“In every cognition of an object there is, namely, unity of the concept, which one can call qualitative unity insofar as by that only the unity of the comprehension (Zusammenfassung) of the manifold of cognition is thought, as, say, the unity of the theme in a play, a speech, or a fable.“

— Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1787), B114

 

KANTIAN RATIONALITY IN ETHICS:
ABSTRACTS OF THE CONFERENCE

 

Categorical Moral Requirements

David Bakhurst

(Queen’s University, Kingston, CA & Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, Kaliningrad)

This paper defends the doctrine that moral requirements are categorical in nature.  My point of departure is John McDowell’s 1978 essay, “Are Moral Requirements Hypothetical Imperatives?”, in which McDowell argues, against Phillipa Foot, that moral reasons are not conditional upon agents’ desires and are, in a certain sense, inescapable.  After expounding McDowell’s view, and exploring his idea that moral requirements “silence” other considerations, I address the objection that moral reasons, as McDowell conceives them, are fundamentally incomplete in ways that can be remedied only by a full-bloodedly Kantian appeal to pure practical reason.  I conclude that, although the objection fails, Kantian insights can nevertheless play a significant role in a McDowellian view of moral deliberation and moral education.

The Categorical Imperative as a Procedure: Formalizations and Applications

Vadim A. Chaly

(Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, Kaliningrad)

In my paper, I would like to depart from some of the existing step-by-step formalizations of the categorical imperative (CI) to develop an arguably more detailed and descriptively accurate procedure of moral deliberation for our everyday situations in which we choose a course of action or formulate a policy. The resulting procedure will display greater degree of relativism than is commonly acknowledged; it will in most cases produce only temporary probabilistic solutions, subject to regular revision. The reason for this is that, as I would like to show, there exists underdetermination in moral deliberation prescribed by CI of the sort known from epistemology. This underdetermination, as I also intend to show, lies at the root of such well-known problems as “the problem of relevant act description” and “the motivational opacity problem.” The reason underdetermination arises is that in the course of performing our CI-mandated test of intention we inevitably turn to our beliefs about nature, rather than looking for a strictly formal contradiction in conception or in volition, abstracting from the empirically known conditions. All this, in my view, does not discredit CI as a procedure of moral deliberation, but rather gives it a comparatively greater applicability to real-world situations, albeit at the cost of recognizing its limitations.

How the Moral Law is Central to Kant’s Theory of Practical Reason

Patricia Kitcher

(Columbia University, New York, NY)

Kant’s declaration in the Critique of Practical Reason that the freedom established by the moral law “forms the keystone of the whole edifice of a system of reason” (5:3) invites readers to view his theory of practical reason through the lens of his moral theory.  This avenue of approach is also suggested by the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, one section of which posed the question of how a Categorical Imperative is possible. But thirty years ago, Marcus Willaschek (1992) argued that Kant scholars erred in narrowing their study of Kant’s theory of practical reason to just the faculties required for the possibility of a Categorical Imperative.  His seminal Praktische Vernunft maintained that Kant drew on his predecessors’ concepts and theories to develop a more general account of practical reasoning, one that is not limited to moral reasoning.

To explain practical reasoning, Kant appealed to the faculty psychology of his day and to his own views about the systematicity of empirical sciences.  He began his study of the possibility of morality by regressing from the ordinary person’s judgments about morally good and bad actions—and about the necessary psychological conditions for moral action.  It is by tapping into ordinary moral understanding that Kant reaches his signature, psychological doctrine of duty:

Nothing other than the representation of the moral law in itself — which of course can take place only in a rational being — in so far as it, not the hoped for effect, is the determining ground of the will, can therefore constitute the pre-eminent good that we call moral … (4: 401)

The two desiderata for Kant’s theories of moral and practical reasoning — ordinary moral consciousness and a systematic faculty psychology — are not fated to conflict. I show, however, that there are real tensions between the two, and serious problems with his use of a psychological concept that he borrows from the tradition, ‘Willkür.’  My central claim is that it is not Kant’s goal of vindicating free will and morality that limits his theory to moral creatures, but his understanding of how practical reasoning can be cognized.

Kant on Rationalizing and Abuses of Reason

Martin Sticker

(University of Bristol, UK)

In this talk my aim is twofold. Firstly, I explain the underlying mechanism of rationalizing (vernünfteln), a form of self-deception that plays a crucial role for Kant’s moral-psychology and his conception of the functions of his critical practical philosophy. I argue that the two most important aspects of our rationality that enable rationalizing are empirical practical reason and pure practical reason. The former allows us to devise pseudo-justifications in order to promote our sensuous ends at the expense of morality. The latter is responsible for our recognition of the authority of morality, which creates an interest in being morally justified even when violating duty. Pure practical reason thus is a driving force of rationalizing. Secondly, I critically examine the plausibility of Kant’s framework. The main problem I see with Kant’s conception is that there are no theory independent criteria to determine whether an exercise of rational capacities is rationalizing. Whilst Kant charges the popular philosophers and other ethical theorists with rationalizing, his opponents could charge him with rationalizing in turn and some theorist, namely, Act-Consequentialists, are prima facie in an even stronger position to charge Kant with rationalizing than vice versa. In response, I propose a framework of criteria of rationalizing that does not assume a specific normative theory.

Kant and Arendt on Barbaric and Totalitarian Evil

Helga Varden

(University of Illinois, Urbana, IL)

This paper brings together ideas from two Köningsbergers—Immanuel Kant and Hannah Arendt—on the topic of the worst political evils. Kant calls this kind of evil “barbaric”, while Arendt calls it “totalitarian,” and characteristic of all such political evil is that the legal-political institutions are used as means to facilitate or perpetrate wrongdoing to people subjected to their power. Barbarism, therefore, whether Kant’s or Arendt’s, involves, to use another of Arendt’s phrases in a slightly revised way, violently denying someone else “the right to have rights” to freedom in some existentially important regard. In addition, I use their works to argue that all barbarism involves state-facilitated or organized absence of law and freedom as well as the presence of violence that seeks to make its victims suffer into numbness. Barbaric violence is therefore not striving to kill or enslave as such (though it often involves and leads to this too). Rather, barbaric violence ultimately strives to make human beings suffer so as to bring them down to a functioning level that may be described as existential numbness (“living dead”), which is why risking lethal danger or committing suicide can open up as felt ways out for those subjected to it.

Russian Constitutional Law from the Kantian Point of View

Alexei N. Krouglov

(Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow)

The talk is to consider the results and relevance of the discussion about the influence of Kantian philosophy on the 1993 Constitution of the Russian Federation. Since the beginning of the 19th century, Kantian philosophy has been regularly involved in legal disputes in Russia. At the beginning of the 21st century, the question emerging from these debate is whether Kant is the “father” of the current Constitution. Proponents of the thesis of Kant’s “fatherhood” give the Königsberg philosopher credit for laying the foundations of a state of law and the constitutional ideal contained on the current Constitution. Kant is also credited for the legal interpretation of happiness and the humanistic nature of his philosophy. At the same time, an incorrect translation of the Kantian term “Verfassung” into Russian in philosophical publications is emphasized. Opponents of the thesis of Kantʼs “fatherhood” stress the pathos of the autonomous person in his philosophy, which is absent in the current Constitution. In this sense, the Constitution is Kantian neither in its spirit nor in its letters. Moreover, based on Kantian philosophy, they formulate conditions for the implementation of what still appears as a mere declaration in the Constitution. However, both supporters and opponents of the “Kant’s fatherhood” thesis ignore a central issue: the question of the relationship between human rights and human dignity. I will compare how the concepts of individualism and human dignity are treated in the RSFSR, the USSR and the Russian Federation Constitutions. Then I demonstrate a significant reduction of the individualism in the current Constitution in comparison to the USSR Constitution of 1977.

The talk is aimed at critical analysis of modern Russian legal literature that clarifies difficulties that have been highlighted in the recent discussion. These problems include the interpretation of the concepts “individual” and “legal status of the individual”, the correlation between the concepts “man”, “citizen” and “individual”, and the rights and freedoms as they are contained in the text of the 1993 Constitution. Numerous problems and contradictions in use of these concepts become particularly pointed in the interpretation of human rights, which is stylized as a natural-legal substantiation without cogency. Another problematic aspect is the status of human dignity or the dignity of the person, which finds itself among fundamental human rights and freedoms in the Constitution, even though, in its philosophical sense, dignity is not and cannot be a right. The reasons for this state of affairs are to be found in ideological motives, an eclectic combination of positivist and natural-legal elements in the Constitution, and in an anti-historicity and equivocation in the understanding of universalism and general validity. On the one hand, epochal legal documents of the 18th century are understood as covering all people as widely as possible in its significance. On the other hand, the modern world community and “general validity” are implicitly restricted to Western countries and the acceptance of something by these countries, respectively. The latter has found its embodiment in the formula of law as “the law of civilized peoples”. Most of the difficulties described above, such as the correlation between human dignity and human rights, rights and obligations, the possibility or impossibility of diminishing human dignity, as well as the characterization of the image of the human being, proclaimed to be of the highest value, can be solved by turning to Kantian practical philosophy. A detailed analysis of the concept of dignity in Kantʼs philosophy, as well as traces of Kantʼs influence in the Basic Law of Germany and other legal documents of the 20th century will allow, on the one hand, to clarify the philosophical meaning of those provisions, which have been distorted in the text of the 1993 Constitution, and, on the other hand, answering the question of the influence or indifference of Kant on the current Constitution of the Russian Federation.

“Modern slavery” and immigration restrictions from a Kantian standpoint

Corinna Mieth
(Ruhr-Universität, Bochum)
Garrath Williams
(Lancaster University, UK)

For most Kantians, the prohibition of instrumentalization is central in identifying serious wrongdoing. This paradigm can be applied to modern slavery and human trafficking, as forms of wrongdoing that treat people as mere means and ought to be legally prohibited. In this paper, we argue that the focus on instrumentalization can obscure other serious wrongs. In particular, we argue that the immigration policies of many western countries are wrong by virtue of the exclusionary hostility they manifest at an institutional level. Although the Modern Slavery Acts in the UK and Australia are supposed to prohibit instrumentalization, critics such as Julia O‘Donnell Davidson have pointed out that they contribute to the creation of a hostile environment toward immigrants, especially those who have sought the help of smugglers to reach western countries. We will argue that immigration restrictions – including some policies that are put forward as ways to combat modern slavery – often express disrespect towards immigrants as ends in themselves. They represent a form of mistreatment that is exclusionary rather than instrumentalising, and contradict the right not to be treated with hostility that is a core requirement of Kantian cosmopolitan law.

How Kant’s Conception of the “Ethical State” Might Prove Relevant for the Current Debate on a Global Community

Herta Nagl-Docekal

(University of Vienna, Austria)

Elaborating on the ideal of a social order that fully meets the demands of the moral law, Immanuel Kant distinguishes two kinds of state: the “juridico-civil (political) state,” uniting human beings, as citizens, “under public juridical laws”, and the “ethico-civil state,” uniting human beings “under laws of virtue alone”. The current debate on the notion of a “well ordered society” does, however, focus exclusively on issues of right and justice. It seems that Kant’s conception of the “ethical state” is considered obsolete in the mainstream of social philosophy as well as in the public discourse inspired by it. The paper explores the sources of the widely shared prioritization of issues of the liberal state and the kind of loss that has resulted from this focus. These issues will be discussed in the light of sociological research in the conditions of contemporary life that highlights one problem in particular: the propensity towards an atomistic isolation of the individual that leads to a disintegration of social bonds and dwindling solidarity. One crucial finding is that these “social pathologies” are rooted in the fact that the logic of market economy has intruded into all spheres of  life. As Jürgen Habermas notes, “the all-pervasive language of the market puts all interpersonal relations under the constraint of an egocentric orientation towards one’s preferences.” The talk examines whether Kant’s conception of the “ethical state” might prove relevant today, as it provides valuable tools for addressing the deficits of an exclusively legalistic approach to social issues, and for elaborating a more comprehensive idea of a truly human community. The first part focuses on John Rawls’s claim to provide a “procedural transformation of the categorical imperative”, and on “discourse theoretical” conceptions of morality, as elaborated by Habermas and Rainer Forst. The second part discusses significant shortcomings of these “post-metaphysical” approaches to morality, as compared to Kant’s conception. The third part explains the crucial claim of the distinction between the “political” and the “ethical” community, while the fourth part summarizes Kant’s thesis that the “ethical state” can be realized by humans only “in the form of a church”. The fifth part examines what the potential of the conception of a state “under laws of virtue alone” might be, given the widely shared secular convictions of people today. Does this conception prove instrumental in addressing moral deficiencies marking the contemporary life world? And what’s the relevance of the global perspective it opens up?

Kant in the Time of COVID

Matthew C. Altman

(Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA)

The coronavirus pandemic has tested our economies, our healthcare systems, and our mental stability. It is even testing our traditional moral theories. In this paper, I subject two major moral theories to the process of reflective equilibrium. I conclude that neither Kant’s ethics nor utilitarianism can accommodate our moral intuitions when it comes to allocating medical resources in times of scarcity. When COVID-infected patients need more ICU beds and ventilators than we have and everyone needs a vaccine, we prioritize some people over others while simultaneously respecting their equal right to medical care. This places seemingly incompatible demands on us to treat people the same, maximize positive outcomes, and promote justice. If we have these duties, and if utilitarianism or Kant’s ethics alone can only justify some of them, then this inadequacy lends support to the idea that we need to combine the two approaches. Reflecting on their shortcomings during the pandemic also gives us some guidance about what a successful hybrid theory would look like.

A Kantian Response to Intergenerational Conflicts in Climate Change

Konstantin  Pollok

(Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Germany)

Over the past two decades a growing number of philosophers have become concerned about the ethical implications of global climate change. In this talk, I will argue that since climate change is an essentially backloaded phenomenon and entails what Stephen Gardiner calls a perfect moral storm, some members of the global community may claim what Kant has described as a “supposed” right of necessity (ius necessitatis). Assuming that the available options for dealing with climate change within a realistic timeframe have shifted from mitigation to adaptation and vulnerability reduction, I will focus on the intergenerational conflict created by our present reluctance to take sufficient action: In the very near future, one generation will face the tragic choice between dying from the effects of climate change or sacrificing millions of lives of a successor generation by shielding themselves from those deadly effects. In anticipation of this tragic choice, and thus in an attempt to preempt its consequences, I invoke a modified version of Kant’s right of necessity. More specifically, premised on the fact that benefits and burdens from CO2 emissions are spatio-temporally unevenly distributed across the globe and the generational sequence, parts of the current generation must disproportionately bear the costs of adaptation to climate change in order to forestall other parts of the same generation’s right of necessity (i.e., “coercion without a right;” AA 6:234). To some, the threat of a potential legal vacuum (state of nature?), or at least the temporal suspension of what Kant treats under the rubrics of international and cosmopolitan right, may come rather unsurprising. However, Kant’s view of the problem seems to license some extreme measures (e.g. concerning climate refugees) that many members of affluent societies might not be prepared to accept.

Digital Technology: Why Kantian Reflections on the Difference Between Instrumental Rationality and Practical Reason Matter

Ludwig Nagl

(University of Vienna, Austria)

Evidently, machine-instantiated algorithms prove useful in many regards. They execute a sub-segment of Kant´s complex conception of praxis: “imperatives of skill” (or “instrumental” rationality in Horkheimer´s/Adorno´s terms). This sub-segment is not praxis in its entirety, however. It is, thus, of utmost importance (as Dieter Mersch pointed out, in 2019, in Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie) to define AI with reference to “rationality”, rather than “reason”, in order to make visible the operative character of algorithmic processes and to distinguish them from human logos.

Algorithms are ensembles of tools that are in need of human control: this is the core idea of Julian Nida-Rümelin´s “Digital Humanism” (2018), his critical analysis, i.e., of excessive “post-humanist” – utopian or dystopian – ideas about AI (like the ones that Ray Kurzweil and Nick Bostrom formulated). Nida-Rümelin´s thought – the paper argues – is inspired, in part, by Kant´s conception of autonomy; his take on ethics can be further improved, however, in recourse to Barbara Herman´s Kant-based analysis of The Practice of Moral Judgment, and Allen Wood´s reflections on Humanity as End in itself.

Kant’s Moral Interpretation of Religion
and Its Potential for the Resolution of Religious Conflicts

Sergej V. Lugovoy

(Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University, Kaliningrad)

Modern Russian society is multi-confessional. In 2020, monitoring of the state of interethnic relations and the religious situation in the Russian Federation recorded a low level of tension in almost all of its regions, conflict situations were isolated. However, there is a risk of religious conflicts. The role of religion in socio-political conflicts in Russia of the current decade has been analyzed by G. Rogochaya, V. Dobrenkov, M. Odintsov, Yu. Antonyan, D. Furman and others. All of them state that within the framework of Russian political, religious, sociological, and conflict research, the study of religious conflicts is at the initial stage of formation, and they recommend using an interdisciplinary approach in order to avoid a one-sided view of the problem. I argue that the ideas formulated in Kant’s philosophy of religion will be useful in developing a methodology for this approach. Given that from the point of view of Kant, every historical religion has a moral essence that is universally valid for all people (“pure rational faith”), conflicts arise only because of the more contingent components of religion. In matters of faith, he recommends to be guided by conscience, that is, to compare our intentions with the categorical imperative of morality. For Kant, all faiths have subjective reliability; therefore, each person has to arrive at true religion independently from one another, and violent conversion is pointless. Attempts to regulate religious relations without taking into account morality from the Kantian point of view are ineffective, since the reforms of purely external legal legislation do not affect the internal moral essence of religion. On the contrary, moral education, promoting mutual understanding between people, reduces the likelihood of any conflicts, including religious ones.

Naturalizing Kant

Philip Kitcher

(Columbia University, New York, NY)

The third formulation of the categorical imperative offers a vision of morality as something legislated by human beings.  Kant’s articulation of this idea involves a number of idealizations.  The system of morality is to be built up from scratch. The legislators are equivalent and interchangeable — all are expected to agree on the moral laws. Each legislator serves as both authority and subject — ruler of the kingdom of ends and citizen. Autonomy is complete. In the one major attempt to develop a Kantian morality along these lines, Rawls hews closely to these idealizations. Thus there’s no real deliberation, simply a single abstract subject behind the veil of ignorance, one who can stand for all. After setting up this picture, I shall explore the consequences of dropping the idealizations in favor of a more realistic view. The legislative process is collective, not the work of any single individual. The task is not to arrive at a complete and final morality but to improve what has been passed on to the present generation. Autonomy is always compromised by the need for socialization, but we may aim to provide equivalent autonomy for all.  Deliberation is central, and, rather than excluding the details of rival perspectives, the enterprise must come to terms with all of them. Out of this emerges a method for moral advance (elaborated in my forthcoming Moral progress). After showing how this method has linkages (perhaps weak ones) to themes in Kant, I’ll close by contrasting the view of moral theory as seeking systematic principles with a rival view that takes methodology as central.