Immanuel Kant Archives

More Generally: Historical Thinkers (253)

October 7, 2016

Becoming a Political Kantian

This morning I've decided to take a break from contemplating the fact that my country is seriously considering giving the nuclear codes to a narcissistic, incompetent, hateful, con artist orangutang to contemplate politics in a more theoretical fashion, without reference to the present election. I've always had strongly deontological moral intuitions—that is, I find it most natural to think of ethics as primarily involving rules we have to follow rather than outcomes we have to promote. Further, before I started studying philosophy, I had broadly libertarian political views. It's not surprising, then, that when I first encountered Nozick's Kantian defense...
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September 28, 2016

"What Descartes Doubted, Berkeley Denied, and Kant Endorsed"

I've posted a new draft, "What Descartes Doubted, Berkeley Denied, and Kant Endorsed," to my writings page. This is actually a rewrite of a much older paper; the original idea pre-dates my dissertation. In it, I argue (among other things) that Kant's fundamental complaint against Berkeley is that Berkeley's empiricism leaves him with cognitive resources too sparse for the construction of a genuine world. In particular, Kant targets Berkeley's rejection of the application of the concept of substance to perceived objects. Of course, in Language and Structure I argue that Berkeley is aware of these sorts of problems and develops...
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January 9, 2014

Conee on the Ontological Argument

According to Leibniz, any answer to the question 'why is there something rather than nothing?' must bottom out in "a necessary being, which carries the reason for its existence within itself, otherwise we still would not have a sufficient reason at which we can stop" (Principles of Nature and Grace, sect. 8, tr. Woolhouse and Francks). The coherence of such a being has, however, been questioned. What would it be for a being to 'carry the reason for its existence within itself?' What kind of impossibility could there be in the supposition that some particular being does not exist? Earl...
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September 16, 2013

That's Not How We Do Things in the Kingdom of Ends...

The Russian news agency Ria Novosti is reporting (via the LA Times) that an individual in the Russian city of Rostov-On-Don put an end to an argument about Kant by shooting his opponent. (The opponent's injuries are not critical; that means it's ok to laugh, right?) I love the last paragraph of the article: The attacker now faces up to a decade in prison for intentional infliction of serious bodily harm, police said. That sentence would give him time to more thoroughly study the works of Kant, who contemplated a universal law of morality. If our friend spends a little...
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January 15, 2013

A Hypothesis about the History of the Concept of Voluntariness

In Aristotelian physics, natural objects are characterized by their teleology, i.e. their tending toward certain ends. According to St. Thomas, what makes an event a voluntary action is that the subject of the event has knowledge of the end toward which the action is directed. Post-Galileo, physics is not about teleology in this way. Instead, physics is about laws, rules according to which events unfold. Accordingly, many early modern philosophers hold that a voluntary action is an event which unfolds according to a rule which has been adopted by the subject of the event. The clearest statement of this idea...
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February 6, 2012

Quote of the Day: Kant on the Task of Moral Philosophy

A reviewer who wanted to say something censuring [The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals] hit the mark better than he himself may have intended when he said that no new principle of morality is set forth in it but only a new formula. But who would even want to introduce a new principle of all morality and, as it were, first invent it? Just as if, before him, the world had been ignorant of what duty is or in thoroughgoing error about it. But whoever knows what a formula means to a mathematician, which determines quite precisely what is...
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October 5, 2010

Kant, Strawson, and Conditionals

P. F. Strawson is not one of Kant's more sympathetic interpreters: Kant's faculty psychology, he thinks, is no more than a historical curiosity. The account of logic is likewise a mess. Above all, transcendental idealism is sheer nonsense. Also, of course, Kant's arguments notoriously rely on the claim that Euclidean geometry is known a priori to be the geometry of the sensible world, whereas we now know that this claim is not only not known a priori, but is actually false. (James Van Cleve has argued, however, that Kant needs only the existence of some a priori geometrical knowledge, and...
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April 25, 2010

Quote of the Day: Turbayne on Alleged Refutations of Berkeley

The argument [for idealism] achieves [a proof of the external world] in a most ingenious yet simple way, by accepting the sceptical conclusion of one such as Hylas, that all we can ever know of the external world is certain ideas or appearances, and then admitting, as any consistent empiricist must, that these appearances are real. After all, it is a jest to hold, as do the philosophers, that the things we see and touch are mere illusions.[18] [18] This final step illuminates the irony inherent in Dr. Johnson's notorious ostensive refutation of Berkeley's 'ingenious sophistry', by exclaiming while 'striking...
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April 19, 2010

Kantian Ethics Simplified

It is probably a safe bet that no view which has ever been successfully explained in a blog post can correctly be attributed to Kant. I won't try to falsify that claim in this post. What I will try to do is to present a sketch of a simple (probably too simple) moral theory that shows why I find Kantian ethics attractive. The fundamental principle of this ethical theory is the following definition: Wrongness =df. the property an action has iff it is the direct result of a practical judgment whereby the agent is committed to a practical contradiction. An...
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April 13, 2010

Morality as a System of Assertoric Imperatives

I recently read Philippa Foot's paper "Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives" for an ethics class. The paper, as the name suggests, puts forward the view (which Foot has since rejected) that the imperatives of morality are merely hypothetical and not, as Kant had argued, categorical. What this means is that morality tells us how we should act if we want certain things, such as justice and the general happiness of humanity. As Foot recognizes, an untoward consequence of this view is that, if it is true, we can't sensibly tell people that they should want justice or the...
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January 20, 2010

A Berkeley-Centric Narrative

Continuing the discussion of the historiography of modern philosophy, I want to consider an alternative narrative. The standard narrative is Kant-centric: the rationalists and empiricists spend a century squabbling, then Kant comes along and figures out what's right and what's wrong with each view, resulting in the Critical Philosophy. The key figures, apart from Kant, are Descartes, the great founder of the rationalists; Locke, the great founder of the empiricists; and Hume who called attention to the severe failings of both schools. (When I took intro to modern at Penn, this is exactly the way it went: these were the...
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July 13, 2009

"Kant's 'Bad' Examples"

I have posted another paper to my workbench, entitled "Kant's 'Bad' Examples". This is the paper I was working on when we were discussing Kant on sexuality (follow-ups here, here, and here). Many contemporary 'Kantian' ethicists ignore or even malign Kant's applied ethics. I argue that this is misguided: when Kant's theory is properly understood, it can be shown that many of his supposedly objectionable conclusions are well supported by it. I consider five of Kant's applications and argue that each of them can be supported by means of his theory of personality and the role it plays...
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May 23, 2009

Kant, Libertarianism, and the Limits of Contract Right

By 'libertarianism' here (and in my tagline) I mean the family of broadly Lockean political theories, mostly articulated in the 20th century, which take private property to be the most fundamental concept for political theory. (Locke himself writes, "'Where there is no property, there is no injustice,' is a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid: For the idea of property being a right to any thing, and the idea to which the name injustice is given, being the invasion or violation of that right; it is evident, that these ideas, being thus established, and these names annexed to...
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March 22, 2009

Kant's Argument for Monogamy

In my previous post on The Problem of Sex in Kant's Ethics, I ended with Kant's argument for monogamy, on which I declined to offer any commentary. I am going to offer a brief reconstruction here (go back to the previous post for the original text).

The argument can be understood as follows:
  1. Sex involves the use of the other's 'sexual attribute' as a means
  2. It is impermissible (contrary to right) to use what one has no right to
  3. One cannot have a right to the sexual attribute of another without having a right to the whole person...

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March 4, 2009

Quote of the Day: Kant Against the Objectification of Women

Kant has something of a reputation as a misogynist. This reputation is not entirely undeserved. However, in his 1775-1780 Lectures on Ethics, Kant gives voice to a line of reasoning which, at least in its general outline, will be familiar to most readers from certain strains of 20th century feminism: There is no way in which a human being can be made an Object of indulgence for another except through sexual impulse ... it is an appetite for another human being ... Because sexuality is not an inclination which one human being has for another as such, but is an...
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March 3, 2009

Dude, Where's My Teleology?

In introducing duties to the self considered as an animal being in the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant writes: There are impulses of nature having to do with man's animality. Through them, nature aims at (a) his self-preservation, (b) the preservation of the species, and (c) the preservation of his capacity to enjoy life, though still at the animal level only. - The vices that are here opposed to his duty to himself are murdering himself, the unnatural use of his sexual inclination, and such excessive consumption of food and drink as weakens his capacity for making purposive use of his...
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February 21, 2009

The Problem of Sex in Kant's Ethics

According to Kant, "Sexual union (commercium sexuale) is the reciprocal use that one human being makes of the sexual organs and capacities of another." (The Metaphysics of Morals, tr. Mary Gregor, p. 61) A thing that is used is generally used for something, and, indeed, in this section Kant mentions two purposes for which "the sexual organs and capacities of another" are used in "sexual union" (he does not say that these are exhaustive): "begetting and bringing up children" is said to be "an end of nature, for which it implanted the inclinations of the sexes for each other," but...
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January 28, 2009

Quote of the Day: Kant Smacks Down Eudaimonism With Some Greek Word Play

If this distinction [between 'pathological pleasure' and 'moral pleasure'] is not observed, if eudaimonism (the principle of happiness) is set up as the basic principle instead of eleutheronomy (the principle of the freedom of internal lawgiving), the result is the euthanasia (easy death) of all morals. (Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, tr. Mary Gregor, p. 143)
For the record, I think that, whether accidentally or intentionally, Kant radically distorts ancient eudaimonism. Eudaimonia doesn't mean 'happiness' in the English sense of that word, which comes from 'hap', meaning 'luck' (as in 'perhaps')...
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January 24, 2009

Kant on Copyright

Regular readers are no doubt aware that I don't believe in intellectual property. That is, I don't believe that you can have property rights in ideas or, generally, in intangibles. I have, however, noted that I support anti-plagiarism laws, and even suspect that they are capable of doing most of the good that so-called 'intellectual property' laws do. (Our current copyright and patent laws, in my opinion, do more harm than good.) Kant, however, has an interesting argument (which is even more or less comprehensible - a rare find in a Kant text!) against the unauthorized publishing of books. The section is fairly short so I will publish the whole thing without authorization...
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January 20, 2009

Topics of Thought for This Quarter

Although I only very rarely post life updates to this blog, it is my custom here to list the subjects I am studying each term because it generally has some bearing on what interesting philosophy I will be blogging about. This quarter I am taking courses on the following topics: Early Modern Social Contract Theory. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. I am already considering a paper topic: grievances against the state. (A timely subject.) Hobbes seems to say that you can't sue a sovereign (whether sovereignty is held by an individual or a group) unless he/she/they intentionally set up a process...
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