Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Philosophy

First Advisor

Paul Guyer

Abstract

ABSTRACT

HUMAN BEINGS AND THE MORAL LAW: MORAL PRECARIOUSNESS IN KANT'S ETHICAL PHILOSOPHY

Bradley M. Taylor

Dr. Paul Guyer

This dissertation is an examination of human moral precariousness in Kant's ethics. Human beings are in a state of moral precariousness insofar as they are ever-capable of transgressing the moral law and are often uncertain of the moral worth of their actions. Put another way, in this dissertation I argue that the basic relationship between human beings and the moral law, in Kant's moral philosophy, is, most fundamentally, one of tenuousness and vacillation. This relation is the fundamental characteristic of the human moral condition because such a relation is built into Kant's account of human moral agency. We have a tenuous relation to the moral law because we always have at least the possibility of conflict between our desire for happiness (i.e. the satisfaction of our inclinations) and the requirements of the moral law. We also may have a vacillating relation to the moral law insofar as we usually find ourselves acting in accordance with the moral law (that is, we often find ourselves committing lawful actions), while also (for many, if not all, human beings) finding ourselves occasionally deviating from the requirements of the moral law (this is a consequence of Kant's doctrine of radical evil). In my dissertation, I argue that this moral precariousness manifests itself as a set of ongoing, perpetual moral crises. That is, there are several crucial points in Kant's moral thinking that provide the occasion for a crisis. In each of these crucial points, Kant's account of human beings as dual-natured (both natural and rational) generate a struggle (or at least the representation of a struggle) that has a variety of moral consequences. This dissertation approaches this moral precariousness through analyses of several key features of Kant's moral philosophy: his concept of humanity, the dignity of human beings, the moral feeling of respect, and experience of sublimity, and Kant's theory of radical evil. Through an examination of each of these topics, I argue that Kant's account of the moral condition of human beings is one of perpetual open-endedness, uncertainty about one's moral worth, and, above all, (at least) potential crisis.

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