Saturday, November 20, 2004


We've been discussing Nagel on altruism in The Nature of Morality lately. Nagel draws a parallel between prudence -- taking my own future interests as providing reasons -- and altruism -- taking others' interests as providing reasons. There's some question as to whether prudence in this sense is really partly constitutive of rationality; maybe it's just a contingent fact that we're presently interested in our own future well-being. I guess that's Calvin's view, here (link is to a bigger picture): Update: Spelled out more clearly what the hell I'm talking about in the comments.


  1. I'm a little confused - I thought that on Nagel's account, prudence isn't dependent on our interest in future stages of ourselves. Rather, it depends on the timelessness of reasons, and the fact that reasons are sufficient to motivate. So if something, at t, is a reason for me to do A, then it is a reason at all other times as well (though it can be outweighed by other reasons). Am I completely off? I think I missed the joke . . .
    - Shieva

  2. Shieva, that sounds right to me. Maybe I was too quick in setting things up in the body of my post. Here's what I meant to be laying out:

    Nagel says that our future interests count as reasons, irrespective of our present interests, just like you say.

    But maybe that's wrong. I expect that we'll have a big discussion about being a hippie on the beach who thinks he's going to eventually want to become a businessman during the next lecture (one gets an odd perspective when TAing for a course immediately after taking it for credit). Some people think that it's just our present interests -- including our present interest in eventually becoming people whose desires are satisfied -- that count as reasons just now.

    Calvin seems to be placing himself firmly in this anti-Nagelean crowd. He says, "I'm sure that in the future, I'll desire to have not watched so much TV. But I don't care about that; I'm only interested in my *current* interest, which is to watch TV." Insofar as we think Calvin takes himself to be acting rationally, we can only suppose that he does not think that prudence, in Nagel's sense, is constitutive of rationality.

    I guess it's not really that funny.