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Subjective normativity: Understanding reasons and ‘oughts’ as contingent on desires

Subjective normativity: Understanding reasons and ‘oughts’ as contingent on desires
Subjective normativity: Understanding reasons and ‘oughts’ as contingent on desires
This thesis argues that what an agent has reason to do, and what an agent ought to do, are contingent on that agent’s desires. Unless that agent has some desire that could be satisfied (or that the agent believes could be satisfied) by an action, then that agent has no reason to choose to act in that way, and it is not the case that they ought to act in that way.

I will argue for this subjective account of normative reasons and oughts across four chapters. The first two chapters will defend the desire-based account of reasons. I will explain two positive arguments in Chapter 1, one about capacity for action and one about non-desire-based reasons as different kind of phenomena. For the rest of the chapter and Chapter 2 I will defend the account against three main objections, one that can be attributed to McDowell and two to Parfit. I will also use Chapter 2 to defend ‘value subjectivism’ – the theory that what’s valuable to an agent is contingent on an agent’s desires. This will be used to support my arguments for desire-based reasons and oughts.

The second half of my thesis will argue that what we ought to do is based on our desires. Chapter 3 will build on the work done in the previous chapters and demonstrate that my subjective accounts are compatible with a wide range of qualities that we want normative oughts to have. It will also respond to two objections, and argue against a rival account of oughts: that of categorical imperatives. Chapter 4 will then defend my account against its final rival: an account on which there are ‘overall oughts’ that aren’t based on an agent’s desires.
University of Southampton
Ventham, Elizabeth
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Ventham, Elizabeth
fb5b3c61-7ae7-4fa9-85cb-0a271450f708
Gregory, Alexander
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Woollard, Fiona
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Janaway, Christopher
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Ventham, Elizabeth (2018) Subjective normativity: Understanding reasons and ‘oughts’ as contingent on desires. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 168pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

This thesis argues that what an agent has reason to do, and what an agent ought to do, are contingent on that agent’s desires. Unless that agent has some desire that could be satisfied (or that the agent believes could be satisfied) by an action, then that agent has no reason to choose to act in that way, and it is not the case that they ought to act in that way.

I will argue for this subjective account of normative reasons and oughts across four chapters. The first two chapters will defend the desire-based account of reasons. I will explain two positive arguments in Chapter 1, one about capacity for action and one about non-desire-based reasons as different kind of phenomena. For the rest of the chapter and Chapter 2 I will defend the account against three main objections, one that can be attributed to McDowell and two to Parfit. I will also use Chapter 2 to defend ‘value subjectivism’ – the theory that what’s valuable to an agent is contingent on an agent’s desires. This will be used to support my arguments for desire-based reasons and oughts.

The second half of my thesis will argue that what we ought to do is based on our desires. Chapter 3 will build on the work done in the previous chapters and demonstrate that my subjective accounts are compatible with a wide range of qualities that we want normative oughts to have. It will also respond to two objections, and argue against a rival account of oughts: that of categorical imperatives. Chapter 4 will then defend my account against its final rival: an account on which there are ‘overall oughts’ that aren’t based on an agent’s desires.

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More information

Published date: August 2018

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 433196
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/433196
PURE UUID: 7627bd6f-3cbd-4c9a-98e4-1399584be7bd
ORCID for Christopher Janaway: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-9600-8837

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 09 Aug 2019 16:30
Last modified: 10 Aug 2019 00:36

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Contributors

Thesis advisor: Alexander Gregory
Thesis advisor: Fiona Woollard
Thesis advisor: Christopher Janaway ORCID iD

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