Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Dieter Schönecker in *Kant Studies Online*

The latest issue of Kant Studies Online has been published and includes an article on the fact of reason and "Kantian intuitionism" by this author whose writings on Kant are an important element of current German responses. This article, like all others published in KSO, is available to be freely consulted and downloaded and it can be found here.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Allison and Kant's Practical Deduction

In the final chapter of Allison's commentary on the Groundwork he describes the way he understands the "deduction" of the categorical imperative in the third part of Kant's work. Given how controversial the argument of Groundwork III has become it is surprising that Allison's final chapter does not only focus on this question. However Allison also includes here an account of the way Kant concludes the Groundwork by describing the limit of practical philosophy though this account is certainly much less interesting than that of the "deduction" and it is the latter that will be the focus of this posting.

It is the fourth section of Groundwork III that is headlined "how is a categorical imperative possible?" and it is here that the focus on the reading of the "deduction" of the categorical imperative is based. As Allison puts it: "Since every imperative involves a necessitation...of the will, to account for its possibility is to account for this necessitation" (332). With regard to the categorical imperative we have a synthetic a priori proposition and accounting for the necessitation requires showing that the imperative is, as Allison puts it, "practically possible" by which is meant that it expresses something whose binding character can be shown.

In the opening paragraph of the fourth section of Groundwork III Kant discusses the sense in which rational beings are forms of "intelligence" and indicates that if we were merely members of the world of understanding all our actions would conform 'perfectly' with the principle of autonomy of the pure will. Kant also goes on to claim later that the world of understanding contains the "ground" of both the world of sense and of its laws and purports to use this claim to show that as a being of intelligence I am therefore bound by the laws of the world of understanding. 

Allison's analysis of the "deduction" argument begins with the claim that thinking beings place themselves in the world of the understanding but adding to this the point that it is only if such beings also have will that the argument can begin. The next step of the argument, for Allison, is the claim that the self, considered as an active being, possesses spontaneous causal power so that, when viewed as an intelligence, it is seen to be a causal agent. The third key step is that actions, when considered thus to be originated by the agent in question so viewed are part of the "space of reasons". Fourthly, this aspect of the self is contrasted with the empirical one which is governed by reference to "happiness".

Allison's major interpretative move, however, concerns the fifth and final step of the argument as he views it, a step he breaks down into two sub-steps. The first sub-step is concerned with the claim that the world of understanding contains the "ground" of that of sense. The key question with regard to this claim concerns the way the grounding relation is to be understood. Following his general deflationary manner of reading Allison dismisses the idea that this should be seen in a "metaphysical" way as a causal claim. However in addition to the general philosophical reasons Allison possesses for resisting this reading he adds an important normative one to the effect that such a reading provides no binding ground for accepting the validity of the "laws" of understanding. What is needed instead of such a reading is thus one that does show the ground of validity of these laws.

Hence it is not only "ground" that needs to be given an account of but also "laws" in the sense that there could be a "law" of understanding that was validly taken to be binding by a sensible being. In the Critique of Pure Reason this question drove the argument of the transcendental deduction, the schematism and the general Analytic of Principles. From the argument of this part of the Critique we arrived at an account of the conditions of possibility of experience and the analogy between this procedure and that undertaken here in Groundwork III would appear to be that the latter text must provide an additional way of viewing the "possibility of experience" that allows us now to see a way in which there is included amongst "experience" the working of moral law (in the shape of the categorical imperative). Since the will belongs also to the world of understanding it would seem that Kant views it as the basis for providing laws that have to be added to those laid out in the Critique of Pure Reason.

The second sub-part of the fifth claim is where Allison finds the "crux" of the argument. Here Kant includes the claim that the being of sense is nonetheless subject to the laws of understanding which Allison argues are intended to be seen as holding simultaneously with the laws of the type described in the Critique of Pure Reason. This is followed by a paragraph that Allison sees as "explaining" the deduction apparently now given. It opens by declaring that categorical imperatives are "possible" but Allison views this claim as only being that we have had provided to us a reason for thinking that the categorical imperative is a necessary and not a sufficient condition of the argument that the idea of freedom makes me a member of an intelligible world. Further it is the "idea" of freedom only that makes one a member of such a world. Being a member of such a world is seen by Allison as having the mere intellectual capacity to think the idea of such freedom.

However Allison's conception of the "explanation" of the deduction runs into a problem with the appearance of a "sollen" (or "ought") that arises next when Kant states that I "ought" to conform my actions to the laws of the intelligible world. Allison thinks this move is here introduced illegitimately since all Kant has shown are epistemological grounds for being in two "worlds" and that a normative requirement does not arise from this alone. Part of the problem here is that Kant had earlier suggested that entirely belonging to the world of understanding would have produced the outcome that one simply "would" have followed the laws of understanding, a point that appears to render these laws, as Allison says, "vacuous". Allison argues that the problem with the text at this point arises from Kant not yet having explicitly to hand the distinction developed later in the Religion between two aspects of the "will". 

Kant next provides an account that is meant to give a basis for "confirmation" of the deduction and involves the awakening of a "scoundrel" to consciousness of the moral law. The claim of how this takes place in Groundwork III is, however, contrasted negatively with the parallel discussion in the Critique of Practical Reason by Allison. In Groundwork III Kant appears to state that it is the idea of freedom alone which suffices to change the standpoint of the scoundrel. By contrast, in the Critique of Practical Reason the "fact of reason" is invoked to provide the basis for a view that one does stand independent of determination by sensuous needs. This passage, even so amended, is, however, less plausible as a piece of moral psychology than Kant provides later in the Religion.

When Allison turns to assessing the deduction as he has reconstructed it he begins with the question of how to understand the argument that the world of "understanding" provides a ground for that of sense that enables a normative claim to be made on behalf of the former. Key to this is the point that the difference between the two is centred in the argument of Groundwork III on the self alone. This enables Allison to make the point that we need not view the supremacy of the "world" of understanding as a claim about a specific "realm" separate from that of sense. Further at Ak. 4: 458 Kant speaks of the distinction between the two "worlds" as that of a change in "standpoint". This change requires us to view ourselves as capable of legislating laws and having the capacity to recognise our own legislation as binding upon us. When we look at the "two standpoints" practically Allison adds we can give the "law" of understanding a content by means of the moral law. Such "laws" can also then be understood as "reasons". 

Allison also looks at the question of whether there is some specific non-empirical "interest" which supports the moral law and admits that it is impossible to account for the possibility of one. So Allison does not think Kant resolves or is capable of resolving this problem. However this leads to the question of the boundary of practical philosophy since this boundary is reached in terms of arguing that it is impossible to demonstrate the impossibility of freedom. Freedom is only an idea, not an "absolute reality" and it rests, for Allison, on viewing the relationship between a subject and an action in divergent ways. Part of Kant's defence of this claim was that it is essentially recognised within common human reason itself. The world of understanding, considered from a practical point of view, is the world of the will and this point requires us, given the general picture of the world, to see the will as something non-empirical. This supports the point that the "standpoint" of freedom is one that reason takes up in order to be able to think of itself practically.

However when Allison looks at the final passages of Groundwork III he argues that Kant here weakens some of the claims made earlier in the same section. Kant here states that the question of the possibility of the categorical imperative can be answered "to the extent that one can state the presupposition on which alone it is possible" (Ak. 4: 461). This "presupposition" is the idea of freedom. Allison's point is that this claim involves accepting that the deduction provides only a necessary condition of the possibility of the categorical imperative not conditions that are sufficient to account for its actual possibility. Thus it would appear, on this view, that the argument of Groundwork III is of less moment than it initially appears to be. This points, for Allison, to the superiority of the account of the "fact of reason" in the Critique of Practical Reason. Indeed the commentary Allison provides to the Groundwork ends with the claim that this work is "in many ways a transitional as well as a foundational work". 

Allison's account of the third part of the Groundwork in his commentary on it is instructive as the deflationary view of transcendental idealism that is Allison's hallmark is used here primarily to buttress the sense that the transcendental distinction has a primarily practical significance. However the conception that arises of the argument of the third part of the Groundwork is certainly a disappointing one and worth contrast in subsequent postings with quite different readings to that of Allison.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Allison and *Groundwork* III

In Chapter 11 of his commentary on the Groundwork Allison looks at two questions concerning the interpretation of the third section of the work. On the one hand, he assesses the way freedom is discussed here and on the other looks at the nature of the apparent "circle" the argument reaches at a crucial point. In looking at these points in Chapter 11 Allison prepares the way for an account of the "deduction" apparently carried out in Groundwork III. 

The first point Allison makes is that Kant does not really attempt to "prove" the reality of freedom but only the need to "presuppose" it (thus disagreeing with the view of Karl Ameriks who assimilates the argument of Groundwork III to certain passages from lectures in the 1770s). The "presupposition" in question is a necessary one in the sense that morality expresses a law for every rational being as such and so its principle must be bound up in an a priori fashion with the will of such a being. One of the reasons for taking this to be true is that it is requisite rationally to be able to act and one does so under the "idea" of freedom. The "idea" in question is understood by Allison to be freedom in the sense of transcendental spontaneity, the ability, that is, to begin a series absolutely. However this is not equivalent for Allison to the claim that it is necessary to "believe" that one is free or to the fictive claim that this freedom is "heuristic". Rather the idea in question is one which is a necessary product of reason and is thus possessed of objective validity. 

Not only is this the case but the idea of freedom also has normative force and acting in accordance with it places one in the "space of reasons". The use of this Sellarsian vocabulary is particularly interesting given that Allison connects the question of freedom to reason in two respects, both theoretical and practical. The understanding is the source of spontaneous grasp of truth (as given in the German for "concept") and it does this in a rule-governed way which is part of its internal operation. Similarly freedom in a practical sense is a product of the internal operation of the will. However whilst Kant's argument, as construed by Allison, appears to lead at this point to the conclusion that there is operative a practical reason whose "reality" we can show, the argument instead takes the turn that leads towards the "circle" that stops its progression in the manner that appears obvious.

Allison's account of the move the argument of Groundwork III takes at this point is grounded on the view that all that has been established up until now is a conditional claim. Freedom has not, as yet, been shown to be actual and the consciousness of autonomy is not one whose binding validity has been shown. So the establishment of the supreme principle of morality has not been achieved and thus the reason for departing from empirical interests has not been conclusively given. This is why Kant speaks now (at Ak. 4: 453) of a "hidden circle" having been apparent in the argument up to this point. Kant's reference to this "circle" is one that has puzzled many including Paton whose commentary Allison cites as a case of misrepresentation of Kant's argument. Allison understands the "circle" to consist in an inference from freedom to autonomy or from negative to positive freedom. However this does mean that Kant was not previously really guilty of arguing in a "circle" but only of begging the question in the sense of taking freedom to have an immediate certainty. 

In preparing the way for the resolution of the "circle" in question Kant discusses the notion of "two standpoints" and the rest of Allison's chapter is devoted to looking at the way these standpoints are characterised in Groundwork III. This distinction is one that has to be shown not to be merely an ad hoc device and Kant aims also to show that it is recognised by common understanding although the latter claim is regarded by Allison as dubious. The account of the distinction between appearances and things in themselves is drawn crudely enough in Groundwork III however and it may be, as Allison suggests, that the reason for this crudity is precisely to make the distinction one that can be related to "common understanding". It does, however, also include the distinction between two aspects of the agent, one that certainly seems at variance with "common understanding" but which is justified to it by means of the difference between active and passive aspects of the self. The active element includes the sense of spontaneity in the production of ideas, a capacity not sensibly conditioned. However the question of whether this consciousness is illusory has to be addressed. This is where the claim that all Kant is showing is that freedom is a necessary "presupposition" comes in for Allison since the presupposition is one that we have a warrant for adopting inasmuch as we consider ourselves as members of the intelligible world. This provides, on Allison's reading, a basis for claiming a "deduction" of the "moral law" though not the categorical imperative given his commitment to a "double deduction" reading.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Kant and the Laws of Nature

It seems that there is a network of researchers who have been established now to address the theme announced in our headline. Their work is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and is coordinated by Michela Massimi. Go here for their blog. This promising venture focusing on one of the central topics of Kantian philosophy is well worth encouraging!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Rawls on Construction and Objectivity

Rawls' third lecture on Kantian constructivism, as printed in The Journal of Philosophy, culminates the series he gave on this topic and addresses methodological contrasts between constructivism and some other views of moral theory. The central conception of Kantian constructivism has turned out to be the establishment of a connection between the first principles of justice and the conception of moral persons as possessed of freedom and equality. The connection is made by means of the procedure of construction by which rationally autonomous agents "subject to reasonable conditions" arrive at public principles. In concluding with a discussion of objectivity Rawls intends to secure the philosophical status of the constructivist procedure. This includes the basis for the view that principles of justice are best thought of as reasonable rather than true.

The first part of the third lecture consists in Rawls' summary of the work of Henry Sidgwick The Methods of Ethics. This work is the one that Rawls thinks of as being an "outstanding achievement" in moral theory. In making this claim Rawls also indicates what he takes "moral theory" to consist in: "the systematic and comparative study of moral conceptions" (554). Moral philosophy, by contrast, is wider since it takes its main question to be one of justification whether this is seen epistemologically or practically. Sidgwick's work is one Rawls thinks of as the "first truly academic work in moral theory" (554) which defines some of the comprehensive comparisons important to it. Sidgwick saw that moral theory was significant for moral philosophy but his work is seen as limited in at least two crucial ways by Rawls. The first key limitation in Sidgwick's approach according to Rawls is that he gives little attention to the conception of the person and the social role of morality. The reason for this is that Sidgwick assumed that a "method" of ethics is specified by first principles that aim at reaching true judgments. So justification is seen as a primarily epistemological problem.

The focus on truth does not only lead Sidgwick in this epistemic direction but it also leads him to restrict attention to first principles rather than to articulating views of the person and the social role of morality. Due to these elements of his view of "methods" of ethics Sidgwick does not articulate constructivism as a method. Sidgwick also failed to see that Kant presents us with a distinctive method of ethics since Sidgwick understood the categorical imperative as equivalent to a principle of equity that requires treating persons similarly in similar situations. Because Kant's view is not regarded as providing us with a "method" of ethics Sidgwick is left counting only egoism, intuitionism and utilitarianism as real methods says Rawls. In making this statement Rawls is wrong since he leaves out Sidgwick's view of common sense morality, something of cardinal significance in The Methods of Ethics. In claiming also simply that Sidgwick "favours" the utilitarian method Rawls also neglects here the large scope Sidgwick subsequently gives to intuitionist elements in his treatment. But Rawls is certainly right to claim that Kant is given no sustained analysis by Sidgwick who spends more time on replying to Kant's view of freedom than he does to any clear account of the central elements of Kant's moral theory.

After opening with this discussion of Sidgwick Rawls moves on to a contrast between Kantian constructivism as conceived in these lectures with rational intuitionism. Rational intuitionism is presented here as grounded on two views. These are, firstly, that the central moral concepts are not analyzable in nonmoral terms and, secondly, that first principles of morals are self-evident. So it follows from these claims that agreement in judgment would be based upon recognition of self-evident truths about good reasons with these reasons fixed by a moral order that is independent of and prior to our conception of the person. In characterising intuitionism in this way Rawls sees it as favouring a priority of the good over the right and capturing this priority in terms of the moral order being prior to the person. The contents of the doctrine that ensue can be varied for intuitionists and now he outlines a sense in which utilitarian views could even be said to follow from them. 

The point of discussing intuitionism is to indicate that heteronomous conceptions of morality need not be naturalistic. And heteronomy is now presented by Rawls as the claim that the basic truths of morality are independent of (or justifiable without reference to) a conception of the person.  A Kantian claim, which includes the notion of synthetic a priori judgments, is, by contrast, one that requires practical reason to include central formulations of the person. So first principles are related to this sense of the person with the idea of it being embedded in the notion of practical reason in some way. By contrast the conception of the person for an intuitionist is much more sparse. 

If the view of the person is one of the means by which intuitionism can be contrasted with Kantian constructivism the other that Rawls considers concerns the limitations of moral deliberations. Constructivists, as viewed by Rawls, do not view the powers of reflection and judgment involved in moral deliberation as fixed in any absolute way. Rather they are reflections of the public culture to which they belong. This is why justice as fairness can be presented through the device of the original position as arriving at public agreements. The conception of justice involved here is one that relates to the framework of deliberation that produces it rather than pre-existing such deliberation. The limitations of such deliberation are reflected also in the narrow arena within which clear agreement is defined as possible, for example, within justice as fairness, the basic structure. Requirements that relate to the subject of justice are also built into the scheme of justice as fairness such as the ability of principles to meet criteria of publicity. In order to meet such requirements principles cannot be above certain levels of complexity. Certain facts are thus rendered irrelevant in consideration of the constraints of the procedure adopted.

In principle also the procedure of constructivism requires as well priority rules of certain sorts such as the priority of justice over efficiency or that of the first principle of justice over the second. The plausibility of these priority rules enables ways of dealing with the complexity of the many prima facie rules that are generally stated. The idea of the basic structure also plays the special role of defining what background justice is understood to be like. Comparisons of what outcomes are better or worse are also enabled by the reference to the notion of primary goods. This latter notion requires some sense of the agents who are to be party to the agreement that can emerge from the original position.

Alongside these constraints of a constructivist procedure is the abandonment of moral truth as the basic pursuit of moral doctrines. No specific principles are assumed to be correct prior to the initiation of the procedure of construction and no moral facts are taken to hold separately from this procedure. The first principles single out what facts would count as reasons of justice. So the procedure of construction of the original position determines what "facts" are to be counted. Constructivism also requires no specific doctrine of truth. 

The main ideals of justice as fairness are found in the "model-conceptions" of the well ordered society and the moral person. The original position enables representation of the Reasonable and the Rational and from its constraints the principles of justice emerge for the citizens of a well ordered society. So the procedure of construction has an intimate link to the way that principles of justice appear to be embedded in conditions of our life by means of reflection on that life. These conditions are what Rawls described as the circumstances of justice and consideration of these circumstances as constrained by the sense of what is Reasonable produces, in relation to our "model conceptions" the sense of the principles of justice.

The Kantian view, as seen by Rawls, addressees the public culture of a democratic society in order to bring to awareness a conception of the person and social cooperation that is implicit within this culture. This does not mean our society is well ordered since the public conception of justice is disputed within it. But the procedure of construction is one that has to be congruent with elements of our existing culture in such a way that it can meet criteria of public justification. First principles that are presented by constructivism are not "true" but reasonable and what is rather "true" are statements about how derivative principles follow from first principles. 

The notion of rational intuition is one that Rawls wishes to argue is an unnecessary one for the attainment of the goal of moral philosophy. Objectivity does not require the standpoint of the universe as Sidgwick suggests. It requires instead a social point of view that is publicly shared or would be in a well ordered society. Such a point of view is what is required within a basic structure and which models the conception of the person within such a structure. The person should be seen not in epistemic but in practical terms, that is, as involved in social cooperation. The means by which this determination of the person operates is through the avenue of potential agreement on public conceptions. Such agreement emerges from a view of the person as possessed of moral powers that articulate a notion of autonomous reflection. It is by these means Rawls hopes to articulate a way past the impasse in contemporary societies about the appropriate way of viewing justice.

Rawls on Freedom and Equality

In my last posting I looked at and provided an exegetical reading of Rawls' first lecture on Kantian constructivism as published in The Journal of Philosophy. In this posting I turn to the second of Rawls' lectures in which he turns from the discussion of autonomy to the views of freedom and equality and how these features of the person are represented in the original position. This lecture also features an extended account of the notion of publicity and its place within a Kantian view.

Rawls opens this second piece however by returning to the "model-conception" of a well-ordered society. In returning to this Rawls points out that the model-conceptions he is discussing are special cases of even more general notions but he does not here undertake to determine the way of describing the latter. A well-ordered society is a self-sufficient association which strives to perpetuate itself but is also a closed system. It is viewed as productive, that is, as giving itself its own means of support and not, as is the case in some utopias, as essentially not in need of labour. The "circumstances of justice" under which it exists are both subjective and objective. The objective form of these is that there is moderate scarcity, the subjective form is that there exists contrary conceptions of the good within the society. Despite the subjective circumstances of justice the citizens of the well-ordered society take their institutions to satisfy their public conception of justice. This point is introduced as the manner in which we can both understand the way that citizens are able to have a dual view of justice and as the basis for a distinction between different levels of the notion of publicity.

Rawls distinguishes three levels of publicity. The first level is in terms of the principles of justice. These principles of justice meet the conditions of institutions defined in Theory. They are accepted by all and the knowledge that they are is itself general. They are also supported by the general consensus beliefs held and so buttressed in an epistemic way by "common sense". Since Rawls is working throughout with the conception of a modern democratic society this includes the methods and practices of scientific inquiry and its findings when taken to be settled. The final level of publicity includes the "complete" justification of the public conception of justice which is also taken to be fully known or at least publicly available. This "full justification" includes the connection between the model-conceptions of the person and social cooperation. A "full publicity condition" is met when a well-ordered society meets all these conditions. Such a full condition expresses fair terms of cooperation and is hence Reasonable.

The full condition is also one that is appropriate, according to Rawls, for the restricted purposes of political justice and may be less compelling for other moral notions. Given the principles of justice apply to the political constitution and to all basic institutions, and that such can shape the character and aims of the members of society, the fundamental terms of this cooperation should answer to the requirements of "full" publicity. When institutions are capable of answering to such requirements citizens can account for their beliefs in them in such a way that their account will strengthen the institutions themselves. Publicity thus ensures that free and equal persons are in a position to accept the background social influences that shape their conception of themselves as persons.

For many other moral notions public agreement cannot be reached so consensus is limited in scope to the public moral constitution and its associated terms of cooperation. With regard to public questions ways of reasoning and forms of evidence have to be presented in such a way that they are generally accessible. The conception of a well-ordered society applies to the notions of the good held by citizens the principle of liberty (effectively toleration) held previously by religion alone. The basis for this is precisely due to the role of publicity in the justification of the principles of justice.

Parties to the construction of the original position assess conceptions of justice subject to the constraint that their principles can be public conceptions. The basic level of publicity cannot be met unless there is agreement on rules of evidence and forms of reasoning and these must be limited to those allowed by forms of reasoning as given to "common sense". Unless this stipulation is made no agreement is possible. So, whilst particular views of the good may hold certain institutions and policies to be wrong, the holding of them lacks public force if it does not meet these criteria of common sense (or public reason). Agreement within the original condition is thus not just on principles of justice but also on the ways of reasoning and rules of weighing evidence. The subjective circumstances of justice thus determine ways in which agreement can be articulated.

The second level of publicity concerns the way that general beliefs of social theory and moral psychology enter which is as publicly known to the parties to the construction. Citizens are aware of the factors that support the principles of justice as stated in forms that are common. This does not mean all factors that might support such beliefs are admissible within the process of reasoning since those which belong to controversial doctrines or are stated in ways which cannot avoid such controversy are not public doctrines in Rawls' sense. The articulation of the agreed principles of justice is not required to overcome the subjective circumstances of justice. Rather, it is assumed that only coercion could overcome such circumstances and this would subvert the point of reaching agreement. 

Rawls' careful articulation of public doctrines does not require decision on the truth of the doctrines disallowed public roles. It does however play a role in indicating that whilst fundamental disagreement may never be overcome that such disagreement need not have adverse effects in society. The fundamental principles need to be justified in ways that are impartial to the differences within society if the subjective circumstances of justice are to be respected. 

Only after these points about publicity and public reasoning have been stated does Rawls turn to the account of freedom and equality that is the principal purpose of the second part of his treatment. Moral persons were argued in the first part to be moved by higher-order interests to exercise moral powers. Within a well-ordered society citizens are free in the sense that they hold themselves entitled to make claims on the design of social institutions. Such claims are based on the self-conception persons have within this society which is that they take themselves to be self-originating sources of valid claims.  A second aspect of freedom is that free persons recognize each other as having the moral power to form and articulate a conception of the good. Following from this second element of freedom is that citizens, as citizens, are assumed to have a reflective capacity to reflect on and to alter any final ends they have. Another way of putting this second element of freedom is that the citizens are essentially independent of the particular conceptions of the good they espouse since their public identity is not dependent on any particular such view. In private life such a conception does not apply since privately we take our views to be integral to our identity but this does not affect the public ideal of social cooperation.

Returning to the notion of a well-ordered society Rawls next states that we assume in this that citizens are fully cooperating members of it over the course of their life so the ideal of it does not include special conditions that prevent this being actualized at given times. This helps to make clearer the notion of equality that is here being worked with which states that the public conception of justice is one that all are capable of honouring and of being participants in. All are thus viewed as equally worthy of being represented in any procedure that determines the principles of justice that regulate the basic institutions of society. This does not mean that we don't allow, in the structure of the society, for the fact that some, by virtue of special abilities, may be better qualified to hold offices and positions but only that all, as equal citizens, are assumed to have a sense of justice that is equally sufficient relative to what is required of them.

Rawls next returns to the original position and observes that within it the two powers of moral persons are represented formally as, for example, we do not here give any specific content to the sense of justice possessed to parties within it. So the first power means here only that all participants can follow the most reasonable conception of justice. The second capacity is similarly presented formally meaning that the parties are assumed to be able to have a sense of the good. But parties are also here determinate persons in the sense that both these powers would, after the removal of the veil of ignorance, have specific content. But there is no antecedent principles external to the argument of the position to which anyone has to refer to derive their principles. Freedom as independence is represented in how the parties give priority to guaranteeing the conditions for realizing their highest-order interests. Given that parties can stand above their conceptions of the good and judge them they are independent from them.

The Kantian conception of the veil of ignorance is also stated by Rawls to involve this veil being "thick". It is not only, as with Hume, that we wish to prevent parties from reasoning according to threat advantage. We further wish to prevent specific given notions of the good from being decisive in determining the basis for general agreement. This thicker veil is thus intended to ensure the fullest recognition of the equal status of persons by preventing even the higher-order (but not highest-order) interests of some from weighing more than others. Equality is represented within the original position by taking rights and powers within the procedure of it to be distributed to all. The only relevant feature here is that the capacity for moral personality is fulfilled and accidents of fortune are given no place within the construction. 

Rawls unhappily concludes the second lecture with two misleading contrasts between his approach as articulated here and Kant's own views. The first contrast is between the primacy of the social in the view and the "individual" focus of the Categorical Imperative. This contrast is misleading since Rawls argues that the principles of social justice are understood by Kant to follow from personal considerations of a sort that weigh in moral decisions strictly so called. In fact the supreme principle of right is not derived from such personal considerations even though it is clearly related to the Categorical Imperative itself. The basis of such derivation is a lengthy and difficult question but suffice it to say that the rationale for treating one in relation to the other concerns the overall conditions for the possible sustaining of just relations and is not grounded on personal matters. Rawls' suggestion to the contrary here is based on a very loose reading of the Doctrine of Right, a work he nowhere gives any sustained interpretation of, including, surprisingly, in his lectures on political philosophy (which don't include lectures on Kant).

The second contrast concerns the relationship between Rawls' notion of the "full" publicity requirement and Kant's idea of the "fact" of reason. Here Rawls is emphasizing that his view of autonomy is based on the way that publicity conditions enable it to be given form. By contrast he takes the "fact" of reason to just imply a mysterious basis to autonomy. In fact Kant's account of publicity (as stated in Perpetual Peace) has no essential relationship to the idea of autonomy in his moral philosophy and nor does Kant model political philosophy by it though he does instead discuss a relationship between freedom and independence that has correlates with Rawls' view of full autonomy. Rawls' comparison here mixes up levels of articulation of his doctrine by reference to Kant's and is singularly unhelpful in enabling a relationship between them to be stated.

Rawls on Autonomy

In 1980, almost a decade after publishing A Theory of Justice,  Rawls delivered three lectures on the topic of "Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory" which were subsequently published in The Journal of Philosophy (from which page numbers are given). Over a series of postings I intend to present an exegesis of these lectures beginning here with the first which concerns the distinction between what Rawls terms "rational" and "full" autonomy. 

In opening the first lecture Rawls refers to the need to consider aspects of justice as fairness that he has not previously emphasised and to "set out more clearly the Kantian roots of that conception". This rationale for the lecture is set alongside a separate one of simply aiming to make the notion of Kantian constructivism more familiar. However the first rationale will be the more important given that what is being made familiar is integrally related to the further working out of the normative implications of A Theory of Justice.

The first part of the first lecture begins with a description of Kantian constructivism as specifying a conception of the person in a reasonable procedure of construction. Otherwise put the constructivist view being advanced sets up a procedure of construction that answers to certain requirements and the latter are understood to have their force in their reasonableness. Essentially the idea is to buttress the apparatus of Theory by showing how there is a connection between the person, as understood in a certain way, and the first principles of justice. The connection is by means of "a procedure of construction". 

Having begun by stating this point about the relation between the sense of the person and the first principles of justice Rawls goes on to argue that the conditions for justifying the latter require a public culture that is capable of sustaining them. In the absence of a sufficient basis for agreement amongst citizens the task of specifying a principle of justice becomes one of showing what is most reasonable to accept given a conception of the person. Within "democratic culture" as Rawls understands it here, which understanding is very broad, it is a sense that persons have moral capacities of a sort that is key. These moral capacities are what permit us to sustain the idea of treating persons as free and equal. If there is dispute at present over the way in which justice is centrally understood democratically then the Kantian procedure has to be one of demonstrating which principles of freedom and equality most reasonably meet the conditions of potential agreement.

Phrasing the beginning of his inquiry in terms of democratic culture ensures that Rawls conceives of his inquiry in a restricted way. It is not trans-historical but rather an inquiry concerned with modern conditions and it is not trans-cultural as it assumes the basic shape of democratic society. Further there is a form of hermeneutic at work in the inquiry being undertaken that expresses the view that there is at least a desire for agreement on the basic principles of justice. This desire for agreement is traced back here to the notion of "common sense" with Rawls assuming that it is either the case that we need to articulate the notions inherent within it or to propose to it instead conceptions and principles that are congenial to its "essential" form. As he further puts this:

The real task is to discover and formulate the deeper bases of agreement which one hopes are embedded in common sense, or even to originate and fashion starting points for common understanding by expressing in a new form the convictions found in the historical tradition by connecting them with a wide range of people's considered convictions: those which stand up to critical reflection. (518)

The way the process of disinterring from common sense the resolution of the problem modern democratic culture is apparently faced with is by means of articulation, in the first instance, of a conception of the person that is affirmed within this culture or that will be acceptable to those formed by it once critical reflection on it has taken place.

So Rawls is concerned with a "public conception" of justice that can be affirmed by all who regard their person in a certain way. This idea is part of the way that Rawls now understands the notion of "congruence" as what has to be provided is a conception of justice that fits our "deeper understanding of ourselves and our aspirations". This entails then that it fits the way that moral psychology resonates with us. This is reinforced by the view that the history and traditions embedded in this public life are resonant with the reasonable doctrine that is so uncovered. This does have a radical implication: "Apart from the procedure of constructing the principles of justice, there are no moral facts" (519).

After introducing the topic like this Rawls next specifies the way in which the conflict within democratic culture is understood by him although the ways he characterises this conflict is not singular. It is between two different traditions and one of them is associated with Locke, the other with Rousseau. However Rawls also refers to the difference Benjamin Constant spoke of between the liberties of the moderns and the liberties of the ancients with Locke associated with the moderns (and thus Rousseau with the ancients). The modern Lockean conception is concerned with civil liberties especially liberties of thought and conscience and also property rights and rights of association. The other ancient Rousseauist conception begins instead from equal political liberties and views civil liberties as subordinate. This appears to imply, in Kant's own terms, that Locke essentially provides the rudiments of a doctrine of private right whilst Rousseau provides one of public right and the task is bringing them together (as Kant sought to do in the Doctrine of Right).

Now in working out a way of specifying notions of freedom and equality that bring together these traditions Rawls introduces the idea of "model-conceptions" as embedded in his notion of justice as fairness. The two key notions in question are those of the "well-ordered society" and a "moral person". The "original position" is now presented as a third model-conception that mediates between the other two (and hence provides us with the means of understanding the process of construction). The means by which the "original position" works is by showing ways in which the citizens of a well-ordered society would have, using the capacities of moral persons, selected the principles that created their own society.

In the original position we begin, however, with a more restricted sense of the persons within it as being only rationally autonomous whereas the citizens of the well-ordered society would be fully autonomous. Rationally autonomous agents are those who possess the powers of formulation of hypothetical imperatives. Before proceeding further with a discussion of rational autonomy, however, Rawls first proceeds to describe the well-ordered society. Such a society would be regulated by a public conception of justice in the sense formulated by his account of institutions in the first section of Theory. This conception would be one understood to be accepted by all and known to be so shared. Further the basic structure of the society would be taken to actualize the conception of justice so understood and would be founded on reasonable beliefs. Within this arrangement the members of the society would treat each other as free and equal moral persons.

Moral persons would all possess the capacity to have a sense of justice and would have an equal right to determine the first principles of justice on which their society was governed. The freedom of these persons would consist in their ability to make claims on the design of institutions in the name of their fundamental aims and higher-order interests. The view of the well-ordered society is used to provide constraints on the way the original position should be set up as the idea that persons are free and equal has to be given place within the original position. In so beginning it operates fairly between persons and thus we have the idea that the procedure in question will settle the principles of justice fairly, an idea that is captured in the notion of justice as fairness.

Rawls' means of picturing the original condition is augmented, as in Theory, by the use of the device of the veil of ignorance. It is intended that the introduction of this device will ensure fairness between persons and thereby provide what Rawls terms "pure procedural justice". The principles of justice are to be constructed by a process of deliberation in which no antecedently given principles are given any particular weight. It is clear though that if a principle weighs heavily against rational assessment of interests it would be rejected. If the citizens of a well-ordered society are such as would regard themselves as moral persons then the parties to the original position must be such as to enable this self-conception to arise.

Having stated this much Rawls describes the capacities he takes to be essential to having moral powers. These are the capacity for an effective sense of justice on the one hand and the capacity to form and revise a rational conception of the good on the other. Persons have higher-order interests to realize and exercise these powers. These interests are then the ones that supremely have to be regulative of how the operation of the original condition is defined. We take the parties also to be "developed" morally in the sense that they aim at particular conceptions of the good. There is also a higher-order interest that each has of being able to prosecute this but this interest is not highest-order like that of realizing and exercising moral powers.

For the veil of ignorance not to prevent recognition of the powers so described we have to specify a means by which rational agreement can plausibly be reached. This is by means of an account of primary goods which will provide a yard-stick by means of which the parties to the original position can evaluate conceptions of justice. The primary goods are described here as including basic liberties (of Lockean sort), freedom of movement, powers and prerogatives of offices, incomes and wealth as all-purpose means and the social bases of self-respect. Primary goods are in general singled out as those generally necessary all-purpose means to enable us to realize and exercise our moral powers. The specified highest-order interests of persons thus select what is to count as a primary good.

So when we state that conceptions that would fail to recognise the interests of the parties to the agreement would fall, we are referring not to material interests, but rather to the interest they all have in enabling each other to develop and protect their moral powers. In the original position, therefore, the parties to the agreement are autonomous in not being bound beforehand by any given conception of justice but also in being moved solely by their highest order interests. This is what Rawls understands as the "rational autonomy" of the parties.

Full autonomy, by contrast, requires a further specification of social cooperation. Rawls argues that the notion of social cooperation contains two elements. The first is a sense of the fair terms of cooperation and these include conditions of reciprocity and mutuality. This element of cooperation is what Rawls now terms the Reasonable. The other element of cooperation, by contrast, is what he calls the Rational. The rational element of social cooperation concerns what each party to the cooperation in question is hoping to achieve by means of this cooperation. In the original position we have determined the rational by means of higher-order interests and acting rationally in relation to these interests includes adopting principles of instrumental reason. The Reasonable, by contrast, is incorporated into the background setup of the original position including in the sense that this position has to meet conditions of publicity.

The original position is set up to represent the minimum adequate notions of moral personality and when to this is added the sense equals in all relevant respects are to be treated equally this idea is meant to ensure that the original position is described in a way that is fair to all members of the agreement. The first subject of justice is also to be the basic structure of society or its main social institutions. 

The summation of the remarks Rawls presents here about the Reasonable and the Rational are to the effect that the Reasonable presupposes and subordinates the Rational. The Reasonable defines the fair terms of cooperation but it presupposes the Rational as without a sense that there are distinct conceptions of the good there is no real point to such cooperation. It restates essentially the argument made in Theory for the priority of the right over the good.

Full autonomy is a moral ideal that is part of the comprehensive ideal of the well-ordered society. Rational autonomy, by contrast, is the device by means of which the conception of the person is related to the procedure of arriving at definite principles of justice. 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Herman on Mutual Aid (II)

In the previous posting I began to look at Barbara Herman's reconstruction of Kant's argument for beneficence in the Groundwork. In this posting I want to look at the second part of Herman's argument and respond to some elements of it. If the first part of her reconstruction concentrated primarily on providing a response to prudential readings of Kant's argument, the second part, by contrast, attends to some questions that emerge from her alternative reconstruction.

Herman mentions, for example, Kant's rationale for including some sense of "true needs" in his view of beneficence given that he has apparently "excluded" empirical considerations from his argument. The basis for Kant being able to do both these things is, claims Herman, due to the way he understands the "exclusion" of empirical considerations. On the one hand, empirical considerations are not meant to account for the "foundations" of morality. This is based on Kant's view that reason itself is not to be understood on empiricist lines. Connected to this point is the distinct claim that moral requirements are separate from any contingent and empirical ends we may possess. These claims about the "exclusion" of empirical considerations need not entail (and does not for Herman) that the "content" of morality has no relation to the empirical nature of things.

Despite having made this clarificatory comment about Kant's "exclusion" of empirical data from his view of morality Herman admits that the presence of claims about agential dependence in her reconstruction of the argument for beneficence might still trouble us. After all, what is to prevent there being rational agents who are not dependent in the way we humans appear to be. Given this possibility it would appear that factors trading on contingent characteristics have been given undue weight in her reconstructed argument and this is important given that the categorical imperative is meant to apply to all rational beings. However, in reply, Herman argues that whilst the fundamental categorical imperative would apply to all rational beings this does not entail that the same duties would emerge from the application of it for all rational beings. So there would be rational beings that would not have the duty of beneficence despite being subject to the categorical imperative.

This implication of Herman's account is somewhat surprising and reveals that her claim about indispensable ends is anthropologically inflected. The duty of mutual aid emerges for her as one that attaches to beings that are dependent on each other in the way that humans are. Another surprising element of her view is that the claim of mutual aid can be said to be met if it is recognised as valid even should it be the case that no aid is able to be given. This latter claim involves saying that the claim is "met" in a sense if it is recognised that someone is of the class of persons and hence we can see that their claim is one we should meet if we can. Even though it may be we cannot meet their claim the act of recognition of its validity is a kind of way in which it is acknowledged and this itself appears to Herman to matter.

This second surprising element of Herman's argument is one to which she pays more attention than the first surprising element. Seeing a claim as "valid" is seeing that it is right that the need it expresses be considered she states and this does not entail that the claim even should be met. 

The next element of Herman's account worth remark is that she takes the duty of mutual aid to be one that is indeterminate with regard to action. It expresses what she calls a "general policy maxim" which expresses a form of intent with regard to the formation of specific maxims of action. The intent is that the specific maxims of action should take the general policy to guide their formulation. This view of the way the duty works is now used to begin to formulate what Herman takes to be the casuistry of mutual aid.

In outlining this casuistry Herman argues that the way a maxim is to be understood is in terms of what is "behind" a maxim. So, using the example of refusing to give to charity, she articulates the very different reasons that might lead someone to adopt such a policy and argues that the general policy behind the specific adoption of this view is what matters. The lesson of this example is then applied to other examples including the reason why someone who has ability and opportunity to help another does not do so on a specific occasion. Acknowledging another's need as a claim on one is taking it to provide a reason why one should help them. Relevant reasons for failing to act on the claim are introduced in the context of competing claims. 

The basis of mutual aid is revealed for Herman to be the preservation and support of persons in their activity as rational agents. The basis of refraining from helping others in general is the threat this may pose to our own agency. The same action may therefore be mandated for one and yet not for another so the universality of the duty is not a basis for claiming uniformity of what is required to be done.

A further surprising implication of Herman's account is that if mutual aid really relates to "true needs" then many acts of helping others that we perform are not really acts that are morally mandated and therefore not duties at all. This view is distinct from the claim in the Doctrine of Virtue (Ak. 6: 387-8) that the happiness of others is an obligatory end for us, which implies a more stringent requirement of beneficence than Herman allows. Herman is unhappy with this suggestion since she thinks if interpreted strictly it fails to distinguish between different kinds of need of others. The passage cited from the Doctrine of Virtue is very thin and principally aimed at arguing against the view that I have a duty to promote my own happiness. Herman also has a more moderate view of the passage taking it to mandate no more than possessing a duty of contributing to the meeting of the true needs of others. 

The focus on "true needs" as the basis of the requirement of beneficence is a way of distinguishing between the help that morality mandates and that which may be naturally given by a kindly soul but Herman does not wish to present the difference this way since she argues that a full Kantian account of helping would attempt to integrate both types of help. The problem with this is that the view of kindness offered still stands as one on Herman's account that tends to be viewed in terms of inclination as when she refers to it as "good-heartedness". This construal of it assimilates it to the position of the kindly person described as lacking in moral worth in the first part of the Groundwork

Herman's account of beneficence has, in sum, three difficulties: 1) it surprisingly limits the scope of beneficence to only certain kinds of rational beings; 2) it brings in a view of a relationship between beneficence and kindness that appears to point to a fuller Kantian theory of helping but also undercuts this suggestion; 3) in ruling out more stringent accounts of beneficence it appears to leave a large amount of the filling in of the determinancy of the judgment about this duty to latitude.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Herman and Mutual Aid (I)

Apologies to readers of this blog for my extended absence from writing. Various things came up and for a while they created problems with finding time and space for blogging. In returning to the practice I want to look at an essay from the collection on Kant's Groundwork that was edited by Paul Guyer. The piece I'm going to address here and in the next posting is the one by Barbara Herman on mutual aid (which originally appeared in 1984 in an issue of Ethics).

Herman's piece opens with a long epigraph from the Groundwork (Ak. 4: 423) where Kant relates the question of beneficence to the formula of the law of nature. After citing this Herman claims that it is not a "crude misunderstanding" of the passage to see it as making a "prudential claim" for the duty of beneficence. The example as given relates the duty to the conception of a contradiction in the will and does so by pointing out that the adoption of a maxim of non-beneficence would lead an agent to deprive themselves of the help they will in future need for themselves. The "prudential" understanding of this argument has a substantial history going back to Schopenhauer and being repeated in one way by Sidgwick. It is, despite the evident reasons for championing it, a reading that runs full tilt against the overwhelming general case made in the Groundwork for distinguishing morality from prudential foundations. This general heuristic point gives one a clear reason for rejecting the prudential reading of the beneficence example.

In addition to referring to this heuristic point Herman points out a "double function" of the categorical imperative. One part of this is to "establish" moral requirements, the other is to assess actions and policies whose "permissibility" is uncertain. This "double function" should lead to seeing the use of examples as part of the general case for the duty in question and not as severed from it.

Herman's argument subsequently develops a view of the way the test that is given in the example is meant to work. Her overall claim is that the point of it should be to establish that the categorical imperative "correlates well with our considered judgments" (134). This notion of "considered judgments" is unclear since it could involve a notion of "common sense" or it may refer to a "reflective" kind of work that is undertaken on the typical judgments of "common sense". Further Herman refers to the point that Kant takes it that the categorical imperative is, in some way, "embedded" in ordinary judgments as would seem to follow from the argument of the first part of the Groundwork. "Correlation" is not a strong enough link to establish this claim but this claim could itself be interpreted in a similarly dual fashion as requiring either that common sense exhibits the categorical imperative or that a reflective analysis of its operation would demonstrate the categorical imperative whose result therefore would not be equivalent to a descriptive analysis of the operation of common sense.

This first issue is thus far unresolved. The next point that arises concerns the way that Herman views the operation of the procedure of moral judgment. This is done by means of iteration of the method of the "typic" outlined in the Critique of Practical Reason where Kant speaks of construction of a "world" in which the maxim in question has got the status of being a law of nature. If something can't be adopted as such a law without a contradiction of one of two kinds (in either conception or in willing) resulting then the maxim must be rejected. (Herman neglects to engage here in any discussion of the theory of maxims.) The example from the Groundwork involves no contradiction in conception and instead Kant there insists on the notion that there is a contradiction in the will.

The prudential reading of the example produces no specifically moral reason for acting on a maxim of beneficence. It typically instead trades on considerations of the vulnerability to misfortune of the agent with the putatively non-beneficent maxim. But if the argument is a prudential one it follows that there are many situations in which helping others is very inconvenient and that a generalized maxim of non-beneficence might, on the whole, be preferable. It would also produce a non-universalizable conception of beneficence since, as Herman puts it, some might be more whilst others are less willing to "risk it" that they will need and want help in the future. The whole problem seems then to turn into one about insurance and assurance and then the degree of beneficence one is willing to practice becomes dependent upon the way one calculates one's real risks of being in need.

The result of the prudential conception of the beneficence example is that the consideration of it becomes one in which moral actions are viewed in terms of "pay-off" and resultant expectations of well-being and this seems not to capture correctly the intuition we have of the importance of morality in our life. Herman mentions a possible alternative view to the prudential reading of the example as used by Rawls in his lectures on Kant's moral philosophy. Here Rawls invokes his conception of the veil of ignorance but Herman interprets it in   terms of the prudential argument for beneficence since it merely makes everyone conservative about risk taking. There are passages where Rawls suggests this in Theory but I don't take this to be his point here. In Theory, as Herman rightly states, the veil of ignorance is used against the backdrop of the "original position" but Rawls makes no reference to the latter when he interprets Kant's moral philosophy in his lectures. So I don't think the "prudential" reading that makes some sense of Rawls' overall political argument is one that is evidently right with regard to his reconstruction of Kant's moral philosophy.

Herman's interpretation of Rawls' view of the beneficence argument leads to seeing it as based on a view of the "representative person" rather than on an assessment of the position individuals are placed in. The point of emphasizing the latter is that Kant's examples generally function to counter the typical strategy revealed in many maxims of "exempting" oneself, just for this once, from a rule accepted to hold generally. Seeing the example this way makes the question of testing the maxim of non-beneficence one that is merely a special case of a general problem of egoistic self-preference. This way of seeing the example has the virtue of being close to the prudential reading in one central respect whilst also presenting a case for the prudential reading being wrong overall.

A second element of Herman's resistance to the Rawlsian reading concerns the fact that maxims appear to be tested by Kant as they are willed by the agent and hence the test of them has to include information of a sort ruled out by the veil of ignorance. I am unconvinced by this second "problem" with Rawls' reconstruction since the information that is relevant is only the generic information concerning the rationale for adopting the maxim. It doesn't incorporate specifically individual features into its consideration, the Herman reading, and nor could it or should it. In not doing so however it is no better placed than the Rawlsian reading.

Herman's interpretation turns, not like the Rawlsian one, on a view of information but instead on a view of rationality. Herman wishes to show that the adoption of the maxim of non-beneficence is irrational but not because of its implications of being non-prudential. In presenting an alternative view of the irrationality of the maxim of non-beneficence Herman looks in particular at the qualities of "ends" agents adopt. She wishes to show two qualities of ends that will be sufficient to show the irrationality of the maxim of non-beneficence. These are, firstly, that there are ends that are more important to agents than any alleged benefit derived from the aim of non-beneficence and, secondly, that there are ends that it is not possible for agents to forego. These two claims could be termed the importance claim (as in "importance of what we care about") and indispensable ends claim (ends we cannot fail to have).

So the categorical imperative procedure is viewed by Herman as showing that these two claims hold with regard to our ends. Central to her reconstruction will be showing that the aid of others is something we cannot do without and thus that aiming to maintain relations with others that will ensure that such aid is forthcoming should it be required is an indispensable aim for us. This point requires looking again at the theory of action that Kant outlines in his account of hypothetical imperatives. The conception of these was that means are not contingently connected to ends in the sense that certain kinds of means are essential to the accomplishment of certain kinds of ends. To this Herman adds that we essentially have recourse to three kinds of means: the utilisation of our own powers (as is discussed in the duty of self-improvement), the use of "things" or "objects" and the use of the services of others. Put like this the argument concerning beneficence aims to show that one of the basic conditions of our action incorporates a relation to the services of others.

In response to this Herman conjures up the figure of a "negative Stoic" who is prepared to give up any end that will require the help of others to be realised. Such an agent has taken the Stoical end to be a limit on all other ends. This does require taking this end to have a supreme kind of value and if there are other ends that are also taken to be important the problem with maintaining such a view will be manifested in demonstrating to oneself why this end should always have over-riding value. Not only is this so but whether the conditions faced by this agent are ones that present serious problems for them are not themselves under the agent's control. It may be that one will need help to resist temptations that are very strong and if this is resisted then the maxim of independence may become self-defeating. Whilst this argument doesn't strike me as having conclusive force what it does show is that any given end has to be related to the conditions that enable it to be realized and that one of the elements that have to be considered there is the potential help of others. Cutting oneself off from this seems unreasonable whatever one's ends otherwise are.

Herman's central claim is that there are ends that a rational being cannot give up and this is her gloss on Kant's notion of "true needs". Included amongst these are the need for the help of others given the natural limits on our powers as agents. As Herman puts this: "Because we are dependent rational beings with true needs, we are constrained to act in certain ways" (143). It is not obvious how this argument fails to be a variant on the conception that the duty of beneficence turns out to be something that it is prudent to accept. Herman's view that conditions of agency include the ability to call on the help of others seems right but this ability to call on the help of others is neither always requiring of beneficent acts nor does it mandate the scope of these acts. Further whilst a relation to others does seem to manifest a "true need" there are reasons to think separation from others is also so required (as in Kant's discussion of friendship).

Herman herself, however, appears more concerned with the suggestion that an implausibly stringent requirement of beneficence might be thought to follow from her argument. So she considers a maxim of non-sacrificial beneficence as a means to counter such a result and suggests that it would fail the categorical imperative test. However, in countering the suggestion that such a result points to an implausibly strong duty she argues that what is required when sacrificial help is needed is not "sacrifice" itself but something specific and availability of this latter depends on contingent circumstances.  Hence a maxim of non-sacrificial beneficence does not involve a contradiction in the will in the way that a maxim of non-beneficence generically does.

However it might seem that such an argument can be used against the duty of beneficence in general. Whenever help is needed it is something specific that is required not the help as such. Whilst this is true it is only the agency of another that can provide the help in question whatever that is.

What Herman's argument as shown does do not do is demonstrate that there may not be imprudent consequences from acting in a way that serves our own "true needs". Further she cannot demonstrate that our "true needs" may fail to be met in future because we acted beneficently. So, in an example she considers, it may be that a rich person will give away resources beneficently that will later make it impossible for this person to get an expensive medical treatment that would have had major effects on their life. This fact shows that the argument for beneficence is far from an easy one to sell. Herman herself deals with this in terms of how there is no requirement to meet all contingent circumstances in such cases but only to show what is required for agency to be truly realised. But given that the circumstances of scarcity seem far from "contingent" if they are likely to always hold in an agent's life this argument is not clearly conclusive.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Kjartan Koch Mikalsen in *KSO*

The latest issue of Kant Studies Online has been published and contains a review article by Kjartan Koch Mikalsen (NTNU) of an edited collection Politics and Metaphysics in Kant. The article, like all pieces in KSO, can be freely accessed and downloaded and is available here.