Scanlon on Desire and the Explanation of Action

Michael Smith

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T. M. Scanlon claims that insofar as 'having a desire' is understood as a state that is distinct from 'seeing something as a reason,' it plays almost no role in the justification and explanation of action. Since in the standard story of action desire is understood as a behavioral disposition, and since in that story every action is explained by desire, so understood, and since a desire so understood is a distinct state from seeing something as a reason, it follows that Scanlon sets himself against the standard story of action. In my paper I begin by explaining the attractions of the standard story of action and then I examine Scanlon's reasons for thinking that desire, understood in the way in which it is in that story, plays almost no role in the explanation of action.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReasons and Recognition
Subtitle of host publicationEssays on the Philosophy of T.M. Scanlon
PublisherOxford University Press, USA
ISBN (Electronic)9780199918829
ISBN (Print)9780199753673
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Desire
  • Explanation
  • Hume
  • Justification
  • Like
  • Reason
  • Scanlon
  • Want

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