Melissa Merritt and Markos Valaris,

"Attention and Synthesis in Kant's Conception of Experience" 

Philosophical Quarterly 67/268 (2017): 571-592. DOI: 10.1093/pq/pqw085

In an intriguing but neglected passage in the Transcendental Deduction, Kant appears to link the synthetic activity of the understanding in experience with the phenomenon of attention (Critique of Pure Reason B156-7n). In this paper, we take up this hint, and draw upon Kant’s remarks about attention in the Anthropology to shed light on the vexed question of what, exactly, the understanding’s role in experience is for Kant. We argue that reading Kant’s claims about synthesis in this light allows us to combine two aspects of Kant’s views that many commentators have thought are in tension with one another: on the one hand, Kant’s apparent commitment to naive realism about perception and, on the other, his apparent commitment to the necessity of synthetic activity by the understanding for any kind of cognitive contact with external objects.

Melissa Merritt,

"Love, Respect, and Individuals: Murdoch as a Guide to Kantian Ethics" 

European Journal of Philosophy 25 (2017): 1844-1863. DOI: 10.1111/ejop.12280

I reconsider the relation between love and respect in Kantian ethics, taking as my guide Iris Murdoch’s view of love as the fundamental moral attitude and a kind of attention to individuals.  It is widely supposed that Kantian ethics disregards individuals, since we don’t respect individuals but the universal quality of personhood they instantiate.  We need not draw this conclusion if we recognise that Kant and Murdoch share a view about the centrality of love to virtue.  We can then see that respect in the virtuous person cannot be blind to the individual, as critics of Kantian ethics contend.  My approach contrasts recent efforts (Velleman and Bagnoli) to assimilate Kantian respect to Murdochian love, which overlook Murdoch’s distinctive claims about the singularity of moral activity.  This idea is not as un-Kantian as it seems, and it should inform any Kantian ethics that aims to address the charge about individuals. 

Melissa Merritt,

"Practical Reason and Respect for Persons" 

Kantian Review 22 (2017): 53-79. DOI: 10.1017/S1369415416000376

My project is to reconsider the Kantian conception of practical reason.  Some Kantians think that practical reasoning must be more active than theoretical reasoning, on the putative grounds that such reasoning need not contend with what is there anyway, independently of its exercise.  Behind that claim stands the thesis that practical reason is essentially efficacious.  I accept the efficacy principle, but deny that it underwrites this inference about practical reason.  My inquiry takes place against the background of recent Kantian metaethical debate — each side of which, I argue, correctly points to issues that need to be jointly accommodated in the Kantian account of practical reason.  The constructivist points to the essential efficacy of practical reason, while the realist claims that any genuinely cognitive exercise of practical reason owes allegiance to what is there anyway, independently of its exercise.  I argue that a Kantian account of respect for persons (“recognition respect”) suggests how the two claims might be jointly accommodated.  The result is an empirical moral realism that is itself neutral on the received Kantian metaethical debate. 

Melissa Merritt,

"Motherhood in Elena Ferrante's The Lost Daughter: A Case Study of Irony as Extraordinary Reflection" 

Philosophy and Literature 41 (2017): 185-200.  DOI: 10.1353/phl.2017.0012

 

In A Case for Irony, Jonathan Lear aims to advance “a distinguished philosophical tradition that conceives of humanity as a task” by returning this tradition to the ironic figure at its origin — Socrates.  But he is hampered by his reliance on well-worn philosophical examples.  I suggest that Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter illustrates the mode of ironic experience that interests Lear, and helps us to think through his relation to Christine Korsgaard, arguably the greatest contemporary proponent of the philosophical tradition at issue.  Lear needs a central idea from Korsgaard’s model of practical thinking in order to characterise the phenomenology of ironic experience, but he also needs to jettison her idea that reasons for action come from an agent’s “practical identities” if he wants to follow through on his claim that irony is a form of radical and committed reflection. 

Melissa Merritt,

"Varieties of Reflection in Kant's Logic"

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 23 (2015): 478-501.  DOI: 10.1080/09608788.2015.1018129

For Kant, ‘reflection’ (Überlegung, Reflexion) is a technical term with a range of senses. I focus here on the senses of reflection that come to light in Kant’s account of logic, and bring the results to bear on the distinction between ‘logical’ and ‘transcendental’ reflection that surfaces in the Amphiboly chapter of the Critique of Pure Reason. Although recent commentary has followed similar cues, I suggest that it labours under a blind spot, as it neglects Kant’s distinction between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ general logic. The foundational text of the received view is a passage from Logik Jäsche that appears to attribute to Kant the view that reflection is a mental operation involved in the generation of concepts from non-conceptual materials. I argue against

the received view by attending to Kant’s division between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ general logic, identifying senses of reflection proper to each, and showing that none accords well with the received view. To take account of Kant’s notion of transcendental reflection I show that we need to be attentive to the concerns of applied logic and how they inform the domain-relative transcendental logic that Kant presents in the first Critique.

Melissa Merritt,

"Kant on Enlightened Moral Pedagogy"

Southern Journal of Philosophy 49 (2011): 227-253.  DOI: 10.1111/j.2041-6962.2011.00072.x

For Kant, the ideal of enlightenment is most fundamentally expressed as a self-developed soundness of judgment.  But what does this mean when the judgment at issue is practical, i.e., concerns the good to be brought about through action?  I argue that the moral context places special demands on the ideal of enlightenment.  This is revealed through an interpretation of Kant’s prescription for moral pedagogy in the Critique of Practical Reason.  The goal of the pedagogy is to cultivate the moral disposition, and the method consists of training in judgment.  Unfortunately, Kant seems to wind up somewhere short of this goal, leaving the young person with only an idle wish for a properly cultivated moral disposition.  In this paper, I argue that when we address the special issues that arise when the enlightenment ideal is brought to bear on practical judgment — issues that stem from the intrinsic connection between practical judgment and agency — we will see that there is no lacuna in Kant’s account. 

Melissa Merritt,

"Kant's Argument for the Apperception Principle"

European Journal of Philosophy 19 (2011): 59-84. 

DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0378.2009.00364.x

My aim is to reconstruct Kant’s argument for the principle of the synthetic unity of apperception.  I reconstruct Kant’s argument in stages, first showing why thinking should be conceived as an activity of synthesis (as opposed to attention), and then showing why the unity or coherence of a subject’s representations should depend upon an a priori synthesis.  The guiding thread of my account is Kant’s conception of enlightenment: as I suggest, the philosophy of mind advanced in the Deduction belongs to an enlightenment epistemology.  Kant’s conception of enlightenment turns on the requirement that a subject be able to recognize herself as the source of her cognitions.  The argument for the apperception principle is reconstructed under the guidance of this conception of the ideal of enlightenment. 

Melissa Merritt,

"Kant on the Transcendental Deduction of Space and Time: An Essay on the Philosophical Resources of the Transcendental Aesthetic"

Kantian Review 14 (2010): 1-37. 

DOI: 10.1017/S136941540000145X

My aim is to reconstruct Kant’s argument for the principle of the synthetic unity of apperception.  I reconstruct Kant’s argument in stages, first showing why thinking should be conceived as an activity of synthesis (as opposed to attention), and then showing why the unity or coherence of a subject’s representations should depend upon an a priori synthesis.  The guiding thread of my account is Kant’s conception of enlightenment: as I suggest, the philosophy of mind advanced in the Deduction belongs to an enlightenment epistemology.  Kant’s conception of enlightenment turns on the requirement that a subject be able to recognize herself as the source of her cognitions.  The argument for the apperception principle is reconstructed under the guidance of this conception of the ideal of enlightenment. 

Melissa Merritt,

"Reflection, Enlightenment, and the Significance of Spontaneity in Kant"

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 17 (2009): 981-1010. 

DOI: 10.1080/09608780903339178

My aim is to reconstruct Kant’s argument for the principle of the synthetic unity of apperception.  I reconstruct Kant’s argument in stages, first showing why thinking should be conceived as an activity of synthesis (as opposed to attention), and then showing why the unity or coherence of a subject’s representations should depend upon an a priori synthesis.  The guiding thread of my account is Kant’s conception of enlightenment: as I suggest, the philosophy of mind advanced in the Deduction belongs to an enlightenment epistemology.  Kant’s conception of enlightenment turns on the requirement that a subject be able to recognize herself as the source of her cognitions.  The argument for the apperception principle is reconstructed under the guidance of this conception of the ideal of enlightenment. 

Melissa Merritt,

"Analysis in the Critique of Pure Reason"

Kantian Review 12 (2007): 60-88. 

DOI: 10.1017/S1369415400000819

It is widely supposed that the principal task of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is to carry out some kind of analysis of experience. Commentators as profoundly at odds on fundamental points of interpretation as P. F. Strawson and Patricia Kitcher share this supposition. But Kant’s prevailing view is that the Critique is an analysis of “reason itself”: this paper explains how this analysis works, and argues for the superiority of this interpretation over the received view.  

Melissa Merritt,

"Science and the Synthetic Method of the Critique of Pure Reason"

Review of Metaphysics 59 (2006): 517-539. 

Kant maintains that his Critique of Pure Reason follows a “synthetic method” which he distinguishes from the analytic method of the Prolegomena by saying that the Critique “rests on no other science” and “takes nothing as given except reason itself”.  The paper presents an account of the synthetic method of the Critique, showing how it is related to Kant’s conception of the work as the “science of an a priori judging reason”.  It also shows how a correct understanding of the synthetic method sheds light on the structure of the Transcendental Deduction, and its function in the work as a whole.  

 © 2019 by Melissa Merritt

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