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§1. The Three Predispositions
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