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'.


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