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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: December 2010

2 - Kant's conception of virtue and the autocracy of pure practical reason


Although the works containing Kant's theory of virtue have received increased attention lately, this theory of virtue has yet to receive the systematic interpretation and assessment that have been given to the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason. If we are interested in understanding Kant's considered views about moral character and the role of sensibility within morality, we need to uncover the full account of virtue and more expansive moral psychology found in his later and less familiar works, especially The Metaphysics of Morals, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, and the lectures on ethics. As commentators have pointed out, in his theory of virtue, Kant explicitly claims that there are feelings and inclinations, like sympathy and love, that are important for good character and part of a life lived in accordance with the dictates of pure practical reason.

Of course, drawing attention to the fact that Kant has an account of moral character in which certain feelings and inclinations have positive moral value is not sufficient for showing that Kant has his own distinctive theory of virtue that we should find appealing. For that, we first need a detailed analysis of how Kant understands virtue as a character trait (what we can think of as Kant's conception of virtue as such).

Denis's, Lara “Kant's Conception of Virtue.” Nancy Sherman offers an extensive comparison of Aristotle's and Kant's views on moral character in Making a Necessity of Virtue: Aristotle and Kant on Virtue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
Grenberg, Jeanine, Kant and the Ethics of Humility: A Story of Dependence, Corruption, and Virtue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)
Baron, Marcia, “Love and Respect in the Doctrine of Virtue,” in Kant's Metaphysics of Morals: Interpretive Essays, ed. Mark Timmons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 391–407
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Korsgaard, Christine, “From Duty and For the Sake of the Noble” and Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), Chapter 7
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Baxley, Anne Margaret, “Autocracy and Autonomy,” Kant-Studien 94, 1 (2003): 1–23
Carnois, Bernard, The Coherence of Kant's Doctrine of Freedom, trans. David Booth (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 120
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Devereux, Daniel, “Socrates' Kantian Conception of Virtue,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 33, 3 (1995), 407–8
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Louden, Robert B., Kant's Impure Ethics: From Rational Beings to Human Beings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 135
Munchnik, Pablo, Kant's Theory of Evil: An Essay on the Dangers of Self-Love and the Aprioricity of History (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009)