Phil 320: Kant’s Moral Philosophy

Spring 2022

Prof. Patrick Frierson


Office Hours: 10-noon Monday in my office (Olin 194) and 9-10 PM Tuesday on zoom at and you can always email me at with questions or to set up an appointment.


Course Goals: 

1.     Develop a deep understanding of the basic structure and several particular details of Kant’s moral philosophy. 

2.     Improve skills at formulating a philosophically interesting interpretive thesis about an important philosopher and defending that thesis in writing. 

3.     Learn to defend your philosophical claims orally. 

4.     Learn to be an excellent philosophical critic and discussant. 

5.     Develop your capacities to pursue wisdom and insight with respect to morality and ethics.


Content: This course consists in a broad study of Kant’s moral philosophy.  We begin with Kant’s Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals, his most popular writing on moral philosophy.  We then look at the relationship between morality and the rest of Kant’s philosophy through studying the Critique of Practical Reason, along with some selections from the Critique of Pure Reason.  Then we turn to the problem of human evil, which Kant emphasizes in his Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.  Finally, we look at particular issues in Kant’s moral philosophy, focusing in particular on his political philosophy and his discussions of human virtue.  Both of these are discussed in the Metaphysics of Morals.  Throughout the course, there are opportunities for customizing its content.  Thus, at several junctures, we could discuss Kant’s attitudes towards women or diverse national, ethnic, or racial groups.  During week 6, we could focus on Kant’s argument for the existence of God, Kant’s aesthetics, or Kant’s race theory.  During week 8, we could focus on Kant’s doctrine of “grace” or on the role of moral community in his thought.  The last two weeks of the semester provide a particularly important scope for choice, and we’ll need to settle on the content of those before Spring Break since what we choose will partly determine which additional books (if any) you need to purchase for this course.  During those last two weeks, we can look at

(1)  Contemporary (21st century) Kantian moral theories. (Several of the most important moral theories today are broadly Kantian, and I’ll lay out some options for these.)  If you choose this option, we’ll purchase one or two additional books laying out contemporary neo-Kantian moral theories.

(2)  Particular issues in applying Kant’s ethics.  Depending upon which topics we choose, there will be various other books/articles that we’ll need to either purchase or have on reserve.

(3)  Kant’s early moral theory.  In the 1760’s, 20 years before the moral theory for which he became famous, Kant developed a quite different approach to ethics.  I’ve recently published a collection of his writings and lectures from this period that shows the basic elements of this early ethical theory and the first steps from that early theory to his later thought.  This material also includes important stuff on Kant’s attitudes towards women and other ethnicities.  For this, we’d buy Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime and other writings and I’d put some other material on reserve.

Throughout the course of the semester, our reading of Kant will be enriched by reading selected secondary sources. The two most important secondary sources for the course are Creating the Kingdom of Ends (by Christine Korsgaard) and Kant’s Ethical Theory (by Allen Wood).


Course Format and Requirements (Tutorial Version): This course will be a tutorial.  The class will be divided into pairs, and each pair will meet with me once a week for 75-90 minutes.  During each weekly meeting, one student will be responsible for a paper discussing issues related to the reading for the day.  Although I have provided one or more questions for each week, the papers can be on any topic related to the primary reading.  You are expected to take the secondary sources into account where they are relevant.  You are also invited to look for additional secondary sources, and you should make use of at least one “outside” secondary sources for each paper that you write (though you may skip this requirement for one of your papers over the course of the semester).  Your papers should be between 1400 and 1800 words. 

The other student will be responsible for responding to that paper.  The tutorial will begin with the first student reading her/his paper.  Then the other student will respond, and we will have an intensive discussion of the material.  At the end of the semester, each student will have the chance to expand one of their tutorial papers into a longer final essay (1600-2000 words; this expansion is not required unless you plan to use a paper from this course for your seminar paper revision for the major).  Evaluation will be based on your papers (60%), your written responses (20%) and your oral participation in the tutorial.  (I will be commenting on papers and responses orally, as part of the tutorial itself.  If you would like to know where you stand in terms of your grade, you may ask me at any time.  In addition, you can request written feedback on any papers that you revise after our tutorial meeting.)  Beyond weekly meetings in pairs, we will occasionally meet Monday evenings for lecture/discussion as a whole class.  Some of these class sessions may take the form of public lectures to the Whitman community as a whole.


Papers must be turned in at least 48 hours before your scheduled tutorial meeting.  You should email a copy of your paper to me ( as well as to your tutorial partner.  (Before emailing your paper, you should save it in .doc or .docx format with the filename “YourName KMP WeekNumber.”  For example, if I were turning in the paper for Week 5, I would save it as “Patrick Frierson KMP Week 5.docx”)


Course Requirements (Seminar Version):

For the seminar version of the class, we will meet weekly on Monday evenings from 7:30-9:50 PM.  Every student is expected to do all of the assigned reading for each class (though for some classes, we may divide up secondary source readings amongst different students). 

Requirements (Seminar Option):

·       Attendance, Reading, and Participation (10%). You are expected to read and reread the assigned texts for each class with thoughtfulness and care. Merely passing your eyes over the relevant pages is not reading. You need to engage with the material, thinking through passages that you find confusing until you are able to either understand them or clearly articulate the nature of your confusion. You should constantly assess how the readings relate to one another and to your own emerging understanding of Kant’s moral philosophy.  This should take at least six to nine hours a week.  You should bring this deep understanding of and insightful questions about the texts to class with you each week, prepared to contribute in substantive ways to our cooperative class project of coming to a deeper understanding of what it is to be human. You are required to attend every class and are expected to participate in a learning community of mutual respect.

·       Seminar Paper (20%). For at least one of our weekly meetings, you will be expected to write a seminar paper of 1800-3000 words that engages with the material assigned for the day but also incorporates at least two additional readings (either from the “optional readings” or from material you find on your own). For each week listed below, I’ve provided some questions that you might answer in your paper, but you are free to take on any issue that arises in the primary or secondary reading for that day.  No later than 5am on the Saturday preceding the class where we discuss your paper, you must send a draft of your paper to both me (at and the person who will lead discussion of your paper.  No later than 5 am on the Sunday preceding our seminar, you must distribute a polished version of the paper to the entire class (including me).  This should be in .docx format (not a googledoc or pdf) with a filename that includes your first name and last name (e.g. “Patrick Frierson KMP Seminar Paper”).  This will be the draft I will grade, but its content should be basically the same as the draft you give to the discussion-leader.  A seminar paper that is late will automatically suffer a one grade point drop (from a B to a C, for instance). If the paper is more than 24 hours late, it will receive an F.  All students should bring a printed copy of the paper to class.

The seminar paper should not be exploratory; rather, it should offer a well-reasoned argument that defends a specific and interesting thesis related to the topic for the day. Because of the expectations for this seminar paper, you should not wait until the week that it is due to begin writing it.  Although each week’s reading builds to some extent off of previous weeks, each week’s reading also stands largely on its own.  You should start the reading for your seminar paper at least three weeks before it is due and have started writing (at least brainstorming) at least two weeks before the paper is due.  By 5 PM on the Wednesday before your paper is due, you must turn in (to me) a draft of your paper that includes at least 1000 words of writing, showing how far you have come. (I will not comment on or grade this draft, but students who do not turn in at least 1000 words related to their paper will suffer a one grade point drop on their paper.) I strongly encourage you to meet with me on Wednesday or Thursday to discuss this draft and ideas for improving the paper.

·       Presentation (20%). For at least one of our weekly meetings, you will be expected to give a presentation. The primary focus of this presentation should be the seminar paper written for that week’s meeting. You should very briefly explain what you take to be the central thesis of that seminar paper and what you take to be the core argument for that thesis. You should then raise significant objections and/or suggest ways that the argument of the paper could be fruitfully developed. (You might also use this opportunity to defend alternative positions that are neglected or insufficiently treated in the paper.) You should feel free to connect your comments on the paper with your own interests, but the focus should be on the arguments and ideas in the seminar paper. Your introductory comments should not take longer than 10 minutes. In addition, you should come with specific questions to guide discussion. (These should include at least one passage from the primary source reading that you want to read closely in the context of the seminar paper and at least one specific passage from the seminar paper that you want us to look at more closely.) Because the oral portion of your presentation will be brief, I strongly recommend including a handout with your presentation.  Your handout might include such things as: a summary of the thesis and main argument of the seminar paper; brief bullet points with your central questions, criticisms, extensions, and observations about the paper; quotes for discussion (from the paper and/or readings for the day); and/or key questions that you hope we will discuss as a class.

·       Weekly Responses (20%).  On weeks that you are neither writing a paper nor giving a presentation, you are expected to write a short response to the readings. For each week, I have provided a prompt for written work, and you may use this to guide your weekly response. Alternatively, you may simply write up a question about or response to the readings, the seminar paper, or both. Generally, these responses need be no longer than 200-400 words. These should be emailed to me (in the body of an email) no later than noon on the day of our seminar.  Responses will be graded with a check, check-plus, or check-minus.  Late responses are welcome but will receive a zero.  At the end of the semester, I will drop your lowest score.  (That means you get one “free pass,” but use this with care.  I will not generally excuse missed or late assignments beyond this one, even if you have an official excuse through the Dean of Students. The point of the free pass is precisely to provide for such contingencies.)

·       Final Paper (30%).  At the end of the semester, you will be required to turn in a substantive research paper of at least 3500 words. This paper should engage with at least some of the material we discuss in class and at least some additional material beyond what we read in class. The topic of these papers is open-ended, but I recommend that you either substantially expand either your seminar paper or one of your weekly responses, responding to comments raised during our seminar and/or developing points that you were unable to develop in the original version; or write about a specific topic discussed in class that we did not get discuss in sufficient depth. You might focus your final paper on a specific question or issue that arose in class.


Accommodations:  If you are a student with a disability who will need accommodations in this course, please meet with Antonia Keithahn, Associate Director of Academic Resources (Memorial 326, 509.527.5767, for assistance in developing a plan to address your academic needs and ensure that you are best able to meet the requirements for this course.  If you need religious accommodations, then (in accordance with the College’s Religious Accommodations Policy), will provide reasonable accommodations.  All information about disabilities, religious status, or accommodations is considered private.  All students needing accommodations must give me written notice (email is acceptable) by the end of the second week of class about your needs and must receive a written (email) confirmation from me about what accommodations I can provide.  For support in requesting accommodations, you may contact Antonia (for disability-related accommodations) or Adam Kirtley (Whitman’s Interfaith Chaplain).  If you believe that I have failed to abide by Whitman’s requirements for accommodations, here is a link to the Grievance Policy, where you can pursue this matter.



Cambridge Edition of the Works of Kant: Practical Philosophy (hereafter PP)

Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (hereafter R)

Kant’s Ethical Thought, by Allen Wood (hereafter Wood)

Creating the Kingdom of Ends, by Christine Korsgaard (hereafter Korsgaard)

You should also all go to and register for the online discussions that will take place on January 19, February 9, March 16, and March 30.


Other Books we will use this semester: 

(Books that are on physical reserve are on 24 hour reserve, but note that other students may want to use them.  If you want a book that is not physically present, please email your classmates and let them know that you need it.)


Henry Allison, Kant’s Theory of Freedom

Henry Allison, Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Commentary (on Physical Reserve)

Henry Allison, Essays on Kant

Lara Denis, Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals: A Critical Guide

Frierson, Patrick, Freedom and Anthropology in Kant’s Moral Philosophy

Frierson, Patrick, What is the Human Being?

Frierson, Patrick, Kant’s Empirical Psychology

Jeanine Grenberg, Kant and the Ethics of Humility

Herman, Barbara, The Practice of Moral Judgment

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (ed. Guyer and Wood)

Kate Moran, Community and Progress in Kant’s Moral Philosophy

Arthur Ripstein, Force and Freedom

Dieter Schonecker and Allen Wood, Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork… (On Physical Reserve)



(Some secondary readings may be changed over the course of the semester)

Prelim class: Read Wood 1 – 14, Korsgaard 3 – 42


NOTE: At 10 am Pacific Time on Wednesday February 9th, there will be an online session (VNAKS) with some excellent young Kant scholars, discussing “Kant on Humanity’s Progress.”  If you want to see what exemplary philosophical discussion and top-notch cutting-edge philosophical scholarship look like, go to that session.  Register at


Week One (January 24th):  Kant’s argument for the Categorical Imperative

Primary Source Reading: Grounding, Part One (pp. 39 – 60)

Required Secondary Sources: Korsgaard 43-76, Wood 17-49 (also recommended: 50-75)

Optional: Allison, Groundwork pp. 71-148; Schonecker and Wood 32-94


What is the central argument of Grounding I?  Based on the reading, what seem to have been the most important challenges that Kant’s morality had to meet in his own day?  What are the most important challenges that his morality needs to meet today?  Is the argument of Grounding I successful?


Week Two (Jan. 31st):  The Formulae of the Categorical Imperative 

[Paper: Alex L.; Discussant: Jason K.]

Primary Source Reading: Grounding II (pp. 61-93)

Required Secondary Sources: Korsgaard 77-132, Wood 76-155

Optional: Allison Groundwork pp. 176-272; Schonecker and Wood 95-174 (especially 122-171);


What is the relationship between the different forms of the categorical imperative?  In particular, are the Formula of Universal Law and the Formula of Humanity simply two different forms of the same law or are they fundamentally different laws with different practical results?  Which formula is better?  Why?


Week Three (Feb. 7): Autonomy and Freedom  (SEE NOTE ABOVE RE: THE VNAKS SESSION.)

[Paper: John H.; Discussant: Alex L.]

Primary Source Reading: Grounding II – III (pp. 61-108), “What is Enlightenment?” (pp. 17-22)

Required Secondary Sources: Korsgaard 159-187, Wood 156-192, Henry Allison, Kant’s Theory of Freedom, pp. 85-106. 

Optional: Allison, Groundwork, 273-363; Schonecker and Wood, 175-218; Skorupski, “Autonomy and Impartiality,” in Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Critical Guide (ed. J. Timmerman, available in Penrose but not on reserve), Andrews Reath, “Autonomy of the Will as the Foundation of Morality,” in Agency and Autonomy in Kant’s Moral Theory, pp. 121-72.


In what sense is “autonomy” the supreme principle of morality?  How does this relate to Kant’s earlier explanation of the categorical imperative?

What is the relationship between freedom and autonomy?

How does “What is Enlightenment?” relate to the Groundwork?


Week Four (Feb. 14): Kant’s Argument(s) for Freedom and Its Relation to Morality

[Paper: Jason K.; Discussant: KeJuan S.]

Primary Source Reading: Critique of Pure Reason, marginal page numbers pp. Bviii-xliv (especially xxix-xxx)), 484-89, 511-14, 532-46; Grounding III (pp. 94-108); and Critique of Practical Reason (pp. 139-85, especially pp. 173-80).

Required Secondary Sources: Korsgaard pp. 159-187, Henry Allison, Kant’s Theory of Freedom, 214-49; AmeriksKant’s Deduction of Freedom and Morality”; Markus Kohl, “Kant on Determinism and the Categorical Imperative

Optional: Allison, Groundwork, 273-363; Schonecker and Wood, 175-218.

How does Kant defend the claim that human beings are free? 

Does Kant change his mind about the relationship between freedom and morality between the Grounding and the second Critique?  If so, why would he change his mind?  Which position is stronger?


Week Five (Feb. 28):  Respect for the Moral Law

[Paper: Cora; Discussant: Sam K.]

Primary Reading:  Critique of Practical Reason (pp. 186-225, especially 198-210)

Required Secondary Sources: You must read at least 4 of the following sources: Allison Kant’s Theory of Freedom 107-128; McCarty, “Kantian Moral Motivation and the Feeling of Respect”; Herman (on physical reserve) “On the value of acting from the motive of duty” in The Practice of Moral Judgment, pp. 1-22; Reath, “Kant’s Theory of Moral Sensibility: Respect for the Moral Law…”; Frierson, Kant’s Empirical Psychology, pp. 116-166; review Wood 42-9.

What is respect for the moral law?  What role does it play in Kant’s moral theory?


Week Six (March 7)

[Paper: Jess; Discussant: Celeste]

(option 1): Kant’s Philosophy of Religion: God.

Primary Reading:  Critique of Practical Reason (pp. 226-58), Critique of Pure Reason, Bviii-xliv (especially xxix-xxx), A583/B661-A642/B670;

Required Secondary Sources: Patrick Frierson, “Rational Faith: God, Immortality, Grace,” in Dudley and Englehardt, eds., Kant: Key Concepts; Allen Wood, “Rational Theology, Moral Faith, and Religion” in P. Guyer, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Kant; Kate Moran, Community and Progress in Kant’s Moral Philosophy, 25-97; Allen Wood, Kant and Religion (especially chapter two).

What is the relationship between reason and faith?  What is Kant’s notion of the highest good?  How does this notion relate to his ethics?  How does it fit into his philosophy of religion?  Does Kant’s moral philosophy actually require a concept of God?  Why?


Week Six

(option 2): Kant’s Aesthetics and Its Relation to Morality

Primary Reading:  Critique of Judgment, handout

Required Secondary Sources: Guyer, Kant and the Experience of Freedom (in Penrose but not on reserve), chapters 9 and 10; Allison Kant’s Theory of Taste, chapters 10 and 11; [perhaps an additional secondary source or two].

For Kant, what is the basis of judgments of taste?  What is the relationship between taste and a good will?  What should Kant say about the relationship between these?


Week Six

(option 3): Kant’s Philosophy of Race

Primary and Secondary Readings TBD.


Week Seven (March 28): Radical Evil and Freedom

[Paper: Sam B.; Discussant: Adam]

Primary Reading:  Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Book I, pp. 33-73

Required Secondary Sources: Wood 283-290, Wood, Kant and Religion, pp. 61-88; Allison pp. 129-161, Frierson Freedom and Anthropology in Kant’s Moral Philosophy, pp. 34-9, 95-114; Frierson, What is the Human Being?, pp. 72-81; Jeanine Grenberg Kant and the Ethics of Humility, 15-48 (especially 29-45); Laura Papish, Kant on Evil, Self-Deception, and Moral Reform, Introduction and Chapter Two, pp. 1-10, 37-66.

How, if at all, is Kant’s conception of freedom in the Religion different from his conception of freedom in the Grounding and Critique of Practical Reason?  What, for Kant, is radical evil in human nature?  How does Kant prove that human beings are radically evil?  What effect does this conclusion have on his overall moral theory?


Week Eight (April 4):

[Paper: Sam K.; Discussant: Alex]

Dealing with Radical Evil (Option One: Grace)

Primary Reading:  Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Book II, pp. 77-102, 122-27.

Required Secondary Sources: Adams “Introduction” to Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason; Jacqueline MariñaKant on Grace,” Frierson Freedom and Anthropology, pp. 114-22; Moran, Community and Progress in Kant’s Moral Philosophy, 88-97; Wood, Kant and Religion, pp. 139-63.

Optional: Patrick Frierson, “Providence and Divine Mercy in Kant’s Ethical Cosmopolitanism,” available online here.


Week Eight: Dealing with Radical Evil (Option Two: Moral Community)

Primary Reading:  Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Book III, pp. 105-112.

Required Secondary Sources: Wood 283-320, Anderson-Gold 33-53, Frierson, pp. 136-62; Moran Community and Progress in Kant’s Moral Philosophy, pp. 70-97, 241-51; additional readings TBD. 



Week Nine (April 11): Applied Kantian Ethics I: Duties of Right, Private Property, Contracts.

[Paper: KeJuan; Discussant: Jess]

Primary Reading:  Metaphysics of Morals, pp. 355-97; 401-26, 455-61; 509-22

Required Secondary Sources: Arthur Ripstein, Force and Freedom, Preface, Chapter One, and all other relevant chapters**; Flikschuh, “Justice without Virtue,” and either Byrd “Intelligible possession of object of choice” or Wood “Punishment, retribution…” in Lara Denis, ed., Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals: A Critical Guide, pp. 51-70 and 93-110 or 111-129.  (**You do not need to read the entirety of Ripstein’s book, but once you settle on a topic within the doctrine of right, you should read all those portions of Ripstein’s book relevant to that topic, and you should inform your tutorial partner (and me) which chapters s/he will need to read.)

Choose one question:

(a) What is the difference between a duty of right and a duty of virtue?  How does each sort of duty relate to the categorical imperative? (For this question, focus on pp. 355-97 and 509-22)

(b)  For Kant, why is private property necessary?  Why are contracts necessary?  Is Kant correct?  How do these arguments relate to the general structure that Kant lays out for his political theory?  How do they relate to the categorical imperative?  (For this question, focus on pp. 401-26, 455-61.)

(c) What does Kant’s argument for private property suggest about the possibility of and/or need for a welfare state? (For this question, focus on pp. 401-26, 455-61.)

(d) What is the basis of political authority, for Kant?  (For this question, focus on pp. 401-26, 455-61.)


Week Ten (April 18): Applied Kantian Ethics II: Lying

[Paper: Owen; Discussant: Cora]

Primary Reading:  Grounding (pp. 61-93), Metaphysics of Morals (pp. 543-45, 552-557), “On the Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropic Motives” (pp. 607-615)

Required Secondary Sources: Korsgaard 133-158 (optional: 335-362); Wood, Kantian Ethics (not Kant’s Ethical Thought), pp. 240-58; Lara Denis, Moral Self-Regard, pp. 85-95; Helga Varden, “Kant and lying to the murderer at the door”.

What is/are Kant’s best argument(s) against lying?  For Kant, is lying always wrong?  If not, under what circumstances is lying acceptable?  Does the issue of lying show that Kant’s moral theory is impractical, too demanding, or just plain wrong? 


Week Eleven (April 25)

[Paper: Celeste; Discussant: Owen]


Some books we might read together would include…

Tamar Schapiro, Feeling Like It

Christine Korsgaard, Sources of Normativity or Self-Constitution

T. M. Scanlon, What we owe each other

Barbara Herman, Moral Literacy

Onora O’Neill, Towards Justice and Virtue

Allen Wood, Kantian Ethics

Hannah Arendt, Kant’s Political Theory (This one’s a bit older, but a “classic,” and we could also read some other work by Arendt)


Week 12 (May 2)

[Paper: Alex; Discussant: Sam B.]


Pick one of the following issues or some other issue of your choice and discuss how Kant’s moral theory applies to it.  You should take into account not only what Kant does think about the issue, but what he should think, given his overall moral theory.  You are expected to do your own secondary source research for other discussions of this issue that can shed light on Kant.  A valuable resource for finding secondary sources is the Philosopher’s Index, accessible at (at the bottom of the page).




Ethical treatment of animals

Bioethical issues (patient autonomy, organ markets)


Sex (and/or Marriage)


Civil Disobedience

The Ethical Importance of Good Manners

Slavery and Servanthood

Ethical problems arising within modern capitalism

Alcohol and Drug Use

Capital Punishment


Welfare (political solutions to poverty)

Ethics of War/International Law

Preemptive War

Duties to God


Week 13 (May 9)

[Paper: Adam P.; Discussant: John H.]



Primary Reading: Observations on the Beautiful and Sublime, pp.11-64, 243-248, 251-54, 258-9, 263-303.  Also look over the additional materials in this work, especially the Remarks, for ideas on how his thought might have developed over time. 

Required Secondary Sources: Observations on the Beautiful and Sublime “Introduction” (pp. vii-xxxv); Susan Shell, “Kant as Propagator: Reflections on Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime” (available online here); John Zammito, Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology (in Penrose but not yet on reserve), pp. 83-135 (especially 104-16); Guyer (and/or other essays from Shell and Velkley, eds, Kant’s Observations and Remarks: A Critical Guide.

(a) How is Kant’s early ethical theory different from his later ethical theory?  Which ethical theory is better?  Why?

(b) Are Kant’s claims about women and/or other races consistent with the ethical theory developed in Observations?  Are they consistent with the ethical theory he developed later?  (If you are interested in this topic, ask me about additional secondary sources.)

(c) Was Kant a racist?  What impact does your answer to this question have on your estimation of his moral theory?  (If you are interested in this topic, ask me about additional secondary sources.)