Rethinking our maxims: Perceptual salience and practical judgment in Kantian ethics

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 4 (3):219-230 (2001)
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Some contemporary Kantians have argued that one could not be virtuous without having internalized certain patterns of awareness that permit one to identify and respond reliably to moral reasons for action. I agree, but I argue that this insight requires unrecognized, farreaching, and thoroughly welcome changes in the traditional Kantian understanding of maxims and virtues. In particular, it implies that one''s characteristic emotions and desires will partly determine one''s maxims, and hence the praiseworthiness of one''s actions. I try to show this by pointing out an instability in the Kantian understanding of maxims. On the one hand, maxims are thought of as consciously affirmed, subjective principles of action. On the other hand, Kantians claim that nothing counts as an action, nor as morally assessable, unless it has a maxim. One cannot take both thoughts seriously without implausibly constricting the range of behavior that counts as action, hence as morally assessable. This difficulty can be overcome, I suggest, by jettisoning the idea that maxims must be consciously affirmed, and by stressing the way in which maxims are grounded in the pruning and shaping of one''s emotions and desires during socialization. This opens the door to a rich Kantian theory of virtue. It also raises questions about the scope and ground of our moral responsibility, which I address at the end of the paper



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Talbot Brewer
University of Virginia

Citations of this work

Kant-Bibliographie 2001.Margit Ruffing - 2003 - Kant Studien 94 (4):474-528.

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References found in this work

The Practice of Moral Judgment.Barbara Herman - 1985 - Journal of Philosophy 82 (8):414.

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