Rethinking our Maxims: Perceptual Salience and Practical Judgment in Kantian Ethics

Brewer, Talbot
September 2001
Ethical Theory & Moral Practice;Sep2001, Vol. 4 Issue 3, p219
Academic Journal
Some contemporary Kantians have argued that one could not be virtuous without having internalized certain patterns of awareness that permit one to identify and respond reliably to moral reasons for action. I agree, but I argue that this insight requires unrecognized, far-reaching, and thoroughly welcome changes in the traditional Kantian understanding of maxims and virtues. In particular, it implies that one's characteristic emotions and desires will partly determine one's maxims, and hence the praiseworthiness of one's actions. I try to show this by pointing out an instability in the Kantian understanding of maxims. On the one hand, maxims are thought of as consciously affirmed, subjective principles of action. On the other hand, Kantians claim that nothing counts as an action, nor as morally assessable, unless it has a maxim. One cannot take both thoughts seriously without implausibly constricting the range of behavior that counts as action, hence as morally assessable. This difficulty can be overcome, I suggest, by jettisoning the idea that maxims must be consciously affirmed, and by stressing the way in which maxims are grounded in the pruning and shaping of one's emotions and desires during socialization. This opens the door to a rich Kantian theory of virtue. It also raises questions about the scope and ground of our moral responsibility, which I address at the end of the paper.


Related Articles

  • Maxims. Browne, Merry // Journal of Religion & Psychical Research;Jul2005, Vol. 28 Issue 3, p142 

    Presents maxims on the virtues of character, kindness, love, generosity, and compassion.

  • CAMPBELL, Archibald (1691-1756). Price, John Valdimir // Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy;2006, Vol. 1, p538 

    The article presents an encyclopedia entry for British philosopher Archibald Campbell. Campbell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on July 24, 1691 into a family of merchants, and passed away on April 24, 1756. He studied in Edinburgh and Glasgow and was ordained minister of the parishes of Larbert...

  • Things That Tend To Be True. Kirk, Douglas // Bulverde Standard (Canyon Lake, TX);12/31/2008, Vol. 25 Issue 52, p2 

    The article presents several adages, including one regarding free meals and visits to the restroom, one regarding a voyage to the Moon, and one regarding the maintenance of a healthy work-life balance.

  • SAYINGS. O'Grady, Desmond // Quadrant Magazine;Sep2001, Vol. 45 Issue 9, p48 

    Presents an article on sayings and expressions. Secular sayings; Expressions often used in the family.

  • A nutshell wisdom master. SPITZENBERGER, RAY // East Bernard Express (TX);1/30/2014, Vol. 71 Issue 5, p4 

    The author discusses issues related to adages and aphorisms about wisdom.

  • LETTER TO CHRISTOPH.  // Saturday Evening Post;Jul/Aug95, Vol. 267 Issue 4, p28 

    Presents a letter from a father named Leo Ravensburg to his 14-year-old son Christoph Ravensburg who left Augsburg, Germany in 1539 for a merchant apprenticeship in Lyons, France. Emphasis of letter on moral virtues.

  • Do you believe good guys finish last? Dolliver, Mark // Adweek Southeast Edition;10/06/97, Vol. 18 Issue 40, p20 

    Presents the results of an `Adweek' nationwide survey on popular responses to the question `Do you believe good guys finish last?' Moral virtue issues involved; Percentage of respondents who answered in the affirmative; Percentage of negative answers.

  • "To Genealogists" Harbin, Sarah // Saturday Evening Post;Sep/Oct1973, Vol. 245 Issue 5, p79 

    Presents a quotation about lineage.

  • Sharps and Flats. Dawson, Eliza Louisa // Saturday Evening Post;Sep/Oct1973, Vol. 245 Issue 5, p79 

    Presents a quotation about singing.


Read the Article


Sorry, but this item is not currently available from your library.

Try another library?
Sign out of this library

Other Topics