Value objectivists like myself tend to think of practical reasoning as the process by which an agent forms beliefs about what things have value, and then organizes those beliefs in order to act in a way that makes sense in light of them. But suppose you are skeptical about objective value – how, in that case, do you understand practical reasoning?
We find one way of understanding it in Harry Frankfurt’s recent work (especially in The Reasons of Love). On Frankfurt’s view, the roots of practical reason are not cognitive but volitional: rather than detecting things’ pre-existing values, we give them value by caring about them. Love, which represents the deepest form of caring, sets the limits to practical reasoning; it is in light of what one loves that one’s actions must make sense. Love, then, has a special importance for human agency. It also has a special value for human beings: for according for Frankfurt, loving things makes a person’s life better, by making it meaningful.
The claim that practical reason may be grounded in love, or caring, might be an attractive picture for people whose sympathies are broadly Humean. And the claim that love enhances the value and meaningfulness of one’s life might be attractive to many objectivists (including myself). The question though, is: can Frankfurt have both? In fact there is, I think, a conflict between Frankfurt’s views about what makes a person’s life better, and his claims about the value of love.