It is my view that one essential difference between persons and other creatures is to be found in the structure of a person's will. Besides wanting and choosing and being moved to do this or that, men may also want to have certain desires and motives. They are capable of wanting to be different, in their preferences and purposes, from what they are. Many animals appear to have the capacity for what I shall call "first-order desires" or "desires of the (...) first order," which are simply desires to do or not to do one thing or another. No animal other than man, however, appears to have the capacity for reflective self-evaluation that is manifested in the formation of second-order desires. (shrink)
This essay challenges the widely accepted principle that a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise. The author considers situations in which there are sufficient conditions for a certain choice or action to be performed by someone, So that it is impossible for the person to choose or to do otherwise, But in which these conditions do not in any way bring it about that the person chooses or acts as he (...) does. In such situations the person may well be morally responsible for what he chooses or does despite his inability to choose or to do otherwise. Finally the author considers certain suggestions for revising the principle he rejects or for replacing it with a principle of an altogether different kind. (shrink)
One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern. We have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions (...) it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, as Harry Frankfurt writes, "we have no theory." Frankfurt, one of the world's most influential moral philosophers, attempts to build such a theory here. With his characteristic combination of philosophical acuity, psychological insight, and wry humor, Frankfurt proceeds by exploring how bullshit and the related concept of humbug are distinct from lying. He argues that bullshitters misrepresent themselves to their audience not as liars do, that is, by deliberately making false claims about what is true. In fact, bullshit need not be untrue at all. Rather, bullshitters seek to convey a certain impression of themselves without being concerned about whether anything at all is true. They quietly change the rules governing their end of the conversation so that claims about truth and falsity are irrelevant. Frankfurt concludes that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner's capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. (shrink)
Harry G. Frankfurt begins his inquiry by asking, “What is it about human beings that makes it possible for us to take ourselves seriously?” Based on The Tanner Lectures in Moral Philosophy, Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right delves into this provocative and original question. The author maintains that taking ourselves seriously presupposes an inward-directed, reflexive oversight that enables us to focus our attention directly upon ourselves, and “[it] means that we are not prepared to accept ourselves just as (...) we come. We want our thoughts, our feelings, our choices, and our behavior to make sense. We are not satisfied to think that our ideas are formed haphazardly, or that our actions are driven by transient and opaque impulses or by mindless decisions. We need to direct ourselves—or at any rate to believe that we are directing ourselves—in thoughtful conformity to stable and appropriate norms. We want to get things right.” The essays delineate two features that have a critical role to play in this: our rationality, and our ability to love. Frankfurt incisively explores the roles of reason and of love in our active lives, and considers the relation between these two motivating forces of our actions. The argument is that the authority of practical reason is less fundamental than the authority of love. Love, as the author defines it, is a volitional matter, that is, it consists in what we are actually committed to caring about. Frankfurt adds that “The object of love can be almost anything—a life, a quality of experience, a person, a group, a moral ideal, a nonmoral ideal, a tradition, whatever.” However, these objects and ideals are difficult to comprehend and often in conflict with each other. Moral principles play an important supporting role in this process as they help us develop and elucidate a vision that inspires our love. The first section of the book consists of the two lectures, which are entitled “Taking Ourselves Seriously” and “Getting It Right.” The second section consists of comments in response by Christine M. Korsgaard, Michael E. Bratman, and Meir Dan-Cohen. The book includes a preface by Debra Satz. (shrink)
Having outlined a theory of bullshit and falsehood, Harry G. Frankfurt turns to what lies beyond them: the truth, a concept not as obvious as some might expect. Our culture's devotion to bullshit may seem much stronger than our apparently halfhearted attachment to truth. Some people won't even acknowledge "true" and "false" as meaningful categories, and even those who claim to love truth cause the rest of us to wonder whether they, too, aren't simply full of it. Practically speaking, many (...) of us deploy the truth only when absolutely necessary, often finding alternatives to be more saleable, and yet somehow civilization seems to be muddling along. But where are we headed? Is our fast and easy way with the facts actually crippling us? Or is it "all good"? Really, what's the use of truth, anyway? With the same leavening wit and commonsense wisdom that animates his pathbreaking work On Bullshit, Frankfurt encourages us to take another look at the truth: there may be something there that is perhaps too plain to notice but for which we have a mostly unacknowledged yet deep-seated passion. His book will have sentient beings across America asking, "The truth—why didn't I think of that?". (shrink)
The grip and forcefulness of the demands that love imposes upon us resemble the forcefulness and grip of moral obligation. In cases of both kinds, we feel that we are not free to do as we please. It is a mistake, however, to presume that the requirements of love and duty are of the same kind or have the same source.
In their discussions of issues concerning the nature of human action, and also in their inquiries into the structure of practical reasoning, philosophers typically draw upon a more or less standard conceptual repertoire. The most familiar item in that repertoire is the indispensable, ubiquitous, and protean notion of what people want or — synonymously, at least in the usage that I shall adopt — what they desire. I believe that the elementary repertoire in which the concept of desire is so (...) centrally situated needs to be enriched by the articulation of certain additional notions. It is more or less customary to identify the point of practical reasoning or deliberation simply as a matter of figuring out how to attain whatever goal it is that we want to reach. In many instances, however, what inspires our thinking and shapes our conduct is not that we merely wantone thing or another.Often, what moves us is that there is something of which it is both more precise and more informative to say that we care about it or that we regard it as important to ourselves. In certain cases, it is appropriate to characterize what guides us in terms of a rather particular mode of caring — namely, love. It is with these concepts — what we care about, what we consider important to us, and what we love — that I shall here be concerned. (shrink)
This essay consists in my replies to Professors John Martin Fischer, Patricia Greenspan, Eleonore Stump, Peter van Inwagen and Gary Watson regarding various aspects of my analysis of moral responsibility.