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§6. Kant on Science and Religion

§6. Kant on Science and Religion

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  ,  – 

cepted moral beliefs. Kant can’t accept Hume’s solution any more than he

can accept Spinoza’s. However, with respect to the points I just noted about

Hume, Kant and Hume are somewhat alike. Kant is also not troubled by

the diversity and conflicts between our moral judgments; he supposes that

what he calls “common human reason” (gemein Menschenvernunft), which

we all share, judges in more or less the same way; even the philosopher

can have no (moral) principles different from those of ordinary human reason (Gr I:[]; KP :).

And again like Hume, for Kant science and morals stand on a par: if

for Hume they both involve forms of sensation and feeling, for Kant they

are both forms of reason, one theoretical, the other (pure) practical reason.

Of course, this is in fundamental opposition to Hume’s skepticism; but, the

point is that, in contrast to modern views—the logical positivism of Vienna,

for example—that count science as rational but morals as not, Kant, like

Hume, does not elevate science to the detriment of moral thought and

judgment. Of course, Kant’s way of reconciling science with traditional religion and accepted moral beliefs is basically opposed to Hume’s. His attempted solution is found in the three Critiques and supplemented by various of his writings in moral philosophy. I shall not try to characterize it

today, but I will comment on the three topics in Kant’s moral philosophy

we will be studying.

. You will observe first that while we begin with the categorical imperative as found in the Groundwork, this short work is only one of the three

parts of our study of Kant. Now certainly the Groundwork is important, but

it fails to give an adequate account of Kant’s moral doctrine as a whole.

What it does provide is a reasonably full analytic account of the moral law

by developing “the concept of morality” implicit in our commonsense

moral judgments. As Kant says (Gr II:[]), Chapter II of the Groundwork,

like Chapter I, is “merely analytic.” What he means in saying this is that

it still remains to be shown that the moral law has “objective reality”: that

is, that it is not a mere concept but actually can and does apply to us. In

Chapter III of the Groundwork, Kant does try to show this; but I believe

that he later abandons the kind of argument he attempts in that chapter

and replaces it in the second Critique with his doctrine of the fact of reason:

it is this fact which shows that the moral law has objective reality. And

what this fact amounts to is our second topic.

[  ]

           

The third topic, that of practical faith, can be explained roughly as follows. Kant is always concerned with human reason as a form of human

self-consciousness: in the first Critique, the self-consciousness of a human

subject acquiring knowledge of given objects and investigating the order

of nature; in the second Critique, the self-consciousness of a human subject

deliberating and acting to produce objects in accordance with a conception

of the objects. He thinks that in addition to spelling out analytically the

content of the moral law and to showing its objective reality, we must also

examine certain beliefs intimately connected with acting from that law,

beliefs that are necessary to sustain our devotion to it. At places in the

second Critique, he refers to these beliefs as postulates, which are three in

number: of freedom, of God, and of immortality. The nature of these beliefs, and how Kant thinks they are essential to our moral self-consciousness,

is part of our third topic.

The other part of this third topic is that of the “unity of reason” and

the “primacy of the practical” in the constitution of reason. This involves

the questions of how the theoretical point of view and the practical point

of view fit together and how the legitimate claims of each form of reason

are adjusted in a reasonable (and of course consistent) way. Kant believes

that at bottom there is only one reason, which issues into different ideas and

principles according to its application: whether to the knowledge of given

objects or to the production of objects according to a conception of those

objects (Gr Pref:[]; KP :ff.). This is his doctrine of the unity of reason. An aspect of this unity is the primacy of the practical: the discussion

of this leads to the idea of philosophy as defense. Kant, like Leibniz, wants

to reconcile science and practical faith—to defend each against the other.

Thus, in sum, I hope to cover the three main parts of Kant’s moral

philosophy and to consider how the point of view of practical reason connects with the point of view of theoretical reason to give a coherent conception of reason as a whole. I believe that excessive concentration on the

Groundwork obscures the importance to Kant’s view of these larger questions; and in our study of them the exact details of the Categorical Imperative don’t much matter. So long as the account of that imperative meets

certain conditions, it can serve to illustrate the doctrine of the Fact of Reason and the Unity of Reason and the Primacy of the Practical, which brings

us to the center of Kant’s critical philosophy as a whole.

[  ]

  ,  – 

§. On Studying Historical Texts

. If (a) we viewed philosophy as specified by a more or less fixed family

of problems or questions (which might be added to over time); and if (b) we

agreed about the criteria for deciding when these problems are satisfactorily

resolved; and if (c) we saw ourselves as making steady progress over time

in resolving these problems, then we would have rather little philosophical

interest in the history of philosophy. I say philosophical interest because

certainly we might have an interest in knowing about the great figures in

philosophy, just as mathematicians have an interest in knowing about Gauss

and Riemann, and physicists about Newton and Einstein. But we would

not suppose the study of these figures helps us much now with our problems, although of course it might. We would still read about the subject’s

history to celebrate its progress and to give us courage to go on, and also

to honor the people who have made philosophical progress, since this is

essential to sustain and encourage philosophy as an ongoing collective enterprise. Yet none of this would be essential to our philosophical reflection


However, the idea that philosophy is specified by a fixed family of problems with agreed criteria for deciding when they are resolved, and that

there is a clear sense in which progress has been made and an established

doctrine arrived at, is itself in dispute. For one thing, even if there were a

more or less fixed family of philosophical problems and answers—marked

out roughly by its leading topics—these problems and answers would take

on a different cast depending on the general scheme of thought within

which a writer approaches them. This scheme of thought imposes its own

requirements on acceptable solutions to the allegedly standard problems,

so there will not be agreed criteria of philosophical progress so long as there

are diverse schemes of philosophical thought, as is now the case. Thus, one

of the benefits of studying historical texts—and of trying to get a sense of

the writer’s view as a whole—is that we come to see how philosophical

questions can take on a different cast from, and are indeed shaped by, the

scheme of thought from within which they are asked. And this is illuminating, not only in itself, as it discloses to us different forms of philosophical

thought, but also because it prompts us to consider by contrast our own

scheme of thought, perhaps still implicit and not articulated, from within

[  ]

           

which we now ask our questions. And this self-clarification helps us to decide which questions we really want to resolve, which ones we can reasonably expect to settle, and much else.

. It is hard to talk sensibly about these matters when talking so generally, and without illustrating one’s points with detailed examples. Therefore

I shall not do so. As we proceed, we shall look in some detail at how a

writer’s background scheme of thought and basic aim affect not only the

way questions get posed but also the reasons people have for being concerned with the questions in the first place. I have already suggested that

Hume’s, Leibniz’s, and Kant’s reasons for being concerned with moral philosophy are quite different from ours. But showing this convincingly is a

matter of going into the details, and this must wait.

A final caveat: I shall try to suggest a general interpretation for each of

the writers we look at. While I do the best I can at this, I don’t think for

a moment that my interpretations are plainly correct; other interpretations

are surely possible, and some are almost certainly better. It’s just that I

don’t know what they are. Part of the wonderful character of the works

we study is the depth and variety of ways they can speak to us. I don’t

want to do anything to interfere with their doing that. So if I present an

interpretation, it is not only to try to illuminate the writer’s background

scheme of thought but also to encourage you to work out a better interpretation, one that is sensitive to more features of the text than mine, and

makes better sense of the whole.

[  ]

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