“Seeing things”

Southern Journal of Philosophy 29 (S1):29-60 (1991)
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In an earlier discussion, I argued that Kant's moral theory satisfies some of the basic criteria for being a genuine theory: it includes testable hypotheses, nomological higher-and lower-level laws, theoretical constructs, internal principles, and bridge principles. I tried to show that Kant's moral theory is an ideal, descriptive deductive-nomological theory that explains the behavior of a fully rational being and generates testable hypotheses about the moral behavior of actual agents whom we initially assume to conform to its theoretical constructs. I argued that the moral "ought" is best understood as the "ought" of tentative prediction expressed in the range of uses of the German sollen; and that the degree to which such a theory is well-confirmed is a function of the degree to which we actually judge individual human agents, on a case-by-case basis, to be motivated by rationality, stupidity, or moral corruption in their actions. I assume that a similar case could be made for other major contenders, such as Utilitarianism or Aristotelianism. But there still remains unanswered the question of which of these theories is the best among the available alternatives. To answer this question, further criteria of selection must be invoked. Among these are structural elegance and explanatory simplicity, but even these do not exhaust the desiderata for an adequate moral theory. More pressing in the case of moral theory is the requirement that the theory enable us to understand all the available data of moral experience; that the theory be sufficiently inclusive that in the formulation of its descriptive laws and practical principles, it be capable of identifying as morally significant all the behavior to which moral praise, condemnation, or acquittal is a relevant and appropriate response.

Author's Profile

Adrian M. S. Piper
APRA Foundation, Berlin


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