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Moral Philosophy Seminar Week 4 TT12

Event Name Moral Philosophy Seminar Week 4 TT12
Start Date 14th May 2012 4:30pm
End Date 14th May 2012 6:30pm
Duration 2 hours

Michael Thompson (Pittsburgh) 'You and I' and reasons of justice to be held in the Lecture Room, 10 Merton Street, Oxford - Moral Philosophy Seminar webpage


If we take justice to mean a virtue of individuals, then it is as Aristotle says intrinsically 'pros heteron' or toward another. Actions opposed to it are in the first instance actions 'opposed to' the other in the specific sense of wronging her. Intuition speaks against any reduction of this 'bipolar' relation of wronging to a 'merely monadic' notion of the 'morally wrong' in general. (Certainly the victim is likely to take a much more specialized view of the matter.) But consider the sublimer class of individual actions, the ones that spring from justice. They are of course done for certain reasons, but these are reasons that pertain specially to the other or others in question. But just as we suspect the account of 'wronging someone' to bad action simpliciter (but with a certain material), so we should consider opposing any reduction of the reasons-relation exhibited in just action to a wider genus of acting from a 'recognition of reasons' in general, or any representation of the just actions as a response to 'the facts' that constitute the reason. This is difficult to show in the general case, as the natural argument turns on the role of the parties' cognition in the material of justice*, since this cognition can only be attributed generically to the agents bound together by justice, and tools for reasoning with the associated propositions are little developed. If we reflect on more specialised cases of the act of justice, such as action in accordance with a promise given to another, or, better, pairs of actions done in accordance with agreements or promises given in exchange, and a number of others, we will see that the 'reason' upon which the agents act cannot be given an independent representation. Its ' first personal' or 'first and second personal' or rather doubly first personal character is something that appears only in the agents' acts of cognition. If this is right, then the representation of the agents as responding to 'facts' or to 'reasons that are there to be recognized', is at best very misleading; and the point of view that begins with this idea is fated simply to miss the topic of justice. The attempt to show this will involve some quasi-logical meditations extending familiar material about first person thought to the case of pairs of interacting agents.

*See my essay "What is it to wrong someone?" in the Raz festschrift

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