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Chris W. Surprenant


  • Rethinking Punishment in the Era of Mass Incarceration (ed.) [Abstract]
  • Forthcoming from Routledge in 2017.

    One of the most important problems faced by the United States is addressing its broken criminal justice system. This collection of essays offers a thorough examination of incarceration as a form of punishment. In addition to focusing on the philosophical aspects related to punishment, the volume's diverse group of contributors provides additional background in criminology, economics, law, and sociology to help contextualize the philosophical issues. The first group of essays addresses whether or not our current institutions connected with punishment and incarceration are justified in a liberal society. The next set of chapters explores the negative effects of incarceration as a form of punishment, including its impact on children and families. The volume then describes how we arrived at our current situation in the United States, focusing on questions related to how we view prisons and prisoners, policing for profit, and the motivations of prosecutors in trying to secure convictions. Finally, the volume examines specific policy alternatives that might offer solutions to our current approach to punishment and incarceration.
  • Kant and the Scottish Enlightenment (ed.) [Abstract]
  • Co-edited with Elizabeth Robinson (Nazareth College).
    Forthcoming from Routledge in 2017.

    Most academic philosophers and intellectual historians are familiar with the major historical figures and intellectual movements coming out of Scotland in the 18th Century. These scholars are also familiar with the works of Immanuel Kant and his influence on Western thought. But with the exception of discussion examining David Hume's influence on Kant's epistemology, metaphysics, and moral theory, little attention has been paid to the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers on Kant's philosophy. This volume aims to fill this perceived gap in the literature and provide a starting point for future discussions looking at the influence of Hume, Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and other Scottish Enlightenment thinkers on Kant's philosophy.
  • Kant and the Cultivation of Virtue [Abstract]
  • Published by Routledge in 2014.
    Reviewed by Kate Moran (Brandeis) at Kantian Review.

    This book aims to fill this perceived gap in Kant scholarship, as well as contribute to ongoing discussions on the nature of virtue and its acquisition, by examining the following question: What is virtue? How do people become virtuous? These two questions, the first theoretical and the second practical, are at the center of Kant's moral and political philosophy. This book focuses on this second question, examining Kant's account of how virtue can be cultivated, paying particular attention to the role of civil society, education, religion, and the laws in this process.

    Chapter 1 - The Project of Kant's Practical Philosophy
    This chapter serves as an introduction to the project by examining the historical context of Kant's position, as well as the connection between freedom, virtue, and civil society in his practical philosophy. These issues are foundational in nature and from which it is possible to construct Kant's account (or, where Kant is unclear, a Kantian account) of how individuals become virtuous in practice.

    Chapter 2 - Freedom and Civil Society
    Since autonomy is a precondition of morality, liberty is a precondition for autonomy in human beings, and living in civil society is necessary for individuals to secure liberty as it provides protection from liberty-infringing acts performed by other people, living in civil society appears to be required in practice for individuals to be virtuous. As a result, Kant claims that individuals are under a moral duty to enter civil society (MM 6:255-6). But it turns out that living in civil society does more than simply provide negative assistance in helping to secure the external preconditions that makes autonomy possible. Civil society also plays a positive role in this process of moral development by helping an individual to refine his talents and reason completely, a necessary component of virtue and one that Kant believes cannot be acquired in isolation. This chapter examines both the negative and positive role played by civil society in an individual's cultivation of virtue.

    Chapter 3 - Autonomy, Coercion, and the Moral Law
    This chapter aims to reconcile the theoretical component of Kant's moral philosophy that focuses on realizing freedom of the will, with the practical component of Kant's ethics that considers how this freedom be achieved fully only by human beings living under coercive law. Once we solve this practical problem, we will see that there are additional problems for human beings to become free, problems not faced by beings of pure reason. Reconciling the theoretical and practical aspects of Kant's philosophy requires a closer examination of the connection between coercion, freedom, and the moral law.

    Chapter 4 - Moral Education and the Cultivation of Virtue
    When discussing the method of moral instruction, Kant argues for a catechistic approach to moral education. But the process of catechistic instruction appears coercive, and so it seems to violate a central tenet of Kantian morality: an individual is morally praiseworthy only if he performs virtuous acts out of recognition that those acts are required of him (i.e., out of respect for the moral law itself), not because he has been habituated to act in that manner. This chapter aims to resolve these problems by explicating Kant's account of how an individual cultivates the virtuous character state and how Kant's writings on moral education and the practical process of cultivating a virtuous disposition provide a significant contribution to the discussion in this area.

    Chapter 5 - Making Moral Decisions
    This chapter examines Kant's discussion of the practical role God and religion play in the acquisition of virtue, paying particular attention to Kant's claim that "supernatural cooperation" is necessary to complete this process. I claim that although this "supernatural cooperation" does no heavy lifting in an individual's progress towards complete virtue, Kant's discussion points us towards a solution to the problem of how best to cultivate individuals who, when at the moral crossroads, more frequently act correctly for the right reasons. This solution, which centers on the cultivation of an appropriate sense of moral shame within individuals, points us in a better direction for future considerations about moral education.

  • Kant and Education: Interpretations and Commentary (ed.) [Abstract]
  • Co-edited with Klas Roth (Stockholm University).
    Published by Routledge in 2011.
    Reviewed by Owen Ware (Temple) at NDPR.

    Immanuel Kant's moral philosophy, political philosophy, and philosophy of judgement have been and continue to be widely discussed among many scholars. The impact of his thinking is beyond doubt and his ideas continue to inspire and encourage an on-going dialogue among many people in our world today. Given the historical and philosophical significance of Kant's moral, political, and aesthetic theory, and the connection he draws between these theories and the appropriate function and methodology of education, it is surprising that relatively little has been written on Kant's contribution to education theory.

    Recently, however, internationally recognized Kant scholars such as Paul Guyer, Manfred Kuehn, Richard Velkley, Robert Louden, Susan Shell, and others have begun to turn their attention to Kant's writings on education and the role of education in cultivating moral character. Kant and Education: Interpretations and Commentary has gathered these scholars together with the aim of filling this perceived void in Kant scholarship. All of the essays contained within this volume will examine either Kant's ideas on education through an historical analysis of his texts; or the importance and relevance of his moral philosophy, political philosophy, and/or aesthetics in contemporary education theory (or some combination).

    Contributors include (in order of appearance): Chris W. Surprenant, Joseph Reisert, Phillip Scuderi, Robert Louden, Manfred Kuehn, Richard Velkley, Gary Herbert, Jorgen Huggler, Lars Lovlie, Paul Guyer, Richard Dean, Alix Cohen, Paul Formosa, James Scott Johnston, Susan Shell, and Klas Roth.


  • Kant's Liberalism [Abstract]

  • Forthcoming in The Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism, edited by Jason Brennan et al.

  • Market-Based Measurement for School Achievement [Abstract]
  • Co-authored with Philip Magness.
    Forthcoming in Journal of Markets and Morality.

    Over the last thirty years state governments have paid ever-increasing attention to the results of standardized testing to identify successful schools, rewarding those with better performance by allocating to them a greater share of resources. Although traditional, high-stakes, standardized testing has been shown to be effective at measuring discrete skills or a predetermined list of facts, the overwhelming majority of research into its effectiveness shows not only that these tests fail to measure educational quality but also that their use tends to negatively affect the intellectual development of students in the classroom. This paper argues for an alternative mechanism to evaluating school achievement. We claim that a free-market approach to education, one that includes central features of market systems--profits, market entry, price changes, product differentiation, and competition--not only provides a better mechanism than the use of high-stakes testing by which to allocate limited financial resources and motivate academic achievement, but also serves as a more accurate tool to measure the quality of school programs.
  • Kant and Classical Liberalism: Friends or Foes? [Abstract]
  • The Journal of Private Enterprise, Vol. 31, No. 5 (Fall 2016)

    One of the most significant points of disagreement between Rawls and Kant is on taxation and the conditions under which the state is justified in using coercive force to expropriate property from the rich and distribute it to the poor. Kant claims that respect for individual freedom justifies taxation to support the poor only to the extent that individuals receiving assistance are brought up to the level of subsistence and nothing more. To defend this view I argue that the promotion of individual autonomy lies at the center of Kant's moral philosophy, and that his political philosophy aims to establish and secure the external conditions that make individual freedom possible. Although Kant argues that one way of securing these external conditions legitimately is through coercion, he also claims that coercion is justified only when it serves to hinder hindrances to freedom.
  • Situationism and the Neglect of Negative Moral Education [Abstract]
  • Co-authored with J.P. Messina.
    Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol. 18, No. 4 (August 2015)

    This paper responds to the recent situationist critique of practical rationality and decision-making. According to that critique, empirical evidence indicates that our choices (1) are governed by morally irrelevant situational factors and not durable character traits, and (2) rarely result from overt rational deliberation. This critique is taken to indicate that popular moral theories in the Western tradition (i.e., virtue ethics, Kantian ethics, and utilitarian ethics) are descriptively deficient, even if normatively plausible or desirable. But we believe that the situationist findings regarding the sources of, or influences over, our moral agency do not reflect durable features of human nature, and claim that these findings are simply a byproduct of a deficient approach to moral education. Existing models of moral education, which are "positive" in nature, do a poor job of developing virtuous people. Instead, we argue that a "negative" approach to moral education, traceable to Locke, Smith, and Rousseau, would be more successful. This strategy represents something of a compromise between the strategies adopted by thinkers like Rachana Kamtekar (2004), who argues that traditional moral categories escape largely untouched by findings in social psychology, and John Doris (1998) and Gilbert Harman (2003), who argue that findings in psychology prove our traditional moral theories are defective.
  • Language in Kant's Practical Philosophy [Abstract]
  • In The Linguistic Dimension of Kant's Thought, edited by Richard Velkley and Frank Schalow (Northwestern University Press, 2014).

    This article aims to resolve this apparent inconsistency in Kant's moral philosophy by examining the role of language and logic in Kant's practical philosophy. Specifically, this paper claims that language, as the power of communication, provides the linchpin between Kant's moral and political philosophy. Insofar as the formulation of a maxim is implicitly a linguistic act, the evaluation of whether or not it is praiseworthy depends on the individual's exercise of judgment. This exercise of judgment, which has freedom as its basis in the moral realm, has as its concrete corollary the free exchange, adjudication, and communication of members (i.e., citizens) within a body politic.

    In advancing this thesis, I argue that Kant's passage at Gr 4:397 highlights his distinction between good acts and morally praiseworthy individuals. For Kant, acting appropriately is a necessary but insufficient condition for being morally praiseworthy, where what constitutes a good action is determined through discourse between free and equal members of a community. Since the focus of the passage at Gr 4:397 is on trying to determine whether or not an action has been done from duty (i.e., whether or not the person performing the action is virtuous), bad acts can be set aside because they lack a necessary component of actions done from duty (i.e., goodness).
  • Physical Education as a Prerequisite for the Possibility of Human Virtue [Abstract]
  • Educational Philosophy and Theory, Vol. 45, No. 5 (May 2014)

    This article examines the role of physical education in the process of moral education, and argues that physical education is a necessary prerequisite for the possibility of human virtue. This discussion is divided into four parts. First, I examine the nature of morality and moral decision-making. Drawing on the moral theories presented by Plato, Aristotle and Kant, I argue that morality is connected with reason and the attainment of objectively good goals. Second, I examine the role of moral education in helping individuals to cultivate a virtuous character state. I outline the approaches to moral education taken by Plato, Aristotle and Kant—dialectic, dogmatic and catechistic—and examine the ability of each approach to develop the appropriate moral disposition within individuals. Third, I examine the cultivation of this disposition by considering the connection between virtue and happiness and the possibility of producing an individual who is both virtuous and happy through moral education. Fourth, although there is disagreement about the means of moral education, I argue that there must be agreement concerning one necessary component of moral education: physical education. Physical education, while connected to non-moral exercises, allows individuals to develop the strength to become apathetic to bodily desires (e.g. the desire to obtain pleasure or pursue pain), desires that lead them away from virtue.
  • Politics and Practical Wisdom: Rethinking Aristotle's Account of Phronesis [Abstract]
  • Topoi, Vol. 31, No. 2 (October 2012)

    This paper examines the nature of Aristotelian phronesis, how it is attained, and who is able to attain it inside the polis. I argue that, for Aristotle, attaining phronesis does not require an individual to perfect his practical wisdom to the point where he never makes a mistake, but rather it is attained by certain individuals who are unable to make a mistake of this kind due to their education, habituation, and position in society.
  • Minority Oppression and Justified Revolution [Abstract]
  • The Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Winter 2010)

    This paper operates from the assumption that revolution is a legitimate tool for members of oppressed minority groups to secure their rights. I argue that this type of robust right of revolution cannot be derived from Locke's justification of revolution in the Second Treatise. For Locke, revolution is justified when the government uses its power in a manner contrary to the principles on which the state was established. Whether or not an action is contrary to these principles is determined by the people as a whole (i.e., the majority). Members of oppressed minority groups, therefore, would be justified in exercising their right of revolution only if they could garner support from a majority of the citizenry. In many instances, satisfying this criterion would require oppressed individuals to receive support from their oppressors—a practical impossibility. Since this requirement is rooted in Locke's account of the origins of civil society, if it is the case that revolution is a legitimate tool for members of oppressed minority groups to secure their rights, then it would be necessary to look elsewhere for theoretical support to justify a robust right of revolution. I argue that such support can be found in a deontological account of civil society.
  • Kant's Contribution to Moral Education: The Relevance of Catechistics [Abstract]
  • The Journal of Moral Education, Vol. 39, No. 2 (June 2010)

    Kant's deontological ethics, along with Aristotle's virtue ethics and Mill's utilitarian ethics, is often identified as one of the three primary moral options between which individuals can choose. Given the importance of Kant's moral philosophy, it is surprising and disappointing how little has been written on his important contributions to moral education. Kant argues for a catechistic approach to moral education. By memorizing a series of moral questions and answers, an individual learns the basic principles of morality in the same way that Martin Luther believed an individual should learn the tenets of Christianity. The difficulty, however, is that this approach appears to violate a central tenet of Kantian morality: virtuous acts must be performed out of respect for the moral law itself, not due to habituation. This paper demonstrates Kant's significant contribution to moral education by showing how a catechistic moral education establishes the foundation necessary for autonomous action.
  • Liberty, Autonomy, and Kant's Civil Society [Abstract]
  • History of Philosophy Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 1 (January 2010)

    Morality, as Immanuel Kant understands it, depends on the capacity of a person to be the agent and owner of his own actions, not merely a conduit for social and psychological forces and influences over which he has little or no control. As a result, Kant's moral philosophy focuses primarily on the topic of individual freedom and the necessary preconditions of the possibility of that freedom. In the Groundwork and second Critique, Kant's discussion of the connection between morality and freedom centers on autonomy of the will. He identifies autonomy as the supreme principle of morality and defines it as “choos[ing] only in such a way that the maxims of your choice are also included as universal law in the same volition” (Gr 4:440). In this paper, I argue that, according to Kant, the possibility of autonomous action requires that certain preconditions be met. Satisfying these preconditions requires an individual to be a member of civil society (status civilis), specifically, a civil society maintained by a strong, sovereign power. This connection between freedom and civil society exists on two levels. First, one precondition of autonomy (that is, internal freedom) is liberty (that is, external freedom), and an individual can secure his liberty only once he is a member of civil society. Second, an individual is free only when others recognize him as a being with the capacity for autonomous action, and joining civil society is the process by which this recognition takes place.
  • Kant's Postulate of the Immortality of the Soul [Abstract]
  • International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 1 (March 2008)

    In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant grounds his postulate for the immortality of the soul on the presupposed practical necessity of the will's endless progress toward complete conformity with the moral law. Given the important role that this postulate plays in Kant's ethical and political philosophy, it is hard to understand why it has received relatively little attention. It is even more surprising considering the attention given to his other postulates of practical reason: the existence of God and freedom. The project of this paper is to examine Kant's postulate of the immortality of the soul, examine critiques of this argument, and show why the argument succeeds in showing that belief in the moral law also obligates one to believe in the soul's immortality.
  • Cultivating Virtue: Moral Progress and the Kantian State [Abstract]
  • Kantian Review, Vol. 12 (2006)

    After examining the ethical and political writings of Immanuel Kant, one finds an apparent paradox in his philosophy as his perfectionist moral teachings appear to be linked to his anti-perfectionist political theory. Specifically, he writes that the perfection of moral character can only take place for an individual who is inside of civil society, a condition where no laws may legitimately be implemented expressly for the purpose of trying to make individuals moral. Kant believes that living in civil society is a necessary condition for an individual to refine his talents and reason completely, a process required by morality. I believe, however, that the connection between his moral and political theory runs much deeper than simply facilitating the refinement of talents. Kant's moral theory focuses on an individual's cultivation of virtue, but this cultivation cannot be most satisfactorily completed unless that individual is a member of civil society. Put differently, civil society plays a necessary role in cultivating an individual's character so that he is able to act from maxims consistent with the moral law, out of the respect for the law itself. However, because he believes that civic laws primarily intended to encourage moral cultivation cannot be implemented legitimately, it seems curious that this condition should play such a significant role in Kant's moral philosophy. Through this examination of Kant's moral and political theory, it will be shown that Kant's political society establishes a condition necessary for an individual's complete cultivation of virtue, not by implementing laws that make men moral but by weakening the forces of heteronomy, thereby removing barriers to moral action.
  • A Reconciliation of Kant's Views on Revolution [Abstract]
  • Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Spring 2005)

    Kant's views on revolution are notoriously paradoxical: on the one hand he appears to condemn all instances of revolution, but on the other he expresses enthusiasm for the French Revolution and other revolutionary acts. I argue that we can reconcile Kant's views on revolution by examining instances when an individual is under a moral obligation to revolt. First, I show how Kant reconciles his position on the French Revolution with his position on revolution in general. His answer, however, raises additional questions involving revolution in relation to his overall philosophical theory. Next, I present what is generally understood to be Kant's philosophy on revolution, and Christine Korsgaard's analysis using this traditional understanding to reconcile his seemingly contradictory views. After critiquing her position, I present my own analysis of Kant's philosophy, and show how this apparent paradox can be resolved by examining an individual's overriding moral obligation to leave the state of nature and establish civil society.

Select Invited Talks

  • Policing and Punishment: Philosophical Problems [CSU Sacramento, 2016]
  • The Limits of Free Exchange [Southwestern University, 2016]
  • Free Exchange and Human Well-Being [University of Texas-Austin, 2016]
  • Individual Liberty and the Limits of State Authority [Universita di Bologna, 2016]
  • Human Flourishing and Free Exchange [Universita di Roma, 2016]
  • Kant and the Cultivation of Virtue [APA Eastern, 2016]
  • Kant's Liberalism [Colby College, 2015]
  • Making Men Moral: The Efficacy of Moral Education [LIU-Post, 2015]

  • I am an associate professor of philosophy at the University of New Orleans, where I am the founding director of the Alexis de Tocqueville Project, an academic center for research and programming focusing on issues at the intersection of ethics, individual freedom, and the law.

    My work is at the intersection of moral and political philosophy. Thus far, I have focused on Kant's contributions to our understanding of virtue; what an individual must do to become virtuous; and the role of family, community, and state in moral education.

    My current projects apply this knowledge to contemporary issues in criminal justice reform, including the ethics of punishment; explore the connection between human well-being and entrepreneurship; and examine the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers on Kant's moral and political philosophy.

    I have received a handful of awards for my academic work. They include being recognized by Princeton Review in 2012 as one of the "Best 300 Professors" in the United States, and by Cengage Learning as one of their "Most Valuable Professors" of 2014, awarded to three professors in the United States who "have made lasting impressions on the education and lives of their students."