Date of Award

May 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

William F. Bristow

Committee Members

Edward Hinchman, Stan Husi


Any satisfying account of practical deliberation—and the grounding of the reasons on which it is based—needs to make sense of how we can be both rationally constrained and at the same time responsible agents. If we lean too far to the side of grounding normativity in features of the world external to ourselves as agents we run the risk of losing sight of how we can be anything other than mechanically responsive, while if we lean too far to the side of voluntarism we risk losing sight of how our free actions can be nonetheless rational. Ruth Chang proposes an account of practical deliberation wherein she attempts to make room for both agency and constraint by splitting the process into two distinct stages, each stage responsive to a different kind of reason deriving from a different source. I argue that a binary account of the sources of normativity is susceptible to Wilfrid Sellars’ critique of “The Myth of the Given.” I propose instead that given reasons and voluntarist ones exist along a spectrum, and that no reasons are entirely given to us or entirely taken by us. By properly appreciating the importance of spontaneity in constituting normativity, and its relationship with agency, the Sellarsian conception of reasons that I sketch here makes room for both agency and constraint to contribute to practical deliberation.

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