Selfhood, intersubjectivity, and the normativity of moral obligations
Smith, William Hosmer
Doctor of Philosophy
Contemporary analytic philosophers inspired by Kant's practical philosophy have recently attempted present a view of moral obligation that traces the normativity of morality back either to the agent's first-personal autonomy (Christine Korsgaard) or the agent's second-personal interaction with others (Stephen Darwall). In this dissertation, I draw these contributions into conversation with the phenomenological approaches of Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Emmanuel Levinas. The solution to the “analytic” problem of moral normativity, I contend, is a “Continental” account of selfhood and intersubjectivity found in phenomenology. The framework for my theory of moral obligation is a Heideggerian understanding of the self as “being-in-the-world,” one that is attuned to Levinasian moments (the experience of obligation in alterity) through a rehabilitation of Heidegger's notion of intersubjectivity as being-with ( Mitsein ). The result is a two-part account of the normativity of morality: the ground of morality itself is second-personal—rooted in the ethical demand intrinsic to other persons—while the ground for particular moral-obligations is first-personal—rooted in the subject's avowal or endorsement of certain ethical norms within a concrete historical situation. Moral obligations, I argue, are those standards to which I hold myself in light of the moral demand for respect I find in the experience of others.