Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 809–828 | Cite as

Deliberating for Our Far Future Selves

  • Jennifer M. Morton


The temporal period between the moment of deliberation and the execution of the intention varies widely—from opening an umbrella when one feels the first raindrops hit to planning and writing a book. I investigate the distinctive ability that adult human beings have to deliberate for their far future selves exhibited at the latter end of this temporal spectrum, which I term prospective deliberation. What grounds it when it is successful? And, why does it fail in some cases? I shall argue that an agent is warranted in deliberating for a future self when her reasons give her the right kind of cross-temporal authority. I argue that this authority is distinctive and cannot be accounted for by theories of agential authority that take desires, value judgments, or willings as the ground of authority in standard cases of deliberation. According to the theory I propose having the right kind of cross-temporal agential authority is not only a matter of having epistemic access to a future self’s reasons or being the same metaphysical person as a future self, it requires confidence that the agent’s reasons support undertaking such a normative commitment and that that future self will see the normative force of those reasons as the agent sees them. In other words, cross-temporal agential authority requires that the past self and the future self share a normative perspective. I show that this further condition only obtains if the agent sees her reasons in deliberation as having certain features.


Practical deliberation Agential authority Diachronic authority 



I benefitted from comments by Lanier Anderson, Nadeem Hussain, Tamar Schapiro, Ken Taylor, participants of the Time and Agency Conference at George Washington University, and members of the Social Ethics and Normative Theory Workshop and the Graduate Student Dissertation Development workshop at Stanford on a very early version of this paper. Some of the final stages of this paper were completed while I was on sabbatical thanks to a grant from the Spencer Foundation. Special thanks go to Michael Bratman, Luca Ferrero, and anonymous referees for this journal for their invaluable feedback throughout.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCity College of New York, CUNYNew YorkUSA

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