Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Volume 59, Issue 2, June 1999

R. H. Myers
Pages 281-307

The Inescapability of Moral Reasons

According to Thomas Nagel, morality's authority is determined by the extent to which its way of balancing agent-neutral and agent-relative values resembles reason's. He himself would like to think that the resemblance is close enough to ensure that it will always be reasonable to act as morality demands. But his attempts to establish this never really get off the ground, in large part because he never makes it very clear how these two perspectives on value are to be characterized. My goal in this paper is to show how we might flesh out Nagel's conception of these matters by construing reason as a kind of self-governance and morality as involving a certain kind of cooperation. The challenge will therefore be to determine what self-governance and cooperation require of people given the assumption that there are objective values and that they take both the agent-neutral and the agent-relative forms. What we shall find is that their requirements differ rather more than Nagel allows, but perhaps not enough to prevent morality from being in some significant sense inescapable.