Moral Reason, Moral Sentiments and the Realization of Altruism: A Comparative Study of Nagel, ZHANG Zai and WANG FUZHI

Asian Philosophy 22 (2):93-119 (2012)
This paper begins with Thomas Nagel’s investigation of the possibility of altruism.1 Altruism, by Nagel’s definition, is “merely a willingness to act in consideration of the interests of other persons, without the need of ulterior motives.” (Nagel: 79) The fundamental question Nagel investigates is: how is altruism possible? The reason why we need to investigate the possibility of altruism is exactly that an altruistic act is not readily exercised; it requires some effort on the part of the agent. Nagel discusses various cases of “motivational interference,” such as weakness of the will, cowardice, laziness, panic, etc. (Nagel: 66). In addition, we can also imagine that attitudes such as procrastination, apathy, inconsistency, and consideration for one’s future self all pose an obstacle to the causal efficacy of altruistic motivation. Therefore, a successful motivational theory of altruism must explain how altruism is possible under all these motivational interferences. However, in this paper I want to push the question further: how can altruism be realized in our contemporary society? When the pursuit of the gratification of one’s own desires generally has an immediate causal efficacy, how can one also be motivated to care for others and to act towards the wellbeing of others? The paper will begin with an..
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