- Emotion, Reason and Action in Kant by Maria Borges
Despite the fact that emotions have become an important part of Kant scholarship in the last thirty years and counting, few books are devoted to the topic. Borges's book remedies this lacuna. Kant scholars who are familiar with her work will be happy to see her account of emotions connected to other discussions of Kantian moral psychology.
The book begins with a general account of actions, reasons, and causes (chapter 1). Given this background, Borges then raises the question: what role do emotions play in this framework? Chapters 2, 3, and 4 explain how emotions function in Kant's moral psychology. One of the main theses is that Kant has "a very colorful, wide range of emotions, which cannot be captured by one model type" (87). Borges makes it clear, however, that she wishes to defend a broadly intellectualist account of emotions (40–41). On the intellectualist reading, emotions do not and should not play a role in moral motivation (59–60). In chapters 5, 6, and 7, Borges presents an alternative account of the role emotions can play. Kant was clear that moral philosophy contains an empirical dimension, and Borges suggests that this is where emotions belong. She argues that Kant accepts several basic assumptions from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century physiology, which provides the starting point for his views (109–113). According to Borges, Kant advocates for controlling our emotions and that this is one of the primary tasks for virtue (136–37). Borges argues that the intellectualist [End Page 411] reading of Kant does not require that we disparage emotions. Our emotions will be involved in the receptivity to morality and in the refinement of our tastes (chapter 7). Additionally, Borges suggests that Kant comments about female virtue, which are often taken to be mere sexism, can help support the claim that the refinement of taste is central to virtue (chapter 8). Finally, she argues that the main target of Kant's critical remarks about emotions is the passions, which are intimately related to radical evil (chapter 9).
Kantians who are attracted to an intellectualist reading of Kant will be happy to have Borges's contribution to the debate. Some of us who work in this area will no doubt agree with her assessment that some scholars have "gone too far in seeing emotions as having intrinsic moral value" (181). Her account provides something of a corrective to that tendency. One of the main attractions of the book is that it situates Kant's theory of emotions within the wider context of his moral psychology and in the empirical side of morality. At times, however, this breadth can be disadvantageous. First, although the chapters have a clear progression, the transition from chapter to chapter is occasionally unclear. The reader is sometimes left to discern exactly how each chapter contributes to the overall argument in the book. Additionally, in certain parts of the account the breadth seems to come at the cost of depth. For example, at the end of chapter 4, Borges offers a very brief discussion of the relationship between emotions and imagination. This short section is the seed of what could be a much more detailed treatment, one that would contribute to a better understanding of the intellectualist position as a whole. Those of us who wish to defend this sort of reading face the challenge of re-telling the story about emotions and virtue in a way that is both in keeping with Kant's texts and able to win over readers who are more swayed by rival interpretations. Borges's book makes important progress in providing the intellectualist with resources to start retelling this story. Readers who are familiar with and sympathetic to this interpretation and to Borges's position would, I think, prefer to see it developed even further.
Borges's book clearly fills a void in the literature in providing a substantive account of emotions in Kant's work. It also helps to counter a dominant interpretation of the...