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CEPPA Talk (online) – Zoë Johnson King (Harvard)
November 17, 2022 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Title: Working on Yourself
Abstract: This is a thesis-antitheses-synthesis kind of talk. We begin with a question: How should one react to one’s own moral achievements and moral failures, and to the moral achievements and moral failures of other people? One answer that might seem initially compelling is that we should be harsher on ourselves than we are on others: we should be modest about our own moral achievements while celebrating others’ moral achievements, and we should show more leniency in response to others’ moral failures than in response to our own. As compelling as this answer might seem, a smorgasbord of recent trends in popular moral thought push back against it in various ways, and it paints an odd picture of how good people are supposed to talk to each other. That’s the thesis and its antitheses. The synthesis is the central idea of this talk: the idea of working on yourself. I’ll say what working on yourself is and why it matters morally, and I’ll also introduce the idea of a deliberate self-improvement, which is my name for what you bring about when you try to work on yourself and succeed. With these two notions in hand, I’ll argue that the initially-compelling answer and its intuitive counterphenomena can all be accommodated by an account that emphasizes the importance of not only working on yourself, but also encouraging and facilitating others’ work on themselves, all while recognizing the enormous diversity of impediments to their doing either of these that particular individuals might encounter. We’ll see that some apparent self/other asymmetries have solid metaphysical or moral underpinnings, while others dissolve. I’ll then discuss some cool upshots and one remaining deeper puzzle; in brief, the puzzle concerns whether we should prioritize working on ourselves over supporting others’ work on themselves and, if so, what could explain this division of labor.
Co-hosted with ECT.