Nothing Personal: On the Limits of the Impersonal Temperament in Ethics

Journal of Value Inquiry 56 (1):67-83 (2022)
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Abstract

David Benatar has argued both for anti-natalism and for a certain pessimism about life's meaning. In this paper, I propose that these positions are expressions of a deeply impersonal philosophical temperament. This is not a problem on its own; we all have our philosophical instincts. The problem is that this particular temperament, I argue, leads Benatar astray, since it prevents him from answering a question that any moral philosopher must answer. This is the question of rational authority, which requires the moral philosopher to say why existing human agents have strong practical reasons to comply with the philosopher's dictates. A purely impersonal ethical system can never do this, and this is why Benatar has no answer to this question.

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Nick Smyth
Fordham University

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