‘The Phenomenal Presence of Perceptual Reasons’ (forthcoming)

Phenomenal Presence, edited by F. Macpherson & F. Dorsch, Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

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Doxasticism about our awareness of normative (i.e. justifying) reasons – the view that we can recognise reasons for forming attitudes or performing actions only by means of normative judgements or beliefs – is incompatible with the following triad of claims:

  • (1) Being motivated (i.e.forming attitudes or performing actions for a motive) requires responding to and, hence, recognising a relevant reason.

  • (2) Infants are capable of being motivated.

  • (3) Infants are incapable of normative judgement or belief.

It should be clear that (3) is true, given that infants lack the required reflective and conceptual capacities. So doxasticists have to reject either (1) or (2) (or both). But this forced choice may be understood as a dilemma for doxasticism. On the hand, doxasticists may adopt a Kantian approach and reject (2), precisely because they think that motivation presupposes the doxastic recognition of reasons, and because infants lack the capacity to doxastically recognise reasons. But this choice seems to wrongly reduce the responses of infants to mere reflexes or instinctive reactions. On the other hand, doxasticists may choose a Humean route and deny (1) by espousing a purely causal or teleological account of motivation. But this would mean detrimentally ignoring the normative nature of (some instances of) motivation.

One elegant way of avoiding this dilemma is to give up doxasticism and instead endorse experientialism – the view that we enjoy some experiential access to reasons, which is independent of, and perhaps more fundamental than, our capacity to form normative judgements and beliefs. In this talk, I would like to provide an argument for the existence of such a non-doxastic form of access to reasons. More specifically, I aim to defend the claim that our basic awareness of reasons is phenomenal in nature. What this means is that it forms part of our access from the inside to those of our mental episodes that provide us with access to reasons. In other words, when we introspectively attend to reason-giving mental episodes and what they are about, we have the impression of the presence of a reason for us. My defence of this experientialist alternative to doxasticism will primarily focus on perceptual reasons for first-order beliefs about the external world.