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§7. Two Roles of the Good Will
consider these difﬁcult sections here and simply cite the text to give some
sense of Kant’s thought. From KU §:
[I]n this world of ours there is only one kind of being with a causality
that is teleological, that is, directed to purposes, but is yet so constituted
that the law in terms of which these beings must determine their purposes is presented . . . as unconditioned and independent of conditions
in nature, and yet necessary in itself. ant’s view
a religious aspect is the dominant place he gives to the moral law in conceiving of the world itself. For it is in following the moral law as it applies to
us, and in striving to fashion in ourselves a ﬁrm good will, and in shaping
our social world accordingly that alone qualiﬁes us to be the ﬁnal purpose
of creation. Without this, our life in the world, and the world itself, lose
their meaning and point.
Now, perhaps, we see the signiﬁcance of the mention of the world in
the ﬁrst sentence of Groundwork I: “It is impossible to conceive anything
in the world, or even out of it, that can be taken as good without qualiﬁcation, except a good will.”
At ﬁrst it seems strange that Kant should mention the world here. Why
go to such an extreme? we ask. Now perhaps we see why it is there.10 It
comes as no surprise, then, that in the second Critique he should say that
the step to religion is taken for the sake of the highest good and to preserve
our devotion to the moral law.
These religious, even Pietist, aspects of Kant’s moral philosophy seem
obvious; any account of it that overlooks them misses much that is essential
10. I owe thanks here to T. M. Scanlon, who saw this connection.
The Categorical Imperative: The First Formulation
. Our aim is to achieve an overall view of how the more distinctive themes
of Kant’s moral philosophy ﬁt together. Recall the four themes mentioned
last time: the supremacy of reason; the unity of reason; the equality of
reason (theoretical and practical) with the primacy of the practical in the
constitution of reason; and, ﬁnally, philosophy as defense, which includes
the defense of the freedom of reason. We want to know what these themes
mean and how they are connected with special aspects of Kant’s doctrine,
such as the priority of right, and an idea of moral philosophy as concerned
not with how to be happy but with how to be worthy of happiness, and
of course with the moral law as a law of freedom.
As essential preparation for understanding these matters, it is best to
begin with how Kant thinks of the moral law, the categorical imperative,
and the procedure by which that imperative is applied to us as human
beings situated in our social world. This last I call the categorical imperative
procedure, or the CI-procedure. I shall not give a full account of this procedure, and many difﬁcult points of interpretation are omitted. My reason
for omitting these matters is that Kant wants to show that there is pure
practical reason. He wants to do this by showing how practical reason is
manifest in our everyday moral thought, feeling, and conduct (KP :). For
this purpose, it does not greatly matter, I think, what speciﬁc formulation
of the CI-procedure we adopt, provided that it meets certain essential conditions.
. Here I note two of these conditions (leaving two others until later).
First, the categorical imperative procedure must not be merely formal
but have sufﬁcient structure to specify requirements on moral deliberation
so that suitably many maxims are shown to be ﬁt or unﬁt to be made
universal law. Otherwise, the categorical imperative as it applies to us
would be empty and without content, and so also the moral law. Call this
the content condition.
Second, the categorical imperative procedure must exhibit the categorical imperative, and similarly the moral law, as a principle of autonomy,
so that from our consciousness of this law as supremely authoritative and
regulative for us (as it applies to us via the categorical imperative and its
procedure), we can recognize that we are free. Call this the freedom condition.1
Of course, the meaning of these two conditions is obscure at this point.
I mention them only to indicate that we have some leeway in giving an
account of the categorical imperative provided that certain essential requirements are met.
. Now, there are two reasons for studying the CI-procedure: one is to
use it as a way of generating the content—the ﬁrst principles along with
the essential rights, duties, permissions, and the rest—of a reasonable moral
doctrine. I don’t believe that the CI-procedure is adequate for this purpose.
This is not to deny that it is surely highly instructive as one of the more,
if not the most, illuminating formulations of the requirement to express
our reasons universally when assuming a moral point of view (an idea that
goes back at least to Leibniz and Clarke).
The other reason for studying the CI-procedure is to elucidate and
give meaning to the themes and features that distinguish Kant’s view.
Provided that the account of that procedure satisﬁes the content and freedom conditions (and the two we add later), its main value for us, or so I
think, is to bring to life and to make intelligible Kant’s characteristic and
1. In Kant VII, two further conditions are added: the fact of reason condition and the motivation
deeper ideas. It does this by providing a means for their expression: by
referring to it we can give a more speciﬁc sense to the unity of reason, say,
and to the idea of acting under the idea of freedom. But this is getting
§. Features of Ideal Moral Agents
. In a moment we look at a highly schematic account of Kant’s categorical
imperative using the law of nature formula. I assume that this imperative
is applied in the normal conditions of human life by what I have called the
categorical imperative procedure, or, as I have said, the CI-procedure for
short. This procedure speciﬁes the content of the moral law as it applies
to us as reasonable and rational persons in the natural world, endowed with
conscience and moral sensibility, and affected by, but not determined by,
our natural desires and inclinations. These desires and inclinations reﬂect
our needs as ﬁnite beings having a particular place in our social world and
situated in the order of nature.
In referring above to human persons I used the phrase “reasonable and
rational.” My intention is to mark the fact that Kant uses vernuănftig to express a full conception of reason that covers the terms “reasonable” and
“rational” as we often use them. In English, we know what is meant when
someone says, “Their proposal is rational, given their circumstances, but
it is unreasonable all the same.” The meaning is roughly that the people
in question are pushing a hard and unfair bargain which they know to be
in their own interests but which they wouldn’t expect us to accept unless
they knew their position is strong. “Reasonable” can also mean “judicious,”
“ready to listen to reason,” where this has the sense of being willing to
listen to and consider the reasons offered by others. Vernuănftig can have
the same meanings in German: it can have the broad sense of “reasonable”
as well as the narrower (often the economist’s) sense of “rational” to mean
roughly furthering our interests in the most effective way. Kant’s usage
varies, but when applied to persons, vernuănftig usually covers being both
reasonable and rational. His use of “reason” often has the even fuller sense
of the philosophical tradition. Think of what Vernunft means in the title The
Critique of Pure Reason! We are worlds away from “rational” in the narrow
sense. It’s a deep question (which I leave aside here) whether Kant’s conception of reason includes far more than reason.
It is useful, then, to use “reasonable” and “rational” as handy terms to
mark the distinction that Kant makes between the two forms of practical
reason, pure and empirical. Pure practical reason is expressed in the categorical imperative, empirical practical reason in the hypothetical imperative.
These forms of practical reason must also be distinguished from particular
categorical and hypothetical imperatives (as we shall see in a moment, the
particular maxims at step ) that satisfy the corresponding requirements
of practical reason in particular circumstances. The terms “reasonable” and
“rational” remind us of the fullness of Kant’s conception of practical reason
and of the two forms of reason it comprehends.
. Recall what we said last time in connection with Gr Pref: (–):
that Kant is concerned with the principles of a pure will, that is, with the
reasoning of fully reasonable and rational human agents. Such agents are
ideal: although affected by natural desires and inclinations, they are not
determined by them and always act as the principles of pure reason require.
They are also, let’s suppose, lucid and sincere in the sense that they know
(or can formulate) the reasons from which they act, and they can state these
reasons when appropriate.
Now, I take the CI-procedure to represent in procedural form all the
requirements of practical reason (both pure and empirical) as those requirements apply to our maxims. (This procedural representation is important
later when we discuss Kant’s moral constructivism.) In assessing the maxims
implicit in their actions, I suppose that ideal reasonable and rational agents,
who are also lucid and sincere, use these principles intuitively in their moral
thought and judgment.
Further, Kant takes for granted that the application of this procedure
presupposes a certain moral sensibility and a capacity for moral judgment
(MdS, Intro :–).2 Having a moral sensibility means, among other
things, knowing that wanting to make a deceitful promise raises a moral
question: Is such a promise permissible? Similarly, if great suffering tempts
us to want to take our life, that raises a moral question; so also do the
2. On this presupposition, see the instructive discussion by Barbara Herman, “The Practice of
Moral Judgment,” Journal of Philosophy (August ), –; reprinted in The Practice of Moral
Judgment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, ), pp. –.
needs and misery of others who seek my help. By representing the requirements of practical reason, the CI-procedure articulates a mode of reﬂection
that Kant thinks can help us to gain clarity about such matters, given our
moral sensibility and capacity for judgment as developed, as it must be, in
growing up and living in society.
It is a serious misconception to think of the CI-procedure as an algorithm intended to yield, more or less mechanically, a correct judgment.
There is no such algorithm, and Kant knows this. It is equally a misconception to think of this procedure as a set of debating rules that can trap liars
and cheats, scoundrels and cynics, into exposing their hand. There are no
. To clarify the remark above about a sincere agent, let’s distinguish
three kinds of reasons: explanatory reasons, agents’ reasons, and grounding
Explanatory reasons are part of an explanation of why someone acted as
he did. The explanation is partly psychological—a belief-desire explanation,
say—but it may refer to repressed or unconscious motives, and to other
psychological elements that agents are unaware of and would not count
among their reasons.
Agents’ reasons are the reasons that agents count as their reasons and
that truthful and sincere agents would, when appropriate, acknowledge as
their reasons. When people are lucid before themselves, that is, when they
know what moves them and do not act under the promptings of repressed
or unconscious motives, then agents’ reasons tend to coincide, or else to
overlap, with explanatory reasons. Kant’s ideal reasonable and rational and
sincere agents are also lucid.
Grounding reasons are of two kinds: reasons of rationality and justifying
reasons. Reasons of rationality are those that show a decision or an action
(for an agent in certain circumstances) to be rational, or sensible, as the
case may be; while justifying reasons show a decision or an action to be
reasonable, right, or just, or whatever is appropriate.
In the case of ideal agents—those who are reasonable, rational, and
lucid as well as truthful and sincere—the three kinds of reasons tend to
coincide, or else to overlap, when the actions in question are fully intentional, i.e., undertaken in the light of deliberation and judgment.