Thomas E. Hill, Jr., interprets and extends Kant's moral theory in a series of essays that highlight its relevance to contemporary ethics. He introduces the major themes of Kantian ethics and explores its practical application to questions about revolution, prison reform, and forcible interventions in other countries for humanitarian purposes.
In thirteen specially written essays, leading philosophers explore Kantian themes in moral and political philosophy that are prominent in the work of Thomas E. Hill, Jr., such as respect and self-respect, practical reason, conscience, and duty. In conclusion Hill offers an overview of his work and responses to the preceding essays.
ThomasHill, a leading figure in the recent development of Kantian moral philosophy, presents a set of essays exploring the implications of basic Kantian ideas for practical issues. The first part of the book provides background in central themes in Kant's ethics; the second part discusses questions regarding human welfare; the third focuses on moral worth-the nature and grounds of moral assessment of persons as deserving esteem or blame. Hill shows moral, political, and social philosophers just how (...) valuable moral theory can be in addressing practical matters. (shrink)
Affirmative action programs remain controversial, I suspect, partly because the familiar arguments for and against them start from significantly different moral perspectives. Thus I want to step back for a while from the details of debate about particular programs and give attention to the moral viewpoints presupposed in different types of argument. My aim, more specifically, is to compare the “messages” expressed when affirmative action is defended from different moral perspectives. Exclusively forward-looking arguments, I suggest, tend to express the wrong (...) message, but this is also true of exclusively backward-looking arguments. However, a moral outlook that focuses on cross-temporal narrative values suggests a more appropriate account of what affirmative action should try to express. Assessment of the message, admittedly, is only one aspect of a complex issue, but it is a relatively neglected one. My discussion takes for granted some common-sense ideas about the communicative function of action, and so I begin with these. Actions, as the saying goes, often speak louder than words. There are times, too, when only actions can effectively communicate the message we want to convey and times when giving a message is a central part of the purpose of action. What our actions say to others depends largely, though not entirely, upon our avowed reasons for acting; and this is a matter for reflective decision, not something we discover later by looking back at what we did and its effects. The decision is important because “the same act” can have very different consequences, depending upon how we choose to justify it. (shrink)
Ancient moral philosophers, especially Aristotle and his followers, typically shared the assumption that ethics is primarily concerned with how to achieve the final end for human beings, a life of “happiness” or “human flourishing.” This final end was not a subjective condition, such as contentment or the satisfaction of our preferences, but a life that could be objectively determined to be appropriate to our nature as human beings. Character traits were treated as moral virtues because they contributed well toward this (...) ideal life, either as means to it or as constitutive aspects of it. Traits that tended to prevent a “happy” life were considered vices, even if they contributed to a life that was pleasant and what a person most wanted. The idea of “happiness” was central, then, in philosophical efforts to specify what we ought to do, what sort of persons we should try to become, and what sort of life a wise person would hope for. (shrink)
This essay first distinguishes different questions regarding moral objectivity and relativism and then sketches a broadly Kantian position on two of these questions. First, how, if at all, can we derive, justify, or support specific moral principles and judgments from more basic moral standards and values? Second, how, if at all, can the basic standards such as my broadly Kantian perspective, be defended? Regarding the first question, the broadly Kantian position is that from ideas in Kant's later formulations of the (...) Categorical Imperative, especially human dignity and rational autonomous law-making, we can develop an appropriate moral perspective for identifying and supporting more specific principles. Both the deliberative perspective and the derivative principles can be viewed as “constructed,” but in different senses. In response to the second question, the essay examines two of Kant's strategies for defending his basic perspective and the important background of his arguments against previous moral theories. (shrink)
Epistemology, as I understand it, is a branch of philosophy especially concerned with general questions about how we can know various things or at least justify our beliefs about them. It questions what counts as evidence and what are reasonable sources of doubt. Traditionally, episte-mology focuses on pervasive and apparently basic assumptions covering a wide range of claims to knowledge or justified belief rather than very specific, practical puzzles. For example, traditional epistemologists ask “How do we know there are material (...) objects?” and not “How do you know which are the female beetles?” Similarly, moral epistemology, as I understand it, is concerned with general questions about how we can know or justify our beliefs about moral matters. Its focus, again, is on quite general, pervasive, and apparently basic assumptions about what counts as evidence, what are reasonable sources of doubt, and what are the appropriate procedures for justifying particular moral claims. (shrink)
What, if anything, are we morally required to do on behalf of others besides respecting their rights? And why is such regard for others a reasonable moral requirement? These two questions have long been major concerns of ethical theory, but the answers that philosophers give tend to vary with their beliefs about human nature. More specifically, their answers typically depend on the position they take on a third-question: To what extent, if any, is it possible for us to act altruistically?
Philosophers have debated for millennia about whether moral requirements are always rational to follow. The background for these debates is often what I shall call “the self-interest model.” The guiding assumption here is that the basic demand of reason, to each person, is that one must, above all, advance one's self-interest. Alternatively, debate may be framed by a related, but significantly different, assumption: the idea that the basic rational requirement is to develop and pursue a set of personal ends in (...) an informed, efficient, and coherent way, whether one's choice of ends is based on self-interested desires or not. For brevity I refer to this as “the coherence-and-efficiency model.” Advocates of both models tend to think that, while it is sufficiently clear in principle what the rational thing to do is, what remains in doubt is whether it is always rational to be moral. They typically assume that morality is concerned, entirely or primarily, with our relations to others, especially with obligations that appear to require some sacrifice or compromise with the pursuit of self-interest. (shrink)
Respect, Pluralism, and Justice is a series of essays which sketches a broadly Kantian framework for moral deliberation, and then uses it to address important social and political issues. Hill shows how Kantian theory can be developed to deal with questions about cultural diversity, punishment, political violence, responsibility for the consequences of wrongdoing, and state coercion in a pluralistic society.
Respect, Pluralism, and Justice is a series of essays which sketch a broadly Kantian framework for moral deliberation, and then use it to address important social and political issues. Hill shows how Kantian theory can be developed to deal with questions about cultural diversity, punishment, political violence, responsibility for the consequences of wrongdoing, and state coercion in a pluralistic society.
This stimulating collection of essays in ethics eschews the simple exposition and refinement of abstract theories. Rather, the author focuses on everyday moral issues, often neglected by philosophers, and explores the deeper theoretical questions which they raise. Such issues are: Is it wrong to tell a lie to protect someone from a painful truth? Should one commit a lesser evil to prevent another from doing something worse? Can one be both autonomous and compassionate? Other topics discussed are servility, weakness of (...) will, suicide, obligations to oneself, snobbery, and environmental concerns. A feature of the collection is the contrast of Kantian and utilitarian answers to these problems. The essays are crisply and lucidly written and will appeal to both teachers and students of philosophy. (shrink)
This essay is a commentary upon "Race and Kant" by ThomasHill, Jr and Bernard Boxill. They argue that although Kant in his anthropological writings took blacks to be inferior, his moral theory requires that they be shown the proper moral respect since blacks are persons nonetheless. I argue that this argument is sound, because the conception of inferiority that Kant attributed to blacks does not permit showing them the proper moral respect. Imagine a defective Mercedes Benz and (...) a Ford Pinto. These two cars are not inferior in the same sort of way. For Kant, I argue, the inferiority of blacks is more akin to that of a Ford Pinto; for he undoubtedly took blacks to be perpetual children. Chilren are persons, too; however, no one has ever supposed that moral theory applies to children in the full way that it applies to adults. (shrink)
Immanuel Kant is known for his ideas about duty and morally worthy acts, but his conception of virtue is less familiar. Nevertheless Kant’s understanding of virtue is quite distinctive and has considerable merit compared to the most familiar conceptions. Kant also took moral education seriously, writing extensively on both the duty of adults to cultivate virtue and the empirical conditions to prepare children for this life-long responsibility. Our aim is, first, to explain Kant’s conception of virtue, second, to highlight some (...) distinctive and potentially appealing features of the Kantian account of virtue, third, to summarize and explain Kant’s prescriptions for educating young children and youth as well as the duty of moral self-improvement that he attributes to all adults, and, fourth, to respond to some common objections that we regard as misguided or insubstantial. (shrink)
Bezugnehmend auf Kants Moralphilosophie entwickelt dieser Beitrag eine These dazu, was mit der Forderung gemeint sein soll, Personen unter Beachtung ihrer Würde bzw. als "Zweck an sich selbst" zu behandeln. Es wird vorgeschlagen, die Implikationen von Kants "Menschheitsformel" als ein Bündel von mit einander verwandten Vorschriften zu interpretieren, die das moralische Nachdenken darüber, wie die Prinzipien unserer tagtäglichen Entscheidungen spezifiziert und interpretiert werden sollten, leiten und begrenzen können. Der Beitrag bearbeitet sodann die folgenden drei Fragestellungen: Was folgt aus dem Vorangehenden (...) im Hinblick auf die Behandlung von Straftätern bei der Verbüßung ihrer Strafe? Was empfiehlt die "Menschheitsformel" - einmal abgesehen von Kants "offizieller" Straftheorie - im Hinblick darauf, wer, wie stark, in welcher Weise und warum bestraft werden sollte? Gibt es Konflikte zwischen diesen Empfehlungen und Kants "offizieller" Straftheorie, die eine Revision seiner Gründe für diese Theorie erforderlich machen? Drawing from Kant's moral theory, this essay develops an account of what is required to treat persons with dignity, or as "ends in themselves". It proposes to regard the implications of Kant's humanity formula as a cluster of related precepts that can guide and constrain moral deliberation about how to specify and interpret the principles that should guide day to day decisions. The essay then addresses three questions: What is implied regarding how offenders should be treated while undergoing punishment? Apart from Kant's official theory of punishment, what would the humanity formula recommend regarding who should be punished, how much, in what way, and why? Are there conflicts between these recommendations and Kant's official theory of punishment that invite reexamination of his grounds for his official theory? (shrink)
“Supererogation” is now a technical term in philosophy for a range of ideas expressed by terms such as “good but not required,” “beyond the call of duty,” “praiseworthy but not obligatory,” and “good to do but not bad not to do” (see Duty and Obligation; Intrinsic Value). Examples often cited are extremely generous acts of charity, heroic self-sacrifice, extraordinary service to morally worthy causes, and sometimes forgiveness and minor favors. These concepts are familiar in institutional contexts, for example, when teachers (...) give points for “extra credit” work, corporations give “bonuses” for profitable leadership, and armies award medals for extraordinary service and valor. Moral philosophers, however, have generally focused on whether or not some of these terms refer to a fundamental moral category and, if so, how the category should be defined, which acts the category includes, and whether various moral theories adequately acknowledge it. The idea that acts can be good and praiseworthy but beyond duty has seemed puzzling for several reasons. For example, it seems that “good and praiseworthy” appeals to scalar standards of (“more or less”) value and virtue whereas “duty,” “required,” and “obligatory” invoke nonscalar norms that make (“all or nothing”) demands. This raises the theoretical question whether morality presupposes two distinct conceptual schemes, and, if so, to what extent and how these can be unified in a consistent and coherent moral theory. (shrink)
Kant is often regarded as an extreme retributivist, but recently commentators emphasize the importance of deterrence in Kant's basic justification of punishment. Kant's combination of deterrence and retributive elements, however, must be distinguished from others that are less plausible. To interpret Kant as merely adding retributive side-constraints to a basic deterrence aim fails to capture fully the retributive strain in Kant's thought. The basic questions are: who should be punished, how much, in what manner, and why? Kant held that all (...) and only the legally guilty ought to be punished, the legally guilty being also morally guilty, except when the legal requirement was to do something "immoral in itself." This case aside, violations of law also transgress an ethical duty to obey the law. Criminal punishments should be designed to match victims' empirically discernable losses in degree and kind, except when this would be impossible or degrading; courts cannot measure the ultimate moral desert of criminals, which depends on their inner "will." "Punishment" is not a mere disincentive in a "price" system of social control; it has an inherent expressive function, conveying a public message of moral disapproval of the criminal conduct in question. Understanding this together with Kant's basic theory of justice may help to explain his acceptance of ius talionis and condemnation of making exceptions for pragmatic reasons. It also accounts for the retributive "tone" of Kant's remarks, despite his insistence that public courts deal only with "external actions," not overall moral worth and character assessment. Kant wird oft als Vertreter einer extremen Vergeltungstheorie gesehen. Auf der anderen Seite betonen verschiedene Autoren in der letzten Zeit die Abschreckung als grundlegendes Element in Kants Rechtfertigung der Strafe. Ihnen gegenüber muß Kants Verknüpfung von Vergeltung und Abschreckung von anderen ähnlichen Verknüpfungen unterschieden werden, die weniger plausibel sind. Kant so zu interpretieren, als füge er zum Hauptziel der Abschreckung nur einige nebensächliche Elemente der Vergeltung hinzu, verfehlt den Vergeltungsaspekt in Kants Straftheorie. Die grundlegenden Fragen sind: Wer soll bestraft werden, wie schwer, in welcher Weise und warum? Kant war der Ansicht, daß alle, aber auch nur diejenigen bestraft werden sollen, die sich vor dem juridischen Gesetz schuldig gemacht haben. Wer sich vor dem juridischen Gesetz schuldig gemacht hat, hat sich auch moralisch schuldig gemacht, es sei denn, das vom Recht Geforderte sei etwas "an sich selbst Unmoralisches". Sieht man von diesem letzteren Fall einmal ab, dann enthält jede Übertretung des juridischen Gesetzes immer auch eine Verletzung der ethischen Pflicht, dem juridischen Gesetz zu gehorchen. Strafe sollte darauf angelegt sein, den empirisch erkennbaren Verlusten des Opfers nach Art und Ausmaß zu entsprechen, außer, wenn dies unmöglich oder erniedrigend wäre; Gerichte können die tatsächliche moralische Schuld von Verbrechern, die von ihrem inneren "Willen" abhängt, nicht messen. "Strafe" ist kein bloßes Abschreckungsmittel in einem "Preis"-System sozialer Kontrolle. Statt dessen hat sie die ganz wesentliche und ausdrückliche Funktion, die moralische Mißbilligung des jeweiligen verbrecherischen Verhaltens öffentlich zum Ausdruck zu bringen. Diese Interpretation, zusammen mit Kants grundlegender Theorie der Gerechtigkeit, kann helfen zu verstehen, warum Kant das ius talionis akzeptiert hat und warum er Ausnahmen, die aus pragmatischen Gründen gemacht werden, mißbilligt. Sie erklärt auch den "Tonfall" in Kants Äußerungen, der mir seiner Vergeltungstheorie zusammenhängt, auch wenn Kant darauf beharrt, daß staatliche Gerichte sich immer nur mit "äußeren" Handlungen befassen, nicht mit dem moralischen Wert insgesamt oder mit einer Beurteilung des Charakters einer Person. (shrink)
Rüdiger Bittner surveys with a skeptical eye classic and contemporary ideas of Kantian autonomy. He allows that we can be more or less free in a modest (quasi-Hobbesian) sense and that many people may want more of this freedom from impediments that make it difficult or impossible to do various things. He argues, however, that high-minded general affirmations of human freedom are unfounded and not likely to retain their grip on our thinking. While acknowledging the value of Bittner’s challenges, I (...) raise questions about Bittner’s dismissal of ideas of freedom apparently imbedded in ordinary language and his critique of the idea of autonomy in Kant’s ethics and broadly Kantian theories. A key issue is how to make sense of the claim that a moral law can be a law and yet also self-imposed. Given certain background assumptions about Kant’s conception of autonomy of the will, the key claim requires different interpretations when it concerns the supreme moral law (the Categorical Imperative) and when it concerns more specific moral laws (for example, derivative principles in Kant’s Doctrine of Virtue). Bittner’s challenges are valuable because they require us to work out and articulate more carefully what we mean by autonomy and why it is important. As Bittner says, Kant’s idea of autonomy is not the same as the ideas of autonomy that appear in medicine, politics, and everyday life. Nevertheless, those who care about either have some reason to think about how these are connected. (shrink)