Kantian Ethics is an important and challenging book. The position that it presents is original and its argument is supported by an exceptional knowledge of Kant’s thought, of the Kantian literature and of ethical theory more broadly. It is not, however, a particularly attractive one to read. The tone in which Wood criticizes those with whom he disagrees is hectoring and dyspeptic. They show “a deplorable tendency to think in terms of entrenched prejudices”; they commit “whoppers”, have a “tin ear” for Kant, say things that are “strangely arbitrary and nonsensically extreme”, and so on. Philosophical texts are exceedingly complex, and to enter into their world is not easy. When someone feels that they have grasped what others have missed it is perhaps understandable that they should come to think that, as Wood puts it, “what Kant is trying to say is not making it past the censorship of their philosophical prejudices”. I can appreciate this, not least because I found myself thinking similarly about Wood himself. It seemed to me that his grave-robber’s passion for using Kant to support his own moral convictions had sometimes led him to overlook dimensions of Kant’s theory to which, as an archaeologist, he should have given greater weight. But this thought does not diminish the admiration I feel for the seriousness and erudition with which he sets about his task.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Review of Wood's Kantian Ethics
A critical review of Allen Wood's Kantian Ethics (Cambridge, 2007) appeared in the Time Literary Supplement. The review is by Michael Rosen (Harvard). Here is an excerpt to entice you: