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§6. The Ideas of Freedom

§6. The Ideas of Freedom

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       



then, characterizes the practical point of view. This point of view, I want

to say, is where the idea of absolute spontaneity, as it was described earlier

(in §), is manifest.

. To sum up: to act under this idea means to deliberate in good faith.

It is not only to deliberate reasonably and rationally as the norms of practical

reason specify, but also to do so with the firm belief that our powers of

reason, both theoretical and practical, are fully self-determining and point

the way to what we ought to do and shall do, once known or confirmed

by deliberation. We believe that the reasoning we are now engaged in, and

the conclusions we shall reach, whatever they may be, and not something

else, can and do determine our conduct.

Note well Kant’s remark that “every being who cannot act except under

the idea of freedom is by this alone—from a practical point of view—really

free.” Kant makes a similar statement at KP :: “The moral law, which

itself does not require a justification, proves not merely the possibility of

freedom, but that it really belongs to beings who recognize this law as

binding on themselves.”

Then, some lines below (at KP :), he makes it clear, as he does in

the first statement, that what he says holds only from a practical point of

view. The meaning of this rider we examine later in Kant X. But one thing

we do know is that from a practical point of view, the laws of freedom of

pure reason are just as valid for us as if our will could be said to be free

for reasons valid for theoretical reason. Theoretical reason cannot provide

arguments that increase their validity for us; nor, on the other hand, can

it take those laws from us. To maintain this last claim belongs to philosophy

as defense.

. As for practical freedom, it is an empirical fact that we can and often

do deliberate in accordance with and act from pure practical principles, and

hence act under the idea of freedom; moreover, the conclusions we reach

do indeed determine what we do. Everyday experience shows that practical

reason is, as Kant puts it, one of the operative causes in nature (KR B,

–).

By contrast, our belief in transcendental freedom is the firm conviction

that our decisions as operating causes are not in fact “nature again” (KR

). I take this to mean that we believe that our decisions issue from the

absolute spontaneity of pure practical reason and are not determined by

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remote and unknown natural causes external to reason. Another part of

this belief is the firm conviction that our decisions as informed by pure

practical reason initiate a new series of appearances, a new beginning in

the order of nature.

This belief, along with the postulates of God and immortality, is a postulate of reasonable faith, though distinct from them. Those postulates are

necessary to guarantee the real possibility of the object of the moral law,

the highest good; they are affirmed for the sake of the moral law. The

postulate of freedom is more fundamental: it is the presupposition of the

independence of our reason from the order of nature and thus of the spontaneity of pure reason (KP :). As such, it is the basis of our being held

responsible and accountable for our deeds.6

Thus the three ideas of freedom are related in this way. The basic idea

is that of acting under the idea of freedom. It covers the family of basic

attitudes that Kant thinks we must take toward ourselves and our powers of

reason when, as reasonable and rational persons, we engage in deliberation.

Practical freedom and transcendental freedom cohere into that basic idea in

that they are further ideas supporting it. For example, the belief in practical

freedom assures us that our deliberation is not pointless and settles what

we shall do. Our belief in transcendental freedom, which Kant says is a

transcendent thought (KP :), sustains the attitude we assume toward

ourselves in viewing our reason as having absolute spontaneity. Acting under the idea of freedom is the setting for the two other ideas of freedom.

. Now, it might be objected to Kant’s view that we might profess a

belief in the external determination of our reason, at least in an abstract

way: that is, we could say that all our thoughts are somehow determined

by the principles of neurobiology, or of quantum chemistry, or that our

deliberations are dictated by a master computer program. But so long as

we just say this and don’t act on it in a way that changes our practical

reasoning, this view lacks practical effect. It might color our attitude to the

world as a whole; we express a certain pessimism by referring to people

6. We shall see in Kant X that the postulate of freedom so understood belongs to both forms

of reasonable faith, that is, to both the reasonable faith associated with the realm of ends as the

secular object of the moral law and the reasonable faith associated with the highest good in religion.

Hence reasonable faith takes two forms: the first is found in the political writings, the second in

the philosophical writings, especially the three Critiques.



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as merely deluded conglomerates of bonded chemicals, or occasionally as

user-friendly configurations of fleshy computer parts. But as Leibniz maintained about believing in the foreknowledge of God, none of this will alter

how we are to reason, or what we do in everyday life when practical questions arise.7

Kant does not discuss this objection. He might well say that even this

kind of abstract and (for practical purposes) innocuous view would, in the

long run, undermine our devotion to the moral law, as we later discuss (in

Kant X) in regard to reasonable faith. He views our belief in transcendent(al)

freedom as essential for us to sustain our devotion to the moral law over

the course of a complete life. This belief rests on our moral disposition and

is needed to maintain it. One role of philosophy as defense, and of the

reasonable faith it supports, is to strengthen this devotion and the conviction of ourselves as free underlying it.



§. Conclusion

Let’s recall five features of the moral law that show it to be a law of

freedom.

. It is the supreme principle that governs deliberative reason

from the practical point of view when we act, as reasonable

and rational persons, under the idea of freedom.

. In relation to negative freedom, it shows our independence

from the order of nature, which empirical practical reason

cannot do.

. In relation to positive freedom, it exhibits the capacity of pure

practical reason of being absolutely spontaneous, and so its

capacity to set ends for itself and to provide its own orientation in the world. To be fully free, pure reason must do more

than simply restrict means to the ends of natural desires, as

specified by the duties of justice. It can also set ends for itself:

the obligatory ends of the duties of virtue.

7. Recall what he wrote in the Discourse §. (Ariew and Garber:).



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   

. It is the principle of free constructive reason framing for itself,

with perfect spontaneity and according to its own ideas, its

own a priori object—the ideal of a possible realm of ends.

. As the principle of pure practical reason, it has primacy in the

whole constitution of reason (the primacy of the practical, an

aspect of the practical point of view, to be discussed in Kant

X), and in so doing, it reflects the absolute spontaneity of pure

reason in determining, in the course of its exercise, its own

constitution.



This is only a bare summary statement intended to remind us of what

we have already discussed. All of the things referred to in – above were

considered at some point. We need to see them all as doing their part in

giving sense to the idea of the absolute spontaneity of pure reason. Next

time we turn to the fourth condition of there being pure practical reason.

After that, we take up our last topic, the unity of reason.



[  ]



K 

The Moral Psychology of the Religion, Book I



§. The Three Predispositions

. We are now ready to consider the fourth and last condition that must

be satisfied if there is to be pure practical reason. Recall that this condition

requires that our consciousness of the moral law must be so deeply rooted

in our person that this law by itself can be for us a sufficient motive to

determine our action, whatever our natural desires.

I shall proceed as follows. I begin with a survey of Kant’s moral psychology

as found in Book I of the Religion. This moral psychology I think of as Augustinian: it is more expressly set out than the moral psychology of the Groundwork and the second Critique, which betrays on occasion certain Manichean

features, as discussed in §. I focus on the Religion because its Augustinian

view meets the requirements of the doctrine of the fact of reason, while the

Manichean features do not. Once these matters are reviewed, I consider in

§ why Kant thinks the moral law by itself can be a sufficient motive.

. My account of the main points of moral psychology of the Religion

covers but a fragment of that marvelous work. We must be brief; my remarks

are intended only for our limited aims and are hardly adequate even so. I begin

straightaway with Kant’s description of the three original predispositions to

good (§ of Book I), which, along with our free power of choice, constitute

human nature. These predispositions are as follows (Rel I :ff. [ff.]).1

1. Numbers in brackets refer to the Greene and Hudson edition.



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(a) The predisposition to animality in us, when we are regarded as living

beings. This predisposition, Kant says, may be characterized as physical and

“purely mechanical” self-love, by which he means that it does not require

the exercise of reason and is generally guided by instinct and by acquired

tendencies and habits. Under this predisposition fall the instincts for selfpreservation, for the propagation of the species, and for the care of children;

and the instinct for community with other human beings, the social impulse.

(b) The predisposition to humanity in us, when we are regarded not

only as living but also as rational beings. (Observe that Kant does not use

“humanity” here as he does elsewhere to refer to the powers of moral

personality as animated in us [Kant III:§]). This predisposition falls under

the general heading of self-love, which is physical but which at the same

time compares and judges our own happiness in relation to the happiness

of others.

From this self-love comes our desire to be held of value (Wert) in the

opinion of others, and from this in turn comes the desire for equality, which

expresses itself in our wanting no one to establish superiority over us and

in our anxiety that they may do so. This process works itself out so that

eventually it gives rise to competition for status and position, to hypocrisy

and rivalry, and to the other vices of culture, such as jealousy and envy,

ingratitude and spitefulness. These vices Kant views as grafted onto this

predisposition to good by the historical development of culture. By this I

think he means that, given the social milieu brought about by the self-love

that compares and judges, those vices are the inevitable outcome. Here we

see the influence of Rousseau’s Second Discourse and E´mile.

(c) The predisposition to personality in us, when we are seen not only

as rational beings but also as accountable, or responsible, beings. This predisposition we can think of as having two aspects.

First, there is the capacity to understand and intelligently to apply the

moral law (via the CI-procedure) as an idea of pure practical reason.

Second, there is the capacity to respect this law as in itself a sufficient

motive for our free power of choice.

This second aspect Kant here calls “moral feeling,” and he is careful to

stress that moral feeling (sensibility) is essential. (On this question, see also

the Metaphysics of Morals, the Introduction, §§XII–XVI [MdS :–]). This

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capacity for moral feeling does not by itself determine our power of choice;

rather, without it there is no possibility of this power’s ranking the moral

law as supremely regulative and in itself a sufficient motive. In its absence,

the moral law would be for us just an intellectual object, like a mathematical

equation, which could interest us only by way of the two other predispositions. Of moral feeling Kant says that it is absolutely impossible to graft

anything evil upon it, by which I take him to mean that the vices arise

from distortions of the other predispositions, and that moral feeling itself

is incorruptible and present in everyone so long as humanity (in Kant’s

usual sense) is not dead in us (MdS :).

. I have used rational rather than reasonable to translate vernuănftig

in Kants description of the second predisposition, and this is supported by

the important footnote to Religion I : ().2 It says that the predisposition

to humanity, as Kant uses the term here, includes only the rational and not

the reasonable. The incentives that fall under it originate in the objects of

desire and exclude moral feeling. He means, I think, that the idea of the

moral law would not occur to such individuals; if it were presented to them,

they would regard it with indifference or as a curiosity. There is no logical

route, as we saw in discussing the fact of reason, from the rational to the

reasonable. We have a susceptibility to be moved by pure practical reason,

and this susceptibility is moral feeling, but as such it is sui generis.

This reading is supported by Kant’s saying of these predispositions that

“the first requires no reason, the second is based on practical reason, but a

reason thereby subservient to the other incentives, while the third alone is

rooted in reason which is practical of itself ” (Rel I : []). He goes on to

2. The footnote is as follows: “We cannot regard this [predisposition] as included in the concept

of the preceding [predisposition], but must necessarily treat it as a special predisposition. For from

the fact that a being has reason it by no means follows that this reason, by the mere representing

of the fitness of its maxims to be . . . universal laws, is thereby capable of determining the power

of choice unconditionally, so as to be ‘practical’ of itself. . . . The most rational mortal being in

the world might still stand in need of certain incentives, originating in the objects of desire, to

determine his choice. He might indeed bestow the most rational reflection on all that concerns not

only the greatest sum of these incentives [originating in the objects of desire] in him but also the

means of attaining the end thereby determined, without ever suspecting the possibility of such a

thing as the absolutely imperative moral law which proclaims that it is itself an incentive and,

indeed, the highest. Were it not given us from within, we should never by any ratiocination subtilize

it into existence or win over our will to it. Yet this law is the only law which informs us of the

independence of our power of choice from determination by all other incentives (of our freedom)

and at the same time of the accountability of all our actions.”



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§6. The Ideas of Freedom

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