Course Syllabus


Fall 2023
Tuesday 12:10-2:00 p.m.
The Dennes Room (234 Moses Hall)

R. Jay Wallace
Office: 134 Moses Hall
Office Hours:  Thursdays 2:30-4:00 p.m. (other times by appointment)


Rational agency involves activity that is somehow responsive to our own capacity for normative or evaluative thought. We reflect on what we have reason to do, for instance, and modify our intentions on the basis of such reflection. In this seminar we will look at some important recent work on this general topic, focusing in particular on contributions by Joseph Raz, Pamela Hieronymi, Matthew Boyle, and Agnes Callard. Questions to be addressed include the following: the nature of reasons; the relation of reasons to attitudes, values, and questions; the connections between reasons, reasoning, and activity; the bases of responsibility for what we think and do; the apparent orientation of agency toward the good; and the special features of aspirational agency, which is responsive to reasons and values that are not yet fully grasped by the agent.


This is a graduate seminar in the Department of Philosophy; the intended audience is graduate students in the philosophy Ph.D. program at Berkeley. Those who are not graduate students in philosophy (including graduate students in other departments, advanced undergraduate students, and visitors) may enroll in or audit the course only with the express permission of the instructor.

Those taking the seminar for credit must submit a term paper, of about 18 pages (5,000-5,500 words), by Friday, December 15. Topics will be developed in consultation with the instructor; I would like to see a one-page (provisional) abstract of your term paper by November 24.

Regular participation in seminar discussions should be regarded as a requirement of the course. Those taking the seminar for credit will also be expected to post short comments or questions on readings every other week (these assignments will be managed in the "Discussions" section of the bCourses site).

Provisional Schedule of Readings

Note: Electronic copies of the readings are posted to the “Files” section of the bCourses site for this seminar.

Aug. 29:  Introductory Session

Sept. 5:  Joseph Raz, From Normativity to Responsibility, chaps. 2 (“Reasons: Explanatory and Normative”) and 3 (“Reasons: Practical and Adaptive”)

Sept. 12:  Joseph Raz, From Normativity to Responsibility, chaps. 4 (“On the Guise of the Good”) and 5 (“Reason, Rationality, and Normativity”)

Sept. 19:  Joseph Raz, From Normativity to Responsibility, chaps. 12 (“Being in the World”) and 13 (“Responsibility and the Negligence Standard”)

Sept. 26:  Joseph Raz, The Roots of Normativity, chaps. 3 (“Normativity: The Place of Reasoning”) and 6 (“The Guise of the Bad”)

Oct. 3:  Pamela Hieronymi, “The Wrong Kind of Reasons”, “Reasoning First”, and “The Use of Reasons in Thought”

Oct. 10: [continuation of discussion from preceding session]

Oct. 17:  Pamela Hieronymi, “The Will as Reason” and “Reasons for Action”

Oct. 24:  Pamela Hieronymi, “Reflection and Responsibility” and “I'll Bet You Think This Blame is about You”

Oct. 31:  Matthew Boyle, “Making Up Your Mind and the Activity of Reason” and “Active Belief”

Nov. 7:  Matthew Boyle, “Additive Theories of Rationality: A Critique” and (with Doug Lavin) “Goodness and Desire”

Nov. 14:  Agnes Callard, Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming, Introduction, chap. 1 and chap. 2

Nov. 21:  Agnes Callard, Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming, chap. 3 and chap. 4

Nov. 28:  Agnes Callard, Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming, chap. 5 and chap. 6, Conclusion


Some additional recent literature relevant to the general topic

  • Broome, John, Rationality through Reasoning (Blackwell, 2013)
  • Dancy, Jonathan, Practical Reality (Oxford, 2000)
  • Howard, Christopher and R. A. Rowland, Fittingness (Oxford, 2022)
  • Kiesewetter, Benjamin, The Normativity of Rationality (Oxford, 2017)
  • Kolodny, Niko, “Why be Rational?”, Mind 114 (2005), 509-63
  • Lord, Errol, The Importance of Being Rational (Oxford, 2018)
  • McHugh, Conor and Jonathan Way, Getting Things Right (Oxford, 2022)
  • Mantel, Susanne, Determined by Reasons (Routledge, 2016)
  • Markovits, Julia, “Acting for the Right Reasons”, Philosophical Review 119 (2010), 201-42
  • Shapiro, Tamar, Feeling Like It (Oxford, 2021)
  • Schroeder, Mark, Slaves of the Passions (Oxford, 2007)
  • Setiya, Kieran, Reasons without Rationalism (Oxford, 2007)
  • Skorupski, John, The Domain of Reasons (Oxford, 2010)
  • Tenenbaum, Sergio, Rational Powers in Action (Oxford, 2020)
  • Wedgwood, Ralph, The Value of Rationality (Oxford, 2017)
  • Williams, Bernard, "Internal Reasons and the Obscurity of Blame", in his Making Sense of Humanity (Cambridge, 2010)

Older, but still important texts

  • Nagel, Thomas, The Possibility of Altruism (Princeton, 1970)
  • Scanlon, T. M., What We Owe to Each Other (Harvard, 1999): chaps. 1 (on reasons and judgment sensitive attitudes); 2 ("buck-passing" account of value); appendix (on Williams) 
  • Williams, Bernard, "Internal and External Reasons", in his Moral Luck (Cambridge, 1981)


Course Summary:

Date Details Due