Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: ANALYTIC OF PRINCIPLES. - The Metaphysics of Ethics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER I.: ANALYTIC OF PRINCIPLES. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
ANALYTIC OF PRINCIPLES.
PRACTICAL principles are propositions containing different rules, subordinate to them, which may be grounds of determining the Will. They are either subjective, and are called maxims, when the rule is considered as of force only in reference to the thinking subject himself; or they are objective, and are called laws, when reason pronounces the rule to have an ethical virtue of obliging all reasonable beings.*
If it be admitted that reason contains in itself practical grounds sufficient for determining the will, then there are practical laws; but if otherwise, then are there no more than practical maxims. Where a will is pathologically affected, there a collision of maxims is conceivable; nay, they may even militate against laws which the thinking subject himself admits to be presented to his will by reason. Thus, an individual may adopt the maxim to let no injury pass unavenged, and at the same time he may see very clearly that that principle is no law, but simply a maxim of his own; and that if such a maxim were raised to the rank of a law in a general code or system of moral legislation, it would become self-destructory, and inconsistent with itself. In natural philosophy, principles regulating what happens (events) (e.g., the principle of the equality of action and reaction in communicating motion) are also laws of nature; for in physics the use of reason is theoretic, and determined by the nature of the object. But in moral philosophy, where determinators of volition are alone inquired into, the rules or principles which a person may adopt to regulate what happens (actions) are not in any sense laws inevitably put upon him; for reason is here practical, and has to do with the appetitive faculty of the subject, according to the nature and qualities of which, the rule may be variously modified. Every practical rule is a product of reason, for it prescribes an act as a mean toward an end, which is intended. But such a rule is, in the case of a being whose reason is not the sole determinator of his choice, an imperative,i.e., a rule expressed by the word shall or ought, and it denotes the objective necessity of an action, and implies that, if the will were guided by reason singly, the action would follow according to the rule. Imperatives have therefore an objective import, and so differ totally from maxims, which are subjective singly. They determine the causality of an agent either in regard of the effect or purpose to be reached, or they determine the causality simpliciter. In the first case, the imperatives are hypothetical, and are no more than rules of art; but, in the second, they are categoric and absolute, and these alone are practical laws regulating conduct. While, then, maxims may be regarded as rules, they never can be considered as imperatives. Even imperatives, when no more than conditional determinators of the will, i.e., when they determine the will, not as such simply, but as a mean toward some desired effect, are not laws, but practical precepts only. Laws must determine the will, as will, and do not even depend on the question whether the subject possess the power requisite for some desired end: they are equally independent of the particular line of conduct conducive to it, i.e., they are categoric; and if they were not so, they would not be laws, being deficient in necessity,—a practical necessity, being only possible to be conceived where the will is separated thoroughly from all pathological and contingent circumstances which may attach to it. When it is said that a man must exert himself in youth, and be thrifty, that he may not starve when he is old, a true and important rule of conduct is advanced; but what is to be observed with regard to this rule is, that the will is referred to somewhat out of and beyond itself, of which it is presumed it makes a choice; and it must be left to the individual himself whether he so choose or no; whether he may expect funds from other sources than his own industry; whether he think he may live to old age; or whether he may keep himself by stealing when he comes to want. Reason, from which alone a rule expressive of necessity can emanate, lends a necessity to the foregoing precept (for, apart from its necessity, it were no imperative); but such necessity is subjectively conditional, and cannot be supposed of all thinking beings equally. But for a legislation of reason, nothing further can be required than that it presuppose itself, since in this event alone can a rule be objectively and universally valid, no subjective contingent circumstances being introduced distinguishing one reasonable being from another. Now, let it be said that none ought to promise deceitfully, and we have a rule which respects the will singly, and takes no cognisance of any ulterior aim or intention which a man may have, and is hence independent of the consideration of any such aim being attainable or not. It is the naked volition which is given as determined à priori by the rule. Again, suppose that the above rule be correct and true, then it is law; for the imperative it expresses is categoric. All practical laws refer to will, quite irrespective of any effects which its causality may produce, whence abstracting from “those,” we may consider “this” as it is à priori.
All practical principles which presuppose an object, or matter chosen, as a determinator of the will, are one and all of them taken from experience and observation, and, being à posteriori, cannot supply a law of acting.
By the matter of a choice, I understand an object, the existence of which is desired. When the desire of this object goes before the practical rule, and is the condition determining it, then I say, first, such rule is always à posteriori; for the determinator of choice is then the representation of an object, and the relation subsisting between the representation and the subject, whereby the choice is determined to realise the object. This relation, however, is called pleasure in the existence of the object. This pleasure must therefore be presupposed as a condition precedent to the possibility of such determination of the choice. Now, it is impossible to know à priori, in any case, whether the representation of an object is to be accompanied with pleasure or not; whence it follows that the determinator of the choice is à posteriori in such event, as is likewise the material principle of acting which rests on it as a condition.
Again, I say, secondly, that since a principle which is based on the susceptibility of an individual for pleasure or pain is known only by an induction à posteriori, and cannot be extended to other agents perhaps not endowed with any similar or the same capacity, it may become a maxim, but can never be law, not even for this individual; for it is devoid of objective necessity, which is always à priori. A material principle can therefore never yield a practical law regulating conduct.
All material practical principles, however different, agree in this, that they belong to one general system of Eudaimonism, and rest on self-love.
The pleasure arising from the representation of the existence of a thing, when a determinator of the choice towards that thing, rests on the susceptibility of the individual, and depends on the existence of the thing, and belongs for this reason to the sensory and not to the understanding, because this last refers a representation to the object by the intervention of a notion, and does not refer it to the subject by the intervention of a feeling. The pleasure is consequently only in so far practical, as the agreeable sensation expected by the individual from the object determines his choice. But the consciousness of agreeable sensations, regarded as uninterrupted through the whole course of life, constitutes happiness; and the ruling principle to make regard to one’s own happiness the supreme and single determination to action, is the principle which is justly called self-love: consequently all material principles which put the determinator of choice in the pleasure or pain resulting from the existence of an object, are to this extent all of the same kind—that they belong to a system of Eudaimonism, and rest on one’s own self-love.
Corollary.—Every material rule assigns a determination of choice taken from the lower powers of desire singly; and were there no formal law of the will sufficient to determine it, it would needs follow that there existed no superior power of desire at all.
It is quite surprising that men, otherwise acute, should have imagined that they had detected the difference betwixt the higher and inferior powers of desire, by observing whether the representation productive of pleasure sprang from the sensory, or from the understanding; for when inquiry is made as to the determinator of a choice, and the grounds of that determination be put in the agreeable sensation expected from an object, it is of no moment from what faculty the representation springs, but this alone is to be considered, how much the representation pleases or delights. If a representation, which may have its seat in the understanding, is only able to determine the choice by presupposing a pleasurable sensation in the subject, then it is clear that the determination depends on the peculiar constitution of the sensory, and its susceptibility for an emotion of delight. It is of no consequence to insist that the representations of objects are widely different, according as they are of the understanding, of reason, or of the sensory; for the feeling of pleasure, by which the will is put into motion, is in either of these three cases exactly of the same kind, both by being known only à posteriori, and by its stimulating the same vital function. The different agreeable sensations which may therefore determine the will, differ merely in degree; and if this were not so, it were impossible that any man could compare different representations, springing from different faculties, so as to prefer one before the other; and yet an individual may throw aside a useful book not to neglect a hunting match; the very same man may quit listening to a most pathetic harangue, not to be too late for dinner, or leave a most interesting party, and for whom he has the highest esteem, to adjourn to a gaming table; nay, a benevolent man, otherwise fond of giving alms, may turn away a poor object because he has just so much money in his pocket as will pay his entrance into the theatre. If the motive determining the will turn on the pleasure or pain expected from a representation, it must be quite indifferent to the individual what kind of representation affects him; his sole concern in determining his choice must be how intense, how durable, how easily acquired and repeated, may be the gratification,—just as it is indifferent to the man who is about to pay away his money, whether the gold of which his coin consists has been dug out of a mine or washed from the sand, provided it pass current in either case for the same value. A man, therefore, whose concern rises no further than to pass happily through life, is perfectly indifferent whether a representation of the sensory or of the understanding delight him, provided the enjoyment be equally great and equally durable in both cases. But, clear though this be, those who deny the power of reason to determine by itself the will, have continually embarrassed this matter by their bad definitions,—first holding certain sensations to be pleasures, and then pronouncing them somewhat totally diverse. Thus they observe that sustained exertion, that consciousness of force of will in overcoming great obstacles presented to the execution of our resolves, that the culture of the mind, impart high degrees of gratification; and that mankind deem them more refined, because they are more in our own power, do not wear out by usage, but rather strengthen our susceptibility for such enjoyment, and so expand the mind while they delight it: upon these grounds, they conclude that such pleasures determine the will in a totally different manner from the pleasure of the senses, and support themselves in this belief by inventing a peculiar sense (a moral sense, or sense of taste) for their vehicle;—a style this of arguing, which reminds one of those metaphysic quacks who keep cogitating at matter till it becomes so fine and suprafine, that they at length fancy it subtilized into spirit. If, like Epicurus, we rest virtue on the pleasure it may promise us, it is quite inconsistent to tax that philosopher with sottishness when he holds the pleasures of virtue as exactly the same in kind with the coarsest sensual enjoyment. And it is mistaking his system altogether to say, that the representations by which he expected to be delighted have their origin alone in the organs of the body. On the contrary, so far as we can understand him, he placed many pleasures in the culture and use of the intellectual powers; but this ought not, and did not, hinder him from regarding pleasures, when stimulating the will, as exactly alike and the same in nature. To be rigidly consistent, is the highest duty of a philosopher; and of this we find better examples in the old Greek schools than nowadays, when the most discordant systems are often forced, by the shallowness of their abettors, into a disgraceful coalition, in the hope of pleasing the public by giving them a little of everything. A system the principles of which turn on one’s own happiness, no matter how intellectually soever the understanding may be employed on it, can never furnish any further motive than such as excite and stimulate the inferior powers of desire. Either, then, a superior power of desire is to be abandoned, or else reason must itself be a practical or active faculty; i.e., such a one as can by the bare form of its rule determine a volition, and that abstracted from all feelings of the agreeable or disagreeable which may follow or compose the matter of a choice. And if reason be such a faculty, then it is not in anywise in the service of the sensory, but does itself alone determine a volition, and is a superior or supreme power of desire, generically distinct from the lower, and claiming the supremacy over it. To adulterate the legislation of reason with motives borrowed from the sensory, is to impair its strength, and derogate from its pre-eminence, in the same way as a geometric demonstration would be ruined if attempted to be assisted by an induction; for instead of being supported, it would lose its certainty and self-evidencing power.
Reason determines the will simpliciter by its law,* and not indirectly by the intervention of an emotion,—not even by means of pleasure felt in the contemplation of the law itself; and it is only because reason is an active faculty, that it is possible for it to legislate over the will.
To be happy, is a desire entertained of necessity by every finite intelligence, and is therefore inevitably a determinator of choice. Contentment with our state of existence is no birthright of man. If it were, it would be fitly termed blessedness, and would consist in the consciousness of man’s all-sufficiency and independent self-contentment. On the contrary, happiness is a problem urged upon man’s notice by the wants and insufficiency of his finite nature. These wants point to the matter of desire, i.e., to something affecting man’s subjective feelings of pleasure and pain; and these feelings determine what a man considers wanting for his happiness and contentment with his situation. But because such a material determinator is subjective singly, and known only by observation and experience, it is impossible to regard this question of happiness as founding any law or obligation; a law being, as we have seen, objective, and containing a determinator of will, valid for all cases and for all intelligents whatever. And though the notion Happiness establishes a connection and relation betwixt objects and the powers of desire, still happiness is only a general denomination for all subjective determinators, and nothing is fixed by it specifically, which, however, is indispensable towards the solution of any problem, and therefore also toward the solution of the question of happiness. What different individuals may find conducive to their happiness, depends entirely on their peculiar tastes and feelings; and even in the same individual his conceptions of happiness vary and alter with circumstances, and with the emotions stimulating his sensory. So that such subjective laws (although necessary as parts of the physical system) are subjectively contingent (considered as practical principles of conduct), and unfit for law universal, in so far as the appetite for happiness disregards entirely the formal fitness, and considers singly the material fitness of an action to produce the greatest amount of pleasure. Principles of self-love contain general rules for adapting means to an end, and so are merely theoretic or technical principles; e.g., how he who would like to eat bread has to construct a mill. But no practical principle founded on them can be necessary, or of catholic extent; for when the will acts from maxims or self-love, the determinator of choice is based on feelings in the sensory; and it is uncertain that these feelings are universal, not even certain that they are unalterable in respect of the same external objects.
But even supposing that finite Intelligents were at one as to their opinions of the agreeable and unpleasant, and that they coincided as to the lines of conduct expedient to be taken in order to compass the one and avoid the other, still the principle of self-love could not be announced as a law for practical conduct; for this uniformity would itself be contingent; the determinator of choice would be given and known from observation and experience singly, and could not contain that necessity which is of the essence of law, i.e., a necessity presented to the mind by reason à priori: at least, if such principles were called laws, their necessity must be understood to mean, not a practical, but a physical necessitation, and would import that human actions followed on the appetites and passions by a determinate and fixed mechanism of our frame. But, rather than take refuge in such a baseless absurdity, it would be more judicious to maintain that there were no practical laws at all; for the utilitarian position elevates subjective principles to the rank of objective laws: in which case, however, their objective necessity behoved to be understood from grounds of reason à priori. Even in the physical system, the uniform sequences of its phenomena are alone called laws, because seen to be so à priori; or when, as in chemistry, they are postulated as such, because it is presumed they should be so recognised if our faculties reached further. But in the case of principles taken from the conceptions of self-love (one’s own happiness), no such hypothesis or postulate is admissible, since it is of the very essence of the theory that it rests on subjective and not on objective conditions: consequently, that the principles it yields can never be more than maxims, and are not, without contradiction, cogitable as laws. This may seem to a hasty reader a mere subtilizing upon words; however, it concerns the assigning in terms an exact formula for the most important distinction which enters into the consideration of ethical philosophy.
If an Intelligent cogitate his maxims as practical laws of catholic extent, he can do so singly when his maxim is, not by its matter, but by its form, the determinator of volition.
The matter of any practical principle is the object or end willed; and this end either determines the will, or it does not. If the matter chosen regulate the choice, then the rule depends on the relation subsisting betwixt the feelings of pleasure and pain, and the end represented, i.e., on a à posteriori condition; and so the rule is unfit for a practical law. But when the matter of a law is taken away, there remains nothing except the form of law in general: therefore an Intelligent either cannot in any event cogitate his maxims as fit for laws in a code of general moral legislation, or he must figure to himself that the bare form of law by which his maxims fit and are suited for catholic legislation, is what can alone render them practical laws.
What kind of maxim is fit for law universal, and what not, is plain to the most untutored understanding: for instance, a man resolves (i.e., adopts as maxim) to augment his income in every secure way. He holds in his hands a deposit intrusted to him by one who has just died intestate; and he proposes to apply his maxim to the sum in his trust. I now put the question, and ask if such maxim would be valid for a law of catholic extent, i.e., if his maxim can be announced in the form of a law; and it is directly perceptible that a law, ordaining every one to detain sums committed to his trust, when he safely can do so, is absurd and self-destructory; for it would tend to this issue, that no deposit would at any time be made, and so the law to break trust would effect its own avoidance. What reason recognises as a practical law, however, must be fit for law universal (for all agents). The proposition is identic, and cannot be made plainer. So that, if the will be subjected to a practical law, the depository cannot found on his appetite for hoarding as a determinator of choice fit for law universal. For, so far from being fit for that, it was seen, when considered under the form of a universal law, to be incompatible with itself, and self-annihilating.
Although the tendency to happiness is universal, as is also the maxim by which that tendency is made a determinator of choice, yet it is surprising that men of understanding should for that reason announce this want, as a foundation for a universal practical law. For while every other law effects uniformity as its result, the law taken from a maxim to make one’s self happy would not only exhibit the veriest counterpart of such harmony, but would annihilate the maxim itself, and frustrate the end designed, in making it a law. In the case of utilitarian (greatest happiness) principles, all wills have not the same end, but each will has its own (its own welfare), which may perhaps accord with others, perhaps not, but which at any rate gives no certain determinate law, the possible exceptions being innumerable; and that sort of harmony might emerge which a satiric poet describes as the concord of spouses who mutually ruin one another by their extravagance—
or that sort expressed by the message from Francis I. to Charles V.: “Whatever my brother Charles chooses (Lombardy), that assure him I choose also.” In short, principles founded on observation and experience never can become the groundwork of any law; for, to invent one capable of reducing to harmony all the appetites and by-ends of mankind, and at the same time founded on them, is altogether impossible.
Upon the hypothesis that a maxim is, by its legislative form singly, the alone valid determinator of choice,—to find the nature of a will so determinable.
Since the abstract form of law in genere is cogitable by the force of reason singly, it is nowhat presented to the senses, and so no phenomenon occurring in space and time; and the idea of it, considered as a determinator of will, is wholly different in kind, from the determinators of phenomena in the physical system, because in this last the determinator of a phenomenon is, by the law of the causal-nexus, itself also always a phenomenon. Again, since by hypothesis no determinator of will was valid as law, except the universal legislative form, it follows that such a will is quite independent of the causal law by which phenomena are regulated. But to be independent of the law of cause and effect, and of the mechanism of the physical system, is freedom, in the strictest sense of the word. A will, therefore, whose alone law is the legislative form of its maxims, is a free will.
Conversely: Upon the hypothesis that a will is free, to find the law, alone fit for its necessary determinator.
Since the matter of any practical law (i.e., the object of a maxim) can only be given à posteriori, and the will is, by the supposition, unaffected by any conditions à posteriori, and free, and yet cannot be cogitated as devoid of all law, it remains that a free will must find in the law somewhat fit for its regulation, irrespective of the matter of the law. But when the matter of a law is taken away, there remains nothing except its legislative form. The legislative form, therefore, contained in a maxim, is that which can alone determine a free will.
Freedom, and an imperative practical law, reciprocally point to one another. I do not here raise the question if they really differ, or if the unconditioned law is not identically the same with self-consciousness of pure practical reason, and this last again identic with the positive idea Freedom; but I only examine from what our knowledge of an unconditioned practical necessity takes its rise,—if from the idea Freedom, or from the law. That it should begin from the former is impossible; for we are conscious of it not immediately, as is seen by our first conception of it being negative only.* Neither do we know our freedom from observation and experience, experience teaching only that mechanic law of the causal-nexus which is the veriest anti-part of freedom. It is therefore from the moral law alone that its original is to be deduced; for of it we are instantly conscious, as soon as we adopt maxims or resolutions of conduct;* and reason, by representing this as a determinator, far outweighing all sensitive considerations, and totally unconnected and independent of them, leads to the idea Freedom.† And if the question is further put, How do we arrive at the consciousness of the moral law? the answer is the same as in the case of any other proposition à priori,—that we are conscious of a practical law à priori, as we are conscious of theoretic ones, by attending to the necessity with which reason obtrudes them on the mind; and by separating from them all à posteriori conditions, we arrive, from the first, at the idea of a pure will, as, from the last, at the notion of a pure understanding. That this is indeed the order in which these ideas are ushered into the mind, and that morality first reveals to man his inward freedom, and that practical reason first proposes to speculative reason its insoluble problems, is plain from this, that since no phenomenon can be explained by help of the idea Freedom, and since speculative reason was lost in the embarrass arising from its Antinomies, no one could have hazarded the introduction of such an idea into science, had not the moral law obtruded and flung it before the mind. This opinion is further strengthened by its consistency with what experience teaches; for let any one allege that his sexual appetite is so strong as to be quite ungovernable, and put the case to him, whether he could not refuse to give his passions vent if he knew he were to be led to instant execution if he did so, and there can be no doubt as to what his love of life would prompt him to answer; but ask him further, if his sovereign were to order him, upon pain of the same death, falsely to swear away the life of an obnoxious noble, whether his love of life would induce him to do so, or if he thought he could disobey the unjust mandate. Whether he would do so or not, he might not have confidence in himself to assert, but that he could, must be admitted by him without hesitation; that is, man judges it possible for him to do an act because he is conscious that he ought to do it; and so recognises his inward freedom, which, apart from the moral law, would have remained latent and undiscovered.
Fundamental law of Reason.
So act that thy maxims of will might become law in a system of universal moral legislation.
Geometry begins with postulates concerning the drawing of lines and the fixing of points, and these are practical propositions, containing nothing further than the supposition that an operation may be performed when science requires it; and they are the sole propositions of the mathematics which refer to the existence or non-existence of a phenomenon. They are therefore practical positions, standing under a problematic state of will. But in Ethics the practical rule is absolute, and ordains somewhat to be done, whereby the will is objectively determined. Pure self-active (spontaneous) reason being immediately legislative, the will is cogitated as independent on conditions à posteriori; i.e., as pure will determinable by the bare form of law. The fact is startling, and without any parallel; for the à priori idea of a potential legislation is unconditionally announced as law, without having its possibility established from any observation or experience, or supported by the fiat of any foreign or exterior will.
Our consciousness of this fundamental law is an ultimate fact of reason, for it issues from no preceding data, e.g., the consciousness of freedom, but is thrust upon the mind directly as a synthetic à priori proposition, and is bottomed on no intuition whatsoever, whether à priori or à posteriori. But if the idea Freedom were given, then would the law be analytic. But the idea is in the first instance negative singly; and if it were positive, would require an intellectual intuition, as to which there can be no question. Lastly, when it is said that this law is given, I beg it may be understood that it is not known by observation and experience, but that it is the single isolated fact of practical reason, announcing itself as originally legislative. Sic volo, sic jubeo.
Corollary.—Reason is spontaneously practical, and gives that universal law (to man) which is called the moral law.
This fact is undoubted. One needs only to analyze the judgments passed by mankind on the lawfulness of their own actions, in order to become aware with what unchanging necessity reason contrasts every maxim of conduct with the idea of a pure will, i.e., holds up, as a standard, itself represented as à priori causal. The above principle of morality is authentically announced by reason as law for all Intelligents, i.e., for all who have a faculty of determining their own causality by the representation of a rule, i.e., in so far as they are susceptible of actions upon system, and so susceptible of practical principles à priori; which last have alone that necessity which reason demands in an ultimate position. The moral law is therefore not confined to man, but extends over all, even to the Most High and Supreme Himself; but, in the former case, the law is expressed in the formula of an imperative; for although man is cogitated as the possessor of a pure will, yet, since he is susceptible of emotions and wants, inseparable from his finite state, he has by no means a holy will, i.e., a will incapable of adopting maxims incompatible with the law. The moral law is hence to finite Intelligents an imperative, expressing a categoric command.
The relation of such a will to the law is called obligation, which signifies necessitation by reason to an act, which act, again, is called duty. A will pathologically affected is in the state of wish, a state springing from subjective emotions, and therefore often not in harmony with the objective determinator, and so requires an inward intellectual co-action, i.e., moral necessitation. In the case, however, of the Most High and Supreme, His will is rightly cogitated as incapable of any maxim not fit for law universal. And the idea Holiness, which therefore becomes His attribute, excludes all limitary or negative laws, and so exalts Him far beyond the conceptions of obligation and duty. This Holiness of Will is, however, nothing more than a practical idea,—an infinite approximation towards which is all that is possible for man or any other finite being, and which ideal standard is constantly held up to man by the Moral Law, called for that reason itself Holy. Steadfastness in this continual advancement, and Hope in the unchangeableness of a man’s resolves to do so, or, in one word, virtue, is the utmost a finite reason can accomplish; and since this practical power is developed by exercise, and known by observation and experience, it can never be fully attained or secured, and the confident over-persuasion of such would militate to the prejudice of morality.
Autonomy of will is the alone foundation of morality, and of the duties springing from it; and every other principle whatsoever, not only cannot found laws of necessary obligation and catholic extent, but is in fact subversive of morality. In being independent of the matter of any law (a desired object), and being determinable by the legislative form of his own maxims, consists the ethical nature of man, and that which renders him a subject for morality; that independence is freedom negatively, while this self-legislation is freedom positively. The moral law expresses, therefore, nothing else than just the autonomy of reason, i.e., of a man’s freedom or spontaneity;* and this autonomy or freedom is a condition which must qualify every maxim, if these last are to harmonize with the moral law itself. On the contrary, when the matter of a volition, which can be nothing else than the object of a desire, is made of the practical law, and represented as a condition prerequisite to its possibility, then Heteronomy (a false principle of morals) results; and the will ceases to prescribe to itself its own law, and is left exposed to laws taken from pathological phenomena. In this case, however, the maxim adopted by the will is formally unfit for law universal, and not only founds no obligation, but goes to subvert the principles of practical reason itself, and so militates against genuine moral sentiments, even while the actions emanating from such heteronomy are not wanting in conformity to the law.
Practical rules, based on accidental and contingent circumstances, can never be regarded as laws for conduct. The will’s proper law wafts it from this visible system into another order of things; and that necessity it expresses, having no common part with the mechanic necessity expressed by laws of nature, can consist alone in the formal conditions requisite to the possibility of law in general. The matter of every practical rule depends on subjective facts not extending to all agents whatsoever, and hinges on the principle of one’s own happiness. And although it cannot be questioned that every volition has an end aimed at (i.e., a matter), yet that by no means warrants the conclusion that such matter is the condition and determinator of the maxim; for if so, then maxims could not be elevated to the rank of law in a system of universal moral legislation, as they would rest on accidental, and not on necessary circumstances. Thus it is quite possible that the happiness of others may be the object of the will of an Intelligent; but if regarded as the determinator of the maxim, then it must be supposed that we not merely feel a secret gratification on perceiving the happiness of others, but that we are stimulated by a physical want or appetite to act towards it, as in the case of compassion; and so there would be no law of benevolence, that physical feeling not reaching all persons whatever (e.g., God). However, there may be a law enjoining universal love, and the matter of benevolent maxims may remain, provided it is not figured as their prerequisite condition; and it is the form of law which, by moulding the matter chosen, is the ground of adding such matter to the will. To make this as clear as may be, let the object-matter of my choice be my own happiness, then a maxim expressing such volition can only be fit for law universal (i.e., be moral), when I involve in it the happiness of every other Intelligent throughout the universe. And a law ordaining me to promote universal happiness is therefore quite independent of the supposition that happiness is the choice of all wills, and rests singly on its own formal universality. This satisfies the demands of reason, and gives to what would else be a mere selfish maxim, a qualification fitting it for law. In this way it is observable that a pure will is not determined by a desire of happiness, but is so singly by the form of legality; this form again—adapting the maxim founded on the appetite for happiness for law universal—is that alone which allows me to act upon it, for on no other condition can this appetite be brought into harmony with the requisitions of reason. On this is based the obligation to extend my private selfish choice of happiness, so as to include at the same time that of others.
The antipart of this principle of morality is that of self-love, on which, I have already shown, every system must be based, when the determinator regulating the choice is sought for elsewhere than in the legislative form of the maxim; and this contrariety is not logical merely, but practical, and would infallibly overthrow all morality, were not the voice of reason at all times too audible, and its native force to determine the will too strong to be affected by dark and deceitful subtleties of the schools, as may be made palpable by the following examples:—
If a person were to attempt to justify his having borne false witness, by alleging to his friend the sacred obligation he lay under of consulting his own happiness, by enumerating the profits and advantages accruing from this falsehood; and if he were, in conclusion, to point out the extreme cunning he had employed in the whole matter, to fortify himself against detection, and to add, that although he now intrusted to his friend this secret, yet he was ready to deny it stoutly at any future occasion, and that in all this he was discharging a humane and reasonable duty,—certainly his friend must either laugh him to scorn, or turn from him with disgust; although, if maxims are to be constructed singly with respect to one’s own advantage, nothing of moment can be urged against such a line of conduct. Or, however, to take a second case, if somebody were to recommend an overseer or factor to you, and were to say that he was an exceedingly clever man,—most restlessly active in securing his own interest, quite unembarrassed by any scruples as to any mode conducive to this end, and perfectly indifferent whether the money he had occasion to disburse was his own or another’s,—you would either conclude that there was an attempt to make a fool of you, or that the person who could give such a recommendation had lost his understanding. Thus widely separated are the confines of self-love from those of morality. A gulf impassable lies betwixt their maxims. Self-love (prudence) advises by its maxims, but the moral law commands; and the difference is unspeakably great betwixt what is expedient and what is imperative to be done.
The action called for by autonomy is always known and undoubted, but that demanded by a heteronomous principle is uncertain, and requires extended experience and acquaintance with the world; in other words, every man knows within himself what is “duty;” but what is to found one’s prosperity and happiness is matter of inextricable doubt, and it demands extreme dexterity, even to apply such selfish rules to the conduct of life, for the exceptions they make upon one another are endless. The moral law has no exceptions, but demands from every one punctual observance, and must therefore be so plain and obvious in its requirements, that the most common understanding can advance along it, without any study of the intricate ways of the world.
To obey the categorical law of morals, is at all times in every one’s power; but it is not practicable for all to act upon dictates of expediency: the reason is, that the first demands singly a pure and unadulterated will (maxim), but the latter calls further for ability and physical power to gain the end aimed at. A law to pursue one’s own happiness were absurd; for it is superfluous to ordain any one to choose what the constitution of his nature inevitably forces him to will, and it were more fit to instruct him as to those measures calculated to carry his choice into effect. But to command morality and the name of duty is quite rational, for we do not willingly yield obedience to its law; and as to the steps requisite to be taken in order to adhere to it, that is explained in the methodology of ethics. What is here wanted, is alone the original bent or cast of the volition to do so; for whenever any one wills, that also gives him the power to carry the law into effect, i.e., to act upon it.
To carry as far as may be this difference between principles of utilitarianism and morality, I observe further:
He who has lost at play may be vexed at his imprudence and want of skill; but he who is conscious within himself of having cheated, must despise himself as soon as he compares his conduct with the moral law, and that too, although he have won treasures. The moral law must therefore be somewhat widely distinct from principles of self-aggrandizement. And for any one to be obliged to say to himself, I am worthless and a villain, though wealthy, and to say, I am clever and cunning, for I have amassed riches, are judgments founded on standards of conduct totally imcompatible.
Again, the idea of blameworthiness and punishment, which reason invariably attaches to that of guilt, makes a singular contrast with the Eudaimonistic system; for although he who appoints a punishment may do so with a view to the ulterior happiness of the delinquent, yet punishment, as actual pain or evil added to the offender, must be justified as such, so as to constrain even the guilty to acknowledge that the severity is just, and that his evil lot answers to his ill desert. Every punishment must be rigidly just, for justice is of the very essence of this idea. Benignity is not contrary to justice, and may in union with justice deal out punishment; but for kindness or mercy, the blameworthy has no claim: and so it is clear that punishment is a physical evil, which it behoved should be annexed to moral evil (according to the ethical legislation of reason), even if it were not already so. If, then, every crime is a fit object of punishment, and infers to some extent a forfeiture of happiness, it is a contradiction and absurdity to say that a crime requires punishment, because the transgressor has injured his own happiness; for this is the whole conception of crime according to the Utilitarian System; for then physical evil, i.e., punishment, would be the ground and reason of considering any action as a transgression, and justice would come to consist in avoiding all pains and penalties (threatened by law), and in preventing those which come of themselves, which, when fully done, there would cease to be any evil in an action,—those evils consequent on a bad action, and which alone make it so, being henceforward removed. It were idle to examine the statement that rewards and punishments are stimulant forces applied by a supreme power to man, in order to lead him towards true felicity; the fancy of such mechanism of will being quite destructory of all freedom.
The intervention of a moral sense, as a foundation for ethic science, is a somewhat more refined theory, but as untrue as the former; for it alleges that this feeling, not reason, promulgates the moral law; and further, since the consciousness of virtue is immediately connected, owing to this feeling, with enjoyment and pleasure, and that of vice with uneasiness and pain, it virtually runs up into a suifelicity or greatest-happiness system. Not to insist again on those objections which are amply set forth in former paragraphs, I merely stop to point out a mistake which pervades the whole theory. Before we can figure to ourselves the vicious as haunted with an uneasy recollection of his misdeeds, he must be cogitated as already in some degree morally good; as must likewise he who is to be gratified from reflecting on the integrity of his conduct. So that the ideas of morality and duty are presupposed to explain the existence of such a feeling, and cannot be derived from it. It is absolutely necessary that a person have estimated the high importance of duty, the authority of the moral law, and the immediate unconditioned worth which the observance of it imparts to man in his own eyes, antecedently to his being able to feel that contentment springing from the consciousness of a moral character, or that bitter reproach springing from the conviction of the want of it. This moral felicity cannot precede the idea Obligation, much less found it; and it is requisite that an individual have some notions of morality and honour before he can ever figure to himself what is meant by such emotions. This, however, is so far from inclining me to deny that a standing determination to act upon the representation of the moral law, and unswerving constancy in doing so, will eventually establish this feeling of self-contentment, that I rather deem it a duty to cultivate such a state of mind, which state alone ought rigidly to be termed “a moral sense.” However, to deduce thence the idea Duty is impossible, for we would require a feeling of the law as such, so as to make that an object of sensation which can be represented to the mind by reason singly; a statement which, if not a downright contradiction, goes to substitute in the room of duty a mechanic play of refined and more subtilized emotions, sometimes thwarting, sometimes harmonizing with the coarser feelings of our system.
We are now in a condition to exhibit and contrast our formal position, the autonomy of the will, with every other material principle of morals hitherto advanced, and so to make it evident from a glance that these, and through them every other conceivable foundation, are exhausted, and that henceforth the attempt must be fruitless to base morality on any other ground than the one on which it has been now rested. Every possible determinator of the will is either subjective, and borrowed from observation and experience, or else objective, and based on reason; and these, again, whether rational or inductive, are either external or internal.
Those on the left are all inductive, and plainly unfit for founding laws of catholic extent. Those on the right hand, however, have their origin and seat in reason (for perfection as a quality, and supreme perfection cogitated in substance, i.e., God, can only be figured to the mind by reason). But the first notion can mean only either perfection in a theoretic or in a practical sense: in the first it signifies completeness (i.e., quantitative perfectness), which can have no reference to what we are here talking of; or else it signifies (qualitative perfection) the practical fitness of man for accomplishing all possible variety of ends. Such an inward perfection is talent; and whatever adds to or serves as complement to that is called skill.
Supreme perfection hypostatized, or in substance (i.e., God), consequently external perfection considered practically, is the all-sufficiency of the Supreme Being for every end whatsoever.
Now, if ends must be given in order to fix the notion of perfection, so that the representation of a perfection in ourselves, or an external perfection in God, may determine a volition towards them; then, since such matter of choice precedes the volition, and is the condition of its practical rule, it follows that the will is determined as on the Epicurean system. For the notion Perfection determines the will by the gratification expected from our own accomplishments; and the will of God, when harmony with it is chosen, apart from any prior investigation of what is a perfect and absolutely good will, can only move the will by an expectation of happiness awaited from Him.
Therefore, 1st, All principles in this schedule are material; 2ndly, they represent all such conceivable principles whatsoever; and, 3rdly, because material principles are quite unfit for law universal, it results that the formal practical principle of reason (according to which the bare form of a potential legislation served for the supreme and immediate determinator of choice) is the alone possible which can found categorical imperatives, i.e., practical laws, and is thus at once the sole standard for estimating deportment, and the sole ethical determinator of the will.
[* ]Ref. 4, from p. 40.—C.
[* ]Ref. 4, from p. 40.—C.
[* ]Ref. 7, from p. 67.—C.
[† ]Ref. 6, from p. 57.—C.
[* ]Ref. 5, from p. 45.—C.