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Justification and Alienation


The paper argues that there is a hazard to avoid when offering a moral justification: the hazard of relying on what I call "extrinsic reasons." Extrinsic reasons count in favor of performing an action and yet are not reasons for which one can directly perform that action. They are rather reasons for acting upon oneself to make it the case that one performs the action of which they count in favor. Acting upon yourself in this way is the alienation of the paper's title. I argue that, when extrinsic reasons are relied upon in the justification offered by a moral theory, this form of alienation threatens the coherence of the agent. The upshot is that, in offering moral justifications, moral theory must be extremely attentive to the ordinary motivations of the actions it hopes to justify.

In addition to the 27 pages of main text, there are an additional 16 or so pages of appendix, providing an interpretation of Williams' criticisms of moral theories according to which those criticisms are continuous with the argument of the main text. (The appendix may provide some background for those unfamiliar with the discussion.)

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