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§1. Gaining Entry for the Moral Law

§1. Gaining Entry for the Moral Law

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   

and the principles of a pure will: the principles of practical reason [Gr Pref:

– (–); – (–)]) not only is the necessary theoretical basis

for a clear knowledge of our duties, but also is of first importance for the

actual fulfillment of the moral law. He adds: “The pure thought of duty,

and in general the moral law, has by way of reason alone . . . an influence

on the human heart so much more powerful than all further incentives

capable of being called up from the field of experience that, in consciousness

of its own dignity, reason despises these incentives and is able gradually to

become their master.” 1

In Kant’s reply to Sulzer in II:n. (), he says that popular moral instruction fails because it doesn’t present the principles of morals as principles

of pure practical reason. Popular instruction relies on a great variety of considerations appealing to many kinds of motives. Whereas Kant thinks that

ordinary observation shows that “[w]hen a righteous act is represented as

being done with a steadfast mind in a complete disregard of any advantage

in this or in another world . . . it leaves far behind any similar action affected

even in the slightest degree by an external incentive and casts it into the

shade. . . . It uplifts the soul and arouses a wish that we too could act in

this way.”

Kant’s thought is this: when we are presented with a clear conception

of the moral law, and see it exemplified in someone’s life, we are made

fully aware for the first time of the dignity of our nature as free, reasonable,

and rational persons. Were it not for this clear conception of the moral law

as a law of freedom and the awareness of its powerful effect on us as such

a law, Kant thinks we would not know what we are: our nature as free

persons would remain hidden to us. A clear understanding and awareness

of the moral law is the way to this self-knowledge.

We have yet to discuss why Kant thinks that the moral law is a law of

freedom. But that the CI-procedure be able to exhibit it as such is the second

condition we imposed on an acceptable rendering of the categorical imperative (the first was that of significant content). We return to this when we

discuss the fact of reason.

1. Here we see a feature of what I shall call Kant’s “Manichean” moral psychology as opposed

to his “Augustinian” moral psychology. These psychologies we take up later in connection with

the Religion.

[  ]

  :   

§. The Formulation of Autonomy and Its Interpretation

. I begin by stating three variants of this formulation from the ten or so

found in II:– (–). The first expresses autonomy as an idea of

reason (end of II: [–];  [–]):

(a) [T]he supreme condition of the will’s conformity with universal

practical reason . . . [is] the idea of the will of every reasonable and

rational being as a will that makes universal law.

In II: (–), we have an important formulation of the principle,

that of complete determination (using Kant’s terminology). I count it as

one of autonomy, given its order in the review of formulas:

(b) All maxims as proceeding from our making of law ought to cohere

into a possible realm of ends as a realm of nature.

This translates Kant’s words “zuzammenstimmen . . . zu einem moăglichen Reiche der Zwecke not as “harmonize with” (Paton) but as “cohere

into.” I think that it is closer to Kant’s thought, which is not that there is

a realm of ends, already there, so to speak, with which our making of law

must somehow harmonize. Rather, our making of law as we intelligently

and conscientiously follow the principles of practical reason (as procedurally

represented by the CI-procedure) constitutes, or constructs, the public

moral law for a realm of ends. This thought will be important later when

we come to Kant’s moral constructivism.

In II: (–), in the part of the review of the argument that covers

the third formulation, we have an additional imperative formulation:

(c) Act as if your maxims had to serve at the same time as a universal

law (for all reasonable and rational persons).

These three different formulations illustrate the very different ways in

which Kant may state a basic thought or principle. A contemporary writer

would not normally write so loosely or use such a diversity of expressions.

No matter: it’s possible to get the sense if you listen to the music.

. The problem in interpreting the second formulation is in seeing how

[  ]

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it can be equivalent to the other formulations, given the new concepts it

introduces. The problem with the third formulation is seeing how it differs

importantly from the first. For if it doesn’t, what is the point of it? What

does it add?

The answer is provided by noticing, first, that all the variants stress the

idea that we are to act in such a way that we can regard ourselves as legislating universally through our maxims; and second, that some of the formulations make it explicit that, in legislating universally, we are to view

ourselves as members of a possible realm of ends (a moral commonwealth).

With the autonomy formulation, there is a shift of point of view that fits

our conjecture: we now come back to viewing ourselves not as subjects of

the moral law, but as legislators, as it were, of the public moral law of a

possible realm of ends. This connects with Kant’s reasons for using the term

“autonomy” as he explains them in II: (–).

. We should ask: Why does Kant in his discussion of the contrast between autonomy and heteronomy (II: []) refer to the principle of autonomy as the sole principle of morality? Perhaps the explanation is that

the third formulation is the last in order of presentation. The two preceding

formulations presupposed the final point of view of ourselves as legislative

members of a possible realm of ends. There is a natural progression from

one formulation to the next, with the second depending on the first and

the third depending on the preceding two and uniting them in the idea of

autonomy, in the idea of the moral law as a law we give to ourselves as

free and equal persons. This is Kant’s rendering of Rousseau’s statement

in the Social Contract, Book I, Chapter , paragraph : “car l’impulsion du

seul appe´tit est esclavage, et l’obe´issance a` la loi qu’on s’est prescrite est


Thus in order to regard ourselves as free and equal legislative members of a realm of ends, we must be sure that the maxims from which we

act answer to the requirements of practical reason represented in the CIprocedure, and hence that our maxims do not subject others to purposes

that do not accord with a law they can endorse as consistent with their


Of course, the thought of our legislating for a possible realm of ends

is purely hypothetical. We are to view our maxims as authorized by precepts that could serve as the publicly recognized moral law of such a com[  ]

  :   

monwealth. We do this as individuals, and not as one corporate body, all

of us acting collectively through an institutional procedure.

. Now, what we legislate, viewed as a moral law for a possible realm

of ends, is the whole family of general precepts appearing at step () that

are accepted by the CI-procedure. Put another way: we legislate the adjusted social world at step () when we take that world to be the one paired

with the totality of maxims from which we are to act. It’s as if this totality

of maxims is transformed at the same time into laws of nature. Here I rely

on the variant of the third formulation ([b] above) that occurs in the review

of formulations in II: (–). I state it more fully thus:

Always act so that the totality of the maxims from which you act is

such that you can regard yourself as enacting through those maxims

a unified scheme of public moral precepts the endorsing of which by

all reasonable and rational persons is consistent with their humanity

and would bring about (under favorable conditions) a realm of ends.

Stated in this more complete way, it is obvious that this formulation

introduces a problem that Kant has not so far discussed explicitly, namely,

that of conflicting grounds of obligation (MdS :). I shall not consider this

problem here. Let’s just assume that the CI-procedure can be formulated so

as to yield precepts, or guidelines, by reference to which it is possible to

decide, often at least, which of several moral precepts is supported by the

strongest grounds of obligation, should those precepts conflict in particular

cases. I doubt that Kant has an adequate account of this problem; and to

pursue it would detract from more basic questions.

§. The Supremacy of Reason

. Kant’s discussion of autonomy in II:– (–) contains two important claims that we should try to understand. The first claim may be

stated as follows (see II: []): it is just because we can, as reasonable

and rational, regard ourselves as legislating the content of the categorical

imperative (as it applies to us) that we are legitimately subject to its requirements.

[  ]

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§1. Gaining Entry for the Moral Law

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