On Being One’s Own Person
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Reasons of One’s Own, Maureen Sie, Bert van Den Brink, Marc Slors, eds. (Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing Limitied, 2004): 129-149
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. To be one's own person, in everyday conversation, is to be disposed to act independently — that is, to be an agent. This paper develops the thesis that to be one’s own person is to be a rational agent who characteristically acts for reasons of her own. I first offer an account of what a person is in terms of a first-person perspective. Then I show how a first-person perspective bears on rational agency, on acting for a reason on a particular occasion, and on moral responsibility.
  2. In everyday conversation, to be one’s own person — or, as we used to say in the old days, to be one’s own man — is to be someone who acts independently, free of undue influence from anyone else. We have all been in committee meetings in which we were struck by the fact that when we hear what person A says, we know immediately how person B is going to vote — and person B does not even realize that he is following person A. To be one’s own person, by contrast, is to act for reasons of one’s own — reasons that one reflects on and accepts. To have reasons of one’s own — to affirm some reasons and to repudiate others — is to be a rational agent in the fullest sense.
  3. My aim here is to give a general account of acting for reasons of one’s own in the context of a view of rational agency. By a ‘general account,’ I mean old-fashioned necessary and sufficient conditions: first, for being a rational agent, then for acting for a reason, and finally for acting for a reason of one’s own. Although acting on reasons is always normative in the sense that there is a possibility of failure, I am not concerned here with reasons that we should — as opposed to do — act on. I am concerned with conditions for acting for reasons, whether or not we should act for those reasons, and whether or not the reasons are momentous or trivial.
  4. A rational agent in the fullest sense, on my view, is a person; and a person is a being with what I call a ‘first-person perspective’. To begin, I shall discuss my view of what a person is in terms of a first-person perspective, and then show how the notion of a first-person perspective has various roles in an account of agency. Ultimately, I want to explain what it is to be one’s own person in terms of being a rational agent who characteristically acts for reasons of her own.

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