South African Journal of Philosophy

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The agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction: my two sense(s)

Jessica Lerm


The agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction is very well established and widely employed in the metaethical literature. However, I argue that there are actually two different senses of the distinction at large: the hetero-/homogeneous sense and the dependence/independence sense. The traditional, unqualified distinction ought, therefore, to be amended, with each use of the distinction being stipulated as used in either the hetero-/homogeneous sense or the dependence/independence sense. Careful analysis of various metaethics supports that there are these two senses – analysis, in particular, of a neo-Kantian metaethic, according to which reasons are agent-relative in the dependence sense but agent-neutral in the homogeneous sense, and – perhaps surprisingly – of Utilitarianism, according to which reasons are agent-neutral in the independence sense but agent-relative in the heterogeneous sense.

South African Journal of Philosophy 2013, 32(2): 137–148
AJOL African Journals Online