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Justifying Reasons, Motivating Reasons, and Agent Relativism in Ethics

John J. Tilley
Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition
Vol. 118, No. 3 (Apr., 2004), pp. 373-399
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4321474
Page Count: 27
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Justifying Reasons, Motivating Reasons, and Agent Relativism in Ethics
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Abstract

According to agent relativism, each person's moral requirements are relative to her desires or interests. That is, whether a person morally ought to φ depends on what interests or desires she has. Some philosophers charge that the main argument for agent relativism trades on an ambiguity - specifically, an ambiguity in "reason," "reason for action," or a kindred term. This charge has been common, and widely thought to damage the case for agent relativism, since its appearance, in 1958, in a now classic paper by William Frankena. In what follows I examine the charge in detail, showing that insofar as it aims to discredit the argument for agent relativism, it fails in its purpose.

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