Self-Made? The Limits of Pure Internalism for Moral Personhood

  • Abstract:

    In the debate over free will, metaphysical libertarians have argued that only they can account for the intuition we have that it is not enough that I do what I want for my action to be free, but that I must be the shaper of the self that has the desires that motivate my choice. That is, unless I have, in Robert Kane’s terminology, performed some self-forming actions, my behavior is ultimately unfree and as such ultimately removed from the sphere of moral praise or blame just as much as the movements of a programmed robot would be. One could call this a kind of internalism about the source of (at least part of) the self. A similar internalism about the self is evident in a recent response to challenges to the Lockean tradition of personal identity. Marya Schechtman has argued that, in an important sense, we must be self-constituting in order for our persistence through time to carry the normative weight in matters of moral responsibility and prudential concern that we intuitively take it to. Both of these philosophical projects, while emerging from very different bodies of philosophical literature, share the idea that the self must be in some sense self-producing if we are to be beings with moral powers and the locus of moral evaluations. In this paper I attempt an account that draws from both traditions and clarifies the boundaries of the “self” referred to in each. I conclude, however, that while the internalist view that results most centrally captures “what matters” (to use Derek Parfit’s phrase), a purely internalist account is not sustainable. In the end we cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. However, the most important lesson to be learned is the role of self-control, and I suggest a way forward.