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On the Existence of Duties to the Self (and Their Significance for Moral Philosophy)



Contemporary philosophers generally ignore the topic of duties to the self. I contend that they are mistaken to do so. The question of whether there are such duties, I argue, is of genuine significance when constructing theories of practical reasoning and moral psychology. In this essay, I show that much of the potential importance of duties to the self stems from what has been called the “second-personal” character of moral duties—the fact that the performance of a duty is “owed to” someone. But this is problematic, as there is reason to doubt whether a person can genuinely owe to herself the performance of an action. Responding to this worry, I show that temporal divisions within an agent's life enable her to relate to herself second-personally, in the way required by morality. The upshots, I argue, are that we need an intra-personal theory of justice that specifies the extent of a person's authority over herself, and that we need to rethink our theories of moral emotions in order to specify how an individual ought to respond to attacks on her interests and autonomy that she herself perpetrates.