The Oslo Lecture in Moral Philosophy

(12.02.08) The Oslo Lecture in Moral Philosopy is an annual event hosted by the Ethics Programme, where an internationally known philosopher gives a public lecture on a burning issue of ethical importance.


Oslo Lecture 2008:
August 21st, Helga Engs hus, Auditorium 1, from 1615 to 1800

Christine M. Korsgaard, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University:

Animal Nature and the Good

We use the term "good" in two contexts: as a form of evaluation, and to denominate the final end of life and action - the/ summum bonum/, or, in our case, the human good. I start from the question what evaluative and final goodness have to do with each other. Do we use the same term because when we talk about "the human good" or "the good life" we are evaluating a life and its circumstances in general? If so, how do we go about doing that? Most things are evaluated with respect to their fitness to perform their function, but life and its circumstances do not have a function.

I contrast three theories of the final good: an objective realist theory that identifies the final good with participation in intrinsically valuable activities; a hedonist theory; and Aristotle's account, which identifies an entity's final good with its well-functioning as the kind of thing that it is. Aristotle's theory suggests another relationship between evaluative and final goodness: an entity is capable of a final good when it functions by being aware of its own evaluative goodness - that is, by being aware of whether it is functioning well. This is because such an entity functions by developing evaluative attitudes - desire and aversion, pleasure and pain - towards things that affect its own functioning. Animals (including human animals) are entities that function by being aware of their own functioning. It is therefore the nature of an animal to have a final good.

This account of the final good may be combined with Kantian value theory to yield a naturalistic account of the good. According to Kantian value theory, things that are good for their own sake are not characterized by a metaphysical property of intrinsic value - rather, they are valuable because someone values them for their own sake. In the combined theory, final goods exist because there are animals. Good things are good because they contribute to or are partly constitutive of an animal's final good. This theory avoids the metaphysical appeal to intrinsic values and preserves the intuition that everything that is good is good for some valuing being.