- Kant on Persons and Agency ed. by Eric Watkins
This new essay collection edited by Eric Watkins features distinguished and established scholars, and it will be an attractive volume for those who work in the field. The essays are divided under three headings: Part I contains essays on agency, Part II features essays on freedom, and Part III is dedicated to essays on persons. An essay by Karl Ameriks on Kant’s work “The End of All Things” concludes the collection. Most of the essays in the collection were originally presented in early form at the conference “Agency, Persons, and Kant” in 2016, which was held in honor of Karl Ameriks. Although there are mentions of Ameriks’s work in the essays, the contributions largely do not discuss his work in detail. Rather, the contributions examine topics that Ameriks has either written about or that are related to themes in his work. Ameriks’s own contribution is a thoughtful exposition of one of Kant’s more notorious essays. Ameriks focuses on the conception of time throughout the essay, so readers interested in that work or in time will find this chapter useful.
The collection will be of most interest to philosophers who work in Kant scholarship, though there are a few essays that deal with Kant’s work in connection to other historical figures. In chapter 7, Paul Guyer writes about Reinhold’s objections to Kant’s conception of freedom and rationality, and Robert Pippin discusses the dynamism of reason in both Kant and Hegel in chapter 11. Space constraints prevent me from reviewing all of the essays, so the contributions by Lucy Allais and Barbara Herman will be the focus of my review.
Allais’s chapter deals with the perennially interesting question of Kant’s account of evil. Her aim is to provide a reading of Kantian evil that avoids the twin problem of being “too radical or too modest” (84). She argues that the propensity to evil arises at least in part because of the nature of human social life (86). The chapter then develops a speculative narrative about these social origins of radical evil. Allais looks to Kant’s political writings to sketch this account. As Allais reads Kant, humans are born into conditions where justice and right do not yet exist (91–94). She argues that since humans develop as moral agents in these non-ideal conditions, these conditions complicate their abilities to order their wills such that self-interest is subordinated to morality (96–97). Living in conditions of injustice creates the potential for self-deception, which is at the heart of radical evil (97–98). The lack of space forces me to leave out the nuances and implications of Allais’s account, but for Kantians interested in evil it is a must-read.
Herman’s chapter, “We Are Not Alone: A Place for Animals in Kant’s Ethics,” is like Allais’s chapter in the sense that those who are less familiar with the topic will find it easy to follow. In spite of its current unpopularity, Herman aims to defend Kant’s claims that our duties to animals are indirect. Herman reexamines Kant’s argument that cruelty to animals would make human being morally worse. She argues that if we had no duty to refrain from cruelty, we would end up treating our natural sympathies with animal life as conditional—something we could weigh against other considerations or treat as a preference (184–85). As a result, we would be invited into a “space of moral indifference,” which is how such behavior would weaken our moral predisposition (185). Readers will no doubt find objections, but Herman’s chapter makes a compelling case for rethinking Kant’s arguments about moral relations to animals.
The other essays in the volume are carefully argued and relevant to current debates in the field. Since I am unable to review the content of the essays in detail, I will raise just two small critical points about the volume. First, the collection features no work...