College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Full Title of Thesis or Dissertation

Prudence and providence in Kant

Graduation Date

6-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Department/Program Conferring Degree

Philosophy

Keywords

Kant, prudence, providence, morality, ethics

Abstract

My dissertation undertakes a re-examination of the concepts of prudence (or, equivalently, practical judgment) and providence (or, equivalently, the postulate of God’s existence) in Kant’s ethics, political philosophy, and moral theology. Kant famously breaks with the eudaimonistic tradition by rejecting the principle of happiness from his practical philosophy. Kant understands prudence as providing a means to happiness, thus rejects it from morality together with happiness. Yet, the concept of happiness makes a return in Kant's theory of the highest good. The highest good is the final goal of morality for Kant, referring to a world in which happiness is distributed in proportion to moral virtue. To promote the highest good, however, is to promote the moral goals of universal happiness and moral perfection, which Kant also describes as wide duties. Kant suggests that it falls to practical judgment or, equivalently, prudence to judge how to apply wide duties in concrete circumstances. This is how Kant’s theory of the highest good entails a return of prudence albeit of a specifically moral kind. It is divine providence, however, that makes moral prudence possible in Kant. The role of providence in Kant lies not in God’s actual intervention in nature but in providing human beings with the courage and assurance requisite for acting with moral prudence in a world that does not always bend itself to human intentions. Divine providence makes prudence possible in Kant, but it is only through human effort and moral prudence that providence can be realized in the natural world.

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