Reason and Love: A Non-Reductive Analysis of the Normativity of Agent-Relative Reasons

Author: Willigenburg, Theo

Source: Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Volume 8, Numbers 1-2, April 2005 , pp. 45-62(18)

Publisher: Springer

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Why do agent-relative reasons have authority over us, reflective creatures? Reductive accounts base the normativity of agent-relative reasons on agent-neutral considerations like ‘having parents caring especially for their own children serves best the interests of all children’. Such accounts, however, beg the question about the source of normativity of agent-relative ways of reason-giving. In this paper, I argue for a non-reductive account of the reflective necessity of agent-relative concerns. Such an account will reveal an important structural complexity of practical reasoning in general. Christine Korsgaard relates the rational binding force of practical reasons to the various identities or self-conceptions under which we value ourselves. The problem is that it is not clear why such self-conceptions would necessitate us rationally, given the fact that most of our identities are simply given. Perhaps, Harry Frankfurt is right in arguing that we are not only necessitated by reason, but also, and predominantly by what we love. I argue, however, that “the necessities of love” (in Frankfurt’s phrase) are not to be separated from, but should be seen as belonging to the necessities of reason. Our loves, concerns and related identities provide for a specific and important structure to practical reflection. They function on the background of reasoning, having a specific default role: they would lose their character as concerns, if there was a need for them to be cited on the foreground of deliberation or if there was a need to justify them. This does not mean that our deep concerns cannot be scrutinised. They can only be scrutinised in an indirect way, however, which explains their role in grounding the normativity of agent-relative reasons. It appears that this account can provide for a viable interpretation of Korsgaard’s argument about the foundational role of practical identities.

Keywords: Frankfurt; Korsgaard; agent-relativity; necessities of love; normativity; practical reasoning

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam, P.O Box 1738, NL-3000 DR, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Email:

Publication date: April 1, 2005

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