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The Normative Significance of Self

by Dale Dorsey

A number of recent (and not so recent) works in the metaethics of practical rationality have suggested that features of a person’s character, commitments, projects, practical identities and social roles have important normative consequences. For instance, I might commit to caring for a loved one, or I might become an artist, or take on the role of father to a child. In each case, it seems right to say that the normative landscape I face has been altered by this new fact – to put them under one general heading, the new fact about my self. In this paper, I explore the normative significance of self and how best it is to be understood. Typically, views that posit the normative significance of self hold that the content of one’s self can create practical reasons to behave in particular ways. For instance, if I become a father, this means that there are additional reasons to care for my child than there were prior to this fact of self. I argue, however, that this suggestion cannot be plausibly sustained – facts of self do not give rise to practical reasons. I show that, while there are two ways that facts of self might give rise to or create new practical reasons, both succumb to very serious problems.

However, or so I also argue, we can salvage the normative significance of self via an alternative mechanism. Facts of self, such as the fact that one is an artist or a father, do not create new reasons. Rather, they strengthen certain pre-existing reasons, viz., those reasons to which I am especially susceptible given this fact of self.

ISSN 1559-3061
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