Reason Alone Cannot Identify Moral Laws

Journal of Value Inquiry 47 (1-2):67-85 (2013)
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Abstract

Immanuel Kant's moral thesis is that reason alone must identify moral laws. Examining various interpretations of his ethics, this essay shows that the thesis fails. G. W. F. Hegel criticizes Kant's Formula of Universal Law as an empty formalism. Although Christine Korsgaard's Logical and Practical Contradiction Interpretations, Barbara Herman's contradiction in conception and contradiction in will tests, and Kenneth Westphal's paired use of Kant's universalization test all refute what Allen Wood calls a stronger form of the formalism charge, they are not free from a weaker form of it. Some philosophers try to avoid both forms of the formalism charge in the following ways: First, some underline the roles of Kant's other formulas. Second, some interpret the Formula of Universal Law teleologically. Third, some claim that a maxim must be something all those potentially affected by it can rationally accept. Fourth, Robert Louden introduces the empirical to evaluate a maxim. All those attempts introduce heteronomy into Kant's ethics. Besides, on the third response, from the fact that all those potentially affected accept a maxim, it does not follow that it is morally right. It is impossible to avoid the formalism charge without making his ethics heteronomous. Thus, Kant's ethics is either empty or heteronomous. Either way it fails to identify moral laws by reason alone.

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