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Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 2 MT12

Event Name Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 2 MT12
Start Date 15th Oct 2012 4:30pm
End Date 15th Oct 2012 6:30pm
Duration 2 hours

Speaker:  Carla Bagnoli (Wisconsin/Modena & Reggio Emilia)

Title: Kantian Structuring: An objectivist account of practical knowledge

Venue: Lecture Room, Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, OX2 6GG

Abstract: In a neglected passage of Philosophical Explanations (1981: 545-551), Robert Nozick discusses “Kantian structuring”, which is roughly the view that “we structure the world so that the statements come out true”. Extended to practical knowledge, this view purports to explain why ethics binds us in the first person. While this is a significant explanatory advantage of the theory, Nozick doubts that any such “Kantian structuring” can adequately account for ethics (1981: 549- 551). However elaborated, this theory faces three main objections. First, it is unclear how claims about the structure of agency may lead to a full-fledged moral theory. Second, any such moral theory grounds the legitimacy of moral claims on self-referential features of the self rather than on the recognition of the status of others. Third, it fails to account for objective practical knowledge as tracking genuine values.

My aim in this paper is to sketch a variety of Kantian structuring that responds to these worries. The defining feature of this theory is the claim that practical knowledge is knowledge by principles. Its task is to establish a constitutive relation between knowledge of oneself as a rational agent and knowledge about what one ought to do. This theory is antagonist to non-cognitivist and constructivist theories denying that moral judgments have cognitive contents, because they deny that there is something to be known; but it is also rival to cognitivist and intuitionist theories denying that knowledge can be practical in itself. While the theory I outline differs from current agnostic or anti-realist accounts of Kantian constructivism, it is closer to its origins, since Kant treats practical reason as a cognitive capacity and takes moral judgments to be objective moral cognitions, which importantly differ from other sorts of rational cognitions because they bind us in the first person. Practical cognitions are common knowledge because they are such that all subjects endowed with rationality can arrive at them by reasoning and find them authoritative. Part of my argument is that this variety of Kantian structuring carves a distinct logical space in the meta-ethical debate that other sorts of constructivism fail to identify.

The argument proceeds as follows. In section 1, I retrieve Anscombe’s account of practical knowledge as knowledge of oneself as an agent. I argue that this is an important resource for Kantian ethics that Kantian constructivists have ignored. This finding prompts us to reset the current dispute about the ontological and epistemological commitments of Kantian constructivism. While Kantian theory does not postulate any moral ontology prior to reasoning, it attributes to reasoning the cognitive powers to establish a distinctive relation between the agent and her action. In section 2, I argue that in order for reasoning to accomplish its normative tasks, it should be conceived as a self-legislating activity. I respond to Nozick’s objection self-referential nature of Kantian theory by offering a dialogical view of practical reason and self-legislation, which centers on respect as mutual recognition. In section 3, I propose a non-standard interpretation of Kant’s argument of “the fact of reason” to show that self-legislation does not build on realism about the value of humanity. The basis of Kantian structuring is the subjective experience of respect for the self-legislative capacity itself. This moral feeling conveys our awareness of rational agency and shows our responsiveness to the demands of practical reason. It is an emotional mode of practical knowledge of oneself as an agent, but not a mode of moral discernment. In section 4, I show how practical knowledge of oneself as an agent relates to practical knowledge about what one ought to do. I thus account for the relation between respect as “emotional moral consciousness” and respect as a “deliberative constraint”. This is where I address Nozick’s first objection of the indeterminacy of moral scope. Finally, in section 5, I consider Nozick’s objection of subjectivism, building on the argument advanced in section 3 about the epistemic but non-evidential role of respect. I explain that the complex sort of objectivity that Kantian structuring affords is at the same time more ambitious and more modest than it is generally assumed.

Webpage: Seminars in Moral Philosophy

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