Chapter

Human Agency

Roger Teichmann

in Nature, Reason, and the Good Life

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780199606177
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191729461 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199606177.003.0002
Human Agency

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Central to ethics is the question ‘How shall I live?’ The answer ‘Lead a good life’ raises the issue of what ‘good’ means. Although a human being doesn't have a function in the sense in which an eye does, there are ‘things it is human to do', and these things provide criteria of goodness. Not only these, however - for being a good agent means having good reasons for what one does, and reasons are good/bad in relation to the social practice of reason-giving. In practical reasoning, what the agent wants plays an analogous role to a rule of inference in theoretical reasoning. An adequate and sufficient answer to ‘Why do you want that?’ supplies a desirability characterization (Anscombe). Wants fall within the space of reasons; both utilitarianism and classical liberalism fail to recognise this. Responsibility relates primarily to one's reasons, pace consequentialists.

Keywords: goodness; practical reasoning; theoretical reasoning; wants; rule of inference; desirability characterization; Anscombe; utilitarianism; liberalism; consequentialism

Chapter.  18738 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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