Harry G. Frankfurt’s work on agency and reflexivity represents one of the most important attempts in the current philosophical literature to elaborate the structure of agency. Frankfurt wishes to provide an account of what I call the “deep structures” of agency–those features of agency, such as care and love, in virtue of which the surface features, such as desire, are to be explained and understood. These deep structures are important because of their power to explain unified diachronic patterns in our lives rather than just individual actions. In doing so, Frankfurt seeks to be a Humean in Aristotelian clothing: he desires the richness of a broadly Aristotelian moral psychology–specifically, an Augustinian variant of this–built out of the resources of a Humean human nature in which the “passions,” or here, those objects we care about, are fundamental.
Thus Frankfurt develops concepts such as second-order desire, identification and dissociation, wholeheartedness, and love without incurring significant metaphysical costs. Through these concepts Frankfurt provides an account with extraordinary richness. However, I argue that Frankfurt’s minimalism conflicts with his attempts to provide so rich an account of our moral lives. In particular, his attempt to make caring foundational for practical reason undermines his conception of identification and dissociation. Frankfurt’s Humeanism commits him to a tragic moral universe in which the dissociation of desire is little more than an exercise in self-deception rather than a means of guaranteeing psychic unity.
I then argue that a superior account of moral life and the moral self can be constructed through greater reliance upon Augustinian ideas concerning the nature of love that is rooted in two concepts: affinity and peace. The concept of affinity provides a basis for evaluating what is worth loving and the concept of peace, central to Augustine’s moral psychology, is used to analyze the structure of love itself in its many manifestations. This account is less minimalist than Frankfurt’s but is more faithful to our moral experience and provides a more powerful and nuanced analysis of moral life and the self.