The Dualism of the Practical Reason: Some Interpretations and Responses

Etica and Politica / Ethics and Politics 10 (2):19-41 (2008)
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Sidgwick’s dualism of the practical reason is the idea that since egoism and utilitarianism aim both to have rational supremacy in our practical decisions, whenever they conflict there is no stronger reason to follow the dictates of either view. The dualism leaves us with a practical problem: in conflict cases, we cannot be guided by practical reason to decide what all things considered we ought to do. There is an epistemic problem as well: the conflict of egoism and utilitarianism shows that they cannot be both self-evident principles. Only the existence of a just God could, for Sidgwick, prevent the conflict and thus solve the dualism. The paper first explores in detail and rejects some reconstructions of the dualism: a purely logical account, and accounts whereby egoism and utilitarianism are principles of pro tanto reasons or of sufficient reasons. Then it proposes a better account, in which egoism and utilitarianism are logically compatible and yet conflicting principles of all things considered reason. The account is shown to fit with Sidgwick’s view of the dualism and of its practical and epistemic pitfalls. Finally, some views are discussed as to the wider positive significance of the dualism, regarded as a challenge to the rational authority of morality, or as indicating the structural opposition of agentrelative and agent-neutral reasons, or again as the imperfect yet amendable attempt at a comprehensive pluralist theory of practical reasons.



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Francesco Orsi
University of Tartu

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