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§6. The Unity of Reason

§6. The Unity of Reason

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rity of the practical use of reason and not in the least contradictory to the

interests of theoretical reason (KP :Af.). Theoretical reason has two legitimate interests: one is the positive interest in regulating the understanding

and unifying into the highest possible systematic unity the low-level empirical knowledge it provides; the other is the negative interest in restricting

speculative folly. So long as the postulates of practical faith do not trespass

on these interests, theoretical reason has no grounds to object.

On the other hand, it is also illegitimate for empirical practical reason,

which merely serves the inclinations, to be the basis of postulates. For in

that case Mohammed’s paradise and the fantasies of theosophists would

press their monstrosities on reason to reason’s destruction (KP :f.). But

the postulates of pure practical reason depend on the a priori object constructed by pure reason itself, and against these postulates theoretical reason

has nothing to say, as they occupy a space it abdicates.

Thus the unity of reason is established not by the points of view of the

two forms of reason being ordered by their perspectival relations to the

(one) world, but by the harmony and full satisfaction of the legitimate

claims of theoretical and practical reason as articulated in the form and

structure of the two points of view. Reason supplies its own unity through

a critique of itself: the aim of critique is precisely to establish this unity.

. Many will find this view unsatisfactory. It may appear to give a merely

pragmatic order of adjustment, almost a judicial settlement, as if the unity

of reason is established by the court of reason—the supreme court of critique—arranging a peace between the disputing interests of reason itself.

To say this would be a mistake, for there is no balancing of conflicting

interests, and all of the legitimate claims of reason are fully met. Of course,

many will have hoped for a unity modeled on the structure of the world

itself, a unity already given for reason to discover. That is not the kind of

unity Kant provides. As I have said, it is at this point that he breaks with

the tradition of philosophy and theology up to his day.

Kant views philosophy as defense, not as apology in the traditional sense

of Leibniz, but as the defense of our faith in reason and of the reasonable

faith that sustains it. While we cannot give a theoretical proof of the possibility of freedom, it suffices to assure ourselves that there is no such proof

of its impossibility; and the fact of reason then allows us to assume it (KP

:). If the legitimate claims of theoretical and practical reason are both

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reconciled in one constitution of reason, and if that constitution allows due

place for mathematics and science, for morality and practical faith, and for

our other fundamental interests as reasonable and rational persons, then,

for Kant, the aims of the critique of reason are achieved.

It is essential to see that Kant is not presenting an argument that the

beliefs of reasonable faith (in either form) are true by the criteria of empirical

and scientific truth; it is not his intention to lay out evidence aimed at

making a convincing theoretical case. He presents instead considerations

showing why we are entitled to affirm those beliefs and why our doing so

does not infringe the legitimate claims of theoretical reason, although, to

be sure, the pretensions of the dogmatisms of empiricism and of pure reason

are humbled, and both must give way to the intellectual virtues of modesty

and tolerance.7 Our affirming these beliefs springs from our moral sensibility, our devotion to the moral law, and answers to the needs of our practical

reason. Kant’s doctrine is a defense of reasonable faith, and, more generally,

of what he sees as the fundamental interests of humanity.



7. See, for example, section  of Chapter  of Book  of the Dialectic (KR B–).



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His Rechtsphilosophie

§. Introduction

. I begin by recalling how we have proceeded. With each writer—Hume,

Leibniz, and Kant—I have tried to bring out what is distinctive in their

approach to moral philosophy, why they were moved to write the texts

we read, and what they hoped to accomplish. These texts have much to

teach us, and knowing these works puts before us possibilities of thought

vastly different from those we would normally be aware of. We don’t study

them in the hope of finding some philosophical argument, some analytic

idea that will be directly useful for our present-day philosophical questions

in the way they arise for us. No, we study Hume, Leibniz, and Kant because

they express deep and distinctive philosophical doctrines.

. In discussing Hegel (–), I have much the same aim.1 I focus

1. Of Hegel’s works, some of the main ones are Hegel’s Logic, trans. William Wallace (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, ), a translation of Part I of the Encyclopedia of , revised  and ;

Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind, trans. William Wallace and A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press,

), a translation of Part III of the Encyclopedia; Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Introduction,

trans. H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ); The Phenomenology of Spirit (Geist)

(), trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ); The Philosophy of Right (), trans.

H. B. Nisbet, ed. Allen Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ); Science of Logic (–

), trans. A. V. Miller (London: Unwin, ); Hegel’s Political Writings, trans. T. M. Knox, with an

introductory essay by Z. A. Pelczynski (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ). The following secondary texts are valuable among others: Michael Inwood, A Hegel Dictionary (Oxford: Blackwell, );

Frederick Beiser, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

); Allen Wood, Hegel’s Ethical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ); Michael

Hardimon, Hegel’s Social Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ); Shlomo Avineri,

Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ).



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on what Hegel added and on what is special about his contribution. With

this in mind, I look, all too briefly, at his Philosophy of Right () (hereafter

PR). This work contains his moral philosophy and his distinctively institutional idea of ethical life (Sittlichkeit), and explains how it connects with his

view of persons as rooted in and fashioned by the system of political and

social institutions under which they live. These are among Hegel’s important contributions to moral philosophy. Regrettably, I say almost nothing

about his metaphysics. I believe that most of his moral and political philosophy can stand on its own. Undeniably much is lost; at places in PR, and

in the Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, the metaphysics comes

to the fore. Hegel’s ultimate explanation of the course of the world, and

of the historical transitions from one epoch to another, is found in what

he calls Spirit or Mind (Geist). A true metaphysician, he believes that reality

is fully intelligible—which is the thesis of absolute idealism—and so it must

answer to the ideas and concepts of a reasonable and coherent categorial

system. This system is laid out step by step in the Science of Logic (–

). These fundamental matters I leave aside.

I interpret Hegel as a moderately progressive reform-minded liberal,2

and I see his liberalism as an important exemplar in the history of moral

and political philosophy of the liberalism of freedom.3 Other such exemplars

are Kant and, less obviously, J. S. Mill. (A Theory of Justice is also a liberalism

of freedom and learns much from them.) I shall look at how Hegel thought

the concept of freedom was actually realized in the social world through

political and social institutions at a particular historical moment. In this,

Hegel rejects Kant’s account of transcendental freedom, and with it Kant’s

understanding of both ethics and the role of moral philosophy. As we will

see, many of the traditional ambitions of moral philosophy are to be

brought within those of political philosophy, as Hegel understands it.

Today I am particularly concerned to explain what Hegel means in saying that “[t]he free will is the will that wills itself as the free will.” This

combines PR §§ and , but I hope does not distort the sense. And what

2. Although not a radical, Hegel always regarded the French Revolution as a colossal and

progressive historical event. A student reported in  that a year never went by that he didn’t

drink a toast celebrating the anniversary of Bastille Day. See Wood, in his note to the translation

by Nisbet, p. .

3. By this I mean that its first principles are principles of political and civic freedoms, and these

principles have a priority over other principles that may also be invoked.



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does Hegel mean by saying that this free will is incorporated and made

manifest in the political and social institutions of the modern state? Without

knowing exactly how and why, we can already see that this account of free

will is going to be very different from Kant’s, which we have just considered. Hegel’s views on this matter constitute one of his most important

contributions to moral and political philosophy.



§. Philosophy as Reconciliation

. I begin by noting Hegel’s view of philosophy as reconciliation.4 To see

what that might mean, consider the fifth paragraph of the Preface (fifth

counting Nisbet paragraphs in Allen Wood’s edition): “The truth about right,

ethics, and the state is as old as its public exposition and promulgation in

public laws, and in public morality and religion. What more does this truth

require inasmuch as thinking is not content to possess it in this proximate

manner? What it needs is to be comprehended so that the content which

is already rational in itself may also gain a rational form and thereby appear

justified to free thinking. For such thinking does not stop at what is given

. . . but starts out from itself and thereby demands to know itself as united

in its innermost being with the truth.”

The term “reconciliation”—the German Versoăhnungts here because

Hegel thinks that the most appropriate scheme of institutions for the expression of freedom already exists. It stands before our eyes. The task of philosophy, especially political philosophy, is to comprehend this scheme in

thought. And once we do this, Hegel thinks, we will become reconciled to

our social world. Now, to become reconciled to our social world does not

mean to become resigned to it. Versoăhnung and not Entsagungresignation.

It is not as if the existing social world is the best among a number of unhappy alternatives. Rather, reconciliation means that we have come to see

our social world as a form of life in political and social institutions that

realizes our essence—that is, the basis of our dignity as persons who are

free. It will “thereby appear justified to free thinking.”

. So the role of political philosophy, as Hegel sees it, is to grasp the social

world in thought and to express it in a form in which it can be seen by us to

4. Michael Hardimon, Hegel’s Social Philosophy: The Project of Reconciliation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ), p. . I have learned much from this book and draw from it here.



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be rational. The word Hegel uses for rational here is vernuănftig. As I have

said in discussing Kant, this is an important term in German philosophy. It

must not be mistaken for instrumental, or means-ends, or economic rationality. Often the English word “reasonable” is better. When in our reflections

we understand our social world as expressing our freedom and enabling us

to achieve it as we lead our daily life, we become reconciled to it. Philosophy

in this role is not merely an academic exercise. It tells us something about

ourselves; it shows us our freedom of will—that we have it through institutions, not in other ways. This understanding in turn makes a form of life real.

The explanation is that a form of life is not fully made real or actual (wirklich)

until it is made self-conscious. Geist only fully realizes itself in human thought

and self-consciousness. So the form of the modern state, which in its political

and social institutions expresses the freedom of persons, is not fully actual

until its citizens understand how and why they are free in it. The work of

political philosophy is to help them to understand that. It looks not to a world

that ought to be that lies beyond the world (as Hegel thought Kant’s philosophy did), but to a world before their eyes that actualizes their freedom.

Here Hegel is attacking Kant’s idea of freedom at the deepest level. He

takes Kant to think that our freedom raises us above all the contingencies

of our human nature (our inclinations and needs), and above all the contingencies of our society and its history, and therefore that it is possible for us

always to act from the moral law and to achieve a good will, albeit gradually, once we fully resolve to do so. This alleged transcendental freedom

implies that all persons have an equal chance to attain the ideal of a person

of good moral character (a good will), whatever their more particular fortunes in the world. We might say that Kant thinks God has arranged things

so that we all equally have the power (or capacity) to work for our salvation.

Hegel will deny that human freedom can be fully actualized apart from the

appropriate social framework. It is only within a rational (reasonable) social

world, one that by the structure of its institutions guarantees our freedom,

that we can lead lives that are fully rational and good. And although no

social world can guarantee our happiness, it is only within such a world

that full happiness can be attained. Thus Hegel endorses the Pythagorean’s

advice: “When a father asked him for advice about the best way of educating his son in ethical matters, a Pythagorean replied, ‘Make him the citizen

of a state with good laws’ ” (PR §).

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. This brings us to another level of Hegel’s criticism of Kant. Hegel

wants to avoid the ethics of Sollen and thereby to change the point of ethics—what it should try to do. The basic shift is found in the idea of Sittlichkeit. It is the location of the ethical, the whole ensemble of rational (vernuănftig) political and social institutions that make freedom possible: the family,

civil society, and the state.

Hegel regards Kant’s ethics as trying to provide specific guidance for

people in their particular situations in everyday life. This guidance is given

in the form of testing their (sincere and rational)5 maxims by the categorical

imperative (CI) procedure. Using the CI-procedure provides the individual

with detailed and clear answers. By contrast, Hegel wants us to find our

moral compass in the institutions and customs of our social world itself,

as these institutions and customs have been made part of us as we grow

up into them and develop habits of thought and action accordingly. Kant

would reject this view as incompatible with his ideal of autonomy. As Hegel

sees the matter, Kant doesn’t provide real autonomy. For this, we must

belong to a rational (reasonable) social world that individuals on reflection

can accept and be reconciled to as meeting their fundamental needs. Hegel

wants to show that people can and do act freely when conducting themselves on the basis of habit and custom (assuming them to be reasonable

on reflection). This condition is met in the modern world (in contrast to the

ancient or the medieval world), in which social institutions must promote

subjectivity, individuality, and particularity, or what Hegel refers to as substantiality (which covers all three).

Hegel’s view of freedom is that only a substance can be fully free, and

that a rational social world is a substance. Moreover, individuals can attain

the fullest freedom available to them, as opposed to the misguided autonomy of Kant’s ethics, only by becoming self-reflecting and endorsing accidents (as Hegel says) of a rational social world. The term “accidents” brings

out that for Hegel, individuals cannot by themselves be substances, cannot

be free on their own. Rather, they are accidents, as it were, of a substance—

of a rational social world—and it is through that substance that they achieve

their real freedom. Do not be antagonized by Hegel’s use of the substanceaccident terminology, although it is not entirely without fault and may

5. Here we must, of course, understand rational in Kant’s sense as given by the hypothetical

imperative, and not in Hegel’s sense.



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§6. The Unity of Reason

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