Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ethical considerations concerning Kant’s transcendental philosophy

Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason maintains that the limitation of all possible knowledge to the realm of Erscheinungen, that is to things not as they truly are, but as they appear to our senses, while leaving things as they are in themselves, that is as they truly are, un-knowable, is the only way in which morality can be safeguarded. For ‘morality necessarily presupposes freedom (in the strictest sense) as a property of our will (die Moral setze notwendig Freiheit (im strengsten Sinne) als Eigenschaft unseres Willens voraus, BXXVIII)’, but everything that is in space and time is ruled by causal laws, which allow no freedom of will. Kant maintains that had his critique not drawn the distinction between things as objects of our experience (der Dinge als Gegenstände der Erfahrung), i. e. things as they appear to us (d. i. als Erscheinung), and the same things as things that are in themselves (von eben denselben, als Dingen an sich selbst), i. e. as they truly are, ‘the principle of causality, and by consequence, the mechanism of nature as determined by causality would then have absolute validity in relation to all things as efficient causes (so müsste der Grundsatz der Kausalität und mithin der Naturmechanismus in Bestimmung derselben durchaus von allen Dingen überhaupt als wirkenden Ursachen gelten, BXXVII, tr. Meiklejohn).’

And so Kant offers the following solution: ‘The criticism teaches us to take things in two senses (die Kritik das Objekt in zweierlei Bedeutung nehmen lehrt), to wit as a phenomenon (nämlich als Erscheinung,), or as a thing in itself  (oder als Ding an sich selbst) … the principle of causality has reference only to things in the first sense, namely in so far as they are objects of experience (der Grundsatz der Kausalität nur auf Dinge im ersten Sinne genommen, nämlich sofern sie Gegenstände der Erfahrung sind, geht) … and so one and the same will shall be thought on the one hand, in the phenomenal sphere (in visible action), as necessarily obedient to the law of nature, and, in so far, not free; and, on the other hand, as belonging to the thing in itself, as not subject to that law, and, accordingly, as free (so wird eben derselbe Wille in der Erscheinung (den sichtbaren Handlungen) als dem Natrugesetze notwendig gemäss und sofern nicht frei, und doch andererseits, als einem Dinge an sich selbst angehörig, jenem nicht unterworfen, mithin als frei, gedacht, B XXVII-XXVIII, my translation.).’

Kant’s concept of free will belonging to the ‘thing in itself’ does not mean that it is free from causation; he points out that ‘The will is a kind of causality belonging to living beings (Der Wille ist eine Art von Kausalität lebender Wesen) so far as they are rational (so fern sie vernünftig sind,). Freedom would then be the property this causality has (und Freiheit würde diejenige Eigenschaft dieser Kausalität sein,) of being able to work independently of determination by alien causes (da sie unabhängig von fremden sie bestimmenden Ursachen wirkend sein kann;); just as natural necessity is a property characterizing the causality of all non-rational beings (so wie Naturnotwendigkeit die Eigenschaft der Kausalität aller vernunftlosen Wesen,) – the property of being determined by the influence of alien causes (durch den Einfluss fremder Ursachen zur Tätigkeit bestimmt zu werden).’ (Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals {Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, p. 80}, tr. H. J. Paton)

Will viewed as causality of rational living beings cannot be separated from actions it causes. But how can one and the same will, and any one of the actions it causes, be viewed on the one hand as Erscheinung, as phenomenon, and thus necessarily obedient to the law of nature and not free, and on the other hand, as belonging to the ‘thing in itself’, as not subject to that law and free? It might seem that Kant’s solution is very similar to the solution offered by Hume: ‘He defines “liberty” and “necessity” in a way that allows for a person’s being both free and determined: “Liberty” is “a power of acting or not acting, according to the determination of the will” (8.23) in circumstances in which an actor is not constrained to choose one way or another. “Necessity” is causal necessity … actions are determined – that is, necessitated – in all cases, because every effect, including volitions and actions, has a cause.’ (Tom L. Beauchamp’s ‘Introduction’ to David Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, Oxford University Press 1999, pp. 39-40) But free actions Hume talks about are in Kant’s view subject to necessity and cannot be viewed as free.

Kant does not explain how one and the same action can be viewed as free in the intelligible world, yet un-free in the phenomenal world, yet he insists that this is the case: ‘A rational being (Das vernünftige Wesen) counts himself, qua intelligence (zählt sich als Intelligenz), as belonging to the intelligible world (zur Verstandeswelt,), and solely qua efficient cause belonging to the intelligible world (und, bloss als eine zu dieser gehörende wirkende Ursache,) does he give to his causality the name of ‘will’ (nennt es seine Kausalität einen Willen.). On the other side (Von der anderen Seite), however, he is conscious of himself as also a part of the sensible world (ist es sich seiner doch auch als eines Stücks der Sinnenwelt bewusst,), where his actions (in welcher seine Handlungen) are encountered as mere appearances of this causality (als blosse Erscheinungen jener Kausalität, angetroffen werden,). Yet the possibility of these actions cannot be made intelligible by means of such causality, since with this we have no direct experience (deren Möglichkeit aber aus dieser, die wir nicht kennen, nicht einsehen werden kann); and instead these actions, as belonging to the sensible world, have to be understood as determined by other appearances – namely, by desires and inclinations (an deren Statt jene Handlungen als bestimmt durch andere Erscheinungen, nämlich Begierden und Neigungen, als zur Sinnenwelt gehörig, eingesehen werden müssen.).’ (Grundlegung, p. 88, tr. Paton)

From Hume’s point of view, actions determined by our desires and inclinations are free.

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