Standards of Rationality and the Challenge of the Moral Skeptic

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The traditional model of the skeptic about morally required action takes rational action to be action that best promotes the agent's self-interest. Hobbesian contractarians expand this position by assuming that persons have only instrumental value, and that hypothetical persons may be embedded in a social context that accords them power over their fellows. Such assumptions introduce a sense of privilege that is problematic from a feminist perspective, allowing the privileged to ask, "Why should I participate in a system that requires self-sacrifice?" A Kantian model, because it accords persons intrinsic value, shifts the perspective to allow the nonprivileged to ask, "Why should I participate in a system that harms me?" The best model will reflect the fullest sense of ideal rational agency. The Hobbesian model favors a maximizer about his interests; the Kantian model favors a protector of her interests. Crucial for ideal rational agency is that the agent be self-determining; we need the best of both models, tempered with insights about the significance of having and caring appropriately about one's interests. On this model, anyone can ask, "Given that I have intrinsic value, and that I am able to protect and assert my interests because I care appropriately about them, what kind of action is morally required?" This model allows us to ask whether agents who determine themselves at least partially through their interests act rationally when they act in morally required ways.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOut from the Shadows
Subtitle of host publicationAnalytical Feminist Contributions to Traditional Philosophy
ISBN (Electronic)9780199932788
StatePublished - May 24 2012

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press, 2014.


  • Consistency
  • Hobbes
  • Interest-bearer
  • Interests
  • Kant
  • Moral skeptic
  • Privilege
  • Rational agency
  • Rationality
  • Self-interest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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