Kant's Canon, Garve's Cicero, and the Stoic Doctrine of the Highest Good

In Stefano Bacin & Oliver Sensen (eds.), Kant's Moral Philosophy in Context. Cambridge: (forthcoming)

Abstract

The concept of the highest good is an important but hardly uncontroversial piece of Kant’s moral philosophy. In the considerable literature on the topic, challenges are raised concerning its apparently heteronomous role in moral motivation, whether there is a distinct duty to promote it, and more broadly whether it is ultimately to be construed as a theological or merely secular ideal. Yet comparatively little attention has been paid to the context of a doctrine that had enjoyed a place of prominence in the ethical systems of the ancients, where these systems provided a key critical foil for the development of Kant’s own conception of the highest good in terms of “happiness distributed in exact proportion to morality” (cf. 5:110). Indeed, these ethical systems prove important for Kant not only in his initial presentation of his account in the Canon of Pure Reason in the first Critique, where he sought to redress the errors of the Epicurean and Stoic conception in particular, but also and importantly in the course of his development towards the second Critique. As I argue in this paper, Christian Garve’s defense of a revised but recognizably Stoic conception of the highest good in his translation of and commentary on Cicero’s De officiis (On Duties), helps to account for Kant’s renewed attention to that doctrine, and specifically to the errors attending the Stoic version, in the Dialectic of Pure Practical Reason.

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