Naturalism, Normativity and Practical Reason

Dissertation, Columbia University (2002)

Xiangdong Xu
Zhejiang University
Insofar as the present debate over ethics and practical reason is concerned, Kantians have typically argued that the Kantian conception of practical reason is the only game in the town. This dissertation is aimed to establish a critical reaction to the Kantian challenge, which I interpret as based on two essential claims. First, it asserts that the Humean approach is not sufficiently powerful to account for normativity. Second, it claims that the approach will necessarily lead to skepticism about practical reason since Hume himself is such a skeptic. The central agenda of the dissertation is to show that both of the claims are false. ;My answer to the Kantian challenge rests on two things. Firstly, it rests on construing the debate between the Kantian and the Humean as not just concerned with whether or not reason can alone motivate, but also related to such deeper issues as the nature of practical reason, human agency, and the self. In fact, it is only against the wide background, I argue, that the Humean approach is preferred to the Kantian one. Secondly, it depends on an interpretation of Hume's philosophy. By elaborating on Hume's naturalism and revealing its relations to his skepticism, I show that Hume is no skeptic about the fact that we can and should be motivated by certain norms of practical necessity. Throughout the dissertation, then, I establish and develop a naturalistic account of normativity in particular and practical reason in general.
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