Document Type

Book Review


81 Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 246 (2010)


An adequate moral philosophy must describe and explain the sense in which morality imposes necessary requirements on us and it must do so in a way which unifies a wide range of other features of morality including, to name just two examples, the fact that familiar conditions excuse agents from responsibility and the fact that emotion plays a central role in moral experience. An old strategy for meeting this demand is to derive moral requirements from the nature or essence of something that is not, itself, optional for persons and the nature of which explains the diverse additional features of moral experience. Those who adopt this strategy differ from one another in their choice of that special non-optional thing the essence of which is to do the needed work in the theory. God’s will, human nature, the end or telos of a human being, pleasure and pain, the human will, and practical reason have all been, at various times, thought to be that unavoidable part of the human condition the essence of which supplies and explains the sense in which morality makes demands. In his wonderful recent book, Stephen Darwall pursues this old strategy not by appeal to any of these things, but by appeal, instead, to a particular form of social human interaction, what he calls ‘‘the second personal address of second personal reasons’’. As I understand it, for X and Y to engage in an act of second personal address of a second personal reason, there must be relations of authority and accountability between X and Y such that X has the power to create a reason for Y to act merely by expressing to Y that he has a reason to act. If X can legitimately command Y to A, for instance, then merely by telling Y that he has a reason to A, that he is commanded to A by X, it comes to be the case that Y has a reason to A. Darwall’s idea is that it is from the nature of interactions of this familiar kind that the set of requirements and preconditions that comprise morality can be derived. Moral phenomena are the products not of facts about individual human beings, or facts about our creator, but of facts about our sociality.

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