PAST KRL LECTURES
September 30, 2021: Adam Cureton (Knoxville, TN): Autonomy and the Interests of Reason (6.00-8.00pm CET/Kaliningrad Time)
In a book I am writing, my aim is to draw on Kant and on commonsense to work towards a partial conception of reason that stands in reflective equilibrium with these dual sources. The book explores Kant’s many statements, offhand remarks, examples, and other claims throughout his major and minor works for clues about how to partially characterize our ordinary ideas of reason. These texts reveal a conception of reason that is more substantial and richer than what is typically attributed to Kant. Core features of this conception also match well with commonsense usages of reason, reasons, reasonableness, and related terms. Three, perhaps surprising, themes in Kant’s thinking about reason are that reason is a sovereign capacity with legislative, executive, and judicial powers, that this capacity includes many formal and substantive interests that rational people necessarily care about, such as equality, freedom, happiness, solidarity, knowledge, and respect, and that these first two themes find connection in the idea that reason legislates, executes, and adjudicates laws that are justifiable to everyone in virtue of our many formal and substantive interests of reason. My reflective equilibrium method, however, cannot show that a resulting theory of this sort is true or deeply justified. And, even though Kant discusses the idea of reason as a governing power with substantive interests that help to determine what principles it legislates, these themes in his thinking might not be part of his considered philosophical theory or of the best interpretation or rational reconstruction of it. In this presentation, I will outline the methods, aims, and limits of my project, discuss some of its special highlights, and illustrate its three main themes with some substantive interests of reason that Kant discusses along with some laws of reason that those interests favor when combined with the Categorical Imperative.
June 24, 2021: Alex John London, Adam Björndahl & Kevin Zollman (Pittsburgh): Kantian Decision Making Under Uncertainty: Dignity, Price and Consistency (6.00-8.00pm CET/Kaliningrad Time)
The idea that there is a fundamental difference in value between persons and things, and that respecting this difference is an important moral requirement, has strong intuitive appeal. Kantian ethics is unique in placing this requirement at the center of a moral system and in explicating the conditions for complying with it. Unlike challenges to Kantian ethics that focus on tragic cases that pit respect for one person against respect for another, this talk focuses on the question of how we can respect the value distinction between persons and things under conditions of uncertainty. After exploring why decision making under uncertainty is a neglected topic among Kantians and demonstrating how uncertainty challenges our ability to comply with this norm, we review the notion of morally insignificant risk that we proposed in our 2017 paper and discuss the challenges for frameworks seeking to help agents navigate real-world decisions involving material benefit and some risk to dignity without violating the Kantian’s core commitments.
June 10, 2021: Alexandra Mudd (Santiago / Chile): Both the law and the good: A no-priority approach to Kant’s ethics (6.00-8.00pm CET/Kaliningrad Time)
In this paper I offer an analysis of the contemporary debate between law-first and value-first readings of Kant’s ethics. I argue that it assumes a metaphysical asymmetric grounding relation between the moral law and the worth of rational nature, according to which there is a strict priority relation between the two. I further argue that this assumption comes at a high a cost: either one must explain away the apparent priority Kant accords to whichever term is taken to be derivative or else admit a vicious circularity at the heart of Kant’s ethics. Instead of accepting this dilemma, I sketch a different interpretive approach that aims to take at face value the shifting, symmetric explanatory dependence relations Kant articulates between the law and the good. According to my ‘no-priority’ interpretation, the moral law and the unconditional worth of rational nature are not distinct conditions that stand in an asymmetric relation of metaphysical dependence, as the debate assumes, but instead are two different guises or expressions of our unconditioned practical freedom. This interpretation is based on Kant’s distinctive conception of transcendental freedom understood as an idea of reason whose object is unconditioned. Via this approach we can allow that the reality of the moral law explains the worth of rational nature in certain contexts, while the worth of rational nature explains the reality of the law in others, just as Kant himself maintains, yet we need not commit ourselves to the controversial claim that metaphysical grounding is symmetric.
April 15, 2021: Eric Watkins & Joe Stratmann (San Diego): Kant on the Principle of Sufficient Reason (6.00-8.00pm CET/Kaliningrad Time)
In this paper, we discuss Kant’s complex attitude toward the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). We do so, in part, by considering how Kant’s position emerges in response to Christian Wolff, who articulates a “logicist” version of Leibniz’s PSR, and Christian August Crusius, who both rejects Wolff’s logicist version of the PSR and restricts its scope so as to allow for libertarian freedom. On the one hand, Kant takes a critical attitude toward the PSR. (1) He restricts its scope by allowing for the existence of entities that he calls “unconditioned”, that is, things that are not conditioned and thus lack a reason or explanation. This is, in fact, exactly how he conceives not only of freedom (along the lines of Crusius), but also of other objects of traditional metaphysics, such as God and the soul. (2) Further, Kant does not think that the principle is true as an epistemic principle (in terms of what we can cognize). For he maintains that we cannot cognize the absolute totality of the conditions (or reasons) of any given appearance. Put in less Kantian terms, he thinks that we cannot give a complete explanation of what we encounter in the world. (3) Kant thinks that the principle, improperly used by Transcendental Realists, can give rise to transcendental illusion, which can mislead us into accepting fallacious arguments concerning the objects of traditional metaphysics. As a result, Kant places significant restrictions on the scope of the PSR; it does not apply to the objects of traditional metaphysics, which are unconditioned, and it comes into conflict with the limitations of our cognitive capacities (especially our sensibility) such that we cannot cognize the objects of traditional metaphysics. On the other hand, Kant’s attitude toward the PSR is also quite positive. For he explicitly claims that reason demands that if something conditioned exists, then all of its conditions and thus the unconditioned must also exist, and that this demand, properly understood, is appropriate. Specifically, we argue that reason’s demand is legitimate in a two-fold sense. First, it warrants the use of regulative principles, that is, principles that organize our cognitions and direct our understanding toward further cognitions. Second, it is itself a genuine metaphysical principle that must be true of things in general (even though one must be careful about applying it to appearances so as not to be misled by transcendental illusion). On our view, then, Kant represents a nuanced intermediate position between the two extremes of flat-out endorsement and complete rejection.
April 1, 2021: Karl Schafer (Irvine): Kant on Reason as the Capacity for Comprehension (6.00-8.00pm CET/Kaliningrad Time)
In this talk, I develop an interpretation of Kant’s conception of the faculty of reason – namely, that this faculty, in both its theoretical and its practical forms, can be thought of as the capacity for what Kant calls “comprehension” (Begreifen). In developing this account, I first discuss how Kant conceives of the relationship between what he views as the two highest forms of cognition – namely, (i) insight and (ii) comprehension, the second of which Kant defines in terms of insight which is sufficient to our purposes. Then I discuss how the idea of reason as the capacity for comprehension relates to the more familiar characterizations of reason as the faculty for inference and the faculty of principles. In doing so, I focus on how Kant’s conception of reason as aiming at comprehension expresses the modesty about reason’s scope which he takes to be essential to the critical philosophy. I conclude by showing how this conception of reason provides the basis for an elegant account of the unity of theoretical and practical reason in Kant, which does justice both to the manner in which Kant assigns “primacy” to practical reason over theoretical reason and the fact that this “primacy” is ultimately grounded in a more basic unity.
March 18, 2021: Tobias Rosefeldt (Berlin): In What Sense Does Practical Reason Give a Law to Itself? (6.00-8.00pm CET/7:00-9:00 Kaliningrad Time)
A central part of Kant’s ethics of autonomy is the claim that a human being is ‘subject only to his own, but still universal legislation, and that he is bound only to act in conformity with his own, though universally legislating, will’ (4:432). This claim seems to create what is known as the ‘paradox of autonomy’: How can moral laws be universally and unconditionally binding if their validity depends on an act of self-legislation? Pauline Kleingeld and Marcus Willaschek have recently suggested that we can avoid the paradox of autonomy by distinguishing between the highest principle of morality – the Moral Law –, which is expressed by the categorical imperative, and substantive moral laws, such as the universal prohibition of lying. They argue that whereas the latter laws are indeed self-legislated in some sense, we neither need nor should interpret Kant as claiming that the Moral Law itself is autonomous in the sense of being grounded in an act of self-legislation. It is rather a fundamental principle of practical reason that is not grounded in anything else at all. Although I share a lot of sympathy for Kleingeld’s and Willaschek’s ingenious proposal, I think that both for textual and systematic reasons Kant has to assume that not only moral laws but also the Moral Law is ‘self-given’ or autonomous at least in some sense, even if not in the sense of being grounded in any actual or counterfactual act of self-legislation. I will argue that the relevant sense is the one in which Kant thought that certain human faculties, rather than human agents, can be taken to be autonomous. Higher mental faculties in general, and the will in particular, are autonomous if what is usually only their form becomes their own content.
March 11, 2021: Marcus Willaschek (Frankfurt): The Structure of Normative Space: Kant’s System of Rational Principles (6.00-8.00pm CET/7:00-9:00 Kaliningrad Time)
This paper discusses Kant’s system of rational principles. Even though Kant himself never explicitly mentions such a system, I hope to show in what follows that thinking about the content and shape of such a system in Kant’s philosophy is a worthwhile project that raises interesting new questions and that allows us to approach traditional questions of Kant scholarship from a new angle. In particular, it offers a novel perspective on Kant’s account of normativity and on what might be called the structure of normative space – that is, the question of how, according to Kant, normative requirements in different domains and of different generality are related to each other. My claim will be that the structure of normative space, according to Kant, is given by his system of the principles of reason. After briefly explaining Kant’s account of obligation (2), I will turn to his system of rational principles (3). In particular, I will discuss the supreme principles of morality, right and ethics (4), the principles of theoretical reason (5), and the unity of theoretical and practical reason (6), before offering a possible table of rational principles (7) and finally returning to the normativity of values, reasons, and standards other than rational principles (8). All this will be in an exploratory spirit, not in order to settle the questions I will be raising, but rather to suggest that they can fruitfully be addressed within an investigation into Kant’s system of rational principles.
February 25, 2021: Sophie Möller (Frankfurt): Kant on Reason, Law and Normativity (6.00-8.00pm CET/7:00-9:00 Kaliningrad Time)
Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason surprises many readers with an extended use of metaphors drawing on legal theory and practice. In this talk, I will explore the parallels between the Critique of Pure Reason and the establishment of a civil condition in natural right theory. These parallels show how Kant’s conception of reason’s normativity is ingrained in an extensive legal framework by focusing on two images: the one portraying the critique as the tribunal of reason and the one depicting the critique as the establishment of a rightful condition which is analogous to the establishment of a civil state. These images show that Kant’s account of a priori laws is not merely a colorful way of expressing a new philosophical approach; he is building an entire normative framework around a legal structure. In addition, the state of nature metaphor shows how the critique aims to provide a procedure for ending conflicts in metaphysics and thereby establish perpetual peace in philosophy.
February 4, 2021: Katrin Flikschuh (London): Kant’s Innate Right: A Critical Reading (6.00-8.00pm CET/7:00-9:00 Kaliningrad Time)
Kant’s statement of innate right in the “Doctrine of Right” is notoriously obscure. In part for this reason, interpreters have tended to set the innate right aside in order to focus on other, though often no less obscure aspects of DR. More recently, an interpretive trend has established itself, according to which the innate right affirms a basic right to freedom of choice and action that supplies the basis, in turn, for the derivation of all other rights in DR. I shall call this the “free choice reading.” Although there is some textual support for it, its chief appeal is that it brings Kant’s political thinking closer to current intuitions about freedom and rights. Moreover, this intuitive approach allows one to sidestep Kant’s contentious critical or transcendental idealist method of analysis and justification. I shall argue that the view of innate right as sketched is substantively and methodologically misguided. Substantively, the innate right affirms, not a right to free choice, but the principle of reciprocally equal legal accountability. Methodologically, rather than supplying the justificatory basis for acquired right, the vindication of innate right in fact depends on that of acquired right. Although the proposed reading requires quite detailed engagement with an admittedly highly obscure line of analysis in DR, I shall suggest that reading innate right counter-intuitively and, indeed, critically, pays substantive dividends with regard to our understanding of the morality of right.
January 14, 2021: Catherine Wilson (Berlin): Kant and the “Interests of Reason”
The notion of ‘interests of reason’ is both original in Kant and central to his philosophy. Kant was fully aware of the paradoxical formulation of this phrase. Reason is supposed to be impersonal, disinterested, objective, and accepting of the facts no matter how inconvenient or unpleasant they are. An entity’s interests, by contrast, are self-serving, and normally pursued with affect and obtained with joy. But this notion of the interests of reason was the heavy instrument of Kant’s attempted breakthrough. This talk will first explore how and why the ‘critique’ of pure reason was preliminary to the establishment of interested reason. Next, I will next discuss the most embarrassing and problematic features of interested reason before going on to see what might be salvaged.
December 17, 2020: Pauline Kleingeld (Groningen): A Kantian solution to the Trolley Problem
This chapter proposes a solution to the Trolley Problem in terms of the Kantian prohibition on using a person ‘merely as a means.’ A solution of this type seems impossible due to the difficulties it is widely thought to encounter in the scenario known as the Loop case. The chapter offers a conception of ‘using merely as a means’ that explains the morally relevant difference between the classic Bystander and Footbridge cases. It then shows, contrary to the standard view, that a bystander who diverts the trolley in the Loop case need not be using someone ‘merely as a means’ in doing so. This makes it possible to show why the Loop scenario does not undermine the explanation of the salient moral difference between the Bystander and Footbridge cases.
November 26, 2020: Ido Geiger (Ben-Gurion University): Description and Explanation in Kant’s Philosophy of Science
Kant’s philosophy of science significantly distinguishes the description of nature from its explanation. The distinction is the key to understanding three important and closely related questions: 1) What precisely does Kant mean by advocating a mechanistic worldview and what is the place of causality in it? 2) What is the scientific value of what Kant calls in MAN description (Naturbesch