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Dr. Burch - Immanuel Kant Notes 15

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University of Alberta
Robert Burch

PHILOSOPHY 343 IMMANUEL KANT EIGHTTOPICS to cover before we get to Hegel. 1. overall argument structure of foundations...morals 2. what is the categorical imperative (CI) 3. how the categorical imperative is derived 4. how the categorical imperative actually works 5. the intrinsic relation of freedom and obligation 6. how morality is possible 7. how God and immortality are derived from morality 8. problems in Kant's project For Kant, morality is never derived from theology. if anything, its the other way around. Kant's notion of theology is derived from his views about morality. he does at one point say that we have to look at the CI as if it came from God. but that's just a thought he is suggesting. the actual validity of the CI is derived from his account of duty and the will, not his view on God. Morality cannot be derived from Theology because Kant rules out transcendant knowledge of God from which we could derive moral precepts. For Kant, anything that is presumed to come from God, ie the Ten Commandments, those have their moral strength and validity in terms of our own reason and its exercise with respect to the will. They don't come from an external source. Even if they did come from God, their appropriation in the world is only insofar as their validity is rationally recognized by those who act on them. If you followed them just because you are afraid of the consequences, they are not moral rules but prudential rules—you only act on them to avoid punishment, not because of their inherent validity. The heart and soul of Kant's view is the notion of moral autonomy. Any moral laws get their validity and moral force from the fact that our rational will gives these laws to itself. MORALITY IS AUTONOMY (autos - self, nomos - law). our rational will gives the law to itself. morality is based on our lawful self determination. There can be no moral precept based on an external authority. His moral theory therefore is not intelligible if you try and understand morality in terms of external sources. it is based on the subject, but the subject's apparatus is universally the same, just like in the theoretical philosophy. Only in terms of AUTONOMY can you understand the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE. 1. STRUCTURE OF THE OVERALL ARGUMENT Moral argument not based on an explicit ontological argument about human being as such. if you tried that account you must ask 'why we ought to be moral' and we would be caught in an infinite regress. any account of why we ought to be moral is either tautological (a moral account of why be moral) or you would have to give an account in terms of some other reasons that were extra-moral reasons (why be moral? you'll get what you want that way). To ask the question "Why Be Moral?" you already have a notion of the moral. So either morality is self grounding and self justifying, which is Kant's view, or you give an extra moral account of why be moral and in doing so you undermine what it is to be moral in the first place. Kant does not give a theoretical account of morality, strictly speaking. He does not answer in terms of a metaphysics of human being. Rather he starts with the fact of moral experience. Issues of right and wrong do not arise unless we always already are implicated in moral experience. It is only because we make the distinction between what we want and what we take to be right and wrong that questions of morality arise in the first place. The starting point, for Kant, is moral experience. Both practically and theoretically, Kant argues that philosophy does not transcend experience in the way in which dogmatic metaphysicians believed we had transcendent knowledge. But we are not limited to skepticism either. In Kant's approach, the fundamental basis for philosophy is EXPERIENCE. NOTHING I CLAIM TRANSCENDS THE POSSIBILITIES OF EXPERIENCE In the moral sphere, Kant does not presume a transcendant insight into human being/nature, he starts with moral experience: we have it, how is it possible? The immediate basic answer is THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE. So the first step of the argument is to start with moral experience, ask how it is possible, and his task is to identify the ultimate principle of morality: that which allows/makes this experience possible. but moral experience itself is not in doubt. it is the very presupposition of all moral questioning. anything you ask about morality presupposes that you already have moral experience. he says this text is nothing other than the search for and establishment of the supreme principle of morality (p. 247), and that is the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE. The foundations of the metaphysics of morals doesn't give positive prescriptions. Doesn't say what you ought to do in every situation. why not? all he is doing is identifying the supreme principle, and that principle holds absolutely and unconditionally. the CI itself is infinite in the sense of unconditioned, it does not change with circumstances. the problem with this?: human beings, in the world, are finite, so they cannot always act on the unconditioned principle because that principle holds universally and necessarily but humans have to act in particular circumstances. the CI for kant tells you in principle what counts as duty. what counts as duty counts unconditionally. your duties don't change given circumstances. however your circumstances may be such that you are bound by more than one duty and you have to choose. But all the categorical imperative does is tell you what counts as duty, and that does not help you decide between duties. the CI doesn't help you decide, it just helps you identify in principle what your duty is. How you apply it in particualr cases requires a knowledge that goes beyond what the foundations of the metaphysics of morals provides you with, because knowing how to apply it requires "judgement tempered by experience" (p.247). It does indeed require anthropological knowledge in order to know in particular situations how the CI is going to apply. Kant's view is that in order to identify the principle we have to do it purely wihtout any mixture of metaphsyical or anthropological experience, but to apply the principle (to actually do your duty) that requires, in a sense, human maturity. even deeper issue: choosing between right and wrong, good and evil, is not what is really problematic for Kant. the kind of knowledge required to know the difference between right and wrong is the kind of knowledge we have as finite rational beings in the world. it is not a knowledge that we need philosophy or science to provide for us. even if we didn't have that knowledge, we couldn't get it from science or ø. we have that knowledge in our very mode of being. so in kant's view, our ordinary rational understanding of morality suffices for us to know in principle the distinction between good and evil, and we need no counsel or instruction on that issue. he says you don't need tha tkind of counsel even though its all over the place. he says the casuistry and all who prop it up, their name is legion. their instruction is not for the sake of morality but for the sake of prudential advantage. The argument in the foundations of the metaphysics of morals is analogous to those of the platonic dialogue: we have an issue about which there are conflicting opinions. implicit in that questionign is a prior understanding of [justice, piety, etc.]. so plato thinks we always already know in a vague obscured way, and we must get to teh truth of the matter. so the force and trajectory of the argument is to say let's get clear about justice itself. kant too is saying we already know what is moral, we know whats right and wrong, i am simply clarifying the knowledge that is always already implicit in our common rational moral understanding. that's the precondition for seeing morality as a problem in the first place. But this means we are somehow intrinsically faulted. If we are bound unconditionally by the categorical imperative, yet have trouble enacting it, there is somethign wrong with us. choosing between right and wrong is not a moral problem. the real moral problems for kant are choosing between two 'rights'. your finite being in world makes it impossible for you to perform all your duties. as a finite being you must choose, but the CI
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