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§3. The Supremacy of Reason

§3. The Supremacy of Reason

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



They have asked what natural interests, or what inclinations, prompt us to

comply with the moral law, or with the law of nature viewed as the law

of God known by reason, which we have an obligation to obey in virtue

of God’s commands. On their view, the moral law is like the sovereign’s

law enforced by sanctions. Kant’s objection is that these sanctions lead us

(indeed, compel us [KP :ff.]) to comply with the moral law not for its

own sake, but for the sake of something else: our lives, or properties, or

whatever we might lose from the sanctions that uphold the law. Whereas

when the moral law is properly exhibited to us without allurements of

pleasure or threats of pain, we take a pure practical interest in it. It needs

no such sanctions.

. What is involved here is a very fundamental point, difficult to state

clearly: namely, the supremacy of reason, in this case pure practical reason.

In Kant I, we noted this as one of the main themes of Kant’s moral philosophy. It is not surprising that it should come up here in connection with

the autonomy formulation.

Now, as rationalists, Cudworth and Clarke, and Leibniz too (as we shall

see), also accept the supremacy of reason. But with them this is expressed

by saying that God’s reason is prior to and governs the divine will. As we

saw, for Clarke the content of God’s reason, as far as it concerns right and

wrong, is known to us by rational intuition. We grasp that content as given

by a prior and independent moral order determining the fitnesses of things.

While God’s legislative reason may be autonomous (if we use Kant’s language here), Clarke would find it unthinkable to say that we are autonomous, that is, that we can be bound only by a law we can give to ourselves as

reasonable and rational, or as free and equal legislative members of a possible

realm of ends. He would think this to be a radical and alarming doctrine.

For Kant, however, God’s reason is intuitive reason and quite different

from our own (KU §). We comprehend only our human reason, with its

various powers and concepts, principles and ideas, discerned by reflecting

on our thought and capacity for judgment. It is our practical human reason

that must have supremacy on moral questions; we have no access to a

higher, more supreme, reason. What is radical is the place Kant gives to

human reason and the constructivist role he sees it as having. Later we

shall come back to these matters.



[  ]



   



§. The Realm of Ends

. Now that we have the three formulations in front of us, we are almost

ready to discuss our question, namely, how the moral law as an idea of

reason is brought nearer to intuition by means of an analogy, and what

the analogy is that Kant has in mind. We must, however, first discuss what

Kant says about the very important concept of the realm of ends, particularly in II:– (–); – (–).

Kant introduces this concept by taking every reasonable and rational

person to be autonomous and to belong to one moral world, mundus intelligibilis (II: [–]), in virtue of their practical reason. The realm of ends

turns out to be an ideal (as Kant says in II: []); this is relevant, as I

explain later. He says (II: []): “The concept of every reasonable and

rational being as one who must regard himself as making universal law by

all the maxims of his will and must seek to judge himself and his actions

from this point of view, leads to the closely connected and very fruitful

concept, that of a realm of ends.”

. Now, Kant understands a realm of ends as a systematic conjunction

of reasonable and rational persons under common (moral) laws; and I think

we may suppose, although this is not made explicit, that these laws are

public and mutually recognized. This follows from the publicity condition

of the CI-procedure (II: []) together with the shared knowledge of one

another’s reasonable nature. Kant’s description of systematic conjunction

is not easy to interpret. He says (II: []): “Since laws determine ends as

regards their universal validity, we shall be able—if we abstract from the

personal differences between reasonable and rational persons, and also from

all the content of their private ends—to conceive a whole of all ends in

systematic conjunction (a whole both of such persons as ends in themselves

and also of the ends which each sets for himself ).”

To understand what Kant means by a whole of ends in systematic conjunction, we should also take into account the next paragraph. Thus, as he

says there (II: []), the systematic conjunction characteristic of a realm

of ends arises when all reasonable and rational persons treat themselves as

well as others as such persons and therefore as ends in themselves. From

the second formulation, this means that everyone not only pursues their

personal (permissible) ends within the limits of the duties of justice (the

[  ]



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



rights of man) but also gives significant and appropriate weight to the obligatory ends enjoined by the duties of virtue. These duties, to state them

summarily, are to promote one’s moral and natural perfection and the happiness of others. In addition, everyone has the end of respecting the rights

of justice, for this too is meritorious (MdS :) and an obligation (not a

duty) of virtue, as Kant explains (MdS :).

From the third formulation, Kant must suppose that in a realm of ends

everyone recognizes everyone else as not only honoring their obligation

of justice and duties of virtue, but also, as it were, legislating law for their

moral commonwealth. For all know of themselves and of the rest that they

are reasonable and rational, and this fact is mutually recognized. While this

mutual recognition is clear from what Kant says, and I assume that it is a

feature of a realm of ends, he does not explicitly state it. If he thought it

too obvious to be worth stating, he was mistaken: what is neglected is

explicitly drawing attention to the mutual recognition of the moral law in

the public role of a society’s moral culture. Hegel will stress just this point.

What is unclear is the role of abstracting from the personal differences

between persons and from the content of their private ends in conceiving

a whole of all ends in systematic conjunction. In Kant II, I suggested that

this might be interpreted as imposing certain limits on information at step

() of the CI-procedure when the agent has to decide between adjusted

social worlds. Certainly Kant needs to introduce some such limits. But that

conjecture, even if correct, doesn’t address the question here, unless he

means that clearing away the clutter of those differences makes it easier to

grasp what the structure of a realm of ends involves. This seems unsatisfactory: it must mean more than this! But what?

. An essential feature of the realm of ends is the condition of membership, as discussed in II:– (–). This condition is simply moral personality, or the powers of practical reason. Kant distinguishes between

things that have a market price (those that answer to human inclinations

and needs) and those that have a fancy price (those that give satisfaction

to the purposeless play of our mental powers). He then introduces the concept of dignity. Moral personality alone has dignity (II: []): “Morality

is the only condition under which reasonable persons can be ends in themselves; for only through this is it possible to be a law-making member in

a realm of ends.”

[  ]



   



Alternatively, it is moral personality as the capacity for a good will that

makes us ends-in-ourselves and specifies the condition of our membership

in the realm of ends. Kant says in II: () that unless a reasonable person’s

will can be regarded as under the practical necessity of making universal

law, this person cannot be viewed as an end-in-itself. He repeats this in II:

 (–),  (–).

In II: (–), Kant asserts that what explains the supreme status of

the value of a good will, or as he says here “a morally good character or

virtue,” is just its enabling us to take part in the making of universal law:

it is this that fits us to be a member of a possible realm of ends. At the end

of II: (–) he says, “Autonomy is therefore the ground of the dignity

of human and of every other reasonable and rational nature.”

Thus the ground of dignity is the capacity to make universal law and

to act from the principle of autonomy. This autonomy reflects the autonomy (or the supremacy) of pure practical reason.

. Thus it is in virtue of the capacity for a good will that each person

has dignity. This is not to say that all persons have equal value, and therefore that they are in this sense equal, for there is no measure of dignity at

all. Rather, they all have dignity, and this has the force of including all

persons as members in a possible realm of ends. It also removes the worth

of persons from any comparison with the relative and subordinate values

of things (II: []).

Nor need we give a meaning to comparisons of the dignity of different

persons: with everyone included as reasonable and rational in a possible

realm of ends, all questions that arise as to how to act toward persons are

settled by the moral law (the content of which is specified for us by the

CI-procedure). Now, in the working through of that procedure, the weight

to be given to the absolute value of a good will has no special place. Weight

is given to it by the wide duty to further our moral perfection, and by the

duty not to put obstacles in the way of others in furthering their moral

perfection. Our aim in deliberation is to meet the requirements that the

categorical imperative imposes on us. The absolute value of a good will is

not to be taken, as in a teleological conception, as the supreme value to

be maximized.

This in no way lessens the fundamental role of the absolute value of

good will. It means only that we have to understand its significance in a

[  ]



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