November 29: Laurenz Ramsauer

Please join us on Monday, November 29th from 10:30-12:20 in Haskell 315. Laurenz Ramsauer (University of Chicago) will be presenting his paper entitled Kant’s Racism as a Philosophical Problem. The presentation is read-ahead. The paper is accessible under downloads.

Abstract:

Immanuel Kant was possibly both the most influential racist as well as the most influential moral philosopher in the history of modern, western thought. On the one hand, Kant’s work and handwritten notes contain outrageously racist remarks. On the other hand, Kant’s conception of all rational beings as ‘ends in themselves’ is widely considered a paradigm of moral egalitarianism. This stark contrast between Kant’s racism and his egalitarian ethics has recently inspired a long-overdue discussion about the problem of Kant’s racism: does the combination of these two facts indicate a failure of Kant’s moral philosophy itself? Or does it merely indicate a failure of the person Immanuel Kant?

So far, discussions of Kant’s racism have tended to frame the problem as choice between two interpretations of Kant’s moral philosophy: either Kant was an inconsistent egalitarian, or he was a consistent inegalitarian. Undoubtedly the majority of Kant scholars believe that Kant was an inconsistent egalitarian. On their view, Kant was simply inconsistent in that he failed to draw the necessary conclusions from his own moral philosophy. By contrast, some scholars have recently argued that Kant was a consistent inegalitarian. On their view, Kant’s racist remarks are not incompatible with his moral philosophy, because when Kant wrote about the dignity of all persons as ends in themselves, he simply did not mean to include non-white people.

Unfortunately, I believe that these two interpretive options are not exhaustive. In fact, I take it that the correct interpretation is much more worrisome for Kantian ethics than the two options presented so far. Both sides of the debate agree that there is not merely a tension but a contradiction between the abstract egalitarianism of Kant’s moral philosophy and his racist beliefs. However, there are significant textual difficulties for this assumption. Consequently, I am afraid that the verdict about Kant’s racism and its relevance for his moral philosophy must be far more cynical than both interpretive options in the literature allow. Kant appears to be a consistent formal egalitarian: Kant’s characterization of the equal dignity of all persons is so abstract that it remains almost entirely useless.

If this interpretation of Kant’s work is correct, then philosophers are unjustified in approaching the topic of Kant’s racism as complacently as they have so far. Those who argue that Kant was an inconsistent egalitarian essentially brush off the problem of Kant’s racism as an unfortunate, but negligible, personal failure of Immanuel Kant the person. Ironically, those who argue that Kant was a consistent inegalitarian effectively brush of the problem of Kant’s racism as a personal failure of Immanuel Kant as well. On their view, once we include enough people in what we mean by ‘persons’ the story allegedly has a happy ending, and abstract egalitarianism remains triumphant. In this way, both those arguing that Kant was an inconsistent egalitarian and those arguing that he was a consistent inegalitarian effectively deny that Kant’s racism is a philosophical problem.

By contrast, I argue that Kant’s racism is a philosophical problem precisely because it highlights a blind spot in an entire approach to doing moral philosophy: if Kant’s abstract egalitarianism is compatible with his racism, then philosophers in the Kantian tradition also cannot be certain that their respective ideals of substantive moral or political equality are doing more than justifying their prejudices. Thus, I argue that moral philosophers should recognize the limits of abstract moral philosophy. For if we deny the limits of abstract moral philosophy, we will inevitably turn the limits of abstract moral philosophy into the limits of moral philosophy in general.

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November 15: Greg Brown

Please join us on Monday, November 15th from 10:30-12:20 in Haskell 315. Greg Brown (University of Chicago) will be presenting his paper entitled Desire and Action. The presentation is read-ahead. The paper is accessible under downloads.

Abstract:

Elizabeth Anscombe’s claim in Intention that all action is prompted by desire bears a similarity to the views of certain neo-Humean internal reasons theorists. Accordingly, it raises the question of whether her view is susceptible to objections made by philosophers such as Thomas Nagel, T.M. Scanlon, and Christine Korsgaard, roughly to the effect that such claims are either false or trivial. In this chapter, I attempt to sketch out Anscombe’s conception of desire and action and identify what is important and worth preserving in it, while acknowledging certain ways in which it should be modified to accommodate the existence of non-calculative practical reasoning.

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October 25: Emily Dupree

Come join us Monday, October 25, to discuss Emily Dupree’s Paper “Revenge”.

This meeting is on Zoom. The zoom link will be sent out in advance of the meeting to all those on the practical philosophy workshop email list. If you would like to be added to the list, please email pbourbon@uchicago.edu

When: 10:30-12:20 am

Paper is available under ‘download’. Please email pbourbon@uchicago.edu if you require the password.

Abstract:

There is a cluster of enduring assumptions in much of our Western philosophical inheritance on the topic of revenge: first, that revenge is a moral evil incompatible with freedom; second, that it is irrational; and finally, that revenge has no place in our practical lives once sociopolitical organizations are up and running. In one telling passage, Martha Nussbaum describes anger’s vengeful impulses as involving beliefs that are “false and incoherent, ubiquitous though they are.” But these assumptions, as I will argue, oversimplify questions regarding the status of revenge under conditions of political failure. What can wronged parties do when the state no longer adequately safeguards their moral personhood? When it seems that private vengeance is the only recourse one has in the aftermath of immense interpersonal harm?

In this paper I explore these questions through the first-personal accounts of revenge taken by Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and develop an account in which revenge is rational to pursue. This rationality is grounded in the moral good that it provides revenge-seekers: the actualization of a moral personhood that was eroded by the interpersonal conditions that constituted the state’s failure. While I do not commit myself in this paper to defending revenge all things considered, I make the still-robust claim that revenge provides a moral good and it is therefore rational to pursue it. This good is related to the more general good of actualizing one’s moral personhood. In this way, I deny the first two assumptions of our philosophical inheritance, and I show that the last assumption – that revenge has no place in our practical lives once sociopolitical organizations are up and running – is a tautology once we understand the nature of revenge itself.

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October 11: John Proios

Come join us Monday, October 11, to discuss John Proios’s Paper “Plato’s Scientific Feminism”.

 Where: Haskell 315

When: 10:30-12:20 am

Paper is available under ‘download’. Please email pbourbon@uchicago.edu if you require the password.

Abstract:

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates argues that in the ideal city women and men in the guardian class should receive the same education (451e–52a, 456d–57a), and do the same work (453b–56b). Indeed, Socrates emphasizes that the highest office in the ideal city, of philosopher-rulers, will include philosopher-queens and not just philosopher-kings (540c). Socrates’ conclusions have been approved by other philosophers who believe in equality as a value—they value equal opportunity, irrespective of sex, or equal consideration, irrespective of sex, either as treatment owed to both sexes in recognition of some valuable feature shared by both, or as necessary for the realization of some other fundamental value, such as freedom or the development and exercise of core human capacities, to which both sexes are equally entitled.  In this paper we argue that unlike those philosophers, the Socrates of Plato’s Republic does not assign the same jobs to women and men on the basis of valuing equality at all. Rather, his basis for assigning men and women the same work is scientific:  with respect to civic contribution, women’s nature is the same as men’s, although on the whole inferior.   Our central claim is that, at core, the judgment that women and men ought to do the same work irrespective of sex is a method of collecting and dividing kinds according to nature, so that the ‘ought’ is scientific rather than moral. Insofar as feminism is concerned with equality as a value, Plato’s argument for sex equality in the division of labour falls far short of a feminist position. Thus, our paper answers several key questions about Socrates’ argument, such as the backdrop of class inequality in the city, Socrates’ appeal to an alleged observation about women’s inferiority, and his use of ‘womanly’ as a term of derogation elsewhere.

We look forward to the discussion!

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May 24: Claudia Hogg-Blake

Please join us next Monday, May 24, for a discussion with Claudia Hogg-Blake (University of Chicago) on her paper “Love and Attachment”.

When: Monday, May 24, 09:30-11:00 am CST

Where: Zoom (join mailing list for information)

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May 10: Richard Kim

Please join us next Monday, May 10, for a discussion with Richard Kim (Loyola University Chicago) on his paper “Habituation, Nature, and Sprouts: Aristotle and Mencius on Moral Development”.

When: Monday, May 10, 09:30-11:00 am CST

Where: Zoom (join mailing list for information)

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April 26: Amy Levine

Please join us next Monday, April 26, for a discussion with Amy Levine (University of Chicago) on her paper “Meaning and Waste”.

When: Monday, April 26, 09:30-11:00 am CST

Where: Zoom (join mailing list for information)

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April 23: Anselm Müller

Please join us next Friday, April 23, for a discussion with Anselm Müller (emeritus, University of Trier) on his paper “Involuntary Rationality”.

When: Friday April 23, 03:00-4:30 pm CST (note unusual time!)

Where: Zoom (join mailing list for information)

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March 15: Ben Laurence

Please join us coming Monday, March 15, for a discussion with Ben Laurence (University of Chicago) on his paper “Do Human Rights Have a History?”

When: Monday, March 15, 09:30-11:00am CST

Where: Zoom (join mailing list for information)

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March 8: Benjamin Callard

Join us on the coming Monday, March 8, for a discussion with Ben Callard (University of Chicago) on his paper “The Ethics of Echo Chambers.”

When: Monday, March 8, 09:30-11:00am CST

Where: Zoom (join mailing list for information)

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