Cambridge University Press, 2018

There can be no doubt that Kant thought we should be reflective: we ought to care to make up our own minds about how things are and what is worth doing.  Philosophical objections to the Kantian reflective ideal have centred on concerns about the excessive control that the reflective person is supposed to exert over her own mental life, and Kantians who feel the force of these objections have recently drawn attention to Kant’s conception of moral virtue as it is developed in his later work, chiefly the Metaphysics of Morals. Melissa Merritt’s book is a distinctive contribution to this recent turn to virtue in Kant scholarship. Merritt argues that we need a clearer, and textually more comprehensive, account of what reflection is, in order not only to understand Kant’s account of virtue, but also to appreciate how it effectively rebuts long-standing objections to the Kantian reflective ideal.

Awards

  • North American Kant Society Book Prize, 2019

  • Dean's Research Award, Best Monograph, UNSW Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, 2019

Reviews

Elements in the Philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Cambridge University Press, 2018

This Element examines the role of Kant’s predecessors both in the Anglophone tradition (Joseph Addison, John Baillie, Edmund Burke, Lord Kames) and the German rationalist tradition (Alexander Baumgarten, Georg Meier, and especially Moses Mendelssohn) in the development of Kant's theory of the sublime.  From the Anglophone tradition, Kant draws a reflective approach, according to which our enjoyment of natural sublimity turns on what it reveals about our own minds; from the German he draws a certain readiness to link true sublimity with the moral perfection of virtue.  Since Kant says with evident endorsement that “we call sublime that which is absolutely great” and nothing in nature can in fact be absolutely great (it can only figure as such, in certain presentations), Kant concludes that – strictly speaking – what is sublime strictly speaking can only be something about our own minds: specifically, the human calling (Bestimmung) to perfect the rational capacity according to the standard of virtue.  The Element takes account of the difference between respect and admiration as the two main varieties of sublime feeling, and concludes by considering the role of Stoic moral psychology in Kant’s account of the sublime, particularly through the channel of Seneca. 

Research in musty tomes sometimes brings lovely surprises: the marbled endpapers here come from an edition of G.F. Meier's Vernunftlehre (a second edition, published in Halle in 1762) scanned from a copy in the University of Toronto library.  Over several decades, Kant lectured on logic using Meier's abridged logic text, the 1752 Auszug aus der Vernunftlehre.  

 © 2019 by Melissa Merritt

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The image of Minerva is from the frontispiece of Leonhard Cochius's 1769 essay Untersuchung über die Neigungen, which won the essay prize from the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin.  The phrase SAPERE AUDE ("dare to be wise") comes from Horace (Epistles I.ii.40), and was already the de facto motto of the German Enlightenment long before Kant officially christened it such in his famous 1783 essay "What is Enlightenment?".  

Melissa McBay Merritt

Senior Lecturer, University of New South Wales

Australian Research Council Future Fellow