Kantian Ethics

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

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. The paper 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 endeavours in moral philosophy. If we disagree with it, I argue, we have grounds for moving to a distinctly different theoretical framework.

On Regress Arguments


(Forthcoming January 2018). "Must We Be Just Plain Good? On Regress Arguments for the Value of Humanity," Ethics.

There is a powerful argument for the special value of humanity. The argument 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 paper, 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 edited collection (with Sarah Buss).

I offer an explanation of human value in this paper. I argue that theories of value have (at least) two components: (i) features in virtue of which an object is of value, and (ii) an explanation of why those features make the object valuable. Both are involved in giving an account of how something should be responded to. The focus in contemporary discussions of the value of humanity—and to a large extent this follows trends in Kant scholarship—is on (i). I join others in suggesting that the relevant feature is our distinctive relationship 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 an original 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. But there is a further, and in my view often neglected, question to ask, namely, (ii): how does the capacity for having final ends make people of value, and what is the nature of this value? I propose that the capacity for having final ends makes people of value by making us capable of leading a good life, a life that is of value because it is good for the person who leads it (and of course not solely for them). Intuitively put, a person matters because she matters to herself in a very particular sort of way. To appropriate a phrase, she is a being for whom her life can be an issue. A person has a life to lead, and a good life is a wonderful thing. 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.