An Unrealistic Account of Moral Reasons

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In this paper I will analyze John McDowell’s broad account of practical rationality and moral reasons, which he mainly puts forward in his articles “Are moral requirements hypothetical imperatives?” (1978) and “Might there be external reasons?” (1995). My main aim is to argue that from a philosophical perspective, no less than from an empirical one, McDowell’s account of practical rationality is not a realistic one. From a philosophical point of view, I will argue that his intellectualist account is not convincing; and if we consider his virtue-ethical ideal of practical rationality in light of the model of human cognition, we also realize that moral behavior is not immune to cognitive biases and does not always flow from robust traits of character like virtues. At the same time, this puts at stake his strong thesis of moral autonomy – the idea that with the ‘onset of reason’ moral beings are no longer determined by ‘first nature’ features.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-33
Number of pages22
JournalPrincipia : Innovative papers in philosophy and social sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • John McDowell
  • practical rationality
  • moral reasons
  • virtue ethics
  • second nature


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