The Constitution of Agency: Essays on Practical Reason and Moral Psychology

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Christine M. Korsgaard is one of today's leading moral philosophers: this volume collects ten influential papers by her on practical reason and moral psychology. Korsgaard draws on the work of important figures in the history of philosophy such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hume, showing how their ideas can inform the solution of contemporary and traditional philosophical problems, such as the foundations of morality and practical reason, the nature of agency, and the role of the emotions in action.

In Part 1, The Principles of Practical Reason , Korsgaard defends the view that the principles of practical reason are constitutive principles of action. By governing our actions in accordance with Kant's categorical imperative and the principle of instrumental reason, she argues, we take control of our own movements and so render ourselves active, self-determining beings. She criticizes rival attempts to give a normative foundation to the principles of practical reason, challenges the claims of the principle of maximizing one's own interests to be a rational principle, and argues for some deep continuities between Plato's account of the connection between justice and agency and Kant's account of the connection between autonomy and agency.

In Part II, Moral Virtue and Moral Psychology, Korsgaard takes up the question of the role of our more passive or receptive faculties—our emotions and responses —in constituting our agency. She sketches a reading of the Nicomachean Ethics , based on the idea that our emotions can serve as perceptions of good and evil, and argues that this view of the emotions is at the root of the apparent differences between Aristotle and Kant's accounts of morality. She argues that in fact, Aristotle and Kant share a distinctive view about the locus of moral value and the nature of human choice that, among other things, gives them account of what it means to act rationally that is superior to other accounts.

In Part III, Other Reflections, Korsgaard takes up question how we come to view one another as moral agents in Hume's philosophy. She examines the possible clash between the agency of the state and that of the individual that led to Kant's paradoxical views about revolution. And finally, she discusses her methodology in an account of what it means to be a constructivist moral philosopher.

The essays are united by an introduction in which Korsgaard explains their connections to each other and to her current work.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a book that no serious ethicist can afford not to read carefully in its entirety. Extremely compelling and original picture of rational agency." —Ethics

"Christine Korsgaard is one of our most stimulating and arresting voices in moral philosophy. Her arguments are audacious, penetrating, and philosophically adroit. She has the confidence to write as if addressing a deeply interested group of people in the same room with her. It is a style whose candid vitality is very effective in communicating, that is, sharing both the seriousness and the fun of first-hand philosophical investigation." —Social Theory and Practice

"Most rigorous and compelling as it explores questions in action theory and moral psychology. It simultaneously furnishes valuable reflection on Plato, Aristotle, Hume, and Kant, and shows how at the end of the day some of their views might be far more plausible than they are often thought to be." —The Philosophical Quarterly

"An excellent collection of papers, many of which address key concerns in contemporary ethics in novel and fascinating ways." —Theoria

"As with any other work of such philosophical importance, the essays in this collection have initiated debates that will be the foci of ethics and action theory in the days to come."—Carla Bagnoli, otre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"A clear, careful contribution to scholarship on practical reason and moral psychology by a leading American philosopher."—A.W. Klink, CHOICE

"Korsgaard's project is highly ambitious, philosophically interesting and important. She pursues this project in a very original way, drawing together strands of thought from seemingly very different philosophical traditions in surprising ways, and the resulting synthesis is remarkable for its philosophical power and unity. As usual, Korsgaard's writing is engaging and pithy throughout, and it is hard not to be drawn inot the text. Anyone interested in the nature of morality, normativity or action should read these books." —Analysis Advance Access

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199552733
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/15/2008
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Christine M. Korsgaard earned her B.A. at the University of Illinois in 1974, her Ph.D. at Harvard University, where she studied with John Rawls, in 1981, and an LHD at the University of Illinois in 2004. She is currently Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. She works on moral philosophy and its history, practical reason, agency, personal identity, and the relations between human beings and the other animals.

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Table of Contents

Part One: The Principles of Practical Reason
1. The Normativity of Instrumental Reason
2. The Myth of Egoism
3. Self-Constitution in the Ethics of Plato and Kant
Part Two: Moral Virtue and Moral Psychology
4. Aristotle's Function Argument
5. Aristotle on Function and Virtue
6. From Duty and for the Sake of the Noble: Kant and Aristotle on Morally Good Action
7. Acting for a Reason
Part Three: Other Reflections
8. Taking the Law into Our Own Hands: Kant on the Right to Revolution
9. The General Point of View: Love and Moral Approval in Hume's Ethics
10. Realism and Constructivism in 20th Century Moral Philosophy

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