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Reviewed by:
  • Kant on Mind, Action, and Ethics by Julian Wuerth
  • Kelly Sorensen
Julian Wuerth. Kant on Mind, Action, and Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xvi + 349. Cloth, £50.00.

This textually well-supported book takes seriously Kant’s corpus as a system, claiming that devoted attention to the whole makes each individual work in turn more intelligible, consistent, and compelling. Wuerth claims that a key to Kant’s system is Kant’s account of the self or soul. For Wuerth, Kant’s self is a simple, noumenal substance that possesses powers (such as reason, judgment, imagination, and sensibility) by which it effects accidents. This is against the familiar interpretation, associated with Patricia Kitcher, Henry Allison, [End Page 175] Robert Pippin, Karl Ameriks, and Béatrice Longuenesse, that Kant in the critical period rejects any and all ontologically significant claims about the self. Wuerth says this familiar interpretation wrongly assumes that Kant, in opposing conceptions of the ontology of the self among his rationalist predecessors, cannot himself be defending an ontologically significant view of the self as a substance. On the familiar interpretation, the self may be a logical ground, but it cannot be an ontologically significant ground; Wuerth argues instead that Kant’s arguments in the first Critique about the self as a substance are only arguments against the rationalists’ inferences that the self is a permanent substance and can be known as such. So for Wuerth to say that Kant held that the self is a simple substance is to make only a comparatively modest claim: the self is a substance in which powers can inhere, a thinking thing that is distinct from its particular mental states. This ontological conclusion is “useless” for the more tantalizing things about oneself that one wants to know—for example, whether one’s existence is permanent and incorruptible, and whether one is an independent self-causing substance. But the self is a substance in an ontologically significant sense, and it has pure and immediate self-consciousness of being a simple substance with powers. This view is compatible with Kant’s critical epistemology, Wuerth claims, because of the singular nature of self-consciousness: it is the one case where one’s epistemic access to something is not colored by one’s receptive powers. The self has an “immediate, pure, and indeterminate consciousness of being something” (5). Wuerth amasses considerable textual evidence to show that this is more or less Kant’s view across the pre-critical, critical, and post-critical periods.

A middle chapter offers a rough map of the noumenal soul’s powers under the broad faculties of cognition, desire, and feeling, with higher and lower sets of subfaculties under each of these three. Wuerth argues that even lower, largely passive subfaculties are nevertheless active in some (non-spontaneous) way: for instance, Kant says that we can only passively receive the sound of a trumpet because we are active representers of sound.

This activity in the largely passive subfaculties helps pave the way for Wuerth’s challenge to interpretations of Kant by Henry Sidgwick and Christine Korsgaard, who share the view that Kant’s choosing noumenal self is just the cognitive faculty of pure practical reason. Along with Lewis White Beck, Allison, and others, Wuerth responds that the noumenal self’s choosing faculty is instead Willkür, a faculty of desire. And to this classic Beck response Wuerth adds that the distinction between Wille and Willkür is already functioning well before the second Critique, and even present in the Groundwork, where the noumenal self deals in two kinds of “conative currencies”: “motives” from the higher subfaculties and “stimuli” from the lower subfaculties. The noumenal self feels the tug of both. The late chapters oppose Korsgaard’s interpretation using close textual exegesis of the Groundwork and a wide set of other texts. Against Korsgaard’s constructivist and anti-realist interpretation of Kant’s moral philosophy, Wuerth argues that Kant is a moral realist who asserts that humanity has value found not only in our capacity to set ends, but more fundamentally in our capacity for self-consciousness. And against Korsgaard’s intellectualized and hyper-rationalized Kant, Wuerth’s Kant is...


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pp. 175-176
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