Theology and Philosophy

Simone Weil Lecture 2000

Human Action and Normative Standards by Professor Christine M. Korsgaard

Lecture Abstract

Kant proposes that actions are subject to two normative standards, expressed by the hypothetical and categorical imperatives. The hypothetical imperative requires that our actions be effective, and the categorical imperative requires that they be autonomously willed. Kant's arguments for these standards suggest that they are "internal standards" - that is, standards which a thing must meet in virtue of being the sort of thing that it is. According to this view, an agent who is not at least guided by the norms of effectiveness and autonomy cannot be recognized as acting. While these arguments, if successful, provide a strong defense against normative skepticism, they seem hard to reconcile with the apparent fact that non-human animals also act. In this paper I propose an account of what action is and how human action differs from that of the other animals. The account is aimed at preserving both the claim that the other animals act and the claim that the Kantian imperatives express internal standards.

About the speaker

Christine Korsgaard is Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University where she has taught since 1991. She has held positions at Yale, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the University of Chicago, as well as visiting positions at Berkeley and UCLA. Her primary (academic) interests are in moral philosophy and its history; in the relation of issues in moral philosophy to issues in metaphysics, the philosophy of mind, and the theory of personal identity; in the theory of personal relationships; and in normativity in general.