Kants Lectures on Ethics: A Critical Guide (Cambridge Critical Guides)

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It then proceeds to explain and evaluate his revolutionary work in metaphysics and epistemology, logic, ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, political philosophy, philosophy of history, philosophy of education, and anthropology. Skip to main content Skip to table of contents. Advertisement Hide. The Palgrave Kant Handbook.

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Editors view affiliations Matthew C. Front Matter Pages i-xliv.

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The Primacy of Practical Reason. A Practical Account of Kantian Freedom. Moral Skepticism and the Critique of Practical Reason. How a Kantian Decides What to Do. Duties to Oneself. As is always the case with Kant, this principle provides a rational guide or rule for autonomous endeavor. These are preliminary indications of the interdependence of inner dispositions and civil institutions; in addressing human corruption, Kant delves more deeply into this interconnection.

The same point is made repeatedly 48, , and — While correct, this caveat is merely preliminary; the crucial issue concerns autonomous ethical reflection, its political significance, and the possible resources for its cultivation. Moreover, the problem is exacerbated when we consider not merely the mutual corruption of individuals, but also the exponential effects of selfish, narrowly conceived tendencies multiplied on a societal scale.

AN, The point, with which Allison seems to agree, is that external right is necessary but not sufficient: Kant aims higher, toward a just constitution freely supported by a populace. This more encompassing ethical and political goal remains prominent in later writings. Religion provides greater emphasis than either the Groundwork or second Critique on the interconnection of moral progress with historical and institutional factors.

Social and political institutions might convey principles that reflect those of practical reason, but they might also advocate parochial concepts of inherited privilege based on wealth, rank, creed, race, or gender. Therefore, following the exposition of radical evil, part 3 of Religion addresses how existing religious institutions—including sacred writings, systems of authority, and forms of association—influence collective modes of thinking both positively and negatively.

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Strictly speaking, freedom of choice and hence imputability cannot be taken from us. This shows the inadequacy of mere external conformity and the need for cultivation at the ethical level of free choice. Developing our predispositions to the good is partially contingent on the quality of our collective institutions at the national and international levels.

These comments are not directed at rulers alone; progress toward just laws grounded in freedom requires that citizens cultivate their inner dispositions in accordance with the moral law. Kant returns to the theme of enlightenment as a response to human corruption. A movement toward enlightenment as a way of thinking can counteract the regressive priorities of heads of state. Once again, something much deeper than compelled conformity is indicated. Rather than advocating for a coercive model, Kant proposes that enlightenment requires an open, public dissemination of rational, moral, and political ideas that strengthens our collective capacity for rational judgment.

This model necessarily includes the contributions of philosophers, broadly understood as those able to disseminate the moral law without holding political authority. This dissemination can occur directly, through pedagogy and the public communication of rational ideas, or indirectly, by holding existing institutions to the standards of reason and the moral law.

The question of how ethical cultivation is to be encouraged and guided without violating autonomy poses the most delicate problem. The main point is that ethical exemplars can be presented to a student through biographical and other narratives to stimulate ethical reflection without violating autonomy CPrR, ff. The principles of the moral law must be given priority; hence, specific exemplars are worthy of emulation only insofar as they epitomize the moral law through displaying its power in the course of a human life. This approach to individual moral pedagogy further establishes inner moral dispositions, and the corresponding capacity for autonomous practical judgment, as requiring training and cultivation.

Moreover, sharable public resources in the form of narratives, etc. Moral pedagogy on collective, institutional levels is more fully addressed in the third part of Religion , where the ideal ethical community is introduced in response to radical evil arising from freedom of choice and intensified by human interrelations.

These passages and the sections that follow elucidate the relationship of Kantian ethics to collective institutional resources. In a way that parallels moral exemplars in the second Critique , these institutions must be capable of representing and disseminating the principles of practical reason in public form so as to support autonomous ethical reflection. Rational ideals are applied by imperfect human beings living under divergent social and political conditions that cannot be swept aside but must be critically engaged.

Kant's "Lecture on Ethics" I

The kingdom or realm of ends is the ideal of a community freely in accordance with the moral law, while the ethical community provides related ideals for establishing actual communities that support our progress toward the shared ethical end. Rather, it is an ethical and cosmopolitan ideal, cultivated by a variety of institutions operating alongside and within political communities.

As I will demonstrate more fully in the next section, this ideal includes all of humanity, is irreducible to isolated political units, and works to counteract narrow parochialism and nativism. CJ, As ethical, the unity Kant describes requires inner dispositions and modes of thinking freely adhering to the principles of the moral law as the basis for harmonious and just interrelations. In addition to consistently emphasizing that we are dealing with the idea of God, Kant clarifies his point in ways that resolve any apparent contradiction with autonomous principles.

The analysis is predicated on human ethical autonomy guided by objective practical concepts and is the antithesis of passive reliance on supernatural intervention. The manner in which we conceive of the world is crucial here: this is not about empirical knowledge obtained through the understanding, but rather concerns rational concepts with practical validity for our moral endeavor.


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This clearly anticipates the idea of an ethical community as a people of God. The idea of God as moral ruler of the world is grounded in practical reason and is directly related to human beings striving to realize the moral law in the world. This point is also consistent with the postulates of practical reason formulated in the second Critique CPrR, ff. The very striving, impelled not by heteronomous forces but by practical reason, aligns us with the highest conceivable rational ends. The language is precise: the idea of the original being gives expression to an order of objective moral ends.

It arises from our rational calling as ethical beings, and it mediates that calling in relation to a phenomenal world including both nature and history in which ethical realization is far from guaranteed. The arguments of Religion are virtually identical.

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G, —60; CJ, , , and cf. Ginsborg , ff. This concerns regulating our subjective modes of thinking according to rational hence objective concepts that bear fruit in ethical institutions and actions. Regulated by practical reason, this conceptualizing is logically rigorous and should not be conflated with arbitrary or historically conditioned opinions. The principles represented by the ethical community are those of practical reason, hence autonomous.

Kant establishes a clear distinction between two modes of thinking about theological concepts in relation to public institutions: the ethical, based on laws of reason, and the theocratic, based on historically formed mores coercively enforced. Kant establishes clear equivalences among an internal lawgiver practical reason synonymous with autonomy, institutions disseminating rational laws of virtue in public form, and a people of God.

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No recourse to heteronomous theological models based on historically contingent and externally enforced statutory codes is indicated. Here the problem of nonstate institutions that can influence modes of thought, ethical norms, and collective behavior is brought to the fore through a negative example.

These passages demonstrate how authorities coercively affect ways of thinking through early indoctrination, peer pressure, and by claiming to control supernatural rewards and punishments. For a more extended discussion, see DiCenso These analyses further demonstrate how Kant sharply differentiates the ethical people of God from traditional theocratic, heteronomous concepts and models. To disseminate the moral law under historical conditions i. These characteristics exactly express the principles of the moral law established in the Groundwork.

He establishes the moral law as the basis for interpreting and renewing existing historical institutions, but also strongly critiques parochial and heteronomous features of the latter that counteract the moral law. In this indirect approach to cultivating ethical institutions, the moral philosopher undertakes a critical interpretation of extant traditions and cultural resources, highlighting universalizable principles and downplaying contingent and parochial features that have only secondary value as means of historical propagation.

Potentially, this critical and interpretive engagement, occurring through public discourse, can contribute to the enlightening of existing religious institutions, that is, bringing them into greater harmony with the moral law R, ff. Kant suggests a rigorous assessment of all traditions from the standpoint of practical reason; yet, he also discerns resources already at play in every tradition that can harmonize with the moral law. Although it is central to his cosmopolitan standpoint that no particular tradition be elevated to the exclusion of others, in keeping with his historical and cultural milieu Kant mainly focusses on the Christian tradition.

For Kant, the definitive question is not: How can a social order hold together when composed of the crooked wood of humanity? It is more precisely: How can we work collectively toward developing the potential for good within these imperfect elements? In Religion , Kant focuses on religious institutions, which played a particularly vital role in the ethical, political, and pedagogical life of European states at the time. Churches, when modified in accordance with principles of reason and autonomy, might become increasingly reliable carriers of the ideals of an ethical community.

This makes perfect sense insofar as rational religious concepts reflect the universality of the moral law. However, under changing historical and cultural conditions, in principle any nonstate institution that fosters ethical reflection through the rational principles of the moral law could contribute to the ethical community. The goal of ethical pedagogy is to move the threshold between the ethical and juridical increasingly toward an autonomous basis of right action.