History of Modern Ethics
Stephen Darwall
<<< Previous Next >>>

Kant Lecture 6

I. What Kant calls the ``fact of reason'' is the ``consciousness of this fundamental law,'' i.e., the ``fundamental law of pure practical reason'' or the Categorical Imperative: ``So act that the maxim of your will could always hold at the same time as a principle in a giving [i.e., by one's will] of universal law.'' (5:31) It is by virtue of our awareness of this law that we are aware that we are free. A person judges that ``he can do something because he is aware that he ought to do it and cognizes freedom within him, which without the moral law, would have remained unknown to him.'' (5:30)

II. In this way we are aware of our ``transcendental freedom''. Here we get Kant's transcendental idealism. The natural realm, which we learn about through the empirical methods that extend what we get through sense, is but a world of ``appearance''. It is ``empirically real'', but ``transcendentally ideal''. In addition to this realm of appearance, there is the intelligible or noumenal realm, ``things in themselves''.

In The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues that the only knowledge we can have of objects is insofar as they are objects of possible experience (i.e., as appearances), and that theoretical reason can have no knowledge of things in themselves. And some of our knowledge of the realm of experience is a priori, i.e. it comes not through reason, but through rational conditions of the very possibility of experience. So Kant argues that any experience would have to be structured through the categories of cause and effect, and so we can know a priori that the phenomenal or empirical realm is a deterministic world.

Nonetheless, reason also seeks the ``unconditioned'', and so seeks after transcendental knowledge of things as they really are, not just appearances. Left to its own, however, reason ends up in contradiction and paradox, with equally good arguments for the conclusion that everything is really determined (and there is no freedom) and that there really is freedom (and so things are uncaused).

III. So far, then, all we know is that freedom is possible. Through reason's practical use, however, Kant argues that we know that we are actually free. When we deliberate under practical laws (``laws of freedom'') we are uncaused causes (outside of time). At the same time, however, insofar as we and our actions exist as objects of experience or empirical knowledge, as part of the natural realm, everything we do is causally determined.

IV. Chapter III (``On the incentives of pure practical reason'') discusses how it can simultaneously be true that, as we really are in ourselves, as part of the noumenal, intelligible realm, we choose and act freely, but that our actions and choices are phenomenally causally determined. Indeed, Kant says, if ``we would know every incentive to action, even the smallest, as well as all the external occasions affecting them, we could calculate a human being's conduct for the future with as much certainty as a lunar or solar eclipse and could nevertheless maintain that the human being's conduct is free.'' (5:99)

V. How could this be? Prominent in Kant's explication is the feeling of respect. When we are aware of the moral law (or think of someone being guided by the moral law), this fills us with a respect that ``strikes down'' or ``humiliates'' our self-conceit. Kant distinguishes between self-love and self-conceit. Self-love is ``the propensity to make oneself as having subjective determining grounds of choice into the objective determining ground of the will in general.'' (5:74) (Also: ``a predominant benevolence toward oneself'' (5:73)) And self-conceit is when self-love ``makes itself lawgiving and the unconditional practical principle''. (5:74) (Also: ``arrogantia'' or ``satisfaction with oneself'' (5:73) (What exactly is the difference here?)

In any case, whereas the moral law and pure practical reason only ``infringes upon'' and ``restricts'' self-love, it ``strikes down'' self-conceit. (5:73) We feel this self-humiliation as respect for the moral law.

We, constantly we freely act on the moral law, the causal determinant of action in the phenomenal realm is this feeling of respect. But this feeling is not simply a contingent feeling. It is an a priori feeling, in the sense that it is a feeling that any finite rational agent would have in being aware of the moral law. Moreover, respect for the law is not really the incentive to moral action, rather it is the phenomenal aspect of freely following the moral law through pure practical reason: ``respect for the law is not the incentive to morality; instead it is morality itself subjectively considered as an incentive inasmuch as pure practical reason, by rejecting all the claims of self-love in opposition to its own, supplies authority to the law, which now alone has influence.'' (5:76)

``The dissimilarity of determining grounds (empirical and rational) is made known by this resistance of a practically lawgiving reason to every meddling inclination, by a special kind of feeling, which, however, does not precede the lawgiving of practical reason but is indeed produced only by it …'' (5:92)

Determinism in the phenomenal realm is thus compatible with indeterminism and freedom in the noumenal realm. ``A rational being can now rightly say of every unlawful action he performed that he could have omitted it even though as appearance it is sufficiently determined in the past and, so far, is inevitably necessary.'' (5:98)

<<< Previous Home Next >>>
Kant Lecture 5   Fichte Lecture 1