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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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Agency and Universal Law

Agency and Universal Law

(p.196) 7 Agency and Universal Law
Agency and Autonomy in Kant's Moral Theory

Andrews Reath (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter offers some reflections about how the Formula of Universal Law (FUL) has been understood by those who think that it can provide substantive guidance about choice and action. If the FUL were a purely formal criterion of universalizability, it would not reliably lead to any substantive moral judgments. These theorists have not, in general, understood the FUL as purely formal. Rather, they have incorporated a conception of rational agency into this formula, either explicitly or implicitly. The chapter is organized as follows. Section II briefly discusses some of John Rawls's remarks about what he has called Kant's ‘moral constructivism’ — specifically his claim that a conception of the person plays a central role in specifying the content of a constructivist moral conception. Section III asks how the FUL needs to be understood if it is to play its intended role in the extended argument of the Groundwork. Section IV shows why one is entitled to read a conception of rational agency into the FUL, and then considers some of the elements of this conception. In particular, it tries to make precise different senses in which rational agents with autonomy are independent spheres of judgment and choice and the sources of their own actions. Finally, Section V looks at various ways in which this conception of autonomous agency figures in determining whether a maxim can be willed as universal law without inconsistency.

Keywords:   Formula of Universal Law, autonomy, autonomous agency, moral constructivism, rational agency

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