PHIL 424.001 – Kant’s Practical Philosophy

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Instructor: Markus Kohl. This course meets T 4:00 – 6:30 p.m. in CW 213.

In this class we will engage in a close reading of Kant’s two most important works in practical philosophy: the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and (especially) the Critique of Practical Reason. In studying these texts, we will try to understand and assess the answers that Kant gives to the classic questions of practical philosophy: what does morality demand from us? How can we determine the morally right course of action? What is special about moral motivation? What makes an agent morally praiseworthy? How do moral norms differ from other practical norms? Is morality objective? What is the relation between moral virtue and happiness? Do moral norms depend on God?

In addition, the course considers one of the most distinctive features of Kant’s practical philosophy: Kant argues that there is an essential link between moral agency and absolute freedom of will – if we lack such freedom, we cannot act under moral norms. We will try to understand why Kant posits this link, and how this informs his argumentative strategy: does he argue from morality to freedom, or vice versa? Answering this question will require coming to terms with some of the central tenets of Kant’s metaphysics and epistemology.

This course has no official prerequisites, but it is strongly recommended that participants have taken prior classes on the history of moral philosophy and (or) contemporary ethical theory. Participants should be aware that the focus in the class will be on understanding Kant’s views in their own right (where that requires close attention to the primary texts, which make for very difficult reading material).