The Guise of the Good

Noûs 26 (1):3 - 26 (1992)
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Abstract

The agent portrayed in much philosophy of action is, let's face it, a square. He does nothing intentionally unless he regards it or its consequences as desirable. The reason is that he acts intentionally only when he acts out of a desire for some anticipated outcome; and in desiring that outcome, he must regard it as having some value. All of his intentional actions are therefore directed at outcomes regarded sub specie boni: under the guise of the good. This agent is conceived as being capable of intentional action—and hence as being an agent—only by virtue of being a pursuer of value. I want to question whether this conception of agency can be correct. Surely, so general a capacity as agency cannot entail so narrow a cast of mind. Our moral psychology has characterized, not the generic agent, but a particular species of agent, and a particularly bland species of agent, at that. It has characterized the earnest agent while ignoring those agents who are disaffected, refractory, silly, satanic, or punk. I hope for a moral psychology that has room for the whole motley crew. I shall begin by examining why some philosophers have thought that the attitudes motivating intentional actions involve judgments of value. I shall then argue that their conception of these attitudes is incorrect. Finally, I shall argue that practical reason should not be conceived as a faculty for pursuing value.

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Author's Profile

J. David Velleman
New York University

References found in this work

The possibility of altruism.Thomas Nagel - 1970 - Oxford,: Clarendon P..
Desiring the bad: An essay in moral psychology.Michael Stocker - 1979 - Journal of Philosophy 76 (12):738-753.
Reason and value.E. J. Bond - 1983 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Practical reflection.J. David Velleman - 1985 - Philosophical Review 94 (1):33-61.
Ways of Meaning.Martin Bell & Mark De Bretton Platts - 1980 - Philosophical Quarterly 30 (119):164.

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