Thursday, 29 September 2011

Ford Madox Brown: "Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer"?

It's a while since I last blogged about art works and it is perhaps not surprising that the occasion of my again doing so is an exhibition I recently visited at Manchester Art Gallery.The exhibition is the first full-scale display of the work of Ford Madox Brown in the UK since 1965 which was itself the centenary of Madox Brown's own retrospective of his work in 1865. I approached the exhibition with some excitement which I found difficult to explain to myself since, on the whole, my general view of Pre-Raphaelite art has not been favourable. This exhibition succeeded, however, both in altering my general view of this movement and in decisively introducing me to an artist who I now do not doubt was one of the most important of the 19th century. 

The exhibition's title stakes out a kind of claim that is, in some respects, insufficiently ambitious with regard to Madox Brown. The suggestion that he was a "pioneer" of the Pre-Raphaelites is true in a sense since he began producing serious paintings prior to the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 and yet, after the Brotherhood was formed did find himself, to a certain degree, in alignment with it. However, one of the oddities of the presentation of him as a "pioneer" of the Pre-Raphaelite style is all that it does not address concerning the general comprehension of this style and the way in which this exhibition demonstrates how far away in many respects Madox Brown was from what that general comprehension would suggest. Putting it bluntly, and to quote Henry James (himself, unfortunately, no friend of the art of Madox Brown), Pre-Raphaelite art generally gets seen through the vein of its representations of young women who conform to a languishing type "with a strictness that savours of monotony". Alongside this representation of long, languid women with flowing curly hair we generally represent mythic, Arthurian images, occasional religious subjects and an idealised conception of the past age (as reflected in the very name "Pre-Raphaelite"). Perhaps it is time this whole image was, however, vigorously questioned.

This exhibition in presenting Madox Brown as perhaps the "original" Pre-Raphaelite certainly goes some way to showing a quite different side to their art than this popular image suggests. Madox Brown was unlike the figures who formed the Brotherhood in a number of respects. Firstly, he came from a different generation being older than they (which is where the "pioneer" notion comes from). Secondly, he was born and educated abroad which gave him a different type of induction into art than was given to the "classic" figures of the Brotherhood. Amongst other things it ensured that Madox Brown was imbued with some academic values that remained important for his artistic practice even though that practice belied in many respects his original training. Amongst other things this training culminated in the production of history paintings on a large scale and both the scale and this conception remained important for his later work. Thirdly and finally, Madox Brown presents rather more varied subjects than the classic figures of the Brotherhood and is most importantly more focused on reacting to the present around him, particularly in his key works.

The exhibition brings together 140 works divided between 11 themes and is curated by Julian Treuherz, a former curator of Manchester Art Gallery and author of the exhibition catalogue.  The initial sight on beginning to view the exhibition is a set of paintings that are devoted to the artist himself and his family with the striking original impression coming from his painting of the family of his first wife, The Bromley Family. This picture produces an immediate feel of immersion in a remote and perhaps somewhat quaint historical period and is an example of a kind of Biedermeyer portraiture. Madox Brown's wife is in the centre of the composition holding a set of flowers whilst behind her two men are engaged in conversation and in front of her two women sit in dark clothing, one of whom appears distant. Whilst it is in many respects a conventional portrait the immediate feeling of historicisation it accompanies does induct the viewer into the sense of a strange world that will require accommodations of a sort that may be unexpected. 

The second subject area is what is classed as Madox Brown's "early period" and includes the striking Manfred on the Jungfrau that I have often walked past on previous visits to the gallery. Whilst this composition shows a scene of Romantic agony the colouration is confusing given that Madox Brown (or FMB for short) altered it some decades after it was first exhibited. A more important indication of the early style is The Execution of Mary Stuart which, dating from the very early 1840's already shows an accomplished style and is, unsurprisingly, a form of history painting. The figure of the fallen Queen is presented with large hips. She looks down on a servant who has fainted and is being held up by another who is weeping. The Queen's finger is lifted to her lips, with a stern indication of the need to hush. This picture, whilst not striking in itself, is indicative of a formed talent which is surprising given the comparative youth of FMB at this point. The Body of Harold Brought Before William the Conqueror, by contrast, suggests an inclination to adopt the "Norman yoke" view of English history whilst, in its colour combinations, already appearing to point forwards in his career.

The second area of the exhibition signals FMB's alleged "change of direction" that emerges from his first visit to Rome and the death of his first wife and it is here that one gets one's first set of surprises since the alignment with the Pre-Raphaelite vision one is expecting to now emerge goes in a different direction than one would have anticipated relying on the stereotype one possesses of the notion of their style. For example Oure Ladye of Saturday Night belies its archaic title by showing the Christ child as modern English and as FMB himself put "powdered, combed and begowned" so that whilst it is apparently Mary who tends him she appears to be doing no more (as the title states) than giving her child his weekly bath! The child captivates with his frank and quite un-God-like stare and the angel who brings the bowl to wash the child in appears bored. The lack of fit between expectation and execution is matched by the elaborate frame the picture is presented in which includes the inscription "Our Ladye of Good Children".  Next to this striking and unexpected work is the portrait of the industrialist James Bamford subtitled by FMB A Holbein of the 19th Century and which shows an unidealised figure staring straight at the viewer as he holds a recently unsealed letter. The portrait of a basic typical figure of the 19th century already shows a commitment to the present that ensures this painting fits well with the homely mother and child engaged in 19th century bathing.

The section "the draughtsman" exhibits a series of sketches, mainly in chalk, intended to convey some sense of the ability of FMB to simply draw. Most striking to me here was the simple Life Study of Male Nude that captures a frontal view of a standing figure from the waist up and demonstrates an attention to muscular structure that we will see brought out in fuller detail in later works. The subsequent section on landscape painting contains a number of important surprises. The Pretty Baa-Lambs exceeds its somewhat fey title not just in its compositional success but also in being, at least partly, an example of a very early plein-air painting capturing, as it does, bright sunshine and having been executed, at least with regard to the landscape, in the open air. The mother and child figures central to the picture demonstrate a relation to the environment whereby education is enacted. The somewhat fearful and oddly proportioned child is being shown the lambs while a servant behind collects grass for some unknown purpose. The mother is, surprisingly, dressed in 18th century clothing but FMB himself claimed the main point was simply capturing the sunlight. 

By contrast to The Pretty Baa-Lambs, the slightly later painting An English Autumn Afternoon is presented in an oval and was apparently painted, at least initially, as a view from a window. At the front of the work are two figures, a man and a woman who look out on scenery from Hampstead in late October. Their view, and ours, takes in roofs, back gardens, sheds and orchards and culminates in a country horizon. As with The Pretty Baa-Lambs the major effect is the conveying of an impression of what was there then, under those conditions of light and reinforces the sense of FMB's pioneer status beyond that of any relation to the Pre-Raphaelites. 

The centre of the exhibition is taken up with the theme of the "painter of modern life", the phrase Treuherz borrows from Baudelaire and includes some of the most striking pictures in the exhibition. The Last of England is chosen to illustrate the cover of the catalogue and dates from the mid-1850s. It captures an emigration scene as two central figures prepare to leave England for other shores taking with them (wrapped in the woman's coat) a child. Behind them there are rowdy exchanges between other passengers and a strong presentation of a rather green sea. Dominating the visual field though is the magenta head-scarf of the female half of the couple, caught, as it appears, in the wind and which leads one back to the plain and yet central face of the woman in question. The man beside her is distinct in colouration, wearing brown to her grey but his lips echo the colour of her scarf as his expression contrasts with hers suggesting a more bitter experience or perhaps one less centred on the future generation. This very fine picture again concentrates on the present and the central woman in the work lacks all the idealised qualities of Pre-Raphaelite women.

Stages of Cruelty is similarly unexpected in giving us an image of a form of femme fatale but one whose sinister figuration lacks compensatory beauty and who is accompanied by a small girl intent on hitting a dog with a red flower. The woman is shown turned away from a somewhat crazed male lover who looks up at her from behind a wall. The whole effect conveys a different side of Baudelaire to that  which gives its name to this part of the exhibition.

The culmination both of this part of the exhibition and of the whole exhibition has to be given in the monumental Work, a piece on which FMB laboured for the best part of a decade. Any quick description of the work fails to do justice to its conception or its amazing success. The conventional comparisons attached to it connect it to either Courbet's realist works or to William Powell Firth's The Derby Day but neither of these works. The connection to Firth is obvious in terms of the scale of the composition and its crowded character. Work is also similar to The Derby Day in having no obvious central figure though there is one in Work who FMB picked out as its "hero", a position that could only be occupied by a small child performer in The Derby Day. The relation to Courbet is also clear if we take The Painter's Studio as our comparison. Unlike The Painter's Studio, however, the focus of Work is not the work of the artist but rather that of manual labourers and this central focus in Work also gives the latter a general focus that is much more inclusive in its account of present day life than is captured in Courbet.

The general idea of Work is to capture a day in Hampstead on which some manual labourers work in a trench whilst a representative sample of the life of the society passes by and around them. If there is a centre in the painting it is the figure of the workman downing a draught of beer in the midst of his labour and from him the eye travels either downwards to the trench in which the "hero" of the painting is shown standing or upwards to a rich couple on horseback in the shade whose journey has been interrupted by the work being undertaken. At the left side of the work-men are a number of figures, a lady who drops a pamphlet that is being ignored into the trench, another who walks shaded by a parasol and a peculiar male figure who is dressed in rags and carrying weeds in a basket. On the right of the workmen the eye travels from a beer-seller wearing a sumptuous jacket and sporting a black eye to a ragamuffin set of children, the eldest girl of which is busy scolding her mischief-making younger brother. At the far end of the right side stand two spectators engaged in conversation who are none other than Thomas Carlyle and the Reverend Maurice (a leader of the Christian Socialist movement). On the road below these two an election campaign is in progress, some sleep on a hillside and, pictured briefly, a policeman moves on an orange-seller.

The total effect of this painting is very difficult to convey. It requires close and repeated viewing to capture half of the figures in the work and even after giving it this it is further helpful to read deeply the literature that exists on the painting to capture further the number of motifs it conveys. The work is displayed with preparatory drawings, including of the navvy's arm which show well the study of musculature already apparent in the earlier male nude. The painting as a whole is an astonishing commentary on the society it captured and is a major piece of work which, presented as the centre of this exhibition receives an attention it is worthy of being given rather more often. Alone it shows the major quality of FMB's art and gives a feeling of the waste that his lack of recognition in his time and since represents. It also demonstrates at one fell swoop how much more important an artist he was than the reference to the Pre-Raphaelites alone would suggest.

The next section on FMB, the "story-teller", presents a set of narrative paintings, some of which, such as Jesus Washing Peter's Feet, appear conventional enough. However, as the works up to this point should have taught us, FMB is consistently surprising. So, for example, Elijah and the Widow's Son, in presenting a resurrection scene suggests some subversions both in its treatment and in its subject. The subject overturns the concentration on the resurrection of Lazarus as Elijah has here brought a boy back to life. The treatment shows vivid and odd combinations. The prophet is shown in a very colourful cloak, the boy's beauty conveyed through a careful concentration in his face and the mother's acceptance of his return demonstrated through a posture that points upwards to the shadow of a dove. The combinations in the picture suggest allegorical sense without much clue given as to how to take them and yet in the far front corner of the painting a farm-yard combination of hen and chick suggest something everyday in the miraculous occurrence. Whatever the story here is FMB has left much open to conjecture.

Cromwell on His Farm reminds one of The Pretty Baa-Lambs in its scale and does also include quite a few farm animals including a horse that appears to have a concentration quite different to its rider. The picture captures Cromwell in 1630, at a time of doubt, prior to the commencement of his life's mission and engrossed in reflection. This is to be interrupted, however, by the appearance at the gate beside him, of a servant calling him to dinner. The great man is also flanked by common labourers whose place both in the picture and the economy of the farm is given some prominence. Whilst the picture fore-fronts a kind of grand claim for Cromwell it is also urging a perspective on greatness surrounded as it is by an everyday life that it depends on and which it is required to pay attention to (as Carlyle and Maurice are shown doing in Work).

The section on portrait painting includes a number of vivid subjects. Perhaps most striking is the pair of pictures The English Boy and The Irish Girl, both dating from 1860. The portrait of the boy shows a contented figure who has a whip in one hand and a top in the other. He stares directly and disarmingly out at the viewer and has long locks that suggest a kind of archaic look particularly given his smock. By contrast the girl has her head to one side, is wearing strong lip-stick and holds a flower whilst draped in a red shawl. She appears distant and possibly troubled and also older than her years unlike the boy who rests easily in childhood. Another picture of a girl Mauvais Sujet shows again disturbance. This girl is caught in the midst of a lesson but is concentrating on biting an apple so that her teeth are on display and her face suggests, as in The Irish Girl, a far-away look that indicates unhappiness with her situation. If The Irish Girl has at least the compensation of her red shawl, this girl, by contrast, dressed in a spotty green top, can boast only an ear-ring and has a much more unkempt hair-style.

So many of the portraits are spectacular that it is almost unfair to select from amongst them but perhaps the finest is Iza Hardy, a friend of the family who is captured here in browns that are simply exquisite. Her head to one side, she again appears ill at ease and her seated posture in an arm-chair blends her into her surroundings visually in a way that her expression distances her person from. Almost everything in this picture is perfect and it would be worth visiting the exhibition simply to see it.

The final part of the exhibition proper features designs of FMB, including plate glass windows, cabinets and furniture, the latter a testimony to his failed attempt at engaging with William Morris and Burne-Jones. But perhaps the final surprise is that, round the corner from the gallery, in the Victorian Manchester Town Hall, there are a series of murals that FMB was commissioned to add to the central room of the place. These works are, again, unexpected as they are not simple exercises in medievalism at all but indicate a very playful side to FMB. Included here are The Expulsion of the Danes From Manchester which contrives to make the Danes in question very comical, John Kay, Inventor of the Fly Shuttle, which shows the inventor being bundled out of the room to rescue him from Luddites and The Opening of the Bridgewater Canal at which the Duke opening it is up-staged by a passing barge that contains two very large babies. The feel of these works, like much else in FMB's oeuvre, is of an unclassifiable talent who was certainly much more than a "minor" adjunct of the Pre-Raphaelites and whose major works exceed almost any presentation of the latter's style.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Parfit, Humanity and Consent (III)

In my last posting I looked at the additions Parfit made to his 2002 analysis of the implied reference to "consent" in the Formula of Humanity in his first draft of On What Matters which was entitled Climbing the Mountain. In his subsequent 2008 draft of On What Matters, the last full version before the publication of the work earlier this year, Parfit returns to the topic in Chapter 8 of his manuscript.

The Chapter opens again with the usual discussion of the problem with how Korsgaard and O'Neill are said to take the Formula of Humanity. However, when he reaches the account of "rational consent" Parfit this time refers to a point not included in either of the two previous treatments. This concerns  a problem with thinking that referring to shared ends will suffice to make rational consent sufficiently inclusive. Here Parfit points out that whilst there can be an agreement on ends this does not necessarily translate into an agreement concerning the appropriate means for attaining these ends. 

Subsequently a reference to Rawls appears which cites him as interpreting the consent principle as meaning that we consent rationally to some act if and only if or "just when" we could will it to be true that the agent's maxim is a universal law. This requires invocation of the Formula of Universal Law.  The reason why Rawls refers to this is due to Kant's general claim that all the formulas mean the same thing or are "statements of the same law". Rawls assumes that this means that Kant cannot have added something to the content of the law when he states one formula rather than another. But Parfit does not accept this view and assumes, rather, that there is something in the Formula of Humanity that is not included in the Formula of Universal Law. In making this assumption Parfit is following the precedent of, for example, Allen Wood, who, likewise, assumes that the Formula of Humanity has importantly different implications than the Formula of Universal Law. This point is not a small one since the discussion of the relationship between formulas of the categorical imperative has been a major source of disputes between interpreters of Kant. Unfortunately, whilst Rawls' reason for assuming that the Formula of Humanity is not significantly different to that of Universal Law, seems rather simplistic, it is hardly helpful of Parfit to simply stipulate that he does not accept this view without arguing on both philosophical and textual grounds for taking the formulas to be different. Such an argument does require, further, some discussion of what Kant means by claiming that there is no new "content" added in any of the formulas.

Parfit also adds in this draft a claim to the effect that rational consent has to be "informed" consent, a proviso not previously made clear. The Consent Principle now becomes:

"It is wrong to treat people in any way to which they could not rationally consent in the act-affecting sense, if these people knew the relevant facts, and we gave them the power to choose how we treat them."

The notion of "treating" is also to be understood in a sufficiently broad way so as to include, for example, breaking promises to the dead. The notion that is really involved for the consent to which the principle refers is "sufficient reason" in the sense that we consent to that which we do not have sufficient reason to refuse to consent. This implies a shorter formula of the Consent Principle which Parfit also gives but which I'll leave aside here. 

There are clear constraints upon the Consent Principle since it should be both plausible in itself and have plausible implications. These constraints are clear concessions on Parfit's part to intuitive or common-sense conceptions of what morality requires and forbids and echo the concession made in Climbing the Mountain to the point that beneficence that makes oneself in need of beneficence is misdirected. These points are subsequently mobilised by Parfit to suggest that the Consent Principle cannot be integrated with either egoistic or "subjective" (desire-based) views of the good. 

The appeal to "sufficient reason" is later finessed by Parfit into a view about "facts" that pertain in situations such that they are what make the beliefs concerning the rationality of consent plausible or otherwise. However, Parfit's subsequent consideration of examples leads to the same view as in Climbing the Mountain, namely that the Consent Principle may be too demanding (and hence fail to meet the constraint of having plausible implications). Further, it is not alone sufficient to describe what it is for something to be morally right since it turns out that it is possible to rationally consent (on Parfit's view) to things that are morally wrong. And, as in Climbing the Mountain, this turns out to be the ground on which Parfit moves to the discussion in the Formula of Humanity concerning treating others in such a way that they are not "merely used as means".

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Parfit, Humanity and Consent (II)

In a recent posting I looked at Parfit's account of the formula of humanity in his original 2002 lectures, the "germinal core", so to speak, of On What Matters. What is apparent from the consideration given in 2002 is that the discussion of "rational consent" is separated out from the reference to not treating persons "merely as a means" in Kant's formula. This separation of the reference to "rational consent" from the discussion of what is involved in not treating someone "merely as a means" in 2002 continues in Parfit's subsequent drafts of what eventually became On What Matters.

The second version of Parfit's work is the manuscript that goes under the name Climbing the Mountain which is available courtesy of Pea Soup. In Chapter 4 of this work we find a correlate of what was the first lecture of 2002 and it opens in a very similar way discussing, as it does, the Formula of Humanity and drawing out the same problems with the readings of Korsgaard and O'Neill that were already stated in 2002. Similarly, examples are appealed to that are meant to show problems with desire-based "subjective" views of reasons. Finally, the rape example is again used to bring out problems with thinking of consent only in terms of "possibility" and to show the need for some sense of "rational" consent.

New material begins to be discussed in Climbing the Mountain when Parfit turns to "deontic beliefs" concerning other reasons than consent for finding something to be wrong. Considering independent reasons for finding something to be wrong Parfit now builds into the "consent principle" a sense that we cannot consent to something that we have other reasons to find wrong. However, after making this point, Parfit's discussion takes an unexpected turn as the kinds of examples he goes on to consider lead in the direction of considerations touching on beneficence. This leads, in a now fairly traditional style to indications of why I should sacrifice things that would satisfy myself in order to morally help others. 

In support of what may appear here to be consequentialist question-begging, however, Parfit can cite Kant's remarks concerning how the ability to be beneficent depends itself on situations that are unjust and on Kant's claim that it is possible to "participate in the general injustice even if one does no injustice". However, in the passage from the Doctrine of Virtue where the most extensive account of beneficence is given Kant also allows that practicing this virtue at one's own expense is something that is not permissible since it would merely create a new case of someone needing beneficence, something that Parfit concedes and uses to temper his account of the duties here involved. In conceding this Parfit indicates that acts that would be morally permissible are not necessarily morally required.

What Parfit does not sufficiently explain here is how he has been led from "rational consent" to these questions concerning beneficence. The bridge appears to be that others could and would consent to my doing acts that would decisively aid them even if this required me to engage in considerable sacrifice. So the link seems to be one in which the consent of others appears as a kind of demand upon me by virtue of what it makes permissible for me. It is not so obvious however that a concern of this sort was at the heart of the false promising case that led Parfit, along with others, to assimilate the Formula of Humanity to a principle of rational consent.

Further, since some acts are wrong despite our being able to consent to them, it follows that the Formula of Humanity has not been well captured in being assimilated to the notion of "rational consent". This concludes the additional material of Climbing the Mountain on this topic.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Luigi Caranti in *Kant Studies Online*

A new article has been published in Kant Studies Online. It is by Luigi Caranti and addresses Kant's refutation of idealism in the Fourth Paralogism. You can find the article here.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The London School of Philosophy

As is unsurprising in view of the way that present UK government policy has led to a serious assault on the humanities many philosophers, myself included, have looked to establish a new life for philosophy outside established university structures. Along these lines I have discovered the existence of the London School of Philosophy, an initiative launched by seven people who were formerly employed by Birkbeck College and have determined to offer independent non-government-funded education for the people of London. This initiative is fully deserving of wider support and certainly is something that more people need to know about. The curriculum on offer is very moderately priced and will be delivered at Conway Hall. Anyone in London who wishes to undertake short courses that will give them a grounding in a wide range of philosophical matters should certainly look at their offer and consider enrolling. All power to such a venture, may it survive and prosper!

Parfit, Humanity and Consent

The second part of the first volume of  On What Matters is derived from the earliest core of the project since the discussions here invoke the Tanner Lectures Parfit gave in 2002. As a consequence, I think it is useful to open a discussion of the specific ways in which Parfit mobilises arguments at different stages of the composition of On What Matters. In this posting I'm going to begin looking at the first of the original Tanner Lectures which is headlined "Rational Consent" and whose purpose is mirrored in Chapters 8-11 of On What Matters.

A central reason why this discussion is of particular interest to readers of this blog is that Parfit opens the first Tanner Lecture with a statement of Kant's formula of humanity and the subsequent discussion concerns different types of interpretation of it. However, what is picked out by Parfit's discussion is not something specifically stated by Kant in the formula but an implication that is drawn from it. This implication concerns an important sense in which we could be said to treat people as ends-in-themselves.This is that we should act towards them in such a way that our conduct is one that could meet their possible consent.

The immediate rationale for Parfit's passing from the formula of humanity to this question of possible consent concerns the way the formula of humanity is applied to the four examples Kant considers in the second part of the Groundwork. In ruling out lying promises Kant refers to the fact that if I make a lying promise I am treating someone merely as a means and not also as ends in themselves because "the one I want to use for my purposes by such a promise cannot possibly agree to my way of proceeding with him and thus himself contain the end of this action" (Ak. 4: 429-30). It is due to the fact that the one to whom the lying promise would be made could not consent to this promise as it would conflict with ends they had themselves that it is clearly wrong to make such a promise.

After using this example to make the transition from the formula of humanity to a question about possible consent Parfit subsequently cites some contemporary Kantian views about the rationale for Kant making the kind of claim he does about the lying promise case. The first cited is Christine Korsgaard. Korsgaard, in her paper on lying, included in Creating the Kingdom of Ends points to the strength of Kant's argument in the lying promises case since he stresses that there is something "impossible" about the one affected being able to consent with the purposes I would have in view in making the lying promise. Korsgaard turns to an evaluation of what it is in the situation that makes it "impossible" for the one affected to consent and she stresses in doing so that the one affected has "no chance" to consent. What she appears to mean by this is that the affected party has no way of consenting as they do not know what it is that they are being asked to consent to. This leads her to say: "knowledge of what is going on and some power over the proceedings are the conditions of possible assent; without these, the concept of assent does not apply".

Parfit also cites Onora O'Neill as adopting a view of a similar sort since she also says that deception rules out genuine consent though, in the citation from her Parfit gives, less is here indicated as to why this would be. Finally, Parfit derives from Korsgaard a comparison of deception with coercion as fundamental moral evils, clearly due to the suggestion she has made that deception is, in a sense, a form of coercion as it manipulates the other for one's own ends.

When the full argument is drawn out in this way, however, then it certainly appears, as Parfit indicates, as if something must have gone wrong somewhere since the mere actual absence of consent is not evidently sufficient to make an action wrong. So operating on someone without their consent (as they are too ill to give it) is not obviously wrong and, similarly, I can make a decision for someone who I am unable to contact that may well not be wrong simply because they have failed to consent to my making it. So the argument concerns not such actual consent but only some form of conceivable or possible consent.

Now, once the ground has moved to possible consent we seem to be getting to the rationale of Kant's argument but Parfit introduces now a complication by means of the thought experiment he calls "deadly knowledge". In this thought experiment I know someone is a murderer but, if I don't lie to you about this, your knowledge that they are the murderer will leave you vulnerable to also being murdered since you know this person and would not be able to conceal your knowledge of their status. Parfit suggests that this case is importantly analogous to the ones already considered where we did not take actual consent to be the key to characterising the moral quality of the action.

Not only does Parfit make this case but he indicates that the situation is importantly similar with regard to coercion as I can agree to be coerced to do something that I regard as good for me. So, for example, I might have to be tied down in order for some painful operation to be carried out as otherwise the pain would lead me to try to prevent the operation being carried out although consciously I am aware that it is better it is carried out. So, in a sense, I can adopt the end of being coerced here (can consent to it). In fact, although Parfit does not note this, arguments of similar form are important for Kant's philosophy of right.

So if the case of lying promises indicates a commitment on Kant's part to a view about possible consent it has to be understood in a way distinct from how Korsgaard and O'Neill have presented it. On their view the importance of consent turns on a possibility of being able to give it. This commits them to an act-affecting conception of consent which Parfit terms the "Choice-giving principle" and which he formulates as stating: "it is wrong to deny people the opportunity to choose how we treat them". Since this principle does not give us any way of dealing with cases where we are unable to communicate with others, however, Parfit refines it further so it becomes the "Veto principle" and refers then not merely to whether they could consent but whether they would if they had the opportunity.

When they are fully stated, however, as Parfit, points out, these principles in fact cover more ground than Korsgaard's statements might have led us to expect. This is so because they rule out more than just deception and coercion since when we don't tell people what it is we are going to do, simply don't tell them, we are not, at least not directly, deceiving them. Similarly, when we act without their consent, we need not be coercing them.

After making these points Parfit turns to his real target, which is to suggest the basis for viewing the interpretation of Korsgaard and O'Neill as faulty. With regard to the "Choice-giving principle" Parfit has an easier task since, if a publisher sends a book proposal to me for consideration and I recommend rejecting it, I act in a way to which you would not consent but this is insufficient to make the act I have performed wrong. This shows the weakness of the "choice-giving principle", however, since Kant was surely speaking of rational conceivability in quite a different way to such a case and that the "Choice-giving principle" can be undermined by it indicates well that it does not capture Kant's thought.

However the statement of the principles that arises from Korsgaard and O'Neill has another difficulty which is that it applies only to cases where there is a situation between two parties and not many. In the latter case I often cannot relate to the consent of all the parties in question and yet this is surely not sufficient to mark out any action performed as therefore wrong? 

It is at this point that Parfit indicates an alternative way of viewing Kant's argument to that which appears to arise from the construal of it given by Korsgaard and O'Neill. The point about the argument they have given is it points to the wrong kinds of reason why someone cannot be said to be involved in consent. It is not, as Korsgaard puts it, a question about having the opportunity to consent (which produces the "Choice-giving principle"). It is, rather, whether there are "decisive reasons" for refusing possible consent. That is why Parfit views Kant's claim as concerning a "rational consent principle" and indicating what is wrong is action to which there could be no rational consent. The lying promise case does appear to support the reference to opportunity to consent but it is only part of Kant's consideration in the Groundwork as, immediately after mentioning it, he refers also to attacks on the freedom and property of others. Such cases do not involve denial of opportunity to consent though they are cases of coercion.

Parfit also stresses the point that even the lying promise case refers to the one affected being able to contain in themselves the end of my action. This reference is assumed by him to indicate a need to discuss not merely conceivable consent but also rationally conceivable assent. However, whilst this rational consent view is certainly an improvement on the "Choice-giving" view it remains problematic since the question of how to understand rational consent has yet to be specified and one common way of viewing it would be that we could not rationally consent to anything that would be "bad" for us. However, again, when faced with multiple persons, it can be right to act in favour of one over another without having done anything wrong and even the one adversely affected by this cannot say that the simple application of this rule has wronged them. So they could give rational consent in principle to operating by a rule that had adversely affected them in application.

At this point, however, Parfit's discussion falls back upon the intentional view of reasons that was elaborated in the first part of On What Matters since he refers now to "facts that give us reasons". Not only is this true, however, but he also indicates that even were we to share this view that we still have difficulties since there are many kinds of "facts" in a situation and the relative weighting to give them is often difficult to determine. 

Parfit subsequently goes on to refine the rational consent proposal further to build in what he terms "unconditional" consent which would be something not subject to revision later. This is partly intended to rule out rape on the grounds that the rapist could state that the one raped could rationally consent to the act even if they don't "actually" consent to it! Parfit is indicating with the unconditionality clause that the absence of actual consent here is not something that can be hypothetically substituted for in the example in question.The overall effect of Parfit's argument is to suggest that the examination of the rightness of an action turns on its rationality not on its presumptive possibility of being vetoed.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Demonisation, Criticism and Politics

I've been disturbed to notice the proliferation of the term "demonisation" in political discussion. Of late, at least here in the UK, it seems to be used primarily to describe a reaction to Muslims allegedly brought about by the "war on terror". In this context the term "demonisation" is an alternative to the invocation of "Islamophobia".

However, having noted this, I must confess I am somewhat at a loss of what specific meaning the term "demonisation" is supposed to have. It clearly implies a reference to a form of criticism of some group of persons that involves casting unjustified stigma upon them. In this context it might perhaps be clear if Gypsies were characterised as a group that tend to be "demonised" in the sense that they are scapegoated in many societies in many distinct ways and treated thus as a source of social problems.

The point about the use of "demonisation" in reference to Gypsies would be that here there is a larger social threat being suggested to exist by virtue of their presence, a threat that you might perhaps summarise in short-hand as indicating that their influence is taken to ensure that there will be moral decay or degeneration due to their baleful influence. Now, if I am right to suggest that this is the core of the term then what comes out from it is a sense of what might be involved in claiming that a group was suffering from such "demonisation".

However, when we move on from the case of Gypsies to more contemporary examples of how the term gets used in political discussion we find a more difficult problem. Assuming that I have correctly identified the core notion at issue in the accusation that a group is being "demonised" a problem emerges concerning whether there is any means of ascertaining the truth of the accusation. After all, during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, groups of people argued about who it was that the victims were. In the West some suggested that it would be "anti-Serb" to attack the actions of the Serbs and one group even referred to the Serbs as, and I quote, "the white niggers of Europe". Quite apart from the offensive terminology here the suggestion that the Serbs were being "demonised" was, at least for a time, an effective way of disarming criticism of their activities.

Given this point it would appear important to find a way to state a justifiable use of the term "demonisation" if it is to be used in the first place. Some types of criticisms of groups, even systematic ones, surely are justified whilst others are not. How is the line here drawn? It has to be done by reference to how the members of said group have been engaging not merely in apparently displaying characteristics of moral decay by their mere "presence" but by some actual actions.

So if there is a clear sense in which it would be wrong to "demonise" Muslims today this would surely consist in the point that whilst some people who are Muslims have engaged in actions worthy of being condemned (terrorism for instance) that this is not a constitutive part of being a Muslim any more than being Jewish or even a Zionist is equivalent to agreeing with all the actions of the State of Israel. Interestingly, though, whilst the accusation of "demonisation" is made with regard to some types of criticism of Muslims it is rarely used, or used by different groups, with regard to Israelis or Jews.

And this points to a further facet of the problem with the term being used since it appears to indicate a relationship has already been asserted with some group of people such that we can assent to the view that they have been victimised. Perhaps this is as much as to say that the problem with the term appears to consist in the fact that it appears towards the end of a process of political reasoning and is used after the criteria of identification of victims have already, in our view, been met by said group. Which may be as much as to say, not that the understanding of victims is relativistic but that the use of terms to indicate recognition of their status may include something circular.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Profile of Parfit in the New Yorker

The New Yorker recently published a lengthy profile of Derek Parfit though, unfortunately, only the abstract of this is available on-line unless you are a subscriber. On a train journey recently I had the time to read through it and thought I would share both some indication of what the profile states and some reactions I had on reading it.

The profile is written by Larissa MacFarquhar who is advertised as preparing a book on the topic of "extreme virtue" and is clearly prompted by the recent publication of On What Matters. The piece opens with a question about personal identity that refers back, however, to the third part of Reasons and Persons and it sets the tone for the general way the profile is constructed. This is not in terms of a continuing philosophical enquiry as set off by the third part of Reasons and Persons, although the piece does include much more philosophy than one might expect. Rather, it is through the focus of the profile on Parfit the man and uses this focus in order to throw some light upon Parfit the thinker. Whilst one may have some reservations about this technique it is the case that much emerges from the outline of Parfit the man that is of undoubted interest.

The opening account of personal identity repeats the general thrust of the argument of Reasons and Persons that, whatever it is "that matters", it is not "personal identity" that does so. The seminal point repeated here is that selves are not, despite the view of "common sense morality", something that are an all-or-nothing affair. This is linked to the claim that Parfit himself made that it may be "liberating" to be released from the "glass tunnel" of the self as it ensures that other people become thereby closer. One of the ways this alleged "liberation" is meant to occur is through the sense that Parfit is less a continuing character and more the source of more or less influential "memes" to use the ugly expression of Richard Dawkins. However, one of the effects of the view Parfit set out in Reasons and Persons is not merely the revision of "common sense morality" but, along with this revision, a kind of challenge to the sense of what it is "that matters". After all, as Bernard Williams and John Rawls argued in their attacks on utilitarianism, if an "impartialist" view of morality abstracts from the separateness of persons this has the general result of making morality something in which we have less obvious interest. Whilst MacFarquhar does not make this point it is noticeable that the shift in the profile from the consideration of personal identity in Reasons and Persons to the discussion of "objective" theories of reasons in On What Matters is presented in terms of the latter responding to an alleged general scepticism concerning moral truth. One of the grounds for such scepticism is precisely the problem of how morality can connect to what we might, following Thomas Nagel, call the experience of "what it is like" to be us. If we are told that there is no fundamental "us" we might come to the view that there is all the less reason to care about "moral truth". This was certainly not the intention of the argument of Reasons and Persons which had, rather, the focus of undermining egoist views of morality in a way that Henry Sidgwick had been unable to do. But responses to egoism need not be impartialist in the way the consequentialist views of Parfit have been and, furthermore, such impartialism may well itself reinforce not only scepticism about morality but a broader focus on precisely only being concerned with self-interest.

MacFarquhar presents the context of On What Matters very well bringing out how the formation of it has been a cooperative venture in which Parfit himself shaped the argument through interaction with other philosophers. She also focuses well on the extreme danger Parfit seems to feel subjective theories of reason pose to a sound sense of objective moral truth though in agreeing to set his view against nihilist pragmatism she allows him the benefit of the doubt here concerning the need for the kind of objectivism he argues for. However, the focus on the question of the contrast between subjective and objective theories of reason that marks the first part of On What Matters takes up only a very small part of MacFarquhar's profile and she soon returns to the concentration on Parfit the man, albeit doing so in a way that certainly subtly reflects back on the denial that personal identity is "what matters" as made in Reasons and Persons.

The return to Parfit the man occurs through reflecting on certain peculiarities of his which are clearly given wider significance in the profile. So, for example, Parfit's habit of wearing the same outfit everyday and of eating in a similarly routinised manner are emphasised. This element of routine is revealed gradually to be part of Parfit's way of dealing with the problem of how to economise on time but is also part of a reaction to the problem of how to avoid emotional entanglement with the everyday. Oddly, however, this element of Parfit the man is presented as part of the way his everyday practice includes a lack of sense of "boundaries" of personal identity whereas it appears to me to mark a clear way in which the boundary of Parfit is maintained since it ensures he remains at an important distance from others. Other elements that mark him as a rather singular person include the information that he lacks the capacity to form images of the past so that memories appear to him only as propositional contents rather as pictures with emotional significance. MacFarquhar points out to Parfit that absence of images need not imply lack of emotional connection and Parfit is indicated as conceding this though the real question is less whether there is any connection between these points than rather "what it is like" (to use Nagel's expression again) not to feel such emotional relation to the past. The lack of it is implied, as with the general presentation of Parfit the man, to be part of his emotional involvement with the denial of the sense of personal identity that common sense morality appears to validate. In other words, it is implied (without being stated) that part of what makes the view of personal identity articulated in Reasons and Persons appealing to Parfit is a certain kind of experience (or set of experiences) of his that set him apart from an understanding of how personal identity is constructed for most of us. As I indicated above, with the example of routinised behaviours, however, I am less convinced than MacFarquhar appears to be, that the evidence she has uncovered points in the direction her profile implies.

Just as routinisation of habits has a very clear individualising function in helping to separate one from others so, similarly, the relation to the past that Parfit describes is also an indication of a singular temperament and its singularity is not evidently one that should point in the direction of an "emotional" commitment to a view of personal identity of the type Parfit has professed. 

After these opening sallies have been ventured the profile becomes more conventional, focusing, as is common, on some elements of Parfit's past that might be thought to have formative force for him. This includes information about Parfit's parents and their commitments (to a Christian movement called the Oxford Group) that led them to settle in China. The reference to this group has a further reinforcing effect in the profile since the group that his parents belonged to had a clearly ascetic and purist character expressed in a set of absolutes. This reference, despite the later information of how Parfit's parents later left the movement contributes to the sense that there are environmental backgrounds that led Parfit himself to a view of morality that is more demanding than would be easily accepted by "common sense". However, as with many of the other insinuations in the profile, so also with this one, there is something rather neat about it. After all, why wouldn't Parfit as easily rebel against such a background as conform to its temper, its "spirit" (if not its "letter")? No explanation is attempted here precisely because the art of the profile consists less in argument than intimation.

The movement of Parfit's parents away from the early commitment to the "Oxford Group" is further presented with the effect indicated as having a terrible undermining of his father's self-confidence. This is, however, as shown in the profile, an indication of a serious emotional difference between Parfit's father and Parfit himself since Parfit junior convinced himself by a flawed philosophical argument at an early age that there couldn't be a God and seems never to have been bothered by the question since. This early indication of such independence is itself not probed, just mentioned. In Parfit's infancy the family moved back to England where it would appear he grew up with his mother working as a psychiatrist and his father "a low level public-health job" (unspecified). Since both his parents worked in careers to do with health one might wonder again about the relation of this to Parfit's concern with mental hygiene if we were to take the trope of the profile seriously but this is not ventured into.

Parfit's up-bringing was largely through boarding schools with the result that he has never developed close relationships with his siblings. Parfit is indicated as having had a "successful childhood" in the sense that he did well at school though little else is said. Aged 18, Parfit went for the first time to the US and worked for a while at the New Yorker itself. Here some incidentals are thrown in about Parfit's inability to write poetry before we bring him back to Oxford, later the same year, as a student of history before being told he subsequently returned to the US on a Harkness Fellowship. It appears from the profile that it was during the latter period that he began to study philosophy and that he opted for analytic philosophy since he could "understand" it even though he thought it trivial, leading him to return to Oxford on a Prize Fellowship that took him to All Souls.

The arrival at All Souls, in some respects, closes the biographical interlude that the profile has been led into since there is little left of a chronological sort to include after this, given that, after arriving at All Souls, Parfit was fixed for the rest of his life (until his recent retirement). This gives rise to the usual topos of the "monk-like" life of an academic in such a place though in this case there is more than usual truth in it. Parfit has, after all, had few relationships in his life and the setting of All Souls is such as to seal off his departure from the everyday and make his routinised habits sustainable. Here MacFarquhar also steps back from her posture of generally "intimating" a response to Parfit by frankly describing him (with his permission) as "institutionalised" by his relationship to All Souls (something that supports the dismissive attitude to him indicated by Simon Blackburn in the concluding paragraph of  the original version of the review of On What Matters subsequently published in the Financial Times). This again suggests, however, how important in fact certain very specific experiences and structures are and have been for Parfit, hardly supporting therefore the suggestion that his biography is the basis of his philosophical stance on personal identity.

The foray into Parfit's interest in photography is fascinating given the way both Reasons and Persons and On What Matters have appeared with photographs of places to which Parfit is particularly attached and the remarks he adds here about architecture indicate the reasons why these pictures are of buildings and places to which he has an attachment. However it is also part of a further display of obsessiveness since Parfit's photographic practice consisted in hours-long waits for exactly the right kind of light before he would take his pictures. Further the process of selection and development of them included a refined sense of selection that was, as would be expected, not to a sense of fidelity to the scene (which he presumably lacked a mental image of) as to the sense he wished the scene to make. It is, however, humanly interesting to see how much Parfit loves Venice and St Petersburg.

From here we move to a description of Parfit's interactions with other philosophers and the discouraging difficulty he encountered of changing other people's views. Little, interestingly, is said about how easy others may have found it to change his views! In connection with this the commitment Parfit has had to the life of the mind becomes more developed since we learn here of his hours-long conversations with students and the meticulous care he would take commenting on the views of others, both admirable traits. 

Afterwards we venture back into family history and learn of the early death of one of Parfit's siblings and his subsequent struggle to have her children placed with an appropriate family. Nothing is here said of why these children could not be taken on by remaining members of the family, an odd omission from the profile's biographical element. One of the rare moments of personal insight that are seriously illuminating concerns the odd relationship Parfit has had with Janet Radcliffe Richards, another philosopher, who he pursued after completing Reasons and Persons but with whom his relations largely don't seem to have been that intimate though he recently, after relating to her for nearly thirty years, married her. Again the lack of emotional connection suggested here does indicate a singular character in Parfit, though it is less clear how to evaluate this (particularly in conjunction with the suggestion that he nonetheless suffers at the sight of the suffering of others). For some reason snatches of argument between Parfit and Richards are subsequently interspersed in the profile though it is less than clear what the reader is supposed to make of them.

Philosophy is explicitly returned to with the suggestion that Parfit only began seriously reading Kant after having written Reasons and Persons. From this we learn Parfit's antipathy to Kant's conception of autonomy (which he appears here to confuse with the notion of transcendental freedom) and some of the obtuse remarks that appear also in the preface to volume 1 of On What Matters are repeated including the sense that Parfit has that Kant is, apparently like himself, an "emotional extremist". The rationale for this remark appears to reside in the sense that Kant's appeals to a method in philosophy that would have lasting results is less likely than Sidgwick's more modest self-assessment. This is coupled with a contrast between Sidgwick's allegedly flatter temperament and his achievement resting on a kind of non-genius mentality. All of this is pretty hack cod psychology and Parfit appears to find it sufficient as a way of contrasting the Methods of Ethics with the Groundwork. Disappointing and paltry as such observations are they do appear to tell us a fair few things about Parfit the man (and underline, again, the sense in which he is certainly a definite individual even if not always one that one can affirm a liking for).

The "emotional extremism" Parfit alleges in Kant is part of the temperamental reason he gives for coming to appreciate Kant. However the introduction of the relationship to Kant is not itself explored in serious detail in the profile since the point is rather to have this encounter as a preface to the general methodology of On What Matters, the methodology of reconciliation between the main substantive moral theories of our time that it wishes to achieve. So at this point the profile repeats the familiar story of how, in 2002, Parfit began the project of laying out his general theory of such reconcilation by means of the Tanner Lectures and subsequent versions of the work that eventually became On What Matters. Here philosophers are unlikely to learn much since the suggestion that the traditions can be reconciled clearly requires a lot of work in On What Matters and the quick rendition of how the formula of universal law can, for example, be reformed, is presented in an offensive short-hand here. 

The profile moves on from Parfit's "triple theory" to an account of Parfit's personal relations with Bernard Williams and the contrast between the two brings out well the sociable character of Williams in contrast to Parfit's solitary habits and also shows clearly how Parfit did have the potential for a kind of homoerotic admiration for Williams although the profile is careful not to state the relation was so conceived by Parfit.  Here also one notes a certain clear capacity for self-deception on Parfit's part as when we are told he discovered after Williams' death that it only "appeared" that Williams disagreed with him as they really didn't since Williams simply lacked the sense of the concepts that Parfit correctly grasped.

The biographical element that is most recent in the profile concerns the break-down Parfit appears to have suffered after completing On What Matters and marrying Richards. This is here put parallel with his wooing of Richards after completing Reasons and Persons since it suggests a crisis besets him whenever he is not working on a major project. Oddly, however, less time is spent probing this point than in venturing back to an account of the major problem of the fourth part of Reasons and Persons, the problem of future generations, especially as retailed in the case of the Repugnant Conclusion. The account of this at the conclusion suggests that Parfit will be returning in future to the central difficulty of the Non-Identity Problem that afflicts, on his view, the understanding of future generations (and itself parallels the problem of personal identity). Concluding with this suggests something about the legacy Parfit may have though, characteristically, the profile does not spell out what, if any, lessons, we have to learn from this.

As my summary here suggests the profile is long and goes a considerable way in introducing the work of a serious and major contemporary philosopher to the public and the New Yorker is to be commended for publishing it. However, the intimations that there is something to be learned by contrasting the philosopher with the man, whilst not without foundation, are insufficiently explored and some of the intimations given here are hardly supported by careful thinking about either the circumstances of the man or the nature of his thought. Whilst such pieces are a good way of encouraging the general public to start to take philosophers more seriously it would be even better if the construction of them was itself given greater philosophical thought.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Report on UKKS conference 2011

I've recently returned from St. Andrews where the 2011 conference of the UK Kant Society was held. The theme of this year's conference was "Reading Kant" and it was organised by Jens Timmermann. The theme may sound unusually broad but the point of it was to focus attention on response to specific texts of Kant so that these texts can be given careful articulation rather than encouraging wide speculative moves that might be at some distance from what Kant wrote. There are good arguments both for and against such an approach but the conference itself provided some ground for thinking that, done in the right way, such an approach certainly has much to commend it.

The conference opened with a general speech by Konstantin Pollok who was apparently focusing on the passage from the B-preface to the Critique of Pure Reason that deals with the supposed "Copernican revolution" but, despite this being his official text, he wandered rather far from it in order to make a general set of remarks about the distinction between Critical and pre-Critical philosophy. The paper seemed rather unfocused and largely expository, indicating one of the dangers of the conference theme.

However, Pollok's paper was followed by two which were rather livelier. Adrian Piper set out a paper that linked up two, at first sight, rather divergent passages from the Critique of Pure Reason on the one hand (A751/B799-A752/B780) and the Groundwork (Ak. 4: 424) on the other and read them as connected in expressing a riposte to Hobbes on Kant's part. The first passage is full of the legal metaphors with which the Critique expresses its general mission and is part of the chapter on the 'discipline of pure reason', the first part of the Doctrine of Method. Here Kant does expressly name Hobbes and indicates the need to abandon the state of nature but the reference to the "state of nature" here is part of Kant's response to philosophical disputes and articulates his case for taking the method of critique to be a way past these disputes. The Groundwork passage, by contrast, indicates a problem with taking certain forms of maxim to be the ground of a universal law and is stated after Kant gives the four examples for the first time in Groundwork II. Here Kant is describing, however, the problem with the second two examples, namely, that they lead to a contradiction in the will and Piper, somewhat surprisingly, viewed this passage as a kind of "application" of the first passage from the Doctrine of Method. Whilst this was certainly a surprising way of understanding the relationship between these passages it had one central advantage which is that it enabled Piper to view the "state of nature" less as something definitely superseded and more as something that there is a constant danger of slipping back into. Unfortunately, the clarity of this point was somewhat obscured, however, by failure on Piper's part to distinguish between different types of "state of nature". After all, in the Religion, Kant talks about going beyond an ethical state of nature and this type of state of nature can exist even whilst the state of nature that would be contrary to right has been superseded. So it might have been more apposite for Piper to clarify the relationship between these two states of nature and bring out how, without superseding the ethical state of nature, there is always incipient conflict within the state of right. Piper went on to discuss Kant's "criteria of rule rationality", a set of four points derived from the conjunction of the two passages and taken to include universality, logical consistency, objective necessity and conceptual unity. Whilst these criteria seem pretty good there is one problem which is that the citations given for objective necessity related strictly to the notion of contradiction in the will so something should have been said about this. Piper concluded her paper with a third passage from the Groundwork concerning false promises  (Ak. 4: 403) and Piper used this to argue that a practice of false promising is unstable in a way that universal lying would not be, a point that led to serious exchanges during the discussion. Again, a potential development of this point would concern precisely the status of promises in contract, something that underlies any type of social order and points to a way that the specific importance of promising could be further shown.

The third and final paper of the first day of the conference came from Graham Bird who defended his general deflationary view of Kant's transcendental idealism by discussing the account of freedom in the Critique of Practical Reason and arguing that Kant was saying no more about the status of freedom there than he had in the Critique of Pure Reason. Bird went so far as to claim that the construction of Kant's account as stating more than in the theoretical philosophy could only be "fantasy" thus denying Kant's clear statement in the Critique of Practical Reason that there are ways of extending pure reason practically that are not permitted theoretically (Ak. 5: 50-57). The paper was characteristically provocative and lively debate ensured concerning its claims.

If the first day of the conference was primarily marked by plenary sessions, on the second day, the conference broke up into thematic sessions. The unity of these sessions was not entirely obvious although one group of them was clearly theoretical and another focused on the Doctrine of Virtue. The point of the other two groupings was less evident. I began the day in one session and finished it in another. The morning session I attended was focused on the Groundwork and featured papers from Georg Urich and Martin Sticker. Urich's paper was a case where the injunction about addressing a particular passage was taken very literally since he focused on one sentence from the Groundwork at Ak. 4: 397 where Kant was ruling out the idea that actions recognised as contrary to duty could also be understood as in accordance with duty. In addressing this passage Urich spoke about the division of classes of action of duties and mentioned the argument of those who take there to be a "neglected alternative" here that Kant has not considered. The "neglected alternative" would be actions that, whilst wrong in themselves, were nonetheless committed for the right reasons. The point of focusing on such actions is that it would be a question not merely whether such actions were possible but also, assuming their possibility, whether they would possess moral worth. Some ways have been developed in the literature that attempt to circumvent this possibility such as the suggestion that the aims of the Groundwork preclude dealing with such a question (Timmermann's position), that Kant simply conceptually defines duty in such a way as to rule out this question (Kerstein's view) or that the question is practically irrelevant (also a view of Kerstein). However the second of these views was ruled out by Urich on the grounds that definitional claims would be non-explanatory and the third on the ground that there is conflicting evidence. I was less clear what his response to the first view is. Subsequently Urich considered the question as to whom actions contrary to duty are seen as such mentioning objective and subjective views of this. On the objective view it is the objective observer who sees them to be wrong (Herman's view) whilst on the subjective view it is the agent himself who sees them to be wrong (Stratton-Lake's view). Urich preferred the subjective reading for three reasons: firstly, Kant rules out consideration of reference to "usefulness" in intent (which implies he considers intent), secondly, his account refers to ulterior motives, thirdly, in stating that actions contrary to duty "conflict" with duty there is no reference to objective considerations beyond the "recognition" of the action in question. However having made these points, Urich moved on to reject the idea that there was a "neglected alternative" on the grounds of a typology of Kant's view of duties not enabling room to be left for it. Instead there has to be left reference to actions carried out in accordance with a mistaken moral judgment.

In contrast to Urich's very narrow consideration of texts, Sticker looked at the conception of "rationalising" in Kant in order to bring out that it is the generic term that Kant uses to describe the mode of reasoning that tries to escape considerations that would be otherwise rationally compelling. In addressing this idea Sticker discussed the necessary presuppositions of moral agency as involving universality, a distinction between legality and morality, respect being the only source of motivation for moral actions, the will being guided by the moral law in an unconditional way and that the foundation of moral judgment has to be pure. The place where Kant first introduces the conception of "rationalising" is towards the end of Groundwork I where the "natural dialectic" into which the common man is led is mentioned when his "innocence" gets compromised. At this point "rationalising" involves casting doubt on the validity, purity and strictness of the moral law (or its unconditionality, purity and universality). Sticker went on to discus the variety of references Kant makes to "rationalising" in the critical works, showing how it has both theoretical and practical relevance. In the theoretical sphere rationalising means to give too much weight to pure reason whilst in the practical realm, by contrast, it means giving undue weight to inclinations. 

The afternoon sessions I attended were grounded in theoretical rather than practical philosophy and were papers by Katharina Kraus and a joint paper presented by Dennis Schulting  and Christian Onof. Kraus' paper focused specifically on the problems with "inner sense" in Kant and argued for a conception of it that would escape the notorious paradoxes Henry Allison argued it contained on the basis of a use of some suggestions from Beatrice Longuenesse. Whilst Kraus' paper was interesting it left open a series of questions about the notorious note at B160 which the complex and important paper of Schulting and Onof specifically set out to address. The basic question is how it can be said that the unity of space and time do not belong to the categories and yet in some sense involve the understanding. In reference to this problem the paper pointed out that space and time are described in the note as being "objects", that the unity of space is said to "precede" all concepts whilst "presupposing" a synthesis, that the note appears to contradict the main text at B161 and that it is connected in some way to the distinction between "form of intuition" and "formal intuition". In response to these points the paper argued that space as unified makes an object and that this is "formal" intuition but that there appears to be a problem with space being presented as a determinate intuition as this indicates a phenomenal object is also infinite. The authors referred to the readings of Cohen and Dufour as arguing that the unity of space is synthetic and indicated we need a conception of unity that describes non-conceptual unity which they termed "unicity-unity". The singularity of space is, for example, necessary for geometry but is not generated by it. Unicity-unity is also required for the particularity of outer sense.  Heidegger's solution of this problem was to argue unity is produced by imagination but A119 already states that apperception and imagination are intertwined. Longuenesse argues for a form of pre-conceptual role for imagination but does not explain how space can possess the property of unicity-unity. When the note states that the unity of space "presupposes" a synthesis this need not mean that it is "produced" by this but only that for understanding to grasp the unity requires this. The discussion of "concepts" of space appeared to be understood in the paper on the model of concepts of reflection rather than categories. The properties of space in the Transcendental Aesthetic are mereological structure, magnitude, topology and the world of outer sense. The Aesthetic is taken to describe the "form" of intuition. Bringing space under the transcendental unity of apperception involves taking the unicity-unity of space as a constraint on reference to it. The argument presented was eventually shown to be a modified form of Allison's conception of the distinction between formal intuition and forms of intuition but the details of the syntheses were left somewhat obscure. The paper as a whole was, however, one of the best of the conference, showed the importance of close textual reading for some key topics and should really have been a plenary.

The final session of the second day of the conference was a plenary speech from Ralf Bader who addressed the topic of Kant's argument for the postulate of the immortality of the soul. This paper was very narrowly circumscribed as it neither investigated the wide status of the postulates of practical reason in general nor showed a basis for understanding the relationship between the postulate of immortality and that of freedom though it did indicate some basis for relating this postulate to that concerned with the existence of God. Bader took the view that the postulate presents a kind of geometrical conception of the relationship between happiness and goodness and thus is a purely theoretical kind of consideration. This meant that the reference of the postulate to desert was, very surprisingly, not really addressed.

On the final day of the conference I was attentive to two of the three plenary sessions. The first was by Alexander Rueger who addressed a a passage from the third section of the Critique of Judgment that some have taken to be in conflict with a view stated by Kant in the Critique of Practical Reason. The passage from the Critique of Judgment (Ak. 5: 205) distinguishes between sensations and feelings on the grounds that without such a distinction there would be no psychological basis to prevent action always occurring in accordance with a principle of hedonism. This appears to make the categorical imperative dependent on a certain view of feeling but Rueger denied this on the ground that Kant can distinguish between the principle of execution and the principle of judgment. The passage from the Critique of Practical Reason some have taken to conflict with the passage from the Critique of Judgment occurs at Ak. 5: 22f and has been taken by some to indicate that Kant there states that all feelings are sensations. However, as Rueger argues, the passage from the Critique of Practical Reason makes a series of conditional claims, not an assertion. So Kant is not committed to the view that all feelings are qualitatively the same. The passage concerning sensation in the Critique of Judgment has to be read as saying that if all sensations were "objective" there would be the problem of commitment to hedonism following automatically. In section 5 of the Critique of Judgment Kant distinguishes specific feelings by means of form and Rueger argued that around 1783-4, whilst composing the Groundwork, Kant came to the view that the moral law requires its own kind of incentive which means he leaves behind his earlier more sentimentalist view of feeling at this time.

The final paper of the conference was a second joint presentation, this time from B. Sharon Byrd and Joachim Hruschka that concerned the passage in the Doctrine of Right where Kant marks the transition from the state of nature to the juridical state (section 41). The paper articulated a very technical set of distinctions that supported the general argument of their recently published commentary on the Doctrine of Right and included a distinction between two forms of the state of nature, one "original" and one "adventitious". This paper was an excellent conclusion to the conference and showed clearly some of the advantages of its theme.