Moral reasons of our own

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis examines the idea of the second-personal reason, as advocated by Stephen Darwall in his influential book, The Second-Person Standpoint. A second-personal reason is a reason that exists not in the world, nor in a single individual's mind, but in the relationship between two (or more) people: second-personal reasons are reasons given to a first person by a second. The idea of second-personality is gaining ground in contemporary Metaethics - as well as in Psychology and the Philosophy of Mind - and this thesis aims to give a novel presentation of Darwall's Second-Personal metaethic that makes clear just why it is so popular. As I will present it, Darwall's Second-Personal account is a fresh kind of metaethic that promises to give us the 'best of both worlds', enjoying all the benefits of traditional metaethics, such as Realism and Neo-Kantianism, while simultaneously overcoming their respective defects. However, I go on to argue that Darwall's Second-Personal account ultimately fails. Contrary to initial appearances, Darwall's Second-Personal account does not present any significant advances, and, whatever advantages it does appear to possess, it possesses only by virtue of its covert, illicit appeal to Realism. In particular, I argue that we have no grounds for believing that there are indeed such things as second-personal reasons in the first place. After all, who are you to tell me what to do? In response to this criticism, I offer a new, different reading of Darwall's Second-Personal account, according to which it is not to be read as one amongst other metaethics, such as Realism or Neo-Kantianism. It is, rather, to be read as an entirely different approach to Metaethics. Taking my inspiration from Gilbert Ryle, I cash this out in terms of the Second-Personal account's reacting to the category-mistakenness of traditional Metaethics, by reconceiving moral reasons as belonging to a different kind of category altogether. When we understand morality correctly, as belonging to its proper category, then it follows that moral reasons are indeed second-personal. They are moral reasons of our own.

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