Kant’s Commitment to Metaphysics of Morals

(accepted 2013; in print 2016). “Kant's Commitment to Metaphysics of Morals,”
European Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 24, Iss. 1, pp. 103-128. Pdf.

A definitive feature of Kant’s moral philosophy is its rationalism. Kant insists that moral theory, at least at its foundation, cannot take account of empirical facts about human beings and their circumstances in the world. This is the core of Kant’s commitment to “metaphysics of morals,” and it is what he sees as his greatest contribution to moral philosophy. This article clarifies what it means to be committed to metaphysics of morals, why Kant is committed to it, and where he thinks empirical considerations may enter moral theory. The paper examines recent work of contemporary Kantians (Barbara Herman, Allen Wood and Christine Korsgaard) who argue that there is a central role for empirical considerations in Kant’s moral theory. Either these theorists interpret Kant himself as permitting empirical considerations to enter, or they propose to extend Kant’s theory so as to allow them to enter. I argue that these interpretive trends are not supported by the texts, and that the proposed extensions are not plausibly Kantian. Kant’s insistence on the exclusion of empirical considerations from the foundations of moral theory is not an incidental feature of his thought which might be modified while the rest remains unchanged. Rather, it is the very center of his endeavors in moral philosophy. If we disagree with it, I argue, we have grounds for moving to a distinctly different theoretical framework.

Must We Be Just Plain Good? On Regress Arguments for the Value of Humanity

(January 2018). "Must We Be Just Plain Good? On Regress Arguments for the Value of Humanity," Ethics (128): 346-372. Pdf.

There is a powerful argument for the special value of humanity that turns on the nature of relational value. For anything to be relationally valuable, something must be non-relationally valuable, and people meet the criteria. Relational value borrows its normativity—its reason-giving force—from the value of people whose value is not borrowed from it, or anything else. The argument emerges from broadly Kantian discussions of human value, but it is patterned on a schema that has wide currency, and is often taken to be something of a truism. I examine the argument schema in this article, and my conclusion is in a clear sense negative. Non-relational value is not required to make sense of the existence of relational value, so the special value of humanity will not come from this kind of argument about the structure of value. Fortunately there is a positive lesson. While the value of people is not of necessity non-relational, we can capture the value of people, and what is owed to them, in fully relational terms.

An Explanation of Human Value

For Re-Evaluating the Value of Humanity co-edited with Sarah Buss; draft available on request.

I offer an explanation of human value in this paper. I join others in suggesting that our value turns on the distinctive relationship we bear to values. In my view this is the capacity for having final ends, as a first approximation, the capacity for pursuing interests, projects, relationships, and self-ideals for their own sake. This is sometimes put forward as a Kantian proposal, but I take it to be distinctively Aristotelian. I offer a new account of this complex cognitive, affective and behavioral disposition, and the analysis contributes to recent discussions of valuing and care by Harry Frankfurt, T. M. Scanlon, and Samuel Scheffler. How does the capacity for having final ends ground our value? I argue that it grounds our value by making us capable of leading a good life. How a person's life goes is something we stand to impact in our ways of relating to them. Our impact is of significance to us, to the people in their life, but perhaps most of all to them—for they are a very particular sort of center of a life.

Personal & Impersonal Good

Work in Progress ; draft available on request.

One of the doctrines closely associated with G. E. Moore is that there can be value in a world without valuers—actual valuers or possible ones. Giving expression to felt consensus is a fraught business, but I will venture something like broad agreement among value theorists, against Moore, on the following point: Value necessarily depends on possible appreciation by someone. This is the thought, in a familiar example, that there would be no value in the Frick collection if all sentient life were destroyed (Nagel, 1986). It is the thought that the works of art would be dead and worthless things since they are there, in some important sense, for us (Wolf, 2010). The point is made by saying that value is personal rather than impersonal (Raz, 2001). All value is personal in the sense that it depends on possible appreciation by someone, and no value is impersonal in the sense that its value is wholly independent of possible appreciation by someone. To accept that all value is personal is not to dispense with Moorean ideas about value, however. Indeed, what interests me in this article is that a new way of being a Moorean has made itself felt among those who accept that value is personal. It is argued that whatever is personally valuable is or can be good for someone, but that when something is (non-instrumentally) good for someone it is so only if and because it is good simpliciter. In other words, good simpliciter has explanatory priority over good for someone. My aim is to assess this style of proposal. Does it succeed in making value any less dark than Moore himself made it? That is, does it succeed in bringing out for us, as I believe it should, the precise sense in which value essentially matters to us, or to someone?

The Excellent & the Beneficial

Work in Progress for the Oxford Handbook of Moral Realism (ed. by Paul Bloomfield & David Copp).

The human good is at once a notion of the good for human beings, and a notion of the good in human beings—it contains the concept of benefit and the concept of virtue or excellence. Theories differ according to their conception of the relationship between these concepts, and in particular, over the question of which concept has explanatory priority. I develop the view that there is an asymmetrical dependence between excellence and the beneficial with the beneficial taking priority. In my view, however, the dependence between these concepts has important epistemological implications, so that we cannot explicate the one except in relation to the other.  In seeking to elucidate benefit we appeal to notions of excellence, and conversely.