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§3. The Supremacy of Reason

§3. The Supremacy of Reason

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From II: (–), this can be stated thus: we are subject only to laws

that we might have made as reasonable and rational; and we are bound

only to act in conformity with a will that is our own, and which has, as

nature’s purpose for it, the role of making universal law. Kant explains here

why he uses the term “autonomy.”

Finally, drawing on II: (–): all persons, as ends in themselves,

must be able to regard themselves as makers of universal law with respect

to any law whatever to which they may be legitimately subjected.

. Now, why should Kant claim that we are bound only by a law that

we can give to ourselves? Is this a further idea not already contained in

viewing ourselves as subject to the moral law as a law of our reason (as

indirectly represented by the CI-procedure)? Or can we explain Kant’s claim

by drawing out what is already implicit in what we have said about how

the formulations are related? His claim follows once we recall two points

we have assumed.

One is that the CI-procedure specifies the entire content of the categorical imperative as it applies to us, so the totality of precepts (the generalized

maxims at step []) that pass that procedure define all the norms to which

we are legitimately subject.

The other point is that it is through the CI-procedure that we can view

ourselves as making universal law for a realm of ends, and so as making

law for ourselves as a member thereof.

Thus all the moral norms to which we are legitimately subject are

norms we can view ourselves as legislating as reasonable and rational persons. Kant’s claim is the upshot of how we have supposed the first and

third formulations to be related.

. The second important claim Kant puts forward is this (II: []):

that a supremely legislative will (that is, one subject to no higher or more

authoritative will) cannot itself be dependent on any interest. Kant means

that such a will cannot be dependent on interests derived from natural

desires, but depends solely on interests taken in the principles of practical

reason (Gr II:n. []).

In II: (–), we get some idea of what Kant means: he says that

heretofore writers have regarded people as if they were subject to the moral

law in much the same way that they are subject to the law of the state.



[  ]



  :   



They have asked what natural interests, or what inclinations, prompt us to

comply with the moral law, or with the law of nature viewed as the law

of God known by reason, which we have an obligation to obey in virtue

of God’s commands. On their view, the moral law is like the sovereign’s

law enforced by sanctions. Kant’s objection is that these sanctions lead us

(indeed, compel us [KP :ff.]) to comply with the moral law not for its

own sake, but for the sake of something else: our lives, or properties, or

whatever we might lose from the sanctions that uphold the law. Whereas

when the moral law is properly exhibited to us without allurements of

pleasure or threats of pain, we take a pure practical interest in it. It needs

no such sanctions.

. What is involved here is a very fundamental point, difficult to state

clearly: namely, the supremacy of reason, in this case pure practical reason.

In Kant I, we noted this as one of the main themes of Kant’s moral philosophy. It is not surprising that it should come up here in connection with

the autonomy formulation.

Now, as rationalists, Cudworth and Clarke, and Leibniz too (as we shall

see), also accept the supremacy of reason. But with them this is expressed

by saying that God’s reason is prior to and governs the divine will. As we

saw, for Clarke the content of God’s reason, as far as it concerns right and

wrong, is known to us by rational intuition. We grasp that content as given

by a prior and independent moral order determining the fitnesses of things.

While God’s legislative reason may be autonomous (if we use Kant’s language here), Clarke would find it unthinkable to say that we are autonomous, that is, that we can be bound only by a law we can give to ourselves as

reasonable and rational, or as free and equal legislative members of a possible

realm of ends. He would think this to be a radical and alarming doctrine.

For Kant, however, God’s reason is intuitive reason and quite different

from our own (KU §). We comprehend only our human reason, with its

various powers and concepts, principles and ideas, discerned by reflecting

on our thought and capacity for judgment. It is our practical human reason

that must have supremacy on moral questions; we have no access to a

higher, more supreme, reason. What is radical is the place Kant gives to

human reason and the constructivist role he sees it as having. Later we

shall come back to these matters.



[  ]



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§. The Realm of Ends

. Now that we have the three formulations in front of us, we are almost

ready to discuss our question, namely, how the moral law as an idea of

reason is brought nearer to intuition by means of an analogy, and what

the analogy is that Kant has in mind. We must, however, first discuss what

Kant says about the very important concept of the realm of ends, particularly in II:– (–); – (–).

Kant introduces this concept by taking every reasonable and rational

person to be autonomous and to belong to one moral world, mundus intelligibilis (II: [–]), in virtue of their practical reason. The realm of ends

turns out to be an ideal (as Kant says in II: []); this is relevant, as I

explain later. He says (II: []): “The concept of every reasonable and

rational being as one who must regard himself as making universal law by

all the maxims of his will and must seek to judge himself and his actions

from this point of view, leads to the closely connected and very fruitful

concept, that of a realm of ends.”

. Now, Kant understands a realm of ends as a systematic conjunction

of reasonable and rational persons under common (moral) laws; and I think

we may suppose, although this is not made explicit, that these laws are

public and mutually recognized. This follows from the publicity condition

of the CI-procedure (II: []) together with the shared knowledge of one

another’s reasonable nature. Kant’s description of systematic conjunction

is not easy to interpret. He says (II: []): “Since laws determine ends as

regards their universal validity, we shall be able—if we abstract from the

personal differences between reasonable and rational persons, and also from

all the content of their private ends—to conceive a whole of all ends in

systematic conjunction (a whole both of such persons as ends in themselves

and also of the ends which each sets for himself ).”

To understand what Kant means by a whole of ends in systematic conjunction, we should also take into account the next paragraph. Thus, as he

says there (II: []), the systematic conjunction characteristic of a realm

of ends arises when all reasonable and rational persons treat themselves as

well as others as such persons and therefore as ends in themselves. From

the second formulation, this means that everyone not only pursues their

personal (permissible) ends within the limits of the duties of justice (the

[  ]



  :   



rights of man) but also gives significant and appropriate weight to the obligatory ends enjoined by the duties of virtue. These duties, to state them

summarily, are to promote one’s moral and natural perfection and the happiness of others. In addition, everyone has the end of respecting the rights

of justice, for this too is meritorious (MdS :) and an obligation (not a

duty) of virtue, as Kant explains (MdS :).

From the third formulation, Kant must suppose that in a realm of ends

everyone recognizes everyone else as not only honoring their obligation

of justice and duties of virtue, but also, as it were, legislating law for their

moral commonwealth. For all know of themselves and of the rest that they

are reasonable and rational, and this fact is mutually recognized. While this

mutual recognition is clear from what Kant says, and I assume that it is a

feature of a realm of ends, he does not explicitly state it. If he thought it

too obvious to be worth stating, he was mistaken: what is neglected is

explicitly drawing attention to the mutual recognition of the moral law in

the public role of a society’s moral culture. Hegel will stress just this point.

What is unclear is the role of abstracting from the personal differences

between persons and from the content of their private ends in conceiving

a whole of all ends in systematic conjunction. In Kant II, I suggested that

this might be interpreted as imposing certain limits on information at step

() of the CI-procedure when the agent has to decide between adjusted

social worlds. Certainly Kant needs to introduce some such limits. But that

conjecture, even if correct, doesn’t address the question here, unless he

means that clearing away the clutter of those differences makes it easier to

grasp what the structure of a realm of ends involves. This seems unsatisfactory: it must mean more than this! But what?

. An essential feature of the realm of ends is the condition of membership, as discussed in II:– (–). This condition is simply moral personality, or the powers of practical reason. Kant distinguishes between

things that have a market price (those that answer to human inclinations

and needs) and those that have a fancy price (those that give satisfaction

to the purposeless play of our mental powers). He then introduces the concept of dignity. Moral personality alone has dignity (II: []): “Morality

is the only condition under which reasonable persons can be ends in themselves; for only through this is it possible to be a law-making member in

a realm of ends.”

[  ]



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