: The dominant interpretation of Kant as a moral constructivist has recently come under sustained philosophical attack by those defending a moral realist reading of Kant. In light of this, should we read Kant as endorsing moral constructivism or moral realism? In answering this question we encounter disagreement in regard to two key independence claims. First, the independence of the value of persons from the moral law (an independence that is rejected) and second, the independence of the content and authority (...) of the moral law from actual acts of willing on behalf of those bound by that law (an independence that is upheld). The resulting position, which is called not ‘all the way down’ constructivism, is attributed to Kant. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that Kant develops, in a number of texts, a detailed three stage theory of moral development which resembles the contemporary accounts of moral development defended by Lawrence Kohlberg and John Rawls. The first stage in this process is that of physical education and disciplining, followed by cultivating and civilising, with a third and final stage of moralising. The outcome of this process of moral development is a fully autonomous person. However, Kant’s account of moral development (...) appears to be in tension with other elements of his moral philosophy. I identify two such tensions, which I call the knowledge and revolution tensions, and show why these tensions are illusory. As such, a proper understanding of Kant’s theory of moral development, far from exposing genuine tensions, helps rather to deepen our understanding of Kant’s moral philosophy. (shrink)
Kant identifies the “highest moral-physical good” as that combination of “good living” and “true humanity” which best harmonises in a “good meal in good company”. Why does Kant privilege the dinner party in this way? By examining Kant’s accounts of enlightenment, cosmopolitanism, love and respect, and gratitude and friendship, the answer to this question becomes clear. Kant’s moral ideal is that of an enlightened and just cosmopolitan human being who feels and acts with respect and love for all persons and (...) such an ideal is temporarily manifested in the sort of social interaction achievable at a good dinner party. (shrink)
If there is one lesson that Hannah Arendt drew from her encounter with Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem it was that the moral and political dangers of thoughtlessness had been grossly underestimated. But while thoughtlessness clearly “has its perils”, (LMT 177) as the example of Eichmann illustrates, thoughtfulness has its own problems, as the example of Heidegger illustrates. In the course of her 1964 interview with Günter Gaus, Arendt recalls her distaste for “intellectual business” that arose from witnessing the widespread and (...) “relatively voluntary” Gleichshaltung (co-ordination) of German “intellectuals” with the Nazis in 1933 (EU: 10). This was the year that Heidegger, Arendt’s former teacher and friend, “entered the Nazi Party in a very sensational way” (EU: 187). But Heidegger is for Arendt also a paragon of thoughtfulness who exposes the “incomprehensible triviality” (or banality) of “the they” and their “mere talk” (MDT: ix). This raises the following question: how can thoughtfulness, in the guise of Heidegger, and thoughtlessness, in the guise of Eichmann, both (though to a very different extent) lead to ‘co-ordination’ with the Nazis? What does this tell us about the relation between thinking and evil? (shrink)
Kant has often been accused of being far too “optimistic” when it comes to the extremes of evil that humans can perpetrate upon one another. In particular, Kant’s supposed claim that humans cannot choose evil qua evil has struck many people as simply false. Another problem for Kant, or perhaps the same problem in another guise, is his supposed claim that all evil is done for the sake of self-love. While self-love might be a plausible way to explain some instances (...) of evil, it seems to be an implausible way to explain instances where people imprudently act in senselessly destructive and even self-destructive ways. Can Kant handle such extreme cases of moral evil? I shall argue that Kant can handle such cases by: (1) defending Kant’s denial of the possibility of a devilish human being; (2) showing how Kant can conceptually account for agents who choose evil qua evil, and (3) putting Kant’s account of passions to work inorder to understand self-destructive evil. (shrink)
In this paper I examine Max Deutscher’s recent accounts of thinking, willing and judging, derived from his reading of Hannah Arendt’s 'The Life of the Mind', as set out in his book 'Judgment After Arendt'. Against Deutscher I argue that thinking does not presuppose thoughtfulness, that being willing is compatible with willing reluctantly, and that actor and spectator judgments are distinct types of judgments.
There are a number of different senses of the term “evil.” We examine in this paper the term “evil” when it is used to say things such as: “what Hitler did was not merely wrong, it was evil”, and “Hitler was not merely a bad person, he was an evil person”. Failing to keep a promise or telling a white lie may be morally wrong, but unlike genocide or sadistic torture, it is not evil in this sense. In this paper (...) we analyze the specific moral difference between “evil” and “mere wrongdoing”. In so doing we shall defend a specific conception of what acts and which persons should count as evil. On the view defended in this paper it is a necessary feature of an evil act that the victim of that act suffer what would at least normally be a life-wrecking or life-ending harm. (shrink)
Kant argues that morals should not only constrain politics, but that morals and politics properly understood cannot conflict. Such an uncompromising stance on the relation of morals to politics has been branded unrealistic and even politically irresponsible. While justice can afford to be blind, politics must keep its eyes wide open. In response to this charge I argue that Kant’s position on the relation of morals to politics is both morally uncompromising and yet politically flexible, both principled and practical. Kantian (...) justice is not blind to circumstances, and we need not abandon our convictions in order to be politically responsible. Indeed, Kant argues that future political progress can only be achieved when the coerced rule of right is coupled with the non-coerced rule of virtue. For Kant, freedom and justice are intertwined with publicity, and publicity depends upon the critical acumen and moral candour of an enlightened and virtuous citizenry. (shrink)
The concept of evil has been an unpopular one in many recent Western political and ethical discourses. One way to justify this neglect is by pointing to the many problemswiththe concept of evil. The standard grievances brought against the very concept of evil include: that it has no proper place in secular political and ethical discourses; that it is a demonizing term of hatred that leads to violence; that it is necessarily linked with outdated notions of body and sexuality; and (...) that it only hinders rather than aids our ability to understand. I shall seek to argue in defence of the concept of evil against these charges. The upshot of this argument is that the language and concept of evil has a justified and important role to play in political and ethical discourses. (shrink)
There has been much recent debate concerning how Hannah Arendt's concepts of radical evil and the banality of evil `fit together', if at all. I argue that the first of these concepts deals with a certain type of evil, in particular the evil that occurred in the Nazi death camps. The second deals with a certain type of perpetrator of evil, in particular the banal `nobody', Eichmann. As such, bar a localized incompatibility in regard to Arendt's early account of the (...) motivation of perpetrators of radical evil, these two concepts are independent but nonetheless highly complementary. Key Words: Hannah Arendt • banality of evil • Adolf Eichmann • evil • forgiveness • Immanuel Kant • punishment • radical evil. (shrink)
In ‘Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason’ Kant presents his thesis that human nature is ‘radically evil’. To be radically evil is to have a propensity toward moral frailty, impurity and even perversity. Kant claims that all humans are ‘by nature’ radically evil. By presenting counter-examples of moral saints, I argue that not all humans are morally corrupt, even if most are. Even so, the possibility of moral failure is central to what makes us human.
In this paper I present an account of Wittgenstein’s ethics that follows from a so-called ‘metaphysical’ reading of the Tractatus. I argue Wittgenstein forwards two distinct theses. Negatively he claims that there can be no ethical propositions. Positively he claims that the ethical good, or good in-itself, is the rewarding happy life. The happy life involves living in perfect contented harmony with the world, however it is, because how the world is, is a manifestation of God’s will. Given the negative (...) thesis, the positive thesis cannot strictly speaking even be said. We can only make sense of this by assuming that Wittgenstein takes this positive thesis to be ‘illuminating nonsense’. (shrink)
Evil acts strike us, by their very nature, as not only horrifying and reprehensible, but also as deeply puzzling. No doubt for reasons like this, evil has often been seen as mysterious, demonic and beyond our human powers of understanding. The question I examine in this paper is whether or not we can (or would want to) overcome this puzzlement in the face of evil acts. I shall argue that we ought want to (in all cases) and can (in at (...) least most cases) come to understand why people perpetrate evil acts. This is an appealing conclusion as it allows us to take practical steps to both minimise future occurrences of evil and come to terms with its past abominations. (shrink)