Saturday, July 29, 2006

Cambridge Companions

The Cambridge Companions to Philosophy are now online. This includes the "Companion to Kant", edited by Paul Guyer (1992), the "Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy", also edited by Paul Guyer (2006), and the "Companion to German Idealism", edited by Karl Ameriks (2000) (the last collection is mostly concerned with post-Kantian stuff, but it also includes some papers on Kant, in particular one by Allen Wood on Kant's practical philosophy).

Monday, July 24, 2006


I recently heard about a new research centre dedicated to Kant scholarship, namely the "Zentrum für Kommentarische Interpretationen zu Kant (ZetKIK)" at the Universität Siegen. This centre is concerned with detailed exegetical study of Kant's works and is run by Prof. Dr. Dieter Schönecker.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Transcendental Turn

At the end of September there is going to be a conference on "The History of the Transcendental Turn", organised by the Transcendental Philosophy and Naturalism project that is based at the University of Essex. The programme is now available online. This conference will take place on 29 & 30 September in London and I am sure that it will definitely be the highlight of the year.

Speakers include:
Henry Allison
Paul Guyer
Robert Pippin
So far, I have attended one event organised by the TPN, namely the Kant-workshop at Essex in January. The workshop was interesting and enjoyable. Three of the papers presented are available online. Joel Smith has blogged about the Kant-workshop at the TPN blog. The conference in September will mark the end of the 'historical' phase of the project. I am looking forward to the 'thematic' phase that is planned for next year.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Kant conference

Last week, I attended the 3rd UK Kant Society Graduate conference in Hertfordshire, where I presented my paper on the Refutation of Idealism. It was a very enjoyable and interesting conference.

On Thursday, Marcia Baron gave a lecture on ‘Overdetermined Actions, Imperfect Duties and Moral Worth’. She returned to some of the claims that she had made regarding overdetermination in her book Kantian Ethics Almost Without Apology. She examined whether it would be possible to have overdetermination in the case of imperfect duties, arguing that this was not possible since we cannot act out of duty in cases of imperfect duty. To act out of duty is to perform an action because reason commands it, but in the case of imperfect duties reason does not command us to perform any particular action and hence no particular action can be performed out of duty. We can only take up a general maxim to act out of duty and then act in particular cases in accordance with this maxim. The discussion was concerned with the relation between Allen Wood's and Marcia Baron's accounts of acting out of duty.

On Friday, we heard an interesting talk by Karl Ameriks about ‘Reality and Religion in the Development of Kant’s Ethics’, with comments provided by Graham Bird. Ameriks discussed the relation between Kant's pre-Critical and Critical account of ethics, focusing in particular on the Lectures on Ethics. He critically assessed Manfred Kühn's recent account of the relation between pre-Critical and Critical ethics, discussing the notions of 'respect', 'moral interest', and 'faculty of desire' (Begehrungsvermögen). The main question was whether there was a move from a more empirical and less rationalistic conception of ethics in the pre-Critical period, to a less empirical and more rationalistic conception in the Critical period. Ameriks argued for certain asymmetries between practical and theoretical philosophy in the Critical period. Transcendental idealism allowed Kant to keep his strongly rationalistic conception of ethics by making room for freedom. Accordingly, there are no analogous restrictions on practical philosophy as those imposed on theoretical philosophy by the critical approach. The discussion focused to a great extent on this issue and in particular on the problem to what extent reason can be seen to be 'properly practical' independently of sensibility, as Ameriks claims.

The graduate papers were of high quality. Unfortunately, there was not much on Kant's theoretical philosophy, but there were two very interesting papers on Kant's ethics by David Dick on 'The Stoic Archer and Kant's Target' and by Jappa Pallikkathayil on 'Consent and the Formula of Humanity'.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Was Lewis a Kantian?

I recently received my copy of Lewisian Themes. This is a very nice collection that includes an interesting article by Rae Langton entitled "Elusive Knowledge of Things in Themselves". In her article, Langton compares Lewis's argument for epistemic humility, i.e. the thesis that we do not have knowledge of things in themselves, that we do not know the intrinsic properties of objects, with Kant's argument for humility, as interpreted by Langton.

Lewis's argument is motivated by Ramseyan reasons, namely that if "T [the complete and final theory of the world] is multiply realizable, then some fundamental properties are hidden from us" (p. 132). More carefully, we cannot use observation to identify which realisation of T is actual. This is because no matter how T is realised, any evidence available to us could only provide us with support for the Ramsey sentence of T. Our knowledge of the fundamental properties is only knowledge of them as role-occupants and Lewis says that "to the extent that we know of the properties of things only as role-occupants, we have not yet identified those properties. No amount of knowledge about what roles are occupied will tell us which properties occupy which roles." Lewis believes that there are indeed multiple realisations of T on the basis of his permutation argument and replacement argument. According to the permutation argument, we can permute fundamental properties and the laws governing them that feature in T while leaving the rest fixed, thereby bringing about a scenario that differs at the fundamental level but is cognitively indistinguishable to us since all the original roles are occupied. This needs to be qualified in that the permutation argument relies on combinatorialism and quidditism (cf. p. 132 footnote). (For a criticism of quidditism cf. J. Schaffer's paper "Quiddistic Knowledge" also in Lewisian Themes.) The replacement argument invokes the idea of replacing the fundamental properties with 'idlers' or 'aliens', i.e. fundamental properties that play no active role and do thus not feature in T. Again, the fundamental level is different but in such a way that it does not affect the roles being occupied.

Though leading to a similar conclusion as Langton's Kant, the arguments are quite different since the "Kantian answer to the epistemological question depends not on the multiple realizability of realizers, but on a kind of receptivity of knowledge, and a kind of irreducibility of causal power" (p. 134). Langton then discusses to what extent a contextualist epistemology (as outlined in Lewis's paper "Elusive knowledge" (1996)) can help us overcome our ignorance of things in themselves. While such a strategy may be reasonably successful in dealing with Ramseyan humility insofar as we might be properly discounting alternatives, this does not apply to Kantian humility since it is not based on there being alternative realisations of the role properties. The Kantian argument "did not exploit the idea of possibilities that fail to be ruled out be our evidence" (p. 136) and can thus not be dealt with by means of a contextualist strategy according to which we can properly ignore certain possibilities when we are in the right contexts.

(A detailed discussion and criticism of some of the technicalities of Lewis's argument can be found in "Humean Humility?" by S. Leuenberger.)