Self-constitution in the ethics of Plato and Kant

The Journal of Ethics 3 (1):1-29 (1999)
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Plato and Kant advance a constitutional model of the soul, in which reason and appetite or passion have different structural and functional roles in the generation of motivation, as opposed to the familiar Combat Model in which they are portrayed as independent sources of motivation struggling for control. In terms of the constitutional model we may explain what makes an action different from an event. What makes an action attributable to a person, and therefore what makes it an action, is that it issues from the person''s constitution, and therefore from the person as a whole, rather than from some force working on or in the person. This in turn implies an account of what makes an action good: what makes an action good is that it is deliberated upon and chosen in a way that unifies the person into a constitutional system. Through deliberative action we constitute ourselves as unified agents. Platonic justice and Kant''s categorical imperative are shown to be normative standards for action because they are principles of self-constitution



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