The Possibility of Kantian Moral Weakness

In Camilla Serck-Hanssen & Beatrix Himmelmann (eds.), The Court of Reason: Proceedings of the 13th International Kant Congress. De Gruyter. pp. 1587-1594 (2021)
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Kant has little to say about moral frailty or weakness. But for his readers, the topic is a fruitful site of interpretive projection that deserves focus. How we approach it reveals much about Kant’s theory of motivation and his general metaphysics of mind as it relates to the practical philosophy. Prominent views on the subject range from affectivism, which holds that sensible incentives motivate weak action independently of reason’s activity, to intellectualism, which holds that weak actions are ultimately grounded in reason, reflecting the subject’s true maxims. After briefly unpacking two well-known versions of each position, I will argue that neither can succeed. For in both cases, reason and sensibility are too dualistically opposed and insulated from one another to capture Kant’s view. I propose, instead, that we must completely reconsider the relationship between these capacities, and the role that sensible desire plays in light of our ability to reason. The result is a more desirable account of weakness that can both invoke the role that reason plays in determining human action, and appeal to strong sensible desires and their ability to disrupt our practical lives.



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Jessica Tizzard
University Tübingen

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