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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 4. Outline of a Practice Account of Reasons in Social Agency


This chapter returns to the question left at the end of chapter 2 concerning the structure of practical reasons in conventional settings that are rule-guided. The analysis of the reciprocity-aspect, however, has to wait for the next chapter, because I will first explicate the concept of rule-based reasons. At the end of the chapter I will propose an analysis of reasons for reciprocity that differs from Lewis’ concept of “common knowledge”. I will argue that the rationale for engaging in reciprocal activities is “that other agents do so too”. In the terminology of chapter 2, such a rationale qualifies as an “external reason” insofar as its content mentions actions and reasons of other agents, in contrast to purposive reasons that mention a desire (or interest) or a goal of the agent herself.124 An important aspect of my analysis of reactive reasons concerns their interpretation and role in rule-based interactions in large groups of agents, which are characteristic for many contexts of social agency, but differ from the examples of face-to-face interaction in Gilbert and Bratman.

Unfortunately, defense of external reasons cannot be presented as a neat or concise argument. It requires first and foremost that we overcome the tendency to think of practical rationality exclusively in terms of instrumental rationality as in the desire-belief model of reasoning or means-end reasoning as in the sub-specie-boni model of practical reasons. My first task, therefore, is an exploration into the territory of alternative types of practical reasons, i.e. external...

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