Date of this Version
Jarbuch für Recht und Ethik (1997) 5: 489-496.
Marcia Baron's book tackles two very difficult issues, both centered on criticisms of the Kantian conception of duty. The solutions to her chosen questions lie rather deeply hidden, and the procedures by which Baron digs deep to find solutions are exemplary in their presentation of careful interpretation of texts by Kant, of writers on Kant, and of conceptual analysis and criticism. This book is not like a commentary, which would consider a broader range of questions and issues; it is rather a narrower, closer analysis of a few more specific issues. These few narrow issues have broad ramifications for our understanding of Kant, however, and they have over the years troubled many interpreters; hence the book should interest anyone who wishes to understand Kant's ethical theory.
As I said, this book is exemplary in the close textual interpretations of Kant that are the focus in a couple of chapters (Chapter Three discussing the "broadness" of Kant's broad duties and Chapter Six discussing Kant's Stoic are two prime examples), exemplary in the reading, analysis, and critique of a broad variety of writers on Kant, and exemplary in the careful way issues are developed, so that the proposed solutions, though, sometimes unexpected, seem inevitable once they have been grasped. Hence it is a book one can usefully give graduate students as a model of excellence for careful historical interpretation, for close attention to secondary literature, and for philosophical analysis in ethics.
Indeed Baron's book seems to say the last word about a number of topics. Her close, careful analysis of Kantian texts and of the literature on the related topics make some real advances. I might be wrong when I say she has the last word: perhaps I am failing to see some points of criticism that others will discern, or perhaps the lack of any viable criticisms of the book will not keep some writers from criticizing her! But mostly this book is one that others will build upon rather than tear down or reconstruct.