The Foundations of Agency – and Ethics?

Philosophia 44 (2):547-563 (2016)
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In this article, I take off from some central issues in Paul Katsafanas’ recent book Agency and the Foundations of Ethics. I argue that Katsafanas’ alleged aims of action fail to do the work he requires them to do. First, his approach to activity or control is deeply problematic in the light of counterexamples. More importantly, the view of activity or control he needs to get his argument going is most likely false, as it requires our values to do work that they are too fickle to do. Second, I take issue with the Nietzschean drive psychology underlying the second agential aim, viz. power. I argue that ordinary desires better describe a number of phenomena that Katsafanas uses drives to explain, and that some actions can aim in the opposite direction. As only drive-motivated actions aim at power, action does not, therefore, constitutively aim at power. Finally, I sketch a Humean approach to constitutivism, and argue that it both explains the desiderata that Katsafanas posits as well as solves the problems for his view. The Humean view is preferable, and should be developed further.



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Olof Leffler
Università degli Studi di Siena

Citations of this work

A Reason to Know.Olof Leffler - 2023 - Journal of Value Inquiry 57 (3):557-575.

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References found in this work

Responsibility and Control: A Theory of Moral Responsibility.John Martin Fischer & Mark Ravizza - 1998 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Mark Ravizza.
The sources of normativity.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1996 - New York: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Onora O'Neill.
Being Realistic About Reasons.Thomas Scanlon - 2014 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The Sources of Normativity.Christine Korsgaard - 1999 - Philosophical Quarterly 49 (196):384-394.

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