Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity

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In this book, Christine M. Korsgaard presents an account of the foundation of practical reason and moral obligation. Moral philosophy aspires to understand the fact that human actions, unlike the actions of the other animals, can be morally good or bad, right or wrong. Few moral philosophers, however, have exploited the idea that human actions might be morally good or bad in virtue of being good or bad of their kind-good or bad as actions. Just as we need to know that it is the function of the heart to pump blood to know that a good heart is one that pumps blood successfully, so we need to know what the function of an action is in order to know what counts as a good or bad action. Drawing on the work of Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, Korsgaard argues that the function of a human action is to constitute the agency and therefore the identity of the person who does it. As rational beings, we are aware of, and therefore in control of, the principles that govern our actions, and therefore, unlike the other animals, we must constitute our own agency. A good action is one that constitutes its agent as the autonomous and efficacious cause of her own movements. These properties correspond, respectively, to Kant's two imperatives of practical reason. Conformity to the categorical imperative renders us autonomous, and conformity to the hypothetical imperative renders us efficacious. And in determining what effects we will have in the world, we are at the same time determining our own identities. Korsgaard contrasts this account of the foundation of the principles of practical reason to those found in the traditions of rationalism and empiricism. She then develops a theory of action and ofpersonal interaction, and of the form personal interaction must take if we are to have the integrity that, she argues, is essential for agency. On the basis of that theory, she argues that only morally good action can serve the function of action, which is self-constitution.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Self-Constitution is nonetheless a new monograph, presenting the very latest versions of Korsgaard's central arguments. And it is a truly remarkable achievement, readable, learned, humane, and passionate. It is also beautifully written. Above all, it is exciting. Korsgaard is far from unscholarly, but -it seems to me- she is not afraid to be thought unscholarly because she takes risks that more costive and timid academics might eschew. Good for her." —Philosophy

"Should you cause yourself to read a copy, you shall constitute yourself well." —Constantine Sandis, Metapsychology

"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: 9780199552795
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/25/2009
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (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

Abbreviations for Frequently Cited Works ix

Preface xi

1 Agency and Identity 1

1.1 Necessitation 1

1.2 Acts and Actions 8

1.3 Aristotle and Kant 14

1.4 Agency and Practical Identity 18

2 The Metaphysics of Normativity 27

2.1 Constitutive Standards 27

2.2 The Constitution of Life 35

2.3 In Defense of Teleology 37

2.4 The Paradox of Self-Constitution 41

3 Formal and Substantive Principles of Reason 45

3.1 Formal versus Substantive 45

3.2 Testing versus Weighing 49

3.3 Maximizing and Prudence 52

4 Practical Reason and the Unity of the Will 59

4.1 The Empiricist Account of Normativity 59

4.2 The Rationalist Account of Normativity 64

4.3 Kant on the Hypothetical Imperative 68

4.4 Against Particularistic Willing 72

4.5 Deciding and Predicting 76

5 Autonomy and Efficacy 81

5.1 The Function of Action 81

5.2 The Possibility of Agency 84

5.3 Non-Rational Action 90

5.4 Action 93

5.5 Attribution 100

5.6 The Psychology of Action 104

6 Expulsion from the Garden: The Transition to Humanity 109

6.1 Instinct, Emotion, Intelligence, and Reason 109

6.2 The Parts of the Soul 117

6.3 Inside or Outside? 122

6.4 Pull Yourself Together 125

7 The Constitutional Model 133

7.1 Two Models of the Soul 133

7.2 The City and the Soul 135

7.3 Platonic Virtues 142

7.4 Justice: Substantive, Procedural, and Platonic 148

7.5 Kant and the Constitutional Model 153

8 Defective Action 159

8.1 The Problem of Bad Action 159

8.2 Being Governed by the Wrong Law 161

8.3 Four or Five Bad Constitutions 165

8.4 Conceptions of Evil 170

8.5 Degrees of Action 174

9 Integrity and Interaction 177

9.1 Deciding to be Bad 177

9.2 The OrdinaryCases 180

9.3 Dealing with the Disunified 184

9.4 Kant's Theory of Interaction 188

9.5 My Reasons 197

9.6 Deciding to Treat Someone as an End in Himself 200

9.7 Interacting with Yourself 202

10 How to be a Person 207

10.1 What's Left of Me? 207

10.2 Conclusion 212

Bibliography 215

Index 219

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