Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Twelve Rounds with Kant (Part 8)

Ohohoho. Hoh ho hah. Hahahaha...hah.

So we're back to Immanuel Kant again. I'm going to commit a blogging faux pas right off the bat and not provide any links to the first seven posts on the Critique of Pure Reason (1781–7), partially because I'm lazy (just use the archive and look around the fourth quarter of 2020), and partially because those posts embarrass me somewhat. I spent so much time trying to come to terms with the Transcendental Aesthetic and Analytic that I had only enough energy and patience to give the Transcendental Dialectic (the longest and really the most important section of that book) a undeservedly sketchy treatment. But there's nothing to be done now.

I won't claim to completely understand the Critique of Pure Reason, nor am I close to substantially internalizing its schematics—but my admiration and fascination with it have not diminished since I set it aside for a while (but never for a very long while). And I suppose in some not insignificant respect I've accepted at least a few of Kant's main points: during a discussion with a coworker who was bouncing some of his metaphysical ideas off me, I heard myself saying that the concept of the human soul, considered as an indestructible and eternal object existing in a continuum where past, present, and future exist as a singular unity, lies so far beyond the bounds of possible experience that there's nothing to be gained by elaborating on the idea or imagining that it has any implications we can reasonably explore.

I waited several months after finishing the first Critique before opening the second, the Critique of Practical Reason (1788). As a mere book, the second Critique is far less intimidating than the first: not taking  into consideration the print size and trim of each edition, the Critique of Pure Reason runs over 600 pages, while the Critique of Practical Reason is a comparatively scanty 130. I smiled when I first held it in my hands. "A featherweight," I told myself. "This will be a breeze."

Hah. Ha ha ha ho heeheehee heheheh heh hah hoohoo hah haaah. 


So here's what we're going to do. In this post, I will summarize the Critique of Practical Reason. I am not doing this with a reading audience in mind; I'm perusing the text, taking notes, and writing them out so as to better understand this dense motherfucker of a book. If you want to follow along, well, the more, the merrier—though I would strongly advise against quoting me on anything here. I am a humble student, and prone to misinterpretation and/or missing the point. There are plenty of experts who can provide synopses and commentary far more informed than mine.

Also: I will abstain from expressing any reservations I might have about Kant's premises, methods, or conclusions, at least for now. Before I argue with him, I feel I ought to make a concentrated effort to comprehend what he's saying.

As before, I will intercalate paintings in order to give us all an opportunity to relax our eyes between slabs of text. There isn't much of a thematic connection between Kantian ethics and late nineteenth-century American still life, but the pairing somehow feels right. Perhaps it's the intimation of mustiness.

John Frederick Peto, The Cup We All Race 4 (1905)

Throughout the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant refers to the Critique of Pure Reason not by its full title, but as "the Critique of speculative reason" or "the theoretical Critique." Reason is the faculty of principles, under which it produces unity of the rules of understanding. (Concepts organize sense data; reason makes use of concepts.) The first Critique handled the speculative use of reason, especially with regard to the transcendental ideas—the reality of God, the spatial or temporal infiniteness (or finitude) of the universe, the existence of the immortal soul, etc.—all of which Kant designated as being ultimately outside the field of the knowable. They exemplify the way that reason's orientation toward coherence-seeking takes our concepts into domains where they don't apply.
As...the solution of these problems can never be supplied by experience, you cannot say that what ought to be ascribed to the object is uncertain. For your object is merely in your brain, and cannot possibly exist outside it; hence you only need to take care to be at one with yourself, and to avoid the amphiboly which changes your idea into a supposed representation of an object that is empirically given, and that therefore can be known according to the laws of experience. The dogmatic solution is therefore not only uncertain, but impossible; while the critical solution, which may become perfectly certain, does not consider the question objectively, but only with reference to the foundation of the knowledge on which it is based.
The Critique of Practical Reason is about the use of reason in our day-to-day affairs rather than its application to metaphysical questions. The word "practical" may be misleading here. In modern English, "being practical" usually connotes "taking care of one's best interests." When dipping my toe into the present Critique, I briefly revisited my copy of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, where  φρόνησῐς (phronesis) is translated as "practical wisdom."
[W]e credit men with practical wisdom in some particular respect when they have calculated well with a view to some good end which is one of those which is not the object of any art. It follows than in the general sense also the man who is capable of deliberating has practical wisdom....Practical wisdom, then, must be a reasoned and true state of capacity to act with regard to human goods.
(Full disclosure: I don't actually understand Greek. I looked it up.)

Anyway: by "goods," Aristotle means "the good" in the plural. The good, as we'll see, is Kant's primary concern in the second Critique. This is a book on moral philosophy, though it is also about the way reason informs our everyday choices and overall life-strategies. As we will see, Kant will make the case that morality and the faculty of choice are profoundly interrelated.

At the end of the first Critique, Kant touched briefly upon the intersection of reason and morality; this book is him elaborating the living hell out of those earlier remarks.

In the second Critique's introduction, Kant introduces a new faculty to his universe of discourse: that of the will.
[The will] is either a faculty either of producing objects corresponding to representations or of determining itself to effect such objects (whether the physical power is sufficient or not), that is, of determining its causality.
It is absolutely necessary that one reads the first Critique before attacking the second: Kant expects familiarity with all its jargon.

Further ahead, Kant offers an alternate definition of the will:
[T]he will could also be defined as the faculty of ends, inasmuch as these are always determining grounds of the faculty of desire in accordance with principles.
I've already gone over some of the problems with dividing up the continuous, overlapping, and opaque manifold of human activity into the functions of several discrete faculties, so it's not necessary to relitigate the issue here. But let's grant that we do things—we make spot decisions, we cultivate habits, we act towards goals—and just go ahead and agree to call the "part" of us that decides and/or follows through with our decisions as "the will." As rules hold sway over our existence—nature, so far as Kant knows (and so far as we experience it) is never aleatory—any object of the will must have a determining ground. 

From the beginning. Part One: Doctrine of the Elements of Pure Practical ReasonBook I: The Analytic of Pure Reason. First chapter: On the Principles of Pure Practical Reason. Kant acknowledges that he might seem to be getting ahead of himself by starting with principles rather than with concepts, but asks that we trust him when he says he could not have feasibly begun anywhere else.

He defines practical principles as:
propositions that contain a general determination of the will, having under it several practical rules.
Further, he makes a distinction between maxims and laws: the former are personal, holding only for himself; the latter apply to "every rational being."

1. First theorem:
All practical principles that presuppose an object (matter) of the faculty of desire as the determining ground of the will are, without exception, empirical and can furnish no practical laws.
These will be Kant's maxims. But if we're searching for laws that govern the will, we'll have to look somewhere outside of the field of any particular objects, desires, aims, etc.

2. Second theorem:
All practical material principles are, without exception, of one and the same kind and come under the general principle of self-love or one's own happiness.
With the corollary:
All material practical rules put the determining ground of the will in the lower faculty of desire, and were there no merely formal laws of the will sufficient to determine it, then neither could any higher faculty of desire be admitted.
Throughout the second Critique, Kant calls pathological those determinations of the will influenced by pleasure, pain, anticipation of reward or punishment, etc. It is our participation in the world as feeling beings that inhibits our capacity as rational actors. In the corollary to Theorem II, Kant takes aim at the supposition that "refined" or "honorable" pursuits are qualitatively different from the seeking of "low" amusements. Many of us would say that going to the library and reading a stack of philosophy books for pleasure is a "high" pursuit, while going to the library to look at porn on the computer is a "low" one. According to Kant, intellectual gratification is no less free of the pathological than onanistic gratification, given that to some extent its pursuit is motivated by desire for pleasure.

3. Third theorem:
If a rational being is to think of his maxims as practical universal laws, he can think of them only as principles that contain the determining ground of the will not by their matter but by their form.
This is the Kant we know and (maybe) love: getting to the heart of the matter by abstracting away all material particulars and scrutinizing the format in which any X is made to relate to any Y. It was straightforward enough in the Transcendental Aesthetic and Analytic of the first Critique; but here one might wonder precisely what form Kant refers to. 

I think the answer resides in a passage from the Transcendental Dialectic. Much of the second Critique can be read as an elaboration of a section of the first Critique titled "Solution of the Cosmological Ideas of Totality in the Derivation of Cosmic Events From their Causes," from which this will be the first (long) excerpt:
That our reason possess causality, or that we at least conceive such a causality in it, is clear from the imperatives which, in all practical matters, we impose as rules on our executive powers. The ought expresses a kind of necessity and connection with grounds that we do not find elsewhere in the whole of nature.... 
This ought expresses a possible action, the ground of which cannot be anything but a mere concept, while in every merely natural action the ground must always be an appearance. Now it is quite true that the action to which the ought applies must be possible under natural conditions, but these natural conditions do not affect the determination of the will itself, but only its effects and results in appearance. There may be ever so many natural grounds which impel me to will, and ever so many sensible impulses, by they cannot produce the ought, but only a willing which is always conditioned and by no means necessary, and to which the ought pronounced by reason opposes measure and goal, nay, more, prohibition and authority. Whether it be an object of mere sensibility (the pleasant) or of pure reason (the good), reason does not yield to an empirically given ground, and does not follow the order of things as they present themselves in appearance, but frames for itself, with perfect spontaneity, an order of its own according to ideas, to which it adapts the empirical conditions, and according to which it declares actions to be necessary, even though they have not taken place, and maybe, never will take place. Yet reason presupposes that it can have causality with respect to them, for otherwise it would not expect effects in experience from its ideas.

This is part of an effort in the first Critique to reconcile human freedom with the synthetic a priori necessity of causal connection within the world of appearances. It is marvelously subtle, and I should have given it more attention during my posts about the first Critique—but I was so very tired by the time I actually reached the Transcendental Dialectic.

At any rate, the form of the personal maxim—which is identical to the form in which anything purporting to be a universal law of human conduct is articulated (or thought)—is the ought. THE ought, mind you. But the verbal form is less important than the reasoning procedure it represents. 

In his remarks here, Kant alludes to the inadequacy of "the pursuit of happiness" as a universal rule. If we assume that the entire populace of village, a nation, or the planet following a universal law necessitated by pure reason should result in harmony, we must immediately disqualify "I ought to pursue my own happiness" from consideration. It's a formula for conflict: one person's pleasure is frequently another's antagonism. 

William Michael Harnett, Still Life—Violin and Music (1888)

After the third theorem and its accompanying remarks, Kant poses two problems:

Problem I:

Supposing that the mere lawgiving form of a maxim is the only sufficient determining ground of a will: to find the constitution of a will that is determinable by it alone.

The constitution of such a will must place it beyond the cause-and-effect determinations that govern appearances. It must be a free will.

Problem II:

Supposing that a will is free: to find the law that alone is competent to determine it necessarily.

We return again to the lawgiving form. If a free will isn't determined by empirical conditions, something must be governing it. That something, Kant says, must be the I ought—again, not necessarily as a thing one says to oneself, but as an abstract operation of reason.

Think of it this way. In the sphere of appearances (the physical world), no event occurs that does not lawfully follow from a prior event by virtue of causal connection. But the reasoning faculty (according to Kant) does not exist in space or time; it is not beholden to the rules to which appearances must adhere (as per the Transcendental Analytic in the first Critique). By this logic, an individual whose actions are determined by an operation of reason is not wholly beholden to empirical conditions—and the lawgiving form (the ought) is that operation of reason. The will is free because it can be determined by lawgiving maxims; because it can be determined by lawgiving maxims, the will is free.

Thus freedom and unconditional practical law reciprocally imply each other. 

Now Kant delivers his famous categorical imperative, or as he calls it: The Fundamental Law of Pure Practical Reason:

So act that the maxim of your will could always hold at the same time as a universal law.

With the corollary:

Pure reason is practical of itself alone and gives (to the human being) a universal law which we call the moral law.

The Fundamental Law of Pure Practical Reason is the moral law—or, rather, the format of maxims that can act as moral laws. Kant would convince us that it is as reliably and unarguably true as the Pythagorean Theorem: just as the latter holds true for any given right triangle, the form an ought conforming to the categorical imperative is the basis of any moral objective of any person at any occasion. "The action I ought to take should be one that I'd be comfortable with anyone/everyone else in the world taking." Given its resemblance to any number of variations of "do unto others..." expressed by any number of different groups throughout history, we may have to concede that Kant could be on to something here.

As to the deduction of the Fundamental Law of Pure Practical Reason, he appeals to common experience:

One need only analyze the judgment that people pass on the lawfulness of their actions in order to find that, whatever inclination may say to the contrary, their reason, incorruptible and self-constrained, always holds the maxim of the will in an action up to the pure will, that is, to itself as much as it regards itself as a priori practical.

A simpler and less precise way of putting it might be to say that pricks of conscience are delivered by the faculty of reason. If our appetites—the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain—were all that governed our behavior, guilt or hesitation would be unknown to us. Kant seems to take after Aristotle in believing that all animals possess a "sensible soul," but humans are the only animals that possess the "rational soul"—with the implication that the "animal nature," which we share, moves about in a fog with the pleasure principle as its only guide. It is only by virtue of the reasoning faculty—standing sequestered from empirical considerations, which come to it only through the mediation of the understanding—that we examine our own actions and prospective deeds, and by which they are of necessity brought before the moral law. Practical reason comes into play in the determination of practical ends and the devising of ways to attain them, but in such cases its operation is conditioned by empirical particulars. It is not purely rational, but partly pathological.

Kant's master stroke here is to bind freedom to the moral law. The categorical imperative is the fundamental a priori lawgiving maxim; it is pure practical reason, the "the unconditional practical law" which necessitates freedom, and vice versa. 

4. Fourth theorem (which we will excerpt at greater length than the previous items):

Autonomy of the will is the sole principle of all moral laws and of duties in keeping with them; heteronomy of choice, on the other hand, not only does not ground any obligation at all but is instead opposed to the principle of obligation and to the morality of the will. That is to say, the sole principle of morality consists in independence from all matter of the law (namely, from a desired object) and at the same time a determination of choice through the mere form of giving universal law that a maxim must be capable of. That independence, however, is freedom in the negative sense, whereas this lawgiving of its own on the part of pure and, as such, practical reason is freedom in the positive sense. Thus the moral law expresses nothing other than the autonomy of pure practical reason, that is, freedom, and this is itself the formal condition of all maxims, under which alone they can accord with the supreme practical law.

Heteronomy of choice, Kant believes, comes out of the conflict between the rational and the pathological.

The rational aspect of morality entails independence from the material particulars towards which our actions are oriented; reason deals only with abstractions and generalities. The thing to pay attention to is whether you behave in one way or another because of a self-determined I ought or because of an orientation toward or away from an exterior object or event (or a conception of one, such as of a promise or threat). An unconditioned practical law must be precisely that: noncontingent on any specific thing or things. Otherwise we haven't gotten to anything fundamental about human action, but are sifting through a mass of situationally arbitrary incidents.

Kant pointedly insists on the difference between the ordinary meaning of the word "general" with "universal." A general rule may hold true most of the time, but a universal law, by definition, binds without exception.

Reason seeks universals. If we exposit a practical law grounded in pure reason, that law must be apodictic. As Kant says, if one's maxim is to increase his own happiness, it becomes an objective practical law only if it extends to all other rational beings ("I ought to increase everyone's happiness") and if "everyone's happiness" isn't itself the determining ground of the will, but rather the I ought which precedes it.

The maxim of self-love (prudence) merely advises; the law of morality commands. But there is a great difference between that which we are advised to do and that to which we are obligated.

The agency to which we are obligated is reason. The moral law demands we obey it, through it remains completely in our power to flout it. Kant's ideas regarding "heteronomy of choice" bear no slight resemblance to Plato's metaphor of the chariot. The heteronomous element is physical desire—the mechanical following of one's sensuous impulses. An autonomous will acts independently of of the animalistic pleasure principle, but is yet beholden to the dictates of reason (issuing its commands outside the limiting values of space, time, and causality). In the space between autonomy and heteronomy exists freedom of choice as we experience it.

That we may feel satisfaction from acting from our obligation to the moral law cannot be denied, but this result cannot be what motivates us to fulfill that obligation—otherwise, we are still chasing pleasure (our behavior is still empirically determined and subject to causal connection), albeit in a benign manner.

Kant draws up a whole chart which purports to list exhaustively all the "material determining grounds" of practical maxims that might possibly serve as universal laws. We won't name them all here—the pursuit of personal perfection, the will of God, and moral feeling are a few—but Kant finds them all wanting on the basis that each is ultimately grounded in the particulars of experience and therefore lack the universality required for a supreme practical principle.

John Frederick Peto, The Poor Man's Store (1885)

Now we move on to The Deduction of the Principles of Pure Practical Reason, in which Kant crosses his i's and dots his t's—reviewing his work thus far and legitimizing his approach and claims.

He compares the present Critique to the first, addressing the apparent incongruity of his insistence on the fact of the moral law, though the argument of the Critique of Pure Reason may seem to designate it as another metaphysical dead end. Perhaps he has in mind readers who never made it past the Transcendental Analytic, because the Transcendental Dialectic makes quite clear that synthetic a priori category of causal connection does not rule out the possibility of free will:

If, however, we consider [a person's] actions with reference to reason——not speculative reason in order to explain their origin, but reason solely insofar as it is the cause producing them——in a word, if we compare these actions with reason in reference to practical purposes, then we find a rule and order totally different from the order of nature. For, from this point of view, it may be that everything ought not to have happened which according to the course of nature yet has happened, and according to empirical grounds it was inevitable. And sometimes we find, or believe at least that we find, that the ideas of reason have really proved their causality with regard to human actions, as appearances, and that these actions have taken place, not because they were determined by empirical causes, but because they were determined by grounds of reason....

An action, insofar as it is to be attributed to the way of thinking as its cause, nevertheless does not result from it according to empirical laws, that is, it is not preceded by the conditions of pure reason, but only by their effects in appearance of inner sense. Pure reason, as a merely intelligible form, is not subject to the form of time, or to the conditions of the succession of time. The causality of reason in its intelligible character does not arise or begin at a certain time in order to produce an effect; for in that case it would be subject to the natural law of appearances, which determines all causal series in time, and its causality would then be nature and not freedom. Hence what we can say is that if reason can possess causality with regard to appearances, then it is a faculty through which the sensible condition of an empirical series of effects first begins. For the condition that lies in reason is not sensible, and therefore does not itself begin. Thus we get what we did not find in all empirical series, namely, that the condition of a successive series of events can itself be empirically conditioned. For here the condition is really outside the series of appearances (namely, in the intelligible), and therefore is not subject to any sensible condition, nor to any determination of time through a preceding cause.

....Reason is therefore the constant condition of all voluntary actions under which the human being appears. Even before it happens, every one of these actions is predetermined in the empirical character of human beings prior to becoming actual. With regard to the intelligible character, however, of which the empirical character is only the sensible schema, there is no before and after; and every action, without regard to its relations in time to other appearances, is the immediate effect of the intelligible character of pure reason. Hence reason acts freely, that is, without being determined dynamically in the chain of natural causes by outer or inner grounds preceding in time. This freedom must then be regarded negatively, as independence of empirical conditions (for in that case the faculty of reason would cease to be a cause of appearances); but it should be determined also positively, as the faculty of beginning spontaneously a series of events....

We see thus that that, in judging of free actions, we can, as far as their causality is concerned, only get as far as the intelligible cause, but not beyond it. We can see that this cause is free, that is, that it determines independently of sensibility, and that therefore it is capable of being the sensibly unconditioned condition of appearances. To explain why that intelligible character should, under present circumstances, give these appearances and this empirical character, and no other, transcends all the powers of our reason, nay, all its rights even of questioning, just as if we were to ask why the transcendental object of our outer sensible intuition gives us intuition in space only, and not some other intuition. But the problem which we have to solve does not require us to ask or to answer such questions. Our problem was, whether freedom was in conflict with natural necessity in one and the same action; and this we have sufficiently answered by showing that freedom may have relation to a very different kind of conditions from those of natural necessity, so that the law of the latter does not affect the former, and the two may exist independently of, and undisturbed by, the other.

TLDR: Kant uses noumena in the first Critique as a loophole to get around the rules he imposes on phenomena.

As rational beings, we operate both in the sensible world and in the world of the understanding, which is to say we operate under the implicit assumption of transcendental ideas necessitated by reason—the most we can say about them is that they're possible, but we cannot examine them any further without entering into groundless metaphysical speculation because they lie beyond the horizon of possible experience. The consciousness of freedom is somewhat different: as soon as we're confronted with a choice, we have the experience of free will thrust upon us.

In the present Critique, Kant sums it up:

Speculative reason was quite right rightly denied anything positive for cognition beyond objects of experience, hence things of noumena. Nevertheless, speculative reason went so far as to secure the concept of noumena——that is, the possibility and indeed the necessity of thinking them——and, for example, to preserve against all objections the assumption of freedom, regarded negatively, as quite compatible with those principles and limitations of pure theoretical reason, though without letting us cognize anything determinate and enlarging about such objects, inasmuch as it instead cut off altogether any prospect of that.

On the other hand, the moral law, even though it gives no such prospect, nevertheless provides a fact absolutely inexplicable from any data of the sensible world and from the whole compass of our theoretical use of reason, a fact that points to a pure world of the understanding and, indeed, even determines it positively and lets us cognize something of it, namely a law.

This is why Kant's scheme requires the mutual implication of free will and the moral law:

...the [present] Critique can therefore not be censured for beginning with pure practical laws and their reality, and it must begin there. Instead of intuition [where the first Critique began], it takes as their basis the concept of their existence in the intelligible [noumenal] world, namely the concept of freedom. For this concept means nothing else, and those laws are possible only in relation to the freedom of the will; but on the presupposition of freedom they are necessary, or, conversely, freedom is necessary because those laws are necessary, as practical postulates. How this consciousness of moral laws or, what is the same thing, this consciousness of freedom is possible cannot be further explained; its admissibility can, however, be defended in the theoretical Critique.

If we are rational beings, we understand our faculty of reason to condition events from outside the inviolable laws of the sensible world; therefore we have freedom. To be free, we must be rational—and therefore under obligation to pure practical laws, namely the moral law or categorical imperative. This is very subtle reasoning; what's perhaps most impressive is Kant managing to account for the inexplicability of the consciousness of freedom/the moral law by citing the strictures set down in the first Critique. We can't discover its provenance, we can't analyze it any more than we can see our own face without a mirror—but it is nevertheless integral to our experience as actors in the world. We literally cannot do without it.

For, the moral law proves its reality, so as even to satisfy the Critique of speculative reason, by adding a positive determination to a causality thought only negatively, the possibility of which was incomprehensible to speculative reason, which was nevertheless forced to assume it; it adds, namely, the concept of a reason determining the will immediately (by the condition of a lawful form of its maxims), and thus is able for the first time to give objective though only practical reality to reason, which always became extravagant when it wanted to proceed speculatively with its ideas, and changes its transcendent use into an immanent use (in which reason is an efficient cause in the field of experience).

Skipping ahead a bit, we come to the second chapter of The Analytic of Pure Reason and the introduction of the concepts of good and evil—whose introduction at an advanced stage of a treatise on morals is wholly intentional. If we trust Kant, it couldn't have come any earlier.

A moral theory, he declares, that begins with the concepts of good and evil puts the cart before the horse. Ideas about good and evil formulated prior to the articulation of a moral law become the basis of that law—and since they will be arrived at via the empirical data of pleasure and displeasure, good and evil will be determined a posteriori, and so no moral law based on them will possess the necessary universality that reason demands.

The ancients revealed this error openly by directing their moral investigation entirely to the determination of the highest good, and so of an object which they intended afterward to make the determining ground of the will in the moral law....The moderns, with whom the question of the highest good seems to have gone out of use or at least to have become a secondary matter, hide the above error (as in many other cases) behind indeterminate words; but one can still see it showing through their systems, since it always reveals heteronomy of practical reason, from which an a priori moral law commanding universality can never raise.

There are no good ore evil objects, but good and evil actions—which forces us to continue talking about the determination of the will by either autonomous rationality or by the heteronomous influence of our appetites as animals with needs and wants. Rather than drawing up a chart of good and evil inclinations, Kant gives us his Table of the Categories of Freedom with Respect to the Concepts of the Good and Evil. We won't reproduce it here—Kant never refers back to it—it will suffice to say that it is analogous to the twelve pure concepts of the understanding in the first Critique, and is organized under the familiar four headings of Quality, Quantity, Relation, and Modality, except here it describes maxims, rules, their sweep, permissions, and obligations.

None of the items here refer to "evil" directly, but are arranged under each heading in increasing order of conformity to the moral law: for instance, under the category of relation, a person whose will is determined by the reciprocity of his actions with regard to other rational entities is more aligned with the moral principle than one whose will is determined on the basis of his own personality, and the particular desires and whims therein.

One quickly sees that in this table freedom is regarded as a kind of causality——which, however, is not subject to empirical grounds of determination——with respect to actions possible through it as appearances in the sensible world, and that consequently it is referred to the categories of their natural possibility, while yet each category is taken so universally that the determining ground of that causality can be taken to be also outside the sensible world in freedom as the property of an intelligible being, until the categories of modality introduce, though only problematically, the transition from practical principles in general to those of morality, which can only afterwards be presented dogmatically through the moral law.

The words "problematically" and "dogmatically" should inspire confidence in Kant's attention to detail. We cannot satisfactorily prove the objective reality of the moral law by any effort of ratiocination; therefore it is problematic. But for all practical purposes we must take it as a given, and as such we're constrained to accept its veracity—i.e., dogmatically.

William Michael Harnett, The Golden Horseshoe (1886)

The following section, On the Typic of Pure Practical Reason, is an especially wonky six paragraphs. Check out this stellar example of a Long Kant Sentence:

But a practical rule of pure reason first, as practical, concerns the existence of an object, and second, as a practical rule of pure reason, brings with it necessity with respect to the existence of an action and is thus a practical law, not a natural law through empirical grounds of determination but a law of freedom in accordance with which the will is to be determinable independently of anything empirical (merely through representation of a law in general and its form); however, all cases of possible actions that occur can be only empirical, that is, belong to experience and nature; hence it seems absurd to want to find in the sensible world a case which, though as such it stands only under the law of nature, yet admits of the application to it of a law of freedom and to which there could be applied the supersensible idea of the morally good, which is to be exhibited in it in concreto.

One sentence.

For the sake of comprehension (my comprehension), let's use bullet points to go over this section.

• The morally good is supersensible; we cannot find it in intuitions alone, so it must be a contribution of the faculty of understanding. As per the first Critique, might expect there to be some schema through which the understanding holds commerce with sense impressions with regard to some moral dimension.

• But no such schema exists; nothing in mere intuition corresponds to freedom (and by implication to the moral law), so we must concede that its causality is "not sensibly conditioned"—as opposed to, for instance, the variability of extensive magnitudes in all appearances, through which the understanding procedurally imposes the categories of quantity upon intuitions.

•  The laws of nature (the hard and fast rules of appearances) known a priori to the understanding (though only in their form) are the basis on which the understanding observes the morality of one's actions or prospective deeds.

• In short, a morally possible maxim (an I ought formatted as per the categorical imperative) is one constituted such that it could articulate a universal law of nature in a world in which any reasonable individual would want to live.

Thus [the understanding] has the law of nature always at hand, only that in case where causality from freedom is to be appraised it makes that law of nature merely the type of a law of freedom, because without having at hand something which it could make an example in a case of experience, it could not provide use in application for the law of a pure practical reason.

Hence it is also permitted to use the nature of the sensible world as the type of an intelligible nature, provided I do not carry over into the latter intuitions and what depends upon them but refer to it only the form of lawfulness in general (the concept of which occurs even in the most common use of reason, although it cannot be cognized a priori for any purpose other than the pure practical use of reason).

Get it? I'm not sure that I do.

Next we come to The Incentives of Pure Practical Reason, and more bullet points.

• Pure practical reason contravenes self-love, which is motivated b the pleasure principle (by "our pathologically determinable self"). The nagging voice of one's conscience is first experienced as a sort of pain.

• The moral law (truly objective in every respect, as it is an a priori fundament of human reason) humiliates us. 

• But:

If something represented as a determining ground of our will humiliates us in our self-consciousness, it awakens respect for itself insofar as it is positive and a determining ground.

• Reason's effect on us by way of the moral law manifests as a feeling in opposition to the emotions and sensations that impel us as pleasure-seekers and pain-avoiders.

• This negative impact upon our feeling (pangs of conscience, humiliation) is pathological. But respect for the source of our discomfort (the binding rule of reason) is the moral feeling. As it thus effects our constitution, it can be a subjective determining ground (incentive) in addition to an objective obligation laid upon us by pure reason. In this way reason makes a claim on our inclinations:

And so 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.

 • Respect is not a feeling of pleasure: after all, we seldom enjoy humility. The egomaniac only feels respect but reluctantly. Respect occasions the acknowledgment of someone or something superior to us, or of a quality in somebody that exceeds the same in ourselves. But if such a feeling makes us conscious of our deficiencies, it also contains the possibility of us doing better. With regard to the moral law, respect is the "sole and undoubted moral incentive." Kant summarizes:

First, the moral law determines the will objectively and immediately in the judgment of reason; but freedom, the causality of which is determinable only through the law, consists just in this: that it restricts all inclinations, and consequently the esteem of the person himself, to the condition of compliance with its pure law. This restriction now has an effect on feeling and produces the feeling of displeasure which can be cognized a priori from the moral law. It is, however, so far a negative effect which, as arising from the influence of a pure practical reason, mainly infringes upon the activity of the subject so far as inclinations are his determining grounds and hence upon the opinion of his personal worth...[T]his humiliation takes place only relative to the purity of the law; accordingly, the lowering of pretensions to moral self-esteem——that is, humiliation on the sensible side——is an elevation of the moral——that is, practical——esteem for the law itself on the intellectual side; in a word, it is respect for the law, and so also a feeling that is positive in its intellectual cause, which is known a priori.

• The moral law needles and humbles us on the sensible side of our entity; but intellectually (supersensibly), we are affected by moral interest, "a sense-free incentive of pure practical reason alone." "And," Kant reminds us, "on the concept of interest is based that of a maxim"(emphasis mine). 

• An action whose determining ground is wholly independent of sensible inclination ("blind and servile, whether it is kindly or not") and "objectively practical" in accordance with the moral law is a duty. To put it simply, duty is action that insists on being done,  no matter how much (pathological) displeasure and reluctance we feel in anticipation of it. The "self-approbation" one may experience in following through with it (choosing to assert his free will against the pleasure principle) is an effect of moral consciousness.

• Kant draws a distinction between acting in conformity with duty and acting from duty. The difference is whether the individual's particular inclinations guide him to act coincidentally in accord with the moral law in a given instance, or whether his actions' moral worth constituted their determining ground. (Obviously this will be imperceptible to anybody but himself.)

• Kant specifies that the moral law does not follow from religion:

We stand under a discipline of pure reason, and in our all maxims must not forget our subjection to it or withdraw anything from it or by an egotistical illusion detract anything from the authority of the law (although our own reason gives it), so as to put the determining ground of our will, even though it conforms with the law, anywhere else than in the law itself and in respect for this law. Duty and what is owed are the only names that we must give to our relation to the moral law. We are indeed lawgiving members of a kingdom of morals possible through freedom and represented to us by practical reason for our respect; but we are at the same time subjects in it, not its sovereign...

• If fulfilling our duty to the moral law was something we always did gladly, we would be holy creatures. (And we are not.) Moreover: if the self-satisfied pleasure of moral action becomes the determining ground of the will, we are acting in conformity with duty, but not from it. In such a case the will is determined (you guessed it!) pathologically.

• Kant poses a question, and waxes rhapsodical (even a little Melvillian) in the asking:

Duty! Sublime and mighty name that embraces nothing charming or insinuating but requires submission, and yet does not seek to move the will by threatening anything that would arouse natural aversion or terror in the mind but only holds forth a law that of itself finds entry into the mind and yet gains reluctant reverence (though not always obedience), a law before which all inclinations are dumb, even though they secretly work against it; what origin is there worthy of you, and where is to be found the root of your noble descent which proudly rejects all kinship with the inclinations, descent from which is the indispensable condition of that worth which human beings alone can give themselves?

• Answer: the unique personality of the individual human beingthe selfhood of an entity existing simultaneously in the material and intelligible worlds. To make another long section short, the human being must be treated as an end in himself. Kant's moral theory triply underscores respect for persons as an inviolable dictate. All of us are rational beings; we all possess autonomy; therefore none of us should force another into "any purpose that is not possible in accordance with a law that could arise from a will of the affected subject himself." We can and do use people as means, but we must not use them exclusively in that way. Every ground and aim of our will must account for other people as ends in themselves.

Next we come to the Critical Elucidation of the Analytic of Pure Reason, which we are going to skip. Here Kant anticipates criticism of his work on philosophical grounds and works to intercept it in advance. Since his purpose here is to shore up his ideas rather than expand them, we can let it be for now.

John Frederick Peto, Office Board (1881)

At last we come to Book II: The Dialectic of Pure Practical Reason. This one actually isn't so complicated. Once again, Kant wants to examine the conflicts and contradictions resulting from the natural operation of reason. Here we return to the idea of the highest good and its contents.

The highest good is, first of all, the aim of pure practical reason, though it cannot be its determining ground: the moral law is merely a form of lawgiving (along the lines of the categorical imperative), and so cannot have any definite object—though the moral law makes as its object the "realization or promotion" of the highest good.

Much, much earlier, Kant quickly mentions that "happiness" is the end of all rational beings—almost as an aside, really.

Now he defines virtue as "worthiness to be happy"—which may come off as harsh, but think about it: when a millionaire celebrity behaves badly and treats people poorly, we feel a special kind of contempt for them; and when another millionaire celebrity acts down-to-earth and is kind to ordinary people, our admiration for them is likewise of a particular kind. We despise the first person because they enjoy wealth and fame of which we judge them underserving in light of their conduct; we appreciate the second because we see them acting in a way that seems to us to justify their felicity.

Now, inasmuch as virtue and happiness together constitute possession of the highest good in a person, and happiness distributed in exact proportion to morality (as the worth of a person and his worthiness to be happy) constitutes the highest good of a possible world, the latter means the whole, the complete good, in which, however, virtue as the condition is always the supreme good, since it has no further condition above it, whereas happiness is something that, though always pleasant to the possessor of it, is not of itself absolutely and in all respects good but always presupposes morally lawful conduct as its condition.

The Antinomy of Pure Practical Reason consists of the heterogeneity of virtue and happiness and the fact that their combination is never assured. Shitheads can be wealthy and happy and saints can be poor and miserable. "No necessary connection of happiness with virtue in the world, adequate to the highest good, can be expected from the most meticulous observation of moral laws." So it follows that there's no goddamned point in moral behavior because the highest good is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. Reason apparently urges us in a direction that it simultaneously informs us is a dead end.

Kant resolves the antimony by appealing to the dual existence of human beings in the sensible and intelligible worlds. To make a long argument short, he wheels in the transcendent ideas of the immortal soul and of God as postulates of pure practical reason. In order for our moral progress to proceed toward conformity with highest good, we must assume it to be (or hope that it is) perpetual and unlimited. In order for reason to accept the feasibility of attaining the highest good, it must assume a rational author and benignant observer of an intelligible world, one who designed creation such that the highest good is possible as an outcome.

These are postulates insofar as reason requires them; but as per the first Critique, we are still not permitted to enter into any speculations which would expand upon our "knowledge" of the immortal soul or of God, since we cannot possibly contact either in any actual experience. But practical reason requires these ideas for its immanent use on the basis of the moral law's necessity; the moral law is an imposition of pure reason, which does not contradict itself. (As we glimpsed in the first Critique, reason only wanders into illusion under the influence of the sensibility on the understanding.)

If nothing else, we must appreciate what a ballsy move Kant makes here in subordinating God to reason itself:

In this way the moral law leads through the concept of the highest good, as the object and final end of pure practical reason, to religion, that is, to the recognition of all duties as divine commands, not as sanctions——that is, chosen and in themselves contingent ordinances of another's will——but as essential laws of every free will in itself, which must nevertheless be regarded as commands of the supreme being because only from a will that is morally perfect (holy and beneficent) and at the same time all-powerful, and so through harmony with this will, can we hope to attain the highest good, which the moral law makes it our duty to take as the object of our endeavors. Here again, then, everything remains disinterested and grounded on duty, and there is no need to base it on incentives of fear and hope, which if they became principles would destroy the whole moral worth of actions.

Since the highest good concerns the desired state of every rational being (by virtue of the categorical imperative), we must correspondingly treat every rational being as individual ends in themselves.

Moreover: the objective necessity of the moral law entails the subjective necessity of postulating God, freedom, and the immortality of the soul. If reason delivers to each of us an identical admonition to bring about the highest good, we cannot dispense with these concepts; otherwise we bring pure practical reason into opposition with itself.

In this they [the concepts of freedom, immortality, and God] become immanent and constitutive inasmuch as they are grounds of the possibility of making real the necessary object of pure practical reason (the highest good), whereas apart from this they are transcendent and merely regulative principles of speculative reason, which do not require it to assume a new object beyond experience but only to bring its use in experience nearer to completeness.

Kant takes especial care to demonstrate to us that he isn't running up against the bulwarks against theoretical speculation he erected in the first Critique. We're still not allowed to talk about the "mechanics" of souls or reckon the attributes of an anthropomorphic deity, however necessary it is to admit them as conceptual reference points for practical purposes. He makes a point of reiterating that the God-concept cannot be employed as an explanation for any specific arrangement of nature, since an inquiry along those lines would lead us into a vortex of unanswerable questions and non-sequiturs—not the least of which is the concern of theodicy. The only way to arrive at the cognition of God is through an objective moral law subjectively necessitating the concept of an original being whose power, wisdom, and beneficence we can infer in the world as it is given to us (I suppose the idea is that this deity must possess power to make the world, wisdom to order it, and the benevolence to give us life), but we take speculative liberties in attributing to him any more definite (or infinite) qualities than these.

Long story short: the concept of God doesn't belong to physics or to metaphysics, but to moral philosophy.

Belief in God and the immortality of the soul-self is a choice; it is something one wills in obedience to the moral law. Reason compels us, but since its theoretical application cannot substantiate the reality of God or the endless duration of the self as objects of possible experience (nor, however, can it decisively disclaim them), it can only take us to the foot of a bridge that we do or do not cross at our own choosing.

[W]ith respect to the first element of the highest good, namely that which concerns morality, the moral law gives merely a command, and to doubt that possibility of the component would be tantamount to calling in question the moral law itself. But as for what concerns the second part of that object, namely happiness in thorough conformity with that worthiness, there is no need of a command to grant its possibility in general, since theoretical reason has nothing to say against it; but the way in which we are to think of such a harmony of the laws of nature with those of freedom has in it something with respect to which we have a choice, since theoretical reason decides nothing with apodictic certainty about it, and with respect to this there can be a moral interest which turns the scale.

William Michael Harnett, The Artist's Letter Rack (1879)

Part Two of the Critique of Practical Reason (we can all be forgiven if we forgot it began with Part One) is titled Doctrine of the Method of Pure Practical Reason, I'll freely confess my relief at finding it was only nine pages.

Kant argues that if "pure virtue" lacked the power to effectuate free (moral) action, then we would all of us be "depraved" creatures chafing against social strictures and forever seeking ways to undermine them. But the moral interest does have power (and empowers us to assert our freedom against the pleasure principle), thereby demonstrating that our own reasoning faculties are the strongest incentive toward the good in both deed and disposition.

He notes that in the gossip of mixed conversation, what we're essentially going when we talked about who had sex with whom, or who told off whom, is entering into discussions of the moral worth of those actions. As rational beings we come pre-attuned to moral interest; Kant believes what's needed is more clarity on the subjects of freedom and duty. Here he makes some pedagogical recommendations that aren't really fascinating enough in themselves to warrant summary.

However: after a suggested exercise in which students consider whether a given action conforms with moral law, how it does so, by what grounds, etc., Kant considers that an activity like this can only produce in pupils an interest in reason and morality, and muses about the satisfaction of contemplation. He adds:

But this employment of the faculty of judgment, which lets us feel our own cognitive powers, is not yet interest in actions and in their morality itself. It merely brings someone to like to entertain himself with such an appraisal and gives to virtue or the cast of mind according to moral laws a form of beauty, which is admired but not yet on that account sought...it is the same with everything whose contemplation produces subjectively a consciousness of the harmony of our powers of representation and in which we feel our entire cognitive faculty (understanding and imagination) strengthened: it produces a satisfaction that can also be communicated to others, while nevertheless the existence of the object remains indifferent to us, inasmuch as the object is viewed only as the occasion of our becoming aware of the tendency of talents in us which are elevated above animality.

Oh god. Coming two pages before the book's conclusion, this is the philosophical tome's equivalent to the post-credits sequel teaser. My gut tells me that the The Critique of Judgment (1790) is going to be this paragraph and its implications stretched out across 500 pages.

Someday. Not very soon.

For now...that seems to be the gist of the Critique of Practical Reason, and I'm going to bed.

No comments:

Post a Comment