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conviction that, irrespective of his feelings, it was appropriate to apologize.
The motive was a belief about what reasons for action he had.
Can we describe this motive, even “formally,” as a desire to apologize?
It hardly helps clarity to do so. In the ordinary, substantive, sense of the
term “desire,” A has apologized because he thought he had reason to do
so, whether or not he desired to do so. That allows for a difference between
motive and desire “ and the Humean view is then the substantive doctrine
that every operative motive must involve a desire, even when it appears not
to. For a Humean, the essential points are that desire is an affective and not
a purely cognitive state, and that only a motive which includes an affective
state is capable of triggering action. Hence, according to the Humean, if A
apologized there must have been some desire, that is, affective state, or in
Hume™s word, “passion,” which caused him to do so.
We should understand the word “desire,” as it occurs in (II), in this
Humean way. So if one endorses (II), one thinks that A has reason to apolo-
gize only if there™s some affective state or passion which would be served by

18 Williams (1981), p. 105.
82 John Skorupski

his doing so. And now let™s ask whether Williams endorses (II) understood
in this way. It seems not “ he can allow that A™s beliefs alone caused him to
apologize, and in that case he would say that they were the motive for A™s
apology and hence in their own right an element in A™s S. Thus he asks:

Does believing that a particular consideration is a reason to act in a particular
way provide, or indeed constitute, a motivation to act? . . . Let us grant that
it does “ this claim indeed seems plausible, so long at least as the connexion
between such beliefs and the disposition to act is not tightened to that
unnecessary degree which excludes akrasia. The claim is in fact so plausible,
that this agent, with this belief, appears to be one about whom, now, an
internal reason statement could truly be made: he is one with an appropriate
motivation in his S.19

Williams agrees here, as it seems to me quite rightly, that a belief on A™s part
about reasons “ for example, his belief that treading on your toe is a reason
for him to apologize “ can “provide, or indeed constitute, a motivation to
act.” In allowing that, and thus including the belief in A™s S, he seems to
depart from Humeanism about motivation.
The essential point for the Humean was that any motivating state must
contain an affective element. That still leaves open a response to the case
we™re considering which would depend on what is often called “expres-
sivism.” Expressivism says that what we treat as “beliefs” about reasons for
action aren™t really beliefs. They are affective attitudes, of approval or dis-
approval, toward action. On the expressivist view, A™s motive includes an
attitude “ that treading on your toe is a reason for him to apologize “ which
is not to be thought of as a belief but as an affective state: a disposition to
approve of apologizing to people whom one has inconvenienced. It is this
affective attitude of approval that does the motivating.
But Williams does not take this line. Accepting that propositions and
beliefs about reasons are genuine propositions and beliefs, he provides a
truth-condition for them in the form of (I). He then challenges the external
reasons theorist to explain the content of propositions about reasons in a
way which shows how external reasons can exist:

What is it the agent comes to believe when he comes to believe he has a
reason to •? If he becomes persuaded of this supposedly external truth, so
that the reason does then enter his S, what is that he has come to believe?
This question presents a challenge to the externalist theorist.20

19 Williams (1981), p. 107.
20 Williams (1995), p. 39. Cf Williams (1981), p. 109.
Internal Reasons and the Scope of Blame

What is the challenge? It would be ineffective if it simply required the
externalist to explain the content of propositions about reasons in a way
that is consistent with the view that their truth condition is given by (I).
That would be patently question begging.21 Is it, then, a demand to provide
a truth condition for propositions about reasons other than that given by
(I) “ but that like (I) does not itself deploy the concept of a reason? Why
should there be an onus on the external reasons theorist to do that? It is
not a demand that could be sensibly placed on truth conditions in general,
and it is not obvious that there is some obscurity about the concept of a
reason that encourages reductive analysis in this case in particular. When
I consider my belief that if I have inconvenienced someone I have reason
to apologize, or my belief that if someone has done me a good turn I have
reason to show gratitude, their content seems perfectly clear. It does not
cry out for analysis in terms which eliminate the concept of a reason. We
shall return to this point in the next section. For the moment, however, let
us focus on Williams™ own account of the content of beliefs about reasons,
in order to see why it might lead him, after all, to the Humean (II).
It is not, as we have just seen, because he endorses Hume™s desire-belief
psychology. Williams accepts that A™s belief that he has reason to apologize
can motivate A; he says that the belief is then itself a motive in A™s S “ as
in the passage quoted above: “this agent, with this belief, appears to be one
about whom, now, an internal reason statement could truly be made: he is
one with an appropriate motivation in his S.”
This conclusion, however, has a peculiar consequence. For it now seems to
follow in general “ for any belief I have about what there is reason for me to
do “ that so long as the belief has motivating force it™s true. If the belief that
I have reason to • is in my S then it is a motive which would be “served”
by •-ing.22 So by (I) the “internal reason statement” that I have reason to
• can truly be made about me.

Can this be right? I can certainly have false beliefs about what reasons
I have to act; Williams does not dispute that.23 And surely such beliefs can
be false even if they do have motivating force! Williams could accept this
in part, too: he could answer that beliefs about reasons can be excluded
from the agent™s S when they are based on false beliefs about the facts. That
would simply be an application of the general point that motives based on
false factual beliefs can be excluded from S. But what, now, of fundamental

21 As noted by Hooker (1987).
22 Take it that the belief that one has reason to • is “served” by •-ing.
23 See, e.g., Williams (1981), p. 103 “ point (iii)(a).
84 John Skorupski

beliefs about reasons “ that is, beliefs about reasons for action which are
themselves ultimate, and not derived in part from factual beliefs? If these
motivate a believer they will be in his or her S, and so, by (I) they will be
true. Thus all of an agent™s fundamental, motivating beliefs about reasons
will be true.
We could avoid this result by excluding A™s beliefs about what A has
reason to do from A™s S. If that is done, the internalist analysis of reasons
will say that A™s belief that he has reason to • can be true only if there is
some motive for •-ing, which is not itself the belief that there is reason to •,
in A™s S: and this, presumably, will be a desire, in the sense of an affective
rather than a cognitive attitude. So there is a drive here towards normative
Humeanism “ that is, to the truth of (II), with “desire” understood in the
stricter, affective, sense.
It does not force the conclusion that Williams is a Humean. Perhaps
he would accept instead that all fundamental and motivating beliefs about
reasons are true. Moreover, he also says things that pull in a non-Humean
direction. In the ¬rst place, since he accepts that beliefs about reasons can
themselves motivate, the argument he gives for internalism, which we will
consider in the next section, supports only (I), and not the narrower (II).
Then there is his intriguing suggestion that Kant, who to some people™s
minds would be a paradigm externalist, is best treated as an internalist:
Kant thought that a person would recognize the demands of morality if he
or she deliberated correctly from his or her existing S, whatever that S might
be, but he thought this because he took those demands to be implicit in a
conception of practical reason which he could show to apply to any rational
deliberator as such. I think that it best preserves the point of the internalism/
externalism distinction to see this as a limiting case of internalism.24

At ¬rst glance, this looks inconsistent with something we saw Williams
saying earlier, namely, that considerations of prudence and morality should
not be included in the agent™s deliberative route. However, one can make a
distinction here between the intuitionist and the Kantian. The intuitionist
thinks that you can directly intuit the demands of morality. He wants, so
to speak, to write these demands into every agent™s deliberative route by
an intuitive ¬at. The Kantian, in contrast, is more indirect: he argues that
if you accept that you have any reasons for acting at all, then you can be
shown to face the demands of morality. This claim is of the form: if you

24 Williams (1995b), p. 220, n. 3. (Williams is responding to Martin Hollis™ view that Kant
should be classi¬ed as an externalist about reasons, and agreeing with Christine Korsgaard™s
[1986] internalist reading of Kant “ cf Williams [1995], p. 44, n. 3.)
Internal Reasons and the Scope of Blame

have reasons then you have moral reasons, and the antecedent is supposed
to be non-redundant. Williams does not think the Kantian argument can
be sustained, and it is not our business here to inquire whether it can be; the
point for present purposes is only that he does on this basis accept that Kant
is to be classi¬ed as an internalist. So in principle there can be motives that
are not desires, for on the Kantian view under consideration, an agent can
arrive at his moral obligations by a process of re¬‚ection on what is involved
in his having reasons at all, and will then be motivated by his conclusions
about those obligations; that is, motivated by a purely cognitive process. By
(I), but not by (II) understood in the Humean way, this agent has reason to
carry out the obligations he believes he has.


As we noted, one way Williams argues for his view is by challenging exter-
nalists to explain the content of propositions about reasons. What, he asks,
is it that the agent “comes to believe” when he accepts a new reason for
acting? As we also noted, the question invites a short answer: when a per-
son who previously saw no reason to show gratitude for the good turns
people do for him comes to believe that there is after all reason to show
gratitude, what he comes to believe is just that. Why, after all, should it
be assumed that the concept of a reason is analysable in terms that don™t
include that concept? Why shouldn™t we just accept it as a concept primitive
to normative thought?
Perhaps, however, we should put the question differently. How does this
person come to believe that? Suppose, for example, that Annabel used to
think, in a tough-minded way, that expressions of gratitude are a waste of
time. After all if a person does you a good turn he™s surely not doing it to
get a thank you. Or if he is, then he doesn™t deserve one. But now she comes
to realize that people are hurt when their good will is not appreciated, even
though they were acting from genuine good will, and not just to get a thank
you. Maybe she learns it from her own case, when others don™t show her
So far the story is reconcilable with Williams™ internalism. What has
happened, he might say, is that she had an existing motivation not to hurt
people, or not to hurt people who don™t deserve to be hurt, and has now
realized that that motivation is served by expressing gratitude to people
who help her out of genuine good will. In other words, she comes to see
that she has an internal reason that previously she did not see she had.
86 John Skorupski

But there are many ways in which one reaches novel insights into rea-
sons. Suppose, for example, that we have a philosophical discussion about
capital punishment. I think it is a good thing, so I think I have reason to vote
for a party which wants to reinstate it. You try to dissuade me: you argue
that punishment should always offer the criminal the possibility of coming
to recognize the wrongness of what he did, accepting the legitimacy of the
punishment and returning to society “with a clean slate.” This, you say, is
negated by capital punishment, and that means that the necessary element
of respect for the criminal is lost. I was previously a pure deterrence theo-
rist “ but now I™m persuaded by your remarks, and thus I come to see reason
to vote for the abolitionists. It is implausible to argue, in this case, that my
new insight is correct only if I have acquired a new desire, or already had
one that would be served by this new way of voting. Although there is of
course no limit to the ad hoc postulation of desires, it™s more plausible to
allow that I may simply have been struck by a new re¬‚ection, which is that
punishment should always aim at atonement and return to society. Do we
then want to say that till I was struck by this thought I had no reason to
vote for the abolitionists, whereas now (if the thought motivates) I have
one? No. I™ve now come to believe that there™s reason to vote for abolition.
But what I™ve come to believe is that there already was such a reason, which
previously I had not grasped. And whether this new belief of mine is cor-
rect depends on a philosophical question about punishment, a question that
does not turn on what I believe or desire.
In the case of Annabel, if all she comes to see is that saying thank you
to people serves her existing desire not to hurt people who don™t deserve to
be hurt, she still hasn™t grasped the reason for thanking people. What gives
her reason to thank people is not her desires. It™s the fact that they have
done her a good turn out of good will. She may come to appreciate this
normative truth by experiencing for herself the hurt involved in being on
the receiving end of ingratitude, but the truth she comes to appreciate does
not require that thanking people should serve a motive in her S. Whether
I have reason to thank, or to apologize, does not turn on what my motives
are “ it turns solely on what you did to me or I did to you.25
Of course it is true, indeed truistic, that a person can only come to
appreciate some new reason for acting if they have the existing capacity to
do so. A new belief must emerge from an existing belief-forming capacity.

25 Cf Scanlon (1998), “(Williams™) internalism seems to force on us the conclusion that our
own reasons . . . are all contingent on the presence of appropriate elements in our subjective
motivational sets. This rings false and is, I believe, an important source of the widespread
resistance to Williams™ claims,” p. 367.
Internal Reasons and the Scope of Blame

But there is a difference between a capacity to recognize reasons and a desire
or even a motive; so the truism provides no support either for (II) or for (I).
Still, it does provide some leverage for a form of internalism somewhat
different to these. This will become clearer if we consider Williams™ other
It starts from what one might call the requirement of effectiveness.
This is a thesis, as Williams says, about “the interrelation of explanatory
and normative reasons”:

If it is true that A has a reason to •, then it must be possible that he should
• for that reason.26

Observe that particularisation to the agent is important: if this agent
has a particular reason to • then it must be possible that this agent should
• for this particular reason. To illustrate with one of Williams™ examples:
suppose I think that the activity you™re proposing is unchaste, so there™s
reason for you to avoid it.27 You respond that chastity is not a concept you
use. Perhaps you think you can see what facts about this activity make me
describe it as “unchaste,” but as far as you™re concerned these facts provide
no reason to avoid it at all. I might try to convey to you the ethical vision to
which the notion of chastity, and the conception of it as something worthy of
pursuit, belong. But you remain quite baf¬‚ed by this; nothing can persuade
you that these remarks of mine about something called chastity have any
reason-giving force at all. So it™s not possible that you should avoid •-ing
because •-ing is unchaste, that is, avoid it for that reason “ because you
simply can™t see it as a reason. You might avoid it in order to please me, and


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