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The Sources of Normativity

13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521559607
ISBN-10: 052155960X
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Editorial Reviews


"The book is well worth reading..." International Studies in Philosophy

"This book is destined to replace Kant as the ultimate formulation of Kantian ethics. It should be required reading for any philosopher and should be in every library." W.F. Desmond, Choice

"This is a book anyone working in ethics should have on the desk. It is provocative and makes original and major contributions to a defense of a Kantian ethic. The historical developments of the various strands of thought are traced out in clear and helpful style. Korsgaard's writing is itself engaging and clear and her arguments forceful and for the most part compelling. This book constitutes a major advance in ethical theory." L. W. Colter, Review of Metaphysics

Book Description

Ethical concepts are, or purport to be, normative and make claims on us. This text identifies and examines four accounts of the source of normativity that have been advocated by modern moral philosophers-SHvoluntarism, realism, reflective endorsement, and the appeal to autonomy.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June 28, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052155960X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521559607
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #274,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For more about Christine M. Korsgaard, please see her web page at:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 54 people found the following review helpful By John S. Ryan on June 8, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this brilliant work, Christine Korsgaard tackles her title topic with flair and vigor: What are the sources of normativity? How is it that we become morally obliged? Drawing heavily on Kant but also striking out on her own, Korsgaard locates the origin of obligation in the ability to reflect, and in particular to reflect upon oneself as an agent in the pursuit of ends (a "citizen of the Kingdom of Ends").
Her view is at heart a modification of Kant, and she is careful to explain both what her approach shares with Kant's and exactly what her departure consists of. (Basically, finding some versions of "reflective endorsement" untenable, she finds that she must modify Kant's abstract principle of universalizability to take account of our need for practical identity.)
There might seem to be a difficulty here in that (as one other reviewer has noted in somewhat different language) agents who are _not_ (sufficiently) reflective might seem thereby to avoid moral obligation altogether. However, Korsgaard does deal with this point and does at least leave us a way to say that agents ideally _ought_ to be reflective. In that sense, the agent who simply shrugs off the pain he is causing to another can still, on Korsgaard's theory, be said to be reneging on an obligation. (And I think we _would_ say that "obligation" could obtain no purchase at all on someone who was simply incapable of any reflection whatsoever.)
At any rate, whether Korsgaard's analysis is found to be satisfactory or not, it makes highly rewarding reading. Her theory is not only trenchantly presented but developed through an enlightening discussion of the history of ethical theory.
Moreover, the text also includes responses/critiques from Thomas Nagel, G.A.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By David Estlund ( on November 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Korsgaard' book is one of the boldest and most thoughtful treatments of the philosophical problems around practical reason. The author has a wide knowledge and a deep understanding of the history of the subject, but she is also a daring and original thinker, and so whether or not her theory is entirely correct (what theory is?) it will deservedly attract enormous attention and scrutiny for years to come. The comments and reply attached at the end are also of very high quality, and it is good to have such good criticism appear immediately in this way. Everything here is well written, but it will be difficult going for any readers who don't have some prior acquaintance with previous treatments of the issues discussed, such as the relation between reason and desire, the difference between explaining and justifying action, the difference between rational and moral normativity, etc. But her vivid style makes it more accessible than much professionally produced philosophy, so if the issues interest you, give it a try!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By G. T. on July 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Sources of Normativity is an admirably well written and inspiring book. Korsgaard's style will capture the reader right from the beginning of the Prologue.

In this book Christine Korsgaard is mainly concerned with justifying morality. Her aim is not to tell us what to do, i.e. which moral obligations we have, but rather to show that we do indeed have moral obligations, that we are in fact bound by morality. Korsgaard, having discussed various accounts of the sources of normativity and shown them to be inadequate, gives her own Kantian answer to the question, focusing on the roles we play and our role as human beings. I won't go into details here.

I myself am inclined to disagree with Korsgaard's theory, but it doesn't matter, I still love this book. It is both thought provoking and inspiring, and it's just so beautifully written. It is truly a pleasure to read.

Korsgaard sets out her theory in four lectures (in addition to the Prologue) which are then followed by responses from four distinguished philosophers: G.A. Cohen, Raymond Geuss, Thomas Nagel and Bernard Williams. Korgaard then gives her reply in a final chapter. There is also a very short introduction by Onora O'Neill.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in philosophy, and especially if you're interested in moral philosophy.
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Format: Paperback
"The Sources of Normativity", based on Christine Korsgaard's Tanner Lectures, is certainly one of the most important works in ethics written in the past twenty years. Korsgaard argues in favor of a neo-Kantian metaethical theory, derived from a discussion of Hobbes, Kant, Aristotle, Williams, and Nagel - among numerous others.

The lynchpin of the theory is a crucial distinction between the categorical imperative and what Korsgaard calls the "moral law". Essentially, the categorical imperative fixes that the will must select a law that it can take as its own - the source of normative motivation - but does not fix the content of that law (a common critique of Kant). The moral law suggests that the will must select a law on which all rational beings can act together in a workable system - but Kant seems to assume, rather than argue for, the truth of this. Korsgaard's addition is to contend that our practical identities fix the domain over which our moral reasons can range, and that these identities are based on the reflective structure of consciousness - thus providing a bridge between the categorical imperative and moral law. For the full argument, you'll have to read the book, and it is well worth it. Korsgaard clearly has a deep respect for the various problems associated with normativity - particularly the question of how normativity can be objective, yet still account for the deeply contingent differences in our moral psychology.

Korsgaard's work is divided into six parts/lectures, each approximately 40 pages in length:

Lectures 1 + 2 discuss historical approaches to ethics - voluntarism (Hobbes, Pufendorf), objective realism (Moore, Ross, Nagel), and reflective endorsement (Hume, Kant, Mill, Williams).
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