Can Virtuous Actions be Both Habitual and Rational?

Pollard, Bill
December 2003
Ethical Theory & Moral Practice;Dec2003, Vol. 6 Issue 4, p411
Academic Journal
Virtuous actions seem to be both habitual and rational. But if we combine an intuitive understanding of habituality with the currently predominant paradigm of rational action, these two features of virtuous actions are hard to reconcile. Intuitively, acting habitually is acting as one has before in similar contexts, and automatically, that is, without thinking about it. Meanwhile, contemporary philosophers tend to assume the truth of what I call “the reasons theory of rational action”, which states that all rational actions are “actions for reasons”. Whilst interpretations of this phrase are disputed, I argue that neither of the two leading views – which I call “reasons internalism” and “reasons externalism” – makes room for habitual actions to count as actions for reasons; by the reasons theory, they cannot be rational either. I suggest one way of effecting the reconciliation which, whilst it allows us to keep the reasons theory, requires us to conceive of reasons as even more radically external than current externalists believe them to be.


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