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Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 8 HT11

Event Name Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 8 HT11
Start Date 7th Mar 2011 4:30pm
End Date 7th Mar 2011 6:30pm
Duration 2 hours

Bruno Verbeek (Leiden University) 'A (limited) vindication of voluntarism' to be held in the Lecture Room, 10 Merton Street, Oxford - Seminars in Moral Philosophy webpage


Voluntarism is the view that obligations ultimately derive from an act of the will. Thus, theological voluntarism about morality holds that all moral duties derive from the will of God. Similarly, democratic voluntarism holds that legal duties derive from the will of the legislator (e.g., parliament). Traditionally, voluntarism, of any sort has been dismissed by a widely diverging range of authors. Voluntarism, so these critics claim, is susceptible to all kinds of criticisms, ranging from the well-known Euthyphro dilemma, the so-called regress argument and the bootstrapping objection. There are few positions in ethical theory that have been as thoroughly dismissed as voluntarism.

In the face of all these criticisms, voluntarist intuitions lead a remarkably tenacious existence, resurfacing again and again in various areas of practical philosophy. One of the more recent re-appearances of voluntarism is in the area of reasons for action. Thus, Korsgaard (1996) has argued that a person’s reasons for action are the result of her endorsing a particular consideration. Similarly, Michael Bratman , in spite of many claims to the contrary, has argued that by settling on intentions or long-term policies, one takes certain considerations as reasons for action. And there are many more. All these views, although very different, share a voluntarist intuition, namely that (some) reasons for action are the result of an act of the will.

In this paper I defend a moderate version of voluntarism about reasons for action against the main criticisms of voluntarism and in doing so, explain why philosophers, in spite of their official rejection of voluntarism are attracted to voluntarist intuitions.

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