Maxims and Thick Ethical Concepts: Reply to Moore

Adrian Moore’s paper continues the development of a radical re-interpretation of Kant’s practical philosophy initiated by his Noble in Reason, Infinite in Faculty. [Moore, 2003] I have discussed elsewhere why it seems to me that Moore’s work, taken as a composite with that of his co-symposiasts today Philip Stratton-Lake and Burt Louden, adds up to a comprehensive and radical re-assessment of the contemporary significance of Kant’s practical philosophy which moral philosophers generally ought not to ignore. [Thomas, 2004] Moore states that he is engaged in today’s paper “in a rational reconstruction of Kant …. sufficiently Kantian to be at least worth taking seriously. But I shall certainly part company with Kant at various points.” [Moore, 2005 p. 1] I shall, similarly, not be evaluating Moore’s arguments in terms of their fidelity to Kant; that would not be be the most fruitful way to engage with his project. It is better evaluated as a free-standing meta- 2 ethical position that draws on Kant and as a position that seems to me one of the most interesting on offer in contemporary meta-ethics. Moore’s overall strategy has three separable components. First, he accepts that there is no such thing as pure practical reason, as that very idea would violate the internal reasons constraint. [Williams, 1981, 1995a, 2001] Second, he makes a concession, which softens the impact of this first admission, to the effect that concept possession in the context of a given social practice has a range of normative commitments including practical commitments. Third, Moore emphasises the continuity between the practical orientation of living by concepts and the general project of making rational sense. It is this latter idea, in particular, that leads his general arguments in his book length study into Kant’s religious as well as his moral writings. On the first point, Moore is simply prepared to work with the idea that a general contrast between “reasons” and “motives” is not helpful..
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