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Freedom and Reason in Kant

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    Alice Furnari24 /2/97 Morality, Kant says, cannot be regarded as a set of rules which prescribethe means necessary to the achievement of a given end; its rules must be obeyedwithout consideration of the consequences that will follow from doing so or not.

    A principle that presupposes a desired object as the determinant of the willcannot give rise to a moral law; that is, the morality of an act of will cannotbe determined by the matter or content of the will for when the will ismaterially determined the question of its morality does not arise.

    This consideration leads Kant to one of his most important theses. If themoral character of willing is not determined by the content of what is willed,it must be determined by the form:” If a rational being can think of his maximsas universal laws, he can do so only by considering them as principles whichcontain the determining ground of the will because of their form and not becauseof their matter”. Therefore, the morality of a maxim is determined by itsfunctioning as a universal law, applicable as a general rule to every rationalagent. Since a moral will must be so in virtue of its form alone, the will mustbe capable of a purely formal determination; that is, it must be possible for aman to act in a certain way for the sole reason that willing in this way isprescribed by a universal law, no matter what the empirical results will be.

    A will to which moral considerations apply must be, in the strictest sense,a free will, one that can function independently of the laws of naturalcausality. The concept of morality, therefore, has to be explained in terms of auniversal moral law, and the ability to will in obedience to such a law leads usto postulate the freedom. The freedom which Kant is talking about, is not only anegative freedom consisting in the absence of constraint by empirical causes, itis also a positive freedom which consists in the ability to make acts of will inaccordance with the moral law, for no other reason than that they are inaccordance with it. Freedom, in this sense, corresponds to Autonomy of the willand its absence ( any situation in which the will is determined by externalcauses ) is called Heteronomy. In obeying the moral law for the sake of the lawalone, the will is autonomous because it is obeying a law which it imposes onitself.

    In the third section of the “Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals”, Kantanswers the problem of the possibility of the Categorical Imperative. Is theproblem to be understood as if the Categorical Imperative is possible, or how itis possible? In the “Critics of Pure Reason”, the problem regarding thesynthetic a priori judgments concerns just the modality in which they can beapplied. The fact that they are actually possible is proved by the synthetic apriori judgment contained in sciences as mathematics and physics which aretrustworthy sciences. Metaphysics, however, is not a reliable science and,therefore, Kant suggests that we should look not only for the modality in whichthey can be applied, but also for their reliability. Similarly, the Metaphysicsof Morals must prove the validity of the moral imperative. As Paton suggested,Kant tries to show not only how the Categorical Imperative is possible, but alsothat it is possible.” Furthermore, we have not asserted the truth of thisproposition, much less professed to have within our power a proof of it. Wesimply showed by developing the universally accepted concept of morality, thatautonomy of the will is unavoidably bound up with it, or rather is its veryfoundation” par. 445.

    The condition for the possibility of the Categorical Imperative is Freedom.

    The third section contains a demonstration of Freedom which Kant tries to deriveby means of excluding at least other two ways. A first would be to assert thatFreedom is experienced by us, that it is sensed, but this is not the truthfulone, because experience would be the one of my personal freedom and Kant wantsto demonstrate that every rational being is free , in order to infer that everyrational being must obey the Categorical Imperative. A second way would be toshow that every rational being has at least the idea of Freedom, i.e. he isconvinced to act according to reason, not only under instincts; he is persuadedto act in this way, because he sees that acting this way is right, because he isdetermined by his reason and not only by blind instincts. But, if a rationalbeing had the idea of freedom, but were not really free, he would be mistakeneven about his reasonableness; he would think he were acting for some reasons,whilst he would actually be like a robot. But, as we saw before, being aware ofbeing rational means being aware of the necessity of acting in accordance with alaw , and what we are trying to do is to justify this necessity.

    Surely, if we consider ourselves to be free, we acknowledge ourselvesobliged to follow the moral law, and if we consider ourselves obliged to followthe moral law is because we think of ourselves as free. But there seems to be avicious circle because, until now, it has been demonstrated neither that we areobliged to follow the law, independently from the conviction of being free, northat we are free, independently from the belief of being subject to the law. Westill have to prove that the Categorical Imperative is possible.

    There is still a way open to us: ” To inquire whether we do not take onepoint of view when ,by means of Freedom, we think of ourselves as a prioriefficient causes, and another point of view when we represent ourselvesreference to our actions as effects which we see before our eyes” par. 450.

    The point of view of Freedom is the one from which we consider ourselvesbelonging to the intellectual world. Everyone understands the distinctionbetween the sensible world and the intellectual world through this criterion:any object whose existence is given through a modification or a passiveness ofmine, is given just as a phenomenon, that is, how it appears not how it is initself. Thus, if something appears, there must be the thing that appears: theconcept of phenomenon presupposes the one of thing in itself. The differencebetween appearance and thing in itself correspond to “the difference betweenrepresentations which are given to us from without and in which we are passive,from those which we produce entirely from ourselves and in which we show our ownactivity” par. 451. This is also the distinction, shown in the “Critics ofPure Reason”, between intellectus ectypus and intellectus archetypus; the formerreceives from the objects a representation and represents them just as theyappear, the latter learns by creating and learning what it has created: itlearns it as it is in itself.

    In the Grounding the knowledge that the human being has of himself throughthe internal sense does not get him to know what he is in himself . “For sincehe does not create himself and since he acquires the concept of himself not apriori, but empirically, it is natural that he can attain knowledge even abouthimself only through inner sense and therefore, only through the appearance ofhis nature and the way in which his consciousness is affected. He mustnecessarily assume that beyond his own subject’s constitution as composed ofnothing but appearances, there must be something else as basis, namely, his egoas constituted in itself.” par.451. The person finds in himself a faculty thatdistinguishes him from all other objects and from himself as affected by objects.

    This faculty is Reason, it is pure spontaneity. Now, Determinism is law of thephenomenal world, therefore, the person, as Reason, as belonging to theintellectual world, is not affected by the laws of Determinism: he is free. Thisis Kant’s proof of Freedom. Is it satisfactory? Later on, in the “Critics of Practical Reason”, Kant does not attempt todeduce synthetically Morality from Freedom, as he tried to do in the Groundingby stating that Freedom was the necessary condition for Morality, but he assumesthe moral law as a “fact of the reason” from which he infers Freedom. There havebeen critics blaming Kant of a sort of vicious circle, because he seemed todemonstrate Freedom by means of deduction from Morality and then to show thepossibility of the Categorical Imperative deducing it from Freedom. Kant answersthat there is no vicious circle because in the ontological order Freedom is thecondition for Morality ( it is not possible to follow the duty for the duty ifyou are not free), but in the order of our knowledge, the moral law is therequirement for Freedom ( we would not consider ourselves free, if we did notthink of ourselves as subject to the moral law). Freedom is the ratio essendi ofthe moral law, but the moral law is the ratio cognoscendi of Freedom.

    Category: Philosophy

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