Sometimes Kant is said to have held antiquated or at least weird views (and worse, to be honest) about various subjects, including things like certain sexual activities or perhaps more bizarre activities (bizarre for him to have thought morally relevant, maybe). The casuistical sections of the Doctrine of Virtue are a good source for these pronouncements.

Or so I thought for a long time, but for some reason, while I was rereading it a few weeks back, my mind spoke "as" Kant, but the tone my mind chose was more detached. Kant says what seem to be straightforward declarations of quirky ideas, but follows these up with open-ended inquiries, the solutions to some of which indicate the opposite of the overconfident proclamations of the immediately preceding sections. Moreover, he prefaces the whole casuistical stretch of the text by saying:

But ethics, because of the latitude it allows in its imperfect duties, inevitably leads to questions that call upon judgment to decide how a maxim is to be applied in particular cases, and indeed in such a way that judgment provides another (subordinate) maxim (and one can always ask for yet another principle for applying this maxim to cases that may arise). So ethics falls into a casuistry, which has no place in the doctrine of Right.

Casuistry is, accordingly, neither a science nor a part of a science; for in that case it would be dogmatics, and casuistry is not so much a doctrine about how to find something as rather a practice in how to seek truth. So it is woven into ethics in a fragmentary way, not [presented] systematically (as dogmatics would have to be), and is added to ethics only by way of scholia to the system.

So, if we take Onona O'Neill's interpretation of Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone into account, I think we have grounds for reading Kant as willing to articulate common moral notions in the sense of acknowledging them in his discourses on ethics, but not as an outright endorser thereby. He does say in either the Groundwork or the second Critique something about how moral knowledge cannot be gained by a new method that no one ever knew of itself before, that moral information is not recognition-transcendent either. So my question is: is this the way Kant is presenting all his infamous statements about sex, for example, as beliefs with some currency in his time, as well as often enough historically, portrayed in as sympathetic light as is possible for Kant, yet then undermined by the very form of his project in the Doctrine of Virtue as such?

  • @PhilipKlöcking the Anthropology is my biggest gap in my Kant studies. What you posted was what I was wondering about broadly, i.e. whether other parts of the Kantian corpus do confirm the quirkiness of his answers to various questions. Dec 23, 2022 at 15:02


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