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I understand there has been so much on this topic but I am still confused. I get that if the person is the subject it is who and anything else is whom. However, I'm really struggling to work out this rule for the following sentence:

The scope of which his account of morality applies to is therefore restricted to those whom/who the ‘notion of justification to a being of that kind makes sense.’

Should it be who or whom? I can't work out the subject and object.

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    That entire sentence makes no sense whatsoever and is completely ungrammatical, so I don’t blame you for not being able to figure out whether it’s the subject or not. What is the sentence trying to say? And why is a random part of it in quotes? If we simplify it to simpler main clauses, we get: “The scope [that his account of morality applies to of] is restricted to some people. These people the ‘notion of justification of a being of that kind makes sense’.” That is more obviously nonsensical. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 29 '14 at 14:14
  • It would be extremely hard to understand without any context as it's part of a complex Philosophy essay. The quotation is from a Philosopher which explains the scope which his account of morality applies to. – philosophyislife Nov 29 '14 at 14:17
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    That doesn’t change the fact that there are either words missing or words that shouldn’t be there. The sentence is ungrammatical, unless the ‘notion of justification of a being of that kind makes sense’ is supposed to act like some kind of very complex and bizarre verb. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 29 '14 at 14:18
  • ok, I'll have a look and try and work out exactly what I am trying to say. Thank you. – philosophyislife Nov 29 '14 at 14:21
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    @Janus: I may be mistaken, but it seems to me the sentence is valid (although maybe a bit clumsy) if we assume some minor (transcription?) errors. The third word (of) shouldn't be there, and there should be a to before whom. Plus the closing quote for ‘notion of justification to a being of that kind’ is in the wrong place. – FumbleFingers Nov 29 '14 at 14:26
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Note how the original is constructed:

Neither of these objections applies to the version of contractualism that I am defending. The general specification of the scope of morality which it implies seems to me to be this: morality applies to a being if the notion of justification to a being of that kind makes sense.

The author is dealing with some pretty complicated thoughts here; but he has managed this fairly gracefully by breaking his argument into easily processed chunks.

  1. First, he divides it into two stages: a. “What I'm talking about: I'm going to specify the scope of morality [with some necessary hedges]”, and b. “What I have to say about it: this is the scope”.

  2. In stage b. he redefines scope as an active verb, applies, and cunningly employs a conditional construction to distinguish b1. the act of applying morality from b2. the entities to which morality may be applied—taking care, however, to knit the two together by repetition of the term being. This is critical: because that separation allows him to use the preposition to for the complement of two different lexemes, applies and justification, without confusion.

Now you should be able to see where your attempt at a paraphrase has tripped you up.

  1. In your subject you have tried to embrace both scope of morality and morality applies to—which are the same thing: the scope does not apply to beings: the scope is the beings. Consequently you get your prepositions (of, to) and their objects tangled up.

  2. In the object of restricted to you have recast the first being as a plural those, and defined that with a relative who/whom which has no distinct syntactic role to play in what follows. You are trying to relativize an entity which plays two different roles. Moreover, your prepositions are all cattywhompus because that entity stands as the object of two different tos (in addition to the to of your restricted to!), and you have lost the conditional construction which distinguishes them. (Even if you had kept the conditional construction you would still need another pronoun; see the comments to this question by our syntax guru John Lawler.)

It would be much simpler to let Scanlon speak for himself:

Scanlon restricts his account of morality: “morality applies to a being if the notion of justification to a being of that kind makes sense”.


I have some very minor cavils. I'd handle the first clause with fewer nouns, thus: "It seems to me that the scope of morality which it implies may be generally specified thus:...". And justification to is tricky; it seems at first glance to be an error because it is immediately after this point that Scanlon explains what it means. I would bracket it somehow: justification-to or 'justification to'.

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