Your browser does not support JavaScript!


McDowell on Moral Reason

Hahn Hsu



John McDowell holds that a virtuous person has a moral reason to act in a certain way if this person perceives that it is right to act that way. In this view, the virtuous person being in a certain cognitive state is tantamount to identifying what is right as well as to motivate the person to act accordingly. If this is a correct understanding of what McDowell says about what it is for a virtuous person to have a moral reason, then it seems to me that McDowell's view would be confronted with some rather serious, even fatal problems. In this paper, I shall, firstly, explore these problems facing McDowell and, secondly, examine whether or not McDowell's dealings with them can be successful. In order to accomplish the task set for this paper, I shall utilize a couple of distinctions. The first is a distinction between two conceptions of what it is for some one to be a virtuous person. One conception of being virtuous involves wide commitments to metaphysical, epistemological and even substantive ethical positions; the other stands significantly freely on these issues. A second distinction is made regarding functions of moral reason. Thus, the moral reason one has to act in a certain way functions either as a justification of that action or as a motivation. By using these two distinctions as tools of exploring and diagnosing McDowell's view, I shall then, in the third part of this paper, argue that McDowell's position is sustainable only if some modifications are available. But then McDowell seems to find himself in a new difficult situation. In the final section of this paper, I shall look at McDowell's conception of moral reason from a Mencius's perspective, a perspective that might shed new light on the issues concerning virtue and reason as well as on understanding McDowell's position.