Commitment, Value, and Moral Realism (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy)

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So there is no confusion between maxims and practical laws since valid maxims are practical laws.

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On the second reading maxims cannot also be practical laws. But this causes no problems for the constructivist. Now, given this, certain implications follow. Any maxim, for example, which involves disrespecting other persons will be forbidden. This in turn implies, as Kant c: argues in The Metaphysics of Morals, that being arrogant as well as defaming and ridiculing others is wrong because such acts involve disrespecting other persons.

This follows from our own constitution, from the moral law, whether we recognise it or not and regardless of what we happen to will. We can use such practical laws to guide our choice of maxims as a shortcut to going straight to the moral law itself from which these practical laws are ultimately derived. Further, the moral law not only limits our choice of maxims, it also offers positive guidance. It does so by grounding the objective ends which we examined in previous sections. These objective ends should guide our choice of maxims independently of our incentives, even though it remains up to us which maxims we adopt, in the sense of, which acts in particular situations we choose to undertake as rational means to promoting these objective ends.

But none of this is incompatible with the constructivist view defended here. But perhaps we are still missing the realist challenge? He is the author autor of the obligation in accordance with the law, but not always the author of the law. A law which has an author is a positive law. But the constitution itself of a self-legislating being, that is, the categorical imperative, along with the practical laws and the objective ends which it grounds are not positive laws.

Commitment, Value, and Moral Realism (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy)

This is because we can talk about it being either the nature or the constitution of rational beings as self-legislating beings which marks them out as ends in themselves. Karl Ameriks pursues a similar line of thought and argues that since Kant thinks that the moral law holds for all rational beings, it cannot be anything that we humans contingently will that makes the moral law binding.

This is because it is very hard to see why what we humans happen to will should be binding on all rational beings, including a being with a divine will Ameriks Kant makes this claim because a practically rational being is a self-legislating being, and a self-legislating being is bound by the constitution of such a being, namely the moral law.

Conclusion So is Kant a moral realist or moral constructivist? If we accept the common usage, according to which a moral realist is committed to nothing more than the truth of some moral judgments, that is, to a cognitivist success theory, then Kant is a moral realist in this weak sense.

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Constructivists of all stripes should be not only agnostic but committed to weak moral realism in this sense. Hence there is no room for disagreement on this point. But disagreement emerges in relation to two issues. Second, is this value supposed to precede and ground the other formulas of the categorical imperative? If we answer this second question, as on the standard reading, by saying that an independent account of an ontologically prior conception of the absolute value of humanity or some end in itself is required to ground the otherwise ungrounded categorical imperative, then we face some daunting problems.

And I have defended here strong but perhaps not conclusive reasons to think that the sorts of regress arguments or sheer foundational value claims employed to solve these daunting problems cannot be successful. However, if we instead answer the second question by saying that an independent account of the absolute value of humanity is not required to ground the categorical imperative then we can better deal with the first question. We can very briefly recapitulate that argument as follows. Practical reason is faculty of laws or principles. A rational law or principle is one that is valid for all rational agents.


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Validity means here what all rational agents could will as a law for themselves. Rational agents could not will a law for themselves which uses them as a mere means. This implies a normative ideal of a community of lawgivers, giving common laws, who are committed to perfecting themselves, pursuing their self-given permissible ends under a conception of happiness, and helping others to achieve their own self-given ends.

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This is because neither the content of the moral law as opposed to the content of our maxims and permissible ends nor the authority of the moral law depends on an actual act of willing on our behalf. We simply have to be something, namely beings capable of acting autonomously on the basis of reasons, and we are bound by the categorical imperative because it is constitutive of practical rationality.

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This is a constructivist view and not a strong realist view because it is not based on an independent conception of value which precedes and grounds the law. Rather it is based on the constructivist claim that practical reason constitutes a conception of objective value, namely of the absolute worth of rational agents and the conditional worth of their rational ends.

Formosa mq. See, for example, Rawls and Rawls For a discussion of social norms see Searle This is a somewhat controversial claim Smith In any case nothing much rests on this claim, and for those who find it problematic it can be weakened to the claim that only non-relativistic brands of constructivism count as a form of weak moral realism. If he did accept this view then he would either have to accept that there could be as many different valid moral laws as there are persons, a view that he clearly rejects, or be able to explain why there is some miraculous coincidence such that everyone just happens to give themselves the very same moral law.

For an account of how Rawls rejects his original Kantian interpretation of justice as fairness for a form of political as opposed to Kantian constructivism, see Freeman , However, the restriction of this procedure to the construction of the first principles of justice, rather than to all of morality, is a restriction that Kant would reject Hill A similar worry can also be found in Guyer And practical reason demands that each rational agent thinks of all rational agents in this way.

Therefore it is an objective principle. For example, in a game of chess we need to cooperate at the level of the rules and practices of chess-playing, but we can also play the game itself competitively. I intend for me to win and you intend for you to win, but we both intend to play chess together where that includes playing according to agreed upon rules and so on.

What Kant minimally requires is that we be cooperative at the level of the rules or norms of interaction. Korsgaard links this idea of interaction including interaction with ourselves with respect.

I have not, in some sense, bypassed your agency, in the way that I do when I pick you up and drag you along with me. But I do force or coerce you to choose one option. What we share is both of us being able to count such a consideration as a reason. But we need not share the reason itself, that is, both take ourselves given who we are and what we want to have a reason to do that thing. Although I cannot defend the claim here this is misleading since many reasons which we would normally think of as agent-relative reasons, such as those based, for example, on my incentive to climb a high mountain, can count as shareable or public on this account.

See the climbing example in Korsgaard Further, our choice of ends is rationally required to make sense to us in terms of our overall conception of a good life and rationally required to be able to coexist with the obligatory requirements imposed on us by the moral law. In this sense willing or choosing is doing something, namely committing yourself to the worth of your chosen action and the means needed to achieve to it. Even so, while this should make us cautious, it remains the case that this distinction can help us in understanding the Groundwork.

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References Allison, H. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ameriks, K. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Bratman, M. Cohen, G. The Sources of Normativity. Dean, R. Oxford, Oxford University Press. Fitzpatrick, W. Formosa, P. Freeman, S. New York: Routledge. Guyer, P. Habermas, J.