Re-examining Deep Conventions: Practical Reason and Forward-Looking Agency

Part of the Law and Philosophy Library book series (LAPS, volume 126)


According to Rodríguez-Blanco, there are many key distinctions that play an important role in mapping out plausible ways of thinking about law construed as a social practice. Among the varied dichotomies the one that has probably been most influential is the distinction between a description of an action and the normative characterisation of an action. The former aims to explain the action without resorting to the values or principles of the agent; the latter aims to show how actions are part of the normative landscape where values, principles and other normative standards play a key role. The focus might be on the values, principles and standards of the agent or on values, principles and standards that are objective. In previous work, Rodríguez-Blanco has defended the view that the primary conception of intentional action is normative all the way through. There is no “brute fact” or “pure facts” about actions and therefore actions cannot primarily be grasped by descriptors of the world either mental, physical or of a similar sort. She has argued that in order to make intentional actions intelligible we need to resort to the values or principles or good-making characteristics that the agent aims to bring about in the world and we need to understand that the values, principles or good-making characteristics of the action provide a unity and intelligibility to the various bodily movements of the agent. This is a complex and occasionally difficult understanding of agency but it is one that, in her view, is sound. The core elements of this account of agency are that (a) there is a parallel between practical reason or deliberative reasoning and intentional action; (b) practical reasoning involves practical knowledge which is non-observational; (c) the error of an action stems not from what the world looks like but from the performance of the agent; and (d) intentional action is primarily from the first person or deliberative point of view and therefore it is forward-looking. In this paper, Rodríguez-Blanco focuses only on (d) and argues that this feature provides the key premise for the conclusion that a characterisation of actions in social practices, including law, cannot be carried out on the basis of descriptions. She first shows that (d) is true and she then advances the best account of actions in terms of descriptions provided by legal philosophers in recent years, which is the idea that actions and the resulting social practices can correctly be grasped as “deep conventions”. Finally, Rodríguez-Blanco shows that conventions sensu stricto and deep conventions require (d) to be intelligible.



I am grateful to Andrés Botero, Ken Ehrenberg, Sandra Gomora-Juárez, Jasminka Hasanbegovic, Maciej Juzaszek, Andrej Kristan, Dimitrios Kyritsis, Jose Juan Moreso, Dennis Patterson, Lorena Ramírez, Josefa Ruiz-Resa, Pablo Sánchez-Ostiz, Paolo Sandro, Helga Varden, Caridad Velarde and Pilar Zambrano for their comments on earlier drafts of this chapter.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Surrey, Centre for Law and PhilosophyGuildfordUK

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