Kenneth R. Westphal: Seminar on the book „How Hume and Kant Reconstruct Natural Law: Justifying Strict Objectivity without Debating Moral Realism“

„How Hume and Kant Reconstruct Natural Law: Justifying Strict Objectivity without Debating Moral Realism“
(Kenneth R. Westphal, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 2016)

The differences between Hume’s and Kant’s moral philosophies are prominent in the literature. Focussing on them, however, occludes a decisive, shared achievement: a distinctive constructivist method to identify basic moral principles and to justify their strict objectivity, without invoking moral realism nor moral anti- or irrealism. Their constructivism is based in Hume’s key insight that ‘though the laws of justice are artificial, they are not arbitrary’. Arbitrariness in basic moral principles is avoided by starting with fundamental problems of social coördination which concern outward behaviour and physiological needs; basic principles of justice are artificial because solving those problems does not require appeal to moral realism (nor to moral anti-realism). Instead, moral cognitivism is preserved by identifying sufficient justifying reasons, which can be addressed to all parties, for the minimum sufficient legitimate principles and institutions required to provide and protect basic forms of social coördination (including verbal behaviour). Hume first develops this kind of constructivism for basic property rights and for government. Kant greatly refines Hume’s construction of justice within his ‘metaphysical principles of justice’, whilst preserving the core model of Hume’s innovative constructivism. Hume’s and Kant’s constructivism avoids the conventionalist and relativist tendencies latent if not explicit in contemporary forms of moral constructivism.

Moderation: Rastko Jovanov

Participants: Jovan Babić, Petar Bojanić, Igor Cvejić, Olga Nikolić, Miloš Marković, Bojan Blagojević, Slavenko Šljukić and author.

Kenneth R. Westphal is Professor of Philosophy, Boğaziçi Üniversitesi (İstanbul), and Professorial Fellow, School of Philosophy, University of East Anglia. He is one of four editors-in-chief of SATS – Northern European Journal of Philosophy (de Gruyter). He earned his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1986). His primary research interest is the character and scope of rational justification in non-formal, substantive domains: in epistemology and history & philosophy of science, and in moral philosophy, including ethics, justice, philosophy of education & history and philosophy of law. His research integrates systematic analysis within contemporary and historical philosophy, and integrates analytic and hermeneutical approaches and methods.

Westphal was Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Hampshire (Durham), and held Professorships of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia (Norwich) and at the University of Kent (Canterbury). He has held Humboldt Fellowships at the universities of Heidelberg, Bielefeld and Göttingen, and was a Leibniz Visiting Scholar in Bielefeld. He held visiting professorships at Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.), Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) and Martin-Luther-Universität (Halle a.d. Saale).

His books include Hegel’s Epistemological Realism (Kluwer, 1989), Hegel, Hume und die Identität wahrnehmbarer Dinge (Klostermann, 1998), Hegel’s Epistemology: A Philosophical Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit (Hackett, 2003), Kant’s Transcendental Proof of Realism (CUP 2004), and How Hume and Kant Reconstruct Natural Law: Justifying Strict Objectivity without Debating Moral Realism (Clarendon, 2016).  He edited Frederick L. Will’s papers, Pragmatism and Realism (Roman & Littlefield, 1997), Pragmatism, Reason and Norms (Fordham, 1998), The Blackwell Guide to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (2009), and Realism, Science and Pragmatism (Routledge, 2014). His next book, Grounds of Pragmatic Realism: Hegel’s Internal Critique & Transformation of Kant’s Critical Philosophy, is forthcoming with Brill in the series ‘Critical Studies in German Idealism’. He is completing a second volume on natural law constructivism, ‘Normative Justification, Natural Law & Kant’s Constructivism in Hegel’s Moral Philosophy’.