A Puzzle about Internal Reasons

Michael Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


According to Bernard Williams, all reasons for action are what he calls 'internal reasons', where an agent has an internal reason to act in some way just in case she would be motivated to act in that way if she were to deliberate correctly. Though Williams is supposed to have an anti-rationalist conception of what it is to deliberate correctly, his official account includes separate roles for knowledge and the imagination. An agent would desire something if he were to deliberate correctly, according to Williams, only if he would desire that thing if he knew all the relevant facts and only if he were to fully and accurately imagine what it would be like for that thing to obtain. This provides us with a puzzle, as rationalist accounts of deliberation can be understood as assigning separate roles to knowledge and the imagination. Williams's official account of deliberation thus looks just like the rationalist's. Solving this puzzle requires us to get clearer about what it means to deliberate correctly and about the differences between rationalist and anti rationalist accounts of desire.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLuck, Value, and Commitment
Subtitle of host publicationThemes From the Ethics of Bernard Williams
PublisherOxford University Press, USA
ISBN (Electronic)9780191741500
ISBN (Print)9780199599325
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Anti-rationalism
  • Bernard Williams
  • Deliberation
  • Desires
  • Direction of fit
  • Emotions
  • Imagination
  • Internal reasons
  • Rationalism

Cite this

Smith, M. (2012). A Puzzle about Internal Reasons. In Luck, Value, and Commitment: Themes From the Ethics of Bernard Williams Oxford University Press, USA. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199599325.003.0008