Kant and Husserl on moral obligation and emotions

Christopher Arroyo, Fordham University


Kant's ethics has been criticized for having a "thin" moral psychology (i.e., Kant does not adequately account for the important role of feelings and emotions in moral agency). Contemporary Kantians defend him against this criticism with a two-fold strategy. First, they argue that Kant's later works on moral philosophy reveal his account of obligation to be defensible and his moral psychology not to be as "thin" as his critics claim it to be. Second, contemporary Kantians concede that the later texts do not provide a fully adequate moral psychology, and, so, they supplement Kant's account with one of their own. This dissertation (1) evaluates Kant's accounts of moral obligation, feelings, and emotions; and (2) evaluates Edmund Husserl's ethics, in order to discern whether it is an adequate supplement/alternative to Kant's. Husserl's ethics promises to be such a supplement/alternative, since it emphasizes the role of feelings and reason in moral agency and seeks to ground a concept of universal moral obligation. I argue for five related theses. First, Kant's account of moral obligation is unsuccessful, since his most promising argument for moral obligation (i.e., his argument for the formula of humanity) is misguided in its assumption that rational agency is the sole source of objective value. Second, Kant's faulty moral psychology cannot be overcome, despite the efforts of contemporary Kantians, since Kant reduces all feelings and emotions to mere sensations. Third, even though it is an improvement over Kant, Husserl's account of feelings and emotions fails because it overstates their role in valuing; Husserl claims that all valuing is founded on feeling, a claim that is belied by Aristotle's account of boulēsis. Fourth, Husserl's early ethics amounts to an "idealized" consequentialism. Finally, Husserl's Fichtean-theological attempt to ground obligation fails, for it raises more questions than it answers. I conclude the dissertation by suggesting that Kant's concept of moral obligation be rejected in favor of a concept of the good and that this concept of the good be grounded in a concept of human nature.

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Recommended Citation

Arroyo, Christopher, "Kant and Husserl on moral obligation and emotions" (2007). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3255037.