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§1. The Three Predispositions

§1. The Three Predispositions

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(a) The predisposition to animality in us, when we are regarded as living

beings. This predisposition, Kant says, may be characterized as physical and

“purely mechanical” self-love, by which he means that it does not require

the exercise of reason and is generally guided by instinct and by acquired

tendencies and habits. Under this predisposition fall the instincts for selfpreservation, for the propagation of the species, and for the care of children;

and the instinct for community with other human beings, the social impulse.

(b) The predisposition to humanity in us, when we are regarded not

only as living but also as rational beings. (Observe that Kant does not use

“humanity” here as he does elsewhere to refer to the powers of moral

personality as animated in us [Kant III:§]). This predisposition falls under

the general heading of self-love, which is physical but which at the same

time compares and judges our own happiness in relation to the happiness

of others.

From this self-love comes our desire to be held of value (Wert) in the

opinion of others, and from this in turn comes the desire for equality, which

expresses itself in our wanting no one to establish superiority over us and

in our anxiety that they may do so. This process works itself out so that

eventually it gives rise to competition for status and position, to hypocrisy

and rivalry, and to the other vices of culture, such as jealousy and envy,

ingratitude and spitefulness. These vices Kant views as grafted onto this

predisposition to good by the historical development of culture. By this I

think he means that, given the social milieu brought about by the self-love

that compares and judges, those vices are the inevitable outcome. Here we

see the influence of Rousseau’s Second Discourse and E´mile.

(c) The predisposition to personality in us, when we are seen not only

as rational beings but also as accountable, or responsible, beings. This predisposition we can think of as having two aspects.

First, there is the capacity to understand and intelligently to apply the

moral law (via the CI-procedure) as an idea of pure practical reason.

Second, there is the capacity to respect this law as in itself a sufficient

motive for our free power of choice.

This second aspect Kant here calls “moral feeling,” and he is careful to

stress that moral feeling (sensibility) is essential. (On this question, see also

the Metaphysics of Morals, the Introduction, §§XII–XVI [MdS :–]). This

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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.”



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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. .



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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.



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§1. The Three Predispositions

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