Feeling like doing something is not the same as deciding to do it. When you feel like doing something, you are still free to decide to do it or not. You are having an inclination to do it, but you are not thereby determined to do it. I call this the moment of drama. This book is about what you are faced with, in this moment. How should you relate to the inclinations you “have,” given that you are free to (...) “act on” them or not? To answer this question, we need an account of what sort of thing we are relating to, in this moment. But here we find a genuine philosophical problem. Our inclinations are forms of motivation, with respect to which we are distinctively passive. To be motivated is to be self-moved. But how can we be passive in relation to our own self-movement? Is our relation to our inclinations like that of rider to horse? Or is it like our relation to our own, spontaneous judgments or perceptions? I lay out three constraints on any theory of inclination, and I argue that familiar theories fail to meet them, because they make being inclined to φ too similar or dissimilar to φ-ing. I then put forward the “inner animal” view, which holds that when you are merely inclined to act, the instinctive part of yourself is already active, while the rest of you is not. In this moment, your will is “at a crossroads.” You can humanize your inclination, or dehumanize yourself. (shrink)
There is a puzzle in the very notion of passive motivation ("passion" or "inclination"). To be motivated is not simply to be moved from the outside. Motivation is in some sense self-movement. But how can an agent be passive with respect to her own motivation? How is passive motivation possible? In this paper I defend the ancient view that inclination stems from a motivational source independent of reason, a motivational source that is both agential and nonrational.
In this paper I try to undermine complacency with a predominant conception of desire, for the sake of refocusing attention on a philosophical problem. The predominant conception holds that to have a desire is to occupy an evaluative outlook, a perspective from which the agent 'sees' the world in practically salient terms. I argue that it is not clear what this theory is a theory of, because the concept of desire at its center is deeply ambiguous. Understood as a theory (...) of desire in what I call the "placeholder" sense, the evaluative outlook theory is at bottom a theory of action explanation. So construed, its claim is relatively uncontroversial, and falls far short of being a full theory of action explanation. Understood as a theory of desire in what I call the "substantive" sense, it does not even go so far as to acknowledge the central problem such a theory has to answer. That problem is how we can be passive (in a particular sense) with respect to our own motivation. (shrink)
Towards Justice and Virtue is Onora O’Neill’s most developed account thus far of her distinctive approach to moral and political philosophy. Readers who are already familiar with O’Neill’s articles and her two previous books will appreciate the way it brings together in one sustained and rigorous argument the various themes which have occupied her attention over the years. Those who are new to O’Neill’s work will find in it a lucid, accessible, and provocative challenge to contemporary ethical theories.
The utilitarian conception, which I call “action as production,” holds that action is a way of making use of the world, conceived as a causal mechanism. According to the rational intuitionist conception, which I call “action as assertion,” action is a way of acknowledging the value in the world, conceived as a realm of status. On the Kantian constructivist conception, which I call “action as participation,” action is a way of making the world, qua causal mechanism, come to count as (...) a realm of status. My rather limited aim in this paper is to identify three substantively different answers the question of how action relates an agent to the world, regarded as a context of action. (shrink)
In this paper I defend Kant’s Incorporation Thesis, which holds that we must “incorporate” our incentives into our maxims if we are to act on them. I see this as a thesis about what is necessary for a human being to make the transition from ‘having a desire’ to ‘acting on it’. As such, I consider the widely held view that ‘having a desire’ involves being focused on the world, and not on ourselves or on the desire. I try to (...) show how this view is connected with a denial of any deep distinction between reason and inclination. I then argue for an alternative view of what ‘having a desire’ involves, one according to which it involves being focused both on the world and on ourselves. I show how this view fits naturally with the Kantian distinction between reason and inclination, accounts for independent intuitions about ‘having a desire’, and supports the Incorporation Thesis. I then make some further suggestions about how we might conceive of the object of incorporation. (shrink)
A task of any moral theory is to account for both the rigidity and the flexibility of moral rules. Utilitarianism faces the problem of building rigidity into a framework that tends towards objectionable flexibility. Kantianism faces the problem of building flexibility into a framework that tends towards objectionable rigidity. I offer an argument on this front on behalf of Kantians. I show how Kantians can maintain that actions are right and wrong "in themselves," while still maintaining that such actions can (...) be corrupted under certain "nonideal" circumstances. (shrink)
In this paper I develop an analogy between an interpersonal hierarchy and an intrapersonal hierarchy. The analogy is between the authority of adults over children, and the authority of our willing selves over our wanting selves. The analogy allows us to see how each hierarchy is rooted in an asymmetry that is natural and not merely conventional.
This chapter is about philosophical method. The Kantian method in the theory of agency is often characterized as a “first-person” method. But what does this mean? I motivate this question by showing how Kantians and most non-Kantians routinely fail to communicate when debating each other about the nature of human agency. I trace this failure to a more fundamental difference in philosophical method, one that tends to go unacknowledged. Most non-Kantian theories of agency, including belief/desire theories and their variants, address (...) the question, “What happens when someone acts?” Kant’s theory, I claim, addresses the question, “What am I doing insofar as I am acting?” As long as this difference remains unarticulated and unexplained, Kantian and non-Kantian theorists of agency will continue to talk past one another. (shrink)
Drawing on parallels in Hutcheson and Hume, I raise two worries about Bratman’s theory of shared agency. First, has Bratman captured the interpersonal character of shared agency? Second, has he captured its practical character? By “its practical character,” I mean the sense in which shared agency is something we can undertake under that description, and not just a condition we might happen to find ourselves in? I argue that Bratman’s theory falls short of answering this second worry. The source of (...) the shortcoming, I argue, is a fundamental methodological commitment that structures his action theory as a whole. This is the commitment to regard the concepts of action and shared action as empirical concepts, rather than as practical concepts. (shrink)
In these brief comments, I explore some ambiguities concerning John Deigh's notion of empathy in relation to morality and justice. First, does Deigh conceive of empathy as a morally neutral capacity that can be used for good or bad purposes or, rather, as a capacity that presupposes a moral orientation? I look to his previous work and find evidence supporting both readings. I suggest that the right way to understand empathy is as a moral notion. Empathy is the product of (...) an activity—the activity of empathizing. This activity in turn presupposes a certain moral orientation: one that involves placing a certain kind of value on others. I then ask whether Deigh equates empathy with the sense of justice. I do not believe he does, but still he does not say much about the relation between them. I suggest that while the two are not the same, and while there can be tension between them, they ultimately stem from the same basic moral orientation, one that at least vaguely resembles the morality of cooperation. (shrink)
Christine M. Korsgaard has had a profound influence on moral philosophy over the past forty years. Through her writing and teaching she has developed a distinctive, rigorous, and historically informed way of thinking about ethics, agency, and the normative dimension of human life more generally. The twelve original essays in this volume are written in her honor on the occasion of her retirement from teaching. They engage questions that recur in her work: Why are we obligated to do what morality (...) demands? What features of our nature make us subject to moral obligation? What does it mean to be autonomous and responsible for what we do? What do we owe to nonhuman animals? Contributors include Stephen Darwall, Kyla Ebels-Duggan, Barbara Herman, Richard Moran, Japa Pallikkathayil, Faviola Rivera-Castro, T.M. Scanlon, Tamar Schapiro, Sharon Street, David Sussman, Sigrún Svavarsdóttir, and David Velleman. These essays shed light on Korsgaard's own views while staking out provocative new positions on the topics that feature centrally in her own work. (shrink)