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Agency and Autonomy in Kant's Moral TheorySelected Essays$
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Andrews Reath

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199288830

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2006

DOI: 10.1093/0199288836.001.0001

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Legislating the Moral Law

Legislating the Moral Law

(p.92) 4 Legislating the Moral Law
Agency and Autonomy in Kant's Moral Theory

Andrews Reath (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter spells out two distinct senses in which the rational will legislates moral requirements: one that holds for the Categorical Imperative, and a different sense that holds for particular categorical imperatives or moral requirements. The Formula of Universal Law is a law that Kant derives from the nature of rational volition or rational choice. In this sense, it is a law that the rational will legislates or gives to itself. Roughly, the will is a law to itself since the nature of rational volition leads to a principle that governs its own exercise, namely the Categorical Imperative. To understand the sense in which rational agents legislate particular moral requirements, it is important to bear in mind that Kant is led to this idea by considering how such requirements get their normative authority. Kant appears to claim that the agents who are subject to moral law must be the ‘legislators’ from whom these requirements receive their authority, because only then can we explain their unconditional authority as categorical imperatives. The view ascribed to Kant is that the reasons to comply with moral requirements are given simply by the reasoning that establishes them as requirements, from which it follows that moral agents are bound to moral requirements in such a way that they model the source of their authority.

Keywords:   Categorical Imperative, moral theory, moral requirements, Formula of Universal Law, rational will

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