Morality and Practical Reason:

Stephen Darwall

in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780195325911
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Morality and Practical Reason:


A central claim of the Kantian approach to ethics is Kant's famous thesis that moral obligations or oughts are “categorical imperatives.” This Kantian thesis has four aspects: normativity, universality, supremacy, and necessity. This article presents the strongest case for the Kantian thesis: the analytical or conceptual interpretation, and the normative interpretation. It argues that moral obligations are tied conceptually to moral responsibility, and therefore, to reasons that can be addressed as demands to one another as free and equal moral persons. It claims that an appreciation of the second-personal character of moral accountability must enter both into an adequate understanding of the concept of moral obligation and as the source of one's awareness of the distinctive kind of freedom, autonomy, that a Kantian must hold is necessary to vindicating the categoricality of moral reasons.

Keywords: Kantian approach; moral obligations; Kantian thesis; normativity; universality; supremacy; necessity

Article.  19342 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Moral Philosophy

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