St Andrews KiP Workshop Abstracts

Kant-in-Progress Workshop




Uygar Abaci (Penn)

Kant’s Multi-layered Attack on the Ontological Argument

Kant’ s refutation of the ontological argument has attracted enormous attention in the literature. One prevalent view is that the refutation that Kant presents in the Critique of Pure Reason [CPR] (1781/1787) is a restatement of his objection in the Only Possible Argument [OPA] (1763). While there is substantial continuity between the two texts, especially regarding Kant’s views on existence, Kant’s treatment of the ontological argument in the CPR cannot be reduced to a restatement of that in the OPA. For in the OPA, Kant adopts a single line of objection, which purports to block the argument’s introduction of existence into the concept of God by invoking his well-known thesis that existence is not a predicate. This line of objection is historically Kant’s own invention and he presents it as obviously damning to all previous versions of the ontological argument, without any specific engagement with the logical mechanics of those. In the CPR, on the other hand, Kant offers a detailed systematic refutation, based on a multilayered, dialectical strategy, aiming to cover both the classical (Anselm, Descartes) and modal (Anselm, Leibniz, Wolff, Baumgarten) versions of the argument with a number of subtle arguments, all but one of which are usually understudied in the literature because of the reductionist trend in the literature. And most importantly, Kant’s refutation in the CPR employs a conception of modality that is distinctively critical.

I take Kant’s strategy in the CPR to consist of at least four layers. (1) Kant first questions the intelligibility of the concept of an absolutely necessary being. One faulty way, on Kant’s account, to make sense of this concept is to construe it in terms of logical necessity, which, in turn, requires to construe existence as a predicate contained in the concept of God and “God exists” as an analytic proposition. (2) He then argues that the ontological argument would still fail even if one were to concede to these misconceptions of absolutely necessary being, existence, and the proposition “God exists”. Here Kant presents a version of the first historical line of objection (defended by Gaunilo and Aquinas against Anselm, by Caterus against Descartes, Crusius against Wolff), purporting to block the inference of the actual existence of God from his conceived existence. 3) Thirdly, Kant argues for why existence is in fact not a predicate that could be contained in the concept of anything and thereby reiterates a developed version his own line of objection that he first introduces in the OPA. Thus, with these second and third steps, Kant provides a combination of two distinct lines of objection, a strategy that he does not espouse in any other text. (4) Finally, Kant offers another objection to the ontological argument, this time based on another thesis, reflecting the very core of his critical theory of modality: all existential (or modal) propositions are synthetic (in a rather peculiar sense). He thereby takes the concession he gives at (2) and adds a critical layer to his overall refutation.



Anita Leirfall (Oslo)

Kant on Forces

In his works, Kant makes different and conflicting statements concerning the question whether we can perceive forces or not. In the Prolegomena he writes that force, action, and reality, among other things, are independent of experience, that is, they seem to refer to things in themselves. Contrary to this, in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, Kant states that repulsive forces, but not attractive forces, are immediately given with the concept of matter.

I shall discuss two main questions that emerge from these passages in Kant: i) How to reconcile the necessity that Kant attributes to forces as a priori with the claim that we can (empirically) feel such forces? ii) Do we feel these forces directly, or immediately, or as a result of their effects, that is, as empirical representations?



Nick Stang (Toronto)

Kant on Necessity and Temporality

Much recent scholarship has focused on Kant’s rejection of a “logical” conception of necessity endorsed by, among others, Wolff and Baumgarten: the necessary is that whose negation entails a contradiction. This innovativeness in Kant’s theory of necessity, according to this narrative, consists in his recognition of a domain of non-logical “real” necessities. In this essay, however, I consider Kant’s theory of necessity in the context of a different historiographical tradition. The “statistical conception” of necessity (a term coined by Becker (1952) and popularized by Hintikka (1973)) holds that something is necessary just in case it holds at all times. The statistical conception of necessity entails the principle of plenitude: if something is possible it holds at least at one time.  According to one influential narrative, the overcoming of this statistical conception of necessity (and the associated principle of plenitude) constitutes a key moment in the development of distinctively ‘modern’ conceptions of modality. It has always been problematic for this narrative that Kant – whom some writers want to cast as the paradigm ‘modern in this respect –both rejects and embraces the statistical conception of necessity at different places in the Critique of Pure Reason. In this essay I will explain how Kant’s Critical conception of necessity can resolve this apparent contradiction. In particular, it explores and resolves the tension between Kant’s “postulates of empirical thinking in general” – the principles that govern the modal categories – and the schemata of those categories, by means of which they are applied to sensible, specifically, temporal, objects. The scholarly tradition inaugurated by Becker (1952) was not wrong to think that statistical modal concepts are important for Kant, because Kantian modalities (especially necessity) are transformed when they are brought into relation to time. This chapter thus continues the ongoing scholarly interest in real necessities in Kant, but does so by tying them to his distinctive, and, I argue, decisively important, Critical theory of temporality.



Johannes Nickl (University of Passau)

Kant on the Shadow Side of Gratitude

In §§32 and 33 of the Doctrine of Virtue, Kant introduces gratitude as one of three duties of love alongside beneficence and the duty to strengthen one’s sympathetic dispositions. Being grateful is, as Kant says, a way of displaying “respect for the benefactor (who puts one under obligation)” (VI:454) and is, to this end, a duty. Even if Kant conceives of gratitude as a virtue, he is far from looking at it without any doubts. Thus, the talk firstly aims at examining its shadow side and reconstructing three arguments Kant finds objectionable against gratitude:

  1. Gratitude could serve as an ulterior purpose
  2. Gratitude brings about asymmetric relations
  3. Gratitude can be experienced as a burden

Bearing these objections in mind, the second part of the talk aims at exploring the extent of which Kant conceives of gratitude, nevertheless, as a “sacred duty” (VI:455). One way of understanding the importance Kant attaches to gratitude is to look at people who do not engage with others gratefully. Violating one’s obligation to gratitude is “a scandalous example [that] can destroy the moral incentive to beneficence in its very principle” (ibid.).

Kant introducing gratitude as a sacred duty, which fundamentally underlies beneficence, we can see that his conception of gratitude reaches beyond a two-person-relation. Rather, as Kant points out, gratitude is a way of maintaining successful intersubjective relations in general and responding appropriately to acts in which other people engaged morally with us. Therefore, we should conceive of gratitude as “an opportunity given one to unite the virtue of gratitude with love of man” (VI:456).

Shedding light on the relation between gratitude, beneficence, and the love of human beings in Kant’s ethics, I will propose an answer to the problem of how moral agents can fulfil their duty to gratitude and deal with the difficulties that arise from its shadow side.



Kate Moran (Brandeis) and Jens Timmermann (St Andrews)

Forgiveness as Beneficence

The central thesis of this talk is that forgiveness should be understood as a Kantian imperfect duty, i.e. as moral and practical rather than affective. It consists in the maxim to treat the offender as if the offence had not occurred. As such, it is tied to certain conditions, e.g. the honest conviction that the offender will not subject you to the same offence again; and not forgiving is, in a sense to be carefully circumscribed, criticisable even though the offender can never have a right to be forgiven. We construe forgiveness as a kind of beneficence that has its grounds in our finite nature as moral agents.

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