Immanuel Kant, Selections from The Critique Pure Reason
(“The Canons of Pure Reason,” Chs. 2 and 3), written 1871,
and translated from the German by J.M.D. Meiklejohn.
[The footnotes rephrase or explain what Kant says where he gets particularly hard to follow, and the material in square brackets is also added to assist the reader. The sections in boldface bring his argument to its conclusion, and you might look at them first to see where he is going with all this. Kant saw himself as providing a defense for Christianity, and his view of the religion became the foundation for ‘liberal’ theology.]
There exists in the faculty of reason a natural desire to venture beyond the field of experience, to attempt to reach the utmost bounds of all cognition by the help of ideas alone, and not to rest satisfied until it has fulfilled its course and raised the sum of its cognitions into a self-subsistent systematic whole. Is the motive for this endeavour to be found in its speculative, or in its practical interests alone? . . .
The transcendental speculation of reason relates to three things: the freedom of the will, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of God. The speculative interest which reason has in those questions is very small; and, for its sake alone, we should not undertake the labour of transcendental investigation—a labour full of toil and ceaseless struggle. We should be loth to undertake this labour, because the discoveries we might make would not be of the smallest use in the sphere of concrete or physical investigation. We may find out that the will is free, but this knowledge only relates to the intelligible cause of our volition. As regards the phenomena or expressions of this will, that is, our actions, we are bound, in obedience to an inviolable maxim, without which reason cannot be employed in the sphere of experience, to explain these in the same way as we explain all the other phenomena of nature, that is to say, according to its unchangeable laws. We may have discovered the spirituality and immortality of the soul, but we cannot employ this knowledge to explain the phenomena of this life, nor the peculiar nature of the future, because our conception of an incorporeal nature is purely negative and does not add anything to our knowledge, and the only inferences to be drawn from it are purely fictitious. If, again, we prove the existence of a supreme intelligence, we should be able from it to make the conformity to aims existing in the arrangement of the world comprehensible; but we should not be justified in deducing from it any particular arrangement or disposition, or inferring any where it is not perceived. For it is a necessary rule of the speculative use of reason that we must not overlook natural causes, or refuse to listen to the teaching of experience, for the sake of deducing what we know and perceive from something that transcends all our knowledge. In one word, these three propositions are, for the speculative reason, always transcendent . . . If, then, the actual cognition of these three cardinal propositions is perfectly useless, while Reason uses her utmost endeavours to induce us to admit them, it is plain that their real value and importance relate to our practical, and not to our speculative interest. . . .
. . . A will is purely animal when it is determined by sensuous impulses or instincts only, that is, when it is determined in a pathological manner. A will, which can be determined independently of sensuous impulses, consequently by motives presented by reason alone, is called a free will; and everything which is connected with this free will, either as principle or consequence, is termed practical. The existence of practical freedom can be proved from experience alone. For the human will is not determined by that alone which immediately affects the senses; on the contrary, we have the power, by calling up the notion of what is useful or hurtful in a more distant relation, of overcoming the immediate impressions on our sensuous faculty of desire. But these considerations of what is desirable in relation to our whole state, that is, is in the end good and useful, are based entirely upon reason. This faculty, accordingly, enounces laws, which are imperative or objective laws of freedom and which tell us what ought to take place, thus distinguishing themselves from the laws of nature, which relate to that which does take place. The laws of freedom or of free will are hence termed practical laws. Whether reason is not itself, in the actual delivery of these laws, determined in its turn by other influences, and whether the action which, in relation to sensuous impulses, we call free, may not, in relation to higher and more remote operative causes, really form a part of nature- these are questions which do not here concern us. They are purely speculative questions; and all we have to do, in the practical sphere, is to inquire into the rule of conduct which reason has to present. Experience demonstrates to us the existence of practical freedom as one of the causes which exist in nature, that is, it shows the causal power of reason in the determination of the will. The idea of transcendental freedom, on the contrary, requires that reason- in relation to its causal power of commencing a series of phenomena- should be independent of all sensuous determining causes; and thus it seems to be in opposition to the law of nature and to all possible experience. It therefore remains a problem for the human mind. But this problem does not concern reason in its practical use; and we have, therefore, in a canon of pure reason, to do with only two questions, which relate to the practical interest of pure reason: Is there a God? and, Is there a future life? . . .
The whole interest of reason, speculative as well as practical, is centered in the three following questions: 1. WHAT CAN I KNOW? 2. WHAT OUGHT I TO DO? 3. WHAT MAY I HOPE? The first question is purely speculative. . . The second question is purely practical. As such it may indeed fall within the province of pure reason, but still it is not transcendental, but moral. . . The third question: “If I act as I ought to do, what may I then hope?” is at once practical and theoretical. The practical forms a clue to the answer of the theoretical, and—in its highest form—speculative question. For all hoping has happiness for its object and stands in precisely the same relation to the practical and the law of morality as knowing to the theoretical cognition of things and the law of nature. The former arrives finally at the conclusion that something is (which determines the ultimate end), because something ought to take place; the latter, that something is (which operates as the highest cause), because something [its cause] does take place. . . The practical law based on the motive of happiness I term a pragmatical law (or prudential rule); but that law, assuming such to exist, which has no other motive than the worthiness of being happy, I term a moral or ethical law. The first tells us what we have to do, if we wish to become possessed of happiness; the second dictates how we ought to act, in order to deserve happiness. The first is based upon empirical principles; for it is only by experience that I can learn either what inclinations exist which desire satisfaction, or what are the natural means of satisfying them. The second takes no account of our desires or the means of satisfying them, and regards only the freedom of a rational being, and the necessary conditions under which alone this freedom can harmonize with the distribution of happiness according to principles. This second law may therefore rest upon mere ideas of pure reason, and may be cognized a priori. I assume that there are pure moral laws which determine, entirely a priori (without regard to empirical motives, that is, to happiness), the conduct of a rational being, or in other words, to use which it makes of its freedom, and that these laws are absolutely imperative (not merely hypothetically, on the supposition of other empirical ends), and therefore in all respects necessary. I am warranted in assuming this, not only by the arguments of the most enlightened moralists, but by the moral judgement of every man who will make the attempt to form a distinct conception of such a law. Pure reason, then, contains, not indeed in its speculative, but in its practical, or, more strictly, its moral use, principles of the possibility of experience, of such actions, namely, as, in accordance with ethical precepts, might be met with in the history of man. For since reason commands that such actions should take place, it must be possible for them to take place; and hence a particular kind of systematic unity- the moral- must be possible. We have found, it is true, that the systematic unity of nature could not be established according to speculative principles of reason, because, while reason possesses a causal power in relation to freedom, it has none in relation to the whole sphere of nature; and, while moral principles of reason can produce free actions, they cannot produce natural laws. It is, then, in its practical, but especially in its moral use, that the principles of pure reason possess objective reality. I call the world a moral world, in so far as it may be in accordance with all the ethical laws- which, by virtue of the freedom of reasonable beings, it can be, and according to the necessary laws of morality it ought to be. But this world must be conceived only as an intelligible world, inasmuch as abstraction is therein made of all conditions (ends), and even of all impediments to morality (the weakness or pravity of human nature). So far, then, it is a mere idea- though still a practical idea- which may have, and ought to have, an influence on the world of sense, so as to bring it as far as possible into conformity with itself. The idea of a moral world has, therefore, objective reality, not as referring to an object of intelligible intuition —for of such an object we can form no conception whatever—but to the world of sense—conceived, however, as an object of pure reason in its practical use —and to a corpus mysticum of rational beings in it, in so far as the liberum arbitrium of the individual is placed, under and by virtue of moral laws, in complete systematic unity both with itself and with the freedom of all others. . . .
That is the answer to the first of the two questions of pure reason which relate to its practical interest [that is, WHAT OUGHT I TO DO?]: Do that which will render thee worthy of happiness. The second question is this: If I conduct myself so as not to be unworthy of happiness, may I hope thereby to obtain happiness? In order to arrive at the solution of this question, we must inquire whether the principles of pure reason, which prescribe a priori the law, necessarily also connect this hope with it. I say, then, that just as the moral principles are necessary according to reason in its practical use, so it is equally necessary according to reason in its theoretical use to assume that every one has ground to hope for happiness in the measure in which he has made himself worthy of it in his conduct, and that therefore the system of morality is inseparably (though only in the idea of pure reason) connected with that of happiness. Now in an intelligible, that is, in the moral world, in the conception of which we make abstraction of all the impediments to morality (sensuous desires), such a system of happiness, connected with and proportioned to morality, may be conceived as necessary, because freedom of volition- partly incited, and partly restrained by moral laws- would be itself the cause of general happiness; and thus rational beings, under the guidance of such principles, would be themselves the authors both of their own enduring welfare and that of others. But such a system of self-rewarding morality is only an idea, the carrying out of which depends upon the condition that every one acts as he ought; in other words, that all actions of reasonable beings be such as they would be if they sprung from a Supreme Will, comprehending in, or under, itself all particular wills. But since the moral law is binding on each individual in the use of his freedom of volition, even if others should not act in conformity with this law, neither the nature of things, nor the causality of actions and their relation to morality, determine how the consequences of these actions will be related to happiness; and the necessary connection of the hope of happiness with the unceasing endeavour to become worthy of happiness, cannot be cognized by reason, if we take nature alone for our guide. This connection can be hoped for only on the assumption that the cause of nature is a supreme reason, which governs according to moral laws. I term the idea of an intelligence in which the morally most perfect will, united with supreme blessedness, is the cause of all happiness in the world so far as happiness stands in strict relation to morality (which makes us worthy of being happy), [I term this idea] the ideal of the supreme Good. . . .
Now since we are necessitated by reason to conceive ourselves as belonging to such a world [i.e. one containing a God], while the senses present to us nothing but a world of phenomena, we must assume the former as a consequence of our conduct in the world of sense (since the world of sense gives us no hint of it), and therefore as future in relation to us. Thus God and a future life are two hypotheses which, according to the principles of pure reason, are inseparable from the obligation which this reason imposes upon us. Morality per se constitutes a system. But we can form no system of happiness, except in so far as it is dispensed in strict proportion to morality. But this is only possible in the intelligible world, under a wise author and ruler. Such a ruler, together with life in such a world, which we must look upon as future, reason finds itself compelled to assume; or it must regard the moral laws as idle dreams, since the necessary consequence which this same reason connects with them must, without this hypothesis, fall to the ground. Hence also the moral laws are universally regarded as commands, which they could not be did they not connect a priori adequate consequences with their dictates, and thus carry with them promises and threats. But this, again, they could not do, did they not reside in a necessary being, as the Supreme Good, which alone can render such a teleological unity possible. Leibnitz termed the world, when viewed in relation to the rational beings which it contains, and the moral relations in which they stand to each other, under the government of the Supreme Good, the kingdom of Grace, and distinguished it from the kingdom of Nature, in which these rational beings live, under moral laws, indeed, but expect no other consequences from their actions than such as follow according to the course of nature in the world of sense. To view ourselves, therefore, as in the kingdom of grace, in which all happiness awaits us, except in so far as we ourselves limit our participation in it by actions which render us unworthy of happiness, is a practically necessary idea of reason. . . . The whole course of our life must be subject to moral maxims; but this is impossible, unless with the moral law, which is a mere idea, reason connects an efficient cause which ordains to all conduct which is in conformity with the moral law an issue either in this or in another life, which is in exact conformity with our highest aims. Thus, without a God and without a world, invisible to us now, but hoped for, the glorious ideas of morality are, indeed, objects of approbation and of admiration, but cannot be the springs of purpose and action. For they do not satisfy all the aims which are natural to every rational being, and which are determined a priori by pure reason itself, and necessary. Happiness alone is, in the view of reason, far from being the complete good. Reason does not approve of it (however much inclination may desire it), except as united with desert. On the other hand, morality alone, and with it, mere desert, is likewise far from being the complete good. To make it complete, he who conducts himself in a manner not unworthy of happiness, must be able to hope for the possession of happiness. Even reason, unbiased by private ends, or interested considerations, cannot judge otherwise, if it puts itself in the place of a being whose business it is to dispense all happiness to others. For in the practical idea both points are essentially combined, though in such a way that participation in happiness is rendered possible by the moral disposition, as its condition, and not conversely, the moral disposition by the prospect of happiness. For a disposition which should require the prospect of happiness as its necessary condition would not be moral, and hence also would not be worthy of complete happiness- a happiness which, in the view of reason, recognizes no limitation but such as arises from our own immoral conduct. Happiness, therefore, in exact proportion with the morality of rational beings (whereby they are made worthy of happiness), constitutes alone the supreme good of a world into which we absolutely must transport ourselves according to the commands of pure but practical reason. This world is, it is true, only an intelligible world; for of such a systematic unity of ends as it requires, the world of sense gives us no hint. Its reality can be based on nothing else but the hypothesis of a supreme original good. In it independent reason, equipped with all the sufficiency of a supreme cause, founds, maintains, and fulfils the universal order of things, with the most perfect teleological harmony, however much this order may be hidden from us in the world of sense. This moral theology has the peculiar advantage, in contrast with speculative theology, of leading inevitably to the conception of a sole, perfect, and rational First Cause, whereof speculative theology does not give us any indication on objective grounds, far less any convincing evidence. For we find neither in transcendental nor in natural theology, however far reason may lead us in these, any ground to warrant us in assuming the existence of one only Being, which stands at the head of all natural causes, and on which these are entirely dependent. On the other band, if we take our stand on moral unity as a necessary law of the universe, and from this point of view consider what is necessary to give this law adequate efficiency and, for us, obligatory force, we must come to the conclusion that there is one only supreme will, which comprehends all these laws in itself. For how, under different wills, should we find complete unity of ends? This will must be omnipotent, that all nature and its relation to morality in the world may be subject to it; omniscient, that it may have knowledge of the most secret feelings and their moral worth; omnipresent, that it may be at hand to supply every necessity to which the highest weal of the world may give rise; eternal, that this harmony of nature and liberty may never fail; and so on. . .
Analysis of Kant’s Argument:
Argument from Kant for Belief in God
(1) It is impossible to be a rational agent without belief that
(A) God exists,
(B) We have Free Will, and
(C) We are immortal.
(2) It is possible to be theoretically rational without these beliefs.
(3) Theoretical reason rules out these beliefs insofar as the world as it appears to us is concerned, but does not rule them out as far as things in themselves are concerned.
(4) Theoretical reason permits beliefs (A) (B) and (C) concerning things as they are in themselves, while insisting that we ignore them in the practice of science, from (3).
(5) Practical reason requires these beliefs, given (1).
(6) So Faith is rationally required, but it cannot be verified in experience or through metaphysical argument.
Argument for (1);
(1') If we do not believe these things, we cannot believe that we will benefit ourselves from following the moral law.
(2') We are rationally required to follow the moral law to avoid self-contradiction.
(3') For actions to be rational (a) they must benefit the agent, and (b) not be self-contradictory.
Hume would object to (3')(a), for he argues that there is nothing irrational in following altruistic desires. Possible reply:
(1) Altruistic desires are insufficient to fully support all moral requirements, and we are required rationally to be moral even when no altruistic desire supports this, so that it is, even in Hume’s terms, irrational. (Altruistic desires insufficient to support ethics.)
(2) The world is at least irrational if we are not rewarded for virtue and punished for vice, so that we are at odds with nature if we pursue moral aims. We ought to be rewarded. So the world, as an arena for practical action, demands from us that we do what our psychological nature (our phenomenal self) cannot, insofar as we understand it, do, for it is designed to find beneficial actions regardless whether they meet the formal requirement.
(1) Perhaps rational actions sometimes do not aim at personal happiness. In that case, the dilemma is psychologically potent, still, but no longer a logical problem, making rational action strictly impossible. Indeed, even the psychological potency of the dilemma is reduced if it turns out that we have desires, not rooted purely in reason, supporting others’ welfare and autonomous rights.
(2) Perhaps universalizable principles need not be as altruistic as Kant imagines. We might suggest it is a universalizable principle that each person should maximize his/her own welfare. Less extreme, we might propose that each person, while taking care for his/her own welfare and autonomy, maximize the welfare and autonomy of others.