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§3. The Second Three Conceptions of the Good

§3. The Second Three Conceptions of the Good

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(KP :). By this I take him to mean that the realm of ends is an (ideal)

object—a social world—the moral constitution and regulation of which is

specified by the totality of precepts that meet the test of the CI-procedure

(when these precepts are adjusted and coordinated by the requirement of

complete determination; Gr II: [–]).

Put another way, the ideal of a realm of ends is not a social world

that can be described prior to and independently of the concepts and principles of pure practical reason and the procedure by which they are applied.

That realm is not an already given describable (ideal) object—a social

world—the nature of which determines the content of the moral law. This

would be the case, for example, if this law were understood as stating what

must be done in order to bring about a good society the nature and institutions of which are already specified prior to and independently of the moral


. Finally, there is Kant’s conception of the complete good. This is the

good attained when the ideal of a realm of ends is realized and each member

both has a good will and has achieved happiness, so far as the conditions

of human life allow. We must add this qualification, since the ideal of a

realm of ends is an ideal of reason, and as such cannot be fully realized.

Also, happiness must be specified by the fulfillment of ends that respect the

requirements of the moral law and so are permissible ends. I assume that

it is reasonable to try to approach this complete good (so understood) in

the natural world, at least under reasonably favorable conditions. In doing

this, we are not being visionaries who lack a sense of realism, of what is

in fact possible. A realm of ends is in that sense a natural good, one that

can be reasonably striven for (although never fully achieved) in the order

of nature.

Kant holds (as indicated above) that in the complete good, the good

will is the supreme good, that is, we must have a good will if the other

goods we enjoy are to be truly good and our enjoyment of them fully

appropriate. This applies in particular to the good of happiness, since he

thinks that only our having a good will can make us fully worthy of happiness. This is a recurrent theme in his doctrine. Kant also believes that

two goods so different in their nature, and in their foundations in our

persons, as a good will and happiness are incommensurable. In deciding

what to do, we are not to balance them against each other; they can be

[  ]

   

combined into one unified and complete good only by the relation of

the strict priority of one over the other. We shall come back to this idea


§. Autonomy and Heteronomy

. Following this survey of the six conceptions of the good, let’s consider

what Kant says about the autonomy and heteronomy of moral conceptions

as a whole (Gr II:– [–]; KP :). He thinks that only his own

doctrine presents morality as autonomous and not heteronomous. He says

(Gr II: []):

If the will seeks the law that is to determine it anywhere else than in

the fitness of its maxims for its own making of universal law—if therefore in going beyond itself it seeks this law in the character of any of

its objects—the result is always heteronomy. In that case the will does

not give itself the law, but the object does so in virtue of its relation

to the will. This relation, whether based on inclination or on rational

ideas [Vorstellungen der Vernunft], can give rise only to hypothetical imperatives: “I ought to do something because I will something else.” (Kant’s


What Kant thinks is at stake here is the supremacy of reason. Pure

practical reason cannot take its directives from any object, not even from

a rational idea presented as an object to reason. Think of the rational ideas

of right and goodness lying in the divine reason as presented to our reason

as objects. I believe that Kant wants rather to say: “I ought to do something

because I will—from pure practical interest—the principles of pure practical

reason; and not because I will something else, even should this something

else be based on rational ideas.” (It goes without saying that it must not

be based on inclination.)

Put another way: pure practical reason must construct out of itself its

own object. Advancing that object from pure practical interest will not involve a hypothetical imperative. So he adds, after the lines just cited, that

a categorical imperative “must abstract from all objects to this extent—

[  ]

          

that they (objects) should be without any influence at all on the will so that

practical reason (the will) may not merely administer an alien interest but

may simply manifest its own sovereign authority as the supreme maker of

law” (Kant’s italics).

. Perhaps the matter can be put this way: rather than starting from a

conception of the good given independently of the right, we start from a

conception of the right—of the moral law—given by pure (as opposed to

empirical) practical reason. We then specify in the light of this conception

(by using the CI-procedure) what ends are permissible and what moral precepts specify our duties of justice and of virtue. From these, we work out

what social arrangements are right and just.

We might say that a moral conception is not to revolve around the

good as an independent object, but around a (formal) conception of the

right (together with a [formal] conception of a good will), as constructed

by our pure practical reason, into which any permissible good must fit. Or

as Kant puts it when he explains what he calls “the paradox of method” in

critically examining practical reason (KP :f.): “The paradox is that the concept of good and evil is not defined prior to the moral law, to which, it would

seem, the former would have to serve as a foundation; rather the concept of good

and evil must be defined after and by means of the law.” (Kant puts this entire

sentence in italics.)

Kant believes that once we start from the good as a prior and independently given object, the moral conception must be heteronomous. This is

because in this case pure practical reason is not, as it should be, its own

sovereign authority as the supreme maker of law (the phrase Kant uses in

Gr II: []). Heteronomy means precisely this lack of sovereign authority.

Now, in the italicized sentence above, the concept of good and evil

should be understood broadly to include both the morally good and the

right. This is clear from Kant’s account in Analytic II of the second Critique.

Thus heteronomy will be as true of Leibniz’s metaphysical perfectionism

(with its conception of a prior moral order given to and known by our

reason) as it is of the psychological naturalism that underlies Hume’s doctrine of sympathy as the basis of morals. In these views, what determines

our will is the conception of a given object, not an object (e.g., the realm

of ends) developed from principles originating in our practical reason.

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   

. Let’s consider in more detail why Kant thinks that perfectionism is

a form of heteronomy (Gr II: []). Since his view is more fully presented

in the second Critique (:), I summarize his argument there. He begins by

saying that perfectionism is based on reason because perfection, as a character of things, can be thought, or known, only by reason. Concepts of perfection he distinguishes into the theoretical and the practical: theoretical perfection is simply the perfection of anything as a thing of its kind (transcendental

perfection), or else the perfection of a thing generally (metaphysical perfection). These forms of perfection, Kant thinks, are irrelevant to pure practical

reason, so he turns to practical perfection.

Now, for Kant, the concept of perfection in its practical meaning is

simply the fitness or the adequacy of a thing to all kinds of ends. Thus the

perfection characteristic of human beings is the development of disciplined

skills and talents that enable us to realize our (appropriate) ends. The supreme perfection in substance (that is, in God), when regarded from a practical standpoint, is the sufficiency of God (in view of God’s omniscience

and omnipotence) to all ends in general. For Kant, the difficulty with perfectionism as a moral doctrine is evident: it is only if ends are already given

that the concept of perfection can help to determine the will. In the absence

of an antecedent criterion for appropriate ends, perfectionism is indeterminate, or as Kant says (in Gr II: []), empty and indefinite. Since ends must

be found to complete perfectionism, it becomes a variant of the happiness

principle after all, and so falls into heteronomy.

. There are two reasons why this critique of perfectionism fails to exhibit the full force of Kant’s doctrine of autonomy. The first is that it makes

it appear that the fault of perfectionism is that it is empty or indeterminate,

that is, it presupposes certain ends as given. This suggests that if the required

ends were given by an object specified by a rational idea of a prior moral

order, then Kant would have no objection. But this is not so. Whenever

the object is prior to practical reason itself, and specifies its content or an

end to be furthered by its principles, Kant holds that heteronomy results.

This point must be understood broadly. It says that there neither exists

nor subsists any such object, whether the Supreme Being, or a given moral

order of values (as exemplified, say, by the relations between Platonic Ideas,

or by ideas lying in the divine reason), or an order of nature, or the constitution of human nature, or the psychic economy of our natural feelings and

[  ]

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§3. The Second Three Conceptions of the Good

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