Debunking Confabulation: Emotions and the Significance of Empirical Psychology for Kantian Ethics

In Alix Cohen (ed.), Kant on Emotion and Value. Palgrave. pp. 145-165 (2014)
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Abstract

It is frequently argued that research findings in empirical moral psychology spell trouble for Kantian ethics. Sometimes the charge is merely that Kantianism is mistaken about the role of emotions in human action, but it has also been argued that empirical moral psychology ‘debunks’ Kantian ethics as the product of precisely the emotion-driven processes it fails to acknowledge. In this essay I argue for a negative and a positive thesis. The negative thesis is that the ‘debunking’ argument against Kantian ethics is invalid because it begs the central question. The positive thesis is that, because the empirical facts about human moral psychology are morally significant, Kantians can and should wholeheartedly embrace the current interest in this area of empirical research. As Kant himself emphasized, it is an indirect, imperfect duty to use available knowledge of morally relevant empirical psychological conditions and to put this in the service of moral agency.

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Pauline Kleingeld
University of Groningen

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