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§2. The First Fact of Reason Passage
system of concepts and principles. The aim is to set out the whole constitution of reason.
In the other sense, critique means the criticism of reason, for although
it is part of Kant’s conception of the unity of reason that all of the concepts
of reason and their associated principles have a correct and valid use,
and therefore a proper place in the constitution of reason as an organic
whole (KR Bf.), there is also a natural dialectic by which our human reason is misled and its concepts and principles are fallaciously employed.
With pure speculative reason, this dialectic is profoundly deceptive, as
Kant tries to show in the Transcendental Dialectic of the ﬁrst Critique. Thus
it is part of the sense of the title of the book to inform us that it seeks to
expose the deceptive power of the natural dialectic of pure speculative reason and of the improper use of its concepts and principles in speculative
. The opening paragraph of the Preface of the second Critique hints at
Kant’s view that there is no need for a critique of pure practical reason in
the sense of a criticism of reason. Rather, the task is to show that there is
pure practical reason, which exhibits its reality in our moral thought, feeling, and conduct. From the introduction (KP :) we know that for Kant,
whether there is pure practical reason depends on whether pure reason
is sufﬁcient of itself to determine our will and so on whether our will is
free. The signiﬁcance of the fact of reason is that pure practical reason
exhibits its reality in this fact and in what this fact discloses, namely, our
freedom. Once we recognize the fact of reason and its signiﬁcance, all
disputations that question the possibility of pure practical reason are vain.
No metaphysical doctrines or scientiﬁc theories can put it in jeopardy.
We may not be able to comprehend how we can be free, but that we are
free from the point of view of practical reason, there is no doubt. Kant
says (KP :): “Practical reason itself, without any collusion with the speculative, provides reality to a supersensible object of the category of causality, i.e., to freedom. This [freedom] is a practical concept and as such is
subject only to practical use; but what in the speculative critique could
only be thought [as possible] is now conﬁrmed by fact [durch ein Faktum
. Since the word pure is not used in the title of the second Critique,
the word “critique” does not have its critical sense as applied to pure practical reason. It means instead a consideration of the constitution of practical reason as a whole, both pure and empirical, and the way pure and
empirical practical reason are combined in one uniﬁed scheme of practical
reason. Thus Kant says in the introduction (KP :): “Pure [practical]
reason, where it is once demonstrated to exist, is in no need of a critical examination: it is pure reason itself which contains the standard for a
critical investigation of its entire use.” Now, if pure practical reason is
in no need of critique, it can only be empirical practical reason that
needs critique. This reason proceeds from our natural inclinations and
desires, and attempts to organize them into an ordered system of wants
so as to achieve by a rational plan our greatest happiness. Kant says as
The critique of practical reason . . . has the obligation to prevent the
empirically conditioned reason from presuming to be the only ground
of determination of the will. The use of pure [practical] reason, if it is
shown that there is such a reason, is alone immanent; the empirically
conditioned use of reason, which presumes to be sovereign, is, on the
contrary, transcendent, expressing itself in demands and precepts
which go far beyond its own sphere. This is precisely the opposite
situation from that of pure reason in its speculative use.
Had Kant wanted to stress the meaning of critique as criticism, he could
have titled the work The Critique of Empirical Practical Reason. Yet the title
as it stands is appropriate: it tells us that the work considers reason’s practical faculty as a whole.
§. The Second Passage: §§– of Chapter I of the Analytic
. I use this passage to answer the important question: What fact is the
fact of reason? This question poses some difﬁculty since Kant is not consistent in how he speciﬁes it. He says of the fact of reason all of the following:
it is our consciousness of the moral law (KP :);
it is the moral law itself (KP :, , );
it is the consciousness of freedom of the will (KP :);
it is autonomy in the principle of morality (KP :);
it is an inevitable determination of the will by the moral law
itself (KP :);
() it is actual cases of actions presupposing unconditional causality (KP :).
The ﬁfth characterization is, I think, of no importance for our question,
and so I ignore it here; the sixth, the phrasing of which seems quite different,
is actually just like () when the whole passage is read, and so I put it under
(). This leaves ()–().
. Now, ()–() are not as different as they look; in fact, they are closely
related. In order to give a consistent reading of Kant’s view, I shall use ().
To explain why, consider §, KP :
The consciousness of this fundamental law may be called a fact of
reason, since one cannot by subtle arguments derive it from already
given data of reason, for example, the consciousness of freedom (for
this is not already given) and because it forces itself upon us as a synthetic a priori proposition based on no pure or empirical intuition,
although it would be analytic if the freedom of the will were presupposed, but for this a positive concept, an intellectual intuition, would
be required, and here we cannot assume it. Yet in order to avoid any
misunderstanding in regarding this law as given, we must note well
that: it [the Moral Law] is not an empirical fact but the sole fact of
pure reason, which announces itself [through that fact] as originating
law (Sic volvo, sic iubeo).1
This crucial passage begins with the ﬁrst speciﬁcation of the fact of reason
and ends with the second. Despite this ambiguity, I follow the ﬁrst characterization. Let’s say:
1. The Latin means “Thus I will, thus I command.”
The fact of reason is the fact that, as reasonable beings, we are conscious of the moral law as the supremely authoritative and regulative
law for us and in our ordinary moral thought and judgment we recognize it as such.
I believe that we can give a coherent account of the fact of reason by using
this formulation. To see this, consider the following points.
First, the moral law as an idea of reason is only an idea, and as such
may lack, as the ideas of immortality and of God may, objective reality,
and so not apply to anything. Thus the moral law cannot itself be the fact
of reason. This excludes ().
Second, the fact of reason cannot be the (direct) consciousness of freedom, since it is a feature of Kant’s transcendental idealism that we have
no intellectual intuition of freedom. This excludes ().
Third, the fact of reason cannot be autonomy in the principle of morality because whether autonomy is meant as the principle of morality itself
(the moral law) (), or as freedom (), () is excluded once we exclude ()
I conclude that the fact of reason is (): our consciousness of the moral
law as supremely authoritative and regulative for us.
. A few observations. First, the doctrine of the fact of reason settles a
question that long bothered Kant: namely, whether our knowledge of the
moral law is rooted in our moral consciousness of this law or in our consciousness of our freedom as reasonable beings. Kant holds that our knowledge of the moral law cannot be based on our consciousness of our freedom. For this would imply that we have an intellectual intuition of freedom,
whereas our intuitions (our experiences of particular objects and processes)
are always subject to the conditions of sensibility. The order of knowledge
is the other way around: the fact of reason, our shared consciousness of
the moral law as supremely authoritative, is the basic fact from which our
moral knowledge and conception of ourselves as free must begin (KP
Further, Kant says that our consciousness of the moral law as supremely
authoritative for us is not an empirical fact but “the sole fact of pure reason.”
To see the signiﬁcance of this, and the central role it gives to the fact of