Guide Kant’s ‘Critique of Practical Reason’ (Cambridge Critical Guides)

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There are serious difficulties at issue in this scholarly dispute. This reveals something that we could hardly be certain of except on the basis of this encounter with our own activity of moral reasoning cf.

Kleingeld Clearly, this line of thought is not immune to criticism. Our feeling of moral constraint might be explained in terms of a Freudian super-ego, for instance. Kant does not give a complete account of the relation of practical reason to theoretical reason in the Groundwork or any later works. See Gardner and Willaschek Against various stripes of rationalism, Kant denies that theoretical reason can have any insight into the supersensible.

So reason has no possible access to a transcendent authority that could issue commands for thought or action. Against Hume, Kant denies normative authority to the inclinations. These points rule out the only ways that theoretical or instrumental reasoning could supply authoritative reasons to act.

Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Robert Paul Wolff Lecture 1

That is, pure practical reason should guide some of our beliefs , as well as our actions. So it is not conditioned by anything else—for instance, by a desire for happiness or subjective wishes. In other words, pure practical reason is independent from our inclinations. By contrast, theoretical reason falls into error if it claims independence from the deliverances of sensibility and understanding—for example, in attempting to prove the existence of God. Second, Kant argues that we cannot leave the question of primacy undecided, because practical reason would otherwise come into conflict with theoretical reason.

The interest of theoretical reason consists in expanding our knowledge and avoiding error—which means suspending all claims to knowledge beyond the bounds of experience. But what he means by this, exactly, is a difficult matter of interpretation. Neiman Ch. Moreover, the uses to which Kant puts this argument are as controversial as any question in his philosophy, since he here reinstates—as items of faith rather than knowledge—the very ideas that the first Critique had argued to lie beyond human insight. It enjoins us to act for the sake of duty, with no assurances that anything will follow from this for our own happiness or that of others.

While morality is, for Kant, the sole unconditional good for human beings, he certainly does not deny that happiness is an important good, and indeed the natural and necessary end of every human being cf. He holds that we must think of moral activity as really resulting in happiness. We must also postulate immortality, since this enables us to hope that we will come closer to virtue so as to be worthy of happiness. We have seen one way in which Kant links theoretical and practical reason.

Kleingeld b: Again, cf. Among early reviews, see Engstrom and Wood ; for recent endorsement and restatement, see Korsgaard 12 and Westphal Unfortunately, neither edition of the Critique considers what this principle might be. This question is raised in the works on practical reason, but then postponed and never clearly answered.


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Prauss argues that Kant failed to achieve this insight, in part because he did not appreciate how cognitive success is a fundamentally practical goal. He has also argued that practical reason has primacy over theoretical reason. It follows, therefore, that the Categorical Imperative is the supreme principle of reason. But there are reasons for thinking that this ought to have been his view, and in some places he comes very close to such a claim. Rescher Ch. The clearest passage is a footnote!

Kant now says: think only in accordance with that maxim that could be a universal law. They appear twice in his published writings, in relation to both acting and thinking. In his last published work, the Anthropology , Kant presents the maxims in a practical context, as guidelines for achieving some degree of wisdom:. The maxims also appear in the Critique of Judgment , where they are closely related to the theoretical use of reason.

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason : James R O'Shea (editor) : : Blackwell's

To think for oneself Kant describes as the maxim of unprejudiced thought; its opposite is passivity or heteronomy in thought, leading to prejudice and superstition. And always to think in accord with oneself is the maxim of consistent thought Consistency does not just involve getting rid of obvious contradictions in our explicit beliefs. It also requires consistency with regard to all the implications of our beliefs—and these are often not apparent to us. The maxims support the thesis that theoretical and practical reasoning have a unified structure, and flesh out the implications of the Categorical Imperative.

1. Theoretical reason: reason’s cognitive role and limitations

Here, Kant is not primarily concerned with enlightenment as the activity or condition of an individual—rather, as something that human beings must work towards together. This is not the freedom to act politically. In doing so, he uses his reason to decide the best way of achieving ends that have been laid down by others. There is a loose parallel with instrumental reasoning, which decides the best means to achieve ends laid down by inclination.

Outside of his post, in a capacity he shares with all other human beings, the civil servant or cleric may reason freely, offering critical scrutiny of government policies or religious teachings. Taken together, these two points imply a clear gulf between the practical and the theoretical—or at any rate, between what citizens do and what they believe ought to be done. Nonetheless, the essay makes clear how Kant equates reason with the aspiration to full publicity.

Among other things, this means that they cannot assume the authority of any particular organization or leader. In fact, Kant had already said this, in a famous passage from the Critique of Pure Reason :. In the term used by several contemporary Kantians Herman Ch. It makes reason the only unconditional that is, non-heteronomous form of authority for our thinking and acting.

His accounts of truth, scientific method and the limited insights of theoretical reason are complex, as is his view of practical reason and morality. No one doubts that knowledge and scientific enquiry, no less than action, are subject to demands of rationality. We would understand, for example, why Kant so strenuously resists claims to transcendent insight. To give authority to such claims—those of revelation and religious authority, for example—would be irrational insofar as they rest on principles of belief that cannot be adopted by all.

Many philosophers—both contemporary and historical figures—proceed as if this were already clear. The first remains very widespread: with Hume, it regards instrumental reasoning as fundamental cf. The second sees reason as embedded within complex traditions: rationality is what a given tradition or community takes it to consist in cf.

Commentary

MacIntyre ; communitarianism. A third option, akin to the forms of rationalism that Kant opposed, is to see reason as an individual capacity to discern or intuit normative truths cf.


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Arguably, all three accounts fail in providing reasoned justification to some audiences. The instrumental reasoner is accountable to no-one—in fact, to nothing apart from whatever desires or ends he happens to have. Someone who takes her particular tradition to define what beliefs and practices count as reasonable can have little to say to those who stand outside it.