Critique of Practical Reason (Texts in the History of Philosophy)

Critique of Practical Reason (Texts in the History of Philosophy)

This seminal text in the history of moral philosophy elaborates the basic themes of Kant's moral theory, gives the most complete statement of his highly original theory of freedom of the will, and develops his practical metaphysics. This new edition, prepared by an acclaimed translator and scholar of Kant's practical philosophy, presents the first new translation of the wo...

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Title:Critique of Practical Reason (Texts in the History of Philosophy)
Author:Immanuel Kant
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Edition Language:English

Critique of Practical Reason (Texts in the History of Philosophy) Reviews

  • Erik Graff

    The first two critiques constitue a unit so far as their main argument goes. The Critique of Pure Reason establishes that while humans can imagine things in themselves (ideas), they can only know things as they are given to them (concepts). The gap between our conceptional understanding and our rational ideas is unbridgeable, requiring, even under the best of circumstances, an infinite induction which we, as finite beings, are incapable of. Furthermore, the First Critique establishes that while

    The first two critiques constitue a unit so far as their main argument goes. The Critique of Pure Reason establishes that while humans can imagine things in themselves (ideas), they can only know things as they are given to them (concepts). The gap between our conceptional understanding and our rational ideas is unbridgeable, requiring, even under the best of circumstances, an infinite induction which we, as finite beings, are incapable of. Furthermore, the First Critique establishes that while something like Russell's logical atomism represents an heuristically useful tool for the natural sciences, its extension beyond that is unwarranted.

    The Critique of Practical Reason, a study of ethics, works with the heuristic assumption that human agency is absolutely free--a rational assumption given the proofs of the Critique of Pure Reason. As such, the question of ethics becomes one of acting in accord with universal principles upon which the best of all possible (viable) worlds might be imagined without in the process impinging upon the ethical agency of others. The idea of the good or of right behavior is therefore what he terms a regulative ideal. Certainty about how to act is, in principle, possible. Certainty about what to do exactly is not. We ought always do the best we can and we can formally know what "doing the best" entails.

    This is satisfactory so far as it goes. A problem, however, may obtain. Kant's assumption that "agency" correlates in the case of humans to individual human organisms may be questionable. He does, however, address the matter in terms of the state and the law in his writings on jurisprudence so an answer is conceivable. Personally, I find this matter of agency to be the most pregnant in its implications. Kant's ethics basically entail that we act like god on the day before creation and continue, once the game's afoot, to act like benevolent deities thereafter. In other words, and this is probably intentional, religious issues like incarnationalism and theodicy are relevant to his ethical philosophy as becomes clear upon reading his Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone. The Second Critique as well as his other books on ethics would seem, therefore, to be half-way points towards a conclusion which is, at best, approached in the Third Critique (of Judgment) and the aforementioned Limits of Reason, a conclusion which is quite in keeping with what Huxley called "the perennial philosophy" of mysticism.

    I wrote a little essay about Kant's ethics tendentiously along these lines which is posted elsewhere on this site.

  • Dylan O'Brien

    Although it is quite slim, Kant's Second Critique packs quite a punch. Picking up where the end of the First Critique left off, it ties up a number of loose ends in Kantian philosophy. Perhaps most importantly, it clearly shows how desire relates to theory. Although most of the first critique would seem to indicate that Kant's system was completely unfit to deal with human desire and aspiration, around the end of that book, one receives the impression that there is something more profound going

    Although it is quite slim, Kant's Second Critique packs quite a punch. Picking up where the end of the First Critique left off, it ties up a number of loose ends in Kantian philosophy. Perhaps most importantly, it clearly shows how desire relates to theory. Although most of the first critique would seem to indicate that Kant's system was completely unfit to deal with human desire and aspiration, around the end of that book, one receives the impression that there is something more profound going on. Kant seems to be attaching a great deal of importance to the desires which lead us beyond what we can experience. It is this discussion which is further, and more systematically elaborated in the second critique.

    At first these arguments may seem strange, as though Kant were merely encouraging us to willfully construct various ghosts-in-the-machine, in order to modulate our desires more effectively, thereby rendering us more capable of following practical rules that take little stock of our immediate interests. It is true that this is what Kant is doing, in a way, but he takes a number of subtle turns during the process which, if taken account of, make the entire project seem less contrived. Although it is true that Kant puts forth God, Freedom, & the immortality of the Soul as practical postulates, unthinkable in any directly conceptual manner, neither does he want us to dupe ourselves into believing something without grounds. Although I am still trying to figure out precisely how his alternative works, I feel as though he were on to something very important with this manner. It is clear that in his treatment of God, The Soul, and Freedom, Kant is putting forth a profoundly innovative argument, which avoids all of the extremes explored by other philosophers, which even today remain mostly confined to the poles of dogmatic rationalism, nihilistic empiricism, or relativistic pragmatism.

    Although his writing style in this book is more consistent, and the subject matter flows more smoothly, one must be more careful while reading it than with the first critique. There are any number of small details, which, if missed, will result in Kant's entire argument seeming vain, and possibly dishonest. I hope to return to this book frequently.

  • Rowland Pasaribu

    It is difficult to overestimate Kant's influence in philosophy. Even those who reject his explicit theories often use his terms, whether by wondering how it could be possible for something to be "synthetic" (not a matter of meaning) and yet "a priori" (knowable independent of experience), or by asking what is the source of an ethical "imperative." Kant has sometimes been credited for almost single-handedly creating the German philosophical tradition, and it certainly is hard to imagine what Hege

    It is difficult to overestimate Kant's influence in philosophy. Even those who reject his explicit theories often use his terms, whether by wondering how it could be possible for something to be "synthetic" (not a matter of meaning) and yet "a priori" (knowable independent of experience), or by asking what is the source of an ethical "imperative." Kant has sometimes been credited for almost single-handedly creating the German philosophical tradition, and it certainly is hard to imagine what Hegel's or Marx's wrings would have looked like without the influence of Kant.

    Many current day writers on philosophical ethics have been influenced by Kant. Some accept the categorical imperative as a valid test of moral rightness, but more commonly one will see Kant's linking of morality and autonomy, or his analysis of moral worth as an inner acceptance of the motive of duty, or his insistence that the good is what the moral aims at as opposed to morality being defined by its aim at the good.

    The impact of Kant's writing style has arguably also been extensive, on which topic the twentieth century philosophy Walter Kaufmann tartly reports, "Few philosophers since Kant have approximated his genius, but many of his shortcomings are widely shared even today, and to some extant at least this is due to his phenomenal influence." Kant's insights are often masked by his convoluted sentences and unclear technical terms. Fortunately, the second Critique is significantly more accessible than the first, but still the second Critique elicits many conflicting interpretations.

    The Critique of Practical Reason can be regarded as the sequel to theCritique of Pure Reason, picking up where that earlier book left off. In the first Critique, Kant divides our judgments in two ways—the a priori (knowable before experience) versus the a posteriori (knowable through experience) and the analytic (true by virtue of meaning) versus the synthetic (true by virtue of the facts). He ultimately concludes, first, that a posteriori judgments are about how things look to us, not about how things intrinsically are, since they are filtered through our experiences, and, second, all synthetic judgments are a posteriori, since we have no access to the world other than through experience.

    This second conclusion rules out the possibility of metaphysically proving the existence of God, freedom, and immortality. It does leave open, though, the right to have faith that such things exist in the way the world is in itself, the noumenal realm, since we can never know what is true in that realm. The second Critique will take this further, arguing that the correct understanding of morality requires us to believe in God, freedom, and immortality. As well as continuing from the Critique of Pure Reason, theCritique of Practical Reason lays the grounds for the Metaphysics of Morals,written nine years later in 1797, and which applies the general moral principles of the second Critique to a variety of cases.

    The second Critique in some senses can be seen as the opposite of the first Critique. While the main theme of the first Critique is how little we can know about its topic, metaphysics, the second Critique is about how we can know about its topic, morality. Not only that, but some of the first Critique is arguably taken back. We are directly aware of the application of the moral law to us, and through this, we are aware of our freedom, which, it turns out, is awareness of causation from the noumenal world. More than that, not only can we believe in God and immortality, as the first Critique agreed, but it turns out that reason commands belief in them.

    In a different sense, though, the second Critique furthers the work of the first. Kant describes himself in the Critique of Pure Reason as having created a revolution to counter Copernicus'. Copernicus humbles man by removing him form the center of the physical universe, but Kant elevates him by presenting the whole phenomenal world of the senses as being created by us and by our senses. In the conclusion of the second Critique, Kant picks up this metaphor again, explaining how he has now shown how the human being lies at the center of the moral universe, and through that universe man connects with the noumenal world.

    Kant's comparison of the first and the second Critique in the preface and his subsequent discussion in the introduction bring out one of the oddities of Kant's writing: a tendency to model his works after one another. Here it is questionable whether the structure of the first Critique was really so suitable for this book, and whether the parallels he discusses are more illuminating or more distracting. The first Critique utilizes theoretical reasoning—roughly, philosophical thinking—to examine the limits of the potential achievements of such thinking. The second Critique, however, as Kant points out, does not use pure practical reason—decision-making based on reason and not on desire—to point out the limitations of such decision- making. For one thing, it is unclear how one could "apply" a faculty of decision-making in a book, which is better seen as a recording of theoretical reason's activity.

    Mainly though, Kant is not critiquing pure practical reason but lauding it, saying that it is possible and that it is the ground of morality. True, we can say that he is thereby attacking impure practical reason. Kant believes that although his beliefs about pure practical reason are commonsensical, insofar as common sense can grasp them, philosophers are liable to go astray and enshrine the self-serving calculations of impure practical reason in the place of pure practical reason. But it remains to be seen whether anything is really gained by setting up the analogy in the first place.

    A point about the comparison which is important to remember is that the Critique of Practical Reason does not simply contrast with the Critique of Pure Reason, in that it critiques the impure reason which the first Critique still left unexamined. Rather, the title of the first Critique is meant to be understood as elliptical for "The Critique of Pure Theoretical Reason," while the title of the second Critique can be understood as elliptical for "The Critique of Impure Practical Reason". The pure / impure distinction, which has to do with whether contingent, sensory factors are involved, is not the same as the theoretical / practical distinction, which has to do with the faculty of knowing versus the faculty of acting.

    This book contains three sections: the Analytic, the Dialectic, and the Doctrine of Method. The Analytic presents, in both critiques, the operations of the faculty in question. In the case of the second Critique, this will turn out to be a derivation of the one principle of pure practical reason, the categorical imperative, and an argument that obeying it is equivalent to freedom. The Dialectic presents, in both Critiques, arguments that the faculty in question can go astray. In the case of the second Critique, this will be an argument that pure practical reason goes wrong when it seeks perfection in this world, as well as an argument that what we should instead do is seek perfection in the next world with God's help, making the assumption that immortality and God exist. The Doctrine of Method in the first Critique plans out the future sciences of pure theoretical reason; the Doctrine of Method in the second Critique plans out the future of educating people in the use of pure practical reason.

    The Critique of Practical Reason contains the one true ultimate moral principle, the categorical imperative. However, there is no full discussion of its application. That is because Kant intends everything in the Critique of Pure Reason to proceed a priori, without any reference to what, as a matter of contingent fact, human nature happens to be like. Without such a theory, we cannot say what, concretely, our duties are. The role of the Metaphysics of Morals is to give such a theory.

  • Roy Lotz

    When I first read that opening salvo of Russell’s chapter on Kant, I thought it rather unfair towards the German monk. But now, after digesting Kant’s philosophy a little more, I can’t help but agree. In fact, I more than agree—I think

    When I first read that opening salvo of Russell’s chapter on Kant, I thought it rather unfair towards the German monk. But now, after digesting Kant’s philosophy a little more, I can’t help but agree. In fact, I more than agree—I think it sums up Kant’s whole project to the letter.

    Kant proceeds like this. Instead of starting off with questions like “what is morality?” or “is knowledge possible?” he assumes that he already knows what morality dictates and that knowledge is possible. Then, after this initial assumption, he tries to figure out what conditions must be present in order to justify the assumption. For example, when Hume questions the validity of causality, Kant says "well, obviously causality

    real; and because it is real then there must be noumena as distinct from phenomena, so causality is an a priori assumption we make about phenomena, which makes perception possible, etc." In short, he makes more assumptions to justify his initial assumption; the end result is a neat system that rests on a bed of shaky suppositions.

    Again, take Kant’s position on free will. Instead of inquiring whether we actually have free will, he says that, because we have morality, we must have free will; and therefore there must be a God and a heaven, etc. The fundamental question—can we chose our actions?—is swept under the rug by pointing to morality—which itself depends on the question of free will. And whenever he is in a bind, he invokes his famous noumena, which allow him to say "yes, perhaps we obey laws as observed phenomena; but as things-in-ourselves we have free will."

    This isn’t satisfying at all. For, even in his system, causality is not a property of things-in-themselves, but a pre-condition of our perception of things-as-perceived. And because the concept of free will depends on the concept of causality, importing free will into the noumenal world makes no sense. Plus, since we can’t, by definition, know anything about ourselves as noumena, how on earth could we be obeying a moral code in the noumenal world? On the other hand, if we obey moral codes in the phenomenal world, what if it is determined through experiment that humans are subject to immutable laws and, in fact, don't have free will? You see? In either case there’s a problem.

    Also consider his idea of the moral code itself. Kant insists that morality springs from reason alone. Therefore, according to Kant, whether a law is moral or not depends on the form of the law rather than the content. So long as the law can be plausibly willed as universal—regardless of the content of the law—it is moral; if it cannot, it is immoral.

    But the question of whether I would will a law to be universal already takes into account my own empirical desires—so it can’t be logic alone that is at play here. For example, I see no contradiction in willing to commit suicide; because, for this to moral (according to Kant), I would only have to will that every person on the planet committed suicide—unlikely, perhaps, but not an impossible desire. Nor is there any logical barrier preventing me from willing that all humans fight to the death—provided that I myself be willing to fight to the death. In short, any action—whether or not it conduces to increasing the welfare and happiness of humankind—can be moral in Kant’s view, provided that it is willed as a universal law. That, I can't abide.

    I can go on, but it’s unnecessary. In short, Kant’s philosophy is an elaborate system that merely justifies all of the things he already believed: causality is valid; morality is a duty; the self is real; free will is actual; God and heaven are real; Christianity is superior to all other moral systems; and so on. Kant’s kind of philosophy requires intelligence—and Kant was an incredible genius, to be sure—but it requires little daring or imagination, as the conclusions are known right from the start. To make an additional assumption to justify something you already believed is the easiest thing in the world; to question your belief is one of the hardest.

    But, before I end this hostile review, let me temper some of these criticisms. For one, working through the philosophical system of a man as extraordinarily gifted as was Kant is valuable in itself. To merely understand him is a feat; the architecture of his mind is magnificent. Second, in dealing with these problems—however adequately or inadequately—Kant did come up with a whole set of terms that have proven to be of enormous value. And third, even if we do not accept his conclusions, we can at least give him credit for carrying on the philosophic torch after Hume’s penetrating mind almost extinguished its flame.

    [

    After some more thinking, and a lengthy talk with a friend, I think that some of my above points are invalid, or at least based on a naive reading of Kant. (Though I still think some are arguable.) Regardless of my or Kant's rightness or wrongness, I think it's a useful exercise to subject philosophical arguments to strenuous criticism, if only to better understand them. And boy is Kant pain to understand.

    For a better-informed and more thorough investigation of Kant's morals, see my review of the

    .]

  • Jonathan Terrington

    Immanuel Kant is what I suppose one would call a 'practical philosopher' in that he is not primarily concerned with the more abstract thoughts of philosophy. Rather his philosophy, as expressed in this book, is one about how practical philosophy, or practical reason, works. He makes a distinction at the beginning of his book between the subjective and the objective, suggesting that practical reason is about making the subjective objective.

    This book begins with a section about defining practical

    Immanuel Kant is what I suppose one would call a 'practical philosopher' in that he is not primarily concerned with the more abstract thoughts of philosophy. Rather his philosophy, as expressed in this book, is one about how practical philosophy, or practical reason, works. He makes a distinction at the beginning of his book between the subjective and the objective, suggesting that practical reason is about making the subjective objective.

    This book begins with a section about defining practical reason and its applications. In other words, this is a work which does discuss the abstract concepts of philosophy, such as good and evil or morality. But it is not a work which broadly or ambiguously leaves questions to the reader as much as it is a work which seeks to define those questions in more concrete manners.

    One particular thought that Kant reaches is that morality and the existence of morality is theoretical proof for the existence of God (or at least of some higher power). I cannot explain his reasoning, though it read as sound and logical, however I do recommend that, if that vein of argument interests you, you read Kant's work here. It is an interesting way of looking at morality and something I've often questioned - without God or some kind of higher power does morality become more or less meaningless? Others may challenge that it becomes up to us then, as individuals, to be moral for the sake of being moral but that's never made a lot of sense to me. What is the purpose of morality?

    Either way this is another strong philosophical text and one worth reading in order to understand more modern Western Philosophy. If philosophy interests you I would go looking for this book.

  • Gastjäle

    The second part of the Critique trilogy shows traces of the same, deductive brilliance that was oh-so-manifest in

    but falls short in terms of theoretical rationale. Despite this shortcoming, it still excels as a great piece of

    literature, something which the first part of the trilogy couldn't quite achieve.

    Kant made his biggest blunder by simply positing the existence of the moral law based on a hazy and general idea of its apparent universality

    The second part of the Critique trilogy shows traces of the same, deductive brilliance that was oh-so-manifest in

    but falls short in terms of theoretical rationale. Despite this shortcoming, it still excels as a great piece of

    literature, something which the first part of the trilogy couldn't quite achieve.

    Kant made his biggest blunder by simply positing the existence of the moral law based on a hazy and general idea of its apparent universality – and consequently by justifying it by means of itself, which in turn leads to the corroboration of free will. It's fairly easy to see through this conjuring trick, but it's even more easier to see where Kant bit off more than he could chew: he ingenuously assumes that the moral is the same for us all. This probably has to do with his Christian leanings, which are more or less redundant and don't deserve such a prominent place in his otherwise brilliant theory: just because there might be an absolute being, it doesn't mean that it's the ol' Jehova with his great laws.

    Another methodological cock-up he made was not questioning the validity of the moral law in connexion with the three ideas which justify the whole thing: the immortality of the soul, free will, and the existence of God. Instead of presenting these as problematic questions, he more or less took them for granted, since he was so enamoured with his concept of the moral law. Moreover, as regards God, the theory Kant made about God having only created noumena leaves the realm of phenomena a real poser: is God ousted from that domain, and is he consequently not omnipotent?

    Nonetheless, the book contains many noble ideas and attitudes. First of all, even though Kant proposes that our reason per se needs the concepts of immortality, free will, and God to justify the moral law, he never states that such things can be objectively reached or that we could have perfect certainty of them. They will forever remain a mystery by virtue of the practical nature of the knowledge we can only have of them – speculatively speaking, they are complete enigmas which our reason, nevertheless, can't help but postulate. I love this non-preaching attitude of Kant's – despite his flaws, he was still a very, very astute and honest chap. He also points out, quite understandably, that science cannot verify its legibility as the sole finder of truth before such an act has been achieved.

    Secondly, the whole idea of abstracting from the content of maxims and thus paying attention to the form thereof, leading us to seek nothing but the greatest good in terms of respect and reverence towards the moral law, is fantastic. Kant casts aside aimless hedonism, false morality, and needless subjectivism of it all, and tells us that we should not think of the ends of our moral pursuit - the pursuit, ipso facto, is the alpha and omega of our probity. In his methodology for the pure, practical reason, Kant states that people should be taught two things: to accept that reverence towards the moral law is a virtue in itself, and to realise the freedom of one's own will. (This, of course, leads to the problem of culpability: Are people responsible for their actions only after they've been edified about these matters, or does the blame always lie on the subject of the moral law, to wit, each and every creature of reason?) Even though I don't quite buy Kant's Christian views, I love the idea of not obeying God's will through blind obedience and fear – fear has nothing to do with it by virtue of the speculative dilemma of the whole concept of God; neither are people obeying God's will, for the moral law does not aim them towards the greatest good by virtue of itself, but rather imposes the duty of respecting the law without reserve. It's not about achieving happiness or bliss, it is the very impetus and incentive to be good.

    Kant also touches upon the problem Ivan Karamazov struggled with a hundred years later. If there's no morality, then people obey laws mechanically and not out of reverence or respect – which is not an impossible idea, but a scary one to Kant. Such a worry seems rather ancient today, but one can still feel the anxiety behind it all – and its validity too, to some extent.

    I also respect the fact, that Kant could rationalise his belief to this extent, without going full-blown scientific mode (which would simply debunk itself). I love Kierkegaard's existential groping in the dark too, but Kant holds the candle so close to his brain, that one can see the thread of his reasoning fairly lucidly, as convoluted as it is. Like Kierkegaard, Kant's focus, too, was on the individual and its responsibility for its actions – and the inevitable struggle which ensues when this individual sets out to discover the Kingdom Come. Unlike Kierkegaard, however, Kant wanted to highlight duty and universality of the moral law, so in his world people were actually connected and shared the divine idea:

    I say, that's hot stuff, what?

  • Xander

    In Kritik der Reinen Vernunft (1781), Immanuel Kant ended with the conclusion that there exists (1) a phenomenal world that we perceive and constitute via our mental categories and the notions of space and time, and (2) a noumenal world of which we cannot know anything positively - we can only try to use Pure Reason to discover slithers of a priori synthetical knowledge of this. Kant 'discovered' three things that exists in this noumenal world: (1) us, as immortal souls, (2) God, as a necessary

    In Kritik der Reinen Vernunft (1781), Immanuel Kant ended with the conclusion that there exists (1) a phenomenal world that we perceive and constitute via our mental categories and the notions of space and time, and (2) a noumenal world of which we cannot know anything positively - we can only try to use Pure Reason to discover slithers of a priori synthetical knowledge of this. Kant 'discovered' three things that exists in this noumenal world: (1) us, as immortal souls, (2) God, as a necessary cause and Supreme Being, and (3) freedom. Towards the end of the first Kritik, Kant mentions that we cannot know these three things for sure, but we need them for Morality.

    It is in Kritik der Praktischen Vernunft (1788) that Kant further works out his earlier thoughts on Morality. Like the first Kritik, the second one is easy to summarize. It is also much shorter (you need to have read the first Kritik as a foundation, though).

    From the start, Kant makes us grand promises: while Pure (Speculative) Reason can hint at the existence of immortal souls, God and freedom, the Pure Practical Reason can positively prove this. Sounds interesting. Let's see if he succeeds in convincing us.

    In the first part of the Kritik, Kant analyzes the concepts of moral law and freedom. He does this in order to discover, by applying Pure Reason to Practice (praxis), the nature of Morality. In other words, he wants to find the form of the moral law (as synthetic knowledge a priori), independent of any experience a posteriori.

    For Kant, Practical Reason is a mental faculty that we possess as 'thinking things'. It determines our will by applying universal principles of action (praxis) to particular cases. These principles come in two forms, which are fundamental in understand Kant's Kritik: hypothetical and categorial imperatives.

    In order to find a genuine moral law, we have to apply Pure Reason. This means to leave the concepts themselves alone and focus on the logical relations between concepts. Kant doesn't want to find the content of Morality, but the form in which the laws come. This is not really accurate, though; Kant wants to find the content of the law in its form - independent from us as objects.

    So, to begin with, we can base our actions on personal desires (these Kant calls maxims) but these have their foundation in us, as objects. These maxims are called hypothetical imperatives: they are conditionally (IF we want to achieve/possess/etc. something, THEN we have to do this or that) and they presuppose personal interests in us, as objects. Therefore, these hypothetical imperatives are not good enough.

    In the end, Kant finds the only possible law in which the form determines the content, and is thereby independent of our experience or interests: the (infamous) categorical imperative. It is categorical, since - just like the 12 categories that we use to perceive and constitute the world around us - we use this imperative to constitute our behaviour. Kant's categorical imperative says that we should act in such a way that we could wish that our act would become a universal law, without creating internal contradictions. Is it just to lie? No, because we could not wish for lying to be universal - the meaning of our language would disappear. Is it just to commit suicide? No, because we could not wish for everyone committing suicide universally. Well, actually, both examples are problematic and they expose the flaws in his system (of which later more).

    For Kant,the moral law (i.e. the categorical imperative) has its origin in the noumenal world. The law itself consists only of form and is therefore a piece of synthetic knowledge a priori that we can only discover by applying our Pure Reason. Since our desires and interests are part of the phenomenal world, they cannot restrain the moral law in any way. It is here that Kant sees our freedom (which is also part of the noumenal world): we are free in as far as we dictate our will by the moral law.

    Morality is independent of any restraint and therefore autonomous (a thing in itself); respect for the moral law is equivalent to freedom. So we see that Kant has defined freedom, not only negatively (as in the first Kritik) as 'independent of phenomenal restraints', but now also positively as 'acting according to the moral law'.

    To summarize: Kant has found that freedom is doing what the moral law (i.e. the categorial imperative) prescribes. Since this moral law is a noumenon, it is indepedent of any phenomenal restraint, hence personal interests such as happiness and satisfaction form no part of the moral law. In the last part of the Analytic, Kant uses this last discovery to do away with all of the preceding moral philosophies: epicureanism, aristotelean ethics, anything that is concerned with human interests cannot be (morally) Good. He praises the doctrine of stoics for seeking Virtue in denying worldly interests their influence on our constitution, but he only praises and subscribes to the christian morality - since this is the only morality that prescribes autonomous (therefore categorical and noumenal) laws; all the other systems of ethics are, ultimately, heterenomous (therefore hypothetical and phenomenal).

    In the second part of the Kritik, Kant uses the dialectical method to do away with antinomies. Since Pure Reason cannot penetrate the noumenal world, we fall prey to either dogmatic rationalism or sceptical empiricism, leading to contradicting, unsolvable philosophical stand offs. Just like in the first Kritik, in the second one Kant tries to resolve the problems and in the process finds (this time, positive) truths about the noumenal world.

    What's the problem in the second Kritik? Well, there is a problem in the conception of the highest good (or Summum Bonum, as Kant calls it). In one sense (thesis), the highest good is that which is necessarily required for all the other goods; in another sense (antithesis) it is the best good of all the goods, even though these goods might not be necessary (but contingent). In essence it is a conflict between duty and virtue - should we do our moral duty with the possibiliy of not being rewarded by the world around us, or should we strive for virtue and thereby happiness?

    Kant's solution (synthesis) is very much like his solutions in the first Kritik. He uses the existence of two worlds to do away with the entire problem. We should always do our duty! When this doesn't lead to rewards, in the form of happiness, this is only a phenomenal issue. And this is not a problem anymore, since we exists as noumenal AND phenomenal things.

    So even though we might not by happy in the phenomenal world when doing our duty, we are happy in the noumenal world. By doing our duty continuously, we progress, as immortal souls, on an infinite road to perfection, which we will never reach, according to Kant, but this doesn't make it less important to strive for this.

    As a lucky corollary, for Kant at least, when striving for this highest good (ultimate happiness in doing our duty) - which, once again, we will never reach, as fallible beings - we need a perfect Supreme Being as a rewarding mechanism and lawmaker. This Being should be omniscient, since it has to know everything about us at any time; this Being should be omnipotent, since it has to be able to make any law that is has to make and to reward us in any way that is demanded; the Being should be be perfectly good, since it has to love justice.

    In other words: by trying to find the universal moral law, Kant has ingenuously postively proved the existence of (1) our freedom, (2) the existence of us as immortal souls and (3) the existence of a Supreme Being, God; all three as noumena in the Transcendental World. Three noumena that were only hinted at as possible existing things in the first Kritik!

    To summarize the whole of Kant's Practical Reason: when we apply Pure Reason to Morality, we find a universal moral law, a categorical imperative, that says that we should act only in such a way that we could want every human being acting thus, without this leading to contradictions. Our freedom lies in our respect for and our duty towards this moral law, as an autonomous object. When we do our duty, we set out on an infinite road to the highest good (i.e. summum bonum), and this requires us to exist as infinite intelligences (i.e. immortal souls). God, as Supreme Being, necessarily exists as lawmaker and mechanism of reward. These three things, freedom, immortal souls and God, positively exist as noumena - they are needed for a universal moral law.

    Now, what should we make of all this? In the first Kritik, I found it very convenient that Kant posits another, unknowable world in which he could deposit all the problems in philosophy. In the second Kritik, this becomes problematical. In the first Kritik, he could get away with saying that immortal souls, human freedom and God might exists - we could not prove or disprove this, but in the second Kritik this is not an option anymore. Kant needs these three things as existing noumena, since they are the building blocks of his Moral Law. This shows the weakness of the whole system.

    In my view, he overstretches his method of Pure Reason to acquire synthetic knowledge a priori by wanting say too much. He wants to prove there is a universal moral law (the categorical imperative) and therefore has to cross his own admitted epistemological boundaries. He basically contradicts his first Kritik with the publication of the second Kritik. This is problematic.

    There are, basically, two important problems for Kant (as far as I can see).

    1. When dealing with the impossibility of positively proving the existence of God, Kant claimed that the existence of God (as object) could not be proved by predicates. "Existence" is a subjective thing which is logically unrelated to the object (God). In other words: trying to prove the existence of noumenal things by using phenomenal things is impossible, by definition. Now, in the second Kritik, Kant seems to prove the existence of immortal souls, freedom and God as noumena by using a very similar argument as the one he criticized earlier. He says we need these three things for the Moral Law, but just because we need them, doesn't prove that they positively exist. Utility is not an argument for existence; I can think of thousands of very useful things, but this doesn't make them exist. It is in broad outlines the same as the ontological argument: existence is part of perfection, but this doesn't prove anything.

    2. But let's grant Kant, for the sake of argument, the existence of the three pillars under his Moral Law. When the moral law, or the categorical imperative, becomes problematic, then the three pillars become superfluous anyway. So what about the categorical imperative? Well, it seems very problematic, to say the least. We should do only the things that we could wish were universal without leading to contradictions. Kant mentions suicide as an example; but if everyone wants to commit suicide, does it lead to a contradiction when we apply it to the categorical test? Of course not. If everyone wants to commit suicide, then it doesn't lead to a contradiction when I commit suicide. And it's the same with killing off the whole entire human race. Does it lead to a contradiction when the entire human race wants to kill the whole human race and I do it? Ofcourse not, I would only put in practice what everyone wants anyway. And a thrid and last example: if I should never lie, because it would lead to a contradiction if I should want that everyone lies, should I lie to a murderer who wants to kill my friend and asks for his location (which I know)? Kant would say: tell the truth, you will be rewarded as a noumenon. Right... Benjamin Constant offered the last example to show the problems of Kant's categorical imperative, and I think it is convincing.

    So to conclude: we can think of examples that we would class as immoral acts but that would nonetheless be moral according to the categorical imperative; we can also think of examples that would class as moral acts (protecting a friend from a murderer) but which are immoral according to the categorical imperative. So we are back to square one: Kant wanted to find a universal law, but the failure of his categorical imperative leads us to consider every situation as a particular moral instance, which is the one thing Kant wanted to do away with. This makes his three building blocks - which are problematic on their own merits - superfluous oddities in a failing moral theory.

    Should we then just ridicule Immanuel Kant for concocting such an arcane idea? Of course we should not. Kant showed us that we should view human beings not only as means to ends (hypothetical), but also ALWAYS AND AT THE SAME TIME as goals in and of themselves (categorical). Respect for this moral law (which Kant preached) is an Enlightenment ideal we should never lose out of out sight. Besides respect for our fellow human beings, Kant learned us that intentions do matter. We should not only focus on consequences of actions - like utilitarians or religious believers who, out of prudence (i.e. self-love), follow God's laws as if following a dictator - we should always weigh the intentions of ourselves and others when thinking about morality. These are two important lessons, never mind the confused philosophy that is attached to it.

  • Josh

    i still can't reconcile myself with his philosophy of moral deontology. the supposed "universal maxim" makes no sense to me. i think morality depends on situations. doing something consistently is not always the right thing to do. his concepts are too far into the realm of abstraction, and although he calls it practical reason, there's nothing practical about it. it refuses to enter into the realm of every day life.

  • Barnaby Thieme

    The question that practical reason asks us is, what ought I to do? In this book Kant offers his analysis of how pure reason, which relies on no empirical input whatsoever, can help us answer that question.

    As a follow up to Critique of Pure Reason, this book is a grave disappointment. Altogether abandoning the exacting critical standards he established in his earlier, better work, Kant argues on behalf of an ethical theory that I find intellectually flawed and personally repugnant. It is a moral

    The question that practical reason asks us is, what ought I to do? In this book Kant offers his analysis of how pure reason, which relies on no empirical input whatsoever, can help us answer that question.

    As a follow up to Critique of Pure Reason, this book is a grave disappointment. Altogether abandoning the exacting critical standards he established in his earlier, better work, Kant argues on behalf of an ethical theory that I find intellectually flawed and personally repugnant. It is a morality of pious bureaucrats who distrust anything emotional (for Kant, feelings are “pathological”), contingent (i.e., “real” or "actual"), or human.

    In brief, Kant argues that the proper standard for evaluating the moral merit of an action is twofold. First, the act must conform to a maxim of pure reason that is universally binding on all rational agents in all times and in all places (a "categorical imperative"). Such an imperative follows from pure reason, which can only deal with the form of argument, and not with particulars, which are by definition derived from empirical experience. Second, the act must be undertaken only and exactly because it is judged by a rational agent to follow from pure reason, not from any kind of desire or expectation about the outcome.

    Kant's argument suffers from several extremely serious problems.

    First, Kant never establishes why maxims derived from pure reason are eo ipso laudable in themselves. It is not at all obvious to me that any action that is good for all people to do always is necessarily better than any action that is good for some people to do sometimes.

    In his eagerness to eschew all sentiment and human response to ethical evaluation, he in fact does quite the opposite, and reveals again and again his own profound personal connection to the idea of reason. That it should not also be equally valued by all never occurs to him.

    Second, his theory demands that moral agents freely choose to comply with the directives of pure practical reason, but his theory establishing freewill is extremely weak. Readers of the Critique of Pure Reason may in fact remember that the question of determinism is one of his antimonies of pure reason, and is used in that book as an example of a pseudo-problem that philosophy can never either prove or disprove.

    Third, his attempt to dodge that problem by arguing that freedom of the subject is a postulate of pure reason is completely unconvincing, and is a transparent attempt to circumvent the limits he himself persuasively established. He offers a whole series of additional postulates, offered as hypotheses that reason cannot do without, and all of them just happen to conform with the sacred cows of Lutheran dogma.

    Fourth, he brazenly ignores his own dialectical analysis of virtue and happiness by positing them in this very work as an antimony, and then siding with the theory of virtue nonetheless.

    Fifth, his conception of a categorical imperative is underdeveloped. In Critique of Pure Reason he famously derides philosophers who condescend to give examples, but I sure could have used a few here. I genuinely have no idea what he thinks a good example of a categorical imperative would be. “One ought to do the right thing”? “Always tell the truth”? "Never take what is not freely given"? “Be kind to your parents”? No idea.

    Sixth, his theory substantially relies on the claim that the theory he describes conforms to what is usually meant by “morality.” That is far from true. Although impartiality and generality are common parts of what people generally mean by the term, they are at best necessary but not sufficient.

    In addition to being philosophically problematic, I recoil from the ugly spirit of Kant’s vision, which reminds me of the very worst excesses of Calvin and Luther - the hushed awe before the altar of solemnity, grandeur, majesty, duty, obligation, and obedience, and the covert terror that someone might be secretly and on some level enjoying themselves. I find his vision shockingly life-denying.

    Kant is not the first great thinker to apply himself to the problem of practical reason. Thomas Aquinas, for example, also distinguished between speculative and practical reason, and elaborated his own theory of how people should act. For Aquinas, this answer is rooted in his concept of synderesis, an inner faculty of what we might today call "moral intuition," which directly perceives the rightness or wrongness of a thing.

    For all of Kant’s fetishization of reason, I actually find Aquinas’ approach far more rational, and far more honest, for he freely admits that his determinations are based in part on intuition, sentiment, and his belief in the truth of revelation. Kant clearly relies on these factors just as much, but wrote this entire book to persuade us otherwise.

  • ZaRi

    wo things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. I have not to search for them and conjecture them as though they were veiled in darkness or were in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. The former begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and enlarges my co

    wo things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. I have not to search for them and conjecture them as though they were veiled in darkness or were in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. The former begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and enlarges my connection therein to an unbounded extent with worlds upon worlds and systems of systems, and moreover into limitless times of their periodic motion, its beginning and continuance. The second begins from my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity, but which is traceable only by the understanding, and with which I discern that I am not in a merely contingent but in a universal and necessary connection, as I am also thereby with all those visible worlds. The former view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates as it were my importance as an animal creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with vital power, one knows not how, must again give back the matter of which it was formed to the planet it inhabits (a mere speck in the universe). The second, on the contrary, infinitely elevates my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of the whole sensible world, at least so far as may be inferred from the destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination not restricted to conditions and limits of this life, but reaching into the infinite.

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