Reasons and Causes
Book: A Companion to the Philosophy of Action
Each of the two main terms in this entry’s title has multiple senses. In the context of human action, ‘reasons’ can refer to normative reasons, or the conditions (generally external to the agent’s psychological states) that rationally or morally justify a particular course of action for an agent in a given circumstance, whether or not the course of action is taken or the agent even acknowledges the existence of the reason. ‘Reasons’ can also refer to motivational reasons, the agent’s own reasons for doing what he does, wise or foolish as it may be. In this latter sense, ‘an agent's having reason R for doing A’ is a psychological state or set of states (such as beliefs, desires, and intentions) that motivates the agent toward, and potentially explains, certain courses of action. It is this latter sense of ‘reason’ that is in view here (for further discussion of this distinction, see chapters 19 and 5 ). ‘Causes’ is employed in multiple senses as well in the context of the explanation of actions, and these will be adumbrated over the course of this essay.