Commitments of a Divided Self: Narrative, Change, and Autonomy in Korsgaard's Ethics

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Christine Korsgaard attempts to reinterpret Kantian ethics in a way that might alleviate Bernard Williams’ famous worry that a man cannot save his drowning wife without determining impartially that he may do so. She does this by dividing a reflective self that chooses the commitments that make up an agent’s practical identity from a self defined as a jumble of desires. An agent, she then argues, must act on the commitments chosen by the reflective self on pain of disintegration. Using Harry Frankfurt’s emphasis on love as a final end, I argue that disintegration as motivation is not a more acceptable motivation than impartiality and so does not adequately address Williams’ criticism. I also argue that the idea of a divided self either leads to an infinite regress or to an implausible description of how our commitments evolve and change. To make this last claim, I discuss a case from John Updike’s novel 'In the Beauty of the Lilies.'
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