The Normative Significance of Personal Projects

  • Monika Betzler
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 118)


The paper addresses the role personal projects play in defining who we are and in generating specific personal reasons. It is argued that committing oneself to personal projects generates a distinct normative framework for oneself, irreducible to other reason-providing sources. Personal projects comprise three core elements: (i) they are norm-governed; (ii) they engender project-dependent reasons to pursue the project and its components non-instrumentally; and (iii) they shape one’s identity once one commits oneself to a project. Based on this explanation, the notion of personal projects is distinguished from competing sources of personal reasons and it is argued for the independence and irreducibility of personal projects. Unlike desires, committing oneself to personal projects involves valuing the project’s content and also emotional engagement which, in turn, confers authority—and not merely weight—to the reasons generated. In contrast to (life) plans, pursuing a personal project is not exhausted in realizing, step by step, a kind of blueprint for leading one’s life. Finally, personal projects differ from personal ideals in that they comprise more numerous and more concrete action-guiding reasons than “just” idealized social roles or virtues to live up to. The conclusion is, therefore, that personal projects present an independent and irreducible source of personal reasons.


Action Type Personal Ideal Normative Significance Project Pursuit Personal Project 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am indebted to Susanne Boshammer, Sebastian Elliker, Christian Budnik, Nadja Jelinek, Michael Kühler, Christian Seidel and to those who participated in my colloquium on practical philosophy, held at Berne University (Switzerland), for their helpful written comments on an earlier version of this paper. I would also like to thank David Velleman and Samuel Scheffler for an extremely stimulating discussion of this paper. Many thanks also to Michael Kühler and Nadja Jelinek for having invited me to revisit my ideas on the normative significance of personal projects for this volume.


  1. Anderson, Elizabeth. 1993. Value in ethics and economics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Betzler, Monika. 2004. Sources of practical conflicts and reasons for regret. In Practical conflicts, new philosophical essays, ed. Peter Baumann and Monika Betzler, 197–222. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bratman, Michael. 1987. Intention, plans, and practical reason. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Buss, Sarah. 2004. The irrationality of unhappiness and the paradox of despair. Journal of Philosophy 101: 167–196.Google Scholar
  5. Calhoun, Cheshire. 2009. What good is commitment? Ethics 119: 613–641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dancy, Jonathan. 1993. Moral reasons. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  7. Frankfurt, Harry. 1993. On the necessity of ideals. In Necessity, volition, and love, ed. Frankfurt, Harry, 108–16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [1999].Google Scholar
  8. Helm, Bennett. 2000. Emotional reason, how to deliberate about value. American Philosophical Quarterly 37: 1–22.Google Scholar
  9. Helm, Bennett. 2001. Emotions and practical reason. Nous 3: 190–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Larmore, Charles. 1999. The idea of a life plan. Social Philosophy and Policy 16: 96–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lewis, David. 1989. Dispositional theories of value. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 63: 113–137.Google Scholar
  12. Little, Brian R. 1989. Personal projects analysis, trivial pursuits, magnificent obsessions, and the search for coherence. In Personality psychology- recent trends and emerging issues, ed. D.M. Buss and N. Cantor, 15–31. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Mack, Eric. 1993. Agent-relativity, deontic restraints, and self-ownership. In Value, welfare and morality, ed. R.W. Frey and C.G. Morris, 209–232. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Nagel, Thomas. 1979. Mortal questions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Nagel, Thomas. 1986. The view from nowhere. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Pettit, Philip, and Michael Smith. 1990. Backgrounding desire. Philosophical Review 99: 565–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Portmore, Douglas W. 2010. Commonsense consequentialism, wherein morality meets rationality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Rawls, John. 1971. A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Raz, Joseph. 1986. The morality of freedom. Oxford: Clarendon Press of Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Rosati, Connie. 2006. Personal good. In Metaethics after Moore, ed. M. Timmons and T. Horgan, 107–132. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Scheffler, Samuel. 1982. The rejection of consequentialism. Rev. ed. 2003. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Scheffler, Samuel. 2004. Projects, relationships, and reasons. In Reasons and value, themes from the moral philosophy of Joseph Raz, ed. R.J. Wallace et al., 247–268. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Smith, Michael. 1994. The moral problem. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  24. Velleman, David. 2002. Motivation by ideal. Philosophical Explorations 5: 111–123.Google Scholar
  25. Velleman, David. 2008. A theory of value. Ethics 118: 410–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Velleman, David. 2010. Regarding doing being ordinary. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  27. Williams, Bernard. 1973. A critique of utilitarianism. In Utilitarianism, for and against, ed. J.C.C. Smart and Bernard Williams, 75–150. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Williams, Bernard. 1976a/1981. Persons, character and morality. In Moral luck: Philosophical papers 1973–1980 (Reprinted), ed. Bernard Williams, 1–19. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Williams, Bernard. 1976b/1981. Utilitarianism and moral self-indulgence. In Moral luck: Philosophical papers 1973–1980 (Reprinted), ed. Bernard Williams 40–53. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations