Norman Kemp Smith.

A commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' online

. (page 67 of 72)
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field of investigation it is never permissible to attempt to
justify a synthetic proposition by refuting its opposite. Such
seeming proofs can easily be secured, and have been the
favourite weapons of dogmatic thinkers.

" Each must defend his position directly, by a legitimate proof
that carries with it transcendental deduction of the grounds upon which
it is itself made to rest. Only when this has been done, are we in a
position to decide how far its claims allow of rational justification.
If an opponent relies on subjective grounds, it is an easy matter to
refute him. The dogmatist cannot, however, profit by this advantage.
His own judgments are, as a rule, no less dependent upon subjective
influences ; and he can himself in turn be similarly cornered. But
if both parties proceed by the direct method, either they will soon
discover the difficulty, nay, the impossibility, of showing reason for
their assertions, and will be left with no resort save to appeal to some
form of prescriptive authority ; or the Critique will the more easily
discover the illusion to which their dogmatic procedure is due;
and pure Reason will be compelled to relinquish its exaggerated
pretensions in the realm of speculation, and to withdraw within the
limits of its proper territory that of practical principles." 4

1 Section III., on The Discipline of Pure Reason in Regard to Hypotheses,
has been commented on above, pp. 543-6. 2 A 782 = 6 810.

3 Even in mathematics the indirect method is not always available. Cf. Russell,
Principles of Mathematics, i. p. 15. 4 A 794 = 6 822.





The problems of the existence of God, the freedom of the
will, and the immortality of the soul have, Kant declares,
little theoretical interest. For, as he has already argued,
even if we were justified in postulating God, freedom, and
immortality, they would not enable us to account for the
phenomena of sense-experience, the only objects of possible
knowledge. But the three problems are also connected with
our practical interests, and in that reference they constitute
the chief subject of metaphysical enquiry. 3 The practical is
whatever is possible through freedom ; and the decision as to
what we ought to do is the supreme interest of pure Reason
in its highest employment.

"... the ultimate intention of Nature in her wise provision for us
has indeed, in the constitution of our Reason, been directed to our
moral interests alone." 4

This is the position which Kant endeavours to establish
in his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, and in the
Critique of Practical Reason. The very brief outline which
he here gives of his argument is necessarily incomplete ; and
is in consequence somewhat misleading. He first disposes of
the problem of freedom ; and does so in a manner which
shows that he had not, when this section was composed,
developed his Critical views on the nature of moral freedom.
He is for the present content to draw a quite un-Critical

1 Cf. above, p. 563 n. 2. 2 A 797 = 6 825.

3 Cf. Critique of Judgment, W. v. p. 473; Bernard's trans, p. 411 : " God,
freedom, and immortality are the problems at the solution of which all the
preparations of Metaphysics aim, as their ultimate and unique purpose."

4 A 800-1 = 13 829.

5 6 9


distinction between transcendental and practical freedom. 1
The latter belongs to the will in so far as it is determined by
Reason alone, independently of sensuous impulses. Reason
prescribes objective laws of freedom, and the will under the
influence of these laws overcomes the affections of sense.
Such practical freedom can, Kant asserts, be proved by ex-
perience to be a natural cause. Transcendental freedom, 2
on the other hand, i.e. the power of making a new beginning
in the series of phenomena, is a problem which can never be
empirically solved. It is a purely speculative question with
which Reason in its practical employment is not in the least
concerned. The canon of pure Reason has therefore to deal
only with the two remaining problems, God and immortality.
Comment upon these assertions can best be made in con-
nection with the argument of the next section. 3



Reason in its speculative employment transcends experi-
ence, but solely for the sake of experience. In other words,
speculative Reason has a purely empirical function. (This is
the explanation of the somewhat paradoxical contention, to
which Kant has already committed himself, that the problems
of God and immortality, though seemingly speculative in
character, really originate in our practical interests.) But
pure Reason has also a practical use ; and it is in this latter
employment that it first discloses the genuinely metaphysical
character of its present constitution and ultimate aims. The
moral consciousness, in revealing to us an Ideal of absolute
value, places in our hands the only available key to the
mysteries of existence. As this moral consciousness re-
presents the deepest reality of human life, it may be expected
to have greater metaphysical significance than anything else
in human experience; and since the ends which it reveals
also present themselves as absolute in value, and are indeed
the only absolute values of which we can form any conception,
this conclusion would seem to be confirmed.

Happiness has natural value ; morality, i.e. the being

1 The statement in A 8oi=B 829 that morals is a subject foreign to tran-
scendental philosophy is in line with that of A 14-15 = 6 28, and conflicts with the
position later adopted in the Critique of Practical Reason. Cf. above p 77
A 8o 3 = B 831-2. s Cf .


worthy to be happy, has absolute value. The means of
attaining the former obtain expression in prudential or prag-
matic laws that are empirically grounded. The conditions of
the latter are embodied in a categorical imperative of an
a priori character. The former advise us how best to satisfy
our natural desire for happiness ; the latter dictates to us how
we must behave in order to deserve happiness.

Kant's further argument is too condensed to be really
clear, and if adequately discussed would carry us quite beyond
the legitimate limits of this Commentary. I shall therefore
confine myself to a brief and free restatement of his general
position. The Critical teaching can be described as resulting
in a new interpretation of the function of philosophy. 1 The
task of the philosopher, properly viewed, does not consist in
the solution of speculative problems ; such problems transcend
our human powers. All that philosophy can reasonably
attempt is to analyse and define the situations, cognitive and
practical, in which, owing to the specific conditions of human
existence, we find ourselves to be placed. Upon analysis of
the cognitive situation Kant discovers that while all possi-
bilities are open, the theoretical data are never such as to
justify ontological assertions. 2 When, however, he passes to
the practical situation, wider horizons, definitely outlined, at
once present themselves. The moral consciousness is the
key to the meaning of the entire universe as well as of human
life. Its values are the sole ultimate values, and enable us to
interpret in moral terms (even though we cannot comprehend
in any genuinely theoretical fashion) the meaning of the. dis-
pensation under which we live. The moral consciousness, like
sense-experience, discloses upon examination a systematic
unity of presupposed conditions. In the theoretical sphere
this unity cannot be proved to be more than a postulated
Ideal of empirical experience ; and it is an Ideal which, even
if granted to have absolute validity, is too indefinite to enable
us to assert that ultimate reality is spiritual in character, or
is ideologically ordered. The underlying conditions, on the
other hand, of practical experience have from the start a
purely noumenal reference. They have no other function
than to define, in terms of the moral consciousness, the
ultimate meaning of reality as a whole. They postulate 3 a
universe in which the values of spiritual experience are sup-
ported and conserved.

1 Cf. above, p. Ivi.

2 These statements are subject to modification, if the distinction (not clearly
recognised by Kant, but really essential to his position) between immanent and
transcendent metaphysics is insisted upon. Cf. above, pp. liv-v, 22, 56, 66-70.

3 Cf. above, p. 541.


But the main difference in Kant's treatment of the two
situations, cognitive and practical, only emerges into view when
we recognise the differing modes in which the transcendental
method of proof is applied in the two cases. The a priori
forms of sensibility, understanding, and Reason are proved by
reference to possible experience, as being its indispensable
conditions. In moral matters, however, we must not appeal
to experience. The actual is no test of the Ideal ; " what is "
is no test of what ought to be. And secondly, the moral law,
if valid at all, must apply not merely within the limits of
experience, but with absolute universality to all rational
beings. The moral law, therefore, can neither be given us in
experience, nor be proved as one of the conditions neces-
sary to its possibility. Its validity, in other words, can be
established neither through experience nor through theoretical

Though such is Kant's own method of formulating the
issue, it exaggerates the difference of his procedure in the two
Critiques, and is very misleading as a statement of his real
position. In one passage, in the Critique of Practical Reason^
Kant does, indeed, assert that the moral law requires no
deduction. It is, he claims, a fact of which we are a priori
conscious : so far from itself requiring proof, it enables us to
prove the reality of freedom. Yet in the very same section
he argues that the deduction of freedom from the moral law
is a credential of the latter, and is a sufficient substitute for
all a priori justification. According to the first statement we
have an immediate consciousness of the validity of the moral
law ; according to the second statement the moral law proves
itself indirectly, by serving as a principle for the deduction of
freedom. The second form of statement alone harmonises
with the argument developed in the third section of the
Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, and more correctly
expresses the intention of Kant's central argument in the
Critique of Practical Reason. For the difference between the
two transcendental proofs in the two Critiques does not really
consist in any diversity of method, but solely in the differing
character of the premisses from which each starts. The
ambiguity of Kant's argument in the second Critique seems
chiefly to be caused by his failure clearly to recognise that
the moral law, though a form of pure Reason, exercises, in
the process of its transcendental proof, a function which
exactly corresponds to that which is discharged by possible
experience in the first Critique. Our consciousness of the
moral law is, like sense-experience, a given fact. It is de

1 W. v. pp. 47-8 ; Abbott's trans. (3rd edition) p. 136.


facto, and cannot be deduced from anything more ultimate
than itself. 1 But as given, it enables us to deduce its
transcendental conditions. This does not mean that our
immediate consciousness of it as given guarantees its validity.
The nature of its validity is established only in the process
whereby it reveals its necessary implications. The objects of
sense-experience are assumed by ordinary consciousness to
be absolutely real ; in the process of establishing the tran-
scendental conditions of such experience they are discovered
to be merely phenomenal. The pure principles of under-
standing thus gain objective validity as the conditions of a
given experience which reveals only appearances. Ordinary
consciousness similarly starts from the assumption of the
absolute validity of the moral law. But in this case the
consciousness of the law is discovered on examination to
be explicable, even as a possibility, only on the assumption
that it is due to the autonomous activity of a noumenal
being. By its existence it proves the conditions through
which alone it is explicable. Its mere existence suffices to
prove that its validity is objective in a deeper and truer
sense than the principles of understanding. The notion of
freedom, and therefore all the connected Ideas of pure Reason,
gain noumenal reality as the conditions of a moral consciousness
^ which is incapable of explanation as illusory or even pheno-
menal. Since the consciousness of the moral law is thus
noumenally grounded, it has a validity with which nothing
in the phenomenal world can possibly compare. It is the
one form in which noumenal reality directly discloses itself to
the human mind. 2

Obviously the essential crux of Kant's argument lies in the
proof that the moral consciousness is only explicable in this
manner, as the self-legislation of a noumenal being. Into the
merits of his argument we cannot, however, here enter ; and
I need only draw attention to the manner in which it conflicts
with the statement of the preceding section, that the possibility
of transcendental freedom is a purely speculative question
with which practical Reason is not concerned. The reality of
freedom, as a form of noumenal activity, is the cardinal fact of
Kant's metaphysics of morals. For though our consciousness

1 Cf. Critique of Practical Reason, W. v. pp. 31-7 ; Abbott's trans,
p. 120.

2 Cf. Critique of Practical Reason, W. v. p. 43 ; Abbott's trans, p. 132 :
"The moral law, although it gives no view, yet gives us a fact absolutely in-
explicable from any data of the sensible world, or from the whole compass of our
theoretical use of reason, a fa'ct which points to a pure world of the understanding,
nay, even defines it positively, and enables us to know something of it, namely,
a law."


of the moral law is the ratio cognoscendi of freedom, tran-
scendental freedom is the ratio essendi of the moral law. 1

" With this faculty [of practical Reason], transcendental freedom
is also established ; freedom, namely, in that absolute sense in which
speculative Reason required it, in its use of the concept of causality, in
order to escape the antinomy into which it inevitably falls, when in
the chain of cause and effect it tries to think the unconditioned. . . .
Freedom is the only one of all the Ideas of the speculative Reason
of which we know the possibility a priori (without, however, under-
standing it), because it is the condition of the moral law which we
know." 2 " [Freedom] is the only one of all the Ideas of pure Reason
whose object is a thing of fact and to be reckoned among the
sdbilia" 3 " It is thus very remarkable that of the three pure rational
Ideas, God, freedom, and immortality, that of freedom is the only
concept of the supersensible which (by means of the causality that is
thought in it) proves its objective reality in nature by means of the
effects it can produce there ; and thus renders possible the connection
of both the others with nature, and of all three with one another so as
to form a Religion. . . . The concept of freedom (as fundamental
concept of all unconditioned practical laws) can extend Reason
beyond those bounds within which every natural (theoretical) con-
cept must inevitably remain confined." 4

Thus freedom is for Kant a demonstrated fact, and in
that respect differs from the Ideas of God and immortality,
which are merely problematic conceptions, and which can be
postulated only as articles of " practical faith."

This brings us to the final question, upon what grounds
Kant ascribes validity to the Ideas of God and immortality.
At this point in his argument Kant introduces the conception
of the Summum Bonum. Reason, in prescribing the moral
law, prescribes, as the final and complete end of all our actions,
the Summum Bonum, i.e. happiness proportioned to moral
worth. Owing to the limitations of our faculties ; the complete
attainment of this supreme end is conceivable by us only on
the assumption of a future life wherein perfect worthiness may
be attained, and of an omnipotent Divine Being who will
apportion happiness in accordance with merit.

"[This Divine Being] must be omnipotent, in order that the
whole of nature and its relation to morality . . . may be subject to
his will; omniscient, that he may know our innermost sentiments
and their moral worth; omnipresent, that he may be immediately

1 Cf. Critique of Practical Reason, in note to Preface.

2 Op. cit., Preface, at the beginning, Abbott's trans, pp. 87-8. Cf. also the
concluding pages of Book L, W. v. pp. 103-6, Abbott, pp. 197-200.

3 Critique of Judgment, W. v. p. 468; Bernard's trans, p.' 406.

4 Op. eit. p. 474 ; Bernard's trans, p. 413.


present for the satisfying of every need which the highest good
demands; eternal, that this harmony of nature and freedom may
never fail, etc." *

The moral ideal thus supplies us with a ground 2 for re-
garding the universe as systematically ordered according to
moral purposes, and also with a principle that enables us to
infer the nature and properties of its Supreme Cause. In
place of a demonology, which is all that physical theology
can establish, we construct upon moral grounds a genuine

The concepts thus obtained are, however, anthropomorphic ;
and for that reason alone must be denied all speculative
value. This is especially evident in regard to the Idea of
God. Owing to our incapacity to comprehend how moral
merit can condition happiness, we conceive them as externally
combined through the intervention of a supreme Judge and
Ruler. As Kant indicates, 3 we must not assert that this
represents the actual situation. He himself seems to have
inclined to a more mystical interpretation of the universe,
conceiving the relation of happiness to virtue as being grounded
in a supersensuous but necessary order that may, indeed, be
bodied forth in the inadequate symbols of the deistic creed,
but which in its true nature transcends our powers of under-
standing. So far as the Ideas of God and immortality are
necessary to define the moral standpoint, they have genuine
validity for all moral beings; but if developed on their own
account as speculative dogmas, they acquire a definiteness
of formulation which is not essential to their moral func-
tion, and which lays them open to suspicion even in their
legitimate use.

These considerations also indicate Kant's further reason
for entitling the Summum Bonum, God and immortality,
Ideas of faith. Though they can be established as pre-
suppositions of the moral situation in which we find ourselves,
such demonstration itself rests upon the acceptance of the
moral consciousness as possessing a supersensuous sanction ;
and that in turn is determined by features in the moral situa-
tion not deducible from any higher order of considerations.

1 A 815-6843-

2 Cf. Critique of Practical Reason, W. v. pp. 143-4 n. ; Abbott's trans,
p. 242 : " It is a duty to realise the Summum Bonum to the utmost of our power,
therefore it must be possible, consequently it is unavoidable for every rational
being in the world to assume what is necessary for its objective possibility. The
assumption is as necessary as the moral law, in connexion with which alone it
as valid."

8 Cf. Critique of Practical Reason, W. v. p. 1428". ; Abbott's trans, p. 240 ff. ;
Critique of Judgment, W. v. pp. 469-70 ; Bernard's trans, pp. 406-8.


"Belief in matters of faith is a belief in a pure practical point of
view ie. a moral faith, which proves nothing for theoretical, pure,
rational cognition, but only for that which is practical and directed to
the fulfilment of its duties ; it in no way extends speculation. ... If
the supreme principle of all moral laws is a postulate, the possibility
of its highest Object ... is thereby postulated along with it." 1
"So far, as practical Reason has the right to yield us guidance,
we shall not look upon actions as obligatory because they are the
commands of God, but shall regard them as divine commands
because we have an inward obligation to them. . . . Moral
theology is thus of immanent use only. It enables us to fulfil our
vocation in this present world by showing us how to adapt our-
selves to the system of all ends, and by warning us against the
fanaticism and indeed the impiety of abandoning the guidance of a
morally legislative Reason in the right conduct of our lives, in order
to derive guidance directly from the Idea of the Supreme Being.
For we should then be making a transcendent employment of
moral theology; and that, like a transcendent use of pure specula-
tion, must pervert and frustrate the ultimate ends of Reason." 2



Kant first distinguishes between conviction ( Ueberzeugung]
and persuasion (Ueberredung]. A judgment which is object-
ively grounded, and which is therefore valid for all other
rational beings, is affirmed with conviction. When the
affirmation is due only to the peculiar character of the subject,
the manner in which it is asserted may be entitled persuasion.
Persuasion is therefore " a mere illusion." 4 Conviction exists
in three degrees, opinion, belief, and knowledge. In opinion
we are conscious that the judgment is insufficiently grounded,
and that our conviction is subjectively incomplete. In belief
the subjective conviction is complete, but is recognised as
lacking in objective justification. In knowledge the objective
grounds and the subjective conviction are alike complete.

After pointing out that opinion is not permissible in judg-

1 Critique of Judgment, W. v. pp. 369-72; Bernard's trans, pp. 407-10. Cf.
note in same section: "It is a trust in the promise of the moral law; not,
however, such as is contained in it, but such as I put into it, and that on morally
adequate grounds."

2 A 8i 9 = B 847. 3 A 8 2 o = B 848.

4 The distinction is less harshly drawn in Kant's Logic, Einleitung, ix.
(Hartenstein), viii. p. 73 ; Eng. trans, p. 63 : " Conviction is opposed to
persuasion. Persuasion is an assent from inadequate reasons, in respect to which
we do not know whether they are only subjective or are also objective. Per-
suasion often precedes conviction."


ments of pure Reason, 1 Kant develops the further distinction
between pragmatic or doctrinal belief and moral belief. When
a belief is contingent (i.e. is affirmed with the consciousness
that on fuller knowledge it may turn out to be false), and yet
nevertheless supplies a ground for the employment of means
to certain desired ends, it may be called pragmatic belief.
Such belief admits of degree, and can be tested by wager or
by oath. 2 What may be called doctrinal belief is analogous in
character, and is taken by Kant, in somewhat misleading
fashion, as describing our mode of accepting such doctrines
as the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. 3
They are adopted as helpful towards a contingent but im-
portant end, the discovery of order in the system of nature.
This account of the nature of Ideas is in line with Kant's
early view of them as merely regulative. Taken in connec-
tion with his repeated employment of the term * moral
sentiments ' (moralische Gesinnungen\ it tends to prove that
this section is early in date of writing.

In moral belief 'the end, the Summum Bonum, is absolutely
necessary, and as there is only one condition under which we
can conceive it as being realised, namely, on the assumption
of the existence of God and of a future life, the belief in
God and immortality possesses the same certainty as the
moral sentiments.

"The belief in a God and another world is so interwoven with
my moral sentiment that as there is little danger of my losing the
latter, there is equally little cause for fear that the former can ever be
taken from me." 4

As I have just suggested, this basing of moral belief upon
subjective sentiments, which, as Kant very, inconsistently
proceeds to suggest, may possibly be lacking in certain men,
marks this section as being of early origin. But in concluding
the section, in reply to the objection that, in thus tracing such

Online LibraryNorman Kemp SmithA commentary to Kant's 'Critique of pure reason,' → online text (page 67 of 72)