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CHAPTER II.: TRANSIT FROM COMMON MORAL PHILOSOPHY TO THE METAPHYSIC OF ETHICS. - Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Ethics 
The Metaphysics of Ethics by Immanuel Kant, trans. J.W. Semple, ed. with Iintroduction by Rev. Henry Calderwood (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1886) (3rd edition).
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TRANSIT FROM COMMON MORAL PHILOSOPHY TO THE METAPHYSIC OF ETHICS.
HITHERTO we have investigated the notion Duty, as we found it occurring in everyday practice; but it must not on that account be fancied that we have been occupied with a mere à posteriori notion. On the contrary, when we attend to what experience teaches of the conduct of mankind, we hear many complaints, the justice of which we must admit, that no certain instance can be adduced of actions flowing from the inward bent of the will, to act singly out of regard to duty; since, even in the cases where an action is quite in accordance with what duty would demand, experience and observation leave it entirely in doubt how far the action emanated from a principle of duty, and so possessed any moral worth. Accordingly, philosophers have at all times been found who denied the real existence of such inward dutiful intent, and who have insisted on ascribing all to self-love; not that they called in question the accuracy of the idea of morality, but regretted rather the frailty and improbity of human nature, which, while so noble as to start from the contemplation of so highly reverent an idea, was at the same time too weak to keep moving in its track, and employed reason, the legislator and governor of the will, to no other end than to adjust and settle the discordant claims of appetite and passion.
So little, in fact, is this notion borrowed from experience and observation, that it is utterly impossible to assign any instance where the maxims of an action outwardly conformable to duty rested singly upon moral grounds, and flowed directly from the representation of its law; and although there are unquestionably cases where, after the severest self-examination, we can discover nothing but the ethic sway of duty sufficiently mighty to have moved the will to this or that action, and to such vast self-denials, still we are unable to conclude that self-love may not have co-operated with the law, or that, somewhat assuming the place and likeness of duty, may not, after all, have been the real determining ground of acting; whereupon we falsely ascribe to ourselves the nobler motive, although, in point of fact, the most sifting scrutiny cannot carry us into those secret springs: since, where question is made of the moral worth of a person, the question turns not on what we see, but on the inward principle regulating the causality of the will; and to this no experience and observation can extend.
It is impossible to do a greater service to those who laugh to scorn the idea of absolute morality as fantastical and absurd, than to admit that duty and its cognate notions are à posteriori, and taken from observation and experience (a position extended by some, out of sheer indolence, to all perceptions whatsoever); for then we prepare for them a certain triumph. I am ready to grant that the major part of our actions coincide with duty: on examining, however, the aim and designs of mankind, self is generally found predominant, and actions spring from self, not from the stern law, which in most cases ordains self-denial. Nor need he be deemed an enemy to virtue, but a calm observer simply—not inclined to mistake his good hopes of mankind for the reality he wishes—who may at times be led to doubt whether genuine virtue is anywhere to be found throughout the world; and in such a state of things, nowhat can guard against our total apostasy from the idea Duty, and uphold in our soul reverence for its law, except the clear insight, that even although there never yet were actions emanating from this pure source, that cannot affect the question: since we do not now inquire what phenomena may in fact happen, but whether or not reason, irrespective of all phenomena, legislate for herself, and ordain what ought to happen? i.e., whether reason do not unremittingly call for conduct, whereof perhaps the world never yet saw an example, and the practicability of which would be doubted or denied by those who advance singly on experience and observation?—and the consequent conviction, that disinterested friendship (for example) is not the less justly expected from mankind, although possibly there may never yet have been any moral friends; friendship being a duty indicated as such, independently of and prior to all experience, and given with the idea of a will determined à priori upon grounds of reason.*
Again, when it is added, that unless where morality is totally denied, no one doubts that its law is figured to be of catholic extent, and valid, not adventitiously or contingently, but absolutely and necessarily, and that not merely for man, but for every intelligent nature, such universality and necessity reminds us at once, that no experiment or observation could even suggest to us the possibility of thinking such an apodictic legislation. Nor could we have any right to bring into unlimited reverence, as an edict addressed to every Rational, a law dependent on the particular and accidental structure of humanity; nor could we hold laws determining our will, for laws determining all wills, regarding them in fact on this last account alone as likewise laws for us, were their origin in experience and observation, and were they not entirely originated by the pure à priori spontaneity of practical reason.
Nor can morality fall into the hands of worse defenders than when it happens into the hands of those who attempt to found it on examples; for every example given to me of it must first be compared with the principle and standard of morality, to know if it be worthy of being elevated to the rank of an archetype or pattern, and so of course cannot originate in us the notion. Even the Holy One in the gospel is only recognised to be so when compared with our ideal of moral excellence. So much is this the case, that He Himself said, Why call ye me (whom ye see) good? there is none good (the archetype of it), but God only (whom ye do not see). Whence this idea God, as the supreme archetypal good? Singly from that idea of ethical perfection, evolved by reason à priori, and connected by it indissolubly to the notion of a free will. Imitation has no place in morals. Examples serve only to encourage to moral practice—to put beyond doubt the possibility of performing those duties unremittingly commanded by the law,—and to exhibit to sense, in a tangible and outward substance, what the legislation of reason expresses only in the abstract and general; but their use is perverted when their original in reason is overlooked, and conduct regulated upon the model of the example.
If there be no genuine and supreme principle of morality given apart from all observation and experience, and resting upon reason only, then I think it were idle so much as to inquire if it were good to treat these à priori notions, and to deliver their principles in the abstract; unless indeed we merely wished to separate betwixt the common ethic notions of the unlettered, and a system of them which might aspire to be called philosophical. And yet in the present age this last may well be necessary; for were we to collect voices as to whether a popular practical philosophy or metaphysic of ethics (i.e., rational cognition divested of every à posteriori part)* were more eligible, I know full well on which side I should find most votes.
To accommodate a science to the common conceptions of the people is highly laudable, when once the science has been established on first principles; and that, in the present case, would amount to founding ethics on their true basis, metaphysics; after which a popular dress may carry and spread the science more widely: but to attempt such a thing in a first investigation is folly. Not only would such procedure have no claim to the signal and rare merit of true philosophic popularity, but it would lie open to the objection of amounting to no more than an odious and revolting mixture of random remarks, crude and half-fledged opinions,—a mad attempt, which would furnish the shallow with materials to talk of and quote in conversation, but which could only embarrass the more profound, who, dissatisfied, avert their eyes, and remain unaided; although those who see through the illusion are little listened to when they insist on the abandonment of a futile popularity, in order to become then only popular when clear and definite insight has been attained.
To illustrate this remark, it were only requisite to examine popular modern treatises which have been got up in this taste, and we find at one time the destiny of man, which is particular, at another, the idea of an intelligent nature, which is general,—here perfection, there happiness,—then somewhat of the moral sense, and of the fear of God,—all mixed up in one huge heterogeneous mass. But nowhere do the authors seem to have impinged upon the cardinal question, whether principles of morality were to be sought for in the psychology of human nature? (which we know only from experience and observation,)—or whether, if this be not the case, they are not to be met with wholly à priori in pure ideas of reason, and nowhere else? Nor did it ever occur to them, in this last event, to commence an investigation of these first principles, as a particular and separate department of philosophic science, called, if I may be allowed the expression, “metaphysic* of ethics,”—to isolate and keep it by itself, in order to exhaust and complete its entire circuit and extent,—diverting in the meantime a public impatient for popularity till the issue and conclusion of the investigation.
Such a system of metaphysic ethics, isolated and cleared of all theology, anthropology, physics, hyperphysics, and occult qualities, which I may call hypophysics, is not merely a substratum indispensable for all theoretic knowledge in the department of duty, but is likewise a main desideratum towards the actual fulfilment of its law; for the naked representation Duty, unadulterated with any foreign charms,—in short, the moral law itself,—is so much stronger a mobile to the will than any other motive, that reason first learns by this method her own causal-force and independency on every sensitive determinator; until at length, awaking fully to the consciousness of her own supremacy and dignity, she scorns to act from any such, and comes in the sequel to be able to control and to command them: which things a system of ethics, not distinguished from the emotions of the sensory, cannot effect; for there the mind is at once perturbed by opposing causes, and is forced to waver betwixt feelings and ideas which cannot be reduced to any common principle, and is accordingly, owing to its instability and uncertainty, led sometimes wrong, sometimes right.
From the above it is clear that all ethical ideas have their origin and seat altogether à priori in reason (in the reason of the unlettered, of course, as much as in that of the most finished sage); that they are not susceptible of explanation upon any à posteriori system; that in this high priori source consists their dignity and title to be supreme practical principles of life; that the addition of any posteriori motive lessens their native force upon the will, and destroys to that extent the absolute unconditioned worth of the action; and that it is absolutely necessary, in adjusting the speculative theory of ethics, as well as of the last practical importance in the conduct of life, to deduce the laws and ideas of morality from naked reason, to deliver these pure and unmixed, and to examine and exhaust the whole circuit of this originary science of reason (i.e., to investigate the à priori functions and operations of reason, as a practical faculty of action): in which investigation we cannot, as in speculative philosophy, examine the particular operations of the human reason, but are forced to examine reason as such, abstractedly and apart from the nature of man; the moral law having ethical virtue to oblige all will whatsoever, and so demanding a deduction from the abstract notion of intelligent existence. And in this way alone can ethics (which in their application to man stand in need of anthropology) be fully cleared and purged of this last, rendered a pure philosophy, and so fit to be prelected on as an entire metaphysic science; bearing the while well in mind, that, apart from possessing such metaphysic, not only is it vain to attempt to detect speculatively the ethical part of given actions, but that it is impossible, in ethical instruction (i.e., in the most common practical case), to base morality on its true foundation, to effectuate genuine moral sentiments, and determine the mind, by the idea of the summum bonum, to exert itself onwards toward the advancement of the general welfare of humanity.
Now, to advance in this investigation from the common opinions—which are highly venerable—to the philosophical, as was done in the former chapter, and from that popular tentative philosophy which I have just denounced, up to a system of metaphysics containing no à posteriori part, and rising in its course even to ideas where all examples fall away, it is needful to pursue reason in its active function, from its general law of determination up to that point where the notion Duty is evolved.
Everything in the world acts according to law; an Intelligent alone has the prerogative of acting according to the representation of laws,i.e.,has a will: and since, to deduce actions from laws, reason is required, it follows that will is nothing else than practical reason.3* When reason invariably determines the will, then the agent’s actions which are recognised as objectively necessary, are subjectively necessary too; that is, the will is then a faculty to choose that only which reason, independently on appetite, recognises to be practically necessary, i.e., good.† But if reason do not itself alone determine the will, and the will be subjected to inward impediments and stimuli not always in unison with the law,—in one word, if reason and the will do not exactly tally (as is the case with man),—then are the actions recognised as objectively necessary, subjectively contingent; and the determination of such a will, conformably to objective laws, is necessitation; that is, the relation obtaining betwixt objective laws and a will not altogether good is represented as the determining an Intelligent’s will upon grounds of reason, but to which the will is not by its nature necessarily conformed.
The representation of an objective principle, so far as it necessitates the will, is called a commandment (of reason); and a formula expressing such is called an imperative.
All imperatives are expressed by the words “shall or ought,” and thus denote the relation obtaining betwixt an objective law of reason, and a will so constituted as not to be necessarily determined by it (necessitation). They say that somewhat were good to be pursued or avoided, but they say so to a will not always acting because it is represented to him that somewhat is good. That is practically good which determines the will by the intervention of a representation of reason; i.e., not by force of subjective stimulants, but objectively, i.e., upon grounds valid for every Intelligent as such. In this respect the good differs from the agreeable;* which last affects the will by means of subjective sensations, valid for the particular taste of individuals only,—not like a principle of reason, which is possessed of universal validity.
A perfectly good will would, equally with a defective one, come to stand under objective laws (of good); but with this difference, that it cannot be regarded as necessitated by the law to the legal action,—its very nature being such as to render it capable of determination only by the representation of what is good. Hence no imperative is valid for the Divine Will, nor indeed for any will figured to be Holy. Thou shalt were misapplied to such a will,—the will being already spontaneously in harmony with the law. An imperative is then no more than a formula, expressing the relation betwixt objective laws of volition and the subjective imperfection of particular wills (e.g., the human).
An imperative commands either hypothetically or categorically. The former expresses that an action is necessary as a mean toward somewhat further; but the latter is such an imperative as represents an action to be in itself necessary, and without regard to anywhat out of and beyond it, i.e., objectively necessary.
Because every practical law represents some action or another as good, it represents it to a being determinable by reason, as in so far necessary; and hence, upon this account, an imperative may be further explained to be a formula potentially determining an action deemed necessary by a will good in any sort of way. If the action be good only for somewhat else, i.e., as a mean, then the imperative is hypothetical; but if represented as good in itself, i.e., necessary according to the principles of a will self-conformed to its own reason, then it is categorical.
An imperative, then, declares, which of the actions I may have it in my power to perform is good; and it presents to view a practical rule taken in connection with a will, not constantly choosing an action because it is good, and this for two reasons: in part, that it often does not know what action is good; and also in part, because, when it knows this, its maxims militate against the law objected to the mind by reason.
A hypothetical imperative expresses merely the relative goodness of an act, viz., as good for some ulterior end, regarded either as in posse or in esse. In the prior case it is a problematic, in the latter an assertive, position. But the categorical imperative which propounds an act as in itself objectively necessary, independently of every further end or aim, is an apodictic practical position.
But as it may be needful to investigate more in detail the nature and constitution of these three kinds of imperatives, I observe—
First, We may consider whatever the power of an agent may accomplish as the potential end of his will; whence there spring as many principles of action as ends, which the being may regard as necessary in order to gain some given purposes. Even the sciences have a practical part, consisting of problems demanding a solution, and of imperatives announcing how such solution (the end) is to be effected; and imperatives of this kind are imperatives of art. Whether the end be good or rational is no element of the investigation, but simply this: what it is requisite to do in order to reach it. The recipe of a physician for thoroughly re-establishing his patient, and that of an assassin for poisoning him, have this value in common, viz., that of teaching surely how each may gain his end; and since mankind do not know what ends may occur in life, youth is taught as many things as possible, and care is taken to advance his skill and accomplishments so as to facilitate the practice of various ends, though no end can yet be fixed on as the fit choice of the youth himself,—among which ends he is left to choose, since it may be presumed that some one of them will be his. Nay, this care is frequently so great, that mankind neglect to instruct their youth how to estimate the worth of those things they have ultimately to accept or decline as ends.
Secondly, There is, however, one end, which we conclude that every finite being has, and that by the physical necessity of his nature, viz., the end and aim called happiness. The hypothetical imperative announcing the practical necessity of an act as a mean for advancing one’s own happiness is assertive. The imperative is necessary, not for any vague, indefinite, unknown end, but for one which we can certainly presuppose in the case of every man, such end being engrafted into his very being. Now, adroitness in choosing the means conducing to the greatest amount of one’s personal happiness is prudence (in the limited sense of that term); whence it follows that the imperative of prudence, referring to the choice of such means, is hypothetical, i.e., the action is ordained, not absolutely on its own account, but as a mean toward somewhat ulterior.
Lastly,There is an imperative, which, irrespective of every ulterior end or aim, commands categorically. Such imperative concerns not the matter of action, nor that which may flow from it, but its form and principle; and the act’s essential goodness consists in the formality of its intent, be the result what it may. This last imperative may be called one of morality.
The difference of the volition in these threefold imperatives is perceptible when we attend to the dissimilar grades of necessitation expressed by the imperative; and in this point of view they might, I think, be fitly called, 1. Rules of art; 2. Dictates of prudence; 3. Laws (commandments) of morality: for law alone involves the conception of an unconditionate, and objective, and universally valid necessity; and a commandment is a law to which, even with violence to inclination, obedience must be yielded. A dictate expresses likewise a necessity, but then it is no more than a subjective and conditioned one; whereas the categorical imperative is restrained to no condition, and it can alone, as absolutely necessary, be a commandment. The first sort are technical, the second pragmatic, the third ethical imperatives.
This brings us to the question, how all these imperatives are possible,—a question which asks, not how they may be reduced to practice, but how the necessitation expressed in each imperative can be depicted to the mind. How an imperative of art is possible, requires no further explanation. Whoso wills the end aimed at, wills also the means indispensably requisite for attaining it. This position is analytic, for in willing an object as my own effect, I represent my own causality as employing the means toward it; and the imperative merely develops the conception of acts necessary to this end, out of the conception “willing that end itself.” To determine the means requisite for attaining the end, may no doubt be difficult, and will require synthetic propositions; but these do not concern the ground, the originary act of will, but respect singly the act of realization of its object. That in order to bisect a line with certainty I must describe from its extremities segments of intersecting circles, is taught in the mathematics by synthetic propositions only; but when I know that these steps must take place in order to that end, then it is an analytic proposition to say, that when I will the end, I will also the intervening steps; for to represent somewhat as an effect possible by me in a given way, and to represent myself as acting in that way toward the effect, are quite identical.
The imperatives of prudence would stand exactly in the same situation with those of art, were it alike easy to frame a definite conception of what is happiness; and in either case we should say, he who wills the end, wills likewise all the means toward it which are within his power. But unfortunately the conception Happiness is so vague, that although all wish to attain it, yet no one is ever able to state distinctly to himself what the object willed is; the reason whereof is, that the elements constituting the conception happiness are cognisable à posteriori only, and must be inferred inductively from experience and observation; while at the same time, as an ideal of imagination, happiness demands an absolute whole, i.e., a maximum of well-being, both in my present and every future state; and what this may in real fact and event amount to, no finite Intelligent can explain, nor can he tell what it is he chooses in such a volition. Is wealth the object of his desire? how much envy and detraction may that not entail upon him? in what perturbations may that not involve him? Are superior parts and vast learning the object of his choice? Such advantages might prove but a sad eminence whence to descry evils at present hidden from his sight, or they might become a source of new and previously unknown wants; and he who should increase in knowledge might eminently increase in sorrow. Does he choose long life? what if it should turn out a long misery? Or even if health were his chosen object, must he not admit that indisposition has often guarded from excess and screened from temptations, into which exuberant health might have misled him? In short, it is quite beyond man’s power to determine with certainty what would make him happy. Omniscience alone could solve this question for him. In these circumstances, man can fix on no determinate principles of conduct issuing in happiness, but is forced to adopt such dictates of prudence, i.e., such maxims of economy, politeness, and reserve, as experience and observation show on an average to promote the greatest quantum of well-being. From all which we infer that, strictly speaking, imperatives of prudence do not command, actions not being represented by them as objectively necessary; and that they are rather to be regarded as suggestions (consilia) than as decrees of reason. The question, what action would infallibly promote the happiness of a reasonable agent, is altogether unanswerable; and there can consequently be no imperative at all with regard to it. However, if the mean toward happiness could be successfully assigned, the imperative of prudence would, like the technical, be an analytic proposition; for it differs from the imperative of art in this singly, that in the latter the end is potential, in the former, given,—both enjoining merely the means necessary for reaching somewhat already willed as end; but where this is done, the position is analytic: there can therefore be no difficulty in comprehending how this imperative is possible.
But how the imperative of morality comes to be possible, is beyond doubt a very difficult question, and is in fact the only problem requiring a solution; the imperative not being hypothetic, and its objective, absolute necessity, not admitting any explanation from suppositions. Neither can we in this investigation aid ourselves by examples; for experience and observation would always leave us in doubt whether the imperative were not hypothetic, although appearing apodictic: thus, when it is said, “Thou shalt not make any false promise,” and the necessity announced in such an imperative is understood to be unconditional, so that it could not have been expressed thus, “Make no false promise, lest thou destroy thy credit,” then it is plain that no example can make exhibitive such categoric determination of will; for the example cannot satisfy us that every other mobile was excluded from the will, and that the law was itself alone, abstracted from all other considerations, the only spring of action; and it is quite conceivable that some secret fear of shame, or apprehension of other evils, may have co-operated with it. Nor can we establish the non-existence of such motive causes by any experience, this showing nowhat further than that we have not observed them; and should this turn out to be the case with our example, then the ethic imperative, while apparently categorical and unconditional, would be at bottom no more than a dictate of expediency, making us attentive to our own advantage, and teaching how to keep it in view.
The possibility of a categorical imperative must therefore be investigated altogether à priori, its reality not being susceptible of illustration by examples;—a circumstance rendering the theory of its possibility requisite, not only for its explanation, but a preliminary indispensable for its establishment. This, however, is plain, that the categorical imperative alone announces itself as law; the other imperatives may be principles, but they never can be laws of volition; and what is necessary to attain some given end may yet in itself be contingent, and man may detach himself from the imperative whenever he renounces the end it rests upon, whereas the unconditioned command leaves no option to the will, and has alone that necessity which is of the essence of a law.
Again, the ground of the difficulty of comprehending the possibility of the categorical imperative, i.e., of the moral law, is very great: the imperative is a synthetical proposition à priori; and as we felt so much difficulty in comprehending the possibility of this kind of proposition in speculative metaphysics, we may presume the difficulty will be no less in the practical.
In this inquiry we shall examine whether or not the mere conception of a categorical imperative may not involve in it a general formula, furnishing us with that expression which can alone be valid as a categorical imperative; for how such an absolute commandment can be possible, even after we know its tenor, will demand a peculiar and laborious disquisition, which we defer till the third chapter.
When I represent to myself a hypothetical imperative, I do not know beforehand what it contains, till the ulterior condition on which it rests is put in my possession; but with the very conception of a categorical imperative is given also its contents, for the imperative can in this case contain only the law ordaining the necessity of a maxim to be conformed to this law; and since the law is attached to no condition which could particularize it, there remains nowhat except the form of law in genere, to which the maxim of an act is to be conformed; and this conformity is, properly speaking, what the imperative represents as necessary.
The categorical imperative is therefore single and one: “Act from that maxim only which thou canst will law universal.”
If, then, we are in a condition, from this single imperative, to derive all imperatives of duty, then we have ascertained the import and content of the idea, and understand what it is we think of when we name it; although we still, for the present, leave undecided whether duty may not, after all, turn out an imaginary and blank idea.
Because the unvariedness of the laws by which events take place is the formal notion of what is called Nature, i.e., an order of things determined according to an unvaried, universal law, the formula of the ethical imperative might be expressed thus: “Act as if the maxim of thy will were to become, by thy adopting it, a universal law of nature.”
In illustration of this last formula, I shall take a few examples, according to the popular and received division of duties into that of duties of determinate and indeterminate obligation toward ourselves and others.*
1. An individual harassed by a series of evils, and sickened with the tedium of life, proposes to commit self-murder; but first inquires within himself to know if the maxim regulating such an act would be fit for law universal. His intended maxim would be, to deprive himself of life whenever existence promised more of misery than of pleasure; and the question is, Can such a principle of self-love be regarded as fit for a universal law of nature? and it is instantly observable, that an order of things whose law it were to destroy life, by force of the sensation intended for its continuance, could not be upheld, but must return to chaos. Whence it results that such maxim cannot possibly be regarded as fit for an unvaried law of nature, but is repugnant to the supreme principle of duty.
2. A second finds himself under the necessity of borrowing money. He knows he cannot repay; but he foresees that nothing will be lent to him if he do not stoutly promise to repay within a given time. He intends giving such a promise, but has so much conscience left as to put the question, whether it be not inconsistent with his duty to have recourse to such shifts for his relief? Suppose, however, that he notwithstanding adopts this resolution, then his maxim would sound as follows: “As soon as I fancy myself in want of money, I will borrow it upon a promise to repay, although I well know I never will or can.” Such a principle of self-love may be easily brought into accommodation with one’s other desires and wishes. But when the question is put as to the integrity of such conduct, I convert my maxim into law universal, and inquire how it would suit if such a principle were everywhere adopted? Whereupon I immediately observe, that it is quite unfit for a universal law of nature, and would become contradictory to itself, and self-destructive, if made so; for a uniform practice, by which every one should be entitled to promise what he liked, and not to keep it, would defeat the intent and end for which such promises might be made—these becoming by such a law incredible, and not possible to be acted on.
3. A third finds himself possessed of certain powers of mind, which, with some slight culture, might render him a highly useful member of society; but he is in easy circumstances, and prefers amusement to the thankless toil of cultivating his understanding and perfecting his nature. But suppose him to put the question, whether this sluggish maxim, so much in harmony with his appetite for pleasure, harmonize equally with duty; and he observes that an order of things might continue to exist under a law enjoining men to let their talents rust, and to devote their lives to amusement. But it is impossible for any one to will that such should become a universal law of nature, or were by an instinct implanted in his system; for he, as Intelligent, of necessity wills all his faculties to become developed, such being given him in order that they may subserve his various and manifold ends and purposes.
4. A fourth, possessing wealth, observes others struggling with difficulties; and though he might easily assist them, he says, What concern is it of mine? Let every one be as happy as he can. I neither hinder nor envy any one; nor can I take the trouble to exert myself to advance his welfare, nor to redress his sorrows. Now, unquestionably, were such sentiments constituted universal laws of nature, our species might still continue to exist, and in fact might advance better than when people merely talk of sympathy and charity, or even than when they exercise such virtues, but at the same time, and by the by, deceive and otherways invade the rights of man. Now, although an order of things might subsist under such a universal law, yet reason cannot will that this should be the case; for a will ordaining such would contradict itself, when, in the course of events, it would willingly avail itself of the compassion and kindness of others, and yet would see itself deprived of these by the harsh law emanating from its own maxim.
These are some few of what man deems his duties, evolved clearly from the foregoing formula. An Intelligent must be able to will his maxims of conduct laws of catholic extent. Such is the canon of ethical volition. Some actions are of such a stamp that they cannot be presented to the mind even in thought, without their unfitness for law being flagrant; and in other cases, where no such internal impropriety existed, it was out of the question that an Intelligent should will his maxim to become a universal law of nature. The first kind of duties are those of strict and determinate obligation, the second those which are indeterminate, and admit a certain latitude; whence we see that all kinds of duties are exhibited by the above examples in their connection and dependence on the single principle previously stated.
When we attend to what passes in our own minds when we overstep the bounds of duty, we find that we do not really will our maxim to become a law of catholic extent; for that is impossible, and the contrary is inevitably willed: however, we sometimes assume the licence, for a single time as we think, to make an exception from this universality. And were we to examine things singly from the vantage-ground of reason, we should descry contradiction in our own will in not adhering to duty, viz., that a certain principle should be regarded as a law objectively necessary and of catholic extent, and yet at the same time as subjectively not of universal validity, but admitting exceptions; the reason whereof is, that in the one case reason guides our choice, in the other our will is biassed by an appetite; so that in truth there is no contradiction in the mind itself, but only an opposition from the part of inclination against the dictates of reason: by all which the universality of the law is frittered down to a mere generality, and reason constrained to meet the appetites half way. But, on impartial self-examination, we cannot justify to ourselves this departure; which shows that the mind does in fact recognise and acknowledge the categorical imperative as possessing ethical virtue to oblige its will; and it is in spite of all our reverence for it that we allow ourselves a few occasional exceptions.
We have pursued this investigation so far as to establish, that if duty be a conception of any import, and contain laws applicable to human conduct, these laws are expressed in categorical imperatives, not in hypothetical. We have likewise, which is no small matter, determined the expression of the formula of the categorical imperative, which ought to be susceptible of expansion in terms applicable to every duty (if there be at all any such). But we have not yet been able to show à priori that there is any such imperative, that there is a practical law commanding absolutely and independently of every sensitive determinator, and that the observance of this law is duty.
In prosecuting our attempt to achieve such a demonstration, it is of the last moment to bear constantly in mind that the reality of this law cannot be deduced from any peculiarities incident to human nature; for duty is to be the unconditionate necessity of an act, and must have force to oblige all Intelligents whatsoever, and upon this account alone, therefore, also man. But whatever is derived from the particular structure of human nature—from given feelings or emotions, or from any bias adhering to our reason, but not essentially biassing all wills whatever—may be a maxim for conduct, but never can be a law, i.e., may be a subjective principle we like to follow, but never can be an objective law, ordaining how to act, even although appetite, the vis inertiæ of our constitution, and an original bias in the will itself, were all thwarting its behest; which opposing circumstances would in fact only show the high supremacy and internal dignity of the law of duty, the less they proved able to effect any diminution of its ethical necessitation.
And now philosophy seems placed in a very perilous situation, since she is allowed no peg either in heaven or in earth from which to suspend her principles. Now she has to show her integrity, as self-upholder of her own laws, not as the herald of those which some innate sense or guardian nature had whispered in her ear, and which, though better than nothing, never afford statutes of conduct, ordained by reason from a source altogether à priori: statutes which have thence alone their authority to command mankind, to expect nowhat from the solicitations of his sensory, but all from the supremacy of the law and the reverence he owes it, or, if he fail to do so, to hand him over to his own contempt and inward detestation.
Any à posteriori part, added to the principle of morality, is not only no improvement, but is in fact highly detrimental to the purity of morals; for the proper worth of an absolutely good will consists just in this, that the principles of action are thoroughly abstracted from every admixture of foreign and adventitious grounds. Nor can I sufficiently warn against the sluggishness, or, I would even say, low cast of thinking, which seeks its motives of action à posteriori, whereon reason, when fatigued, willingly reclines, and substitutes to morality a changeling bastard, which looks like anything you please, except virtue, in the eye of him who has once beheld her in her true form.*
The question amounts, then, to this: Is it a law incumbent upon every rational nature whatsoever, to order and arrange its actions conformably to such maxims as it could will elevated to the rank of law in a system of general moral legislation? If this be so, then such a law must needs be inseparably connected à priori with the very idea of the will of a reasonable agent; but to obtain a view of this connection, we must enter the domain of metaphysic reason, and, quitting speculative philosophy, betake ourselves to a disquisition in the metaphysic of ethics. In practical philosophy we have not to do with that which happens, nor to take our principles from it, but with an objective practical law, announcing what ought and should happen, although in fact and event it may never be so. Accordingly we do not here inquire why something pleases or displeases, as in the case of taste, nor yet whether this satisfaction may differ from a complacency of reason; neither do we investigate on what the feeling of pleasure and pain may depend, nor how desire and its concurring with reason may give birth to maxims; for these all belong to psychology, and are à posteriori, and to be solved by an induction. But we are going to inquire of objective necessary laws, i.e., regarding the relation of the will to itself, in so far as it is determined by reason, and where everything relating to experience and observation is overlooked; because, if reason of itself determine the practical conduct of life, it must needs do so altogether à priori, the possibility whereof we now set ourselves to examine.
The will is cogitated as a faculty to determine itself to act conformably to the representation of given laws; and such a power can be met with in reasonable agents only. Now what serves the will for the ground of its self-determination is called the end; and such end, if presented by reason only, must extend equally to every reasonable being.4 What, on the other hand, contains no more than the ground of the possibility of an act, the ulterior effect of which last is the end, is called the mean. The subjective ground of desire is a spring, the objective ground of volition is law: hence the distinction betwixt subjective ends which rest upon springs, and objective ones which attach themselves to laws, and are valid for every Intelligent whatsoever. Practical principles are formal when they abstract from all subjective ends; they are material when they presuppose these last and their springs. The ends which an Intelligent may regard as the product of his own activity, and which it is in his option to pursue or to decline, are not absolute ends, but relative and adventitious merely; for their value depends upon the relation obtaining betwixt them and the appetitive faculty of the thinking subject, and so they cannot found necessary principles of volition, nor laws of catholic extent: thus relative ends can be the ground of hypothetical imperatives singly.
Let there, however, be granted somewhat whose existence has in itself an absolute worth, and which, as in itself an end, is itself the ground of its own given laws. Then herein, and here alone, would lie the ground of the possibility of a categorical imperative, i.e., of a practical law.
Now I say that man and every reasonable agent exists as an end in himself, and not as a mere mean or instrumental to be employed by any will whatsoever, not even by his own, but must in every action regard his existence, and that of every other Intelligent, as an end in itself. Objects of appetite and inclination have a conditioned value only; for, apart from the appetite, and the want felt as springing from it, its object would be regarded as entirely worthless; and appetite itself, so far from possessing any absolute worth to make it desirable, is, on the contrary, as the source of all our wants, what every Intelligent must wish to be freed from. Upon this account the value of everything produced by our own exertions is conditioned. Even those external things whereof the existence rests not on our will, but depends on nature, have, as irrationals, a relative value only, and are used as means and instruments for our behoof, and are therefore called things; whereas an Intelligent is called a person, he being by the constitution of his system distinguished as an end in himself, i.e., as somewhat which may not be used as a mere mean, and as restraining to this extent the arbitrary use which other wills might make of him, and becoming, by force of such restraint, an object of reverence. Persons are therefore not subjective ends, whose existence is valued by us as an effect resulting from our active exertion; but are objective ends, whose very existence is itself an end, and that too of so eminent a sort, that no other end can be assigned to which they could be subordinated as means. For if this were not the case, then were no absolute and unconditioned value given; and if all value were merely hypothetic and fortuitous, it would be impossible to discover any supreme practical position on which to ground the operations of reason.
Thus it is seen, that if there is to be a supreme practical position, and in respect of the human will a categorical imperative, it must be such a principle as may constitute a law by the bare representation of that which is an end for every man because it is an end in itself; the ground of the principle is, “Every intelligent nature exists as an end in itself.”* All mankind must of necessity thus figure to themselves their own existence, and to this extent it is a subjective principle of conduct. Again, in the very same way, all other rationals thus cogitate their own existence, by force of the same grounds of reason which determine man to think so; wherefore the above is likewise an objective principle, and from it, as the supreme practical position, all laws of the will must be capable of being deduced. In this way the practical imperative may sound as follows: “So act that humanity, both in thy own person and that of others, be used as an end in itself, and never as a mere mean.”
This formula we shall now illustrate, to see how it holds, and whether it tallies with the former. We shall instance again in the above examples.
First, In the case of duty owed toward ourselves. He who proposes to commit suicide, has to ask himself if his action be consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. The man who destroys his organic system to escape from sorrow and distress, makes use of his person as a mean toward the supporting himself in a state of comfort and ease until the end of life. But humanity is not a thing, i.e., is not that which can be dealt with as a mean singly, but is that which must at all times be regarded as an end in itself. I am therefore not at liberty to dispose of that humanity which constitutes my person, either by killing, maiming, or mutilating it.
Second, In reference to the duty owed to others. He who intends to promise deceitfully, must at once perceive that he makes use of his neighbour as a mere mean, not regarding him as an end in himself (not making him, at the same time, the end and aim of his conduct); for he who is thus misused to a private and by-end, cannot possibly approve of such a line of conduct, nor can be contain in himself the end of such a promise. This repugnancy to the position that humanity is its own end, comes out more prominently when we take examples of inroads made on personal freedom or property. In such cases it is palpable that the violator of the rights of man serves himself of the personality of his fellow as a mere mean, not taking into account that an Intelligent must, if a mean, be notwithstanding the end of any given action (i.e., be regarded as such a mean as may also be the end of the action).
Thirdly, In respect of the indeterminate duties we owe to ourselves it is not enough that the action do not subvert one’s own humanity; it must coincide with it, so as to advance it as its own end. Now, every person possesses sundry dispositions and endowments capable of being indefinitely perfected, and which obviously belong and conduce to the end aimed at by nature, in constituting the humanity of our person: to disregard these indications might no doubt consist with the physical preservation of mankind, but not with its advancement as an end.
Fourthly, With regard to the indeterminate obligations due from us to others, the physical end which all men have is happiness. Now, it cannot be doubted that humanity could consist, although each man left indifferent the happiness of his fellow, and was concerned merely not to offer to it any detriment; but then this would be a mere negative, and no positive coincidence of actions with humanity as an end in itself, so long as no one endeavoured to advance the ends and interests of others; for the ends of that subject who is in himself an end, must of necessity be my ends too if the representation of humanity as an end in itself is the all-effective mobile of my will.
This position, that humanity and every Intelligent is an end in itself, is not established by any observation or experience, as is seen, first, from the generality by which we have extended it to every rational whatsoever; and, second, because humanity was exhibited, not as a subjective end of mankind (i.e., not as an object which it stood in their option to pursue or to decline), but as their objective end, which, whatever other ends mankind may have, does, as law, constitute the supreme limiting condition of such subjective ends, and which must consequently take its rise from reason à priori. Now, the ground of all practical legislation lies objectively in the rule, and its form of universality, whereby it is fitted for law, agreeably to the first formula. But subjectively in the end; and the subject of all ends is each Intelligent himself, as an ultimate or last end, according to the second formula; from which two, when combined, there emerges a third expression, which comprises at once the form and the matter of the supreme practical law, and presents us with the idea of the will of every Intelligent as universally legislative.
Agreeably to this formula, all maxims are objectionable which do not harmonize with the universal legislation of man’s own will. His will is therefore to be regarded as not subjected to the law simply, but so subjected as to be self-legislative, and, upon this account alone, subjected to the law of which himself is the author.
The imperative, as above represented, viz., as importing a uniform sequence of actions similar to the uniformity of events in the physic system, or as founded on that prerogative of an Intelligent whereby he is an end in himself, excluded from its authority the co-operation of any interest as a spring; an exclusion understood from the very categorical exhibition of it. The imperative was postulated as categorical, since without this the idea Duty could not be explained; but that there really are practical principles à priori, containing a categorical commandment, could not yet be proved, nor can we attempt it in this chapter; but this one thing still remained to be done, to show that (self-detachment from interest) disinterestedness is, in a duteous volition, that which constitutes the specific difference betwixt a categorical and hypothetical imperative, a notion which ought to be denoted by the imperative itself; and this is now done in the last formula, viz., the idea of the will of every Intelligent as a will universally legislative.5
For when we figure to ourselves a will supremely legislative, it is clear that it cannot be dependent upon any interest (although a will subjected to a law simply may be attached to it by the intervention of an interest); for then the will universally legislative, and yet dependent, would require a further law, restricting its private interest to the condition of being fit for law in a system of universal moral legislation.
It is now obvious that the position of a will, universally legislative by all its maxims (supposing such a thing were established), would suit very well for a categorical imperative; because, being rested on the idea of a universal legislation, it is not founded on any interest; and thus, amidst many imperatives, is the only unconditioned one. Or, by converting the proposition, if there be a categorical imperative, it can only ordain to act according to that maxim of a will which could at the same time regard itself as universally legislative; for then the practical principle and imperative which it obeys are unconditional, being founded upon no interest.
And now we may cease to wonder how all former attempts to investigate the ultimate principle of morals should have proved unsuccessful. The inquirers saw that man was bound to law by the idea Duty; but it did not occur to them that he was bound singly by his own law universal, the prerogative of his nature fitting him for a universal legislator, and so subjecting him to the law emanating from his own will. For, as soon as we regard him subjected to law simply (no matter of what sort), then this law must have carried some interest, whereby either to allure or to co-act; for, not springing from his own will, the will was legally necessitated by somewhat else to act in a given manner. This inevitable conclusion rendered fruitless and abortive every attempt to establish a supreme principle of duty; for there resulted, never duty, but the necessity of an action conformably to some given interest. This might be either a proper or a foreign interest, but in either case the imperative was conditioned; and this, we have seen, is invalid for a moral law. I shall therefore call this fundamental position the principle of the autonomy of the will, in contradistinction to every other, which I call heteronomy.
This principle, that every Intelligent ought to regard himself as legislating (by his maxims) throughout the universe of Intelligents, in order, from this vantage-ground, to pass judgment upon himself and his own actions, leads to this very important and fruitful consideration,—the representation of all things whatsoever, under this character of ends, constituting one vast whole of ends, which, from its analogy to what we call “the realm of nature,” may be styled “the realm of ends.”
By a realm I understand the systematic conjunction of all intelligent nature under a uniform and common law. But since the law admits those ends singly which be valid universally as ends for all, we shall have, by abstracting from the personal difference which may exist between Intelligents, and also from their peculiar and personal ends, an aggregate of ends (comprising both the Intelligents as ends in themselves, and likewise their own further ends) in systematic union; that is, a realm of ends is cogitable, and is, by virtue of the foregoing principles, possible.
For Intelligents stand one and all under this common law: “Never to employ himself or others as a mean, but always as an end in himself.” But from this common objective law arises a systematic conjunction of Intelligents, i.e., a realm, which, though extant in idea only, may, because these laws regard the relation of Intelligents to one another as means and ends, be called “the realm of ends.”
An Intelligent is a member of the realm of ends, when he is, in addition to being universally legislative, himself subjected to these laws. But he belongs to it as its sovereign, when, in legislating, he is not subjected to the will of any other.
Every Intelligent must therefore at all times regard himself as legislating in a potential realm of ends, realizable by his freedom of will, and that too either as its member or as its sovereign; but the room of this last he cannot occupy merely by force of the maxims of his will, but only then, when he is altogether independent, exempt from wants, and endowed with power commensurate to his will.
Morality, therefore, consists in referring all action to that legislation whereby the realm of ends is possible. This legislation, however, must be met with in every Intelligent, and take its rise from his will whose principle is, never to act from any maxim which it could not will a universal law; or this, always so to act that the will may regard itself as enouncing its maxim a universal law, i.e., as universally legislative. When an Intelligent’s maxims are not, by the constitution of his system, necessarily conformed to this principle, then is the necessity of acting agreeably to this principle, practical necessitation, i.e., duty. Duty cannot be predicated of the sovereign in the realm of ends; but it can of every member, and of all equally in degree.
The practical necessity of acting conformably to this principle, i.e., duty, rests not on feelings, interests, or inclination, but singly on the relation betwixt Intelligents, where the will of each must be regarded as universally legislative, apart from which he could not be figured as an end in himself. Reason applies every maxim of will as universally legislative to every other will, and also to every action whereby it is affected; and this not out of any regard had to its own future advantage, or to any other private end, but singly on account of its idea of the dignity of an Intelligent, obeying no law except that which itself originates.
Everything in the realm of ends has either a “price” or a “dignity.” That has a price in the room of which something as an equivalent may be put; but that which is above all price, and admits not substitution by an equivalent, has a dignity.
What is subservient to human wants and wishes has a market-price; and what, when there is no want, serves only to gratify a taste (i.e., a complacency in stimulating the aimless play of fancy), has a fancy-price. But that which constitutes the condition, under which alone anywhat can be an end in itself, has not merely a relative value, i.e., a price, but has an inward worth, i.e., a dignity.
Now, morality is the condition under which alone an Intelligent can be figured as an end in himself, since by it alone can he become a legislator in the realm of ends. Wherefore morality, and humanity in so far as it is susceptible of that morality, is alone that which has the dignity. Diligence, attention, and adroitness have their market-price; wit, gaiety, and good temper have a price of affection; but incorruptible justice, charity, and unbroken faith have an inward worth. Neither nature nor art contain, in their vast domain, what, if those were awanting, could be brought to supply the void; for their worth consists not in their conduciveness to any end, not in their profit or advantage, but in the sentiments, i.e., in the maxims of the will in which they are causally inseated, although opportunity should now prevent such will from stepping forth to act. Actions of this sort need no recommendation from the part of taste, nor do they require any propensity or sense to cause them to be beheld with inward favour and approbation, nor do they address themselves to any adventitious whim or caprice: they exhibit the will giving them birth as the object of an immediate reverence, and are actions to which reason summons up, demanding them from the will,—whereto she invites, by no flattery or blandishment, which last militate with the very idea of a duty. Such reverence enables us to estimate the inward worth of such a frame of mind as a dignity, as incomputably advanced above all price; nor can we compare or liken it to such barter without in a manner violating its sanctity.
What, then, is it which entitles the morally good sentiment, i.e., virtue, to make a claim so lofty? It is nothing else than the share imparted thereby to the Intelligent in the universal legislation, making him fit to become a member of the realm of ends, for which indeed the constitution of his nature destined him, making him an end in himself, and upon that account a legislator in that realm—absolved from every physical law, and obedient to those only which he gives himself—by which laws also his maxims may pertain to that universal legislation, whereunto at the same time he subjects himself; for nothing has any worth except that assigned to it by the law. But that law which determines, and is the standard of all worth, must upon that account have a dignity, i.e., an unconditioned, incomparable worth; and reverence is the only beseeming expression whereby to state that estimation in which an Intelligent ought to hold it. Autonomy is therefore the ground of the dignity of humanity, and also of every other intelligent nature whatsoever.
The three expressions just adopted, enouncing the principle of morality, are no more than three formulæ of one and the same law, each involving in it the other two; and any difference is subjectively, not objectively, practical. They vary by giving a sensible delineation, according to different analogies, to an idea of reason, approaching it thereby to the mental vision and its feelings. Accordingly all maxims have—
I. A form, consisting in their universality; and here the tenor of the categorical imperative was, “All maxims shall be such only as are fit for law universal.”
II. A matter,i.e., an end; where the formula ordained that each Intelligent, being by his nature an end in himself, should subordinate to this end the maxims of all his causal and arbitrary ends.
III. An aggregate determination, by the formula that all maxims of the self-legislative will must be totally subordinated to and resolved into the potential idea of the realm of ends, like as if it were the realm of nature. The three formulæ advance in the order of the categories, from the unity of the form of the will (i.e., its universality) to the plurality of its matter (i.e., of the objects willed—the ends), and thence to the aggregate or totality of the system of its ends. It is better, however, to adhere to the stricter formula of the categorical imperative: “Act according to that maxim which thou couldst at the same time will an universal law.” But when the law has to be conveyed into the mind, it is extremely useful to avail one’s self of these different expressions.
And now we have arrived at the point from which we first set out,—namely, the conception of a good will. That, we now know, is a good will whose maxim, if made law universal, would not be repugnant to itself. This principle is its supreme law: “Act according to that maxim whose universality, as law, thou canst at the same time will.” This is the sole condition upon which a will can never contradict itself; and this imperative is categoric. And since such a will, if considered as realizing its maxims, is analogous to that uniform and systematic order of events in the physical system which we call nature, the categorical imperative might be couched thus: “Act from maxims fit to be regarded as universal laws of nature.” These are the formulæ indicating what an absolutely good will is.
An Intelligent has this prerogative over every other being, that he can assign to himself and fix his own end. Such end would be the matter chosen by every good will; but since, in the idea of a will absolutely and unconditionally good, we must abstract from all ends to be effectuated (which ends could make a will relatively good only), this end must be cogitated, not as one to be effected, but as an independent self-subsisting end, that is, negatively only; in other words, as an end against which no action dare militate, and which must, in every volition, be stated, not as a bare instrumental or means, but always as an end. This, however, can be nothing else than the subject of all possible ends himself; he being likewise the potential subject of an absolutely good will, which will cannot be postponed to any other object without an inconsistency. And the position, “So act in reference to all Intelligents (thyself and others), that they may enter as ends into the constitution of thy maxim,” is virtually identic with the former, “Act according to a maxim possessed of universal validity for all Intelligents;” for that I ought, when employing means to any end, so to limit and condition my maxim that it may be valid to oblige as law every thinking subject, says exactly the same thing with this, that the subject of all ends, i.e., the Intelligent himself, may never be employed as a means, but must, as the supreme condition limiting all use of means, enter as end into the constitution of all maxims of acting.
From all this we infer that every Intelligent must, as end in himself, be able to regard himself as universally legislative, in respect of all laws to which he may at the same time be subjected,—this fitness of his maxims for law universal being exactly that which indicates him to be an end in himself; and we infer further, that this his dignity and excellency above every other creature forces him to construct his maxims, from the consideration of himself and other Intelligents as legislators (called upon this account persons). In this way, a world of Intelligents (mundus intelligibilis) may be cogitated,—and that ideal, which we have denominated “the realm of ends,” is possible by the self-legislation of all its members. Consequently, every Intelligent ought so to act as if he were by his maxims a person legislating for the universal empire of ends in themselves. The formal principle of these maxims is, “Act as if thy maxim were to become law universal” (for a universe of Intelligents). The realm of ends can only be figured as possible from its analogy to the realm of nature,—that proceeding upon maxims, i.e., self-imposed laws, this by virtue of the law of the necessary-nexus; and yet this physical system itself, although, so far as we know, a mere machine, is, when viewed in its connection with Intelligents, as the end why it is there, called, upon this very account, the realm of nature. The realm of ends would likewise really come into existence were every Intelligent to adhere to the maxims dictated by the categorical imperative; and although an Intelligent cannot infer that, even were he punctually to adhere to the categoric maxims, all others would do so too; nor yet, that the realm of nature, and the uniformity of its sequences, might be so found in harmony with his endeavours to realize the realm of ends, as to answer his expectation of happiness: the law does nevertheless ordain with undiminished force, for the command is categorical, “Act agreeably to the maxims of a person ordaining law universal in the realm of ends.” Nor can this paradox cease to astonish us, that the mere dignity of humanity as an Intelligent entity, abstracted from all by-views or ulterior considerations, that is, in other words, that reverence for a bare idea, should furnish the will with an unchanging and inexorable law, and that just in this independency of the will’s maxim on all such outward motives should consist its majesty and augustness, and the worthiness of every thinking subject to occupy the station of a legislator in the realm of ends,—since, apart from this independency, the Intelligent must needs be subjected to the mechanic law of his physical wants. And even if we were to figure to ourselves the realms of nature brought into union with the realms of ends under the sovereignty of a Supreme Head, whereby the latter state would cease to be a mere idea, but would become reality, then would the idea Dignity gain force from the addition of so strong a spring, but it could receive no augmentation of its intrinsic worth; for, notwithstanding all this, the Sovereign Lawgiver must Himself be cogitated as judging of the worth of Intelligents only according to their disinterested adherence to the line of conduct prescribed to them by that idea. The essence of things cannot be altered by any external circumstance; and that which, independently of this last, constitutes the absolute worth of man, must serve as the standard by which to judge him. Morality is, then, the relation obtaining betwixt action and the autonomy of the will: actions in harmony with autonomy of will are allowed and lawful; what actions are incompatible with it are disallowed and unlawful. A will whose maxims coincide of necessity with the laws of autonomy, is a Holy Will, or an absolutely good will; the dependency of a will not altogether good, on the principle of autonomy, is ethical necessitation, and is called obligation. Obligation cannot, upon this account, be predicated of a Holy Will; the objective necessity of an action, on account of this obligation, is what is called duty.
These observations enable us to understand how, while the idea Duty imports subordination to law, we yet conceive a certain elevation and dignity to belong to that Intelligent who discharges all his duties; for to this extent there is no ground of elevation that the will is subjected to law; but herein consists the elevation, that the person is himself the legislator, and on this account alone bound to subject himself to it. We likewise explained above, how neither fear, nor inclination, but only reverence for the law, could be the spring conferring on any action moral worth. Our own will, in so far as it acts only under the condition required to fit its maxims for law universal—such potential state of will—is, I say, the proper object of reverence; and the dignity of man just consists in the ability to be universally legislative, although upon this condition to be at the same time subjected to his own legislation.
Autonomy of Will is the Supreme Principle of Morality.
Autonomy of Will is that quality of will by which a will (independently of any object willed) is a law to itself.* The principle of autonomy, therefore, is to choose such maxims singly as may be willed law universal. That this practical rule is an imperative—i.e., that the will of every Intelligent is necessarily attached to this condition—cannot be evinced by merely analyzing the notions contained in the position, for it is a synthetic à priori proposition. We must, in short, pass from the investigation of the object to an investigation of the subject—i.e., to an inquiry into the functions of practical reason itself; for this synthetic position, which commands apodictically, must be cognisable altogether à priori. But this inquiry is not within the limits of the present chapter. However, that this principle of autonomy is the alone principle of ethics, can be sufficiently evinced from a bare analysis of the current notions regarding morality; and we found that its supreme principle must needs be a categorical imperative, and that the imperative again ordained just this autonomy. How such a synthetic practical position à priori is possible, and why it is necessary, is a problem beyond the limits of the Metaphysic of Ethics. However, whoso admits morality to be anywhat, and not a mere fantastical conceit, must admit at the same time the above principle. But that morality is no chimera, will follow, then, when the categorical imperative, and the autonomy it enjoins, is true, and absolutely necessary as a position à priori. But this requires a potential synthetic use of practical reason à priori,—an assertion we cannot hazard, without first premising an inquiry into the causal functions of that faculty, which we shall now do in the next chapter, at least so far as to satisfy this purpose.
[* ]Ref. 4, from p. 40.—C.
[* ]Ref. 1, from p. 3.—C.
[* ]As pure mathematics and logic are distinguished from the same sciences when mixed, the pure philosophy of morals (metaphysic of ethics) may be distinguished from the “mixed,” i.e., when applied to human nature and its phenomena. Such an appellative reminds us that the principles of ethics cannot be founded on any peculiarity in man’s nature, but must demand an establishment à priori, whence will flow a practical rule of life valid for all Intelligents, and so for man likewise.—(Ref. 1, from p. 3.—C.)
[3 ]One of the greatest difficulties in the study of Kant’s Practical Philosophy is, to determine how far he distinguishes Reason from Will, and how far he identifies them. References are given on p. 40, and on p. 45.—C.
[* ]Ref. 5, from p. 45.—C.
[† ]Ref. 4, from p. 40.—C.
[* ]The dependency of the will on sense is called appetite, and it always indicates a want or need; but the dependency of the will on principles of reason is called an interest. This last obtains, therefore, only in a dependent will, not spontaneously conformed to reason. To the Divine Will no interest can be ascribed; the human will may take an interest in an action, without on that account acting out of interest: the first is the practical interest taken in an action; the second would be the pathological interest taken in the end aimed at by the action. The former indicates merely the dependency of the will on reason as such; the second, dependency on rational principles subserving an appetite, i.e., where reason assigns a rule how the wants of appetite may be best appeased. In the first case, the action interests me; in the second, the object of the action (in so far as agreeable). We saw, in the former section, that in an action out of duty the interest lay not in the object and end attained by the action, but singly in the act itself, and its principle in reason (i.e., the law).
[* ]The systematic division of the duties I postpone to the metaphysic of ethics, and the above division is merely adopted in order to arrange my examples. By a determinate duty, however, I understand such a one as admits of no exceptions in favour of appetite; whence I arrive at both external and internal determinate obligations: and though this run counter to the common terminology of the schools, it is immaterial to my present purpose whether this be conceded to me or not.
[* ]To behold virtue in her proper form, is just to exhibit morality divested of all false ornaments of reward or self-love. How she then eclipses whatever seems charming to sense, every man of uncorrupted reason at once perceives.
[4 ]For evidence that Kant seems often to distinguish Reason from Will, as in this case, compare the following passages, pp. 5, 7, 11, 20, 25, 74, 81, 89, 120, 192, 230. The explanation of the nature of Reason on p. 64, may be taken for guidance in the comparison—C.
[* ]This position is here stated as a postulate. Its ground is assigned in the next chapter.
[5 ]As examples of passages in which Kant seems to identify Reason and Will, take pp. 25, 55, 57, 71, 72, 100, 169, 174. The description of Will, given in p. 57, may be taken as guiding the comparison.—C.
[* ]Ref. 5, from p. 45.—C.