"Compassionate and Cognitively Diverse: How Kantian Virtue
Is More Generous (In a Good Way)"
People have often thought that Kant left no room for compassion in the virtuous life, because virtue for him is about doing the right thing when you don’t feel like it. However, compassion is an important virtue in Kantian ethics, where it is understood as a form of moral cognition grounded in a commitment to act for the good of others. Though this means that the Kantian virtue of compassion is primarily intellectual in nature, contrary to what people have thought, the virtuous person can experience great feelings of compassion, affection, and pleasure. And yet, these feelings are not strictly necessary for someone to have the virtue. For this reason, some, e.g., neurodiverse, agents who would not qualify as virtuous on the Aristotelian picture do qualify as virtuous on the Kantian picture. This expands the traditional virtue label in a good way.
"Feeling, Cognition, and the Eighteenth-Century Context of Kantian Sympathy"
British Journal for the History of Philosophy
Recent Kant scholarship has argued that sympathetic feeling is necessary for the fulfillment of duty (e.g., Fahmy, Sherman, Guyer, and others). This view rests on an incorrect understanding of Kant and the historical context in which he wrote. In this paper, I compare Kant’s conception of sympathy with Hume and Smith’s, arguing that Kant adapts central features of Smithian sympathy. I then examine Kant’s lectures on ethics and anthropology, arguing that in them we can distinguish between two types of sympathy: one that is instinctual or pre-reflective, which we might call empirical sympathy, and one that is reflective and properly moral, which we might call rational sympathy. On these grounds I reconstruct an account of Kantian sympathy as a cognitive virtue for which feeling may be useful but not necessary, since its primary purpose is to provide information about the well-being of others, leading to action which honors their worth.
"Kant’s Character-Based Account of Moral Weakness and Strength"
The standard account of Kantian moral weakness fails to provide a psychologically realistic account of moral improvement. It assumes that moral strength is simply a matter of volitional resolve and weakness is a lack of resolve. This leaves the path to moral improvement unclear. In this paper, I reconstruct an alternative character- based account of Kantian moral weakness and strength. On this account, moral strength is the possession of sympathy and self-knowledge, key practical-epistemic virtues from Kant’s Doctrine of Virtue, and moral weakness is a lack of these vir- tues. This identifies moral strength with a high degree of development, integrity, or fitness in one’s character, and not merely an ability to somehow try harder. It also resolves an exegetical puzzle concerning the change of heart in Kant’s Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.
“Kant’s Account of Intellectual Habit and Moral Education”
edited by Jeremy Dunham and Komarine Romdenh-Romluc
Abingdon: Routledge, 2022
Kant has a lot to say about habit and moral character in the standard sense. In this paper, I examine the Lectures on Pedagogy and Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. I argue that these texts contain an account of moral education that stresses the importance of bringing up children with virtues of a broadly Aristotelian kind. This account of moral education involves the use and cultivation of inclination and non-rational dispositions to prepare one to acquire an understanding of the moral law. Once one understands the moral law, one can act on it and one’s actions can have moral worth. This is what Kant calls the grounding of character; I suggest that the proper formation of one’s inclinations is highly desirable for this. I then reconstruct Kant’s account of habit and moral aptitude from the Metaphysics of Morals, further arguing that Kant recognizes four types of habit, two of which have indirect moral value and one of which has moral worth in his special sense of the term. I conclude by briefly outlining how inclination might feature in a Kantian account of moral action, given the way Kant understands personal autonomy.
Policy Futures in Education
The UK’s 2016 decision to exit the European Union and the discussion surrounding it indicate that public understanding of British identity has important consequences, one way or another. Defining British identity will be an important task in the years to come. The UK government not long ago provided some guidance on the matter of British identity in their requirement that schools actively promote fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect of those with different faiths and beliefs. These values are not British in the parochial sense: they are forward-looking, conciliatory, cosmopolitan values. They are meant to structure and guide any commitments to more particular features of what British identity might include. Because they are rational and somewhat abstract, it is not easy to see how they might be cultivated in children (who are not fully rational) or how they might fit together with the non- rational aspects of the human person. Kant’s account of education is seen to face similar challenges and is seen by some as unsuccessful in dealing with them. I argue this is not the case and that his idea of education contains a viable and philosophically interesting account of how values like these may be integrated into a theory of education that takes seriously the whole person, rational and non-rational aspects alike. I begin by outlining Kant’s conception of rational action before examining three further features in his account: habit, shame, and desire (including pleasure). I conclude by looking briefly at some of Kant’s work that reveals how education is oriented toward the formation of a cosmopolitan society with citizens whose duties and sympathies extend beyond the immediate horizon of their local community. I argue that Kantian ethics therefore provides a helpful philosophical roadmap, as it were, for the successful cultivation of cosmopolitan, British values.
Book Reviews and Other Writing
manuscript in preparation
co-authored with Samson Tse
Times Higher Education
Dalai Lama Centre for Compassion, Oxford prize essay
Published online at: www.dlccoxford.org
University of Oxford
This thesis argues that Kant has an intellectualist account of moral character that is much richer and more interesting than has often been thought. This account is consistent with his broader practical philosophy, in particular, his account of moral worth. Chapter one establishes that Kant has a theory of education on which a child’s inclinations are to be trained in preparation for her to grasp the moral law and acquire full moral agency. It argues that his account of habit is complex, recognizing a kind of moral value that is broader than his definition of moral worth. Chapter two argues that sympathy is, for Kant, a primarily cognitive disposition of special importance; this is because it provides knowledge of how the moral law applies in particular circumstances, therefore enabling an agent to fulfill her duties toward others. This chapter also resolves a puzzle concerning Kant’s dual concept of character (as both intelligible and empirical) by drawing an analogy with one account of weakness of will. Chapter three develops an account of moral worth that incorporates these more palatable elements of Kant’s account of moral character with the seemingly more austere elements familiar from the Groundwork. This theory allows for positive, participating inclinations alongside ascriptions of moral worth. Further, it introduces a distinction between full and mitigated moral worth, to account for agents who, for example, act rightly but for confused reasons as in the case of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Chapter four responds to two objections to Kant on the basis of moral demandingness, one concerning psychological integration and personal relationships, the other concerning the value of non-moral goods more broadly. It then responds to some objections to his account of the highest good, or the idea of a world in which happiness is distributed in proportion to virtue.