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Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Volume 88, Issue 3, May 2014

Tim Henning
Pages 593-624

Normative Reasons Contextualism

This article argues for the view that statements about normative reasons are context-sensitive. Specifically, they are sensitive to a contextual parameter specifying a relevant person's or group's body of information. The argument for normative reasons contextualism starts from the context-sensitivity of the normative "ought" and the further premise that reasons must be aligned with oughts. It is incoherent, I maintain, to suppose that someone normatively ought to φ but has most reason not to φ. So given that oughts depend on context, a parallel view about normative reasons is needed. It is shown that the resulting view solves notorious puzzles involving apparently conflicting but equally plausible claims about reasons. These puzzles arise especially in cases where agents have limited information or false beliefs. In these cases, we feel tom between reasons claims that take into account the limitations of the agent's perspective and apparently conflicting claims that are made from a more objective point of view. The contextualist account developed here accommodates both objectivist and subjectivist intuitions. It shows that all of the claims in question can be tme, provided that they are relativized to different values of the relevant information parameter. Also, contextualism yields a fmitful approach to the debate about having reasons and the alleged failure of the so-called "factoring account".