Regan Lance Reitsma

 Assistant Professor of Philosophy

King's College; Wilkes-Barre, PA


Office: Hafey-Marian 503

Phone: 570-208-5900 ex 5781

Fax: (570) 208-5988




                 Ph.D.     Dissertation:  “Practical Identity and Rationally Impotent Desire”, advisor: Donald C. Hubin

                                (2007).  The Department of Philosophy, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. 

                   B.A.        The Departments of Philosophy and Classics, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

                     Honors Graduate in Philosophy and Classics (1994).


        Research Interests

                Areas of Specialty:          Meta-Ethics, Moral Psychology, Practical Rationality

                Areas of Competency:     Philosophy of Religion, Ethical Theory and Applied Ethics, Social and Political Philosophy, Ancient Greek Philosophy, Hume and Kant








        Dissertation Abstract

                 Dissertation Title:  Practical Identity and Rationally Impotent Desire


Are there rationally impotent desires? I think yes. Reflection suggests the following (call it ‘R’): some basic, satisfiable motivational states do not deserve a voice in practical deliberation. To take an example from Gary Watson, imagine a loving mother who, while bathing her beloved infant, experiences—shockingly—an urge to drown the child. The mother is likely to regard her urge as normatively impotent; if prone to speak like a philosopher, she might say, “My merely having an urge to drown my child is not a consideration in favor of my doing so.”

                 At stake is whether the Humean (or subjective instrumentalist) theory of practical rationality is able to capture R. Humeanism grounds rational advice in human desire: an agent’s (objective) normative reasons for acting are ultimately derived from her subjective, contingent, conative states, along with the relevant facts about the means to their satisfaction. Humeanism appears to deny R: on one construal of her psychic condition, the mother has conflicting basic desires; so she has a normative reason both to drown her child (grounded in her urge) and a normative reason not to (grounded in her love). At best, the theory is able to say that the mother’s reason not to drown her child trumps, or maybe even swamps, her reason to drown him; but the urge—being a basic motivational state—does, according to the theory, generates a normative reason, however weak. To the degree R appears plausible, Humeanism appears insufficiently critical of human desire: it grants a voice to undeserving desires.

                 I argue that a sophisticated version of Humeanism is able to capture R. This type of Humeanism accepts the claim (which is partly constitutive of Humeanism) that only basic desires are rationally potent, but rejects the claim that all basic desires are rationally potent. In advocating sophisticated Humeanism, I incur a theoretical debt; I must reveal what distinguishes rationally potent from rationally impotent desires. After rejecting several reductive attempts to ground rational potency in a desire’s phenomenological or behavioral strength or in its simply being backed by a highest-order desire, I develop a notion of a practical identity.

                 Christine Korsgaard’s anti-Humean conception of practical rationality also appeals to the notion of a practical identity. I agree with Korsgaard that a practical identity plays a fundamental role in structuring an agent’s deliberation by providing norms not only for behavior but for what to treat as a reason. A basic desire can be rendered rationally impotent for an agent, if treating such a desire as a reason is forbidden by a practical identity to which the agent is committed.  Love makes demands: a lover (and a good mother) doesn’t treat a violent urge against her beloved (child) as a reason. I disagree fundamentally, however, with Korsgaard’s neo-Kantian conception of what makes identity-based norms rationally binding. A proper understanding of a rationally binding practical identity entails a broadly Humean conception of practical rationality, for the norms of an identity are directly binding on an agent only if she cares intrinsically about the ends that the identity promotes or some other feature of the identity. It is ultimately the mother’s love for her child and her desire to be a good mother that make her practical identity and its associated norms rationally binding on her.  


        Language Skills

                Ancient Greek (reading)                                   

                Frysian (speaking and reading)


        Professional Associations

                The American Philosophical Association      

                The Society of Christian Philosophers


                 Teaching Experience


                     Courses Assisted:

                    Courses Taught:                                                                                  

                 Educational Programs