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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 3. Reasons Sub Specie Boni: A Constructive Criticism


The main alternative to the desire-belief model of practical reasons is the sub-specie-boni model. It is inspired by Anscombe’s analysis of intentions (Anscombe 1957/2000), and comprises a Wittgensteinian approach to the meaning of mental concepts with a neo-Aristotelian account of objective values and of practical reasoning.79 Despite its ties to a purposive understanding of agency, the sub-specie-boni model of practical reasons differs in important respects from the desire-belief model. It is teleological rather than consequentialist. In addition, although Anscombe’s concept of practical reasoning is partly characterized as a form of means-end reasoning, it is very different from the accounts of instrumental rationality tied to the desire-belief model of practical reasons. From Anscombe’s theoretical point of view, those conceptions are not practical at all, but theoretical, whereas her conception is presented as genuinely practical.

Towards the end of this chapter, the sub-specie-boni model of practical reasons will be criticized for similar reasons as the desire-belief-model: it neglects reactive reasons and impersonal reasons, especially of the rule-based type. The aim of the chapter, again, is not to argue that the model is false tout court, but rather that it is unsatisfying in contexts of social agency.

The general Wittgensteinian approach80 to cognitive and rational aspects of human agency, however, generates many fruitful insights that can be developed further for a constructive analysis of social agency, especially if practical reasons are conceived of as public standards of assessments for practical judgments and deliberation rather than mental states...

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