Normative Reasons and the Agent-neutral/Relative Dichotomy

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Normative Reasons and the Agent-neutral/Relative Dichotomy. / Rønnow-Rasmussen, Toni.

In: Philosophia, Vol. 37, 2009, p. 227-243.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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TY - JOUR

T1 - Normative Reasons and the Agent-neutral/Relative Dichotomy

AU - Rønnow-Rasmussen, Toni

PY - 2009

Y1 - 2009

N2 - The distinction between the agent-relative and the agent-neutral plays a prominent role in recent attempts to taxonomize normative theories. Its importance extends to most areas in practical philosophy, though. Despite its popularity, the distinction remains difficult to get a good grip on. In part this has to do with the fact that there is no consensus concerning the sort of objects to which we should apply the distinction. Thomas Nagel distinguishes between agent-neutral and agent-relative values, reasons, and principles; Derek Parfit focuses on normative theories (and the aims they provide to agents), David McNaughton and Piers Rawling focus on rules and reasons, Skorupski on predicates, and there are other suggestions too. Some writers suspect that we fundamentally talk about one and the same distinction. This work is about practical reasons for action rather than theoretical reasons for belief. Moreover, focus is on whether reasons do or do not essentially refer to particular agents. A challenge that undermines the dichotomy in this sense is posed. After having rejected different attempts to defend the distinction, it is argued that there is a possible defence that sets out from Jonathan Dancy’s recent distinction between enablers and favourers.

AB - The distinction between the agent-relative and the agent-neutral plays a prominent role in recent attempts to taxonomize normative theories. Its importance extends to most areas in practical philosophy, though. Despite its popularity, the distinction remains difficult to get a good grip on. In part this has to do with the fact that there is no consensus concerning the sort of objects to which we should apply the distinction. Thomas Nagel distinguishes between agent-neutral and agent-relative values, reasons, and principles; Derek Parfit focuses on normative theories (and the aims they provide to agents), David McNaughton and Piers Rawling focus on rules and reasons, Skorupski on predicates, and there are other suggestions too. Some writers suspect that we fundamentally talk about one and the same distinction. This work is about practical reasons for action rather than theoretical reasons for belief. Moreover, focus is on whether reasons do or do not essentially refer to particular agents. A challenge that undermines the dichotomy in this sense is posed. After having rejected different attempts to defend the distinction, it is argued that there is a possible defence that sets out from Jonathan Dancy’s recent distinction between enablers and favourers.

KW - Agent-relative

KW - Agent-neutral

KW - Reasons

KW - Motivating reasons

KW - Justifying reasons

KW - Normative reasons

KW - Apparent reasons

KW - Dancy

KW - Favourer

KW - Enabler

U2 - 10.1007/s11406-008-9164-2

DO - 10.1007/s11406-008-9164-2

M3 - Article

VL - 37

SP - 227

EP - 243

JO - Philosophia

JF - Philosophia

SN - 0048-3893

ER -