The Second-Person Standpoint and the Law: Symposium Introduction

10 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2007 Last revised: 24 Nov 2017

See all articles by Robin Bradley Kar

Robin Bradley Kar

University of Illinois College of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2007


One of the most exciting, and potentially fecund developments in recent moral philosophy is due to a line of thought developed by Stephen Darwall. In a series of articles that have recently culminated in a full-length book entitled The Second Person Standpoint: Morality, Respect and Accountability, Professor Darwall has begun pressing a seemingly innocuous and simple claim, but one which may nevertheless have far-reaching implications for normative theory. It is this: while moral and political philosophers have, for some time now, been clear about the distinction between the first-person standpoint (which includes the standpoint of ordinary practical deliberation) and the third-person standpoint (which includes the standpoint of empirical observation), and have sometimes plumbed this distinction to great effect in their moral thought, they have typically been unaware - or at least insufficiently aware - of the distinctive and critical role that the second-person standpoint plays in our practical lives. The second-person standpoint is the standpoint we take up when we address one another with claims and grievances, or respond to such claims with apology, excuse or justification. It is the standpoint I take up when I confront you in anger for a perceived wrong, or that you take up in response to me when you say I have no right to treat you that way, and, in Darwall's view, it is a standpoint irreducible to the other two.

In this Introduction to a recent Symposium on the Second-Person Standpoint and the Law, I summarize a number of applications of Darwall's recent ideas to the law. The Introduction discusses Darwall's basic views, as well as their general applicability to the law. It then describes symposium contributions that apply these views to a number of substantive areas of the law, from tort law, to contract, to the criminal law.

Perhaps the broadest implications of Darwall's work nevertheless stand one step prior to these substantive applications. As explained in this Introduction, Darwall has pointed out fundamental features of legal obligations that cannot easily be accounted for from within a fundamentally consequentialist framework. Properly understood, Darwall's work thus presents a deep, and very robust, challenge to efficiency-based accounts of the law and hence to the law and economics movement more generally. Darwall's work suggests, in effect, that the law and economics movement cannot account for the very features that make legal obligations legal obligations.

Keywords: second person, second person standpoint, Darwall, contractualism, law and economics, efficiency, contract, tort, criminal law

Suggested Citation

Kar, Robin Bradley, The Second-Person Standpoint and the Law: Symposium Introduction (March 1, 2007). Symposium on Stephen Darwall's Second-Person Standpoint and the Law, Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, Vol. 40, No. 4 (2007). Available at SSRN:

Robin Bradley Kar (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States


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