Confucianism, Buddhism, and Kantian Moral Theory
The Schedule has been changed. Please check the attached file above.
[International Conference] Confucianism, Buddhism, and Kantian Moral Theory
6-7 September 2019, Sungkyunkwan University, Korea
The project explores contemporary trends in moral theory by bringing together influential and promising philosophers, East and West, who work at the intersection between Confucian, Buddhist, and Kantian moral theory. The goal is for them not only to share their views, but also to meet, listen to, and exchange ideas and arguments with one another with the aim of fostering a greater global perspective, deeper and more productive intercultural exchange, and future collaboration. The invited philosophers represent a geographically diverse group as well as a variety of interests and points of view. They all, though, are trained in and share the approach of analytic philosophy, which, it is hoped, will help to shed light upon the traditions, themes, and problems that serve as the theme of this meeting.
Brad Cokelet (University of Kansas)
Unconditionally Good Practical Wisdom
In the Groundwork, Kant begins by arguing that the good will is an unconditioned good. He also seems to hold that the good will is the only unconditioned good. In rejecting alternatives, he discusses various virtues but, surprisingly, does not discuss practical wisdom. In this paper, I argue that practical wisdom is an unconditional good and that the goodness of the good will is actually a function of the agent’s practical wisdom. In part one, I distinguish some different conceptions of practical wisdom that are found in the ancient western and eastern philosophic traditions, and pick out a broadly neo-Confucian conception. In part two, I clarify Kant’s conception of an unconditioned good and his accounts of the good will and virtue. In part three, I clarify Kant's arguments for the unconditioned goodness of the good will and consider an additional argument we can construct on his behalf, by appeal to other parts of his work. Finally, in part four, I argue that practical wisdom is an unconditioned good and that the degree of goodness of a good will is a function of the agent’s degree of practical wisdom.
Justin Tiwald (San Francisco State University)
Dai Zhen on Morality, Relationships, and Shared Ends
Relationships of a certain ethically meaningful kind, including those between family and close friends, are sometimes seen as requiring co-constitutively shared ends – that is, aims or interests that are in some way responsive to the needs and concerns of the people related to one another and not reducible to interests that they would have had independently of the relationship. Paradigmatic examples of shared ends include such things as raising children, joint hobbies, shared social causes, and joint commitments to the health and longevity of the relationships themselves. In my paper, I examine a Confucian philosopher who has sophisticated but somewhat implicit views about the ethical importance and function of shared ends: Dai Zhen 戴震. Dai suggests that the role of the shared ends will vary significantly depending on the kind of relationship under consideration, relying to different degrees on certain virtues such as trust (xin 信) and benevolence (ren 仁) to instantiate them. Shared ends importantly account for the distinctive sort of attachment that Confucians believe we should have to those who are near and dear to us, which in turn has implications for Buddhist ideals of non-attachment, the Kantian ideal of practical (and not pathological) love, and the Aristotelian notion of a friend as “another self.” My paper notes some of these implications but will focus in particular on how Dai’s view poses challenges to notions of love, attachment, and human relationships presupposed by a Kantian moral framework.
Minghuei Lee (Distinguished Research Fellow Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica)
Wang Yangming’s Doctrine of the Unity of Knowing and Acting in the Light of Kant’s Practical Philosophy
Wang Yangming’s doctrine of the “unity of moral knowledge and action” (zhi xing heyi 知行合一) can be traced back to Mencius’ theory of “original knowing” (liangzhi 良知). Similarly, Kant has discussed the relationships of theory to practice on three different levels (morality, law of state, and international law) in his article, “On the Common Saying: ‘This May be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice’.” He proposed the unity of theory and practice in moral philosophy. So in the light of Kant’s doctrine of theory and practice, I interpret Wang’s doctrine of the “unity of moral knowledge and action” with a view to clarifying some misinterpretations of it. Thereby, I demonstrate that this doctrine is logically interconnected with Wang’s other two doctrines, namely the doctrine ofthe “identity of heart/mind and principle” (xin ji li 心即理）and that of “extension of original knowing” (zhiliangzhi 致良知), although these three doctrines were advanced by him in different times.
Christian Wenzel (National Taiwan University)
Determinism, Rigorism, and Hope in Kant
Early on, Kant had been influenced by Newton and the natural sciences as well as by Crusius and theological debates. Throughout his life he held on to ideas of physical determinism, even stronger than Newton did, and he also followed Crusius in his demand for absolute freedom. But different from Crusisus, who at places reads like an existentialist, he demanded explanations for free moral actions. Thus arose a strong tension between free will and determinism for Kant. It led to his transcendental philosophy in which he tried to dissolve this tension. Kant cannot be classified as either a compatibilist or an incompatibilist in the current terminology of analytic philosophy. Kant is an idealist basing his philosophy on the notion of Vorstellung (representation) and his views are fundamentally different.
His moral philosophy appears to be rule-governed, demanding, and radical, including the idea of radical evil. His demand for free will shows in what he calls “Gesinnungswandel.” But I think this so-called “rigorism” is not as strong as is often depicted. I think there is room for what I would call “maxims ad hominem,” even in the face of demands of universality. I will demonstrate this by focusing on a neglected passage from the Groundwork.
No matter whether derterminism is true or not, there are good reasons not to be a fatalist but to keep hope and moral standards high. One reason arises from the Stoic Chrysippus’ insight into the idea of co-fatedness. Even if determinism is true, efforts make a difference. The other reason is that we simply cannot live without hope and morality, and I think Kant was keenly aware of this point. Kant built on the Stoic philosophy of paying attention to what is “inner” and “up to us” by including the idea of a “realm of ends” in the light of which we should read history with a cosmopolitan aim. This shows demand as well as a hope.
David Cummiskey (Bates College)
Buddhist and Kantian Conceptions of Self-Constitution
Buddhists need a conception of a minimal self to account for the karmic-continuity of persons and also to provide an adequate account of the subjectivity of experience. More
specifically, I argue that we should reject reductionist views, which argue that the idea of the self is a mere fiction that is reducible to its simpler and more basic parts. Although the reductionist view is emphasized in most discussions of Buddhist philosophy, there has always been a lively internal debate about reductionist accounts of memory, the seeming continuity of subjectivity, and the concept of a person. In particular, early Buddhists traditions included the Personalist who insisted that karmic continuity and responsibility presuppose some conception of a continuous subject. More recently, a host of Buddhist philosophers, including Evan Thomson (2007, 2011), Matthew MacKenzie (2011), and Georges Dreyfus (2011), have argued that the core doctrine of no-self is consistent with a minimal, non-substantial, and emergent view of the self. The current Buddhist debate about the nature of the self is remarkably similar to the Parfit-Korsgaard debate about personal identity and self-constitution. Derek Parfit (1984) also argues that there is no deep metaphysical self and that relations of personal identity are reducible to a series of experiences and relations of psychological connectedness and causal continuity. Christine Korsgaard (1989, 1996, 2009) responded to Parfit’s reductionist view by developing a non-metaphysical account of Kantian agency and self-constitution. I argue that Korsgaard’s objections to Parfit also apply to the Buddhist reductionist view, but are remarkably similar to the Buddhist minimalist arguments. On the other hand, although her objections to reductionism may be sound, Korsgaard also argues for a Kantian conception of an autonomous and independent self. The Buddhist minimalist view rejects the idea that we are independent autonomous agents.
Korsgaard’s argument focuses on agency and self-constitution and that is also my focus. I argue that the Buddhist minimalist view provides a plausible alternative to her Kantian account of self-constitution. The Buddhist alternative rejects the idea of the autonomous subject over and above its ends, and argues instead that the process of self-constitution is thoroughly embedded in a web of dependent origination. For Buddhists, the conception of oneself as independent and autonomous is instead part of the “primal confusion” that projects a reified subject-other division on experience. This confusion is the source of existential suffering, anxiety and stress, which characterizes too much of the human condition. Instead of the concept of the independent autonomous self, Buddhists embrace a non-egocentric perfectionist ideal, which includes a fundamental reorientation and re-constitution of the self.
Kyla Ebels-Duggan (Northwestern University)
Love, Respect and the Value of Humanity
In this paper, I join a small but growing group of contemporary moral philosophers who argue that, rather than competing with moral obligation, love for individuals is related to moral commitment in more positive ways. I argue for three such connections: First, love gives us insight into the value of individuals, or the content of the concept of the value of humanity, a concept that figures centrally in Kantian moral theory among others. Second, I argue that interpersonal love and moral commitment share important structural features. Each involves a normative commitment that we have sufficient justifying reason for but cannot reason to. Because of this, though our own commitments are warranted, in neither case can we construct arguments by which we could convince a skeptical third party to come to share these commitments. Love is more obviously like this than moral commitment, so reflection on the case of love can illuminate the standing of, and appropriate attitude toward, moral skepticism. Third, love nevertheless provides conceptual materials for a kind of argument to moral commitment, the requirement to value each individual that Kant expresses in his principle that we must always treat humanity as an end in itself.
Karen Stohr (Georgetown University)
Straightening Crooked Wood: Xunzi and Kant on Moral Improvement
This paper compares Xunzi’s account of self-cultivation with Kant’s account of moral improvement, with an eye toward the implications of those accounts for contemporary ethical theory. I draw parallels between Xunzi’s picture of the transformative effects of ritual and Kant’s remarks on importance of social graces for improving our moral characters and creating what he calls a “beautiful illusion” of morality in a flawed world. I argue that Xunzi and Kant are right to direct our attention to the crucial role that social practices play in the moral improvement of our individual character. Although the kinds of rituals and conventions that so interested Xunzi and Kant are largely ignored in contemporary western ethical theory, I argue that this is a mistake. Insofar as ethical theory concerns itself with moral improvement, it ought to pay much closer attention to the ways in which specific social practices play a role in straightening the bent wood of humanity.
Nicholas Bunnin (Oxford University)
A Moral Metaphysics and a Metaphysics of Morality: Xunzi and Kant
I compare Xunzi’s method of overcoming the obsessions leading to partial knowledge with Kant’s transcendental doctrine of method and its extension to the cluster of methods he employed to comprehend ourselves and our institutions as open to ethical judgement. The upshot is that in both cases a metaphysics allowing for our humanity must allow for morality, specifically in terms of the human dao and its exemplification in rites for Xunzi and in terms of humanity in oneself and others as an end in itself for Kant. I will deal with puzzles concerning both of these approaches to metaphysics and their relations to Xunzi and Kant’s conceptions of nature, the self, virtue, moral psychology, agency and practical reason. My conclusion will reflect on what we can learn from thinking about Xunzi and Kant together.
Carol Rovane (Columbia University)
Self-Constitution Without Kantian Moral Implications
The very idea of self-constitution seems paradoxical: How can a self constitute itself unless it is already there to do the constituting? This appearance might lead us to suppose that talk of self-constitution cannot be taken entirely literally – that what gets constituted is a kind of unity whose first and natural site would be a metaphysically given condition, such as a human life. I argue that this appearance is entirely misleading and, correlatively, that talk of self-constitution can and should be taken literally. When we do, we must allow that wherever the unity that is characteristic of individual rational agency is constituted, there we find a person; and this can happen within boundaries narrower than a single life, so as to constitute multiple persons within it, and wider than a single life, so as to constitute group persons spanning many human lives. This metaphysics of the self does not afford the sorts of Kantian moral implications for which Christine Korsgaard has argued, because it can be situated in a metaphysics of value that denies categorical force to any and all values, including the constitutive normative demands of rationality, as well as moral demands.
Halla Kim (Sogang University)
Kant and the Fate of the Four-Seven Debate
In this talk, I reinterpret the well-known Four-Seven Debate of the middle Joseon dynasty in Korea in the language of Kant (1724-1840) and employ the latter’s autonomist moral theory to shed light on the debate. In his original position, Yi Hwang 李滉 (Toegye 退溪, 1501-1571) connects the Four Sprouts (四端) with pattern-principle (li 理) and the moral mind-heart, while he connects the Seven feelings (七情) with gi (氣) and the human mind-heart. He thus seems to maintain the ontological separation of the Four and Seven, even though they are phenomenologically inseparable. In a nutshell, for Toegye, the Four issue from li while the Seven issue from gi (理氣分屬). This view resembles some leading aspects of Kant’s moral theory. For example, the Four may be compared to the moral, rational feeling based on reason described in the Groundwork, and Critique of Practical Reason, while the Seven can be viewed as originating from desire. Toegye’s li thus functions much in the same way as Kant’s reason (Vernunft) as it is what makes possible the materialization of ethical ideals. Indeed for Toegye, li can act by itself; li issues (理發) on its own; it moves (理動) and comes into being of itself (理自到). In other words, li is the autonomist source of moral motivation. Similarly, Kant holds that reason alone can give rise to the good will, i.e., morality.
Jennifer Lockhart (Auburn University)
Impotence and Competing Principles: Two Practical Arguments for Postulating God’s Existence
This paper presents two versions of Kant’s practical argument for postulating God’s existence and argues that the second, nonstandard, version of the argument is stronger than the first. Kant claims that practical reason’s deployment of the concept of the highest good leads to an apparent conflict of reason with itself. One standard interpretation of the antimony (Impotence) involves the idea that it is impossible to pursue the highest good because we aren’t powerful enough to guarantee that we can bring this end about. I argue that this is not a successful argument for postulating God’s existence because practical reason plausibly requires only that we strive to attain the highest good, in the sense of doing whatever we can to bring it about, however little that is. There is no reason to suppose that practical reason requires us to be powerful enough to actually attain the highest good.
I propose a second interpretation of the antimony (Competing Principles) that presents the apparent conflict of reason as considerably less tractable. On this view, practical reason demands that one act according to two principles, each of which seems to require something different. On this view, the problem isn’t that we can do so little towards the end of the highest good, but that anything we do towards this end is compromised because it seems to contravene other deontic (in the sense of non-teleological) requirements of practical reason. In light of Competing Principles, we must postulate the existence of God in order to guarantee that the two principles of practical reason—the teleological and the deontic—do not compete but instead harmonize with one another. Competing Principles allows for a stronger practical argument for God’s existence.