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Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good$
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Sergio Tenenbaum

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195382440

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195382440.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 28 November 2021

Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil

(p.82) 5 Sympathy for the Devil
Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good

Kieran Setiya

Oxford University Press

When we act intentionally, do we act “under the guise of the good”? Must we see some value in what we are doing, or take our reasons to provide some justification for doing it? Debate about these questions has been pursued through a series of memorable examples: Satan in Paradise Lost, Anscombe’s saucer of mud, Watson’s mother drowning her baby in the bathtub. But the examples are inconclusive, and so the debate has stalled. This chapter attempts to make progress by examining the systematic roots of the guise of the good. It argues for three principal claims. First, while the guise of the good for intentional action can be motivated by reflection on desire as well as on the nature of reasons, the second motivation is primary. Desires represent their objects as good only when they are had for reasons, and only if reasons for desire must be seen under the guise of the good. Second, conceived as a doctrine about reasons in the abstract, or about rational agency as such, the guise of the good is false. It is possible to act and desire for reasons one does not regard as good, and the reasons one gives need not reveal one’s action or desire as even approximately rational. The arguments here turn on general considerations in action theory—about what is involved in answering Anscombe’s question “Why?” and in solving the problem of deviant causal chains. Finally, although it fails as a claim about the nature of rational agency, the guise of the good may hold as a principle of human nature: We are the sort of creatures who aim at what is good. The source of more ambitious views might then be traced to a familiar and tempting parochialism: The mistake of thinking that our characteristic form of agency shows us what agency essentially is.

Keywords:   action, agency, desire, good, intention, reasons, practical rationality, vice, virtue

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