal standards for the choice of actions. Conventions and non-moral rules function as sources of practical reasons that apply to all relevant agents in the relevant type of situation independently of whatever personal aims or goals they follow or pursue. Conventional reasons in this sense are impersonal.

The function of conventions, I will argue, has not been sufficiently appreciated in any of the major approaches to the analysis of social agency. This neglect is most evident in the implicit assumption of mainstream approaches that conventional reasons must somehow fit the desire-belief model of practical reasons, which I think articulates a paradigm model for personal reasons.

The main shortcoming of the desire-belief model of practical reasons is two-fold. First, its purposive structure and the accompanying restriction on various forms of instrumental rationality (means-end reasoning) miss important aspects of the cognitive structure of social agency. Second, insofar as desire-belief reasons are understood to articulate a subjective aim or interest of the agent that explains the choice of a particular action,...

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