Harry G. Frankfurt begins his inquiry by asking, "What is it about human beings that makes it possible for us to take ourselves seriously?" Based on The Tanner Lectures in Moral Philosophy, Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right delves into this provocative and original question.
The author maintains that taking ourselves seriously presupposes an inward-directed, reflexive oversight that enables us to focus our attention directly upon ourselves, and "[it] means that we are not prepared to accept ourselves just as we come. We want our thoughts, our feelings, our choices, and our behavior to make sense. We are not satisfied to think that our ideas are formed haphazardly, or that our actions are driven by transient and opaque impulses or by mindless decisions. We need to direct ourselves-or at any rate to believe that we are directing ourselves-in thoughtful conformity to stable and appropriate norms. We want to get things right."
The essays delineate two features that have a critical role to play in this: our rationality, and our ability to love. Frankfurt incisively explores the roles of reason and of love in our active lives, and considers the relation between these two motivating forces of our actions. The argument is that the authority of practical reason is less fundamental than the authority of love. Love, as the author defines it, is a volitional matter, that is, it consists in what we are actually committed to caring about. Frankfurt adds that "The object of love can be almost anything-a life, a quality of experience, a person, a group, a moral ideal, a nonmoral ideal, a tradition, whatever." However, these objects and ideals are difficult to comprehend and often in conflict with each other. Moral principles play an important supporting role in this process as they help us develop and elucidate a vision that inspires our love.
The first section of the book consists of the two lectures, which are entitled "Taking Ourselves Seriously" and "Getting It Right." The second section consists of comments in response by Christine M. Korsgaard, Michael E. Bratman, and Meir Dan-Cohen. The book includes a preface by Debra Satz.
Harry G. Frankfurt is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Princeton University. He is author of the best-selling book, On Bullshit (2005). His other publications include The Reasons of Love (2004) and Necessity, Volition, and Love (1999).