Skip to main content

Instructor: Markus Kohl. This course meets T 1:00 – 3:30 p.m. in CW 213.

This course is a study of Kant’s practical philosophy, chiefly as it is formulated in his two most important works on that subject matter: the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason. 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? Does morality give us absolutely binding, unconditional reasons for acting? What is the relation between virtue and happiness? What is the relation between morality and theology? In exploring these issues, we will consider a distinctive and central feature 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? Did his views significantly change (for better or worse) in the progression from first Critique (1781) to Groundwork (1785) to second Critique (1788)?

As time permits and depending on the interests of participants, we may also consider more concrete practical issues, such as Kant’s relation to racism and how this affects his ethical thought.

Although the focus will be on Kant’s own writings, we will also consider the systematic development of Kant’s ethical thought by writers such as Lucy Allais, Stephen Engstrom, Barbara Herman, Christine Korsgaard, Onora O’Neill, and Allen Wood.


PHIL graduate students: Please refer to #9 in our Handbook for further information regarding distribution requirements.