Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Philip Kain:

Where Political Philosophy Meets Ethics

For Santa Clara University Professor of Philosophy Philip Kain, "ethics apart from political philosophy has problems," and vice versa.

[Philip Kain]
Philip Kain
Photo by Charles Barry

Kain explains the connection between the two disciplines by reference to philosophers Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. "Kant," he says, "takes the ethical actor to be an individual in a liberal sense"; that is, "someone who is just there - as if in a state of nature." By contrast, Hegel "thinks that human beings are embedded in a cultural world. That world forms them; and, as they act in the world, they form it."

For Kain, who is writing a book on Hegel's Phenomenology, Kant's ethics are limited by their failure to deal adequately with relations between human beings. As a political philosopher, Kain puts ethics in the context of culture. "We have to develop a different ethical outlook that sees human beings in cultural relations and interacting with others, and we have to find a way of talking about how a human being is free in that situation."

Kain brings his ethical perspective to his many roles at the Markkula Center. A member of the Steering Committee, he describes himself as interested in projects "that will bring the Ethics Center to the attention of others for its academic seriousness and excellence." One such project he is currently organizing is the Seminar on Civic Virtue.

Kain is also one of the leaders of the Center's racism study group, which grew out of a yearlong series of Ethics at Noon programs on this subject. "Racism," he says, "is one of the major ethical and political problems we have in our world today." In addition, Kain was one of the founders of the University's political theory study group. He chairs the Department of Philosophy.