Assistant Philosophy Professor Dr. Bryan Lueck recently traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, to attend the Kantian Ethics and Moral Life conference and present his research regarding Kantian philosophy. The conference occurred on September 20th and 21st, and Lueck was in Antwerp for the entire week of the conference.
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Prussia, who researched, lectured, and wrote during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His work, according to Lueck and other philosophers, is revolutionary on many scales.
“It’s really hard to overstate how important he is,” says Lueck. “He worked in nearly every subfield of philosophy, and every subfield that he worked in, he revolutionized.”
Kant wrote the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Judgment, which are works that have greatly contributed to the fields of metaphysics and aesthetics. Kant’s work has been studied for centuries, but there have been new trends in thinking about his moral philosophy, which is why the conference was established.
“There’s a new vein of Kant scholarship that’s been coming out over the last 10 years or so, and this conference is concerned with that stream of scholarship,” Lueck explains.
Kant’s formalist theories and works have piqued the interest of contemporary philosophers like Lueck. Lueck explains that the “source of moral obligation, the source of thoughts has to be law,” according to Kant, and that “good action is action that is in conformity with the right rule” while “bad action is the action that is not in conformity to the right rule.”
These Kantian thoughts seem quite sensible, but philosophers have questioned Kant’s adherence to rationality.
“What has developed over time is a view of Kant as excessively formalist,” says Lueck. “That is, you know what the rule is, and you apply it to situations in a really mechanical way without any concern with what is unique or particular about that situation.”
Most of Lueck’s research throughout his career has been on Kant, and in his research, he has seen that the longer Kant lived, the less formalist Kant became.
“What recent scholarship is trying to show is that later Kantian texts, ones that he wrote later in his career, abandon that kind of [excessive] formalism,” he says. “If you take into account those later texts, you get a much more nuanced picture of what Kantian ethics would be. That’s the strain of research I’m involved in.”
Usually, when Lueck attends conferences, they are annual meetings of societies, but this conference has been different because it focuses exclusively on Kant. He was enthusiastic to attend this conference because he knew that “the biggest names in Kant scholarship” were attending.
The paper Lueck presented at the conference is entitled Contempt in the Moral Life, in which he focuses primarily on Kant’s view of the treatment of those who are considered contemptible. In his research, Lueck has found Kant’s less formalist views in the Metaphysics of Morals.
“Kant says [that] it’s wrong in every case to treat someone with contempt even when the person has done something that is actually contemptible,” Lueck explains. “What’s remarkable about that is whether a person’s act is contemptible or not is determined with reference to the moral rules. If you understand what the moral law is, you would judge correctly that a person’s act is contemptible, but you nonetheless do that person a wrong if you show that contempt.”
Lueck has just returned from Antwerp, and at the conference, he was able to see other Kantian scholars and gain some insight into their work.
“One of the reasons I was motivated to apply to this conference was precisely because it would give me the opportunity to establish some relationships with some very important people and good scholars,” he says.
While Lueck does not teach any classes specifically about Kant, he has a vast amount of knowledge about the philosopher to offer to his students. He incorporates his understanding of Kant into Theoretical Ethics and has done an independent study on Kant to enrich SIUE’s growing philosophers.
Filed Under: Philosophy