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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 5. Practical Reasons and the Rationality of Reciprocal Agency


Equipped with the results of the discussion of institutional and practice-based reasons, I will now turn to the problem of reciprocal compliance with rules. Discussions about the rationality of reciprocity are most frequently raised in connection with the analysis of collective action and collective goods. Since no individual can unilaterally establish or maintain a rule, compliance with rules can be understood to present a collective good that raises problems of collective action.

In a rather abstract sense, one could say that “having rules” is a collective good—at least if the rules serve an important pragmatic function and can be considered to be prima facie just or fair. Since conforming to rules, however, appears to be rational only if sufficiently many persons comply, “maintaining rules” presents a problem of collective action or of reciprocal willingness to comply with the rules. The question here, therefore, cannot be to show that “it is instrumentally rational to reciprocate when it is instrumentally rational to do so”.154 The very point of compliance with rules is that compliance requires rule-conforming conduct, even in situations where the agent cannot guarantee herself an immediate advantage by doing so, or when it is disadvantageous for her to comply. The challenge therefore is to explicate why—or rather “in what sense”—it can be said that agents have a practical reason to reciprocate compliance. An obvious candidate for the appropriate type of practical reasons is a reason of the form “Other agents are willing...

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