Ethical concepts are, or purport to be, normative. They make claims on us: they command, oblige, recommend, or guide. Or at least when we invoke them, we make claims on one another; but where does their authority over us - or ours over one another - come from? Christine Korsgaard identifies four accounts of the source of normativity that have been advocated by modern moral philosophers: voluntarism, realism, reflective endorsement, and the appeal to autonomy. She traces their history, showing how (...) each developed in response to the prior one and comparing their early versions with those on the contemporary philosophical scene. Kant's theory that normativity springs from our own autonomy emerges as a synthesis of the other three, and Korsgaard concludes with her own version of the Kantian account. Her discussion is followed by commentary from G. A. Cohen, Raymond Geuss, Thomas Nagel, and Bernard Williams, and a reply by Korsgaard. (shrink)
Agency and identity -- Necessitation -- Acts and actions -- Aristotle and Kant -- Agency and practical identity -- The metaphysics of normativity -- Constitutive standards -- The constitution of life -- In defense of teleology -- The paradox of self-constitution -- Formal and substantive principles of reason -- Formal versus substantive -- Testing versus weighing -- Maximizing and prudence -- Practical reason and the unity of the will -- The empiricist account of normativity -- The rationalist account of normativity (...) -- Kant on the hypothetical imperative -- Against particularistic willing -- Deciding and predicting -- Autonomy and efficacy -- The function of action -- The possibility of agency -- Non-rational action -- Action -- Attribution -- The psychology of action -- Expulsion from the garden : the transition to humanity -- Instinct, emotion, intelligence, and reason -- The parts of the soul -- Inside or outside -- Pull yourself together -- The constitutional model -- Models of the soul -- The city and the soul -- Platonic virtues -- Justice : substantive, procedural, and platonic -- Kant and the constitutional model -- Defective action -- The problem of bad action -- Being governed by the wrong law -- Or five bad constitutions -- Conceptions of evil -- Degrees of action -- Integrity and interaction -- Deciding to be bad -- The ordinary cases -- Dealing with the disunified -- Kant's theory of interaction -- My reasons -- Deciding to treat someone as an end in himself -- Interacting with yourself -- How to be a person -- What's left of me? (shrink)
Christine Korsgaard has become one of the leading interpreters of Kant's moral philosophy. She is identified with a small group of philosophers who are intent on producing a version of Kant's moral philosophy that is at once sensitive to its historical roots while revealing its particular relevance to contemporary problems. She rejects the traditional picture of Kant's ethics as a cold vision of the moral life which emphasises duty at the expense of love and value. Rather, Kant's work is seen (...) as providing a resource for addressing not only the metaphysics of morals, but also for tackling practical questions about personal relations, politics, and everyday human interaction. This collection contains some of the finest current work on Kant's ethics and will command the attention of all those involved in teaching and studying moral theory. (shrink)
Content skepticism about practical reason is doubt about the bearing of rational considerations on the activities of deliberation and choice. Motivational skepticism is doubt about the scope of reason as a motive. Some people think that motivational considerations alone provide grounds for skepticism about the project of founding ethics on practical reason. I will argue, against this view, that motivational skepticism must always be based on content skepticism. I will not address the question of whether or not content skepticism is (...) justified. I want only to establish the fact that motivational skepticism has no independent force. (shrink)
This paper criticizes two accounts of the normativity of practical principles: the empiricist account and the rationalist or realist account. It argues against the empiricist view, focusing on the Humean texts that are usually taken to be its locus classicus. It then argues both against the dogmatic rationalist view, and for the Kantian view, through a discussion of Kant's own remarks about instrumental rationality in the second section of the Groundwork. It further argues that the instrumental principle cannot stand alone. (...) Unless there are normative principles directing us to the adoption of certain ends, there can be no requirement to take the means to our ends. The familiar view that the instrumental principle is the only requirement of practical reason is incoherent. (shrink)
Christine M. Korsgaard presents a compelling new view of our moral relationships to the other animals. She offers challenging answers to such questions as: Are people superior to animals, and does it matter morally if we are? Is it all right for us to eat animals, experiment on them, make them work for us, and keep them as pets?
One of the great difficulties with Kant’s moral philosophy is that it seems to imply that our moral obligations leave us powerless in the face of evil. Kant’s theory sets a high ideal of conduct and tells us to live up to that ideal regardless of what other persons are doing. The results may be very bad. But Kant says that the law "remains in full force, because it commands categorically" (G, 438-39/57).* The most weI1—known example of...
In this paper I trace the development of one of the central debates of late twentieth-century moral philosophy—the debate between realism and what Rawls called “constructivism.” Realism, I argue, is a reactive position that arises in response to almost every attempt to give a substantive explanation of morality. It results from the realist’s belief that such explanations inevitably reduce moral phenomena to natural phenomena. I trace this belief, and the essence of realism, to a view about the nature of concepts—that (...) it is the function of all concepts to describe reality. Constructivism may be understood as the alternative view that a normative concept refers schematically to the solution to a practical problem. A constructivist account of a concept, unlike a traditional analysis, is an attemptto work out the solution to that problem. I explain how the philosophies of Kant and Rawls can be understood on this model. (shrink)
Christine M. Korsgaard is Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. She was educated at the University of Illinois and received a Ph.D. from Harvard. She has held positions at Yale, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Chicago, and visiting positions at Berkeley and UCLA. She is a member of the American Philosophical Association and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has published extensively on Kant, and about moral (...) philosophy and its history, the theory of practical reason, the philosophy of action, and personal identity. Her two published books are The Sources of Normativity (1992) and Creating the King- dom of Ends (1996). (shrink)
Then you have a look around, and see that none of the uninitiated are listening to us—I mean the people who think that nothing exists but what they can grasp with both hands; people who refuse to admit that actions and processes and the invisible world in general have any place in reality.
To later generations, much of the moral philosophy of the twentieth century will look like a struggle to escape from utilitarianism. We seem to succeed in disproving one utilitarian doctrine, only to find ourselves caught in the grip of another. I believe that this is because a basic feature of the consequentialist outlook still pervades and distorts our thinking: the view that the business of morality is to bring something about . Too often, the rest of us have pitched our (...) protests as if we were merely objecting to the utilitarian account of what the moral agent ought to bring about or how he ought to do it. Deontological considerations have been characterized as “side constraints,” as if they were essentially restrictions on ways to realize ends. More importantly, moral philosophers have persistently assumed that the primal scene of morality is a scene in which someone does something to or for someone else. This is the same mistake that children make about another primal scene. The primal scene of morality, I will argue, is not one in which I do something to you or you do something to me, but one in which we do something together. The subject matter of morality is not what we should bring about, but how we should relate to one another. If only Rawls has succeeded in escaping utilitarianism, it is because only Rawls has fully grasped this point. His primal scene, the original position, is one in which a group of people must make a decision together. Their task is to find the reasons they can share. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
This paper argues for a conception of the natural rights of non-human animals grounded in Kant’s explanation of the foundation of human rights. The rights in question are rights that are in the first instance held against humanity collectively speaking—against our species conceived as an organized body capable of collective action. The argument proceeds by first developing a similar case for the right of every human individual who is in need of aid to get it, and then showing why the (...) situation of animals is similar. I first review some of the reasons why people are resistant to the idea that animals might have rights. I then explain Kant’s conception of natural rights. I challenge the idea that duties of aid and duties of kindness to animals fit the traditional category of “imperfect duties” and argue that they are instead cases of “imperfect right.” I explain how you can hold a right against a group, and why it is legitimate to conceive of humanity as such a group. I then argue that Kant’s account of the foundation of property rights is grounded in a conception of the common possession of the Earth that grounds a right to aid and the rights of animals to be treated in ways that are consistent with their good. Finally, I return to the objections to the idea that animals have rights and offer some responses to them. (shrink)
Aristotle believes that an agent lacks virtue unless she enjoys the performance of virtuous actions, while Kant claims that the person who does her duty despite contrary inclinations exhibits a moral worth that the person who acts from inclination lacks. Despite these differences, this chapter argues that Aristotle and Kant share a distinctive view of the object of human choice and locus of moral value: that what we choose, and what has moral value, are not mere acts, but actions: acts (...) done for the sake of ends. Morally good actions embody a kind of intrinsic value that inspires us to do them from duty (in Kant) or for the sake of the noble (in Aristotle). The chapter traces the difference in their attitudes about doing one's duty with pleasure to a difference in their attitudes towards pleasure itself: Aristotle sees it as a perception of the good, while Kant thinks of it as mere feeling. (shrink)
The use of the English word “reason” in all of these contexts, and the way we translate equivalent terms from other languages, suggests a connection, but what exactly is it? Aristotle and Kant’s conception of what practical reasons are, I believe, can help us to answer this question, by bringing out what is distinctive, and distinctively active, about acting for a reason. That, at least, is what I am going to argue.
Kant holds that the good will is a source of value, In the sense that other things acquire their values from standing in an appropriate relation to it. I argue that aristotle holds a similar view about contemplation, And that this explains his preference for the contemplative life. They differ about what the source of value is because they differ about which kind of activity, ethical or contemplative, discovers meaning and purpose in the world.
Legal systems divide the world into persons and property, treating animals as property. Some animal rights advocates have proposed treating animals as persons. Another option is to introduce a third normative category. This raises questions about how normative categories are established. In this article I argue that Kant established normative categories by determining what the presuppositions of rational practice are. According to Kant, rational choice presupposes that rational beings are ends in themselves and the rational use of the earth’s resources (...) presupposes that human beings have rights. I argue that rational choice also presupposes that any being for whom things can be good or bad must be regarded as an end in itself, and that the use of the world’s resources presupposes that any being who depends on those resources has rights. Although the other animals do not engage in rational practice, our own rational practice requires us to give them standing. (shrink)
The essays in this volume offer an approach to the history of moral and political philosophy that takes its inspiration from John Rawls. All the contributors are philosophers who have studied with Rawls and they offer this collection in his honour. The distinctive feature of this approach is to address substantive normative questions in moral and political philosophy through an analysis of the texts and theories of major figures in the history of the subject: Aristotle, Hobbes, Hume, Rousseau, Kant and (...) Marx. By reconstructing the core of these theories in a way that is informed by contemporary theoretical concerns, the contributors show how the history of the subject is a resource for understanding present and perennial problems in moral and political philosophy. This outstanding collection will be of particular interest to historians of moral and political philosophy, historians of ideas, and political scientists. (shrink)
You are the kind of entity for whom things can be good or bad. This is one of the most important facts about you. It provides you with the grounds for taking a passionate interest in your own life, for you are deeply concerned that things should go well for you. Presumably, you also want to do well, but that may be in part because you think that doing well is good for you, and that your life would be impoverished (...) if you did not. But even if your interest in doing well is completely independent of any reference to your own condition, it probably depends on the thought that there are other entities, entities who are dependent upon you or affected by you, for whom things can be good or bad. It is only because there are entities like you, entities for whom things can be good or bad, that anything is important at all. If there were no entities for whom things can be good or bad, nothing would matter. (shrink)
Hume thinks moral judgments are based on sentiments of approval and disapproval we feel when we contemplate someone from a "general point of view." We view her through the eyes of her "narrow circle" and judge her in accordance with general rules. Why do we take up the general point of view? Hume also argues that approval is a calm form of love, love of character, which sets a normative standard for other forms of love. In this paper I explain (...) why, and argue that character, as a form of causality, is constructed from the point of view of one's narrow circle. We take up the general view to view people as persons, that is, as possible objects of love. (shrink)
Abstract: In response to Arroyo, I explain my position on the concept of “natural goodness” and how my use of that concept compares to that of Geach and Foot. An Aristotelian or functional notion of goodness provides the material for Kantian endorsement in a theory of value that avoids a metaphysical commitment to intrinsic values. In response to Cummiskey, I review reasons for thinking Kantianism and consequentialism incompatible, especially those objections to aggregation that arise from the notion of the natural (...) good previously described. In response to Moland, I explain why I think Hegelian worries about the supposed emptiness of the Kantian self do not apply to my account. And in response to both Moland and Bird-Pollan, I argue that, contrary to the view of some Hegelians, the intersubjective normativity of reason is not something developed through actual social relations; rather, it is something essential to an individual's relations with himself or herself. (shrink)
In this paper I explore the possibility of explaining why there is such a thing as the good in naturalistic terms. More specifically, I seek an explanation of the fact that some things are good-for human beings and the other animals in the final sense of good: worth aiming at. I trace the existence of the final good to the existence of conscious agents. I propose that the final good for an animal is her own well-functioning as the kind of (...) creature she is, taken as an end of action, and that having this as her final good makes her better at the activity she is necessarily engaged in, namely, living. (shrink)
One of the debates of recent moral philosophy concerns the question whether moral judgments express “internal” or “external” reasons. According to internalists, if someone knows or accepts a moral judgment then she must have a motive for acting on it. The motive is part of the content of the judgment: the reason why the action is right is a reason for doing it. According to externalists, this is not necessarily so: there could be a case in which I understand both (...) that and why it is right for me to do something, and yet have no motive for doing it. Since most of us believe that an action’s being right is a reason for doing it, internalism seems more plausible. It captures one element of our sense that moral judgments have normative force: they are motivating. But some philosophers believe that internalism, if correct, would also impose a restriction on moral reasons. If moral reasons are to motivate, they must spring from an agent’s personal desires and commitments. This is unappealing, for unless the desires and commitments that motivate moral conduct are universal and inescapable, it cannot be required of everyone. And this leaves out the other element of our sense that moral judgments have normative force: they are binding. Some internalists, however, have argued that the force of internalism cuts the other way. If moral reasons must motivate, and I show you that an action is morally right, I have ipso facto provided you with a motive for doing it. Moral reasons motivate because they are perceived as binding. A good person, according to these internalists, does the right thing because it is the right thing, or acts from the motive of duty. (shrink)
Conscience is the psychological faculty by which we aware of and respond to the moral character of our own actions. It is most commonly thought of as the source of pains we suffer as a result of doing what we believe is wrong --- the pains of guilt, or “pangs of conscience.” It may also be seen, more controversially, as the source of our knowledge of what is right and wrong, or as a motive for moral conduct. Thus a person (...) who is motivated to act on principle is said to act “conscientiously.” These terms come from the Latin “conscientia,” a direct translation of the Greek “syneidesis.” This ranges in meaning from being aware of something to “knowing something in common with” someone. Knowing something in common with someone can mean sharing his secret, and this puts you in a position to serve as a witness against him. Thus the term came to have a judicial use, to describe one who could bear witness. In certain contexts, “syneidesis” came to mean a state of knowing in common with oneself, and so of bearing witness against oneself. Although these terms appear in Stoic and Epicurean works, conscience did not receive extensive philosophical treatment until the Medieval period, when treatises on conscience became standard. Medieval philosophers distinguished two aspects of conscience, “conscientia” and “synderesis.” Roughly, “synderesis” refers to the ineradicable and infallible basis of conscience in human nature, while “conscientia” refers to the more particular judgments we make about our actions. There are various ways of specifying the two ideas further. In Thomas Aquinas’s account, which became standard, synderesis grasps the basic moral principles which are the first premises of practical reasoning, while conscientia is the conclusion, the act of judging that one ought to perform a particular action. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that the ground of this disagreement is different than philosophers have traditionally supposed. On the surface, the disagreement appears to be a matter of substantive moral judgment: Hume admires the sort of person who rushes to the aid of another from motives of sympathy or humanity, while Kant thinks that a person who helps with the thought that it is his duty is the better character. While a moral disagreement of this kind certainly follows from (...) their views, I will argue that the source of the disagreement lies elsewhere, namely in their different conceptions of action and motivation. This difference leads in turn to a surprisingly deep difference in their conception of our relation to other people, and of what it means to interact with other people. It is his conception of human interaction that leads Hume to think that benevolence is natural while there is something artificial about our motives to act justly and to keep our promises. For Kant, on the other hand, no form of adult human motivation is “natural” in Hume’s sense – all adult human motivation involves the agent’s use of nonnatural concepts such as law or reason. But Kant’s theory of interaction grounds another sense in which it is just as “natural” to be motivated to keep our promises and agreements as it is to be motivated to help each other out when we are in need. (shrink)
Why is there such a thing as value? Those who believe that intrinsic values simply exist – that some things just have the property of being valuable - don’t feel a need to answer that question. But I believe that all value is dependent on the existence of valuing beings. In these lectures, I explore the roots of the good in animal nature and the roots of the right in human nature. I then consider the implications of these accounts for (...) a practical question: if it is human and animal nature that bring value into the world, what if anything does that imply about the way human beings should treat the other animals? (shrink)
I am going to begin today by bringing together one of the themes of Carol Voeller’s remarks with one of the criticisms raised by Rachel Cohon, because I see them as related, and want to address them together. Voeller argues that the moral law is constitutive of our nature as rational agents. To put it in her own words, “to be the kind of object it is, is for a thing to be under, or constituted by, the laws which are (...) its nature. For Kant, laws are constitutive principles … in something very close to an Aristotelian sense: for Kant, laws are proper to objects1 much as form is to object, for Aristotle.” Voeller believes that the moral law defines the kind of cause that we are, and we are under the moral law because we are that kind of cause. Since the defining quality of a rational agent is that a rational agent acts on its representation - I prefer to say conception - of a law, Voeller thinks the question for Kant is whether we can find a law which just is the law for causes that act on their representations of laws. As she puts it, “The problem, for Kant, is whether there is a law of a cause that acts on norms - on reflection, on its representation of a law. If there is, then the constitutive principle of that cause will be the law normative for it in reflection.” Now Voeller appears to think that I will disagree with this strategy for grounding the moral law, because she sees me as giving an anti-metaphysical or ametaphysical account of Kant’s ethics, in contrast to Kant’s own. But so far, I don’t.. (shrink)
My first personal encounter with John Rawls was nearly thirthy years ago, in the early spring of 1974. I say “personal encounter” because of course, by then, we had all been reading A Theory of Justice, even undergraduate philosophy majors at the University of Illinois. I was a senior that year, and applying for graduate school. Jack was chair, and so it fell to his lot to telephone the students who had been accepted by Harvard, to tell us the good (...) news and ask if we had any questions. But in those days Jack stuttered, and he was worried that his stutter might make him difficult to understand over the phone. I mention that, because it explains how it came about that one day the telephone in my dorm room rang, and I answered it, only to hear the world’s greatest living moral philosopher say “This is John Rawls. That’s R-A-W-L-S.”. (shrink)
Human ethical practices and attitudes with respect to the other animals exhibit a curious instability. On the one hand, most people believe that it is wrong to inflict torment or death on a non-human animal for a trivial reason. Skinning a cat or setting it on fire by way of a juvenile prank is one of the standard examples of obvious wrongdoing in the philosophical literature. Like torturing infants, it is the kind of example that philosophers use when we are (...) looking for something ethically uncontroversial, so that disputes about the example won’t get in the way of the point we are trying to make.2 On the other hand, human beings have traditionally counted nearly any reason we might have for hurting or killing animals, short of malicious enjoyment, as non-trivial and sufficient. We kill non-human animals, and sometimes inflict pain on them, because we want to eat them, because we can make useful products out of them, because we can learn from experimenting on them, and.. (shrink)
This is the version of the interview with Professor Korsgaard that was supposed to have appeared in Constructions of Practical Reason: Interviews on Moral and Political Philosophy, edited by Herlinde Pauer-Studer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002). Due to an unfortunate accident, the first edition of that volume contains an unedited transcript of that interview rather than the corrected version below.