Sunday, November 4, 2007

Guyer on Kant's Moral Philosophy

The new issue of Inquiry (v. 50, Issue 5, 2007) is devoted to an essay by Paul Guyer, "Naturalistic and Transcendental Moments in Kant's Moral Philosophy." Allen Wood, Henry Allison and Sebastian Rödl comment on Guyer, and Guyer replies to their comments. Here is Guyer's abstract followed by Allison's, which gives some sense of what the Guyer piece is up to:

Paul Guyer
"Naturalistic and Transcendental Moments in Kant's Moral Philosophy"

Abstract: During the 1760s and 1770s, Kant entertained a naturalistic approach to ethics based on the supposed psychological fact of a human love for freedom. During the critical period, especially in the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant clearly rejected such an approach. But his attempt at a metaphysical foundation for ethics in section III of the Groundwork was equally clearly a failure. Kant recognized this in his appeal to the "fact of reason" argument in the Critique of Practical Reason, but thereby gave up on any attempt to ground the fundamental principle of morality at all. So it is of interest to see how far we might now proceed along the lines of his original naturalistic approach.

Henry Allison
"Comments on Guyer"

Abstract: Guyer argues for four major theses. First, in his early, pre-critical discussions of morality, Kant advocated a version of rational egoism, in which freedom, understood naturalistically as a freedom from domination by both one's own inclinations and from other people, rather than happiness, is the fundamental value. From this point of view, the function of the moral law is to prescribe rules best suited to the preservation and maximization of such freedom, just as on the traditional eudaemonistic account it is to prescribe rules for the maximization of happiness. Second, in the Groundwork, Kant abandoned this naturalistic approach and while retaining the same substantive thesis as his early moral philosophy, "namely that freedom is the value that is realized by adherence to the moral law" (Guyer 455), attempted to provide a non-naturalistic (transcendental) grounding for this valuation of freedom. Third, this took the form of a transcendental deduction, closely modeled on that of the first Critique, which was intended to demonstrate that we are in fact (noumenally) free and the moral law is the "causal law" of this freedom. Fourth, this deduction is a disaster, indeed, one of Western philosophy's "most spectacular train wrecks" (Guyer 445). I shall discuss each in turn, devoting the bulk of my attention to the last.

1 comment:

selbst said...

as i've argued in a paper i wrote critiquing Guyer's position, it is kant's theory of moral sensibility embedded in his notion of respect that is the best grounds for making sense of what guyer calls "a naturalistic approach to ethics"...