Moral Philosophy Seminar (Monday - Week 2, TT19)

Susan Wolf

This paper compares Kant’s and Sidgwick’s arguments in defense of ethical objectivity and practical knowledge. While Kant focuses on practical truths in terms of practical laws governing the mind in action, Sidgwick is concerned with practical truths about action. This is a crucial difference in the understanding of practical knowledge, which is matched by a different understanding of moral phenomenology and of the significance of subjective experience in accounting for the obligatoriness of moral obligations. Key to these differences is the distinctive appeal to reflection, its definition and its impact on the subjective experience. On the Kantian view, reflection is inherent to rational action, understood as the result of the activity of reason. On Sidgwick’s view, instead, reflection is direct reflection on the nature of the proposition in question, that is, about first-order judgments. This difference affects the prospects of their respective arguments against reductive naturalism, the view that the normative phenomena relative to rational willing can be explained away in terms of desires and other psychological mechanisms. Ultimately, the Kantian view allows for a more promising conception of ethical objectivity vis à vis its competitors.

Convener: Ed Lamb

Members of the audience are invited to join the speaker and the convener for drinks and dinner at a local restaurant following the talk (at their own expense). There will be some limit on the number of people who can attend. Please RSVP to Ed Lamb to reserve a place. Please note that we will no longer be going to dinner afterwards at Somerville College to continue questioning the speaker. In future terms the time of the seminar may be brought forward to 15.00 - 17.00, which would make it possible for all to go to pre-dinner drinks. Please let Ed Lamb know if this change of time would make you more or less likely to attend.