Reasons and Rules

  • Samuel Stoljar


What we do, how we act or behave in our lives with regard to ourselves or to others, is on one level certainly determined by our felt needs and wants, as instinct drives us, as inclination bids us do; but on another level is, or can be, influenced by reason or rational reflection, as when we consider what we should do, or why, or when we think about our choices as choices or about our actions in the light of their objectives or effects. Without this capacity to reason about, and in this way to direct or guide, our actions, we would have no sense of what it means to act, to act for a purpose, nor of the evidence upon which we act, nor of rules or principles that distinguish between right and wrong actions; we would only have feelings and desires, doing our things not as self-conscious or self-starting individuals but as animals or plants do. Human action would be scarcely distinguishable from bodily movements, from such things as falling down or falling sick which are physical events but are not actions; for human actions, precisely because they are guided or guidable by reasons, also offer themselves to being judged as to how well or wisely we act, or how ill or foolishly.


Practical Reason Institutional Fact Legal Rule Moral Rule Legal Reasoning 
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  1. 1.
    Of course if a rule or reason is intelligible, it will also be informative, but the converse is not true: S. Körner, Categorical Frameworks (Oxford: Blackwell, 1970) p. 63.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    This is sometimes called an ‘anankastic’ proposition. See G. H. von Wright, Norm and Action (London: 1963) p. 10, where technical are further distinguished from hypothetical rules, e.g. ‘If the dog barks, don’t run’, a sentence normally used for prescribing a certain mode of conduct should a certain contingency happen. Whether von Wright helpfully classifies the various kinds of rules in the way he does is another question; he does seem to lack a general framework or theory to justify his particular classification, a criticism already made by Alf Ross, Directives and Norms (London: 1968) p. 78.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    T. Beardsworth, “’Ought’ and Rules” (1970) 45, Philosophy, pp. 240–1.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    For ‘appetitive’ questions, see A. Quinton, The Nature of Things (London: 1973) p. 360.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    J. R. Searle, Speech Acts (Cambridge: 1969) pp. 50–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 11.
    SeeJ. R. Cameron, “‘Ought’ and Institutional Obligation” (1971) 46, Philosophy, p. 309.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    see Christopher Cherry, ‘Regulative Rules and Constitutive Rules’ (1973) 23, Phil. Quart., pp. 301, 309;Google Scholar
  8. Searle, op. cit., pp. 33 — 5 who also maintains that constitutive rules make possible new forms of behaviour (such as, in particular, new games), but that regulative rules are more concerned with existing conduct (the rules against criminal or deviant behaviour being the simplest instances here). However even new rules of games do not so much create new forms of behaviour as, rather, new kinds of games; while regulative rules, too, may be concerned to change things for the future; in fact, many of our social rules do just this; of the latter one can indeed say what Kierkegaard said of life, that it ‘must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards’. For similar criticisms of Searle, see Christopher Cherry, ‘Regulative Rules and Constitutive Rules’ (1973) 23, Phil. Quart., pp. 301, 309; G. J. Wamock, The Object of Morality (London: 1971) pp. 37–38.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    See H. L. A. Hart, The Concept of Law (Oxford: 1961) p. 24;Google Scholar
  10. See H. L. A. Hart, The Concept of Law (Oxford: 1961) p. 24; A. Quinton, The Nature of Things (London: 1973) p. 364.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    See more fully H. N. Castaneda, ‘Ought and Moral Oughts’ (1965) 41, A.R.S.P. pp. 201, 204.Google Scholar

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© S. J. Stoljar 1980

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  • Samuel Stoljar

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