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§3. The Second Three Conceptions of the Good

§3. The Second Three Conceptions of the Good

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move us to do what duty requires, do not detract from the moral worth

of our action or from the purity of our character as long as two conditions

are met. They are:

(i) that when a question of duty is involved, we decide the case entirely

by considerations of duty, leaving aside all reasons of interest and inclination;

(ii) that our pure practical interest in acting from the considerations of

duty is strong enough by itself to ensure that we do as we ought. It is only

when our pure practical interest is not strong enough to ensure this, and

those other motives are needed for us to act properly, that our will, or

moral character, is less than fully good.

In this connection, Kant notes that we may need the support of what

he calls free sympathy in acting from moral principles (MdS :). While

having this free sympathy is of course not a defect—it is rather to be cultivated by us—our needing it to act rightly shows a lack of purity in our

character, which is a defect. One reason is that the feeling of free sympathy

cannot always be counted on to support our doing as we should; so whether

we conduct ourselves as we ought depends at least to some degree on

happenstance. This shows that we have not yet fully achieved the freedom

that is possible for us.

From Kant I:§, recall the two roles of the concept of a good will in

Kant’s doctrine: first, as an absolute and incomparable value the realization

of which gives meaning to human life and makes humankind the final end

of creation (KU § and the footnote); and second, as a value such that our

having the powers of reason and moral sensibility to realize a good will is

the condition of being a member of a possible realm of ends and marks

the range of application of the moral law.

. The next conception of the good is the good as the object of the

moral law, which I take to be given by the ideal of a realm of ends, as this

ideal was discussed in Kant IV. This ideal object is simply the conception of

the social world that would come about (at least under reasonably favorable

conditions) if everyone were to follow the totality of precepts that result

from the correct application of the CI-procedure.

As noted previously, Kant sometimes refers to the realm of ends as the

necessary object of a will that is determined by the moral law, or alternatively, as an object that is given a priori to a will determined by that law

[  ]

          

(KP :). By this I take him to mean that the realm of ends is an (ideal)

object—a social world—the moral constitution and regulation of which is

specified by the totality of precepts that meet the test of the CI-procedure

(when these precepts are adjusted and coordinated by the requirement of

complete determination; Gr II: [–]).

Put another way, the ideal of a realm of ends is not a social world

that can be described prior to and independently of the concepts and principles of pure practical reason and the procedure by which they are applied.

That realm is not an already given describable (ideal) object—a social

world—the nature of which determines the content of the moral law. This

would be the case, for example, if this law were understood as stating what

must be done in order to bring about a good society the nature and institutions of which are already specified prior to and independently of the moral


. Finally, there is Kant’s conception of the complete good. This is the

good attained when the ideal of a realm of ends is realized and each member

both has a good will and has achieved happiness, so far as the conditions

of human life allow. We must add this qualification, since the ideal of a

realm of ends is an ideal of reason, and as such cannot be fully realized.

Also, happiness must be specified by the fulfillment of ends that respect the

requirements of the moral law and so are permissible ends. I assume that

it is reasonable to try to approach this complete good (so understood) in

the natural world, at least under reasonably favorable conditions. In doing

this, we are not being visionaries who lack a sense of realism, of what is

in fact possible. A realm of ends is in that sense a natural good, one that

can be reasonably striven for (although never fully achieved) in the order

of nature.

Kant holds (as indicated above) that in the complete good, the good

will is the supreme good, that is, we must have a good will if the other

goods we enjoy are to be truly good and our enjoyment of them fully

appropriate. This applies in particular to the good of happiness, since he

thinks that only our having a good will can make us fully worthy of happiness. This is a recurrent theme in his doctrine. Kant also believes that

two goods so different in their nature, and in their foundations in our

persons, as a good will and happiness are incommensurable. In deciding

what to do, we are not to balance them against each other; they can be

[  ]

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combined into one unified and complete good only by the relation of

the strict priority of one over the other. We shall come back to this idea


§. Autonomy and Heteronomy

. Following this survey of the six conceptions of the good, let’s consider

what Kant says about the autonomy and heteronomy of moral conceptions

as a whole (Gr II:– [–]; KP :). He thinks that only his own

doctrine presents morality as autonomous and not heteronomous. He says

(Gr II: []):

If the will seeks the law that is to determine it anywhere else than in

the fitness of its maxims for its own making of universal law—if therefore in going beyond itself it seeks this law in the character of any of

its objects—the result is always heteronomy. In that case the will does

not give itself the law, but the object does so in virtue of its relation

to the will. This relation, whether based on inclination or on rational

ideas [Vorstellungen der Vernunft], can give rise only to hypothetical imperatives: “I ought to do something because I will something else.” (Kant’s


What Kant thinks is at stake here is the supremacy of reason. Pure

practical reason cannot take its directives from any object, not even from

a rational idea presented as an object to reason. Think of the rational ideas

of right and goodness lying in the divine reason as presented to our reason

as objects. I believe that Kant wants rather to say: “I ought to do something

because I will—from pure practical interest—the principles of pure practical

reason; and not because I will something else, even should this something

else be based on rational ideas.” (It goes without saying that it must not

be based on inclination.)

Put another way: pure practical reason must construct out of itself its

own object. Advancing that object from pure practical interest will not involve a hypothetical imperative. So he adds, after the lines just cited, that

a categorical imperative “must abstract from all objects to this extent—

[  ]

          

that they (objects) should be without any influence at all on the will so that

practical reason (the will) may not merely administer an alien interest but

may simply manifest its own sovereign authority as the supreme maker of

law” (Kant’s italics).

. Perhaps the matter can be put this way: rather than starting from a

conception of the good given independently of the right, we start from a

conception of the right—of the moral law—given by pure (as opposed to

empirical) practical reason. We then specify in the light of this conception

(by using the CI-procedure) what ends are permissible and what moral precepts specify our duties of justice and of virtue. From these, we work out

what social arrangements are right and just.

We might say that a moral conception is not to revolve around the

good as an independent object, but around a (formal) conception of the

right (together with a [formal] conception of a good will), as constructed

by our pure practical reason, into which any permissible good must fit. Or

as Kant puts it when he explains what he calls “the paradox of method” in

critically examining practical reason (KP :f.): “The paradox is that the concept of good and evil is not defined prior to the moral law, to which, it would

seem, the former would have to serve as a foundation; rather the concept of good

and evil must be defined after and by means of the law.” (Kant puts this entire

sentence in italics.)

Kant believes that once we start from the good as a prior and independently given object, the moral conception must be heteronomous. This is

because in this case pure practical reason is not, as it should be, its own

sovereign authority as the supreme maker of law (the phrase Kant uses in

Gr II: []). Heteronomy means precisely this lack of sovereign authority.

Now, in the italicized sentence above, the concept of good and evil

should be understood broadly to include both the morally good and the

right. This is clear from Kant’s account in Analytic II of the second Critique.

Thus heteronomy will be as true of Leibniz’s metaphysical perfectionism

(with its conception of a prior moral order given to and known by our

reason) as it is of the psychological naturalism that underlies Hume’s doctrine of sympathy as the basis of morals. In these views, what determines

our will is the conception of a given object, not an object (e.g., the realm

of ends) developed from principles originating in our practical reason.

[  ]

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§3. The Second Three Conceptions of the Good

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