Kant's Ethics of Assent: Knowledge and Belief in the Critical Philosophy

Dissertation, Yale University (2004)
Most accounts of Kant's epistemology focus narrowly on cognition and knowledge . Kant himself, however, thought that there are many other important species of assent : opinion, persuasion, conviction, belief, acceptance, and assent to the deliverances of common sense. ;My goal in this dissertation is to isolate and motivate the principles of rational acceptability which, for Kant, govern each of these kinds of assent, instead of focusing merely on cognition and knowledge. Some of the principles apply in the context of everyday assent-formation; others apply in more specific contexts . ;The project is worthwhile for at least two reasons. First, it highlights issues that are both neglected in the literature and yet crucial for understanding Kant's famous claims about the nature and limits of our epistemic access to appearances and things-in-themselves. ;Second, it lays out Kant's sophisticated and largely plausible account of our intellectual obligations and of the various roles that "subjective" considerations play in our practices of assent-formation. Kant charts a viable middle course between the epistemic abstemiousness of Cliffordian evidentialists and the epistemic excess of Jamesian pragmatists. ;I begin with an overview of Kant's pre-critical epistemology, and then provide a broad survey of the ethics of assent in the critical period, noting in particular the way Kant allows for exceptions to his First Principle---the principle that it is rational to assent to proposition only on the basis of sufficient objective grounds. Having sketched the whole picture, I turn to the principles governing knowledge and use a new account of Kant's concepts of objective and subjective justification to solve a perennial interpretive problem regarding the nature of our epistemic access to material objects. I go on to examine Kant's theory of belief ; my central claim there is that Kant is much more liberal regarding belief about things-in-themselves that is based on theoretical grounds than most commentators think. Finally, I consider a number of objections to my "Liberal" interpretation of Kant's ethics of assent, and conclude with a meditation on Kant's view of enlightenment
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