Kant's Self-Legislation Procedure Reconsidered

Kant Studies Online 2012 (1):203-277 (2012)
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Most published discussions in contemporary metaethics include some textual exegesis of the relevant contemporary authors, but little or none of the historical authors who provide the underpinnings of their general approach. The latter is usually relegated to the historical, or dismissed as expository. Sometimes this can be a useful division of labor. But it can also lead to grave confusion about the views under discussion, and even about whose views are, in fact, under discussion. Elijah Millgram’s article, “Does the Categorical Imperative Give Rise to a Contradiction in the Will?” is a case in point. In it, he takes the New Kantians to task for various flaws in their interpretation of Kant’s moral theory, to be detailed shortly. He concludes with a question and a suggestion. In order to properly dissect the first, “universal law” formulation of the Categorical Imperative, he argues, we first need to understand “why an agent wills the universalization of his maxim” (549). He also suggests that in order to answer this question, we must recur to what Kant himself actually says (550). His question is a good one, and his advice on how to go about answering it is sound. But to take Millgram’s advice is to call this division of labor into question, at least for this case. For it demands close and sustained exegesis, not only of his argument against the New Kantians, but also – in order to assess whether and where they go wrong – of Kant’s text itself.

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Adrian M. S. Piper
APRA Foundation, Berlin


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