Kant's Pre-Critical Ethics

Kant's Pre-Critical Ethics

Kant's Pre-Critical Ethics

Kant's Pre-Critical Ethics

Excerpt

Immanuel Kant's moral philosophy has long occupied a place of pre-eminence among the great ethical systems of modern times. This is true despite the fact that the Kantian ethics has been as much an object of attack as of defense. His so-called ethical formalism has had to bear the brunt of the fight waged by the ethical hedonisms of the nineteenth century. Even the ethical realists and perfectionists have by no means found it possible to build out their ethical structures from the ethical foundations laid by Kant. Rather, friend and foe alike have found much in Kant's ethical theory which they could not accept. More than that: ethicists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have never stopped wondering at what appeared to them to be very obvious pitfalls into which Kant fell all too easily. It has, in fact, long been the custom to quote the "Categorical Imperative" with awed respect and then dismiss the main body of Kant's ethical thought as a tissue of "patent whimsies." The coiner of this phrase, William James, goes on to say: "With Kant, complication, both of thought and of statement, was an inborn infirmity, enhanced by the musty academicism of his Königsberg existence." James was far from being the only one thus to wave Kant aside with a gesture of the hand, and who, at the same time, found it impossible to pass him by unnoticed. Indeed, it has been just as impossible to ignore Kant in ethics as in epistemology or metaphysics.

Despite this generally recognized fact, there is very little material on Kant's ethics available in English. There is, of course, the Abbott translation of the more important parts of Kant's definitive ethical treatises, but this work makes no attempt to offer an explanation of the precise nature of Kant's ethical position. This also holds true of Louis Infield's translation ofPaul Menzer's edition and arrangement of Eine Vorlesung Kants über Ethik, which has appeared under the title: Lectures on Ethics. There is a little volume by Noah Porter, entitled Kant's Ethics, which can hardly be called even a handbook. It was obviously produced because of . . .

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