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The darker steed: reason, passion and self-awareness

Phillips, Edgar Haydon; (2018) The darker steed: reason, passion and self-awareness. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Reasons ‘favour’ and justify actions, but they also explain our actions. Because we are self-aware, rational agents whose actions are guided by our appreciation of what reasons we have to act, these explanatory and justificatory roles are not wholly separate. A person's reasons for acting make sense of their action from their point of view as its agent: they show us why the person did what they did by showing us what point they saw in doing it. There is, however, a tension within the idea of reasons as normative and explanatory. Considered as normative, it is natural to think of reasons as objective and universal: reasons are backed up by normative principles, and if something is a reason for me to act in a certain way, it would be a reason for anyone in relevantly similar circumstances to do the same. But explaining a person's actions from their point of view—showing the point they saw in doing what they did—often introduces elements of idiosyncrasy, in particular when an action is explained by false beliefs or quirky desires. Belief's role, I argue, is easily accommodated by the universalistic conception. Reasons are facts; because we make mistakes about the facts, we can make mistakes about our reasons. In these cases, understanding my action from my perspective simply requires an appreciation of my perspective on what universal reasons I had. Desire, however, poses a more serious challenge. Many desires cannot be understood just by considering their subject's perspective on universal reasons, but they can and do figure ineliminably in our understanding of our own actions. We thus need to recognise that some reasons are not universal but irreducibly personal and particular. There is thus a plurality within reasons for action: reason is universal, and it is idiosyncratic.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The darker steed: reason, passion and self-awareness
Event: UCL
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2018. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
Keywords: philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, moral psychology, reasons, desire, belief
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Philosophy
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10064472
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