Two pictures of practical thinking

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INTRODUCTION In her influential attack on “modern moral philosophy” Elizabeth Anscombe writes, “If someone professes to be expounding Aristotle and talks in a modern fashion about ‘moral’ such-and-such he must be very imperceptive if he does not constantly feel like someone whose jaws have somehow got out of alignment: the teeth don't come together in a proper bite.” One of the principal sources of the sense of misalignment that Anscombe so vividly describes is that Aristotelian ethics is keyed to a conception of the nature and proper tasks of practical thinking that differs strikingly from the conception that frames Kantianism and most other positions in modern philosophical ethics. On the Aristotelian view, the most ethically valuable sort of practical thinking is a continuous activity that accompanies and completes those activities it guides and that forms an essential constituent of those activities. Modern theorists, by contrast, tend to picture practical thinking as a discrete and occasional process that precedes and initiates action. We can neither arrive at a full appreciation of the ethical thought of the ancients, nor offer a complete account of ethical excellence in practical thought, unless we begin by retrieving the unfamiliar conception of practical thinking that frames Aristotle's inquiry into ethics. This essay is intended as a sketch of some of the main contours and consequences of this project of conceptual retrieval.

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... Such problems require us, to some extent, to fly blind and invent as we go. Indeed, it may only be through beginning to pursue a course of action that we start gaining insight into the action and clarifying its moral significance (Brewer, 2011). Until initial steps are taken to remove a Confederate statue, for instance-bringing a social response and with it more evidence-it may be difficult for the advocates of removal to imagine the emotional meanings of the statue for people from very different parts of society, and vice versa. ...
... See e.g. Brewer (2011), Lear (2008, Mulgan (2018), and Williams (2014). 2 Kant puts this by saying that the practical use of reason 'is concerned with the determining grounds of the will, which is a faculty either of producing objects corresponding to representations or of determining itself to effect such objects . . . that is, of determining its causality' (Kant, 1999, p. 148 [5:15]). ...
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One aim of moral education is to help society progress from morally imperfect conventions towards more perfect ones. According to a popular view, reflecting judgment is the vehicle of this progress. In this paper, I argue that although reflection is important, it is not enough; moral development also requires practical synthesis. Moral development takes place by securing new connections—conceptual, affective, volitional and behavioural—that bring thoughts, feelings, motivations and actions into alignment with higher reason, to instantiate respect for all who are ends in themselves. Constructing parallels from Kant's theoretical philosophy, I identify three kinds of synthesis that are central to moral practice. If I am right, then a key task for moral education is to support the development of these capacities of practical synthesis.
My project is to reconsider the Kantian conception of practical reason. Some Kantians take practical reasoning to be more active than theoretical reasoning, on the grounds that it 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 conception of practical reason. My inquiry takes place against the background of recent Kantian metaethical debate — each side of which, I argue, points to issues that need to be jointly accommodated in the account of practical reason. From the constructivist, I accept the essential efficacy of practical reason; from the realist, I accept that any genuinely cognitive exercise of practical reason owes allegiance to what is there anyway, independently of its exercise. I conclude that a Kantian account of recognition respect enables us to accommodate both claims.
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