Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Little Kant Pontificating to the
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Little Kant Pontificating to the Throng Some of Kants Major Works (1755) Universal Natural History of the Heavens (1763) On the Only Possible Argument for the Existence of God (1770) Dissertation On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and the Intelligible Worlds (1781 & 1787) Critique of Pure Reason (in 1781 Kant is 57 years old) (1785) Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (1786) Metaphysics of Natural Science (philosophical foundations for Newtonian physics) (1788) Critique of Practical Reason (1790) Critique of Judgment (in two parts, Critique of Aesthetic Judgment (beautiful and sublime) and Critique of Teleological Judgment (organisms and purposes in nature) (1793) Religion Within the Boundaries of Reason Alone (1797) Metaphysics of Morals in two parts, the Doctrine of Right (law) and the Doctrine of Virtue (personal conduct and character)
Getting Oriented: Five Facts about Kantian Morality 1. There is one moral law and all duties are but particular applications of it. 2. This single moral law holds for ALL RATIONAL BEINGS. (If God is a rational being, then it is binding for him as well. No exceptions!) 3. This law is universal, unchanging, the same for all cultures, times and places. It is valid even if no one were ever to obey it. Indeed, even if no rational beings in fact existed, it would be true to say that if they did, then it would be the law of their wills. 4. This moral law is valid, not because it is given by God, by a King or by Nature, but because it is given by US to ourselves. We are individually both author and subject of it, and when we break it both judge and criminal (in the our hearts). 5. The law tell us what actions to perform or omit, but morality is ultimately about seeking to become holy, i.e. seeking to conform our minds and wills (the heart) to obeying the law simply because it commands us to obey it. This is an internal matter having to do with having a good or virtuous character, or in other words, doing things for the right reasons.
Formulations of the Supreme Principle or Law of Morality, i.e. the Categorical Imperative (following Allen Woods classification in Kants Ethical Thought) Formula of Universal Law: I ought never act except in a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law. (4:402) [ Also: Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. (4:421)] Formula of the Law of Nature: Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature. (4:421) Formula of Humanity as an End in Itself: So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or that of another, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means. (4:439) Formula of Autonomy: Choose only in such a way that the maxims of your choice are also included as universal law in the same volition. (4:439) Formula of the Kingdom of Ends: Act in accordance with the maxims of a member giving universal laws for a purely possible kingdom of ends. (4:439) Note: Kant claims the first formulation is the central one, but that they are all equivalent such that any one of the formulations contains within itself the others. Seven Key Aspects of Kants Moral Theory
Aspect 1: According to Kant, Morality (i.e. our sense of right and wrong, good and bad) is Rooted in Common Human Reason. It is in fact often known better by the uneducated than by so-called specialists in moral philosophy. The job of the moral philosopher is not to discover or invent a new or better way of life. (Contrasts with Descartes, Hobbes, Bentham; Similar to Locke) Why then do we need a groundwork of a metaphysics of morals or even a metaphysics of morals? To argue against the philosophers who confuse themselves and us. Reason has a tendency to quibble with the law. To facilitate being moral by clarifying the principle that is sometimes only confusedly understood by the common person. This aspect of Kants moral philosophy is directly evident in the method of the first two parts of the Groundwork, where his stated goal is to arrive at the supreme principle of morality through nothing but an analysis of common moral thought. Aspect 2: Everything, including our actions, appears to be determined, but we must believe for moral reasons that our actions at least are really free. Modern science rests on the discovery of universal laws of nature such as the Law of Gravitation, the Laws of Elastic and Inelastic Collisions of Physical Bodies, the Laws of
Reflection and Refraction, and various Conservation Laws (think of the Conservation of Energy, for instance). The underlying idea of this physics is that whatever happens is determined to happen in such a way that if one knew the state of the world at any previous time and the laws of nature, then one could in principle have predicted with certainty that this would happen. BUT: We are parts of nature, and all our actions and choices correspond to events in physical nature. THEREFORE: It seems to follow that all our actions are determined and thus we necessarily do whatever we actually do. Aspect 2, Continued All philosophers of Kants time are therefore faced with this dilemma: Accept physics and deny freedom, or deny freedom and accept physics. Hobbes accepts physics and denies freedom in this sense, and so does Locke. Neither of these seem to be pleasant options, so some, including Kant, try to find a third way, one that accepts both physics and freedom, both necessity and freedom, rendering them compatible. Kant: One can therefore grant that we could calculate a human beings conduct for the future with as much certainty as a lunar or solar eclipse and could
nevertheless maintain that the human beings conduct is free. (5:99) But how? Kants Solution lies in a revival and modification of an old distinction Plato made between the world as it appears and the world as it really is.. Two Worlds Seen from a Scientific Point of View Plato Reality Itself Completely Knowable Perfect in Itself Unchanging Timeless Invisible The Appearance of Reality Partially Knowable Imperfect Changing Temporal
Visible Kant N o u m e n a P h e n o m e n a
Reality as it is in itself Absolutely Unknowable Possibly a realm of free actions Non-sensible The Mere Appearance of Reality Perfectly Knowable Here Newtons physics is true. Actions and choices completely determined by physical causes and laws. Sensible The Two Worlds as We Know Them to be from a Moral Point of View Plato Reality Itself Perfectly Knowable
Perfect Unchanging Timeless Invisible The Appearance of Reality Partially Knowable Imperfect Changing Temporal Visible Kant N o u m e n a
P h e n o m e n a Reality as it is in itself Still Absolutely Unknowable, but: We must believe for moral reasons that in it our actions and choices are absolutely free. The Mere Appearance of Reality Perfectly Knowable Here Newtons physics is true.
Actions and choices completely determined by physical causes and laws. Sensible Aspect 3: Freedom is a Necessary Presupposition of Responsibility. Why does Kant need freedom so badly? Freedom is in his view required for moral responsibility. If we are not free, then we cannot be held responsible for what we do. Excuses function by arguing that since we were in some way determined to do X, and thus not free to not do X, then we shouldnt be held responsible for it. Examples: I was late for class because My clock didnt go off. My tire went flat. I have a mental disorder. I went temporarily insane. I was treated badly as a child. I have a hormonal imbalance. I have poor DNA from my parents. Someone forced me to pull the trigger of the gun and I had to flee the police. But if modern science is true, then it seems we all have a universal excuse, an excuse good for every occasion: All our actions are determined inevitably to happen by the laws of nature and the series of conditions going all the way back to the big bang. So if we want to get technical enough in our explanations, we can make an excuse for anything
we do! Conclusion: So if we are to admit morality (which we must!!) and not seek to make excuses, then we must stand fast in the belief that we are completely free whenever we are faced with a moral choice. (But still otherwise determined!) Aspect 4: Nothing is Good in itself except the Good Will, i.e. the Will whose Motive is to do Good for its own sake. Example: Intelligence seems like a good, but it is only good when used by someone with a good will. If used by someone with a bad will, the same intelligence even increases their evil. Ask yourself: Is the diabolically evil person depicted in movies as stupid, or rather as highly intelligent? How then can intelligence be good in itself? Consequence of Aspect 4: The Moral Quality of an Action Depends Entirely on Ones Motive or Reason for Acting, not at all on the Consequence. Example: The shopkeeper who gives the young boy the right change, not from honesty, but because he knows if he is caught, no one will buy from him in the future. Kant thinks that your intuition will be that the action is not inherently good if it is not done for the right reason. Indeed, a good action done for a bad reason is often taken as downright morally reprehensible: Think of someone who would save a persons life just in order to be on television.
Kant: Even a politically perfect, peaceful and harmonious society could be peopled with devils looking out for nothing beyond their own self-interest. This not only would not be a good state, but would be the worst possible. (Hobbes) Aspect 5: Moral Goodness of Will Means Doing Things Absolutely and Entirely Because They are Good, i.e. for No Other Reason than their Inherent Goodness. What does this mean? If you consider the matter, you will discover that if one were to perform an action or make a choice for any other reason at all other than that it was the right thing to do or because it was the good thing to do then their action would be without moral content, i.e. it would not deserve praise. So to it is not possible to be or do Good from any other motive than the internal or intrinsic Goodness of the choice itself. Thus the Good will acts from the motive of the internal and immediately recognized goodness of the action. Since we have all kinds for reasons for doing or not doing something other than that it is the right thing to do, e.g. that someone told us to do it or that we simply want to do it, we always have a temptation not to choose our actions according to what is good or bad. For this reason, Kant says good willing is always something we must necessitate ourselves to do, i.e. acting rightly always has the form of an
ought, e.g. you ought not to lie, and the actions we ought to perform are what Kant calls duties. Note that there would be no oughts and no duties if there were no motives to do anything for any other reason than that it is good. Aspect 6: The Content of Morality (i.e. what is good, what we should do, what we should take as the end of our actions) Must be Derived Exclusively from a Consideration of Internal Motives and not from a Good Discovered in Some Other Way. (Kants so-called Copernican Revolution in Morality) Generally, one would expect that the way to be good is to find out what actions are good and what objects are good, and then to perform these actions. In other words, one would think being moral requires us to gain knowledge of the Good so that we can act in accordance with it. BUT: Kant rejects this for two reasons. 1) As we saw in aspect 4, it is not the specific action that follows or its consequence that makes our choice good, but rather our motive. Indeed, it is the motive that first makes it possible for these to be good. 2) As we saw in aspect 5, morality depends on doing things for the right reason, namely because what we do is good and for no reason whatsoever. But Kant argues that if we were to derive our knowledge of what is good from any other source than from within a
consideration of motives, i.e. from any external object, then our reason for the choice could never be that the choice was good. Why? BECAUSE: To do an action simply and absolutely because it is good, requires that we have an immediate and internal way of knowing that the choice is good. Example: It is a nice thing to visit your grandmother, but if you do it only because your parents told you to do it, then since by the very same principle they could have told you to kill your grandmother, all your choice is not intrinsically good. The same holds if you visit her simply because it pleases you to do so, since it could just as well not pleased you. In either case, and indeed in all cases where one would start from the object or from outside of oneself, the motive can never be right. Aspect 6, continued So, all that is left is for us to determine what it is good to do from a consideration of the internal source of goodness immediately recognized within the will, i.e. from the idea of a will that is properly motivated that is somehow found within ourselves. But how can we derive a knowledge of what is good from the mere idea that a good will wills what is good absolutely and entirely because of its immediately recognized goodness? It would seem that we would first have to know what the good is, but Kant rejects this. The solution lies in Kants Key Insight, the derivation of the supreme principle of morality: Since I have deprived the will of every impulse that could arise for it from obeying any particular law,
nothing is left but the conformity of actions as such with universal law, which alone is to serve the will as its principle, that is, I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law. (4:402) Put another way: Since doing the good simply because it is good is inconsistent with doing it for any other reason, it is also inconsistent with doing it for any particular reason deriving from my personal circumstances (e.g. my desires, my culture, my religious beliefs). Therefore, when I have the right motive, I will by that very fact be acting in exactly the same way that anyone else would act as long as they are willing the good for its own sake. Therefore, it can never be right to act in a way that could not possibly be adopted by all wills, that is to say, universally by everyone. This is therefore the first negative test of moral goodness: Can I will that the way I act be the way everyone else does too? If not, then you must be doing it for some reason particular to yourself, and by that fact cannot be doing it simply because it is good. But, because there can be no other condition on what is Good, Kant is able to turn this into a positive definition of the Good: The Good positively expressed is whatever one would will (i.e. rationally want) if one were to will independently from everything particular to themselves.
Now, since freedom for Kant is nothing but willing independently of all external determining causes, and when we will the Good simply because it is good, it turns out we at the same time must be willing for reasons independent of all external determining causes, when we have the right motive we are choosing freely, and thus we have a final formulation: The Good positively expressed is whatever one would do were one to will freely, i.e. independently of all desires and external personal circumstances. Now if we adopt this as the object of our will simply because of this consideration, then we do it for the right reason, and our actions have moral content. Example of the Moral Principle at Work: May I lie? (4:403) Aspect 7: Genuine Morality is Autonomy or Self-Rule (not Heteronomy, i.e. Rule by Another). Kant claims to be the first to formulate a truly autonomous moral principle, which makes him able to claim to be the foremost of modern moralists. What is autonomy? auto = Greek for self nomos = Greek for rule or law So auto-nomy is self-rule, just as auto-mobile (self + movable thing), means a thing that can move itself.
Kant contrasts Autonomy with Heteronomy, i.e. rule by a heteros or other. Kant claims his is the only truly autonomous moral theory, and so all other previous moral theories were theories of heteronomy. He can maintain this because he shows the moral law to be nothing but the law of my own free will. It only looks like a law, as something I must obey, because I have strong temptations to enslave myself to external things by deriving the rule of my action from my desires and personal circumstances. The Goal and Method of the Groundwork Goal: The present groundwork is, however, nothing more than the search for and establishment of the supreme principle of morality ... (4:392) Method: I have adopted in this work the method to proceed analytically from common cognition to the determination of its supreme principle, and in turn synthetically from the examination of this principle and its sources back to the common cognition in which it we find it used. (4:392) Section I: Here Kant moves by analysis, i.e. by conceptual dissection and separation, from common moral cognition, i.e. the moral views of the man on the street, to a clear and distinct idea of its basic principle, i.e. the principle by use of which common people determine if a given action is right or wrong, good or bad. Kant also says this is a transition from common moral cognition to philosophic moral cognition. Section II: In this section Kant provides a purely conceptual clarification of the supreme principle isolated in Section I.
This means he clarifies the basic moral principle without any reference to the specific character of human beings that we can only learn empirically in sciences like anthropology, psychology, biology, history, etc. He is able to do this because the moral principle does not concern what is or actually happens in the world, but what ought to happen even if it never does. Note 1: Such a pure conceptual explanation of the moral principle and of the moral agent that could follow it is what Kant calls metaphysical knowledge. So Section II is said to be a transition from philosophic moral cognition to the metaphysics of morals. Note 2. We can see from this that the search for the principle is contained in Section I, and that Section II only clarifies this principle. Both parts together fulfill the analytical task described in the second quote above. Note 3. All that Kant believes himself to be assuming as the basis for these first two sections is common moral cognition. Thus everything that he says, no matter how complicated, is supposed to be contained though in a confused way in every normal persons conscience. Method and Goal, continued Section III: It is here, the heart of the book, that Kant first attempts the establishment of this supreme principle. This means that until this point Kant has entirely avoided the question of whether this supreme principle is genuine and how it is possible for the human being to have such a law. This transition goes in the opposite direction of analysis, i.e. from the basic part and its justification back to common moral cognition, and its method is the opposite of one that separates; it is one that combines back into a whole. This is call synthesis.
Note: Such an investigation into the sources and possibility of a metaphysical principle is what Kant calls critique. So the last section is a transition from the metaphysics of morals to a critique of the moral principle. Moreover, since Kant holds that the supreme principle is in fact nothing but the expression of reason insofar as it determines our actions purely through itself, i.e. can be practically determining, he terms this a transition from the metaphysics of morals to the critique of pure practical reason. The Argument of Section I Step 1: To find the one thing that is absolutely and independently good, and is the condition of all other goods. Step 2: To further illuminate the somewhat strange idea of something that would be good in itself. Step 3: To further illuminate the idea of the good will by consideration of the related concept of duty. Step 4: To arrive at a first formulation of the supreme principle of morality. (4:402) The Argument of Section II Step 1: To note that the idea of morality and of the moral agent is the idea not of what is, but of what ought to be, and consequently that we need not consult the special sciences to discover the structure of the moral agent. It can be determined entirely by reference to the
kind of principle it is to follow, i.e. the supreme principle of morality. Note: Kant often says that this metaphysics of morality is a priori by which he is only pointing out that it does not depend in any way on any empirical knowledge or experience of the human being. Step 2: To explain the structure of the will or what is also called practical reason, i.e. reason insofar as it determines what we do. Step 3. To further explain what kind of principle the moral law is, i.e. that it is a categorical imperative. Step 4. To further fill out the idea of the supreme principle through alternative formulations (see next slide). Step 5. To explain that all willing is either autonomous or heteronomous and to show that autonomous willing is equivalent to willing according to a categorical imperative. (4:432) Brief Summary of the Main Flow of the Argument of Sections I and II The morality of the man on the street rests on the idea of a good will, and on the idea that the moral worth of an action depends entirely upon the extent to which it is done out of respect for duty. The only possible unconditional principle or law of duty is this: To only perform actions through which I can at the same time regard myself as giving universal law. (Reason:
Because only this is entirely unconditioned by particular desires or ends or in other words it is the only law that can be willed entirely for its own sake [good for its own sake, etc.].) This principle has the form of what is called a categorical imperative, and indeed the only possible categorical imperative is this law; therefore, the moral law is logically equivalent to the categorical imperative. Thus the different formulations are really equivalent. The only law suitable to a being willing autonomously is the categorical imperative, and a being that would follow the categorical imperative would for that reason alone be autonomous; therefore, autonomy is logically equivalent to willing according to the supreme principle of morality. FINIS
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