The phenomenological failure of groundwork III

Inquiry 52 (4):335 – 356 (2009)
Henry Allison and Paul Guyer have recently offered interpretations of Kant's argument in Groundwork III. These interpretations share this premise: the argument moves from a non-moral, theoretical premise to a moral conclusion, and the failure of the argument is a failure to make this jump from the non-moral to the moral. This characterization both of the nature of the argument and its failure is flawed. Consider instead the possibility that in Groundwork III, Kant is struggling toward something rather different from this, not trying to pull the moral rabbit out of the theoretical hat, but instead seeking a proto-phenomenological grounding of morality: a grounding that begins from first personal felt experiences that already possess moral content, and proceeds to its further practical claims via attentive reflection on these felt experiences. This paper brings this assumption to our reading of Groundwork III, showing that in doing so we acquire a deeper appreciation both of the argument, and the reasons it fails. Kant's argument is practical throughout. And the failure of the argument is the failure of Kant's nascent efforts to provide a new, phenomenological method for the grounding of practical philosophy.
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DOI 10.1080/00201740903087318
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