Introduction: Agents and Their Reasons
If there is one truth about reasons to which all ethicists would most likely assent, it is that we each have an awful lot of them. At every moment of our lives, we have reasons for many actions and against many others. Disagreement enters when we start to ask which actions we have reasons to perform or to refrain from performing, and when we ask what makes it the case that we have the reasons that we do. Take, for example, an action such as making monthly contributions to an animal shelter. Not only will there be disagreement as to whether, for any given individual, she has reason to make that monthly contribution, but there will also be disagreement as to why she has such a reason: is it because doing so will minimize pain and/or maximize pleasure, because doing so will cultivate the virtue of generosity or the virtue of benevolence, because doing so is required by a right on the part of the animals themselves or on the part of some persons appropriately related to the animals, because the agent has a desire that puppies and kittens be safe and happy, or because of something else altogether?