From One Self to Another: Moral Conversion in Korsgaard and Kierkegaard

Walter Olavi Wietzke, Fordham University


This project will evaluate the resources available in two leading accounts of practical identities and constructivist theories of human agency to explain how we can be motivated to respect the moral law. First, I am interested in exploring what resources might be available to address this issue in Christine Korsgaard's account of practical identities, primarily as they are presented in her major works, The Sources of Normativity and Self-Constitution. In these works Korsgaard argues that practical identities presuppose a rational commitment to the moral law, but the question of whether it actually motivates agents is less central to her argument. Yet it is precisely this question concerning the possibility of moral motivation that occupies Søren Kierkegaard's writings. Unlike Korsgaard, Kierkegaard was explicitly interested in addressing the motivational problems that arise when the individual is committed to certain normative obligations that conflict with what she feels is psychologically possible, or at least psychologically operative. Despite these apparent differences, however, I hope to demonstrate how theoretical similarities and shared methodological aims between their views encourage a rigorous comparison between them. Yet by introducing this comparison I am not claiming that Korsgaard herself thinks her work must address all the questions regarding moral motivation that I explore in my analysis. Rather, my goal is to explain problems that Korsgaard would encounter if she were to extend her analysis to these motivational issues, and, more importantly, to illuminate why Kierkegaard's writings can be important for these, as well as other aims of her work. For this reason it is philosophically revealing to ask how her project would fare if it addressed his notion of "moral conversion," which is an account of how an agent undergoes a transition between existential spheres of existence. Ultimately, I believe Kierkegaard offers two corrections to Korsgaard's position: (1) he provides a more comprehensive view of human moral experience; and (2) his conception of human agency more effectively accommodates some of Korsgaard's specific methodological goals.

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Recommended Citation

Wietzke, Walter Olavi, "From One Self to Another: Moral Conversion in Korsgaard and Kierkegaard" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3600060.