Humean Theory of Practical Rationality

Peter Railton

in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780195325911
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Humean Theory of Practical Rationality


This article explores Humean and neo-Humean theories of practical reason and their relation to morality. A neo-Humean theory holds that rationality is basically a matter of efficiency in serving one's intrinsic ends or goals, where a person's intrinsic goals are taken as given—or as they would be if the person had more accurate information. On the standard neo-Humean view, it is a contingent matter whether a person has a good practical reason to be moral, for people's goals vary widely. A person who had no goal that would be well served by morally appropriate behavior would have no practical reason to act morally. True, most people have the goals of avoiding punishment and the disapproval of others, and it may be that these goals typically give them good practical reason to act morally. But this would be a purely instrumental reason to act morally.

Keywords: Humean; neo-Humean theories; morality; rationality; punishment

Article.  7430 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy

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