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§1. The Three Predispositions

§1. The Three Predispositions

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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.”

[  ]

   

emphasize, in a clear statement of the Augustinian moral psychology, that

not only are all these dispositions good in the sense of not contradicting the

moral law, but also they are predispositions toward good. Moreover, they

are original, as they involve the possibility of human nature, and we cannot

rid ourselves of them, nor can we exist as human beings without them.

§. The Free Power of Choice

. Next let’s turn to the free power of choice ( freie Willkuăr) and its relation

to the three predispositions. Kant introduces this as the power to act from

the moral law; it can exist even when we fail to exercise it. Negative freedom is our will’s not being necessitated to act by any sensuous determining

ground (MdS :), which implies (as we already know) that we may elect

a determining ground to act from without being necessitated. Freedom in

the positive sense, Kant says, is “the power [Vermoăgen] of pure reason to

be of itself practical (MdS :f.). Thus we are practically free and are

properly held morally responsible for our actions whenever we have the

power to follow the moral law, whether we do so or not. His view is that

except in early childhood, or when insane, or in great sadness (itself a species

of insanity), we always possess the power of autonomous action.3

Now, an essential feature of the Augustinian moral psychology of the Religion is that moral failures of all kinds, from the lesser ones of fragility and

impurity to the worst extremes of wickedness and perversity of which we

are capable, must all arise, not from the desires of our physical and social nature, but solely from our exercise of our free power of choice (Rel I :–

 [–]). And for this exercise we are held fully accountable. He holds the

view of the origin of moral evil given by Saint Augustine in the Civitate Dei

(Bk. XIV, Chs. , –). He says (Rel I :f. [f.]): “Freedom of the will is

of a wholly unique nature in that an incentive can determine the will to an

action only so far as the individual has incorporated it into his maxim (has made

it the general rule in accordance with which he will conduct himself ); only

thus can an incentive, whatever it may be, co-exist with the absolute sponta3. Lectures on Metaphysics XXVIII:. Cited by Allen Wood in “Kant’s Compatibilism,” in Self

and Nature in Kant’s Philosophy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, ), p. .

[  ]

     ,  

neity of the will (i.e., freedom). But the moral law, in the judgment of reason, is itself an incentive, and whoever makes it his maxim is morally good.”

The three predispositions, however they may affect us, cannot determine our will unless they are incorporated into our maxims by our free

power of choice. This is Kant’s principle of elective will,4 a basic principle

of his moral psychology. It means that while we must take each of the

three predispositions as given (we cannot alter or eradicate them), we can

and must order them: that is, we must decide through our power of choice

the priority and weight these predispositions are to have in our supremely

regulative principles as shown in our deliberations and conduct. Whether

we have a morally good or bad will depends on that ordering.

. Now, our free power of choice has but certain alternatives available

to it. The number of predispositions, and the ways in which they can be

ordered, limit the scope of our free power of choice in adopting a fundamental character. If our human nature had but one predisposition, there would

be no choice at all; and in the absence of all predispositions, our nature

would be empty and the power of choice would have nothing on which

to operate (Rel I : []).5 There is, however, a special limit on our power

of choice, namely, that we cannot repudiate the predisposition to personality. This has the consequence that we cannot exempt ourselves from the

moral law, as Satan is said to have done (Rel I : []). Kant says: “The

[Moral] Law . . . forces itself upon [us] irresistibly in virtue of [our] moral

predisposition; and were no other incentive working in opposition, [we]

would adopt the law into [our] supreme maxim as the sufficient determining ground of [our] will [free power of choice].” This is an important remark. Kant is saying that if all the predispositions were to line up on the

same side, then the predisposition to personality would always be adopted

by us as supreme and as having unconditional priority. This outcome is

determined by our nature as persons.

One might think that since we know that the predispositions conflict,

this feature of our nature is not significant. It brings out, however, the

uniqueness of the predisposition to personality, namely, that it is the only

4. The idea of elective will we noted earlier in connection with Kant’s idea of a pure will in

Kant I:§ and II:§–.

5. This is how I understand Kant’s saying that in the absence of all incentives the power of

choice (Willkuăr) cannot be determined.

[  ]

   

predisposition fit to serve in a supremely regulative role. Moreover, since

we cannot repudiate the moral law, we cannot choose to be devils and to

act against that law for its own sake (Rel I : []). We cannot reverse,

so to speak, the predisposition to personality by adopting evil as our good.

The limit of human perversity lies in changing the moral order among

the predispositions; when we do this, we give inappropriate weight in our

deliberations to reasons grounded on the predispositions of humanity and

animality. We neglect the moral law and ignore the voice of conscience.

But conscience can never be silenced so long as the powers of moral personality are alive in us. They are a fixed basis in our persons for a principle

of identification: we cannot help but identify with the predisposition to

personality and its moral law.

. We have still to consider an essential feature of the moral psychology

of the Religion. I refer to Kant’s view that the basic features of the original

predispositions establish a moral order of priority (sittliche Ordnung). This

order ranks the predisposition to personality as unconditionally prior and

the others as unconditionally subordinate. As we saw above, our free power

of choice may not follow that moral order, but its freedom, as Kant defines

it, consists in its power to do so.

Let’s review the features of the predispositions that Kant seems to think

specify the appropriate ordering for persons with the power of free choice.

Two features we have already noted.

The first is that the predisposition to personality is unconditionally good

and incorruptible, by which I take Kant to mean that no vices can be grafted

onto it (as can be done with the predispositions to animality and humanity)

and our free power of choice cannot reverse it.

The second is that by including the moral law as an aspect, the predisposition to personality is the only one suited to be ranked as unconditionally prior.

It contains the only practical principle that can be supremely regulative.

Note that in each case the comparison is between the predisposition to

personality and the other two predispositions. Kant is not saying, for example, that only the moral law, and not some other moral principle—for example, a principle of perfection—is suited to be supremely regulative. To say

this would go against what we said earlier (in Kant VII:§.), that it is a

mistake to hold that only the moral law can specify a unified and shared

public order.

[  ]

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§1. The Three Predispositions

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