Master of Arts
Date of Defense
There is a longstanding tradition in Western philosophy of emphasizing the capacity for reflection in theories about humans’ characteristic nature. In Talking to Ourselves: Reflection, Ignorance, and Agency, John Doris attempts to shift the focus to an emphasis on human sociality. Particularly, Doris argues that sociality, both implicitly and in the form of collaborative reasoning, is what makes humans best equipped for moral improvement. This collaborativism possesses a defining role in his account of agency and responsibility. This thesis attempts to gain an understanding of how sociality affects moral behavior and to argue that it is not conducive to agency in the way that Doris hypothesizes.
The paper advances in three stages. First, I provide an exegesis of what I take to be the three foundational aspects of Doris’ account of agency and responsibility: value-expressive behavior, collaborativism and currentism. I surmise that if values, the agency-grounding inner state, are deeply historical and unshakeable, they fail to be expressive of self-direction. For Doris, sociality should be a means for revision by helping individuals to better determine what they should value and how to express those values in their behavior. In the second section, I introduce the norms literature to argue that (1) sociality inculcates individuals with highly consistent sets of values through mechanisms for norm acquisition. In the third section, I argue that (2) sociality does not have an easy route to revising those acquired sets of values due to confirmation bias, the strength of our moral convictions and the difficulties these factors raise for individuals recognizing and resolving moral dilemmas. I conclude that because (1) and (2) are the case, values are not self-directed in the way agency requires. Accordingly, Doris’ currentist, collaborativist, valuational account of agency and responsibility is in need of substantial revision, or amendment.
McGovern, Johnna B., "The Limits of Sociality" (2019). Theses. 355.