The Greatest Moral Philosopher Ever

Susan Neiman on the continuing importance of Kant.
  • Transcript


Neiman:  Well, Immanuel Kant. There are some people who would disagree with that but he would certainly be on anybody’s list of top three. I think he’s the greatest moral philosopher of all time for a variety of reasons but mostly because I think he gets the point about idealism right. He gets that both an eye for how the world is and an eye for how the world should be are perspectives that have equal value and I think that’s just a bottom-line deep insight. It’s a simple insight. Once you’ve had it, you say, “Gosh. How did somebody miss it?”  But in fact everyone--with the exception of Hannah Arendt, who learned that from Kant mostly--everybody goes overboard in one direction or the other. I think Kant made some serious mistakes in moral philosophy but for that insight alone he’s the greatest moral philosopher who lived. Plato and Aristotle come in as good, serious seconds in my book and in anybody’s book, and Nietzsche I believe offers a radical, deep and problematical alternative to Kant in the modern era. I think he is the one philosopher who deeply questioned moral philosophy but I think he can be answered.