An Adam Smithian Account of Humanity

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 10 (32):908-936 (2023)
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In The Sources of Normativity, Korsgaard argues for what can be called “The Universality of Humanity Claim” (UHC), according to which valuing humanity in one’s own person entails valuing it in that of others. However, Korsgaard’s reliance on the claim that reasons are essentially public in her attempt to demonstrate the truth of UHC has been repeatedly criticized. I offer a sentimentalist defense, based on Adam Smith’s moral philosophy, of a qualified, albeit adequate, version of UHC. In particular, valuing my humanity, understood as (my awareness of) my perspective and the reasons determined from within it, entails valuing your humanity, understood as (your awareness of) your perspective and the reasons determined from within it. Given Korsgaard’s emphasis on the publicity of reasons in her argument for UHC, I also discuss the role of reasons in my account. I argue that the relative weights of (at least some of) an agent’s reasons are determined from within a shared evaluative point of view, namely, the standpoint of what Smith calls “the impartial spectator.” These reasons have normative authority over and constrain the agent’s private reasons, that is, those that are determined from within her own particular evaluative point of view.

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Nir Ben-Moshe
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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