This thesis is a critical survey of Christine Korsgaard’s arguments regarding the rational basis for moral obligations. I focus on her arguments taking us from the categorical imperative to the Moral Law. She makes a distinction that Kant does not; claiming that the categorical imperative is not the Moral Law. In order to equate rational agency with moral agency Korsgaard therefore needs some additional arguments. These arguments, I argue, are not convincing. My claim is that they do not succeed in establishing the necessity which Korsgaard actually attributes to moral obligations, nor support her idea that our moral identity is inescapable. In the first chapter, I give an interpretation of her view pointing to some similarities and differences between her arguments and those of Hume and Kant. Central to my discussion is the tension in her position due to arguing in accordance with Hume that morality is grounded in human nature, and at the same time arguing in accordance with the Kantian idea of autonomy as the answer to our quest for responsibility. Her view is vague concerning the important distinction between rational nature and human nature; a vagueness that is accentuated by her introduction of the notion of procedural realism. Both Kant and Korsgaard are commonly taken to be constructivists. In the second chapter, I explore this aspect of her view by taking into account some constructivist ideas as presented by Scanlon and Rawls. I argue that Korsgaard, unlike Scanlon and Rawls, takes constructivism too far. She distinguishes between our third personal perspective of explanation and our first person perspective of deliberation: It is from the first person perspective of deliberation that we both justify and construct central and related concepts like the categorical imperative, morality, our identity, normativity and value. It is difficult to see how she can argue in this manner without running into problems concerning self-reference and circularity.
A key problem is her conception of deliberation as a procedure separating our inclinations from our reasoning. In the third chapter I therefore explore further her conception of deliberation, and in particular the role emotions may play. I also compare her notion of identity with Allison and Scanlon’s conception of a self, in order to support my suspicion that her view is based on some sort of naturalism. I argue that the duality she requires from our deliberate standpoint puts an unnecessary strong demand on the causality of human reasoning. But is naturalism the only plausible explanation of how Korsgaard’s claim for necessity can be met? Perhaps she does what Kant did; justify necessity by transcendental arguments? In the last chapter, I explore whether or not her arguments are transcendental, and I conclude that her arguments cannot establish the necessity she requires from our obligations. By distinguishing between the categorical imperative and the Moral Law, she opens up for the possibility of autonomous agency equating rational agency, rather than moral agency as she had set forth to show. It is actually questionable whether she manages to establish that rational agency is autonomous too. But why should the fact that we are the source of the law that binds us, necessarily lead to freedom and responsibility? For Kant and Korsgaard this seems to be the solution to the problems arising out of seeing nature as deterministic and having an absolutistic conception of egoism. If one did let go of these – in my opinion unnecessary – worries, autonomy is perhaps not the answer to our quest for responsibility.