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Julia Annas PERSONAL LOVE AND KANTIAN ETHICS IN EFFI BRIEST One of the most striking aspects of Kant's moral philosophy is the way in which he takes himself to be articulating ordinary moral consciousness, and providing a metaphysical basis forjudgments that we are naturally inclined to make anyway. (At the end of chapter 1 of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, he even questions whether philosophy might do more harm than good in disturbing the innocence of the ordinary person's moral reasoning.) This raises some difficulties for the parallels Kant wants between practical and theoretical reason (since the everyday use of theoretical reason, unstirred to philosophical self-consciousness, is not so innocent), yet Kant still insists that, while the presupposition of moral thinking, namely freedom to act, is problematic, ' there is no great problem about what moral thinking is. It is the recognition that there are demands on us which are categorical — which do not depend on any desires or interests that we have — and which are impartial, applying to anyone in relevantly similar circumstances, individual characteristics and particular commitments being discarded as irrelevant.2 Kant realizes, of course, that we do not act morally all or even most of the time; but "even children of moderate age" can recognize, he claims, what is obvious to anybody prepared to use their reason, namely that morality is a matter of doing one's duty regardless of one's own interests or desires, and abstracting totally from any personal considerations.3 The most telling modern criticism of Kant is that he was just wrong in his claim to be articulating what morality is. It is all too obvious to us now that Kant was overimpressed by the consensus among moral views uttered by the members of the society in which he lived; that the religious background giving those views support has largely disappeared; 4 and that for many people morality simply cannot be regarded in Kant's way without fiction and pretense.5 It can no longer seem obvious to us that the Categorical Imperative is the manifest principle of morality, the only serious problem about this being how it is possible. And not only is the unconditional force Kant ascribes to morality not easily available to us, we are also all too aware of the dangers implicit in regarding morality as 15 16Philosophy and Literature essentially a matter of impartiality.6 At best we can regard Kant as having highlighted something of importance in some areas of morality, and having then taken himself wrongly to have characterized the whole of it.7 Modern criticisms of Kant, then, spring from the fact that we have to adjust to a situation in which we no longer find moral imperatives categorical and have difficulty in seeing impartiality as definitive of the moral point of view. We no longer have the moral consciousness that Kant was confident of finding even in children of moderate age; and we have to live with that fact in moral philosophy as well as in everyday moral life.8 Because of this we may fail to ask another question, which is itself of deep interest: does Kant's account of the structure of morality do justice even to the actual moral lives of people who did respond, in a way we no longer can, to the call of Duty stripped of all possible appeal to any other motive? Kant separates morality and its motive from all actual concerns of the agent. What are the results of this in someone who responds to this notion of morality, and understands it in a Kantian way? It is hard to ask about the consequences to ourselves of having Kant's view of morality, for we cannot unselfconsciously have this viewpoint. Our moral universe is, from the Kantian point of view, dislocated and pluralistic, and the question does not arise of the consequences to the agent of holding the Kantian point of view artlessly and in confident innocence of alternatives. Effi Briest is of exceptional interest to anyone interested in Kant's moral philosophy because in it we see people who think of Duty as Kant assumed everyone does, and we...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 15-31
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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