Kant's Science of the Moral World and Moral Objectivity
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CitationPalatnik, Nataliya. 2015. Kant's Science of the Moral World and Moral Objectivity. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractKant’s Science of the Moral World and Moral Objectivity
Critics of Kant's moral philosophy often object that it cannot account for moral requirements that are both genuinely objective and contentful. Notwithstanding the long history of this dispute, Kantians have been unable to put these objections to rest. I argue that we can answer these objections and fully understand Kantian moral objectivity only if we consider Kant’s moral philosophy in light of his methodological and architectonic concerns.
My dissertation takes up this task by providing a new account of Kant’s conception of moral theory as a philosophical science: Kant’s moral philosophy, I argue, appropriates the central features of the then revolutionary method of Newtonian natural science for the investigation of practical cognition. Just as Newtonian science begins with a priori (largely mathematical) principles and then gradually "comes down to" particular concrete physics, so too Kantian moral philosophy begins with general a priori moral principles that then gradually translate into a system of particular requirements. The objectivity of the content of our practical thought develops as the background conditions of moral deliberation become progressively more inter-subjectively justifiable. This progress is possible only through co-deliberation and collective action demanded by the duty to make morality fully efficacious in our shared social world, that is, the duty to promote the highest good.
My account highlights the attractiveness of Kant’s conception of the relationship between a priori and empirical aspects of practical thought, between theory and practice, and enables its systematic defense against objections by later German Idealists, particularly by Hegel. I argue that Hegel’s polemic against Kant's account of morality is fundamentally a disagreement about the nature of philosophical science and its method, and adjudicating between their views requires adjudicating the methodological dispute itself. I offer a systematic assessment of the methodological grounds of Hegel’s approach and of his critique of Kant’s moral philosophy. I argue that (1) Hegel’s approach does not, on the whole, present a viable alternative to Kant’s moral theory and (2) Hegel’s challenge can be met, but only by appealing to developmental or genetic aspects of Kant’s conception of moral objectivity grounded in his views on the proper method and form of a philosophical science. I show that these aspects of Kant’s thought, generally overlooked by commentators and Kantian theorists, are indispensable to his moral theory and provide a basis for a fruitful engagement with contemporary issues in moral philosophy, such as questions about the nature and role of imperfect duties.
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