Kant’s “primacy of the practical” doctrine says that we can form morally justified commitments regarding what exists, even in the absence of sufficient epistemic grounds. In this paper I critically examine three different varieties of Kant’s “moral proof” that can be found in the critical works. My claim is that the third variety—the “moral-psychological argument” based in the need to sustain moral hope and avoid demoralization—has some intriguing advantages over the other two. It starts with a premise that more clearly (...) coheres with Kant’s mature account of moral motivation, and it invokes plausible empirical-psychological theses to motivate a commitment to the full-blown classical deity—the result Kant clearly wanted. From the point of view of its structure, I think this third variety of moral argument also has the most by way of contemporary interest. (shrink)
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)
Most elpistologists now agree that hope for a specific outcome involves more than just desire plus the presupposition that the outcome is possible. This paper argues that the additional element of hope is a disposition to focus on the desired outcome in a certain way. I first survey the debate about the nature of hope in the recent literature, offer objections to some important competing accounts, and describe and defend the view that hope involves a kind of focus or attention. (...) I then suggest that this account makes sense of the intuitive thought that there are moral and pragmatic norms on hope that go beyond the norms on desires and modal presuppositions. I conclude by considering some key questions. (shrink)
Kant’s accounts of the Highest Good and the moral argument for God and immortality are central features of his philosophy. But both involve lingering puzzles. In this entry, we first explore what the Highest Good is for Kant and the role it plays in a complete account of ethical life. We then focus on whether the Highest Good involves individuals only, or whether it also connects with Kant’s doctrines about the moral progress of the species. In conclusion, we look into (...) three ways of articulating the moral argument for God and immorality that take our commitment to the Highest Good as their point of departure. (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)
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)
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)
This paper considers Kant's views on how it can be rational to hope for God's assistance in becoming morally good. If I am fully responsible for making myself good and can make myself good, then my moral condition depends entirely on me. However, if my moral condition depends entirely on me, then it cannot depend on God, and it is therefore impossible for God to provide me with any assistance. But if it is impossible for God to provide me with (...) any assistance, it is irrational for me to hope for such assistance. I address this conundrum by providing an analysis of one necessary condition of rational hope: hope is rational only if the subject is not in a position to be certain that p is really impossible. I then offer several different strategies on which it might be rational to hope that God provides moral assistance, with the most radical of these strategies suggesting that, given our ignorance of the laws of the intelligible world, for all human beings know it is metaphysically possible that God perform a noumenal miracle on their moral character. -/- . (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)
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)
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)
Religious dietary practices foster a sense of communal identity, certainly, but traditionally they are also regarded as pleasing to God (or the gods, or the ancestors) and spiritually beneficial. In other words, for many religious people, the effects of fasting go well beyond what is immediately observed or empirically measurable, and that is a large part of what motivates participation in the practice. The goal of this chapter is to develop that religious way of thinking into a response to a (...) motivational problem that arises from our awareness of the insensitivity of contemporary food supply chains. If someone can have faith, or at least tenacious hope, that the significance of her food choices goes well beyond what is immediately observed or empirically measurable, then she may be less demoralized by the apparent inefficacy of those choices. The chapter concludes by considering a way in which this broadly religious way of thinking might be available to secular people as well. (shrink)
In this article I discuss the moral-coherence reading of Kant’s moral argument offered by Allen Wood in his recent book _Kant and Religion_, display some of the challenges that it faces and suggest that a moral-psychological formulation is preferable.
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)
Everyone is talking about food. Chefs are celebrities. "Locavore" and "freegan" have earned spots in the dictionary. Popular books and films about food production and consumption are exposing the unintended consequences of the standard American diet. Questions about the principles and values that ought to guide decisions about dinner have become urgent for moral, ecological, and health-related reasons. In _Philosophy Comes to Dinner_, twelve philosophers—some leading voices, some inspiring new ones—join the conversation, and consider issues ranging from the sustainability of (...) modern agriculture, to consumer complicity in animal exploitation, to the pros and cons of alternative diets. (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. The third one involves an appeal to the complicated doctrine of "symbolization" that becomes prominent in Kant's later works. -/- . (shrink)
For Kant, knowledge involves certainty. If “certainty” requires that the grounds for a given propositional attitude guarantee its truth, then this is an infallibilist view of epistemic justification. Such a view says you can’t have epistemic justification for an attitude unless the attitude is also true. Here I want to defend an alternative fallibilist interpretation. Even if a subject has grounds that would be sufficient for knowledge if the proposition were true, the proposition might not be true. And so there (...) is sometimes still rational room for doubt. The goal of this paper is to present four different models of what “certainty” amounts to, for Kant, each of which is compatible with fallibilism. (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 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)
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. -/- .
This chapter articulates two concerns that Karl Jaspers raised (with Hannah Arendt) about the common practice of viewing moral evil as unintelligible. The first is that this involves exoticizing the act and/or perpetrator in such a way that moral condemnation becomes difficult. The second is that it can lead us to treat the perpetrator, place, or victim as tainted or stained by a force whose motives we cannot grasp; this in turn can lead to magical thinking about evil as somehow (...) contagious or contaminating. After distinguishing some of the main categories of evil discussed in the western tradition, I examine ways in which moral evil, in particular, has been characterized as unintelligible, and try to discern which of them raises these Jaspersian concerns. I argue that there are at least two conceptions of “radical evil”—not the Kantian one, but the ones articulated by Hannah Arendt—that do so. (shrink)
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. -/- .
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)
The goal of this paper is to sketch an account of Kant’s signature metaphysical doctrine (transcendental idealism) that (a) has no supporters – as far as I am aware – in the contemporary literature, and (b) draws its primary motivation (as interpretation) from considerations regarding our practical situation and needs as agents. -/- The consideration I focus on here is that people not only have mental and moral features, but they also appear to us – in our daily experience – (...) to have such features: “[w]e can perceive virtue in our experience (Wir können in der Erfahrung wohl Tugend wahrnehmen)” (24: 906). The same presumably goes for vice: When I see you casually torturing a cat, you appear to me to be brown-haired, wearing jeans, moving your arms, laughing, and so on, but you also appear to me to be vicious and cruel. Your character shines through in your actions. I can then make a defeasible inference from those appearances to the moral reality. -/- Such appearances and inferences play a central role in our practices of praise, blame, forgiveness, and punishment. An interpretation of transcendental idealism that gives primacy to the practical will thus seek to analyze the concepts of experience, acquaintance, and appearance/phenomenon in a capacious-enough way that they can apply to mental and moral features too. If successful, such an interpretation would have a clear practical advantage over those that leave us merely conjecturing from experiences of bodies, gestures, and secondary qualities to moral features that do not appear, or even to the non-appearing features of a distinct set of things. (shrink)
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)
Those of us who enjoy certain products of the global industrial economy but also believe it is wrong to consume them are often so demoralized by the apparent inefficacy of our individual, private choices that we are unable to resist. Although he was a deontologist, Kant was clearly aware of this ‘consequent-dependent’ side of our moral psychology. One version of his ‘moral proof’ is designed to respond to the threat of such demoralization in pursuit of the Highest Good. That version (...) of the argument says that the capacity that faith and trust in God has to sustain our moral resolve licenses that faith and trust, from a practical point of view. My goal here is to argue that Kant’s proof has a contemporary, secular analogue in modern industrial contexts where the apparent “inefficacy” of an individual consumer’s choices in the face of massive insensitive supply-chains is a threat to her moral resolve. I conclude by suggesting that the Kantian approach may license us in adopting (as an item of defeasible moral faith) an evidential decision-theoretic principle regarding what it is to ‘make a difference.’ This in turn licenses trust -- if not in God then in other right-minded people. (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. -/- .
After providing a brief overview of Marcus Willaschek's Kant on the Sources of Metaphysics, I critically reconstruct his account of ‘transcendental realism’ and the role that it plays in the dramatic narrative of the Critique of Pure Reason. I then lay out in detail how Willaschek generates and evaluates various versions of transcendental realism and raise some concerns about each. Next, I look at precisely how Willaschek's Kant thinks we can avoid applying the ‘supreme’ dialectical principle to the domain of (...) appearances. Finally, I call into question Willaschek's efforts to appropriate the lessons of the Transcendental Dialectic without following Kant into transcendental idealism. (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 this paper we look at a few of the most prominent ways of articulating Kant’s critical argument for Noumenal Ignorance — i.e., the claim that we cannot cognize or have knowledge of any substantive, synthetic truths about things-in-themselves — and then provide two different accounts of our own.
Thirteen original essays examine the conceptual history of evil in the west: from ancient Hebrew literature and Greek drama to Darwinism and Holocaust theory. Thirteen reflections contextualize the philosophical developments by looking at evil through the eyes of animals, poets, mystics, witches, librettists, film directors, and tech executives.
In this chapter I highlight the apparent tensions between Kant’s very stringent critique of metaphysical speculation in the “Discipline of Pure Reason” chapter and his endorsement of Belief (Glaube) and hope (Hoffnung) regarding metaphysical theses in the subsequent “Canon of Pure Reason.” In the process I will examine his distinction between the theoretical and the practical bases for holding a “theoretical” conclusion (i.e. a conclusion about “what exists” rather than “what ought to be”) and argue that the position is subtle (...) but coherent. In the second part of the paper I focus on Kant’s account of rational hope in the Doctrine of Method: its nature, scope, conditions, and role in the philosophy of religion generally. (shrink)
Kant seems to think of our own mental states or representations as the primary objects of inner sense. But does he think that these states also inhere in something? And, if so, is that something an empirical substance that is also cognized in inner sense? This chapter provides textual and philosophical grounds for thinking that, although Kant may agree with Hume that the self is not ‘given’ in inner sense exactly, he does think of the self as cognized through inner (...) sense. It is also argued that he both does and ought to regard this self as an empirical substance in which our changing representations inhere. In the second part of the chapter it is suggested that this poses a significant problem for most of the leading interpretations of Kant’s anti-sceptical argument in the Refutation of Idealism. (shrink)
Part of a group commentary on Kant's Religion book. This chapter focuses on Part 2, section 2 on "The Evil Principle's Rightful Claim to Dominion over the Human Being, and the Struggle of the Two Principles with One Another" -/- .
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)
This chapter discusses Kant's 1763 "possibility proof" for the existence of God. I first provide a reconstruction of the proof in its two stages, and then revisit my earlier argument according to which the being the proof delivers threatens to be a Spinozistic-panentheistic God—a being whose properties include the entire spatio-temporal universe—rather than the traditional, ontologically distinct God of biblical monotheism. I go on to evaluate some recent alternative readings that have sought to avoid this result by arguing that the (...) relevant facts about real modality can be ultimately grounded in God’s powers or thoughts – or that Kant just leaves the grounding relations mysterious. I argue that the textual and philosophical costs of each of these alternative readings are formidable. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the fate of the proof in the critical period. Some commentators think that it disappears altogether, or that it is downgraded such that it produces a mere regulative idea of God as the most real being. I suggest that the proof survives but that the mode of assent it licenses towards its conclusion changes from knowledge to a certain kind of Belief (Glaube). (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)