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Philosophy and Religious Studies

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The Journal of Value Inquiry





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Are normative reasons based in our desires, or are they instead grounded in our rational faculties? A familiar way of approaching this question focuses on the fact that individuals are often motivated by very different concerns. Our desires seem to provide us with operative or motivating reasons that are not shared by others, and the question is whether desires can also provide us with different good or normative reasons. Reasons internalism is the view that an agent’s normative reasons for action must be within the reach of his or her interest and understanding. Many contemporary followers of Hume as well as Kant endorse this view, but their versions of internalism differ in one key respect. The Humean view is that reasons are relative to the particular motivations of individuals and thus not universally shared. In contrast, the Kantian view is that being fully rational involves converging on reasons that all agents share as such. But what is common to both of these versions of reasons internalism is a focus on the relative powers of the faculties of reason and desire.

Hegel, however, introduces an interesting and distinctive way of approaching the question of the source or grounding of normative reasons. Instead of focusing exclusively on the relative powers of inner faculties, Hegel proposes that what we have reasons to do depends largely upon how we understand ourselves within an actual social space. We will consider three different versions of this claim, the most plausible of which sheds new light on reasons internalism. We need not think that there are only two possibilities: either reasons are universal or they are relative to subjective motivations. Instead, what distinguishes a Hegelian approach is the contention that what counts as normative depends in part upon fundamental self-conceptions that we share as participants in a complex social world.


This a manuscript of article published as Walsh, Kate Padgett. "Reasons Internalism, Hegelian Resources." The Journal of Value Inquiry 44, no. 2 (2010): 225-240. Posted as permission.

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