Good Intentions and the Road to Hell

by Sarah Paul

Abstract. Anscombe famously remarked that an adequate philosophy of psychology was needed before we could do ethics.  Fifty years have passed, and we might now ask what significance our best theories of agency have for moral philosophy.  The focus will be on non-moral conceptions of autonomy and self-governance that emphasize the limits of deliberation -- the way in which one's cares render certain options unthinkable, one's intentions and policies filter out what is inconsistent with them, and one's resolutions function to block further reflection.  In some cases, this deliberative silencing can be expected to lead to moral failures simply because the morally correct option never crossed the agent's mind.  I argue that it follows from these conceptions of self-governance that we should be considered culpable for such unwitting acts and omissions, even if they express no ill will, moral indifference, or blameworthy evaluative judgments, and reflect on whether this consequence is acceptable.  Either way, the potential tradeoff between self-governance and moral attentiveness is a source of doubt about recent attempts to ground the normativity of rationality in our concern for self-governance.