What exactly are the reasons we do things, and how are they related to the resulting actions? Bittner explores this question and proposes an answer: a reason is a response to that state of affairs. Elegantly written, this work is a substantial contribution to the fields of rationality, ethics, and action theory.
Among the numerous conceptions of autonomy, three are particularly important: Kant's notion of humans' being subject, and subject only, to moral laws they gave themselves, Frankfurt's idea of persons' willing and acting deriving from the essential character of their wills, and the popular conception of persons' being master over whether others do or do not certain things to them. Kant's moral conception of autonomy, it is argued, is untenable because the moral character of a law and its self-givenness are incompatible. (...) Frankfurt's idea suffers from the fact that we cannot give substance to talk of the essential character of one's will. The third conception is practically irrelevant: there is no principle requiring people to be master over what others do to them. Thus autonomy may have to be dropped from our self-conception. To some this will appear a grave loss. In fact it is not. (shrink)
Recent philosophy has developed an overblown concept of autonomy. In fact we do not have moral autonomy, and personal autonomy we only have in the sense of being able to decide some things that affect the course of our lives, not in the sense of shaping these lives and being master over them; nor ought we to have autonomy in the latter sense, or come closer to having it. As for our political institutions, they do not presuppose, as prevailing doctrines (...) claim they do, citizens’ autonomy in a more demanding sense. Freedom and democracy as understood for instance in the German constitution only assume subordinates capable of deciding some matters on their own. Current talk of autonomy is just gilding people’s real dependence. (shrink)
Why should we act morally? What justification is to be found in moral demands? This lucid, pithy, and eminently readable book examines the arguments in favor of the claims of moral demands to be found in contemporary ethical theory, arguments deriving from Kant's attempt to provide a foundation for morality.
While,Achtung‘ in ordinary German means either attention or esteem, Kant used the word, on the one hand, to indicate the attitude of those who do what is right for the reason that it is right, and on the other, to indicate an attitude that we are morally required to entertain towards all human beings. What that attitude is and why we are bound to adopt it, does not become clear. Recent writers do give content to the notion, a rather arbitrary (...) one, though, given the ordinary meaning of,Achtung‘. Contrary to what is widely believed, then, the moral significance of,Achtung‘ is limited; limited, that is, to the fact that attentiveness to others’ virtues is itself a virtue. (shrink)
Political philosophers often see their task in providing a justification of states, with 'justification' understood, in analogy to the theological use of the term, as an argument showing states to be right, or unobjectionable. Political philosophers disagree on what property of a state it is that is required for its being right. In fact, it is difficult to see what could give this or that property of a state its right-making power. Since there is nothing that states as such are (...) called upon to be or to do, claims to the effect that some property or other is right-making are unfounded. The task of justification falling away, then, political philosophers should rather ask what should be done now with states. (shrink)
Spinoza holds that we can become free by recognizing that everything happens with necessity. His own reasons for this claim do not stand scrutiny. More promising appears the idea that he who considers things necessary is not subject to affects that deprive him of his freedom. On this line, however, recognizing necessity also destroys joy, contrary to Spinoza’s maxim ”Do good and be joyful”. More importantly, what is necessary may in fact be a reasonable object of affective reactions. Thus, Spinoza (...) fails to support the enlightenment’s hope that knowledge brings freedom. (shrink)
Freud's concept of repression should be discarded because we do not understand what supposedly is being repressed, nor what is repressing, nor why it is done. Freud's answers to the first two questions fall short of the dynamic picture of forces and counterforces implicit in the idea of repression. The answer to the last question invokes an unacceptable separation of agencies in the person.
We compare the reasons one has in terms of strength, and the task of the present chapter is to explain what it is for one reason to be stronger than another. Raz offered a criterion, but that is shown to yield unsatisfactory results. The explanation proposed here is this: stronger reasons are states of affairs or events more important to the agent, the notion of importance deriving from Frankfurt's explication of what we care about. This proposal does not reduce the (...) strength of reasons to the strength of the relevant desires. Contrary to Frankfurt's view, however, it does away with the difference between the order of reasons and the order of caring. (shrink)