The “ ethics of belief” refers to a cluster of questions at the intersection of epistemology, philosophy of mind, psychology, and ethics. The central question in the debate is whether there are norms of some sort governing our habits of belief formation, belief maintenance, and belief relinquishment. Is it ever or always morally wrong to hold a belief on insufficient evidence? Is it ever or always morally right to believe on the basis of sufficient evidence, or to withhold belief in (...) the perceived absence of it? Is it ever or always obligatory to seek out all available epistemic evidence for a belief? Are there some ways of obtaining evidence that are themselves immoral or imprudent? -/-. (shrink)
Most work in Kant’s epistemology focuses on what happens “upstream” from experience, prior to the formation of conscious propositional attitudes. By contrast, this essay focuses on what happens "downstream": the formation of assent (Fuerwahrhalten) in its various modes. The mode of assent that Kant calls "Belief" (Glaube) is the main topic: not only moral Belief but also "pragmatic" and "doctrinal" Belief as well. I argue that Kant’s discussion shows that we should reject standard accounts of the extent to which theoretical (...) reason can provide justified assent about things-in-themselves, in favor of one that is much more liberal. Interpretive benefits are not the only results of the discussion, however. I also hope it will become clear along the way that there is such a thing as Kantian Belief, and that we often have quite a lot of it. -/- . (shrink)
In this paper I sketch out one of the most important conditions on rational hope, and argue that Kant embraced a version of it. I go on to suggest that we can use this analysis to solve a longstanding 'conundrum' in Kant's ethics and religion regarding the nature of the individual moral revolution. -/- .
In the first part of the paper I reconstruct Kant’s proof of the existence of a ‘most real being’ while also highlighting the theory of modality that motivates Kant’s departure from Leibniz’s version of the proof. I go on to argue that it is precisely this departure that makes the being that falls out of the pre-critical proof look more like Spinoza’s extended natura naturans than an independent, personal creator-God. In the critical period, Kant seems to think that transcendental idealism (...) allows him to avoid this conclusion, but in the last section of the paper I argue that there is still one important version of the Spinozistic threat that remains. -/- . (shrink)
Kant's speculative theistic proof rests on a distinction between “logical” and “real” modality that he developed very early in the pre-critical period. The only way to explain facts about real possibility, according to Kant, is to appeal to the properties of a unique, necessary, and “most real” being. Here I reconstruct the proof in its historical context, focusing on the role played by the theory of modality both in motivating the argument (in the pre-critical period) and, ultimately, in undoing it (...) as a source of knowledge of God's existence (in the critical period). Along the way I examine Kant's version of the now-popular “actualist” thesis that facts about what is possible must be explained by facts about what is actual. I conclude by discussing why the critical Kant claims both that there are rational grounds for accepting the conclusion of his theistic proof, and that such acceptance can not count as knowledge. This is important, I argue, because the same considerations ultimately motivate his prohibition on knowledge of things-in-themselves generally. -/- . (shrink)
An essay on Kant's theory of justification, where by “justification” is meant the evaluative concept that specifies conditions under which a propositional attitude is rationally acceptable with a moderate-to-high degree of confidence. Kant employs both epistemic and non-epistemic concepts of justification: an epistemic concept of justification sets out conditions under which a propositional attitude is rationally acceptable with a moderate-to-high degree of confidence and a candidate (if true and Gettier-immune) for knowledge. A non-epistemic concept of justification, by contrast, sets out (...) conditions under which attitudes are rationally acceptable with a moderate-to-high degree of confidence but not candidates for knowledge (even if true). The latter conditions will typically be “pragmatic” or “practical,” and thus license acceptance from a “practical” point of view. For Kant, only broadly-speaking practical reasons can provide adequate motivation for adopting a positive attitude towards a proposition (rather than suspending judgment) in the absence of sufficient epistemic grounds. -/- . (shrink)
In the ‘Refutation of Idealism’ chapter of the first Critique, Kant argues that the conditions required for having certain kinds of mental episodes are sufficient to guarantee that there are ‘objects in space’ outside us. A perennially influential way of reading this compressed argument is as a kind of causal inference: in order for us to make justified judgements about the order of our inner states, those states must be caused by the successive states of objects in space outside us. (...) Here I consider the best recent versions of this reading, and argue that each suffers from apparently fatal flaws. -/- . (shrink)
Kant says that it can be rational to accept propositions on the basis of non-epistemic or broadly practical considerations, even if those propositions include “transcendental ideas” of supersensible objects. He also worries, however, about how such ideas (of freedom, the soul, noumenal grounds, God, the kingdom of ends, and things-in-themselves generally) acquire genuine positive content in the absence of an appropriate connection to intuitional experience. How can we be sure that the ideas are not empty “thought-entities (Gedankendinge)”—that is, speculative fancies (...) that do not and perhaps even cannot have referents in reality? In this paper I argue for an account of the fundamental problem here (i.e. that it is based in a concern about whether or not the objects of such ideas are "really possible" in Kant's technical sense). I then critically evaluate Kant's three proposed solutions to the problem. -/- . (shrink)
Mark Johnston’s book, Saving God (Princeton University Press, 2010) has two main goals, one negative and the other positive: (1) to eliminate the gods of the major Western monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) as candidates for the role of “the Highest One”; (2) to introduce the real Highest One, a panentheistic deity worthy of devotion and capable of extending to us the grace needed to transform us from inwardly-turned sinners to practitioners of agape. In this review, we argue that Johnston’s (...) attack on traditional forms of monotheism has less force than his criticism of the “undergraduate atheists” (e.g., Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins); and that his candidate for Highest One is not the greatest possible being, and so could not play the role Johnston casts for it. -/- . (shrink)
For Kant, the form of a subject's experience of an object provides the normative basis for an aesthetic judgement about it. In other words, if the subject's experience of an object has certain structural properties, then Kant thinks she can legitimately judge that the object is beautiful - and that it is beautiful for everyone. My goal in this paper is to provide a new account of how this 'subjective universalism' is supposed to work. In doing so, I appeal to (...) Kant's notions of an aesthetic idea and an aesthetic attribute, and the connection that Kant makes between an object's expression of rational and the normativity of aesthetic judgements about it. -/- . (shrink)
I reply to recent criticisms by Uygar Abaci and Peter Yong, among others, of my reading of Kant's pre-Critical of God's existence, and of its fate in the Critical period. Along the way I discuss some implications of this debate for our understanding of Kant's modal metaphysics and modal epistemology generally.
Kant holds that in order to have knowledge of an object, a subject must be able to “prove” that the object is really possible—i.e., prove that there is neither logical inconsistency nor “real repugnance” between its properties. This is (usually) easy to do with respect to empirical objects, but (usually) impossible to do with respect to particular things-in-themselves. In the first section of the paper I argue that an important predecessor of Kant’s account of our ignorance of real possibility can (...) be found in Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In the middle sections I discuss the way in which our inability to prove the real possibility of things-in-themselves motivates Kant’s famous prohibition on certain kinds of knowledge-claims about them. In the final section I examine Hegel’s attempts to dissolve this problem of real repugnance and thereby remove an inherited obstacle to speculative knowledge of the supersensible. -/- . (shrink)
My goal in this paper is to show that Kant’s prohibition on certain kinds of knowledge of things-in-themselves is motivated less by his anti-soporific encounter with Hume than by his new view of the distinction between “real” and “logical” modality, a view that developed out of his reflection on the rationalist tradition in which he was trained. In brief: at some point in the 1770’s, Kant came to hold that a necessary condition on knowing a proposition is that one be (...) able to prove that all the items it refers to are either really possible or really impossible. Most propositions about things-in-themselves, in turns out, cannot meet this condition. I conclude by suggesting that the best interpretation of this modal condition is as a kind of coherentist constraint. (shrink)
I briefly describe the unusually contentious author-meets-critics session that was the origin of the book symposium below. I then try to situate the present symposium within broader contemporary scholarship on Kant. -/- .
Commentators typically neglect the distinct nature and role of hope in Kant’s system, and simply lump it together with the sort of Belief that arises from the moral proof. Kant himself is not entirely innocent of the conﬂation. Here I argue, however, that from a conceptual as well as a textual point of view, hope should be regarded as a different kind of attitude. It is an attitude that we can rationally adopt toward some of the doctrines that are not (...) able to be proved from within the bounds of mere reason – either theoretical or practical. This does not mean that hope is unconstrained; there are rational limits, as we shall see. In fact one of my central claims here is that a crucial difference between knowledge, rational Belief, and rational hope is that they are governed by different modal constraints; section II discusses those constraints and the kind of modality involved. In section III, I return to Religion and offer what I take to be Kant’s account of the main objects of rational hope in that text – namely, “alleged outer experiences (miracles)”;a “supposed inner experience(effect of grace)”;and a future collective experience (the construction of a truly ethical society). (shrink)
Causal refutations of external-world scepticism start from our ability to make justified judgements about the order of our own experiences, and end with the claim that there must be perceptible external objects, some of whose states can be causally correlated with that order. In a recent paper, I made a series of objections to this broadly Kantian anti-sceptical strategy. Georges Dicker has provided substantive replies on behalf of a version of the causal refutation of idealism. Here I offer a few (...) final remarks about issues at the heart of our disagreement. -/- . (shrink)
I examine Kant's claim that a relation of symbolization links judgments of beauty and judgments of ‘systematicity’ in nature (that is, judgments concerning the ordering of natural forms under hierarchies of laws). My aim is to show that the symbolic relation between the two is, for Kant, much closer than many commentators think: it is not only the form but also the objects of some of our judgments of taste that symbolize the systematicity of nature. -/- .
A discussion of the relationship between religion and belief, in the context of an engagement with J.L. Schellenberg's recent "Prolegomena." I suggest that there may be an authentic way of being "religious" without having full-blown religious belief. -/- .
In this paper I explore Kant’s critical discussions of the topic of miracles (including the important but neglected fragment from the 1780s called “On Miracles”) in an effort to answer the question in the title. Along the way I discuss some of the different kinds of “laws” in Kant’s system, and also the argument for his claim that, even if empirical miracles do occur, we will never be in a good position to identify instances of them. I conclude with some (...) tentative remarks about the notorious suggestion that intelligible ﬁnite agents, too, might have some sort of inﬂuence over the laws of nature. The goal throughout is to show that exploring Kant’s answer to a traditional question in philosophical theology can deepen our understanding of his metaphysics and epistemology of nature generally. (shrink)
A long critical notice of Michael Forster's recent book, "Kant and Skepticism." We argue that Forster's characterization of Kant's response to skepticism is both textually dubious and philosophically flawed. -/- .
The Proper Functionist account of warrant – like many otherexternalist accounts – is vulnerable to certain Gettier-style counterexamples involving accidentally true beliefs. In this paper, I briefly survey the development of the account, noting the way it was altered in response to such counterexamples. I then argue that Alvin Plantinga's latest amendment to the account is flawed insofar as it rules out cases of true beliefs which do intuitively strike us as knowledge, and that a conjecture recently put forward by (...) Thomas Crisp is also defective. I conclude by presenting my own suggestion as to how the account can be made less vulnerable to counterexamples involving accidentally true beliefs. Although I stay within the confines of Proper Functionism here, I think that my proposal (modulo a few details) could be attached to other externalist accounts of warrant as well. -/- . (shrink)
Eric Watkins and Marcus Willaschek provide a valuable service to people working on Kant’s epistemology and philosophy of mind by laying out a synoptic picture of Kant’s view of theoretical cognition. Their picture incorporates admirably clear accounts of the familiar building blocks of cognition—sensation, intuition, concept, and judgment—as well as some innovative interpretive theses of their own. Watkins and Willaschek’s basic claim is that, for Kant, theoretical cognition is “a mental state [or “representation”] that determines a given object by attributing (...) general features to it”. So Watkins and Willaschek view Kantian cognition fundamentally as a mental state of... (shrink)
This critical notice highlights the important contributions that Eric Watkins's writings have made to our understanding of theories about causation developed in eighteenth-century German philosophy and by Kant in particular. Watkins provides a convincing argument that central to Kant's theory of causation is the notion of a real ground or causal power that is non-Humean (since it doesn't reduce to regularities or counterfactual dependencies among events or states) and non-Leibnizean because it doesn't reduce to logical or conceptual relations. However, we (...) raise questions about Watkins's more specific claims that Kant completely rejects a model on which the first relatum of a phenomenal causal relation is an event and that he maintains that real grounds are metaphysically and not just epistemically indeterminate. -/- . (shrink)
The problem of infant suffering and death is often regarded as one of the more difficult versions of the problem of evil (see Ivan Karamazov), especially when one considers how God can be thought good to infant victims by the infant victims. In the first section of this paper, I examine two recent theodicies that aim to solve this problem but (I argue) fail. In the second section, I suggest that the only viable approach to the problem rejects the idea (...) that the suffering of such unfortunates must be defeated by some greater good. -/- . (shrink)
Descartes's lack of clarity about the causal connections between brain states and mental states has led many commentators to conclude that he has no coherent account of body-mind relations in sensation, or that he was simply confused about the issue. In this paper I develop what I take to be a coherent account that was available to Descartes, and argue that there are both textual and systematic reasons to think that it was his considered view. The account has brain states (...) serving as occasions for the mind to produce in itself the sensations that it takes these brain states to signify. The relation between body and mind on this model is thus neither a standard efficient-causal relation, nor an occasionalist one, but rather a semantic-causal relation (i.e. a non-standard efficient causal relation that goes by way of natural signification). At the end of the paper I argue that the model does not undermine Descartes' commitment to the self-transparency of the mind. -/- . (shrink)
Philosophy of religion in the Anglo-American tradition experienced a 'rebirth' following the 1955 publication of New Essays in Philosophical Theology (eds. Antony Flew and Alisdair MacIntyre). Fifty years later, this volume of New Essays offers a sampling of the best work in what is now a very active field, written by some of its most prominent members. A substantial introduction sketches the developments of the last half-century, while also describing the 'ethics of belief' debate in epistemology and showing how it (...) connects to explicitly religious concerns and to the topics of the individual contributions. The book is a Festschrift for Nicholas P. Wolterstorff, edited by two of his former students. (shrink)
In moving away from the objective, property-based theories of earlier periods to a subject-based aesthetic, Kant did not intend to give up the idea that judgments of beauty are universalizable. Accordingly, the “Deduction of Judgments of Taste” aims to show how reflective aesthetic judgments can be “imputed” a priori to all human subjects. The Deduction is not successful: Kant manages only to justify the imputation of the same form of aesthetic experience to everyone; he does not show that this experience (...) will universally occur in response to the same objects. This is what I call Kant’s problem of particularity. After critiquing Anthony Savile’s attempt to overcome this problem by linking Kant’s aesthetics to the theory of rational ideas, I elucidate the concept of aesthetic attributes in a way that suggests a possible resolution to the problem of particularity. (shrink)
I respond to two sets of objections to my characterization of infant suffering and the problem that it presents to traditional theism. My main theses were that infant suffering to death is not ‘horrendous’ in the technical sense defined, but that a good God still needs to "balance off" rather than "defeat" such suffering. David Basinger, on the other hand, claims that some infant suffering should be considered horrendous, while Nathan Nobis suggests that such suffering must be defeated rather than (...) merely balanced off. -/- . (shrink)