Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

“Because I Want It”*

Stephen Darwalla1

a1 Philosophy, University of Michigan

How can an agent's desire or will give him reasons for acting? Not long ago, this might have seemed a silly question, since it was widely believed that all reasons for acting are based in the agent's desires. The interesting question, it seemed, was not how what an agent wants could give him reasons, but how anything else could. In recent years, however, this earlier orthodoxy has increasingly appeared wrongheaded as a growing number of philosophers have come to stress the action-guiding role of reasons in deliberation from the agent's point of view. What a deliberating agent has in view is rarely his own will or desires as such, even if taking something as a reason is intimately tied to desire. Someone who wants to escape a burning building does not evaluate her options by considering which is likeliest to realize what she wants or wills. She is focused, rather, on her desire's object: getting out alive. The fact that a successful route would realize something she wants is apt to strike her as beside the point or, at best, as a trivial bonus.


* An earlier draft of this paper was presented at a conference on practical reason at the University of Rome (La Sapienza). I am indebted to members of the audience, especially to Jonathan Dancy, Carla Bagnoli, Allan Gibbard, and Tito Magri. I also owe much to the other contributors to this volume. Finally, I am indebted to Nishiten Shah for very helpful discussion.