What Should I Do?

By Julian Wuerth

© 2016 – Routledge

240 pages

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About the Book

Of all his contributions to philosophy it is perhaps Kant's writings on ethics that are the most widely read. Kant himself posed the famous question: What should I do? In this engaging and lucid book Julian Wuerth explores the question that frames Kant's moral philosophy and places it in a contemporary context, offering a stimulating and direct path into Kant's moral thought.

He opens with a helpful introduction to the main traditions in ethics prior to Kant before outlining Kant’s theory of human nature - particularly his division of the soul into the faculties of cognition, feeling and desire - which is essential for understanding his moral theory.

He then introduces Kant’s arguments in his famous Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, above all for his famous ‘categorical imperative’, explaining the roles of humanity, self-consciousness and freedom in Kant's moral philosophy, and Kant's identification of moral action with autonomy.

The second part of the book considers criticisms of Kant’s moral philosophy, including those of Sidgwick and Hegel and asks whether Kant’s categorical imperative can provide moral guidance, before turning to the dominant, constructivist interpretations of Kant's ethics today, as defended by leading philosophers such as O’Neill and Korsgaard. Julian Wuerth argues that constructivist interpretations overlook central features of Kant's account of moral agency and so conflate the demands of virtue and happiness - in effect ascribing to Kant a view that he repeatedly targeted in previous ethical traditions.

The final part of the book considers Kant’s moral philosophy from a contemporary perspective. Despite important differences between them, Kant's ethics is shown to resemble virtue ethics in addressing our development as persons, advocating a lifelong process of the cultivation of both our sensible and intellectual cognitive and emotional capacities.

About the Author

Julian Wuerth Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University, USA.

About the Series

Kant's Questions

"The Kant's Questions series is thoroughly excellent. The books combine depth of philosophical treatment with a fluid, easily-readable style, offering original historical interpretations of Kant's writings with an illuminating attentiveness to issues of contemporary relevance. All in all, the series reveals the stunning depth, power, and lasting impact of Kant's writings." - Robert Hanna, University of Colorado at Boulder, USA

"This is an excellently conceived series by internationally renowned Kant scholars who, unusually, focus not on individual works or sub-disciplinary fields of inquiry but engage with those questions which Kant took to be of perennial philosophical interest. Engagingly and accessibly written whilst meeting exemplary standards of scholarship, these volumes will prove an invaluable resource for students and teachers of Kant’s philosophy alike." - Katrin Flikschuh, London School of Economics, UK

"By providing careful and detailed accounts of Kant's answers to what he considered to be the most fundamental questions of philosophy, the books in this series constitute excellent introductions to the key aspects of Kant's philosophy. Moreover, by tracing the development of these questions and ideas to the present day, they contextualise contemporary debates within a historical narrative in a way that allows the reader to grasp the continuing relevance and significance of Kant's questions and the answers that he put forward." - Ralf M. Bader, New York University, USA

 

Series advisor: Allen Wood, Stanford University, USA

"The field of philosophy ... can be reduced to the following questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? What is the human being? Metaphysics answers the first question, morals the second, religion the third, and anthropology the fourth." – Immanuel Kant

With the addition of his celebrated essay, An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? Kant bequeaths us five fundamental questions that continue to resonate and challenge today.

Kant's Questions explores the philosophical meaning and significance of each question. Taken individually, each book is a fresh and innovative introduction to a fundamental aspect of Kant’s thought. Taken together, the series is an outstanding resource on the central questions motivating Kant’s philosophical and intellectual outlook as a whole.

Each book shares a clear structure. The first part introduces Kant’s question, explaining his own answer to it; the second part explores historical criticisms to the question; and the third and final part of the book places the question in a contemporary philosophical context. Also included are chapter summaries and a helpful section of annotated further reading at the end of each chapter.

The Kant's Questions series is essential reading, not only for all students of Kant, but those studying subjects such as ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of human nature and the history of philosophy, as well as those in related disciplines such as religious studies, politics and sociology.

  • What is Enlightenment? Samuel Fleischacker
  • What is the human being? Patrick R. Frierson
  • What may I hope? Andrew Chignell
  • What can I know? Michelle Grier
  • What should I do? Julian Wuerth

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PHI000000
PHILOSOPHY / General
PHI005000
PHILOSOPHY / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
PHI013000
PHILOSOPHY / Metaphysics