Kantian Journal

2019 Vol. 38. №2

Kant’s Dissertation for the Master’s Degree On Fire and the Transformations of his Ideas of Ethereal Matter

Abstract

Kant’s dissertation for the Master’s degree Succinct Exposition of Some Meditations on Fire was written in Latin in 1755 as a sample (specimen) preceding a Master’s exam, but its first printing did not appear until 1838. What is the relevance of this Master’s dissertation for historical and philosophical studies? To answer this question I analyse the structure and give a brief summary of the dissertation, look at the history of its writing and try to identify the place of this work among Kant’s other papers on natural philosophy. I then demonstrate that Kant’s concept of ether as an elastic matter of fire, heat and light containing the forces of attraction and repulsion originates in the dissertation On Fire. I identify the provisions in Kant’s early works which he later develops in the Master’s dissertation and establish continuity between the text of On Fire and the so-called Physical Monadology, draw parallels between the ideas enunciated by Kant in his first dissertation and the interpretation of ether in the printed works that followed. Finally, I put forward the hypothesis of the heuristic potential of the On Fire treatise for the analysis of Kant’s manuscript legacy. Perhaps this dissertation will enable researchers to clear up some tangled propositions in Kant’s Opus Postumum. However, a series of further studies is needed to verify the hypothesis.

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God’s Law or Categorical Imperative: on Crusian Issues of Kantian Morality

Abstract

The ethics of Kant and the ethics of Crusius are strikingly similar. This is manifested in a whole range of principles and concepts. Crusius’ moral teaching hinges on the rigorous moral law which has to be obeyed absolutely, and which makes it different from other prescriptions that are binding only to a relative degree. This is very close to the Kantian distinction between hypothetical and categorical imperatives. Another salient feature of Crusius’ moral teaching is the stress laid on the sphere of internal motives. It is the inner motive that determines the morality of an act, rather than the external form of the act. These and some other features of Crusius’ ethics suggest a possible influence of Crusius on Kant. The possibility of such influence has repeatedly come under close scrutiny. The first works devoted to this problem date to the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Pointers to the possibility of such influence are semantic and structural similarities of the two thinkers’ systems. Besides, it is an unchallengeable fact that Kant was fairly familiar with the main theses of Crusian philosophy. Some scholars proceed from the study of Kantian vocabulary. Some of the terms Kant uses, especially in his early works which later formed the basis of his ethical teaching in the critical period, can be traced to the terms of Crusian philosophy. However, an alternative view is that Kant was primarily influenced by Wolffian philosophy (mainly through Baumgarten), while the direct influence of Crusius remains unproven. I examine both points of view and propose my own solution to the problem.

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Revisiting the Maxim-Law Dynamic in the Light of Kant’s Theory of Action

Abstract

A stable classification of practical principles into mutually exclusive types is foundational to Kant’s moral theory. Yet, other than a few brief hints on the distinction between maxims and laws, he does not provide any elaborate discussion on the classification and the types of practical principles in his works. This has led Onora O’Neill and Lewis Beck to reinterpret Kant’s classification of practical principles in a way that would clarify the conceptual connection between maxims and laws. In this paper I argue that the revised interpretations of O’Neill and Beck stem from a mistaken reading of the fundamental basis of the classification of practical principles. To show this, I first argue that Kant distinguishes between maxims and laws on the bases of validity and reality. I then argue that although a practical principle necessarily has the feature of validity, its reality in actually moving the agents to action sufficiently makes a principle a practical principle. If this is so, I argue that the classification of practical principles must be based on the extent to which they are effective in human agents (i. e. their reality). Such a classification yields us three exhaustive and mutually exclusive types namely, “maxims that are not potential laws”, “maxims that are potential laws” and “laws that are not maxims”.

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