Conspiracy, Commitment, and the Self

Ethics 120 (3):526-556 (2010)
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Practical commitment is Janus-faced, looking outward toward the expectations it creates and inward toward their basis in the agent’s will. This paper criticizes Kantian attempts to link these facets and proposes an alternative. Contra David Velleman, the availability of a conspiratorial perspective (not yours, not your interlocutor’s) is what allows you to understand yourself as making a lying promise – as committing yourself ‘outwardly’ with the deceptive reasoning that Velleman argues cannot provide a basis for self-understanding. Moreover, the intrapersonal availability of such a third perspective is what enables you to commit yourself ‘inwardly.’ Here I offer an alternative to Christine Korsgaard’s account of practical commitment, on which committing yourself requires identifying yourself with a principle. You needn’t identify yourself with a principle, I argue, because the unity at which you aim when you commit yourself is a unity not with your acting self but with a later perspective, where the relation is one of self-intelligibility, not self-justification, and therefore needn’t be mediated by principles. This ‘twice-future’ perspective – neither your present intending nor your (once-)future acting but a third perspective that looks back on that relation – plays the intrapersonal role played in interpersonal commitment by potential co-conspirators. Kantians are therefore right to link your ability to commit yourself with your ability credibly to express that commitment to others. But the linkage generates a strikingly unKantian result. The nature of agency cannot provide an apriori basis for honesty because what enables you to commit yourself is what also enables you to lie.
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