The post doc project:
On self-interest and other-concern

Håvard Løkke
Foto: Hæge Håtveit

(28.04.09) Throughout history, many philosophers have held that other-concern does not really conflict with self-interest. Rather, one must be a morally good person in order to get a good life. Today, many philosophers seem to regard such a view as outdated and naïve. And in some respects it surely is. Yet I think we experience every day that there must be some sense in which morality does not conflict with self-interest. But what sense exactly? I discuss this question by focusing on texts by, mainly, Aristotle and the Stoics, and on three notions: relation, goal, and justice.

Relations are foundational in morality, as I conceive it, because to stand in a relation to someone or something is to be already willing to balance one’s own interest against a concern for the other. A relation is good or bad, I argue, depending on its aims: good aims are friendship, some types of pleasure etc; bad aims are power, destruction etc. On this conception of morality, it is important to try and specify what must be the case in order for us to be willing to maintain good relations with others. The answer, I think, has to do with justice, conceived as a principle for balancing one’s own merited self-interest up against the concern for others.

So for my post doc project, I have scheduled four articles (of which I have so far been working on the first three):
1. Experience in Aristotle’s ethics. I discuss some social aspects of morality to specify the sense in which Aristotle’s conception of morality is based on our experience of social relations (main sources are the Politics book 3 and NE 6).
2. Dirty hands and peace of mind. This is a study of Seneca’s De tranquilitate animi, one of the most detailed Stoic discussions we have of how care for oneself is to be balanced against a concern for others.
3. Friends and duties. I discuss what I argue is an ancient distinction between a “perfect” morality (which Aristotle characterizes as a relation between friends) and a “second best” morality (which is regulated by law and what the Stoics call “officia” (duties)).
4. Who can be “the other” in ancient ethics? In ancient ethics, “the other” with which one is expected to be concerned, is much like oneself. Can one make sense of ancient ethics if “the other” turns out to be a stranger? This is a strong challenge, which I want to discuss in some detail.


Recent and upcoming publications:

  • Early Stoic Epistemology, monograph in the series Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind, (forthcoming Springer).

  • ‘Mistakes in Early Stoicism’. Ancient Philosophy 27 (2007).

  • Organon and Metaphysics Gamma: The First Principles of Logic’. In J. Steward (ed.), Kierkegaard and his Greek Sources, vol. ii.

  • Physics Beta and Metaphysics: Change, Modal Categories and Agency’. In J. Steward (ed.), Kierkegaard and his Greek Sources, vol. ii.

  • ‘“Det er dog ingen Dødelig, som ret er frie”: fire aspekter ved frihet i antikken’ (‘No one is truly Free: Four aspects of Freedom in Antiquity’). In Arr nr. 4/2008.

  • ‘Stoikerne om selvmord’ (‘The Stoics on suicide’). In H. Herrestad and L. Mehlum (eds.), Uutholdelige Liv (Unbearable Lives) (Aschehoug, 2004)

  • ‘Choice and practical reasoning’. In S. Knuuttila et. al. (eds.), A Source-book on the history of philosophy of mind.

  • ‘The active power in Stoic philosophy’. In J. Pietarinen (ed.), The World as Active Power (Brill 2009).

  • ‘The Stoics on sense perception’. In S. Knuuttila et al. (eds.), Theories of Perception in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy (Springer 2008).

Some invited talks:

  • ‘The Stoic Notion of Cognitive Impression’. Read at “Hellenistic Epistemology and Philosophy of Mind”, Reykjavik, Iceland, Nov. 22-24, 2004

  • ‘The Stoic notion of justice’. Read at “Chiasmatic encounters”, The International Association for Philosophy and Literature, Helsinki, Finland, 7 June 2005

  • ‘True and false emotions in the Philebus’. Read at the APA meeting, Eastern Division, New York, 28 Dec. 2005

  • ‘Conceptions of volition in ancient philosophy’. Read at a seminar at the History of Mind Research Unit, University of Helsinki, Finland, 29 Sept. 2006

  • ‘Some remarks on the Philebus 41b-42c’. Read at the VIIIth Symposium Platonicum: Plato, the Philebus, Dublin, Ireland, 26 July 2007

  • ‘Aristotle on why justice is good for the just person’. Read at the Moral Philosophy Club, Centre for Study of Mind in Nature (CSMN), the University of Oslo, 29 Jan. 2008.

  • ’Aristoteles om etisk erfaring’ (‘Aristotle’s notion of ethical experience’). Read at Nasjonal Etikkonferanse, Oslo desember 2008.

  • ‘Pleasure as the Source of Corruption in Stoicism’. Read at Faculty Seminar, Dartmouth College, NH, USA, 27 Feb. 2009.


    HÅvard LØkke

    D.Phil. in Philosophy (Oxford 2004)

    JFR at History of Mind: Research Unit (Helsinki) 2006-2007.

    Postdoktorstipendiat Etikkprogrammet
    1. januar 2008 til 30. november 2010.

    Er nå førsteamanuensis ved Universitetet i Agder.

    Løkkes CV