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Practical Reason and the Conditions of Agency

Lavin, Douglas (2005) Practical Reason and the Conditions of Agency. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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How ought one to act? What is action? This dissertation is about how far an answer to the second question can take us towards an answer to the first. Many philosophers think that an answer to the metaphysical question about the nature of action can take us very far towards an answer to the ordinary question about how to act. There are two popular ways of developing this idea. According to neo-Kantianism, agency presupposes the capacity to engage in non-instrumental forms of practical thought. According to neo-Humeanism, agency is limited to the capacity to engage in instrumental thought. In this dissertation, I criticize each of these and offer a better alternative. With the neo-Humean and against the neo-Kantian, I argue that non-instrumental practical thought is not necessary for agency. And with the neo-Kantian but against the neo-Humean, I argue that non-instrumental practical thought is possible. Attempts to answer "How ought one to act?" by answering "What is action?" are attempts to explain how something ought to be through an account of what something is. Neo-Kantians and neo-Humeans focus on action because they think this: what practical reason requires of some agent it requires of all conceivable agents. Action seems to be the best place to look to ground norms with the relevant scope. However, in order to combine the insights of each-namely that non-instrumental practical thought is not necessary, though still possible-we have to give up on this conception of the scope of practical requirements. And if we do, we are left with the task of finding other features of ourselves, say, our humanity, to ground the robust standards of moral life.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Lavin, Douglasdglphl@pitt.eduDGLPHL
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairThompson, Michael
Committee MemberWhiting, Jennifer
Committee MemberMcDowell, John
Committee MemberEngstrom, Stephen
Date: 4 February 2005
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 9 December 2004
Approval Date: 4 February 2005
Submission Date: 7 December 2004
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: action; ethics; practical reason
Other ID:, etd-12072004-152920
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:08
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:53


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