Self-Legislation and Prudence in Kant's Moral Philosophy: A Critical Examination of Some Constructivist Interpretations

Dissertation, University of Notre Dame (2000)

Patrick Kain
Purdue University
Moral constructivism is the thesis that values or normative standards for action are not discovered by reason but are the products of rational construction and thus lack mind-independent reality. Many recent commentators and leading proponents of Kantian ethics have suggested that, in virtue of his conception of autonomy, Kant was a moral constructivist. Contrary to these interpreters, I argue that Kant was not a constructivist Kant's moral theory does centrally involve autonomy which he takes to imply that the moral law is tied to the "self-legislation" of every rational will, but this conception actually precludes rather than entails moral constructivism. Part One explores the connection between Kant's account of practical reason and the theory of non-moral value. Contrary to some constructivist interpretations, Kant is entitled to a coherent account of the rationality of prudence independently of his account of moral reason. This suggests that regardless of whether or not Kant considered moral value to be a construction, he is not committed to the claim that all other kinds of value are constructed. Part Two focuses specifically on moral norms and the ontological status of the moral law. Kant's persistent opposition to theological voluntarist views of morality commits him to a conception of self-legislation that is decidedly anti-constructivist. Examination of several recent constructivist reconstructions of Kant's conception of autonomy reveals how they fail to establish constructivism. This dissertation is of both historical and systematic interest. It transforms our understanding of Kant's place in the history of modern ethics, exposes possible gaps in neo-Kantian constructivist theories, and suggests a distinctive sort of "moral realism" that must be taken seriously in its own right
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