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Practical reason is the mental faculty that enables agents to deliberate about what they ought to do and to act on
the basis of such deliberation. Much of the philosophical investigation of practical reason and its limits has been
done in three historical traditions, originating from Aristotle, Hume, and Kant. This bibliography begins from
some of the most interesting recent publications within these traditions. It then moves on to the literature of the
different problem-centered debates concerning practical reason, practical reasoning, and rationality. The notion
of philosophy of practical reason has also been used more widely to cover philosophy of normativity generally,
that is, philosophical investigation about what we ought to do, what reasons we have, and so on. Two sections of
this bibliographyDualism of Practical Reason: Prudence versus Morality and Practical Reasonsinclude some
literature of the philosophy of practical reason in this wider sense.

There are several good overview articles on practical reason. Millgram 2001 is the most accessible introduction
to the alternative views about the norms governing practical reasoning. ONeill 1998 explains equally well the
difference between the theories that evaluate actions by their ends and the ones that assess the rationality of
actions more directly. Gosepath 2002 is a good guide to the most recent literature on practical reason, and it
also describes clearly the arguments against the so-called belief-desire model. Wallace 2008 is helpful on how
practical reason differs from theoretical reason, what the different views of rationality are, and how practical
reason relates to morality. Wallace 1990 is an excellent overview and clarification of the debates about the
motivating ability of practical reason. Kauppinen 2007 and Cullity and Gaut 1997 both explain the main
features of the Aristotelian, Humean, and Kantian theories of practical reason. The former concentrates more on
the metaethical implications of those theories (and the empirical research on the subject), whereas the latter is
better on the argumentation between them.
Cullity, Garrett, and Berys Gaut. Introduction. In Ethics and Practical Reason . Edited by Garrett
Cullity and Berys Gaut, 127. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.
This excellent article begins by explaining how normative and explanatory reasons have been claimed to
relate to practical reason, rationality, and motivation. It then examines the arguments for and against the
three main views about practical reason: instrumentalist Humeanism, recognitional Aristotelianism, and
constuctivist Kantianism.

Gosepath, Stefan. Practical Reason: A Review of the Current Debate and Problems. Philosophical

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Explorations 5.3 (2002): 229238.

Gosepaths fairly dense overview article has an extensive bibliography of the recent literature on practical
reason. It first explains the belief-desire model of practical reason and then goes through many of the
recent attacks on that model. Available online by subscription.

Kauppinen, Antti. Essays in Philosophical Moral Psychology. PhD diss., University of Helsinki,
The introduction to this PhD thesis offers a careful exposition of the major philosophical theories of
practical reason from a contemporary metaethical perspective. Section 2.3 is an excellent overview of the
recent empirical literature on practical deliberation.

Millgram, Elijah. Practical Reasoning: The Current State of Play. In Varieties of Practical

Reasoning . Edited by Elijah Millgram, 126. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.
Millgram provides an overview of the different views about what kinds of norms govern practical
reasoning. These views include nihilism (none), instrumentalism (means-ends norms), expected utility
maximization views, and Kantianism (universalizability). The article is very accessible, and it has an
extensive bibliography.

ONeill, Onora. Practical Reasoning and Ethics. In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Vol. 7.
Edited by Edward Craig, 613620. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.
This clear introductory article provides a helpful map of the different positions in the debates about the
nature of practical reason. The emphasis is on exploring the differences between the Humean
end-orientated and Kantian act-orientated models of practical reasoning.

Wallace, R. Jay. How to Argue about Practical Reason. Mind 99 (1990): 355385.
A thorough overview article about the recent discussions between those who think that pure practical
reason can itself give rise to motivation to act (rationalists) and those who think that reason must always be
aided by antecedent desires (Humeans). It is helpful for both explaining the relevant literature and
distinguishing between different aspects of the debate. Reprinted in Wallaces Normativity and the Will:

Selected Essays on Moral Psychology and Practical Reason (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

Wallace, R. Jay. Practical Reason. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . Edited by Edward
N. Zalta. 2008.
A systematic introduction to the defining features of practical reason. Much of the focus is on the different
conceptions of the norms of rationality, but the ethical relevance of such norms is also considered. The
bibliography could be more extensive.


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There is a recognizable gap in the market for a comprehensive textbook on the philosophy of practical reason.
Currently, the book to start with would be Audi 1989, which explains Aristotles, Humes, and Kants theories of
practical reason well and also offers the authors own views on many interesting philosophical questions about
practical reason. New readers might find some sections of the book difficult; there are, however, good textbooks
for more specific approaches to practical reason. Peterson 2009 gives an excellent philosophical introduction to
the fascinating world of decision theory. Likewise, Thomson 1999 provides an accessible guide to evaluating
practical reasoning in the moral domain.
Audi, Robert. Practical Reasoning . Problems of Philosophy. London and New York: Routledge,
The introduction of this book describes typical methods of practical reasoning and the philosophical
issues that they raise. The first part next explains Aristotles, Humes, and Kants accounts in detail. The
second part then covers the basic instrumental form of practical reasoning, its relations to intentional
action, the causal nature of reasoning, and its evaluative standards.

Peterson, Martin. An Introduction to Decision Theory . New York: Cambridge University Press,
This is an accessible introduction to the formal investigation of practical reason. It explains the basic
terminology well and never loses the philosophical point of view. Topics include decision making under
ignorance and risk, attempts to axiomatize the expected utility principle, probability, causal and evidential
decision theories, Bayesianism, and game theory.

Thomson, Anne. Critical Reasoning in Ethics: A Practical Introduction . London and New York:
Routledge, 1999.
This introductory-level book is a concrete guide to how to reason well with respect to ethical questions. It
teaches different methods of assessing ethical arguments in a helpful way.

There are many excellent anthologies on practical reason. Millgram 2001 and Wallace 1999 collect most of the
recently published significant articles. The former is slightly more comprehensive, whereas in the latter the
articles are arranged to form small dialogues. Cullity and Gaut 1997 contains many brilliant articles that were
specifically written for this volume and that are still often being discussed. Mele and Rawling 2004 contains
overview articles that succeed in making the more technical debates about practical rationality accessible. The
best texts on the topic from the previous generation of philosophers are collected in Krner 1974 and Raz
1979. There are also many good anthologies that focus on more specific aspects of practical reason. The articles
collected in Byron 2004, for instance, ask whether practical reason should be satisficing or maximizing.
Byron, Michael, ed. Satisficing and Maximizing: Moral Theorists on Practical Reason . Cambridge,
UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
This is a collection of very good recent articles on whether practical reason requires bringing about merely

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enough value or as much of it as possible. This question is pursued from a variety of perspectives, and
the contributions also investigate other interesting questions, such as whether values could be

Cullity, Garrett, and Berys Gaut, eds. Ethics and Practical Reason . Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.
For this landmark anthology, some of the best practical philosophers produced highly original defenses of
neo-Aristotelian, neo-Humean, and neo-Kantian theories of practical reason. There are also interesting
articles on how practical reason relates to reasons and responsibility.

Krner, Stephan, ed. Practical Reason . Oxford: Blackwell, 1974.

This older anthology consists of five articles on topics such as the logic of practical requirements
(Chisholm), the rationality of moral action (Sen), and the relationship between theoretical and practical
reason (Hintikka). The comments on these papers (by philosophers such as Raz, Mackie, and Hare) make
the anthology especially interesting.

Mele, Alfred R., and Piers Rawling, eds. Oxford Handbook of Rationality . Oxford Handbooks in
Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
A comprehensive anthology of solid articles on rationality. The articles in the beginning mainly focus on
different aspects of practical rationality, whereas the rest investigate rationality in specific domains (such
as law, economy, and so on). Many of the articles cover difficult and technical terrain in an accessible way.

Millgram, Elijah, ed. Varieties of Practical Reasoning . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.
This volume collects nineteen previously published articles on practical reasoning (mainly from the 1980s
and 1990s). Most of these articles put forward different proposal about what types of norms govern
practical reasoning. As a whole, they provide a good sense of how many different kinds of live
philosophical positions there are, with respect to these norms.

Raz, Joseph, ed. Practical Reasoning . Oxford Readings in Philosophy. Oxford and New York:
Oxford University Press, 1979.
A wonderful older anthology of previously published articles and excerpts from books on different aspects
of practical reason. The contributors are some of the most important philosophers of the second half of
the 20th century (including Anscombe, von Wright, Williams, and Chisholm). The most interesting
contributions are about whether there is a distinct logic of practical reasoning.

Wallace, R. Jay, ed. Reason, Emotion, and Will . International Research Library of Philosophy 23.
Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999.
An extensive collection of recent previously published important articles on practical reason, desires,
motivation, weakness of the will, and so on. A valuable feature of this anthology is that many of the articles

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have been selected so as to form small dialogues between the opposing views on specific topics.


In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that practical deliberation examines the means to the ends that we have
already laid down for ourselves (Aristotle 2002). This deliberation consists of inferences that can be represented
as practical syllogisms and that have decisions as their conclusions. The nature of these syllogisms has been
intensively debated (see Reeve 2006 for an illuminating discussion). However, many have thought that
Aristotles account of practical wisdom and deliberation extends beyond means-ends reasoning. He did claim
that the ultimate end of all human action is fixedit is happiness. However, as argued by Wiggins 1975-1976,
this still leaves room for deliberation about what the constituents of that end are. Reeve 2006 defends the view
that, in this type of deliberation, general principles based on experience play an important role. For Aristotle the
final goal of human action, happiness, consists of activity in accordance with virtue. This means doing
characteristic human activities (such as deliberation) well. Irwin 1980 explains helpfully how this theory of
happiness connects Aristotles account of practical reason to his larger metaphysical picture. And, Foot 2001
uses the same idea of a species-specific state of excellence to provide an interesting neo-Aristotelian theory of
practical reason and its norms. In contrast, McDowell 1979 claims that neither practical syllogisms nor
happiness is the essence of Aristotles account of practical reason. Instead, the essence of Aristotles theory can
be found from the importance of virtues as acquired sensitivities to context-sensitive reasons. An agent who has
these virtues does the right thing for its own sake. This ability is more a matter of perception than explicit
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics . Edited and translated by Christopher Rowe. Oxford and New York:
Oxford University Press, 2002.
Aristotles Nicomachean Ethics is an incredibly rich source of material on practical reason. At the heart of
Aristotles view are the so-called practical syllogisms, which capture the instrumental form of practical
deliberation (Book 3, section 3 and Book 7, section 3). Yet, his virtue-based account of practical wisdom
also extends to the proper ends of action. Written approximately 335330 bce.

Foot, Philippa. Natural Goodness . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

According to Foot, human beings possess a species-specific good state, and rational choice can be
understood in terms of that natural human goodness. The norms of practical reason are thus created by
whatever guides human agents to act in a way that is good for them.

Irwin, Terence. The Metaphysical and Psychological Basis of Aristotles Ethics. In Essays on

Aristotles Ethics . Edited by Amlie Rorty, 3554. Major Thinkers series 2. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1980.
This article locates Aristotles theory of practical reason in the framework of his teleological metaphysics.
In the resulting view, practical reason is the essence (and thus the form) of human beings. It enables us to
form a conception of the final good (namely happiness) and to desire things as promoting it.

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McDowell, John. Virtue and Reason. Monist 62 (1979): 331350.

According to McDowell, virtues are practical knowledge about what the right thing to do is. Such
knowledge is based on being sensitive to contextually salient reasons. This sensitivity requires having the
right kinds of concerns, which explains how practical reason can be both recognitional and motivational.
Reprinted in McDowells Mind, Value, and Reality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

Reeve, C. D. C. Aristotle on the Virtues of Thought. In The Blackwell Guide to Aristotles

Nicomachean Ethics . Edited by Richard Kraut, 198217. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell,
This article explains Aristotles view of the deliberative virtues. They are the qualities of reason that enable
it to produce appropriate desires for pursuing happiness. Of these virtues, Reeve emphasizes the
importance of practical principles based on experience.

Wiggins, David. Deliberation and Practical Reason. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 76
(19751976): 2951.
Wiggins investigates Aristotles seemingly different accounts of practical reasoning in Book 3 (means-end
reasoning) and in Books 6 and 7 (rule-case reasoning) of Nicomachean Ethics. In Wigginss view these
accounts do not conflict, as they both characterize deliberation about what the constituents of happiness
are. Reprinted in Wigginss Needs, Values, Truth: Essays in the Philosophy of Value, 3d ed. (Oxford:
Clarendon, 1998).


Humean theories begin by claiming that there are two different kinds of mental states, beliefs and desires, both
of which are required for action. They then note that reason can only consider whether a given belief is true; thus
it cannot produce action without the help of desires. This still leaves an interesting if only subservient role for
practical reason: to figure out the appropriate means for satisfying desires. Whether this traditional picture was
Humes own in A Treatise of Human Nature (Hume 2000) is still under debate. Setiya 2004 argues that Hume
tried to give a positive account of practical reason that did not fit the rationalist conception of reason of his time,
whereas Sayre-McCord 2008 claims that Humes view was a full-fledged cognitivist account of practical reason
in disguise. Other Humeans draw on Hume more loosely to construct appealing modern accounts of normative
reasons (Williams 1981), explanatory reasons (Smith 1987), instrumental rationality (Railton 2006), and
practical reasoning (Harman 1986). Humes influence can also be seen in contemporary metaethical
expressivism and in its take on practical reason (Blackburn 1998).
Blackburn, Simon. Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reasoning . Oxford: Clarendon, 1998.
This book is an influential expressivist account of practical reasoning as a process based on our concerns
and desires. The role of reason is thus only to represent the world to us and to remind us of our deeper
concerns. Blackburn argues that this view has no revisionary moral consequences when combined with

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Harman, Gilbert. Change in View: Principles of Reasoning . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986.
The last three chapters of this book give an overview of practical reasoning understood as reasoned
revision of intentions. Harman believes that such activity is possible because intentions, too, are subject to
the requirements of coherence and consistency and they should also promote the satisfaction of our
fundamental desires.

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature . Edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton.
Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Humes skeptical views about the limited role of practical reason and his emphasis on the importance of
passions in agency are most clearly stated in Book 2, Part 3, (especially section 3). Book 3 then builds a
sentimentalist account of moral psychology on this basis. Originally published 17391740.

Railton, Peter. Humean Theory of Practical Rationality. In The Oxford Handbook of Ethical

Theory . Edited by David Copp, 265281. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Railton offers a concise guide to the neo-Humean theories of practical reason according to which the role
of practical reason is limited to instrumental reasoning. All those views claim that practical irrationality can
only consist of taking inappropriate means to ones ends, whereas the ends themselves must remain
beyond rational assessment.

Sayre-McCord, Geoffrey. Hume on Practical Morality and Inert Reason. In Oxford Studies in

Metaethics . Vol. 3. Edited by Russ Shafer-Landau, 299320. Oxford: Clarendon, 2008.

According to the standard reading of Hume, reason can only determine whether beliefs are true; hence,
because morality is practical, it cannot belong to the domain of reason. Sayre-McCord claims that this
picture is a misinterpretation because, for Hume, practical judgments were beliefs that have motivational
efficacy if one has the right mental dispositions.

Setiya, Kieran. Hume on Practical Reason. Philosophical Perspectives 18 (2004): 365389.

This article argues against the traditional instrumentalist interpretation of Humes theory of practical
reason. Setiya also argues that this does not mean that Hume was a skeptic about practical reason; he
rejected the rationalist picture of practical reason but not the sentimentalist one based on his own views
about virtue.

Smith, Michael. The Humean Theory of Motivation. Mind 96 (1987): 3661.

Smith defends the Humean view that actions are to be explained causally by referring to the agents goals
and means-end beliefs. Thus, for him, motivating reasons consist of desire-belief pairs. This amounts to a
denial of the view that practical reason (the believing faculty) can lead to action on its own.

Williams, Bernard. Internal and External Reasons. In Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers,

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19731980 . By Bernard Williams, 101113. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1981.
This classic article defends the view that an agent cannot have reason to do an act unless he or she can
become motivated to do it by sound, practical deliberation that begins from preexisting motivations.
Sound deliberation includes becoming more informed and coherent, but it cannot add any new motives
not derived from ones prior motivations.


Kantians usually accept that practical reason can motivate, but they deny that it is a recognitional capacity. For
them, the requirements of practical reason are formal constraints on our willing. For instance, reason requires
that one must will consistently and universally. Kant 1998 is the obvious place to begin investigating that
authors theory of practical reason. However, it should be read together with commentaries, such as the helpful
Hill 1989. There are also many brilliant neo-Kantian theories of practical reason. These theories disagree about
the source of the formal requirements of reason. Korsgaard 2009 claims that they are based on the need for
self-constitution; ONeill 1996 claims that they created the internal standards of practical deliberation; and
Velleman 1996 argues that they were produced by the constitutive goal of actionautonomy.
Hill, Thomas E., Jr. Kants Theory of Practical Reason. Monist 72 (1989): 363383.
This article is a careful and accessible characterization of Kants theory of practical reason. The emphasis
is more on understanding Kant than on defending an original, neo-Kantian position. Reprinted in Hills

Dignity and Practical Reason in Kants Moral Theory (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992).

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals . Edited and translated by Mary
Gregor. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
According to Kant, the function of practical reason is to produce a good will. He then argues that there
cannot be any substantial requirements for the goodness of a will, only formal requirements of willing in a
lawlike way. These requirements also create our moral obligations. Originally published in 1785.

Korsgaard, Christine M. Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity . Oxford and New York:
Oxford University Press, 2009.
Korsgaard argues that we constitute ourselves in acting. An action, furthermore, is constituted by the
principles of practical reason, on the basis of which the action is done. In the Kantian spirit these principles
must be purely formal standards of willing. As a result, the only way to be an agent is to conform to the
principles of practical reason.

ONeill, Onora. Towards Justice and Virtue: A Constructive Account of Practical Reasoning .
Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
In this book, ONeill defends a constructivist account of practical reason. In this view, practical reason can
be constructed from the requirement that any instance of practical reasoning must be followable by all

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relevant others. ONeill then tries to show that this purely formal constraint on reasoning has plausible
substantial normative consequences.

Velleman, J. David. The Possibility of Practical Reason. Ethics 106.4 1996: 694726.
Velleman provides a detailed investigation of the similarities between theoretical and practical reason.
According to his Kantian proposal, we should think of autonomy (conscious controlling of ones behavior)
as the constitutive goal of action. Thus, the role of reason in acting is both to know what one will do and to
accept the given way of acting. Reprinted in Vellemans Possibility of Practical Reason (Oxford: Clarendon,

Most philosophers accept that practical reason requires us to comply with the Instrumental Principle; it tells us
that, if we have an end, and we believe that doing some act is a necessary means to achieving that end, then we
would be irrational not to do that act. The main discussion has been about what creates this requirement.
Broome 2009 claims that violating the requirement commits one to inconsistent beliefs about the future,
whereas Wallace 2001 argues that the inconsistent beliefs would be about what is possible. In contrast to these
cognitivist views, Bratman 2009 asserts that the nature of intending an end explains why an effective planner
commits him- or herself to taking the means, and Korsgaard 1997 similarly claims that intending to take the
means is in part constitutive of autonomously willing the end. Finally, Scanlon 2004 tries to argue that not taking
the means to ones ends is irrational because doing so is acting against ones prior judgments about reasons.
Raz 2005 criticizes all these proposals claiming that there is no distinct requirement of instrumental rationality
at all. A similar view has also been defended in Kolodny 2008.
Bratman, Michael. Intention, Belief, and Instrumental Rationality. In Reasons for Action . Edited
by David Sobel and Steven Wall, 1336. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University
Press, 2009.
Bratman opposes the cognitivist theories, which attempt to ground the Instrumental Principle in a general
requirement to have consistent beliefs. His proposal is that the Instrumental Principle is instead based on
the need to be an effective planner, which requires being able to commit oneself to the means by intending
the end.

Broome, John. The Unity of Reasoning? In Spheres of Reason: New Essays in the Philosophy of

Normativity . Edited by Simon Robertson, 6292. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press,
For Broome the Instrumental Principle is a normative requirement of rationality. He claims that sincere
expressions of intentions also express beliefs about what one will do. This enables him to argue that
violating the Instrumental Principle is irrational, as it commits one to inconsistent beliefs about the future.

Kolodny, Niko. Why Be Disposed to Be Coherent? Ethics 118.3 (2008): 437463.

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Kolodny argues against the myth, according to which there is rational pressure not to have incoherent
combinations of means-ends attitudes. His argument is based on the idea that such a requirement of
rationality cannot be justified because conforming to it is not a way to have correct attitudes required by

Korsgaard, Christine. The Normativity of Instrumental Reason. In Ethics and Practical Reason .
Edited by Garrett Cullity and Berys Gaut, 215254. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.
Korsgaard argues that Humeans cannot explain why the Instrumental Principle would be a normative

requirement because no one could violate it in the Humean mechanistic model of motivation. She then
defends the Kantian view, which holds that autonomously willing an end also commits one to willing to
take the means.

Raz, Joseph. The Myth of Instrumental Rationality. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 1.1
(2005): 128.
This article is an interesting criticism of all views that attempt to explain why the Instrumental Principle
would be a requirement of practical reason. In Razs own view only the reasons for pursuing a given end
can ground a requirement for taking the means to it.

Scanlon, T. M. Reasons: A Puzzling Duality? In Reason and Value: Themes from the Moral

Philosophy of Joseph Raz . Edited by R. Jay Wallace, Philip Petit, Samuel Scheffler, and Michael
Smith, 231246. Oxford and New York: Clarendon, 2004.
Scanlon first claims that rationality consists of acting in accordance with ones judgments about reasons.
He then argues that adopting an end involves judging that one has reasons to take the means to it. These
two claims entail that not taking the means is irrational because it is acting against ones own judgment.

Wallace, R. Jay. Normativity, Commitment, and Instrumental Reason. Philosophers Imprint 1.3
(2001): 126.
According to Wallace, intending an end is a structured thought that commits one to realizing ones end and
hence to believing that this is possible. It will then be incoherent not to intend to take the means, as this
would also commit one to believing that achieving the end is impossible.


There is no well-formed debate between different views about rational deliberation about the ends. This is
because many philosophers think either that our ends are beyond rational assessment or that their rational
status can be directly perceived. Quinn 1993 famously argues that at least some form of rational deliberation
about the ends must be possible, because without it instrumental rationality could not stand on its own.
Millgram 1993 proposes that finding new activities pleasant creates a starting point for noninstrumental
deliberation about the ends, just as perceptual appearances offer a starting point for theoretical investigation.

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Richardson 1994 describes a holistic method of revising ones fundamental ends based on imagination and
deliberation toward coherence. Finally, Schmidtz 1994 claims that we have various higher-order goals of
adopting more basic final ends. The author believes that this makes it is possible to describe certain heuristics
that tell us what kind of final ends to adopt.
Millgram, Elijah. Pleasure in Practical Reasoning. Monist 76.3 (1993): 394415.
Millgram argues that pleasure plays an important role in deliberation about the ends. In his view, pleasant
experiences in new activities are primary indicators of whether the ends pursued in these activities are
desirable. This is why these experiences can serve as a starting point for rational deliberation about the

Quinn, Warren. Putting Rationality in Its Place. In Value, Welfare, and Morality . Edited by R. G.
Frey and Christopher W. Morris, 2650. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1993.
Quinn rejects instrumentalism about practical reason, arguing that if that view were true, then we would be
irrational even when we did not take the means for very silly ends. He then suggests that practical
rationality has its own subject matter: to consider which ends are objectively good.

Richardson, Henry S. Practical Reasoning about Final Ends . Cambridge, UK, and New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1994.
According to Richardson, we can rationally deliberate not only about the appropriate means to our ends
but also about which ends to pursue. He responds to the skeptical arguments about the scope of practical
reason and describes deliberation about the ends as rational revision of their core features.

Schmidtz, David. Choosing Ends. Ethics 104.2 (1994): 226251.

According to Schmidtz, we have maieutic ends, that is, we aim at choosing which final ends to pursue.
These maieutic ends enable us to deliberate about what makes some final ends worthy of choice. For
instance, ends that affect our ability to care about goals in general are bad. Reprinted in Schmidtzs

Rational Choice and Moral Agency (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995).


To be genuinely practical, practical reason must also be able to move us to act in the way proposed by our
deliberation. This connection between reason, motivation, and action has been a fruitful area of investigation in
recent years. Anscombe 1957 is a genuine philosophical classic, offering an influential early Wittgensteinian
exploration of many issues concerning the relation between action and thought. Davidsons landmark article
Actions, Reasons, and Causes (Davidson 1963) defends the view that action is to be explained by a causal
connection between the agents beliefs and desires and her actions (which are rationalized by those states).
Some have concluded from this that the judgments of practical reason cannot move an agent to act without the
contribution of desires that come from outside of the agents reason. This externalist view is extensively

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defended in Svavarsdttir 1999. An alternative, internalist response (already defended in Hare 1952) is based
on the idea that, given our actions are in fact often guided by our practical reason, judgments of practical reason
must therefore be grounded in desire-like principles for making choices rather than in ordinary descriptive
beliefs. In contrast, Nagel 1970 has argued that even if desires are required for action, practical reason can on
its own, even as a purely cognitive faculty, motivate the agent to have the required desires. Alternatively,
Broomes much-discussed article Normative Requirements (Broome 1999) introduces normative requirements
that rule out certain combinations of normative judgments and intentions as being rational. One way to
understand practical rationality is then to see it as a disposition to conform to these requirements. This would
help explain how practical deliberation can lead to action. Searle 2001 has formulated one of the clearest
criticisms of the causal model of action, which is often presupposed in these debates. Finally, Bratmans

Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason (Bratman 1987) is an influential discussion of intentions. He suggests that
by understanding these states better, we can also come to understand more about practical reason.
Anscombe, G. E. M. Intention . Oxford: Blackwell, 1957.
This fascinating little book deals with a wide range of issues about how practical reason is related to
action. Anscombe tries to specify what intentional action is in order to make sense of our talk about
intentions. This also leads the author to investigate reasons and causes of actions, motives, explanations,
act-individuation, directions of fit, and practical reasoning.

Bratman, Michael. Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1987.
As planners we need to be able to deliberate in a way that influences our future actions. Hence, the
conclusions of practical deliberation must be intentions, that is, commitments to future actions. Bratman
explores the role and nature of these states and the picture of practical rationally that they suggest.

Broome, John. Normative Requirements. Ratio 12 (1999): 398419.

Broome defends the view that correct practical reasoning is a matter of complying with wide-scope
normative requirements rather than of responding to reasons. For instance, one such requirement rules out
the combination of both believing that one ought to do some act and not intending to do it.

Davidson, Donald. Actions, Reasons, and Causes. Journal of Philosophy 60 (1963): 685700.
In this classic article, Davidson assumes that reasons are desire-belief pairs. Such reasons are then
claimed to play a role in two kinds of explanations. Because the desire-belief pairs cause actions, they can
be used in causal explanations. However, their contentwhat the agent saw as desirablealso helps us
understand the action as rational. Reprinted in Davidsons Essays on Actions and Events, 2d ed. (Oxford:
Clarendon, 2001).

Hare, R. M. The Language of Morals . Oxford: Clarendon, 1952.

Hare claims that the close, internal connection between normative language and action shows that
normative language is used to instruct others to share our action-guiding principles. This, together with

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the fundamentally universal scope of our principles, imposes requirements of logic on our practical

Nagel, Thomas. The Possibility of Altruism . Oxford: Clarendon, 1970.

This book is famous for its criticism of the Humean theory of motivation. Nagel accepts that desires are
required for action. However, he makes the distinction between unmotivated and motivated desires and
then claims that there is no reason why practical reason could not recognize the demands of altruism by
motivating new desires.

Searle, John R. Rationality in Action . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

In this book, Searle opposes the classical model of practical reason, according to which practical rationality
consists of maximizing desire-satisfaction. Searle argues that (1) rational action presupposes that the
causal theory of action is false, (2) rationality is not a matter of following simple rules, and (3) reasons can
be desire-independent.

Svavarsdttir, S. Moral Cognitivism and Motivation. Philosophical Review 108.2 (1999):

This excellent article argues that the judgments made by practical reason cannot themselves motivate to
act because they only produce beliefs. To be motivated, the agent also needs to have suitable desires.
Svavarsdttirs article makes forceful objections to internalism and responds to many potential objections
to externalism.


It is intuitive to think that practical reason is faced with two irrevocably conflicting sources of demands:
prudence and morality. Sidgwick 1981 gives perhaps the best historical formulation of this conflict, whereas
Crisp 1996 provides one of its most forceful contemporary defenses. Some of the most innovative work on
practical reason has attempted to overcome this dualism. Gauthier 1986 argues that being a morally
constrained maximizer makes things go self-interestedly best in the long run; Parfit 1984 tries to dissolve the
conflict by attacking the notion of personal identity; and Hare 1963 claims that the logic of evaluative language
commits us to giving equal weight to everyones concerns.
Crisp, Roger. The Dualism of Practical Reason. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 96
(1996): 5373.
This article is strong contemporary defense of the dual-source view, in which both self-interested and
moral reasons present valid claims on practical reason. Crisp argues that neither extreme egoism nor
extreme moralism is plausible, and so we are left with the demands of the both.

Gauthier, D. Morals by Agreement . Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

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In this influential book, Gauthier attempts to use the tools of game theory to show that agents who aim at
maximizing the satisfaction of their self-interests do best by being constrained maximizers. This means
that even if prudence were the only requirement of practical reason, moral action would still be rational.

Hare, R. M. Freedom and Reason . Oxford: Clarendon, 1963.

The main focus of this book is Hares prescriptivist attempt to show that the notion of practical reason is
compatible with freedom for forming our moral opinions. However, it also tries to argue how a logical
feature of evaluative judgments, universalizability, commits us to treating the interests of others as our

Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons . Oxford: Clarendon, 1984.

This classic text contains an innovative attempt to dissolve the conflict between prudence and utilitarian
morality. The claim is that there are no facts of the matter about personal identity over time. Instead, we
are psychologically more or less continuous with most of the future individuals. If we recognize this,
self-regarding concerns should lead us to altruism.

Sidgwick, Henry. The Methods of Ethics . 7th ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1981.
Sidgwick provided clear and insightful accounts of both egoism/prudence (Book 2) and utilitarianism
(Book 4). He also had original arguments against the conclusion that their demands cannot be reconciled
(Book 4, chapter 6), and he was already aware of the problem of how practical reason could motivate
(Book 1, chapter 3). Seventh edition originally published in 1907 (London: Macmillan).


Different types of failures of practical reason are philosophically interesting in themselves, and they can also
shed light on how practical reason works when it functions well. Davidson 1969 is a traditional starting point.
Davidson attempts to make weakness of will compatible with his causal theory of action by distinguishing
between two kinds of evaluative judgments. Gosling 1990 provides a nice overview of the earlier historical
discussions of weakness of will, and Mele 1987 offers an influential positive explanation of how various
intriguing forms of akrasia are possible. Pettit and Smith 1993 classifies different forms of practical irrationality
in a comprehensive framework based on the distinction between evaluative judgments and desires. Gary
Watsons work has been influential in understanding addictions and the interesting cases in which agents will is
constrained by his or her own endorsements and concerns (Watson 2002). Wedgwood 2002 is a nice illustration
of how the work in this area can be used in arguments for and against different conceptions of practical reason.
Davidson, Donald. How Is Weakness of the Will Possible? In Moral Concepts . Edited by Joel
Feinberg, 93113. Oxford Readings in Philosophy. London: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Davidson recognizes here that his causal theory of action leaves little room for the weakness of will. If
reasons are causes, then should not the strongest reasons (ones better judgment) causally determine what
one does? Davidson solves this problem by making a distinction between unconditional and conditional

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evaluative judgments. Reprinted in Davidsons Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Clarendon, 2001),
pp. 2142.

Gosling, Justin. Weakness of the Will . The Problems of Philosophy. London and New York:
Routledge, 1990.
Part 1 of this book provides an overview of the historical accounts of weakness of will. Part 2 observes that
we expect rational beings to pursue long-term objectives, which requires the use of practical reason.
Gosling then suggests that we can understand the weak-willed behavior as behavior that flouts this

Mele, Alfred R. Irrationality: An Essay on Akrasia, Self-Deception, and Self-Control . New York
and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Mele begins by explaining what akrasia is and why it is a philosophically puzzling phenomenon. His
solution to how weakness of will is possible relies on the thought that the motivational strength of reasons
can come apart from how good they are considered to be by the agent as justifying reasons.

Pettit, Philip, and Michael Smith. Practical Unreason. Mind 102 (1993): 5379.
Pettit and Smith distinguish between intentional and deliberative perspectives on explaining actions (one
tracks deliberation, the other, desires). They then show how this distinction can be used to classify
different failures of practical reason. These failures correspond to the ways in which evaluative judgments
and desires can come apart.

Watson, Gary. Volitional Necessities. In Contours of Agency: Essays on Themes from Harry

Frankfurt . Edited by Sarah Buss and Lee Overton, 129159. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.
Watson instructively explores different ways in which ones will can be incapacitated, that is, insensitive to
ones practical reasoning. This can happen differently in the cases of depression, phobias, addictions, and
the like. He also investigates the so-called volitional necessities, in which the agents willing is constrained
by his or her own concerns.

Wedgwood, Ralph. Reason and Desire. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 80 (2002): 345358.
This article illustrates nicely how irrationality is relevant for investigating the nature of practical reason.
Wedgwood uses plausible assumptions about the weakness of will to argue against the Humean accounts
of practical reason, in which rational actions must serve antecedent, contingent desires.

Decision theory is a formal approach for investigating practical reason and rationality. It usually begins from the
assumption that agents have sets of preferences that satisfy certain formal constraints, such as that they are

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coherent and complete. It then uses mathematical tools to determine which choices would be rational in
different situations in the light of that assumption. The main focus is on decisions about actions with uncertain
outcomes. Decision theorists are also interested in social choice-situations, the nature of probability and
evidence, degrees of belief and desire, and various paradoxes. The literature on this interdisciplinary topic is
vast and often technical. Ramsey 1931 begins the era of modern Bayesian decision theories. Jeffrey 1965 offers
one of the definitive versions of the theories in this tradition. While addressing some of the main problems of
the earlier views, this work also describes an evidentialist decision theory, according to which rational agents
should act in ways that have the best news value for them. Gibbard and Harper 1978 is an influential early
article that discusses the unintuitive consequences of evidentialism in the Newcombs paradox typecases and
sketches a causalist alternative to avoid these problems. Joyce 1999 has given more systematic and adequate
theoretical underpinnings for the causal decision theories. Of the more recent books, Weirich 2004 is an
interesting exploration of decision theories for ordinary agents in more realistic circumstances, whereas
Bermdez 2009 investigates whether decision theories can provide us with what we expect from a complete
theory of practical rationality.
Bermdez, Jos Luis. Decision Theory and Rationality . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Bermdez begins from the observation that we appeal to rationality in the projects of action guidance,
evaluation, and explanation/prediction. He then investigates whether a decision-theoretic understanding
of rationality could play all these roles simultaneously. This leads to reassessing the central elements of
decision theory.

Gibbard, Allan, and William Harper. Counterfactuals and Two Kinds of Expected Utility. In

Foundations and Applications of Decision Theory . Vol. 1. Edited by C. A. Hooker, J. J. Leach, and
E. F. McClennen, 125162. The University of Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science 13.
Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel, 1978.
In this classic article, Gibbard and Harper show that the traditional Bayesian decision theories cannot
accommodate our intuitions about the Newcombs paradoxtype cases. To avoid such problems, they
formulate a new, causal decision theory that relies on beliefs about causal dependencies captured by
counterfactual propositions.

Jeffrey, Richard C. The Logic of Decision . New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965.

This textbook contains the definitive formulation of the classical Bayesian decision theory, in which rational
decision making consists of maximizing expected utility. It is also a very accessible introduction to the
whole topic. The main advantages of Jeffreys version of the theory are based on his novel evidentialist
formulation of the expected utility principle and on his reliance on preferences between propositions.

Joyce, J. The Foundations of Causal Decision Theory . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press, 1999.
The first half of this excellent book clarifies choice-situations and goes through the axioms that have been
used to prove that rational agents maximize excepted utility either in the traditional or the evidentialist
sense. The second half develops further causalist views that can better deal with Newcombs paradox and

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provides an axiomatic foundation for these theories.

Ramsey, Frank Plumpton. Truth and Probability. In The Foundations of Mathematics and Other

Logical Essays . Edited by R. B. Braithwaite, 156198. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1931.
A paper marking the beginning of modern decision theory. Ramseys main concern was how to measure
degrees of belief by observing betting behavior. In explaining this idea, he also shows that any rational
decision maker who conforms to eight particular choice-axioms will act as if he or she were maximizing
expected utility. Reprinted in 1965.

Weirich, Paul. Realistic Decision Theory: Rules for Nonideal Agents in Nonideal Circumstances .
Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Traditional decision theories make various idealizations about agents know about their options and their
evaluative ranking and about access to their own mental states. Weirich attempts to construct a more
realistic consequentialist decision theory that does not need these idealizations.

Much of the most exciting work on practical reason more generally has recently focused on practical reasons,
that is, the considerations that practical reason should take into account in acting. Razs early book Practical

Reason and Norms (Raz 1975) was the first to make all the essential distinctions between different types of
reasons. The first chapter of Scanlon 1998 has become the starting point for many contemporary discussions of
reasons, and it does provide an appealing picture of the epistemology of reasons. Smith 1995 offers an
influential account of what the content of the thoughts about reasons would have to be in order for these beliefs
to be both truth-apt and motivating. Finally, Dancy 2000 and Schroeder 2007 defend competing pictures of the
metaphysics of reasons: the former, nonnaturalist realism, and the latter, reductive naturalism.
Dancy, Jonathan. The Practical Reality . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
In this original book, Dancy argues that both normative reasons and motivating reasons are wordly facts
rather than mental states. According to Dancy, some facts are just reasons independent of what we desire.
Dancy then considers how these desire-independent reasons can motivate us to act.

Raz, Joseph. Practical Reason and Norms . London: Hutchinson, 1975.

This groundbreaking book begins by explaining all the fundamental aspects of practical reasons that have
later been intensively debated. Raz then considers how different reasonable norms can themselves be
reasons for agents in a way that could explain their role in practical reasoning.

Scanlon, T. M. What We Owe to Each Other . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Chapter 1 is a key contemporary text on reasons. Reasons are introduced as the basic normative notion
and then investigated in depth. Scanlon makes a crucial distinction between two conceptions of practical

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rationality: a minimal one requiring only internal coherence and an ideal one that requires acting on the
best reasons.

Schroeder, Mark. Slaves of Passions . Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
This is the most rigorous defense of a Humean theory of normative reasons there is. According to
Schroeder, facts about reasons can be reduced to facts about what would have to be the case for the
actions of an agent to promote the satisfaction of his or her desires.

Smith, Michael. The Moral Problem . Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1995.
Smith attempts to explain how practical reason can both motivate and get things right in the framework
provided by Humean moral psychology. The solution relies on analyzing thoughts about reasons as beliefs
about what an ideally rational version of an agent would want the agent to do.

There are several interesting new debates about practical reason worth mentioning. The first is a debate about
why one should conform to the demands of practical reason in the first place. This question is pursued in
different ways by Kolodny 2005, which focuses on rationality, and Tiberius 2008, which argues that practical
deliberation itself can be a part of good life. The second interesting debate is about whether the input for
practical reasoning (i.e., the reasons) must be what the agent knows. Hawthorne and Stanley 2008 argues for
this thesis, whereas LittleJohn 2009 argues against it. Finally, one interesting debate has recently been started
on the basis of the results of psychological studies. It has been argued that human behavior and practical
judgments can best be explained empirically, by relying either on type-facts about persons (Knobe and Leiter
2007) or on brute emotional reactions (Haidt 2001). It is then claimed that, because of these better
explanations, practical reasoning plays only an epiphenomenal role.
Haidt, Jonathan. The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral
Judgment. Psychological Review 108.4 (2001): 814834.
In this influential article, Haidt argues, on the basis of empirical studies, that the main role of practical
reason is to provide post hoc rationalizations for antecedent emotive reactions. The function of these
rationalizations is to satisfy a social demand for verbal justification rather than to influence action.

Hawthorne, John, and Jason Stanley. Knowledge and Action. Journal of Philosophy 105.10
(2008): 571590.
Hawthorne and Stanley describe cases in which we intuitively criticize agents for acting on the basis of
propositions they did not know to be true. Relying on these intuitions, the authors argue that one should
treat a proposition as a reason only if one knows it to be true.

Knobe, Joshua, and Brian Leiter. The Case for Nietzschean Moral Psychology. In Nietzsche and

Morality . Edited by Brian Leiter and Neil Sinhababu, 83109. Oxford: Clarendon, 2007.

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In this article, Knobe and Leiter use the results of empirical psychology to argue both against Aristotles
and Kants theories of practical reason and for a Nietzschean alternative. They claim that heritable
psychological and physiological type-facts about persons explain their behavior instead of acquired
character traits or explicit practical reasoning.

Kolodny, Niko. Why Be Rational? Mind 114 (2005): 509563.

According to Kolodny, there are no reasons per se to conform to the requirements of rationality (e.g., to act
as one believes one ought to). In this sense, these requirements are not normative; their function is only to
remind the agents what they ought to do by their own lights.

LittleJohn, Clayton. Must We Act Only on What We Know? Journal of Philosophy 106.8 (2009):
LittleJohn claims that Hawthorne and Stanleys cases fail to support their conclusion that rationality
requires acting only on knowledge. He also argues that accepting the knowledge view about the reasons
for actions would be too costly; we would need to give up a highly plausible view about when to blame
others for their beliefs.

Tiberius, Valerie. The Reflective Life: Living Wisely with Our Limits . Oxford and New York:
Oxford University Press, 2008.
In this book, Tiberius argues convincingly that we should try to improve our practical deliberation on the
basis of empirical psychological studies. She then tries to show that reflective practical deliberation itself
can be an important part of living a good life.

LAST MODIFIED: 05/25/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0092

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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