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The Third Motive On Non-Hedonic, Self-Regarding Reasons for Acting


Moral philosophy frequently treats self and other-regarding reasons as opposed poles in our practical deliberations, where the former are presumed to be motivated by hedonic ends and the latter by morality. I believe this mischaracterizes our deliberative process by neglecting a third motive and portrays us as baser creatures that we actually are. In what follows, I offer another account that I think better explains our life-structuring decisions and sheds light on an otherwise neglected aspect of our character.

I begin by considering a body of hedonic literature that contends that people's happiness is tied to internal set points and that the range and extent of deviations from these points are determined by a variety of internal mechanisms that attenuate our joys and sorrows. As a result, our relative levels of happiness fail to correlate with the goodness or badness of events in our lives, as instead we find ourselves on what has been termed “the hedonic treadmill.”

This raises a question about what rationally motivates many of our self-regarding decisions, if not happiness. I suggest that our awareness of ourselves as objects we care about generates a class of non-hedonic, self-regarding reasons, what I call “self-making reasons,” and that these guide us in life-structuring decisions. I argue that a person’s interest in defining herself in light of her existential circumstance gives her a motive to act in a particular way and develop certain capacities, even if neither will increase her happiness. I try to show how a person’s interest in herself as a thing in the world, and the self-making reasons that follow, form the basis of her character and are appropriately subject to judgment, both from herself and others.

In closing, I argue that self-making reasons are normatively interesting despite exceeding the bounds of traditional, other-regarding morality and they give us reason to consider a more expansive conception of ethics beyond what is required and proscribed.

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