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§7. Two Roles of the Good Will

§7. Two Roles of the Good Will

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:    

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

to it.

10. I owe thanks here to T. M. Scanlon, who saw this connection.

[  ]

K 

The Categorical Imperative: The First Formulation

§. Introduction

. 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

such rules.

. 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.

[  ]

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§7. Two Roles of the Good Will

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