About this topic
Summary The distinction between agent-relative and agent-neutral is a distinction in the form that various normative items (values, reasons, principles, theories) can take. Loosely speaking, agent-relative items make essential reference to the agent to whom they are addressed, e.g. the fact that x will make A happy is a reason for A to do x (or: the fact that x will make A's daughter happy is a reason for A to do x) while agent-neutral ones are generically addressed to anyone, e.g. the fact that x will make A happy is a reason (for anyone) to do x. The distinction is generally used to capture key differences between 1) deontological and consequentialist theories: the former make use of agent-relative principles or reasons, the latter do not; 2) ethical egoism and impartialism; 3) special obligations and impersonal ones. Arguing in favour of the agent-relative (or even against the agent-neutral) is therefore thought to be one central move in defending deontology, and mutatis mutandis for consequentialism. However, some authors have explored a broader understanding of consequentialism as teleology, which allows for agent-relativity. In most of the literature, agent-relative values are understood as constructions out of agent-relative reasons or principles, rather than an independent concept or entity.
Key works The distinction between agent-relative and agent-neutral was first formally proposed, under the labels of subjective and objective reasons, in Nagel 1970. Parfit 1984 draws a somewhat similar but different distinction, introducing the labels agent-relative and agent-neutral (theories). Nagel 1986 contains a classic statement of a complex normative outlook which includes both agent-relative and agent-neutral principles. McNaughton & Rawling 1991 and subsequent papers have done capital work to formulate the distinction and its implications. Dreier 1993 is a good starting point for exploring the possibility of agent-relative teleology. Essential historical references which allude to the distinction and its implications are: Sidgwick 1874, Moore 1903, and Broad 1942 (especially for the contrast between egoism and consequentialism/impartialism), and Ross 1930, for a classic statement of the importance of moral agent-relative reasons or duties.
Introductions Ridge 2011; Portmore 2013; Pettit 1997; McNaughton & Rawling 1995; Smith 2003; Portmore 2001.  The last three papers contain both advanced introductory material and further developments of the themes described in the summary and key works.
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34 found
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  1. Still Lives: The History and Philosophy of Mourning Texts.Veronica Alfano & Mark Alfano - forthcoming - Routledge.
    “Call no one happy until they are dead.” “Never speak ill of the dead.” If we still heed the injunctions of Solon and Chilon of Sparta, then obituaries, which represent a prominent way of expressing the human universal of grief, are a resource for philosophical anthropology. Philosophers have emphasized that we can determine what counts as a virtue for a given type of person in a given cultural context by analyzing what people say about the dead (Zagzebski 1996, p. 135). (...)
  2. Certain Features in Moore's Ethical Doctrines.C. D. Broad - 1942 - In P. A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of G. E. Moore. Evanston & Chicago.
  3. Healthcare for Unique Individuals: What We Can Learn From Santayana.Michael Brodrick - 2015 - Overheard in Seville 33 (33):45-55.
  4. Skorupski on Agent-Neutrality.John Broome - 1995 - Utilitas 7 (2):315.
  5. Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen, Personal Value. [REVIEW]Christian Coons - 2012 - Ethics 123 (1):183-188.
  6. LET'S FAKE MORALITY and ETHICS (the Pretence of Ethics and Morality in Philosophy and Life).Ulrich De De Balbian - 2017 - Oxford: Academic Publishers.
    Institutionalized and internalized, competence intersubjectivity contain many user-illusions and an imaginary or manifest image of reality, including of themselves (Dennett and Sellars),. This can be contrasted we a comprehension or comprehensive, understanding intersubjectivity. It is possible and perhaps even necessary to transform or replace the competence intersubjectivity to a comprehension or understanding (scientific, Dennett and Sellars) image of reality and themselves.Ethics and morality and studies of ethics and morality deal with the reality of competence intersubjectivity (by means of socio-cultural practices (...)
  7. Moral Status, Final Value, and Extrinsic Properties.Nicolas Delon - 2014 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 114 (3pt3):371-379.
    Starting from a distinction between intrinsic and final value, I explore the implications of the supervenience of final value on extrinsic properties regarding moral status. I make a case for ‘extrinsic moral status’ based on ‘extrinsic final value’. I show that the assumption of ‘moral individualism’, that moral status supervenes merely on intrinsic properties, is misguided, and results from a conflation of intrinsic with final value. I argue that at least one extrinsic property, namely vulnerability, can be the basis of (...)
  8. Comments on Pelser's “Against Frankfurt's Care Ground of Importance”.J. Carl Ficarrotta - 2011 - Southwest Philosophy Review 27 (2):43-47.
  9. Resisting Buck-Passing Accounts of Prudential Value.Guy Fletcher - 2012 - Philosophical Studies 157 (1):77-91.
    This paper aims to cast doubt upon a certain way of analysing prudential value (or good for ), namely in the manner of a ‘buck-passing’ analysis. It begins by explaining why we should be interested in analyses of good for and the nature of buck-passing analyses generally (§I). It moves on to considering and rejecting two sets of buck-passing analyses. The first are analyses that are likely to be suggested by those attracted to the idea of analysing good for in (...)
  10. Value and Friendship: A More Subtle View.Thomas Hurka - 2006 - Utilitas 18 (3):232-242.
    T. M. Scanlon has cited the value of friendship in arguing against a ‘teleological’ view of value which says that value inheres only in states of affairs and demands only that we promote it. This article argues that, whatever the teleological view's final merits, the case against it cannot be made on the basis of friendship. The view can capture Scanlon's claims about friendship if it holds, as it can consistently with its basic ideas, that (i) friendship is a higher-level (...)
  11. The Relational Nature of the Good.Christine M. Korsgaard - 2013 - Oxford Studies in Metaethics 8:1.
  12. Personal Relationships: Love, Identity, and Morality.Hugh LaFollette - 1995 - Wiley-Blackwell.
    This volume is a philosophical introduction and exploration of the nature and value of personal relationships. It is an ideal text for introductory philosophy, ethics, or applied ethics courses.
  13. Morality and Personal Relationships.Hugh LaFollette - 1995 - In Personal Relationships: Love, Identity, and Morality. Blackwell.
    Throughout this book, I made frequent reference to a wide range of moral issues: honesty, jealousy, sexual fidelity, commitment, paternalism, caring, etc. This suggests there is an intricate connection between morality and personal relationships. There is. Of course personal relationships do not always promote moral values, nor do people find all relationships salutary. Some friendships, marriages, and kin relationships are anything but healthy or valuable. We all know (and perhaps are in) some relationships which hinder personal growth, undermine moral values, (...)
  14. Impersonal Value, Universal Value, and the Scope of Cultural Heritage.Erich Hatala Matthes - 2015 - Ethics 125 (4):999-1027.
    Philosophers have used the terms 'impersonal' and 'personal value' to refer to, among others things, whether something's value is universal or particular to an individual. In this paper, I propose an account of impersonal value that, I argue, better captures the intuitive distinction than potential alternatives, while providing conceptual resources for moving beyond the traditional stark dichotomy. I illustrate the practical importance of my theoretical account with reference to debate over the evaluative scope of cultural heritage.
  15. A Moorean View of the Value of Lives.Kris McDaniel - 2014 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 95 (4):23-46.
    Can we understand being valuable for in terms of being valuable? Three different kinds of puzzle cases suggest that the answer is negative. In what follows, I articulate a positive answer to this question, carefully present the three puzzle cases, and then explain how a friend of the positive answer can successfully respond to them. This response requires us to distinguish different kinds of value bearers, rather than different kinds of value, and to hold that among the value bearers are (...)
  16. Achievement, Welfare and Consequentialism.David Mcnaughton & Piers Rawling - 2001 - Analysis 61 (2):156–162.
    significant role for accomplishment thereby admits a ‘Trojan Horse’ (267).1 To abandon hedonism in favour of a conception of well-being that incorporates achievement is to take the first step down a slippery slope toward the collapse of the other two pillars of utilitarian morality: welfarism and consequentialism. We shall argue that Crisp’s arguments do not support these conclusions. We begin with welfarism. Crisp defines it thus: ‘Well-being is the only value. Everything good must be good for some being or beings’ (...)
  17. Agent-Relativity and Terminological Inexactitudes.David McNaughton & Piers Rawling - 1995 - Utilitas 7 (2):319.
  18. Value and Agent-Relative Reasons.David McNaughton & Piers Rawling - 1995 - Utilitas 7 (1):31.
    In recent years the distinction between agent-relative and agent-neutral reasons has been taken by many to play a key role in distinguishing deontology from consequentialism. It is central to all universalist consequentialist theories that value is determined impersonally; the real value of any state of affairs does not depend on the point of view of the agent. No reference, therefore, to the agent or to his or her position in the world need enter into a consequentialist understanding of what makes (...)
  19. The Possibility of Altruism.Thomas Nagel - 1970 - Oxford Clarendon Press.
    Just as there are rational requirements on thought, there are rational requirements on action. This book defends a conception of ethics, and a related conception of human nature, according to which altruism is included among the basic rational requirements on desire and action. Altruism itself depends on the recognition of the reality of other persons, and on the equivalent capacity to regard oneself as merely one individual among many.
  20. What's Wrong with Moorean Buck-Passing?Francesco Orsi - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 164 (3):727-746.
    In this paper I discuss and try to remove some major stumbling blocks for a Moorean buck-passing account of reasons in terms of value (MBP): There is a pro tanto reason to favour X if and only if X is intrinsically good, or X is instrumentally good, or favouring X is intrinsically good, or favouring X is instrumentally good. I suggest that MBP can embrace and explain the buck-passing intuition behind the far more popular buck-passing account of value, and has (...)
  21. The Dualism of the Practical Reason: Some Interpretations and Responses.Francesco Orsi - 2008 - Etica and Politica / Ethics and Politics 10 (2):19-41.
    Sidgwick’s dualism of the practical reason is the idea that since egoism and utilitarianism aim both to have rational supremacy in our practical decisions, whenever they conflict there is no stronger reason to follow the dictates of either view. The dualism leaves us with a practical problem: in conflict cases, we cannot be guided by practical reason to decide what all things considered we ought to do. There is an epistemic problem as well: the conflict of egoism and utilitarianism shows (...)
  22. Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford University Press.
    Challenging, with several powerful arguments, some of our deepest beliefs about rationality, morality, and personal identity, Parfit claims that we have a false view about our own nature. It is often rational to act against our own best interersts, he argues, and most of us have moral views that are self-defeating. We often act wrongly, although we know there will be no one with serious grounds for complaint, and when we consider future generations it is very hard to avoid conclusions (...)
  23. The Consequentialist Perspective.Philip Pettit - 1997 - In M. Baron, P. Pettit & M. Slote (eds.), Three Methods of Ethics. Blackwell.
  24. Agent-Relative Vs. Agent-Neutral.Douglas W. Portmore - 2013 - In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell.
    This is a general introduction to the agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction.
  25. Combining Teleological Ethics with Evaluator Relativism: A Promising Result.Douglas W. Portmore - 2005 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 86 (1):95–113.
    Consequentialism is an agent-neutral teleological theory, and deontology is an agent-relative non-teleological theory. I argue that a certain hybrid of the two—namely, non-egoistic agent-relative teleological ethics (NATE)—is quite promising. This hybrid takes what is best from both consequentialism and deontology while leaving behind the problems associated with each. Like consequentialism and unlike deontology, NATE can accommodate the compelling idea that it is always permissible to bring about the best available state of affairs. Yet unlike consequentialism and like deontology, NATE accords (...)
  26. McNaughton and Rawling on the Agent-Relative/Agent-Neutral Distinction.Douglas W. Portmore - 2001 - Utilitas 13 (3):350-356.
    In this paper, I criticize David McNaughton and Piers Rawling's formalization of the agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction. I argue that their formalization is unable to accommodate an important ethical distinction between two types of conditional obligations. I then suggest a way of revising their formalization so as to fix the problem.
  27. Agent-Neutral Reasons: Are They for Everyone?B. C. Postow - 1997 - Utilitas 9 (2):249.
    According to both deontologists and consequentialists, if there is a reason to promote the general happiness then the reason must apply to everyone. This view seems almost self-evident; to challenge it is to challenge the way we think of moral reasons. I contend, however, that the view depends on the unwarranted assumption that the only way to restrict the application scope of a reason for action is by restricting it to those agents whose interests or projects are involved in the (...)
  28. Reasons for Action: Agent-Neutral Vs. Agent-Relative.Michael Ridge - 2011 - The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    The agent-relative/agent-neutral distintion is widely and rightly regarded as a philosophically important one. Unfortunately, the distinction is often drawn in different and mutually incompatible ways. The agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction has historically been drawn three main ways: the ‘principle-based distinction’, the ‘reason-statement-based distinction’ and the ‘perspective-based distinction’. Each of these approaches has its own distinctive vices (Sections 1-3). However, a slightly modified version of the historically influential principle-based approach seems to avoid most if not all of these vices (Section 4). The distinction (...)
  29. Methods of Ethics.Henry Sidgwick - 1901 - Kaplan.
    Introduction -- Ethics and politics -- Ethical judgments -- Pleasure and desire -- Free will -- Ethical principles and methods -- Egoism and self-love -- Chapter viii-intuitionism -- Good -- Book II: Egoism -- The principle and method of egoism -- Empirical hedonism -- Empirical hedonism (continued) -- Objective hedonism and common sense -- Happiness and duty -- Deductive hedonism -- Book III: Intuitionism -- Intuitionism -- Virtue and duty -- The intellectual virtues -- Benevolence -- Justice -- Laws and (...)
  30. The Methods of Ethics.Henry Sidgwick - 1874 - Thoemmes Press.
    This Hackett edition, first published in 1981, is an unabridged and unaltered republication of the seventh edition as published by Macmillan and Company, Limited. From the forward by John Rawls: In the utilitarian tradition Henry Sidgwick has an important place. His fundamental work, The Methods of Ethics, is the clearest and most accessible formulation of what we may call 'the classical utilitarian doctorine.' This classical doctrine holds that the ultimate moral end of social and individual action is the greatest net (...)
  31. Neutral Versus Relative: A Reply to Broome, and McNaughton and Rawling.John Skorupski - 1996 - Utilitas 8 (2):235.
  32. Deontological Moral Obligations and Non-Welfarist Agent-Relative Values.Michael Smith - 2011 - Ratio 24 (4):351-363.
    Many claim that a plausible moral theory would have to include a principle of beneficence, a principle telling us to produce goods that are both welfarist and agent-neutral. But when we think carefully about the necessary connection between moral obligations and reasons for action, we see that agents have two reasons for action, and two moral obligations: they must not interfere with any agent's exercise of his rational capacities and they must do what they can to make sure that agents (...)
  33. Relativism.Isidora Stojanovic - forthcoming - In David Plunkett & Tristram McPherson (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Metaethics. Routledge.
    Although relativism may be said to be one of the oldest doctrines in philosophy, dating back to the teachings of Protagoras in the 5th century B.C., when it comes to contemporary philosophy, there is no consensus on what makes a view qualify as "relativist". The problem is particularly accute in metaethics, since most of the views that up to a decade ago were described as “relativist” would be more accurately described as "contextualist" or even “expressivist” in light of the distinctions (...)
  34. The Saving/Creating Distinction and the Axiology of the Cost–Benefit Approach to Neonatal Medicine.Tomasz Żuradzki - 2017 - American Journal of Bioethics 17 (8):29-31.
    The aim of this commentary is to discuss the axiology of the cost–benefit approach assumed by Travis Rieder (2017) to analyze medical decision making in the case of extremely preterm infants.