Stephen Darwall (Yale) gives Sapientia Lecture

Stephen Darwall (Yale)
"What Are Moral Reasons"
Friday, November 4
103 Thornton Hall
Author's abstract:  "In The Second-Person Standpoint and subsequent essays, I argue that the deontic moral concepts of obligation, duty, right, wrong, and the like resist analysis in terms of moral reasons for acting. I claim that the “fully deontic” ought of moral obligation, as I will call it, has a conceptual connection to accountability and culpability that being recommended by moral reasons, however weighty, does not. Since oughts and reasons are so closely connected generally, however, the thought can seem irresistible that moral oughts must be understood in terms of moral reasons also. In this talk, I aim to put additional pressure on this admittedly attractive idea by asking what makes a reason a moral reason. Far from supporting the thought that deontic moral oughts follow from (independent) moral practical reasons, I argue that the most promising account of what makes a reason a moral one is that it is a consideration that supports a pro tanto moral obligation, where this latter idea is irreducibly deontic and conceptually tied to accountability. Moral reasons for acting are, I claim, pro tanto moral obligation-making considerations. This turns the otherwise attractive idea on its head."

Stephen Darwall is Andrew Downey Orrick Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, Philosophy, at the University of Michigan. His books include Impartial Reason, The British Moralists and the Internal ‘Ought’, Philosophical Ethics, and Welfare and Rational Care.  His most recent books are The Second-Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect, and Accountability, Morality, Authority, and Law: Essays in Second-Personal Ethics I, and Honor, History, and Relationship: Essays in Second-Personal Ethics II. He has also edited various anthologies in metaethics and normative ethics:  Moral Discourse and Practice, Contractarianism/Contractualism, Consequentialism, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics.

Free and open to all. Reception follows. The Sapientia Lecture Series is funded by The Mark J. Byrne 1985 Fund in Philosophy.