Kant's Impure Ethics: From Rational Beings to Human Beings

Kant's Impure Ethics: From Rational Beings to Human Beings

Kant's Impure Ethics: From Rational Beings to Human Beings

Kant's Impure Ethics: From Rational Beings to Human Beings

Synopsis

This is the first book-length study in any language to examine in detail and critically assess the second part of Kant's ethics--an empirical, impure part, which determines how best to apply pure principles to the human situation. Drawing attention to Kant's under-explored impure ethics, this revealing investigation refutes the common and long-standing misperception that Kants ethics advocates empty formalism. Making detailed use of a variety of Kantian texts never before translated into English, author Robert B. Louden reassesses the strengths and weaknesses of Kantian ethics as a whole, once the second part is re-admitted to its rightful place within Kant's practical philosophy.

Excerpt

This is a book about the second part of Kant's ethics, a part that -- nearly two hundred years after his death and who knows how many books and articles about his ethics -- unfortunately remains a well-kept secret, even among Kant scholars. Kant referred to this second part variously as "moral anthropology," practical anthropology," "applied moral philosophy," and sometimes simply anthropology," but the important point is that it deals with the empirical (or what I call "impure") study of human nature rather than with pure (non-empiri- cal) principles. Although Kant was adamant that the first or pure part of ethics was foundational and thus fundamentally more important than the second part, he was equally insistent that the second part was absolutely necessary whenever one wished to apply the results of the first part to human beings.

In the past, moral philosophers sympathetic to (what they thought were) Kant's ideas have tended to view empirical research about human beings as being irrelevant to ethical theory, claiming that since we cannot get moral oughts from is-es, empirical facts about human beings are not important for moral theory. At the same time, many of those critical of (what they thought were) Kant's ideas have dismissed his ethical theory as a quasi-rationalist relic, on the ground that his alleged purist approach fails to acknowledge the contribution that empirical studies of human beings can bring to our understanding of morality. On my view, both positions are fundamentally wrong. They are certainly wrong in their readings of Kant: if I have succeeded in showing any- thing in the following study, it is that he placed a much higher premium on the value of empirical study for moral theory than most of his foes as well as friends have given him credit for. But I believe they are also wrong philosophically: both pure and impure studies play necessary and complementary roles in under- standing ethics (not to mention other areas of inquiry). To reject either one is to forfeit the possibility of comprehension.

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