Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Darwall, Stephen. Honor, History, & Relationship: Essays in Second-Personal Ethics II

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Darwall, Stephen. Honor, History, & Relationship: Essays in Second-Personal Ethics II

Article excerpt

DARWALL, Stephen. Honor, History, & Relationship: Essays in Second-Personal Ethics II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 285 pp. Cloth, $99.00; paper, $29.95--This volume comprises eleven previously published journal articles and book chapters. Each essay stands on its own, and small differences in the essays' introductions to "second-personal ethics" complement each other to clarify Darwall's position. The volume offers samples of an approach rather than a thorough treatment of his theory; for that account, Darwall directs his readers to The Second-Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect, and Accountability (Harvard University Press, 2006).

Darwall struggles with a problem in modern moral philosophy. On the one hand, he accepts with Grotius the notion "that morality (natural law) creates 'obligations' whose binding force cannot be reduced to reasons or 'counsels' of any kind." On the other hand, Darwall accepts Anscombe's critique of modern theories of moral law: "a law of any kind necessarily requires a legislator." Like Anscombe, Darwall rejects efforts to justify the moral law either through third-person appeals to abstract moral norms or through first-person self-legislation. For Darwall, the solution to the problem of justifying a secular, nonteleological morality of obligation rests in second-personal relationships of mutual accountability.

According to Darwall, moral obligation arises from the authority each person has as a rational agent to make second-personal demands on another. This authority is reciprocal: in recognizing the other as a rational agent, I acknowledge the authority of the other to make demands on me and, in making demands on the other, I acknowledge the other's capacity to fulfill those demands as a rational agent. Morality arises among the members of moral communities. "Moral obligations, on this conception, are what we have standing as such members to demand of one another and ourselves. Accordingly, when people violate moral obligations and rights, they fail adequately to respect this authority."

The collection has three parts. Chapters one through four introduce the second-personal perspective in ethics as a development of P. F. Strawson's argument in "Freedom and Resentment" (1968) that moral demands are made only within relationships of mutual respect among equals. Chapters five through seven argue that the morality of human relationships is best understood in terms of second-personal ethics. Chapters eight through eleven argue that second-personal ethics can solve problems of justification and interpretation that arise from canonical texts of modern moral philosophy.

Chapter eight stands out as the strongest chapter in the book; it presents the problem that second-person ethics is intended to solve. Here Darwall locates the shift to a secular theory of moral obligation in the work of Hugo Grotius. …

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