Knowing Yourself—And Giving Up On Your Own Agency In The Process

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 90 (4):641-656 (2012)
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Abstract

Are there cases in which agents ought to give up on satisfying an obligation, so that they can avoid a temptation which will lead them to freely commit an even more significant wrong? Actualists say yes. Possibilists say no. Both positions have absurd consequences. This paper argues that common-sense morality is committed to an inconsistent triad of principles. This inconsistency becomes acute when we consider the cases that motivate the possibilism–actualism debate. Thus, the absurd consequences of both solutions are unsurprising: any proposed solution will have consequences incompatible with common moral practice. Arguments for denying one of the principles are considered and rejected. The paper then suggests that the inconsistent moral commitments originate in an inconsistent picture of human agency. Revisionary pictures of human agency are considered. It is argued that a quasi-Platonic picture of agency, similar to that advocated by Gary Watson 1977, is the most promising.

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Derek Baker
Lingnan University

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