In the past few days, I have posted here an exchange between two people named R. Wolff about the proper interpretation of the theories of Karl Marx. That was of interest, I hope, to the readers of this blog for whom Marx is an important figure. I should like now to post something even longer that will, I also hope, be of interest to readers of this blog for whom Kant is a major figure. Some words of explanation are called for.
I began my career as a student of Kant's philosophy. Eventually I published two original books about Kant's thought [and several edited books, but they do not count.] The first dealt with the arguments of the Critique of Pure Reason. The second was a commentary on the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.
I found in the First Critique what I believed to be a coherent, connected argument for Kant's central thesis, namely that the validity of the Causal Maxim can be derived from the premise: "The 'I Think' attaches to all my representations." In my own mind, if not that of my readers, my first book on Kant was thus a success.
But I struggled for years to find an argument in the Groundwork that could be construed, however generously, as a coherent defense of the claim that the Moral Law is unconditionally binding on all rational agents as such. In the end, therefore, I thought of my second book as a failure.
Many years later, while reading a work I had always considered one of Kant's lesser productions, namely the Metaphysics of Morals, I more or less stumbled on an argument by Kant that I believed finally went a long way to completing the unsatisfactory argument of the Groundwork. By this point [the late 1990s] I had long since stopped publishing in Philosophy journals or in other ways participating in the social life of the profession. I had even transferred to an Afro-American Studies Department where I was happily running a doctoral program in that field. So I wrote up what I had found and put it away in my file drawer of unpublished essays. Some while later, I was invited to contribute an original essay to a volume to be called Autonomy and Community: Readings in Contemporary Social Philosophy, edited by Jane Keller and Sidney Axinn. The volume was published by the State University of New York Press in 1998 and, so far as I know, was read by virtually no one.
Which is, in a way, unfortunate, because I think my essay was a really significant contribution to the scholarship on Kant's moral philosophy.
So I am going to post it here on my blog. Who knows? Maybe someone will finally read it.