Moral Obligation: Relational or Second-Personal?

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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The Problem of Obligation is the problem of how to explain the features of moral obligations that distinguish them from other normative phenomena. Two recent accounts, the Second-Personal Account and the Relational Account, propose superficially similar solutions to this problem. Both regard obligations as based on the claims or legitimate demands that persons as such have on one another. However, unlike the Second-Personal Account, the Relational Account does not regard these claims as based in persons’ authority to address them. Advocates of the Relational Account accuse the Second-Personal Account of falling prey to the Problem of Antecedence. According to this objection, the Second-Personal Account is committed to the implausible claim that we have an obligation to φ only if, and because, others demand that we φ. Since the Relational Account’s proposed solution to the Problem of Obligation does not face the Problem of Antecedence, its advocates argue that it is dialectically superior to the Second-Personal Account. In this paper, I defend the Second-Personal Account by arguing that, first, the Relational Account does not actually solve the Problem of Obligation and, second, the Second-Personal Account does not fall prey to the Problem of Antecedence.



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Janis David Schaab
Humboldt University, Berlin

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