The Sources of Normativity by Christine M. Korsgaard

Professor Korsgaard argues that ethical normativity or value results from autonomous agents like ourselves reflecting on what we ought to do and then endorsing a rational course of action, i.e., a course of action based on reasons we can truthfully endorse. This is “reflective endorsement”. Actions and the reasons for those actions are good if they are well-considered and promote our “practical identity”, the conception of ourselves as valuable beings with lives worth living. And since we value our own humanity, we should value the humanity of others as well. 

Korsgaard says that obligations only exist in the first-person perspective: “in one sense, the obligatory is like the visible: it depends on how much of the light of reflection is on”. She also believes that we are subject to moral laws that we ourselves create (until we as individuals change those laws).  

She admits, however, that her argument will fail to convince someone who is completely skeptical about morality. She does not provide a non-moral foundation for morality (who could?). What Korsgaad does provide is an explanation of the role morality plays in our lives and how trying to be moral contributes to our self-image as proper human beings. 

Included in the book are responses from four well-known philosophers. I thought that their criticisms were more sensible and understandable than Korsgaard’s replies.  (5/2/11)

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