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The Second-Person Standpoint

The Second-Person Standpoint

Morality, Respect, and Accountability

Stephen Darwall

ISBN 9780674034624

Publication date: 09/30/2009

Why should we avoid doing moral wrong? The inability of philosophy to answer this question in a compelling manner—along with the moral skepticism and ethical confusion that ensue—result, Stephen Darwall argues, from our failure to appreciate the essentially interpersonal character of moral obligation. After showing how attempts to vindicate morality have tended to change the subject—falling back on nonmoral values or practical, first-person considerations—Darwall elaborates the interpersonal nature of moral obligations: their inherent link to our responsibilities to one another as members of the moral community.

As Darwall defines it, the concept of moral obligation has an irreducibly second-person aspect; it presupposes our authority to make claims and demands on one another. And so too do many other central notions, including those of rights, the dignity of and respect for persons, and the very concept of person itself. The result is nothing less than a fundamental reorientation of moral theory that enables it at last to account for morality's supreme authority—an account that Darwall carries from the realm of theory to the practical world of second-person attitudes, emotions, and actions.


  • Stephen Darwall's The Second-Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect, and Accountability is an important contribution to moral philosophy, and its arguments are sure to be widely discussed and debated. The book brings into contemporary philosophical debates a series of ideas centering around what Darwall calls 'the second person'-- the idea that morality is fundamentally about the demands that particular people are entitled to make on each other. Obligation, understood as what people owe to each other, has been central to recent moral philosophy, but the second person standpoint gets behind the idea of obligation and explains that in terms of the standing the particular people have to make claims against each other. These ideas have been of great significance in the history of philosophy, but that have not attracted the attention of philosophers in recent decades. This is a fascinating and important book.

    —Arthur Ripstein, Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Toronto


  • Stephen Darwall is Andrew Downey Orrick Professor of Philosophy, Yale University.

Book Details

  • 362 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press