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date: 29 November 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The distinction between agent-relative and agent-neutral reasons, at least in its explicit form, is a fairly recent contribution to normative ethics. That the distinction is both well-defined and significant is often taken for granted in contemporary normative ethics. For example, it is supposed to help us characterize many aspects of common-sense morality, such as personal duties, and deontological restrictions or constraints. The main question of this chapter is whether there is a well-defined distinction between agent-relative and agent-neutral reasons that has this high level of significance. Is the distinction really “an extremely important one,” as Nagel said, or perhaps even one of “the greatest contributions of recent ethics,” as Tom Hurka suggests? A variety of accounts of this distinction is discussed and it is argued that none live up to this hype, at least if the distinction is supposed not to beg other important questions in normative ethics.

Keywords: reason, agent-relative, agent-neutral, consequentialism, deontological constraints, personal duties

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