Early German Philosophy: Kant and His Predecessors

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Falk Wunderlich turns his attention to Platner's shifting criticisms of Kant in the second and third editions of his Philosophische Aphorismen. Wunderlich shows that, in the second edition, Platner accused Kant of being a Humean skeptic, who denied "that there is a self beyond the operations of the mind" , despite the evidence of our "feeling of self" In the third edition, Platner positions himself as a skeptic, while condemning Kant for dogmatically attempting "to measure the bounds of the entire cognitive faculty, and, based on that, to determine the bounds of metaphysics with demonstrative exactness" In part four, on the history and philosophy of science, Eric Watkins focuses on "two specific issues that are central to Lambert's and Kant's projects, namely what cognition Erkenntnis is and how it relates to science Wissenschaft " He identifies a series of similarities and differences between Lambert and Kant , which show that, while the two philosophers understand a priori cognition in remarkably similar ways, Kant draws a clearer account of the relations between intuitions, concepts, and cognition than Lambert does and also explains, through his conception of reason, the unity and end of science, as well as its relation to morality and its place in a philosophical system, more fully than does Lambert.

Jennifer Mensch calls our attention to Kant's appeal to Blumenbach's "formative drive" Bildungstrieb in the Critique of the Power of Judgment Mensch carefully reconstructs the context of Kant's reference to Blumenbach, namely, Kant's ongoing polemic against Herder; his developing views on generation, inheritance; and the criticisms that Forster had leveled against Kant's essay, "Determination of a Concept of a Human Race" Mensch shows that Kant's appeal to Blumenbach's "formative drive," in this context, is more strategic than substantive. Mensch shows that Kant was largely successful, since Blumenbach later described his position as combining the "physic-mechanical with the purely teleological" Finally, in the fifth part, on freedom, immorality, and happiness, Paola Rumore argues that "Crusius' attitude towards the central topic of rationalistic psychology and the critique he put forth opened a viable path to Kant, an alternative to the dominant options at the time" She emphasizes Crusius' critique of metaphysical proofs of the immortality of the soul as well as his moral proof , based on "an internal striving Trieb to an eternal final end in finite creatures" and on the claim that "happiness," understood as "the reunification with God which rational and freely acting creatures achieve by means of virtue" is "God's objective final end" Kant is quite critical of these arguments, particularly in the transcripts of his metaphysics lectures see , but, like Crusius, he does provide a moral justification for belief in the immortality of the soul in the Critique of Practical Reason Stefano Bacin addresses the conflict between Kant and Feder over morality.

Feder is known to Kantians as an empiricist and a hostile reviewer of the first Critique , but many do not realize that, in moral philosophy, Feder's view was "the most important philosophical alternative to Kant's novel approach in the German debates of their time" Bacin identifies three main differences between their positions: Kant's opposition to the empirical investigations of the will associated with "universal practical philosophy" ; Feder's defense of an intrinsic connection between virtue and happiness ; and the methodological differences between Kant's rationalism and Feder's empiricism, the former insisting the moral principles be derived from pure reason, the latter demanding that morality be based on careful observation of experience.

Heiner F. Buy It Now. Add to cart. Beck , Hardcover. Be the first to write a review About this product. About this product Product Identifiers Publisher. Additional Product Features Dewey Edition. Show More Show Less. Pre-owned Pre-owned. No ratings or reviews yet. Be the first to write a review. Best Selling in Nonfiction See all. It is rare for a philosopher in any era to make a significant impact on any single topic in philosophy. For a philosopher to impact as many different areas as Kant did is extraordinary.

His ethical theory has been as influential as, if not more influential than, his work in epistemology and metaphysics. Most of Kant's work on ethics is presented in two works.

Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics

The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals is Kant's "search for and establishment of the supreme principle of morality. Kant is the primary proponent in history of what is called deontological ethics. Deontology is the study of duty. On Kant's view, the sole feature that gives an action moral worth is not the outcome that is achieved by the action, but the motive that is behind the action.

The categorical imperative is Kant's famous statement of this duty: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. For Kant, as we have seen, the drive for total, systematic knowledge in reason can only be fulfilled with assumptions that empirical observation cannot support. The metaphysical facts about the ultimate nature of things in themselves must remain a mystery to us because of the spatiotemporal constraints on sensibility.

When we think about the nature of things in themselves or the ultimate ground of the empirical world, Kant has argued that we are still constrained to think through the categories, we cannot think otherwise, but we can have no knowledge because sensation provides our concepts with no content. So, reason is put at odds with itself because it is constrained by the limits of its transcendental structure, but it seeks to have complete knowledge that would take it beyond those limits. Freedom plays a central role in Kant's ethics because the possibility of moral judgments presupposes it.

Freedom is an idea of reason that serves an indispensable practical function. Without the assumption of freedom, reason cannot act. If we think of ourselves as completely causally determined, and not as uncaused causes ourselves, then any attempt to conceive of a rule that prescribes the means by which some end can be achieved is pointless. I cannot both think of myself as entirely subject to causal law and as being able to act according to the conception of a principle that gives guidance to my will. We cannot help but think of our actions as the result of an uncaused cause if we are to act at all and employ reason to accomplish ends and understand the world.

So reason has an unavoidable interest in thinking of itself as free. That is, theoretical reason cannot demonstrate freedom, but practical reason must assume it for the purpose of action. Having the ability to make judgments and apply reason puts us outside that system of causally necessitated events. It is dissatisfying that he cannot demonstrate freedom; nevertheless, it comes as no surprise that we must think of ourselves as free.

In a sense, Kant is agreeing with the common sense view that how I choose to act makes a difference in how I actually act. Even if it were possible to give a predictive empirical account of why I act as I do, say on the grounds of a functionalist psychological theory, those considerations would mean nothing to me in my deliberations.

When I make a decision about what to do, about which car to buy, for instance, the mechanism at work in my nervous system makes no difference to me. I still have to peruse Consumer Reports , consider my options, reflect on my needs, and decide on the basis of the application of general principles. My first person perspective is unavoidable, hence the deliberative, intellectual process of choice is unavoidable. The question of moral action is not an issue for two classes of beings, according to Kant. The animal consciousness, the purely sensuous being, is entirely subject to causal determination.

It is part of the causal chains of the empirical world, but not an originator of causes the way humans are. Hence, rightness or wrongness, as concepts that apply to situations one has control over, do not apply. We do not morally fault the lion for killing the gazelle, or even for killing its own young. The actions of a purely rational being, by contrast, are in perfect accord with moral principles, Kant says. There is nothing in such a being's nature to make it falter. Its will always conforms with the dictates of reason. Humans are between the two worlds.

We are both sensible and intellectual, as was pointed out in the discussion of the first Critique. We are neither wholly determined to act by natural impulse, nor are we free of non-rational impulse.


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Hence we need rules of conduct. We need, and reason is compelled to provide, a principle that declares how we ought to act when it is in our power to choose.

Since we find ourselves in the situation of possessing reason, being able to act according to our own conception of rules, there is a special burden on us. Other creatures are acted upon by the world. But having the ability to choose the principle to guide our actions makes us actors. We must exercise our will and our reason to act. Will is the capacity to act according to the principles provided by reason. Reason assumes freedom and conceives of principles of action in order to function.

Two problems face us however. First, we are not wholly rational beings, so we are liable to succumb to our non-rational impulses. Second, even when we exercise our reason fully, we often cannot know which action is the best. The fact that we can choose between alternate courses of actions we are not determined to act by instinct or reason introduces the possibility that there can be better or worse ways of achieving our ends and better or worse ends, depending upon the criteria we adopt.

The presence of two different kinds of object in the world adds another dimension, a moral dimension, to our deliberations. Roughly speaking, we can divide the world into beings with reason and will like ourselves and things that lack those faculties. We can think of these classes of things as ends-in-themselves and mere means-to-ends, respectively. Ends-in-themselves are autonomous beings with their own agendas; failing to recognize their capacity to determine their own actions would be to thwart their freedom and undermine reason itself.

When we reflect on alternative courses of action, means-to-ends, things like buildings, rocks, and trees, deserve no special status in our deliberations about what goals we should have and what means we use to achieve them. The class of ends-in-themselves, reasoning agents like ourselves, however, do have a special status in our considerations about what goals we should have and the means we employ to accomplish them. Moral actions, for Kant, are actions where reason leads, rather than follows, and actions where we must take other beings that act according to their own conception of the law into account.

Project MUSE - Early German Philosophy. Kant and his Predecessors (review)

The will, Kant says, is the faculty of acting according to a conception of law. When we act, whether or not we achieve what we intend with our actions is often beyond our control, so the morality of our actions does not depend upon their outcome. What we can control, however, is the will behind the action. That is, we can will to act according to one law rather than another. The morality of an action, therefore, must be assessed in terms of the motivation behind it.

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If two people, Smith and Jones, perform the same act, from the same conception of the law, but events beyond Smith's control prevent her from achieving her goal, Smith is not less praiseworthy for not succeeding. We must consider them on equal moral ground in terms of the will behind their actions. The only thing that is good without qualification is the good will, Kant says.

All other candidates for an intrinsic good have problems, Kant argues. Courage, health, and wealth can all be used for ill purposes, Kant argues, and therefore cannot be intrinsically good. Happiness is not intrinsically good because even being worthy of happiness, Kant says, requires that one possess a good will. The good will is the only unconditional good despite all encroachments.

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Misfortune may render someone incapable of achieving her goals, for instance, but the goodness of her will remains. Goodness cannot arise from acting on impulse or natural inclination, even if impulse coincides with duty. It can only arise from conceiving of one's actions in a certain way. A shopkeeper, Kant says, might do what is in accord with duty and not overcharge a child.

Kant argues, "it is not sufficient to do that which should be morally good that it conform to the law; it must be done for the sake of the law. A person's moral worth cannot be dependent upon what nature endowed them with accidentally. The selfishly motivated shopkeeper and the naturally kind person both act on equally subjective and accidental grounds. What matters to morality is that the actor think about their actions in the right manner.

We might be tempted to think that the motivation that makes an action good is having a positive goal--to make people happy, or to provide some benefit. But that is not the right sort of motive, Kant says.

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No outcome, should we achieve it, can be unconditionally good. Fortune can be misused, what we thought would induce benefit might actually bring harm, and happiness might be undeserved. Hoping to achieve some particular end, no matter how beneficial it may seem, is not purely and unconditionally good. It is not the effect or even the intended effect that bestows moral character on an action.

All intended effects "could be brought about through other causes and would not require the will of a rational being, while the highest and unconditional good can be found only in such a will. So it is the recognition and appreciation of duty itself that must drive our actions. What is the duty that is to motivate our actions and to give them moral value? Kant distinguishes two kinds of law produced by reason. Given some end we wish to achieve, reason can provide a hypothetical imperative , or rule of action for achieving that end.

A hypothetical imperative says that if you wish to buy a new car, then you must determine what sort of cars are available for purchase. Conceiving of a means to achieve some desired end is by far the most common employment of reason. But Kant has shown that the acceptable conception of the moral law cannot be merely hypothetical.

Our actions cannot be moral on the ground of some conditional purpose or goal. Morality requires an unconditional statement of one's duty. And in fact, reason produces an absolute statement of moral action. The moral imperative is unconditional; that is, its imperative force is not tempered by the conditional " if I want to achieve some end, then do X. Kant believes that reason dictates a categorical imperative for moral action.

He gives at least three formulations of the Categorical Imperative. What are Kant's arguments for the Categorical Imperative? First, consider an example. Consider the person who needs to borrow money and is considering making a false promise to pay it back. The maxim that could be invoked is, "when I need of money, borrow it, promising to repay it, even though I do not intend to. The borrower makes a promise, willing that there be no such thing as promises.

Thus such an action fails the universality test. The argument for the first formulation of the categorical imperative can be thought of this way. We have seen that in order to be good, we must remove inclination and the consideration of any particular goal from our motivation to act. The act cannot be good if it arises from subjective impulse.


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  • Nor can it be good because it seeks after some particular goal which might not attain the good we seek or could come about through happenstance. We must abstract away from all hoped for effects. If we remove all subjectivity and particularity from motivation we are only left with will to universality.

    The question "what rule determines what I ought to do in this situation? The second version of the Categorical Imperative invokes Kant's conception of nature and draws on the first Critique. In the earlier discussion of nature, we saw that the mind necessarily structures nature. And reason, in its seeking of ever higher grounds of explanation, strives to achieve unified knowledge of nature. A guide for us in moral matters is to think of what would not be possible to will universally. Maxims that fail the test of the categorical imperative generate a contradiction.

    Laws of nature cannot be contradictory. So if a maxim cannot be willed to be a law of nature, it is not moral. The third version of the categorical imperative ties Kant's whole moral theory together. Insofar as they possess a rational will, people are set off in the natural order of things. They are not merely subject to the forces that act upon them; they are not merely means to ends.

    They are ends in themselves. All means to an end have a merely conditional worth because they are valuable only for achieving something else. The possessor of a rational will, however, is the only thing with unconditional worth. The possession of rationality puts all beings on the same footing, "every other rational being thinks of his existence by means of the same rational ground which holds also for myself; thus it is at the same time an objective principle from which, as a supreme practical ground, it must be possible to derive all laws of the will.

    Kant's criticisms of utilitarianism have become famous enough to warrant some separate discussion. Utilitarian moral theories evaluate the moral worth of action on the basis of happiness that is produced by an action. Whatever produces the most happiness in the most people is the moral course of action.

    Kant has an insightful objection to moral evaluations of this sort. The essence of the objection is that utilitarian theories actually devalue the individuals it is supposed to benefit. If we allow utilitarian calculations to motivate our actions, we are allowing the valuation of one person's welfare and interests in terms of what good they can be used for. It would be possible, for instance, to justify sacrificing one individual for the benefits of others if the utilitarian calculations promise more benefit. Doing so would be the worst example of treating someone utterly as a means and not as an end in themselves.

    Another way to consider his objection is to note that utilitarian theories are driven by the merely contingent inclination in humans for pleasure and happiness, not by the universal moral law dictated by reason. To act in pursuit of happiness is arbitrary and subjective, and is no more moral than acting on the basis of greed, or selfishness.

    All three emanate from subjective, non-rational grounds. The danger of utilitarianism lies in its embracing of baser instincts, while rejecting the indispensable role of reason and freedom in our actions. Matt McCormick Email: mccormick csus. Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics Immanuel Kant is one of the most influential philosophers in the history of Western philosophy.

    5 editions of this work

    Historical Background to Kant In order to understand Kant's position, we must understand the philosophical background that he was reacting to. Empiricism Empiricists, such as Locke , Berkeley , and Hume , argued that human knowledge originates in our sensations. Rationalism The Rationalists, principally Descartes , Spinoza , and Leibniz , approached the problems of human knowledge from another angle. Kant's Answers to his Predecessors Kant's answer to the problems generated by the two traditions mentioned above changed the face of philosophy.

    Kant's Copernican Revolution: Mind Making Nature Kant's answer to the question is complicated, but his conclusion is that a number of synthetic a priori claims, like those from geometry and the natural sciences, are true because of the structure of the mind that knows them. Kant's Transcendental Idealism With Kant's claim that the mind of the knower makes an active contribution to experience of objects before us, we are in a better position to understand transcendental idealism.

    The special set of concepts is Kant's Table of Categories , which are taken mostly from Aristotle with a few revisions: Of Quantity Unity Plurality Totality Of Quality Of Relation Reality Inherence and Subsistence Negation Causality and Dependence Limitation Community Of Modality Possibility-Impossibility Existence-Nonexistence Necessity-Contingency While Kant does not give a formal derivation of it, he believes that this is the complete and necessary list of the a priori contributions that the understanding brings to its judgments of the world.

    Kant's Analytic of Principles We have seen the progressive stages of Kant's analysis of the faculties of the mind which reveals the transcendental structuring of experience performed by these faculties. I include all of the a priori judgments, or principles, here to illustrate the earlier claims about Kant's empirical realism, and to show the intimate relationship Kant saw between his project and that of the natural sciences: Axioms of Intuition All intuitions are extensive magnitudes.

    Anticipations of Perception Analogies of Experience In all appearances the real that is an object of sensation has intensive magnitude, i. In all variations by appearances substance is permanent, and its quantum in nature is neither increased nor decreased. All changes occur according to the law of the connection of cause and effect. All substances, insofar as they can be perceived in space as simultaneous, are in thoroughgoing interaction.

    Western Philosophy: Kant and Hegel

    Postulates of Empirical Thought What agrees in terms of intuition and concepts with the formal conditions of experience is possible. What coheres with the material conditions of experience with sensation is actual. That whose coherence with the actual is determined according to universal conditions of experience is necessary exists necessarily 6.


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    • 18th Century German Philosophy Prior to Kant;
    • Early German Philosophy Kant Predecessors by Beck Lewis White.
    • Kant's Dialectic The discussion of Kant's metaphysics and epistemology so far including the Analytic of Principles has been confined primarily to the section of the Critique of Pure Reason that Kant calls the Transcendental Analytic. The Ideas of Reason The faculty of reason has two employments. Kant's Ethics It is rare for a philosopher in any era to make a significant impact on any single topic in philosophy. Reason and Freedom For Kant, as we have seen, the drive for total, systematic knowledge in reason can only be fulfilled with assumptions that empirical observation cannot support.

      The Duality of the Human Situation The question of moral action is not an issue for two classes of beings, according to Kant.