Other Wills: the second person in ethics

This paper is about the interest of the second-person to ethics. The focus of recent discussion has been the explanatory power of the second-person, rather than its careful description or the very possibility of what is described. This paper is
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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at Download by:  [] Date:  15 September 2015, At: 07:28 Philosophical Explorations An International Journal for the Philosophy of Mind and Action ISSN: 1386-9795 (Print) 1741-5918 (Online) Journal homepage: Other wills: the second-person in ethics Douglas Lavin To cite this article:  Douglas Lavin (2014) Other wills: the second-person in ethics, PhilosophicalExplorations, 17:3, 279-288, DOI: 10.1080/13869795.2014.941907 To link to this article: Published online: 27 Aug 2014.Submit your article to this journal Article views: 276View related articles View Crossmark data  Other wills: the second-person in ethics Douglas Lavin ∗  Department of Philosophy, University College London, London, UK  This paper is about the interest of the second-person to ethics. The focus of recent discussion has been the explanatory power of the second-person, rather than itscareful description or the very possibility of what is described. This paper issomething of a corrective. Its aim is to get the claim that the second-person matters toethics into a clearer focus with a view to raising further questions and puzzles. Keywords:  second-person; other wills; Darwall; practical reason 1. The promise of the second-person in ethics The traditional problem of other minds . What is it to encounter, recognize and understandthe point of view of another subject – a mind that is not one’s own? The problem of other minds is traditionally posed as a problem of discovery. If there is one thing of which I amcertain it is the reality of my own mind. It is not that I have all the proof I need, but that I donot really need any at all: the actuality of my thinking is beyond doubt, not one among manythings I know, but a condition of my knowing anything at all. When I encounter anyoneelse, however, there does seem to be room for a question. It seems all I can perceive are‘outward’ conditions of bodily movement and make-up, behavior and physiology. How,then, can I know, how can I be sure, there is actually anyone else but me with an ‘inner’life of thoughts and feelings? Raising this question of warrant presupposes a prior under-standing of what it would be for another to have a mind. The conceptual problem of other minds scrutinizes this presupposition. What can it even mean to speak of a mindother than one’s own? The sort of immediate, ‘from the inside’ mode of awareness of think-ing and feeling, when I myself think and feel, seems unavailable as a way of knowing thecondition of any other creature. Indeed,  what   is known in this ordinary first-person wayseems to be inseparable from being so known, from awareness of these conditions of mind as my own. How, then, can I have an idea of pain I do not feel, sights I do not see,a life of the mind which is not a life lived by me? Giving conceptual priority to the first- person perspective in this way threatens to put out of reach the very idea of a general rep-resentation of the mental, and so to put out of reach the idea of a manifold of intelligent  beings of which I am one among others.We might model psychological understanding, instead, ‘from the outside’ as impersonalknowledge of an ordinary kind of material object justified by its explanatory and predictive power. Such knowledge is theoretical in form: there is no special relation between justifica-tion for the theory and having a psychology that implements it; the relevant principles of causality and explanation are constituted independently of first-person thought. Herethere seems to be no obstacle to the application of such understanding to indefinitely # 2014 Taylor & Francis ∗ Email:  Philosophical Explorations , 2014Vol. 17, No. 3, 279–288,    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   8   1 .   9   8 .   1   8   0 .   7   7   ]  a   t   0   7  :   2   8   1   5   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   5  many particular psychologies encountered in any number of ways. But giving conceptual priority to a point of view  on  a subject threatens to drain any importance from the point of view  of    a subject. Where understanding the minds of others and the mind quite generallyneed not owe anything to thought of one’s own case, there is an intelligible question for anythinker whether it is a thing that thinks – that is no longer beyond doubt. Settling it wouldcome in a second step, on the basis of additional information. Even with that settled further questions lurk about what I myself contribute to the determinate shape my mind takes. Canwe capture the ordinary significance attaching to the first-person if it appears only as anextra, in a second step, downstream of being a thinker at all? Where first-person thought is at most one causal factor added to others, my authority and efficacy with respect tomy own intelligent operation starts to recede from view.In the hope of getting off this familiar philosophical seesaw recent philosophy of mindhas asked whether there might be a specifically  second-personal   form of thought, distinct from both first-person thought of one’s own mind and impersonal thought of things. Thesecond-person seems suited to registering a plurality of thinkers but without letting go of the specifically self-conscious character of having a mind at all. Perhaps grasp of other minds is grounded in a form of intelligent interaction as opposed to some one-sided con-templation of an indifferent object. Perhaps the idea of a point of view not one’s own, ‘aself which  is not   myself’, is at bottom the idea of a second-person, a ‘you’ to an ‘I’. The problem of other wills . It is striking that philosophical discussion of the reality of others so often proceeds as though the question as to whether and how the conclusion issupposed to be meaningful for us were an independent one. What would it be for this con-sideration to make a dent in the will: ‘My curiosity is satisfied: I certainly, or very probably,am not a solitary consciousness. Now what? Indifference, joy, dread, a new suit, more insur-ance  . . .  ?’ The question of discovery is one thing, the question of practical significanceanother, to be addressed in a second step with its own methods. It is at least as strikingthat moral philosophy so often treats basic questions about the significance and status of other practically reasoning beings as independent from the traditional problem of other minds (Nagel 1978, 89). Eventually I want to ask whether this division of philosophicallabor between philosophy of mind and ethics is compulsory or sound. But I want to begin with the problem of others considered as a problem within practical philosophy –  the problem of other wills , whether and how they matter. What is it to encounter, recognizeand understand the practical significance of another will? What is it to do this in a waycharacteristic of someone of sound practical reason, someone who deliberates and actswell? The aim of this paper is to investigate what the idea of   the second-person  could con-tribute to an answer.It is said with increasing frequency in contemporary Anglophone philosophy that one or another intuitively moral or social phenomenon is essentially  second-personal  , for example, dignity and respect, responsibility and blame, autonomy, justice and right, aswell as the content and authority of the moral ‘must’ itself. Comprehension of such phenomena is said to come through reflection on the  second-person standpoint   and thespecifically  second-personal   form of reason and normativity internal to it (Darwall 2006;Korsgaard 1993). We are social creatures who must take account of one another. That isa platitude. Insistence on the importance of the second-person to ethics is supposed to bemore specific and more basic: not merely insistence that others can matter, or even that others matter intrinsically, but that the  second-person , others presented as ‘you’,  fundamen-tally  matters. Feuerbach, for one, would have been thrilled: ‘The essence of man as a moral being and thinking being is contained only in  . . .  a unity which rests on the reality of thedifference between I and you’ (1922, Section 59). Like Buber, who likens Feuerbach’s280  Douglas Lavin    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   8   1 .   9   8 .   1   8   0 .   7   7   ]  a   t   0   7  :   2   8   1   5   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   5  laying hold of   Thou  to a Copernican revolution in human self-understanding, I can get carried away by such talk. But what does it mean?It is easy to imagine other reactions. After all, the second-person is a linguistic formwhich, like any other, settles nothing on its own. Williams, for example, hardly pausesto consider whether ‘you’ signals something in the structure of our practical thought:‘The should of practical reason has, like any other, a second and third person, but theseforms merely represent my perspective on your or his interests and rational calculations,the perspective of “If I were you”’ (1986, 61). What is Williams failing to register in passing over the second-person with such insouciance? What exactly about it are wemeant to stress so as to bring out its bearing on central problems of moral philosophy,on what matters, what we are and what we are to each other?Return to the problem of other wills: sometimes what one agent does or ought to dodepends on how things stand with another. What is it to register in deliberation, desireand action a will, a good that is not one’s own? What are the ways in which one agent can enter the thoughts of another and ground her action? Philosophical discussion is struc-tured by an unstable opposition between views which give conceptual priority to the first- person standpoint of individual agents, separately considered, and those which give priority,instead, to the standpoint of the universe, which is to say no point of view at all. Is it poss-ible to construct the significance of others’ wills on the basis of knowledge of our own caseor impersonal knowledge of how things should be? Doubts crowd in. I want to frame theinterest of the second-person to ethics in terms of its potential to guide us between the polesof this opposition.The problem of other wills is typically framed as a problem of justification. Cain doesnot ask ‘Am I my own keeper?’ I will not ask this either. If there is one thing of inescapableinterest to me it is my own life. It is not that I have all the reasons I need to look after myself,to be concerned with living and acting well, it is that I do not really need any at all: pursuit of a good life is beyond justification, not one activity or end among others but the basic,inescapable condition pervading my choice of anything at all. But if I happen uponanother there does seem to be room for a question: ‘What is he to me?’ Suppose I seesomeone in a field: here we are, two distinct creatures falling together in a commonnatural world potentially affecting one another. I gather that he is very much like me, hislife also a life of rational activity, his fundamental end also to live well. What am I to dowith this information? I do not happen upon the reality and significance of my own lifeand the activities constituting it. Indeed, I am inexorably aware of these without alreadyhaving knowledge or concern for others: those are add-ons, not conditions of my very exist-ence. How, then, can it be reasonable to accord practical significance to another in the sameway, with the same immediacy and necessity, as I must always already accord to myself?Raising this question of warrant presupposes a prior understanding of what it would beto take account of another in the same way one takes account of oneself. The conceptual problem of other wills, as it were, scrutinizes this presupposition. What could it even be,Schopenhauer wonders, ‘for the well-being and woe  of another   to move my will immedi-ately, i.e. in just the way that only my own otherwise does?’ (Schopenhauer  2009, 200).What could account for this possibility is ‘the great mystery of ethics’.What exactly is so puzzling? In the typical case, when X is doing A for the well-being of X, then X thinks she ∗ is doing A for the sake of herself  ∗ . That is, the immediate source of the action is a first-person representation of someone’s well-being. But what would it be torepresent another person’s first-person thought of her own good and to act on it? If I think about X that she thinks that she ∗ is F, I think the following of her: she thinks of being F in away that she would express with the words ‘I am F’. But I do not myself have the thought  The Second-Person in Ethics  281    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   8   1 .   9   8 .   1   8   0 .   7   7   ]  a   t   0   7  :   2   8   1   5   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   5  corresponding to her thought I only indirectly report how she would express that, and so it seems I do not have access to the relevant ground of action. What could it be for me to havea thought that corresponds to another’s thought and does not merely single out another’sthought in this indirect way, but to myself see another’s point of view as a point of view but a point of view not my own? Moreover, since I am intentionally doing something for the sake of another’s well-being, it seems I must represent both my own and another’s point of view at once. What sort of thought involves the representation of two persons as persons? Does second-person thought, thought of ‘you and I’, name the solution to thismystery? Does it raise as many mysteries of its own? How could there be a doubly first-per-sonal thought? After all, a first-person thought represents the thinker of the thought as theobject thought about. But how can one thought have two subjects? How can there be twothinkers of a single thought? How is a second-person thought, though for pairs of persons as pairs of persons, so much as possible (Thompson 2004)?‘What magic is there in the pronoun “my”?’ Godwin decries (1793, vol. 1, 51). Wemight then follow him by approaching the importance of other wills ‘from the outside’through reflection on what is best from the point of view of the universe. Knowledge of impersonal good including knowledge of the place of people in its make-up is theoreticalin form: there is no special relation between the ground of such knowledge and its havingapplication to oneself; the principles specifying what is to be done on its basis are consti-tuted independently of their application in first-person thought. If there is an impersonal basis for practical thought there is no mystery about a significance attaching to other wills that does not travel through one’s own purposes. But giving conceptual priority toa point of view  on  a world of differently positioned subjects threatens to drain any impor-tance from the point of view  of    distinct subjects making their way in it. Where reflection onthe importance of people or anything else for that matter need not owe anything to first- person thought, there is an intelligible question for any person whether its own existenceis good – that is no longer beyond doubt. Even with it settled, there are questions about whether we can capture the ordinary significance attaching to the first-person of actionwhere it appears downstream of the ability to grasp the true value of things. Where first- person thought registers as one factor among others included in an impersonal assessment of the good, my authority over the course of my own life and the separateness of this lifefrom the lives of others threaten to recede from view. The promise of the second-person in ethics . The approach through the solitary first- person is at risk of an objectionable individualism which conflicts with the basic character of morality. Where the practical significance of another must derive from one’s own case,agents are ‘too distant’ for anyone to be the immediate ground of any other’s action, despitethe aspirations of virtues like benevolence and justice which purport to fix practical atten-tion on the good of other people. Whatever the similarities, another cannot register in prac-tical thought in the same way, with the same significance, as oneself. The latter approachresists by cutting loose from the point of view of persons. But a conception of practicalthought as fundamentally impersonal in form and thus as equally available to all is at risk of an objectionable collectivism which conflicts the authority and separateness of  persons. Where the significance of each derives in the same way from a commonground, agents are ‘too close’ for anyone to be, say, an absolute limit on what can bedone in light of this impersonal measure. Whatever the differences, the distinction between my practical subjectivity and another’s is of no intrinsic or essential significance.Must we choose between strategies for extending first-person thought and strategies for applying what it known impersonally? Recent ethical theory has asked whether there might  be a specifically  second-personal   form of practical thought, distinct from both first-person282  Douglas Lavin    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   8   1 .   9   8 .   1   8   0 .   7   7   ]  a   t   0   7  :   2   8   1   5   S  e  p   t  e  m   b  e  r   2   0   1   5
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