This book examines three issues: the principle of ought implies can ; the principle of alternate possibilities ; and Kant’s views on the duty to promote one’s own happiness. It argues that although Kant was wrong to deny such a duty, the part of his denial that rests on a conception of duty incorporating both OIC and PAP is sound.
Proponents of the utilitarian animal welfare argument (AWA) for veganism maintain that it is reasonable to expect that adopting a vegan diet will decrease animal suffering. In this paper I argue otherwise. I maintain that (i) there are plausible scenarios in which refraining from meat-consumption will not decrease animal suffering; (ii) the utilitarian AWA rests on a false dilemma; and (iii) there are no reasonable grounds for the expectation that adopting a vegan diet will decrease animal suffering. The paper is (...) divided into four sections. In the first, I set out the utilitarian AWA in its original form. I give some background and I distinguish it from other, related arguments. In the second, I discuss the causal impotence objection, a popular objection to the utilitarian AWA. I explain how the objection works by means of a conceptual distinction between consumers and producers. In the third, I explain how proponents of the utilitarian AWA respond to this objection. In particular, I set out in some detail what I call the expected utility response. In the fourth and final section, I use the three objections noted above to explain why I do not find this response convincing. (shrink)
In this paper I discuss the problem of the Kantian line. The problem arises because the locus of value in Kantian ethics is rationality, which (counterintuitively) seems to entail that there are no duties to groups of beings like children. I argue that recent attempts to solve this problem by Wood and O’Neill overlook an important aspect of it before posing my own solution.
Laura Papish’s Kant on Evil, Self-Deception, and Moral Reform is an ambitious attempt to breath new life into old debates and a welcome contribution to a recent renaissance of interest in Kant’s theory of evil. The book has eight chapters, and these chapters fall into three main divisions. Chapters 1 and 2 focus on the psychology of nonmoral and immoral action. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 focus on self-deception, evil, and dissimulation. And chapters 6, 7, and 8 focus on self-cognition, (...) moral reform, and moral progress. I shall begin with a brief summary of these chapters. Then I shall turn to commentary. (shrink)
My goal in this paper is to show that it is not the case that positive duties can be derived from Kant’s so-called universalizability tests. I begin by explaining in detail what I mean by this and distinguishing it from a few things that I am not doing in this paper. After that, I confront the idea of a maxim contradictory, a concept that is advanced by many com- mentators in the attempt to derive positive duties from the universalizability tests. (...) I ex- plain what a maxim contradictory is and how the concept is used to derive positive duties. Then I argue that the notion of a maxim contradictory presupposes an objectionable form of maxim realism. I move from there to the idea of a maxim contrary and the deliberative field. These two ideas are used in tandem by commentators who do not appeal to maxim contradictories. I explain how these concepts are used to derive positive duties and then I argue that there is a systematic error in the derivations that enables one to see that they cannot work. (shrink)
According to the standard reading of Kant's formula of universal law (FUL), positive duties can be derived from FUL. In this article, I argue that the standard reading does not work. In the first section, I articulate FUL and what I mean by a positive duty. In the second section, I set out an intuitive version of the standard reading of FUL and argue that it does not work. In the third section, I set out a more rigorous version of (...) the standard reading of FUL and argue that even this more rigorous version does not work. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that constructivism in mathematics faces a dilemma. In particular, I maintain that constructivism is unable to explain (i) the application of mathematics to nature and (ii) the intersubjectivity of mathematics unless (iii) it is conjoined with two theses that reduce it to a form of mathematical Platonism. The paper is divided into five sections. In the first section of the paper, I explain the difference between mathematical constructivism and mathematical Platonism and I outline my argument. (...) In the second, I argue that the best explanation of how mathematics applies to nature for a constructivist is a thesis I call Copernicanism. In the third, I argue that the best explanation of how mathematics can be intersubjective for a constructivist is a thesis I call Ideality. In the fourth, I argue that once constructivism is conjoined with these two theses, it collapses into a form of mathematical Platonism. In the fifth, I confront some objections. (shrink)
Ever since Hegel famously objected to Kant’s universalization formulations of the Categorical Imperative on the grounds that they are nothing but an empty formalism, there has been continual debate about whether he was right. In this paper I argue that Hegel got things at least half-right: I argue that even if negative duties (duties to omit actions or not to adopt maxims) can be derived from the universalization formulations, positive duties (duties to commit actions or to adopt maxims) cannot. The (...) paper is divided into three main sections. In the first, I set out the procedures generally accepted among Kantians for deriving positive duties from the universalization formulations. In the second, I set out the arguments from section 1 in more detail and explain why they do not work. In the third, I examine a strategy that might be used to supplement the arguments from section 2 and I argue that it also does not work. (shrink)
In this paper I discuss Kant’s theory of conscience. In particular, I explicate the following two claims that Kant makes in the Metaphysics of Morals: (1) an erring conscience is an absurdity and (2) if an agent has acted according to his/her conscience, then s/he has done all that can be required of him/her. I argue that (1) is a very specific claim that does not bear on the problem of moral knowledge. I argue that (2) rests on a strongly (...) internalist line of argument. (shrink)
Thomson's goal in presenting her famous Trolley problem is to evince an explanatory weakness in the principle that killing is worse than letting die. Along the way, she tries to evince a similar weakness in the Kantian principle forbidding the use of people as mere means (henceforth: the Kantian prohibition). However, Thomson's negative assessment of the Kantian prohibition is unwarranted, and that is what this paper aims to show. The paper is divided into three sections. In the first, I introduce (...) the Kantian prohibition on using persons as mere means. In the second, I explain where the Trolley problem gets onto the wrong track. To do so, I shall engage with Kleingeld's recent and ingenious Kantian contribution to the trolley problem literature. In the third, I sketch some of what is needed for a Kantian solution to the Trolley problem. (shrink)
My goal in this piece is to show that there is a problem lurking in the shadows of recent attempts to derive positive duties from Kant’s so-called universalizability tests and, further, to show that the most obvious way of fixing these attempts renders them unable to fulfill their function. I shall begin by motivating and explaining such an attempt.
According to Kant, if an agent acts according to his/her conscience, then s/he has done all that s/he ought as far as morality is concerned. But Kant thinks that agents can be mistaken in their subjective determinations of their duties. That is, Kant thinks it is possible for an agent to believe that some action X is right even though it is an objective truth that X is not right; according to Kant, agents do not have infallible knowledge of right (...) and wrong. In this paper, I explore this doctrine in order to determine whether it is defensible. In particular, I confront the blameworthiness of acting contrary to fallible knowledge and the blamelessness of acting according to fallible judgment. (shrink)
According to the Donohue-Levitt hypothesis, the legalization of abor- tion in the United States in the 1970s explains some of the decrease in crime in the 1990s. In this paper, I challenge this hypothesis. First, I argue against the intermediate mechanisms whereby abortion in the 1970s is supposed to cause a decrease in crime in the 1990s. Second, I argue against the correlations that sup- port this causal relationship.
In the modern moral luck debate, Kant is standardly taken to be the enemy of moral luck. My goal in this paper is to show that this is mistaken. The paper is divided into six sections. In the first, I show that participants in the moral luck literature take moral luck to be anathema to Kantian ethics. In the second, I explain the kind of luck I am going to focus on here: consequence luck, a species of resultant luck. In (...) the third, I explain why philosophers have taken Kantian ethics to reject moral luck and, in particular, consequence luck. In the fourth, I explain why these philosophers are mistaken, and I set out Kant’s theoretical framework for consequence luck. In the fifth, I clarify and defend this framework, and in the sixth, I interrogate and attack it. (shrink)
According to one influential version of the derivation of Kant’s Formula of Humanity, the following claim is true: Agents necessarily represent their ends as objectively good. In this paper I argue that there is good reason to regard GOG as false. The paper is divided into four sections. In the first, I explain what is at stake in arguing that GOG is false. In the second, I explicate the terminology in this claim. I also contrast the claim with other possible (...) claims one might make about how agents represent their ends. In the third, I argue that there is good reason to regard the claim as false and in the fourth, I consider a reply to the argument I make in the third section. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that Kant would have endorsed Clifford’s principle. The paper is divided into four sections. In the first, I review Kant’s argument for the practical postulates. In the second, I discuss a traditional objection to the style of argument Kant employs. In the third, I explain how Kant would respond to this objection and how this renders the practical postulates consistent with Clifford’s principle. In the fourth, I introduce positive grounds for thinking that Kant would have (...) endorsed this principle. (shrink)
I have two main goals in this paper. The first is to argue for the thesis that Kant gave up on his highest good argument for the existence of God around 1800. The second is to revive a dialogue about this thesis that died out in the 1960s. The paper is divided into three sections. In the first, I reconstruct Kant’s highest good argument. In the second, I turn to the post-1800 convolutes of Kant’s Opus postumum to discuss his repeated (...) claim that there is only one way to argue for the existence of God, a way which resembles the highest good argument only in taking the moral law as its starting point. In the third, I explain why I do not find the counterarguments to my thesis introduced in the 1960s persuasive. (shrink)
In this paper I am going to raise a problem for recent attempts to derive positive duties from Kant’s universalizability tests. In particular, I argue that these recent attempts are subject to reductio and that the most obvious way of patching them renders them impracticable. I begin by explaining the motivation for these attempts. Then I describe how they work and begin my attack. I conclude by considering some patches.
In Book I of the Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason Kant offers an explanation of freedom and moral good and evil that is different from that offered in the Groundwork for a Metaphysics of Morals. My primary goal in this paper is to analyze and elucidate this new theory. My secondary goal is to contrast this new theory with the older one that it is replacing. I argue that the new theory, which centers on the idea that evil (...) involves a sort of misprioritizing, enables Kant to get around two problems associated with the older theory. (shrink)
In this paper I defend the traditional interpretations of Kant’s Formula of a Law of Nature from recent attacks leveled by Faviola Rivera-Castro, James Furner, Ido Geiger, Pauline Kleingeld and Sven Nyholm. After a short introduction, the paper is divided into four main sections. In the first, I set out the basics of the three traditional interpretations, the Logical Contradiction Interpretation, the Practical Contradiction Interpretation and the Teleological Contradiction Interpretation. In the second, I examine the work of Geiger, Kleingeld and (...) Nyholm: these three commentators reject the traditional interpretations entirely, but I argue that this rejection is ill-founded. In the third and fourth, I take a detailed look at Furner’s work, work in which he seeks to revise (rather than reject) the traditional interpretations. I argue that, despite his more modest aims, Furner’s revision is also ill-founded. (shrink)
In his discussion of the duty of benevolence in §27 of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant argues that agents have no obligation to promote their own happiness, for ‘this happens unavoidably’ (MS, AA 6:451). In this paper I argue that Kant should not have said this. I argue that Kant should have conceded that agents do have an obligation to promote their own happiness.
Samuel Kerstein’s recent (2013) How To Treat Persons is an ambitious attempt to develop a new, broadly Kantian account of what it is to treat others as mere means and what it means to act in accordance with others’ dignity. His project is explicitly nonfoundationalist: his interpretation stands or falls on its ability to accommodate our pretheoretic intuitions, and he does an admirable job of handling carefully a range of well fleshed out and sometimes subtle examples. In what follows, I (...) shall give a quick summary of the chapters and then say two good things about the book and one critical thing. (shrink)
According to a common caricature of Kant’s ethics, it is synonymous with the Categorical Imperative (CI) and with the sublime and clarion call of duty. But in this paper, I argue that the conjunction of Kant’s concept of duty and his idea of morality as a system of imperatives is unsustainable on the grounds that it commits him to the following two theses: (I) If an agent has a duty to D, then she must be constrained to D, and (II) (...) the Supreme Law of Morality always manifests in the form of duty for humans. I begin by examining (and rejecting) various attempts to defend these two theses. I then explore how this bears on various central aspects of Kant's thought including “ought implies can” (OIC), “ought implies able not to” (OIAN), his system of duties, and the nature of respect. (shrink)
In this paper, I confront Parfit’s Mixed Maxims Objection. I argue that recent attempts to respond to this objection fail, and I argue that their failure is compounded by the failure of recent attempts to show how the Formula of Universal Law can be used to demarcate the category of obligatory maxims. I then set out my own response to the objection, drawing on remarks from Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals for inspiration and developing a novel account of how the Formula (...) of Universal Law can be employed to determine the deontic status of action tokens, action types, and maxims. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that there would be no obligatory maxims if the only standards for assessing maxims were Kant’s universalizability tests. The paper is divided into five sections. In the first, I clarify my thesis: I define my terms and disambiguate my thesis from other related theses for which one might argue. In the second, I confront the view that says that if a maxim passes the universalizability tests, then there is a positive duty to adopt that maxim; (...) I also confront a close relative of this view. In the third, I confront the view that says that if a maxim does not pass the universalizability tests, then there is a positive duty to adopt the contradictory of that maxim. In the fourth, I confront two variations of the view that says that if a maxim does not pass the universalizability tests and an agent is deliberating about the action in the maxim, then the agent has a positive duty to adopt the contrary of that maxim. In the fifth, I confront the view that says that if an agent has adopted a maxim of ends, then the agent has a positive duty to universalize that end. I then wrap up the paper with some concluding remarks. (shrink)
In this paper, I defend the possible consent interpretation of Kant’s formula of humanity from objections according to which it has counterintuitive implications. I do this in two ways. First, I argue that to a great extent, the supposed counterintuitive implications rest on a misunderstanding of the possible consent interpretation. Second, I argue that to the extent that these supposed counterintuitive implications do not rest on a misunderstanding of the possible consent interpretation, they are not counterintuitive at all.
In this paper I provide a novel argument for scientific realism. In contrast to most recent defenses of SR, my defense of SR does not rely on the no-miracles argument. Instead, I take a more unconventional approach: I focus on the different kinds of justification available to different individuals in relation to different kinds of propositions. I maintain that this alternative focus shows that most people are warranted in believing many propositions about unobservables. The paper is divided into three main (...) sections. In the first, I rehearse the main moves in the recent debate about SR. In the second, I argue that the discussion in section one enables us to see that most of the arguments in the recent debate about SR mistake their target: instead of being about SR, they are about meta-SR. I argue that what I call the JJ-principle should be rejected and, further, that if the JJ-principle is rejected, then meta-SR may be cleaved from SR. This enables me to advance to a position I call thin realism in the third and final section of the paper. (shrink)
In this paper, I have argued that whatever might be said about his attack on other German philosophers, Santayana’s attack on Kant, despite its subtlety, its force and its intelligence, is fundamentally misguided. Teasing out where Santayana’s attack rests on misunderstandings of Kant’s philosophy is a useful exercise: it is useful for Kantians, for it gives us a chance to show Kant at his best; it is useful for Santayana scholars, for it reminds us that Santayana, for all his brilliance, (...) was not infallible; and it is useful more generally, for the mistakes Santayana makes about Kant are, perhaps in part because of Santayana’s well-deservedly wide influence, still prevalent today. (shrink)
In a series of well known publications, Christine Korsgaard argues for the claim that an agent acts morally just in case s/he acts autonomously. Two of Korsgaard's signature arguments for the connection between morality and autonomy are the "argument from spontaneity" and the "regress argument." In this paper, I argue that neither the argument from spontaneity nor the regress argument is able to show that an agent would be acting wrongly even if s/he acts in a paradigmatically heteronomous fashion.
In this paper I trace the arc of Kant’s critical stance on the belief in God, beginning with the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and culminating in the final chapter of the Metaphysics of Morals (1797). I argue that toward the end of his life, Kant changed his views on two important topics. First, despite his stinging criticism of it in the Critique of Pure Reason, by the time of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant seems to endorse the physico-theological argument. (...) Second, some time around the publication of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant seems to move away from the argument for the practical postulates. (shrink)
In Bencivenga’s “Consequences in Kantian Ethics,” he offers a version of Kant’s ethics according to which the most rational approach to living one’s life is “to always imagine what might follow from one’s moves and to choose moves accordingly” (284), but according to which agents always nevertheless must be modest in their judgments about what they ought to do because the actual consequences of their actions might not turn out as they imagined. In this way, he tries to foreground the (...) role of consequences in Kant's ethics. In this paper, I argue against Bencivenga and, in particular, against the idea that according to Kant, to determine whether an agent’s action is good we must wait for its consequences to unfold in time. (shrink)
At 6:26n Kant famously (or infamously) claims that humanity and personality are not necessarily coextensional. This claim has been characterized in the secondary literature as Kant's worst mistake and as an unnecessary repudiation of his earlier (and more plausible) ethical thought. I argue that this characterization of 6:26n rests on a misinterpretation of the term `humanity'. I try to show that Kant's claim at 6:26n not only is not problematic; it constitutes a powerful reminder of the kind of epistemic modesty (...) that Kant argues for in the Critique of Pure Reason. (shrink)
In this paper I look at the connection between willing and believing for Kant’s and Kantian ethics. I argue that the two main formulations of the categorical imperative are relativized to agents according to their beliefs. I then point out three different ways in which Kant or a present-day Kantian might defend this position. I conclude with some remarks about the contrast between Kant’s legal theory and his ethical theory.
In the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (MFNS) Kant develops a conception of matter that is meant to issue in an alternative to what he takes to be the then reigning empiricist account of density. However, in recent years commentator after commentator has argued that Kant’s attempt on this front is faced with insuperable difficulties. Adickes argues that the MFNS theory of density involves Kant in a vicious circle; Tuschling argues that the circle is part of what led Kant to (...) abandon the theory of matter developed in the MFNS; Förster argues that recognition of this circularity played a significant role in Kant’s development of the project now known as the Opus Postumum; and Westphal argues that the circularity problem serves to demonstrate the “untenability of Kant’s metaphysical method” and therefore helps to explain “the radical revision of the relation between mathematics and metaphysics Kant undertakes in his opus postumum.” Indeed, even Kant seems to think that his theory of density is circular: as noted by all of these commentators, in correspondence with one of his former students Kant declares that this theory “seems to lead however to a circle out of which I am not able to come.” Against this growing tide (and even, it seems, against Kant himself) I defend Kant’s theory of density. I argue that the suspicion of a circle results from a confusion of logical relations with causal conditions, and I argue that even Kant seems to have been taken in by this confusion. (shrink)
In this book, I give a topic-based, modular introduction to philosophy. The book has 16 chapters: 7 in theoretical philosophy and 9 in practical philosophy. Each topic is introduced by means of a concrete question; the main positions on this question are then developed and criticized in turn. I try to avoid taking sides; instead, I emphasize that students must think through the issues for themselves.
Compared to other aspects of Kant’s practical philosophy, Kant’s theory of conscience remains relatively unexplored in the secondary literature on his work. This is no doubt due, at least in part, to the fact that in the Groundwork to a Metaphysics of Morals (henceforth: Groundwork) and the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant's two most widely read works on ethics, conscience plays very little role. However, Kant has extended discussions of conscience in three of his lesser read works: On the Miscarriage (...) of all Philosophical Attempts in Theodicy (henceforth: Miscarriage), the Religion within the Boundaries of mere Reason (henceforth: Religion), and the Metaphysics of Morals. There are also many unpublished notes in which Kant discusses conscience, and it may be conjectured, on the basis of extant copies of students’ notes, that conscience was a frequent topic in Kant’s lectures. As commentators have begun to play closer attention to these lesser read works, the literature on Kant’s theory of conscience has begun to develop. It is thanks to this development that this Element is possible: there is an emerging consensus that Kant’s theory of conscience is important both in its own right and insofar as it can help to correct various misunderstandings that have become part of the standard view of Kant’s ethical thought. This Element is divided into two parts. The first focuses on exegesis of Kant’s ethics. One of the overarching theses of this first part of the Element is that, although many of Kant’s claims about conscience are prima facie inconsistent, a close examination of context generally can dissolve apparent contradictions. The second part of the Element focuses on philosophical issues in Kantian ethics. One of the overarching theses of this part of the Element is that many positions traditionally associated with Kantian ethics, including the denial of moral luck, the nonaccidental rightness condition, and the guise of the objectively good, are at variance with Kant’s ethics. (shrink)