A critique of Practical Reason Foundationalism

Powell, Brian Keith, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia
Brewer, Talbot, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia
Lomasky, Loren, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

As reflective creatures, we are likely to have moments in which we ask ourselves what Christine Korsgaard calls "the normative question" (1996), namely: Why should I do the right thing? These moments are likely to come when doing the wrong thing looks a lot easier than doing the right thing. You could take the money; no one is looking. You could cheat and get the job. What can we say to a person who is in a position in which he is tempted to do what he knows to be wrong because he sees that doing the right thing conflicts with his self - interest? It is clear how many contemporary Kantians want to answer this question. They want to show that a person has reason to be moral in virtue of the fact that the nature of rational agency is such that no one can avoid a rational commitment to moral requirements. I will use the term "practical reason foundationalism" to refer to the project of trying to demonstrate this necessary rational commitment. If the practical reason foundationalist's task could be accomplished, it would give morality a powerfiil rational credential. However, in this dissertation, I argue that the practical reason foundationalist's project cannot be made to work. I execute this argument by articulating the practical reason foundationalist's task, and examining the possible ways of carrying out this task. Then, I argue that each of these approaches must fail. In the final section, I turn away from Kantians and toward Kant himself. There I argue that reading Kant can teach one to see that, even if one could bring out the sort of commitment that practical reason foundationalists seek, practical reason foundationalism would not provide an adequate answer to the normative question.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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