Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason: Background Source Materials. Cambridge University Press. Edited and Translated by Michael Walschots. (forthcoming April 2024)
Christian Wolff’s German Ethics: New Essays. Oxford University Press. Edited by Sonja Schierbaum, Michael Walschots, and John Walsh. (forthcoming March 2024)
'Incentives of the Mind: Kant and Baumgarten on the Impelling Causes of Desire.' Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie. (forthcoming) [preprint]
In this paper I propose to shed new light on the role of feeling in Kant’s psychology of moral motivation by focusing on the concept of an incentive (Triebfeder), a term he borrowed from one of his most important rationalist predecessors, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten. I argue that, similar to Baumgarten, Kant understands an incentive to refer to the ground of desire and that feelings function as a specific kind of ground within Kant’s psychology of moral action, namely as the ‘impelling cause’ of desire. I claim that this interpretation has several advantages over the alternatives currently on offer in the literature.
'The Rationality of Love: Benevolence and Complacence in Kant and Hutcheson.' Ergo 10 (40), 2023, pg. 1133–56. [published version – open access]
Kant claims that love ‘is a matter of feeling,’ which has led many of his interpreters to argue that he conceives of love as solely a matter of feeling, that is, as a purely pathological state. In this paper I challenge this reading by taking another one of Kant’s claims seriously, namely that all love is either benevolence or complacence and that both are rational. I place Kant’s distinction between benevolence and complacence next to the historical inspiration for it, namely Francis Hutcheson’s very similar distinction, in order to argue that love is rational, for Kant, in that it requires certain rational capacities on the part of the agent. I conclude by illustrating that this has important implications for how we understand Kant’s conception of love more generally.
In Chapter 8 of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and the Method of Metaphysics, one of Gabriele Gava’s aims is to argue that Kant’s critique of Wolff’s dogmatic method has two levels: one directed against Wolff’s metaphilosophical views and one attacking his actual procedures of argument. After providing a brief summary of the main claims Gava makes in Chapter 8 of his book, in this paper I argue two things. First, I argue against Gava’s claim that the two forms of dogmatism he distinguished between are incompatible. Second, I suggest, contrary to Gava, that Kant’s critique of these two forms of dogmatism both take place from the metaphilosophical level in the sense that they both target the dogmatist’s beliefs or theory about the method they take themselves to be following.
‘The Volitional Contradiction Interpretation of Kant’s Formula of Universal Law: A Response to Kleingeld.’ Philosophia 51 (2), 2023, pg. 483– 97. [published version - open access]
In this paper I critically engage with Pauline Kleingeld’s ‘volitional self-contradiction’ interpretation of Kant’s formula of universal law. I make three remarks: first, I seek to clarify what it means for a contradiction to be volitional as opposed to logical; second, I suggest that her interpretation might need to be closer to Korsgaard’s ‘practical contradiction’ interpretation than she thinks; and third, I suggest that more work needs to be done to explain how a volitional self-contradiction generates both a ‘contradiction in conception’ and a ‘contradiction in will.’
Several interpreters argue that Kant believes we have a duty to act “from duty.” If there is such a duty, however, then Kant’s moral theory faces a serious problem, namely that of an allegedly vicious infinite regress of duties. No serious attempt has been made to determine how Kant might respond to this problem and insufficient work has been done to determine whether he even believes we have a duty to act from duty. In this paper I argue that not only does Kant not hold that there is a duty to act from duty, but he also explicitly rejects the idea.
In this article I argue both that Hutcheson has a theory of obligation that is different in important ways from the views of his predecessors and that his theory may not be as problematic as critics have claimed. After brieﬂy sketching a picture of the rich conceptual landscape surrounding the concept of obligation in the Early Modern period, I offer an account of Hutcheson’s theory of obligation. Not only does Hutcheson have a view on what previous ﬁgures called the source, end, and object of obligation, I illustrate that he focuses on the epistemological question of the origin of the idea of obligation, and he conceives of the necessity involved in obligation in a unique way, namely in terms of the necessity of a perception. I conclude by defending Hutcheson’s theory against three objections.
This paper argues that Kant’s concept of ‘respect’ (Achtung) for the moral law has roots in Adam Smith’s concept of ‘regard’ for the general rules of conduct, which was translated as Achtung in the first German translation of the Theory of Moral Sentiments. After illustrating that Kant’s technical understanding of respect appeared relatively late in his intellectual development, I argue that Kant’s concept of respect and Smith’s concept of regard share a basic similarity: they are both a single complex phenomenon with two core aspects, namely an attitude and a feeling. I then suggest that the concept of regard offered Kant a way to deal a problem concerning moral motivation that he was trying to solve at the time he likely first read Smith. I conclude by drawing some implications from the account I have offered for our understanding of Kant’s relation to Smith more generally.
Commentators disagree about the extent to which Kant’s ethics is compatible with consequentialism. A question that has not yet been asked is whether Kant had a view of his own regarding the fundamental difference between his ethical theory and a broadly consequentialist one. In this paper I argue that Kant does have such a view. I illustrate this by discussing his response to a well-known objection to his moral theory, namely that Kant offers an implicitly consequentialist theory of moral appraisal. This objection was most famously raised by Mill and Schopenhauer, but also during Kant’s time by Pistorius and Tittel. I show that Kant’s response to this objection in the second Critique illustrates that he sees the fundamental difference between his moral theory and a broadly consequentialist one to be one that concerns methodology.
In the first ever commentary on the Groundwork, one of Kant’s earliest critics, Gottlob August Tittel, argues that the categorical imperative is not a new principle of morality, but merely a new formula. This objection has been unjustly neglected in the secondary literature, despite the fact that Kant explicitly responds to it in a footnote in the second Critique. In this paper I seek to offer a thorough explanation of both Tittel’s ‘new formula’ objection and Kant’s response to it, as well as illustrate its significance. I argue that the objection is in fact the third step in a line of argument that Tittel presents in his commentary, and that the objection is best understood within this context. I analyze Kant’s response in the second Critique footnote line-by-line so as to show that Kant both clarifies that it was never his aim to offer a new principle, but only ‘establish’ the principle that common human reason already implicitly employs. Furthermore, I show that Kant uses the opportunity to clarify the sense in which the categorical imperative is a ‘formula [Formel]’, namely as a representation of a complicated and abstract principle, like the moral law, in a way that is easier to understand and apply. I conclude by illustrating the fourth step in Tittel’s line of argument, which makes the overall significance of the ‘new formula’ objection clear: for Tittel, the problem is not that Kant seems to be offering merely a new formula, but that the categorical imperative lacks a foundation.
This paper gives an account of Kant’s concept of self-contentment (Selbstzufriedenheit), i.e. the satisfaction involved in the performance of moral action. This concept is vulnerable to an important objection: if moral action is satisfying, it might only ever be performed for the sake of this satisfaction. I explain Kant’s response to this objection and argue that it is superior to Francis Hutcheson’s response to a similar objection. I conclude by showing that two other notions of moral satisfaction in Kant’s moral philosophy, namely ‘sweet merit’ and the highest good, also avoid the objection.
Chapters in Edited Volumes
'Wolff on the Duty to Cognize Good and Evil.' In Christian Wolff's German Ethics: New Essays. Edited by Sonja Schierbaum, Michael Walschots, and John Walsh. Oxford University Press. (forthcoming) [preprint]
In this chapter I offer an account of the nature, scope, and significance of Wolff’s claim that human beings have a duty to cognize moral good and evil. I illustrate that Wolff conceives of this duty as requiring that human beings both acquire distinct cognition of good and evil as well as avoid ignorance and error. Although Wolff intends for the duty to be quite demanding, he restricts its scope by, among other things, claiming it primarily concerns those who have the skills, circumstances, and opportunity to acquire such cognition. Wolff calls these individuals the ‘inventors’ of the truths of morality and he considers himself to be such an inventor. I argue that part of the significance of this duty lies in the fact that Wolff conceives of himself as living up to it by writing the German Ethics, thereby sharing the knowledge he has ‘invented’ with others.
(with Sonja Schierbaum) ‘Necessitation, Constraint, and Reluctant Action: Obligation in Wolff, Baumgarten, and Kant’. In Baumgarten and Kant on the Foundations of Practical Philosophy. Edited by C. Fugate and J. Hymers. Oxford University Press. (forthcoming) [preprint]
Our aim in this paper is to present the distinct ways in which Wolff, Baumgarten, and Kant understand the relationship between necessitation, constraint, and reluctant action in an effort to illustrate the subtle ways in which their conceptions of obligation differ from each another. Whereas Wolff conceives of natural or moral obligation as incompatible with constraint, Baumgarten holds that constraint and reluctant action are, in some instances, compatible with natural obligation. Kant departs from Baumgarten by conceiving of obligation as necessarily involving constraint: as Kant’s reply to Schiller’s famous objection reveals, obligation must take on the character of constraint to reluctant action on account of the fact that human beings possess inclinations that always threaten to impel them in directions that oppose morality.
This chapter illustrates that Lambert’s works focus not only on mathematical and scientific topics but include reflections on issues in practical philosophy as well. I illustrate, first, that Lamber conceives of moral science [Moral] as the theory of moral judgement and, second, that an important part of this science illustrates how we are to distinguish moral truth from moral illusion.
This chapter offers an account of Crusius’ conception of freedom. In the first part of the chapter I sketch Crusius’ understanding of ‘Thelematology’ or ‘science of the will’ and his conception of the will itself. In the second part of the paper I provide an account of Crusius’ conception of freedom of the will and I focus on two topics: his understanding of freedom as self-determination and his conception of free choice. Contrary to how some of the secondary literature portrays his view, I argue that freedom of the will, for Crusius, is not best described as the freedom to choose otherwise or liberty of indifference. On the contrary, Crusius argues that free choice is rarely indifferent to its choices and is most often strongly inclined towards certain ends that free choice must overcome and choose against.
In this chapter I evaluate whether Garve was a ‘eudaimonist’, as Kant famously alleged he was. In the first sections of the paper I clarify that eudaimonism can mean either that happiness is the final end of creation, or that human beings are always motived by the desire for happiness, and I discuss Garve’s engagement with Aristotle’s understanding of eudaimonia. I then provide an account of Garve’s understanding of happiness and discuss his theory of motivation before arguing that Garve believes that happiness is both the final end of creation and ultimate end of all human action. I suggest, however, that although Garve is an egoist of sorts, he should not be classified as a hedonist.
My primary aim in this paper is thus to clarify Kant’s conception of self-contentment [Selbstzufriedenheit]. I do so by placing the term in the context of Kant’s answer to the objection that virtuous action is only performed in order to experience the feeling of satisfaction that results from so acting, which was put to Kant by his contemporary Christian Garve. I begin by illustrating the main features of Kant’s concept of self-contentment before turning to Garve’s objection and Kant’s response to it. I conclude by clarifying the differences between self-contentment, respect for the moral law, and Kant’s concept of moral pleasure.
This chapter gives an account of Hutcheson's conception of the moral sense. This sense is a perceptive faculty that explains our ability both to feel a particular kind of pleasure upon perceiving benevolence, and to appraise such benevolence as morally good on the basis of this feeling. The chapter summarizes Kant's discussion of the moral sense during his pre-Critical period. It explores the main reason why Kant rejects the moral sense as the foundation of moral judgment—namely, because it is incapable of issuing sufficiently universal and necessary judgments of moral good and evil. The chapter also argues that underlying Kant's rejection of the moral sense is the fact that he understands the faculty not as a "sense" proper, but as a "feeling" according to his technical understanding of these terms. It concludes by briefly evaluating what my analysis says about Kant's engagement with Hutcheson.
‘Ernest Sosa and Virtuously Begging the Question.' In Argumentation: Cognition and Community: Proceedings of the 9th Biennial Conference of the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation. Edited by Frank Zenker. OSSA: Ontario, 2011. [published version - open access]
This paper discusses the notion of epistemic circularity, supposedly different from logical circularity, and evaluates Ernest Sosa’s claim that this specific kind of circular reasoning is virtuous rather than vicious. I attempt to determine whether or not the conditions said to make epistemic circularity a permissible instance of begging the question could make other instances of circular reasoning equally permissible.
The primary method of evaluation in philosophy courses (both undergraduate and graduate) is usually some form of research paper or essay. There is an assumption, however, that the only kind of essay that philosophy students need to learn how to write is the argumentative essay. Indeed, philosophy instructors often consider other forms of writing less significant. This is a detailed plan for a workshop that intends to break down these assumptions by introducing participants (faculty and graduate students) to a variety of essay styles, and to other forms of practical writing that ought to be a part of undergraduate philosophy coursework. The goal of this workshop is to encourage instructors to create more purposeful and creative writing assignments in their own future courses.