Practical reason and motivational scepticism

In her influential and challenging paper “Skepticism about Practical Reason” Christine Korsgaard sets out to refute an important strand of Humean scepticism as it concerns a Kantian understanding of practical reason.1 Korsgaard distinguishes two components of scepticism about practical reason. The first, which she refers to as content scepticism, argues that reason cannot of itself provide any “substantive guidance to choice and action” (SPR, 311). In its classical formulation, as stated by Hume, it is argued that reason cannot determine our ends. Our ends are determined by our desires and reason is limited to the role of identifying the relevant means to these ends. The second component, which Korsgaard calls motivational scepticism, suggests doubt about the scope of reason as a motive. The claim here, as Korsgaard interprets Hume’s view on this matter, is that “all reasoning that has motivational influence must start from a passion, that being the only possible source of motivation” (SPR, 314).2 Korsgaard’s fundamental objective in “Skepticism about Practical Reason” is to show that motivational scepticism must always be based on content scepticism. In other words, according to Korsgaard, motivational scepticism has no independent force. In this paper I argue that Korsgaard’s attempt to discredit motivational scepticism is unsuccessful.
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