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MEMOIR OF KANT. - Immanuel Kant, Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason and Other Works on the Theory of Ethics 
Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason and Other Works on the Theory of Ethics, trans. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott, B.D., Fellow and Tutor of Trinity College, Dublin, 4th revised ed. (London: Kongmans, Green and Co., 1889).
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TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE to THIRD EDITION.
This volume contains the whole of Kant’s works on the General Theory of Ethies. It consists of four parts:—
I have added, in an appendix, a translation of Kant’s essay—Ueber ein vermeintes Recht aus Menschenliebe zu lügen (1797): Werke, ed. Rosenkr., vol. vii., which is interesting as throwing further light on Kant’s application of his principles.
The first of these treatises and half of the second were translated by Mr. Semple (Edinburgh, 1836; reprinted 1869) in connexion with the greater part of the Metaphysik der Sitten (which is concerned with the discussion of particular virtues and vices). Mr. Semple has also translated (in a distinct volume) the Religion u. s. w.
The edition which I have used is that of Kant’s whole works, by Rosenkranz and Schubert, vol. viii. of which contains the Grundlegung and the Kritik, and vol. x. the Religion. For convenience of reference to the original, I have given at the top of each page the corresponding pages of Rosenkranz’ edition. It is not very accurately printed; and, where the errors are obvious, I have silently corrected them; others I have noticed in foot-notes. Many of these errors seem to have been handed down through all editions from the first. Hartenstein’s edition is more carefully revised, and I have referred to it and to Kirchmann’s in cases of doubt. Kant’s grammatical errors, partly provincialisms, partly due to his age, are usually corrected by Hartenstein, but silently, which is a somewhat questionable proceeding in an editor. Amongst these errors are: uncertainty in the use of the indicative and conjunctive; “an almost thoroughgoing misuse of prepositions” (Hartenstein), and irregularities in the gender of substantives. His use of “vor” for “für” has been generally corrected by editors: where “vor” remains, the reader must remember that its retention is a matter of judgment.
I have to express my obligation to Professor Selss for his kindness in revising the proofs, and for many valuable suggestions.
The Memoir prefixed will, it is hoped, prove interesting.
In the present (fourth) edition some corrections have been made.
The Portrait prefixed is from a photograph of an oil-painting in the possession of Gräfe and Unzer, booksellers, of Königsberg. It is inferior, as a work of art, to the portrait engraved in the former edition; but as it represents Kant in the vigour of his age, and, unlike the former, has never appeared in any book, readers will probably be pleased with the substitution. I possess also a copy of a rare full-length silhouette, photographic copies of which can be supplied.
My notes are in square brackets.
MEMOIR OF KANT.
Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg on the 22nd of April, 1724, thirteen years after Hume, and fourteen after Reid. His family was of Scottish origin, his grandfather having been one of the many Scotchmen who emigrated from Scotland at the end of the seventeenth century, some settling in Prussia, and some in Sweden; and he is said to have been himself the first to change the spelling of the name from Cant, which he did in order to avoid the mispronunciation Zant. His father was a saddler in modest, if not humble, circumstances. Both parents were persons of simple and sincere piety. Kant himself, although he did not sympathize with their religious views, bears the strongest testimony to the practical effect of their religion on their life. “Although,” said he, speaking warmly, “the religious ideas of that time, and the notions of what was called virtue and piety were far from being distinct and satisfactory, yet such persons had the root of the matter in them. Let men decry pietism as they may, the people who were in earnest with it were honourably distinguished. They possessed the highest that man can possess—that calm, that serenity, that inward peace which is not disturbed by any passion. No trouble, no persecution dismayed them; no contest had the power to stir them up to anger or hostility: in a word, even the mere observer was involuntarily compelled to respect them. I still remember,” added he, “how a quarrel once broke out between the harnessmakers and the saddlers about their respective privileges. My father suffered considerably; nevertheless, even in conversation amongst his own family he spoke about this quarrel with such forbearance and love towards his opponents, and with such firm trust in Providence, that although I was then only a boy, I shall never forget it.” Of his mother, especially, he ever retained a tender and grateful memory, saying, “I shall never forget my mother, for she planted and fostered the first germ of good in me: she opened my heart to the impressions of nature, she awoke and enlarged my thoughts, and her teaching has always had an enduring and wholesome influence on my life.” She died when he was only thirteen, and even in his later years he could scarcely restrain his emotion, when he related to his intimate friends how she had sacrificed her own life through her devotion to a friend. 1 Kant strongly resembled his mother in features and in his singularly contracted chest.
At ten years of age Kant was sent to the Collegium Fridericianum, where he continued for seven years. Here he applied himself chiefly to classical studies, and learned to write Latin with ease and fluency. Of Greek he does not seem to have ever read much.
Amongst his schoolfellows was David Ruhnken, and these two, with a third, named Kunde, read their favourite authors together and laid their plans for the future, all three proposing to devote themselves to classical literature. Ruhnken actually attained high distinction in this field. At the age of sixteen Kant passed to the University, where he applied himself chiefly to mathematics and philosophy, the instruction in his favourite subject, the ancient classics, being inadequate. He had entered himself as a theological student, and, as was then the practice with such students in Prussia, he occasionally preached in the neighbouring churches. Indeed, he had completed his theological course when he finally gave up that line of study. No doubt his tastes had been long turning in a different direction; but the immediate cause of his decision seems to have been the failure of his application for a subordinate post in a school, such posts being usually the first step to ecclesiastical appointments.
During the latter part of his residence at the University he had been obliged to eke out his scanty means by giving instruction in classics, mathematics, and natural philosophy to some of his fellow-students, for whom the lectures of the professors were too difficult; but the little that he could earn in this way was insufficient for his support, when by his father’s death (1746) he was thrown altogether on his own resources. He therefore sought and obtained employment as a resident tutor in families of distinction. He was thus engaged for nine years, and, according to his own candid confession in later years, there was hardly ever a tutor with a better theory or a worse practice. However that may be, he certainly gained the affection of his pupils, and the respect of their parents. At the beginning of this period he published his first work—an Essay on the estimation of vis viva; and towards the end of it his second—a brief discussion of the question whether the length of the day has undergone any change, a question which had been proposed by the Berlin Academy as the subject for a prize essay. Kant argues that the tides must have the effect of retarding the earth’s rotation, and he enters into a rough calculation of the amount of this retardation, his first step to a conjectural approximation being an estimate of the effect of the impulse of the water on the whole east coast of the American continent. His suggestion was sound 1 and sagacious; but he overrated vastly the amount of the effect. He inferred that the day had lengthened by about 1½s in two thousand years. According to Delaunay, the actual amount of retardation is 1s in 200,000 years. This result is based on historical facts (the record of eclipses). Kant’s was a purely physical calculation, and for this he did not possess sufficient data. On account of this inevitable lack of precision, he did not offer his essay in competition for the prize.
The same essay contained another very remarkable suggestion in explanation of the fact, that the moon always presents the same face to the earth. In fact, if the moon were originally in a fluid state the tides produced in it by the earth (which would be very great) would similarly retard its rotation until the fluid surface attained a position of equilibrium relatively to the earth, i. e. until the moon rotated round its axis in the same time that it revolved round the earth. This speculation has been recently brought forward as novel.
The conjecture as to the moon’s original fluidity was no isolated one in Kant’s mind; on the contrary, he speaks of it as part of a general theory of the heavens, which he was about to publish. In the following year (1755), accordingly, he published (anonymously) an important work of about 200 pages, entitled, A General Theory of the Heavens; or, Essay on the Mechanical Origin of the Structure of the Universe, on the Principles of Newton. This work is an elaborate exposition of the Nebular Theory, commonly called by the name of Laplace, although Laplace’s Système du Monde was not published till forty years later (1796). The only considerable differences are, first, that Laplace supposes the condensation of the diffused matter to be the result of cooling; and, secondly, that he postulates an original movement of rotation; whereas Kant thought he could account for both condensation and rotation from the two elementary forces of attraction and repulsion. It is not easy to say whether Laplace was aware of Kant’s priority. He asserts, indeed, that he was not aware of any theory except Buffon’s (a rather extravagant one); but then Laplace never did acknowledge that he borrowed anything from anybody else. Even when he used the mathematical discoveries of contemporary Frenchmen, he introduces them as if they were his own; how much more if he adopted a suggestion of an anonymous German philosopher. If he really did calculate on the ignorance of his reader, the event has justified his expectation; for even those writers who mention Kant’s priority speak as if Kant had merely thrown out a hint, while Laplace had developed a theory; whereas, in fact, Kant wrote a treatise on the subject, and Laplace only a few pages. 1
Kant begins by defending his attempt against the possible objections of those who might regard it as an endeavour to dispense with the necessity for a Divine Author. Such persons, he says, appear to suppose that nature, left to its own laws, would produce only disorder, and that the adaptations we admire indicate the interference of a compelling hand, as if nature were a rebellious subject that could be reduced to order only by compulsion, or else were an independent principle, whose properties are uncaused, and which God strives to reduce into the plan of His purposes. But, answers he, if the general laws of matter are themselves a result of supreme wisdom, must they not be fitted to carry out its wise design? In fact, we have here a powerful weapon in aid of Theism. When we trace certain beneficial effects to the regular working of the laws of nature, we see that these effects are not produced by chance, but that these laws can work in no other way. But if the nature of things were independent and necessary, what an astounding accident, or rather what an impossibility, would it not be that they should fit together just as a wise and good choice would have made them fit! As this applies to such reasoning in general, so it applies also to the present undertaking. We shall find that matter had certain laws imposed on it, by virtue of which it necessarily produced the finest combinations. That there is a God is proved even by this, that Nature, even in chaos, could only proceed with regularity and order.
He proceeds to work out in detail the problem of the formation of the planets out of the originally diffused matter, taking into consideration the eccentricities, inclinations, &c., of the planets, the rings of Saturn, the satellites, the comets. It is noticeable that he does not, like Laplace, regard the rings of Saturn as an illustration of his theory. On account of their large inclination to the ecliptic (28°), he thought it necessary to assign to them a different origin. His hypothesis was, that they were produced by emanations from the planet itself, and he showed further (as Laplace afterwards did) that the ring must have a movement of rotation, and that in consequence of the different velocities belonging to different distances from the planet, its stability required that it should consist of several distinct rings. This conjecture, or rather deduction, has been verified. He also conjectured, as a result of his hypothesis regarding the formation of the ring, that the great velocity of rotation of particles of the inner ring would be the same as that of the planet’s equator. From this consideration, combined with the assumption that the ring conforms to Kepler’s third law, he deduced the time of the planet’s rotation. He drew particular attention to this as the first prediction of the kind. His deduction, however, has not been verified. Saturn’s time of rotation is nearly double what it ought to be on Kant’s theory. 1 Another conjecture of his, subsequently verified, was, that there are planets beyond Saturn. Later, he conjectured also the existence of a planet between Mars and Jupiter. 2
Kant then extends his view to the sidereal system. He states that the first to suggest to him that the fixed stars constituted a system was Wright, of Durham. 3 Kant develops this conception. If gravitation is a universal property of matter, we cannot suppose the sun’s attractive force limited to our system; but if it extends to the nearest fixed star, and if the fixed stars, like suns, exercise a similar force around them, then they would, sooner or later, fall together if not prevented (like the planets) by a centrifugal force. Hence we may conclude that all the stars of the firmament have their own orbital motion. If we conceive our planetary system multiplied a thousand-fold, and the several bodies in it to be self-luminous, the appearance, as seen from the earth, would resemble that of the Milky Way. The form of the heaven of the fixed stars then is in great an effect of the same systematic arrangement as our system in little; our sun with the other stars are, in short, the planets of a vaster system, which is, in fact, the Milky Way. 1 There may be many such systems, and some of these may appear to us as nebulæ, and these being seen obliquely would present an elliptic form. The Milky Way seen from a sufficient distance would appear like one of these elliptic nebulæ. But these systems, again, may be mutually related, and constitute together a still more immeasurable system. This opens to us a view into the infinite field of creation, and gives us a conception of the work of God suitable to the infinity of the great Creator. If the magnitude of a planetary system in which the earth is as a grain of sand fills our understanding with wonder, with what amazement are we seized when we consider the vast multitude of worlds and systems which constitute the Milky Way; and how is this amazement increased again when we learn that all these immeasurable star systems are in their turn only a unit in a number whose limit we know not, and which is perhaps as inconceivably great as the former, while it is itself the unit of a new combination. 1 There is here a veritable abyss of immensity in which all human power of conception is lost. The wisdom, the goodness, the power, that are revealed are infinite, and in the same degree fruitful and active; the plan of its revelation must, therefore, be equally infinite. He ventures upon the conjecture (giving his reasons) that nature may in course of time be again reduced to chaos, and again emerge like a phœnix from its ashes. When we contemplate nature in these successive changes, carrying out the plan by which God reveals Himself in wonders that fill space and eternity, the mind is overwhelmed with astonishment; but not satisfied with this vast yet perishable object, the soul desires to know more nearly that Being whose intelligence and whose greatness are the source of that light which spreads as from a centre over all nature. With what awe must not the soul regard even its own nature, when it reflects that it shall outlive all these changes. “O happy,” he exclaims, “when amid the tumult of the elements and the ruin of nature it is placed on a height from whence it can, as it were, see beneath its feet the desolation of all perishable things of the world. Reason could not even dare to wish for such happiness, but Revelation teaches us to hope for it with confidence. When the fetters that have bound us to the vanity of the creature have fallen off, the immortal spirit will find itself in the enjoyment of true happiness in communion with the Infinite Being. The contemplation of the harmony of universal nature with the will of God must fill with ever-increasing satisfaction the rational creature who finds himself united to this source of all perfection. 1 Viewed from this centre, nature will show on all sides nothing but stability and fitness; its changes cannot interfere with the happiness of a creature who has reached this height. In sweet foretaste of this condition the soul can exercise its mouth in those songs of praise with which all eternity shall ring:—
Discussing the question, whether the planets are inhabited, he states his opinion that it would be absurd to deny this as to all or even most of them. But in the wealth of nature, in which worlds and systems are to the whole creation only sundust, there may well be waste and uninhabited places as there are uninhabited waste on our own earth. Perhaps, indeed, he adds, some of the planets are not yet brought into a state fit for habitation; it may take thousands of years to bring the matter of a great planet into a steady condition. Jupiter appears to be in this transition state. One planet may come to its perfection thousands of years later than another. 1 We may be sure that most of the planets are inhabited, and those that are not will be so in due time. He imagines that the further the planets are from the sun the more the inhabitants excel in liveliness and distinctness of thought. Indulging in fancy, he asks, Does sin exist in those worlds? and suggests that perhaps the beings in the inferior planets may be too low to be responsible; those in the superior planets too wise and too elevated to fall into sin, with the exception, perhaps, of Mars. Perhaps, he adds, some of these bodies may be preparing for our future habitation: who knows whether the satellites which revolve round Jupiter are destined one day to illumine us? “No one, however, will base his hopes of the future on such uncertain fancies. When corruption has claimed its part in human nature, then shall the immortal spirit swiftly soar above all that is finite, and continue its existence in a new relation to the whole of nature arising from its nearer relation to the Supreme Being. When we gaze on the starry heavens with our mind filled with such thoughts as have here been expressed, while all nature is at rest and our senses also in repose, the hidden faculties of the immortal soul speak in a language unutterable, and give us conceptions which can be felt but not described. If there are on this planet thinking beings so base as to bind themselves to the service of corruption, in spite of all that draws them away from it, how unhappy is this globe to produce such miserable creatures! but how happy, on the other hand, that under conditions worthy of all acceptation a way is opened to them to attain to a happiness and a dignity infinitely beyond all the advantages which the most favourable arrangements of nature can reach in all the bodies of the universe!”
The reader who is interested in Kant himself will readily pardon this long notice of a work to which he attached some importance. At its first publication it was dedicated to the king, Frederick the Great, and the theory developed in it is frequently referred to by Kant in his subsequent writings, 1 for he never ceased to take an interest in these subjects. So late as 1785 he wrote an essay on the volcanoes in the moon, with reference to an observation of Herschel. In this Paper he suggests a mode of accounting for the great heat of the sun, and (originally) of the planets. His suggestion is based on the discovery of Crawford, that heat is developed by condensation. On the hypothesis then that the sun and planets were formed by the condensation of matter originally diffused through the whole space, this heat would be a direct consequence of the condensation. Still later, in 1794, writing on the influence of the moon on the weather, he throws out the suggestion that the moon’s centre of gravity may (for reasons which he gives) lie beyond its centre of figure: 1 a consequence of which would be that any air and water which might be upon its surface would be collected at the side remote from us.
In another instance, both Kant and Laplace might have had reason to say, “Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt.” In 1756 Kant wrote a short Paper on the theory of the winds, in which, for the first time, as he believed, he gave the true account of the trade winds and monsoons. Halley had shown that the effect of the sun in heating the atmosphere at the equator would be to cause an indraught towards the equator from north and south. This indraught, according to him, naturally followed the daily course of the sun, and hence the easting. 2 Kant showed that this theory was untenable. In fact, the wind would tend rather to meet the sun, the region to the west being the cooler. Nor could a wind from such a cause extend with nearly equal force all round the earth. Kant showed further, that owing to the difference in the velocity of rotation between the parts near the equator and those near the poles, all winds that move from the poles towards the equator tend to become more and more easterly, and those that move from the equator towards the poles become more and more westerly. 1 Hence, in the northern hemisphere every north wind tends to become a north-east, and every south wind a south-west wind. In the southern hemisphere, on the contrary, south winds tend to become south-east, and north winds north-west. He follows out in some detail the general principles of this circulation of the atmosphere. We can thus explain, for instance, the monsoons of the Indian Ocean, &c., which blow from April to September from the south-west; for when the sun is north of the equator the wind blows from the equator towards these parts, and therefore takes a south-westerly direction. Again, the current from the poles towards the equator is balanced by a counter current, the heated air in the upper strata at the equator overflowing as it were towards the poles. When this descends, or overcomes the weaker motion of the lower strata, it becomes in the northern hemisphere a westerly wind, such as prevail between the 28th and 40th degrees of latitude. Kant subsequently introduced this theory into his course of lectures on Physical Geography, which was very numerously attended. Laplace propounded the same theory forty years later.
In 1763, Kant published his Essay On the only possible Demonstrative Proof of the Existence of God. The proof developed in this Essay is founded on the principle that every possibility of existence presupposes an actually existing thing on which it depends. This he characterizes as a more thoroughly à priori argument than any other that has been proposed, since it does not assume any actual fact of existence. I need not explain how he develops step by step the attributes of Unity, Intelligence, &c. At a later period he himself abandoned this line of argument. However, the greater part of the Essay is occupied with remarks on design in the constitution of nature, and with an exposition of the theory developed in the above-mentioned treatise on the structure of the heavens. We may, he observes, argue from design, either as exhibited in a contingent arrangement, for example, in the body of an animal or in a plant; or we may argue from the necessary results of the constitution of matter, the laws of motion, &c. The latter method has the great advantage of presenting the First Cause not merely as an architect, but as a creator. From this point of view he instances first the simplicity and harmony resulting from the geometrical conditions of space, e. g. that if we seek all the paths which a falling body would traverse either to or from the same point in the same time, they are found to be chords of the same circle. Again, he takes the manifold and harmonious benefits resulting by necessary laws from the mere fact of the existence of an atmosphere. There may be many reasons for its existence: if we suppose its primary purpose to be that it should serve for respiration, we find that its existence leads to other important beneficial results. It makes clouds possible which intercept excessive heat, prevents too rapid cooling and drying, and keeps the land supplied with the necessary moisture from the great reservoir of the sea. By causing twilight it prevents the strain on the eyes which would be caused by the sudden change from day to night. Its existence prevents rain from dropping with too great force, and its pressure makes sucking possible. If it occurs to anyone to say—Oh, these are all the necessary results of the nature of matter, &c., he answers: Yes; it is just this that shows that they proceed from a wise Creator. He treats of the laws of motion from the same point of view, and then takes occasion to show how the laws of the planetary motions result from the simplest laws of matter, attraction, and repulsion.
In conclusion, he remarks that while it is of the greatest consequence to be convinced of the existence of God, it is by no means necessary to have a demonstration of it, and those who cannot grasp the demonstrative proof are advised to hold fast by the more easily apprehended proof from design. Hardly, indeed, he observes, would anyone stake his whole happiness on the correctness of a metaphysical proof, especially if it were opposed to the convictions of sense. The argument from design is more striking and vivid, as well as easy to the common understanding, and more natural than any other. It also gives an idea of the wisdom and providence, &c., of God, which comes home and has the greatest effect in producing awe and humility; and it is in fine more practical than any other, even in the view of a philosopher. It does not, indeed, give a definite abstract idea of Divinity, nor does it claim mathematical certainty; but so many proofs, each of great force, take possession of the soul, and the speculation may calmly follow since conviction has preceded—a conviction far above the force of any subtile objections.
In the same year in which Kant published his Theory of the Heavens, he issued his first metaphysical treatise, Principiorum Primorum Cognitionis Metaphysicœ Nova Dilucidatio, and publicly defended it as an exercise prior to his obtaining permission to deliver lectures in the University as a “Privat-docent.” He forthwith commenced lecturing on mathematics and physics; to these subjects he afterwards added lectures on philosophy, natural theology, physical geography, anthropology, and fortification. He had already so great a reputation, that at his first lecture the room (in his own house) was filled literally to overflowing, the students crowding even on the stairs. His lectures are thus described by the celebrated Herder, who attended them in the years 1762-1764; “I have had the good fortune to know a philosopher who was my teacher; he had the happy sprightliness of a youth, and this I believe he retains even in old age. His open, thoughtful brow was the seat of unruffled calmness and joy; discourse full of thought flowed from his lips; jest and wit and humour were at his command, and his lecture was the most entertaining conversation. With the same genius with which he criticised Leibnitz, Wolf, Crusius, Hume, and expounded the laws of Newton and Kepler, he would also take up the writings of Rousseau, or any recent discovery in nature, give his estimate of them, and come back again to the knowledge of nature and to the moral worth of man. Natural history, natural philosophy, the history of nations and human nature, mathematics, and experience—these were the sources from which he enlivened his lecture and his conversation. Nothing worth knowing was indifferent to him; no party, no sect, no desire of fame or profit had the smallest charm for him compared with the advancement and elucidation of the truth. He encouraged and urged to independent thought, and was far from wishing to dominate. This man, whom I name with the greatest gratitude and reverence, is Immanuel Kant; his image stands pleasantly before me.” His lectures attracted many hearers of mature age, and visitors to Königsberg even prolonged their stay for the purpose of attending them. At the same time he continued to act as tutor to young men specially entrusted to his care, who lived with him.
He had to wait fifteen years in the position of “Privat-docent” before obtaining a professorship. He had, indeed, been offered a professorship by the Government before this, but it was almost the only chair which he felt he could not worthily fill—the Chair of Poetry. This involved not only the censorship of new poems, but the composition of poems for academic celebrations, and Kant declined the office. In the following year he was appointed sub-librarian at the modest salary of 62 thalers. This was his first official appointment (œt. 42). Four years later he was nominated to the professorship of Logic and Metaphysics 1 , with an income (from all sources) of 400 thalers. This was ultimately increased to 620. This was of course exclusive of fees from students. He inaugurated his professorship by defending his essay, De mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis. In this he distinguishes the sensible apprehension of phenomena from the Concept of the Understanding, just as in the Critique of Pure Reason. He shows, precisely as in the latter work, that space and time are forms of the intuitions of sense.
As professor, he continued to lecture in the same wide circle of subjects as before. The lectures on physical geography and anthropology were especially popular. He was fond of studying nature, but especially human nature in all its phases, and took great pleasure in reading books of travel, although he never travelled. Having an excellent memory and a lively power of imagination, he could distinctly picture to himself, even in minute detail, the several objects described. On one occasion he described Westminster Bridge, its form, dimensions, &c., with such detail and distinctness, that an Englishman who was present thought he was an architect, and had spent some years in London. At another time he spoke of Italy as if he had known it from long personal acquaintance. So popular were his lectures, that we find Von Zedlitz, the Prussian Minister, writing from Berlin to say that he is reading with pleasure an imperfect manuscript report of the lectures on Physical Geography, and requesting Kant to favour him with a correct copy. These lectures were published in 1802. The lectures on Anthropology had appeared in 1798. Both works are written in an extremely interesting and popular style, and those on Anthropology are full of entertaining remarks and illustrative anecdotes, not without humour. Thus speaking of the emotions that nature employs for the promotion of health, which are chiefly laughing and weeping, he remarks that anger also conduces to health, if one can indulge in a good scolding without fear of opposition; and in fact many a housewife gets no hearty exercise, except in scolding her children and servants, and provided these take it patiently, a pleasant feeling of fatigue spreads itself through the organism. This sort of exercise, however, he adds, is not without danger, as the objects of the scolding may possibly resist. Even when lecturing on Metaphysics, Kant is said to have been lucid and interesting. When the difficulty of his writings was complained of, he used to say that he wrote for thinkers by profession, and with these technical expressions had the advantage of brevity. Besides, said he, it flatters the vanity of the reader to find perplexities and obscurities here and there, which he can solve by his own acuteness. But in his lectures he endeavoured to be clear and intelligible. He sought, as he expressed it, to teach “not philosophy, but to philosophize.” In one of his letters he states that he was unceasingly observant of phenomena and their laws, even in common life, so that, from first to last, his hearers should not have to listen to a dry exposition, but be interested by being led to compare his remarks with their own observations.
It was his custom to keep his eyes fixed on some particular student sitting near him, perhaps in order to judge from the hearer’s countenance whether he was making himself understood. So Arago, in his popular lectures, used to select for the same purpose the most stupid-looking person in the audience, continuing his explanations until the person “fixed” showed signs of intelligence. With Kant, however, the consequences were disastrous if the student happened to have any peculiarity or defect, either in person or dress. One day the student thus selected happened to have lost a button from his coat. Kant’s glance recurred to the vacant spot, and during the whole lecture his thoughts were distracted, and even confused, in a manner inexplicable to those who were not in the secret.
He did not like to see his hearers taking notes; but would say, “Put up your pencils, gentlemen,” and would not begin until they had done so. The reason of this was that he thought such attempts at reporting interfered with their attention to the matter of the lecture, by fixing it on the words. Some of his hearers took full notes, nevertheless.
In 1772 he formed the design of writing a Critical Examination of Pure Reason, Theoretical and Practical, the former part of which he hoped to complete in three months. The months grew to years. Six years later he writes that he expects it to appear “this summer,” and that it would not be a large volume. It did not see the light, however, until 1781, nine years after he had announced that it would be ready in three months. When this master-work was produced, Kant was fifty-seven years of age. He states himself that it was Hume that roused him from his dogmatic slumber, and compelled him to seek a solid barrier against scepticism. 1
It is stated on Kant’s own authority that he did not commit to writing a single sentence in this work, on which he had not first asked the judgment of his friend Green. A man to whom Kant showed such deference deserves a brief notice. He was an English merchant, and during the American War of Independence happened to be present when Kant, who sympathized with the Americans, denounced the conduct of England in strong terms. Green sprang up in a rage, declared that Kant’s words were a personal insult to him as an Englishman, and demanded satisfaction. Kant replied so calmly and persuasively that Green shook hands with him, and they became fast friends, and continued so until the death of Green in 1784, a loss which Kant deeply felt.
Of the Critique of Pure Reason I need not here speak. Suffice it to say, that as Locke’s attempt to keep the mind from “going beyond its tether” was followed at no long interval by the Idealism of Berkeley, and the annihilating Scepticism of Hume, so Kant’s analogous attempt led in a still shorter space to the most complete idealism and transcendentalism. Indeed his reviewers not unnaturally mistook him for an idealist, and Hamann called him the Prussian Hume. The work excited a lively controversy in the philosophical world, but most of the publications to which it gave rise have been long forgotten. Kant’s fame, however, rose to the highest, and Königsberg became a shrine to which students and tourists made pilgrimages.
The Critique of Pure Reason was to be followed by the Metaphysical Elements of Natural Philosophy and of Moral Philosophy. The former appeared in 1786, under the title Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft.1 The views respecting motion with which this treatise commences had, however, already been published as a programme of lectures in 1758. Motion is only relative to the surrounding space. While I sit with a ball on the table before me in the cabin of a ship moored in a river, I say that the ball is at rest; I look out and see that the ship has been unmoored, and is drifting westward; the ball then is moving. But I reflect that the earth is rotating with greater velocity eastward; the ball then is moving eastward. Nay; for the earth in its orbit is moving westward with still higher speed. The orbit itself is moving, I cannot tell how rapidly, nor do I know in what direction. In any case then it is the same thing whether I regard a point as moving in its space, or regard the space as moving and the point as at rest. Hence the law of the composition of motions results directly; for if A be a point having a motion of one foot per second westward, and two feet per second southward, I can regard it as having only the southward motion, while the space in which it is, is moving one foot per second eastward. At the end, therefore, of one second, the point will be found two feet to the south; and as its space in moving east has left it one foot behind, it will also be one foot west, relatively to its surrounding space. This is the same as if it had moved in the diagonal of the parallelogram. Kant claimed as an advantage of this proof, that it represented the resultant motion, not as an effect of the two motions, but as actually including them. It is incomparably simpler and more philosophical than the proof given by D’Alembert, and other contemporary mathematicians. When we treat of collision of bodies, this mode of viewing the matter becomes absolutely indispensable. If the body A is approaching the body B (equal to it) with a velocity of two degrees, we regard A as moving with a speed of one degree, while B and its space move one degree in the opposite direction. The motions being equal and opposite, the result of their contact is mutual rest; but, as the space is moving, this rest is equivalent to a motion of the two bodies in contact, relative to the surrounding space, and in amount one degree. If the bodies are unequal and have unequal velocities, we have only to divide the velocities in the inverse proportion of the masses, and assign to the space the motion which we take from one to add to the other, and the result will again be mutual rest, which is equivalent to a motion of the bodies in contact, with a velocity equal and opposite to what we have assigned to the space. We can in this way banish altogether the notion of vis inertiœ.
Matter could not exist unless there were both a repulsive force and an attractive force. If attraction only existed, matter would be condensed into a point; if repulsion only, it would be dispersed infinitely. The relative incompressibility of matter is nothing but the repulsive force emanating from points, which increases as the distance diminishes (perhaps inversely as the cube), and would therefore require an infinite pressure to overcome it altogether. Physical contact is the immediate action and reaction of incompressibility. The action of matter on matter without contact is what is called actio in distans, and the attraction of gravitation is of this kind. Both attraction and repulsion being elementary forces, are inexplicable, but the force of attraction is not a whit more incomprehensible than the original repulsive force. Incompressibility appears more comprehensible, solely because it is immediately presented to the senses, whereas attraction is only inferred. It seems at first sight a contradiction to say that a body can act where it is not; but in fact we might rather say, that everything in space acts where it is not; for to act where it is, it should occupy the very same space as the thing acted on. To say that there can be no action without physical contact is as much as to say that matter can act only by the force of incompressibility: in other words, that repulsive forces are either the only forces of matter or the conditions of all its action, which is a groundless assertion. The ground of the mistake is a confusion between mathematical contact and physical contact. That bodies attract one another without contact, means that they approach one another according to a certain law, without any force of repulsion being required as a condition; and this is just as conceivable as that they should separate from one another without an attractive force being supposed as a condition. 1
Kant, however, thought it conceivable that in the case of chemical solution there might be complete interpenetration or “intussusception.” On this view of matter we may, he remarks, regard matter as infinitely divisible.
The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals had appeared the year before the last-mentioned work, and was followed in 1788 by the Critical Examination of Practical Reason. Both these are translated in the present volume. The few remarks I have to offer on them will be found at the end of the Memoir. In 1790 was published the Critical Examination of the Faculty of Judgment.
The essay on the corruption of human nature, which forms the third part of this volume, appeared in 1792 in a Berlin magazine. Four years before this an edict had been issued, limiting the freedom of the Press, and appointing special censors, whose business was to examine as to the orthodoxy, not only of books, but of professors, lecturers, and theological candidates. The magazine in question was printed in Jena; but in order to avoid any appearance of underhand dealing, Kant expressly desired that his essay should be submitted to the Berlin licensing authority, who gave his imprimatur, on the ground that only deep thinkers read Kant’s works. The second part of the work on the Theory of Religion was referred to the theological censor, who refused his imprimatur. Kant accordingly submitted his essay to the censorship of the theological faculty of Königsberg, and this unanimously sanctioned the publication, which reached a second edition in the following year. The Berlin censors were naturally annoyed at this way of escaping their decision, and the severe remarks in the preface did not tend to conciliate them. A few months afterwards Kant received an order from the King (Frederick William II.), forbidding him to teach or write anything further in this manner. Kant did not mention the order even to his intimate friends. A slip of paper, found after his death, contained this reflection: “To deny one’s inner conviction is mean, but in such a case as this silence is the duty of a subject; and, although a man must say only what is true, it is not always a duty to say all the truth publicly.” He therefore, in his reply to the King, declared that to avoid all suspicion, he, “as his Majesty’s most loyal subject,” solemnly engaged to refrain from writing or lecturing on religion, natural or revealed. The words, “as your Majesty’s most loyal subject,” were inserted with the intention of limiting his engagement to the life of the King, and on the death of Frederick William in 1797, Kant regarded himself as free, and published his Contest of the Faculties (i. e. of the Academical Faculties).
In 1797 Kant ceased to lecture publicly. In the same year he published his Metaphysical Elements of Morals, which treats of the several virtues and vices in detail, 1 and Metaphysical Elements of Law. After the publication of these, he seems to have been regarded as a counsellor to be consulted in all difficulties, and an authority in all questions of conscience. The pains he took to give real assistance in such cases, both by his own reflection, and by inquiring from his colleagues, are attested by his written and often corrected memoranda. As an example may be mentioned the question whether inoculation was morally allowable or not. This question was addressed to him at the same time by a Professor of Medicine in Halle, and by a young nobleman who was going to be married, and whose bride wished to be inoculated. Kant’s reply is not known, although some memoranda for it exist.
After this time he began to feel the burden of age, and his powers, mental and bodily, gradually failed. He was quite aware of his condition, and resigned. “Gentlemen,” said he one day, “I do not fear to die. I assure you, as in the presence of God, that if on this very night, suddenly the summons to death were to reach me, I should bear it with calmness, should raise my hands to heaven, and say, ‘Blessed be God!’ Were it indeed possible that such a whisper as this could reach my ear—‘Fourscore years thou hast lived, in which time thou hast inflicted much evil upon thy fellow-men,’ the case would be otherwise.” This was spoken, says Wasianski, in a tone of earnest sincerity. Two days after his seventy-ninth birthday he wrote in his memoranda: “According to the Bible our life lasts seventy years, and if very long, fourscore years, and though it was pleasant, it has been labour and sorrow.” 1 Up to this time he was able to read the smallest print without spectacles, although he had lost the sight of one eye nearly twenty years before. But soon after he had written this memorandum his sight also failed, and he died in February, 1804, in his eightieth year. His body was so dried up that the physicians said they had hardly ever seen so wasted a body. Indeed he had himself said jestingly some years before, that he thought he had reached the minimum of muscular substance. 2
Kant was of weak frame, and still weaker muscular power; he was barely five feet in height. 3 His chest was flat, almost concave, the right shoulder slightly crooked, his complexion fresh, his forehead high, square, and broad, while his piercing blue eyes made so lively an impression that it was long remembered by some of his pupils. Even after he had lost the sight of one eye, the defect was not visible to a stranger. In consequence of his contracted chest he suffered from a feeling of oppression, which early in life caused a tendency to hypochondria, to such an extent as even to make him feel weary of life. This, however, he overcame by force of thought. When engaged on the Kritik, in 1771, he speaks of his health being seriously impaired, and some years later he says that it is unceasingly broken; yet by dint of careful attention and great regularity he was able, without medical aid, to maintain such good health on the whole, that at a later period he used to say to himself on going to bed, “Is it possible to conceive any human being enjoying better health than I do?” His maxim for preserving health was, sustine et abstine. His practice illustrated this. The two indulgences of which he was found were tobacco and coffee. But of the former he limited himself to a single pipe in the morning, whilst he altogether abstained from the latter until far advanced in life, thinking it injurious to health. At the age of seventy he wrote an essay, On the Power of the Mind to Master the Feeling of Illness by Force of Resolution.1 The essay was originally addressed to Hufeland, the celebrated author of the treatise on the Art of Prolonging Life, and the principles contained in it are exemplified from Kant’s own experience. He attached great importance to the habit of breathing through the nostrils instead of through the mouth, and asserted that he had by this means overcome a tendency to cough and cold in the head. There is more truth in this than is perhaps generally thought. 2 Kant, however, is said to have regarded it as of so much importance that he did not like to have a companion in his daily walk, lest he should have to open his mouth. The true reason of this preference (in later life only) for solitary walks was, beyond doubt, that which is mentioned in this essay, that it is undesirable to exercise the limbs and the brain (or the brain and the stomach) at the same time.
His punctilious attention to health is amusingly illustrated by the artifice he used for suspending his stockings. Thinking that garters injuriously impeded the circulation, he had a couple of bands attached to each stocking, and passing through a hole in the pocket of his breeches. Inside the pocket they were connected with a spring enclosed in a box, and this spring regulated the tension. That he might not be without some exercise in his study, he habitually left his handkerchief at the other side of the room, so that now and then he should have to get up and walk to it. On the same principle his hours of sleep, &c., were adhered to with the utmost regularity. He went to bed punctually at ten, and rose punctually at five. His servant had orders not to let him sleep longer on any account; and on being asked once by Kant, in presence of guests, testified that for thirty years his master had never once indulged beyond the appointed hour. On rising he took a cup (indefinite cups) of tea, but no solid food. The early hours were devoted to preparation for his lectures, which in his earlier years occupied four or five hours, but subsequently only two. At seven o’clock precisely, or eight, as the case might be, he entered his lecture-room. Lectures ended, at nine or ten, he returned to his study, and applied himself to preparing his books for the press. He worked thus without interruption until one o’clock, the hour for dinner. This was his only meal, and he liked to have pleasant company, and to prolong the meal (ducere cœnam) with lively, sometimes brilliant conversation, for three or four hours. Kant had no Boswell, and nothing is preserved of these conversations, in which he is said to have often thrown out profound and suggestive remarks with extraordinary richness. 1 Until his sixty-third year, not having a house of his own, he dined at a public restaurant, which, however, he occasionally found it necessary to change, in consequence of persons coming for the purpose of discussing philosophical questions with him. He considered that meal-time ought to be a time of perfect mental relaxation, and was not disposed to turn the dinner table into a lecture pulpit. His afternoons were, however, often spent at the houses of his friends, where he enjoyed meeting foreign merchants, sea captains, and travelled scholars, from whom he might learn much about foreign nations and countries. His instructive and entertaining conversation, flavoured with mild satiric humour, made him a welcome guest, and even with the children he was a favourite. After he became famous he declined invitations if he thought he was to be made a lion of.
When he had a house of his own, he had every day a few friends to dine with him. He liked to have a mixed company—merchants, professional men, and especially a few younger men. After dinner followed regularly his daily walk for an hour or more, along what was from him named “The Philosopher’s Walk,” until he was driven from it by the number of beggars whom his habit of almsgiving had attracted there. 1 Even the severest weather did not interfere with this daily walk, in which in his earlier years he usually had companions; after sixty years of age he walked alone, for the reason already mentioned.
He had on one occasion a narrow escape from assassination. A lunatic, who had made up his mind to kill some one, waylaid Kant for the purpose, and followed him for three miles, but on reflection, thinking it a pity to kill an old professor who must have so many sins on his head, the unfortunate madman killed a child instead.
The evening was devoted to lighter reading and meditation. He would read over and over again such books as Don Quixote, Hudibras, Swift’s Tale of a Tub, Juvenal, and Horace. In his later years he was especially fond of reading books on physical science, and books of travel. Purely speculative works he cared little for, but liked to read Locke, Hutcheson, Pope, Hume, Montaigne, Rousseau.
How unwilling Kant was to depart from his regular routine appears from a characteristic anecdote. One day as he was returning from his walk, a nobleman who was driving came up with him, and politely invited him to take a drive with him as the evening was fine. Kant yielded to the first impulse of politeness, and consented. The Count, after driving over some of his property near the city, proposed to visit a friend some miles from the town, and Kant of course could not refuse. At last Kant was set down at his own door near ten o’clock, full of vexation at this violation of his regular habits. He thereupon made it a fixed rule never to get into a carriage that he had not hired himself, so that he could manage it as he pleased. When once he had made such a resolution, he was satisfied that he could not be taken by surprise, and nothing would make him depart from it.
So his life passed, says one of his biographers, like the most regular of regular verbs.
Punctual, however, as he was, his punctuality did not come up to the standard of his friend Green. One evening Kant had promised that he would accompany Green in a drive the next morning at eight. At a quarter before eight Green was walking up and down his room, watch in hand; at fifty minutes past seven he put on his coat, at fifty-five he took his stick, and at the first stroke of eight entered his carriage and drove off; and although he met Kant, who was a couple of minutes late, he would not stop for him, because this was against the agreement and against his rule. This gentleman, for whom Kant had a great esteem, served as the model for the description of the English character in the Anthropologie. Kant’s savings were invested with this Mr. Green, and allowed to accumulate at 6 per cent. interest.
Kant is said to have been on two occasions on the point of marrying, or at least of making a proposal, but he took so long to calculate his incomings and outgoings with exactness, in order to see whether he could afford it, that the lady in the first case was married, and in the second had left Königsberg before he had made up his mind. When he was seventy years of age, an officious friend actually printed a dialogue on marriage, with a view to persuade the philosopher to marry. Kant reimbursed him for the expense of printing, but at that age, not unnaturally, thought the advice rather too late. How sensible he was to the charms of female society appears from the Essay On the Sublime and Beautiful, p. 426 ff, where he discusses the difference between the sublime and beautiful in the natural relations of the sexes.
Kant’s personal character is described, by those who knew him best, as truly childlike. He was kind-hearted and actively benevolent; of rare candour in estimating the abilities of other men, with high respect for every thing that was noble or deserving; always disposed to recognise the good rather than the bad in men’s characters. He was always ready with counsel and assistance for the young. His modesty towards scholars of great fame almost degenerated into shyness.
As may be supposed from the regularity of his habits, he never allowed himself to run into debt. When a student at the University, with very narrow means, his only coat had once become so shabby, that some friends subscribed a sum of money, which was offered to him in the most delicate manner possible for the purchase of a new one. Kant, however, preferred to retain his shabby coat rather than incur debt or lose his independence. 1 In his old age he boasted that he had never owed any man a penny, so that when a knock came to his door he was never afraid to say, “Come in.” When his means had increased (chiefly through the profits on his writings), he assisted such of his relatives as were in want in the most liberal manner. On the death of his brother, he assigned to the widow a pension of 200 thalers. Many poor persons also received a weekly allowance from him, and Wasianski, who in later years managed Kant’s affairs for him, states that his charitable expenses amounted to about 400 thalers annually.
His kindness was shown in his last will, in which he left an annual sum to a servant who had treated him shamefully, but who had served him (not indeed faithfully) for thirty years. Kant had dismissed him two years before, with a pension, on condition of his never setting foot inside the house again. After some other small legacies, the residue was left to the children of his brother and sisters. The whole amount was under four thousand pounds.
The principal questions on the Theory of Morals may, with sufficient accuracy for the present purpose, be said to be these: First, the purely speculative question, What is the essential nature of moral rightness? Secondly, the practical questions, What is to man the criterion of his duty? and what is the foundation of obligation? The additional question, By what faculty do we discern right and wrong? is properly a psychological one.
If we had only to do with a being in whom Reason was irresistibly dominant, we should not need to raise any further questions; but having to treat of a being with affections and appetites distinct from Reason, and not of themselves dependent on it, we must answer the further question: How is Reason to maintain its authority in spite of these resisting forces? i.e. What is the Motive? Lastly, since we have to deal with a corrupt creature, a new question arises: How is such a creature to be reformed?
Now how does Kant deal with these questions? His categorical imperative—Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of Nature—gives perhaps not the essence of virtue, but a property of it, which may indeed serve as a subjective criterion. That this criterion is formal only, and therefore empty, is hardly of itself a valid objection. The test of valid reasoning, the syllogism, is equally empty. The categorical imperative is, however, rather negative than positive, and it is far from being sufficiently clear as a test of the morality of actions. This appears even in the examples which Kant himself gives. For example, treating of Compassion, he supposes that if a man refuses aid to the distressed, it is out of selfishness, and then shows that if selfishness was the ruling principle, it would contradict itself. But why assume a motive for refusing help? What we want is a motive for giving help. There is nothing contradictory in willing that none should help others. So in the case of gratitude, there is no contradiction in willing that those who receive benefits should entertain no peculiar feeling toward their benefactor. It is true we should look for it ourselves, but this implies that such a feeling is natural to man, and that we approve it. Again, put the case of self-sacrifice of a man giving his life to save his friend; it would seem as easy on Kant’s principle to prove this a vice as a virtue.
Kant has in fact treated human nature too abstractly. In eliminating the “matter” he has eliminated that on which frequently the whole question turns. Indeed, in some of the instances he himself chooses, he elicits a contradiction only by bringing in a teleological consideration; e. g. as to suicide, he brings in the end for which self-love was given. The will to destroy one’s own life is not contradictory of the will to sustain it, unless the circumstances be supposed the same.
These remarks, however, only show that the formula is not a mechanical rule of conduct; they do not disprove its scientific value. In fact precisely similar objections have been alleged against the logical analysis of speculative reasoning, that it leaves untouched what in practice is the most difficult part of the problem. If all poisonous substances could be brought under a single chemical formula, the generalization would be of value both theoretically and practically, although its application to particular cases might be difficult and uncertain. Kant never attempted “to deduce a complete code of duty from a purely formal principle;” 1 he expressly states that this is only a negative principle, and that the matter of practical maxims is to be derived from a different source (cf. the present work, p. 299). Nor is it to be supposed that Kant was not fully aware of the difficulty of applying his formula to the complex circumstances of actual life. In his Metaphysic of Morals he states a great number of questions of casuistry, which he leaves undecided, as puzzles or exercises to the reader. And indeed similar difficulties might be raised, from a speculative point of view, respecting the rule, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do unto them”—a rule of which we may nevertheless say that in practice it probably never misled anyone, for everyone sees that the essence of it is the elimination of self-partiality and inward dishonesty. The scientific basis of it is stated by Clarke in language nearly equivalent to Kant’s. The reason of it, says the former, is the same as that which forces us in speculation to affirm that if one line or number be equal to another, that other is equal to it. “Whatever relation or proportion one man in any case bears to another, the same that other, when put in like circumstances, bears to him. Whatever I judge reasonable or unreasonable for another to do for me, that, by the same judgment, I declare reasonable or unreasonable that I in the like case should do for him.” 1 Kant’s rule is a generalization of this, so as to include duties to ourselves as well as to others. As such it has a real scientific value. Practically, its value consists, like that of the golden rule, in the elimination of inward dishonesty.
Mr. Mill’s criticism on Kant’s formula is, that when we speak of a maxim being “fit” to be a universal law, it is obvious that some test of fitness is required, and that Kant, in fact, tests the maxims by their consequences; as if the whole gist of Kant’s argument were not that the only test of this fitness is logical possibility; or as if this were not the one thing expressed in his formula. As to testing maxims by consequences, he does so in the same sense in which Euclid in indirect demonstrations tests a hypothesis by its consequences, and in no other, i. e. by the logical consequences, not the practical. Take the case of a promise. In Kant’s view, the argument against the law permitting unfaithfulness is not that it would be attended with consequences injurious to society, but that it would annihilate all promises (the present included), and therefore annihilate itself. Of inconvenience to society not a word is said or implied. Hence Kant’s objection rests wholly on the absolute universality of the supposed law, whereas the Utilitarian objection from practical consequences would be applicable in a proportionate degree to a law not supposed universal. Hence, also, Kant’s test would hold even if the present promise were never to be followed by another; nay, it would be of equal force even though it should be proved that it would be better for society that there should be no verbal promises.
It has been said 1 that in applying Kant’s formula we must qualify it by introducing the consideration of the probability that our example or rule will be generally followed; and the instance of celibacy has been suggested, which, it is said, would be necessarily condemned as a crime if tested by Kant’s rule, pure and simple; for if all men practised celibacy there would be an end of the race, and, on the “greatest happiness” principle, to effect this would be the worst of crimes. Now, if a qualification were required, or admissible, Kant’s formula would be deprived of all scientific significance, and its application made dependent on private and uncertain opinion. As to the example of celibacy, Kant has himself indicated how he would dispose of it by the way in which he treats suicide. He does not show its unlawfulness by alleging that if everyone committed suicide the human race would come to an end, but by exposing the inconsistency in the principle of action which would lead to suicide. In every case it is the mental principle which is to be tested, not the mere external action. Bearing this in mind, we shall find no difficulty in the case of celibacy. It may proceed from motives which there would be no absurdity in supposing universal, because the circumstances which give them this particular direction could only be exceptional. But, suppose celibacy recommended on grounds which are in their own nature universal, e.g. as a condition of moral perfection, then Kant’s formula would properly apply, for moral perfection is an end to be aimed at by all. One might just as well say that Kant’s rule would make all killing criminal, whereas Kant would obviously require us to take into account the motive, self-defence, or other. On the other hand, apply Mr. Sidgwick’s qualification, and what would result? Why, that we might innocently kill, provided the action were not likely to be generally imitated! If occasional celibacy is justified only because there exists a natural passion which is sure to be usually powerful enough to prevent the example being followed, then we may equally justify occasional violence or murder on the ground that fear or benevolence will naturally prevent the action from being extensively imitated.
Kant’s view of the source of obligation in the Autonomy of the will appears to require qualification if we would avoid a contradiction. A law must be above the nature to which it is a law, and which is subject to it. A being which gave itself the moral law, and whose freedom, therefore, is Autonomy, would not be conscious of obligation or duty, since the moral law would coincide with its will. Kant draws the apparently self-contradictory conclusion that we, though willing the law, yet resist it. Even if this be granted, it would follow, not that we should feel obliged, but that either no action at all would follow, or the more powerful side would prevail. That we condemn ourselves when we have violated the law is an important fact, on which Kant very strongly insists, but which his theory fails to explain. Is it not a far simpler and truer explanation to say that this self-condemnation, this humiliation in the presence of an unbending judge, is a proof that we have not given ourselves the law; that we are subjects of a higher power? 1 There is, indeed, a sense in which Autonomy may be truly vindicated to man. The moral law is not a mere precept imposed upon us from without, nor is it forced upon us by our sensitive nature; it is a law prescribed to us, or, more correctly speaking, revealed to us, by our own Reason. But Reason is not our own in the sense in which our appetites or sensations are our own; it is not under our own control; it bears the stamp of universality and authority. Thus it declares itself impersonal: in other words, what Reason reveals we regard as valid for all beings possessed of intelligence, equal or superior to our own. Hence, many ethical writers, both ancient and modern, have insisted as strongly as Kant that the moral law is common to man with all rational creatures. 2 And when Kant speaks of Autonomy, this is all that his argument requires. Accordingly, he sometimes speaks of rational creatures as the subjects of Reason, which is the supreme legislator.
As regards the sanctions of the moral law, which practically to imperfect creatures furnish the motive, these consist, according to Kant, in the happiness and misery which are the natural consequences of virtue and vice, and he thinks that when they are regarded as natural consequences, the dread of the misery will have more effect than if it were thought to be an arbitrary punishment. “The view into an illimitable future of happiness or misery is sufficient to serve as a motive to the virtuous to continue steadfast in well-doing, and to arouse in the vicious the condemning voice of conscience to check his evil course.” 1 In this Kant agrees with Cumberland. Kant’s argument for immortality is in substance that it is necessary for a continued indefinite approximation to the ideal of the moral law. But since, as he maintains, we have ourselves to blame for not having attained this ideal, what right have we to expect such an opportunity? Having missed the true moment in his argument, which led to the existence of a Supreme Lawgiver, he arrived at this fundamental truth by a roundabout way, through the conception of the summum bonum. But this introduces a quite heterogeneous notion, viz., that of happiness. Happiness belongs to a man as a sensible creature, and all that he has a right to say is, that if Practical Reason had happiness to confer, it would confer it on virtue. How much more direct and convincing is the argument suggested by Butler’s brief words: “Consciousness of a rule or guide of action, in creatures who are capable of considering it as given them by their Maker, not only raises immediately a sense of duty, but also a sense of security in following it, and of danger in deviating from it. A direction of the Author of Nature, given to creatures capable of looking upon it as such, is plainly a command from him; and a command from him necessarily includes in it at least an implicit promise in case of obedience, or threatening in case of disobedience;” and since “his method of government is to reward and punish actions, his having annexed to some actions an inseparable sense of good desert, and to others of ill, this surely amounts to declaring upon whom his punishments shall be inflicted, and his rewards bestowed.”
Kant sees no mode of reconciling morality with the law of Causality, except by his distinction of noumena and phenomena. When the law of Causality is rightly understood there is no inconsistency. For the cause which it demands is an efficient cause, and the idea of an efficient cause involves the idea of mind. 1 It is involved in the idea of matter, that it cannot originate (this Kant himself adopts as a first principle in his Metaphysics of Natural Philosophy); whereas it is the very idea of mind with will that it does originate. When we seek the cause of motion we are satisfied when we trace it to a will. True, we may then ask for the motive; but the nature of motive and that of efficient cause are heterogeneous.
Kant’s view of Freedom, however, does not involve anything of caprice or indeterminateness. Freedom, according to him, is not independence on law which we can consciously follow, but independence on the physical relation of causality, the not being determined by physical or sensible causes. On this view the contradiction, which to Hobbes and others seemed to exist between the conception of freedom and that of the divine foreknowledge, would have little weight. A short consideration suffices to show that there is a fallacy involved in Hobbes’ argument. Suppose a being perfectly wise and good, and at the same time free, then we should only require perfect knowledge of the circumstances of a particular case in order to predict his conduct, and that infallibly. If he were not free we could not do so. And the more nearly a being approaches such perfection, the more certainly could we predict his actions. If his goodness were perfect, but his knowledge imperfect, and if we knew how far his knowledge extended, we could still predict. It would be absurd to say that this would be a contradiction.
It is worthy of notice that Cudworth’s conception of liberty corresponds closely with that of Kant. “The true liberty of a man, as it speaks pure perfection, is when by the right use of the faculty of free will, together with the assistance of Divine grace, he is habitually fixed in moral good;” “but when by the abuse of that faculty of free will men come to be habitually fixed in evil and sinful inclinations, then are they, as Boëthius well expresses it, propriæ libertati captivi—made captive and brought into bondage by their own free will.” It may have been suggested to both of them by St. Paul, who represents sin as slavery, righteousness as freedom.
Kant is by no means happy in his treatment of the corruption of human nature. In order to escape the difficulty of reconciling responsibility with the innate corruption on which he so strongly dwells, he has recourse (as in the case of freedom) to the distinction between man noumenon and man phenomenon. The innate evil of human nature rests on an inversion of the natural order, the legislative will being subordinated to the sensibility. But how can this be reconciled with the self-given, and therefore self-willed law which makes good a duty? It is inconceivable that the pure supersensible essence could invest the sensational nature (the objects of which have for it no reality) with a preponderance over itself. A further contradiction appears to be involved in the relation of evil to freedom; for he states that freedom is as inseparably connected with the law of Practical Reason as the physical cause with the law of nature, so that freedom without the law of Practical Reason is a causality without law, which would be absurd; and yet, on the other hand, he regards freedom as an ability from which proceeds contradiction to the moral law.
A still more insuperable difficulty meets him when he attempts to answer the question, Is reformation possible? He replies: Yes; for it is a duty. You ought, therefore you can. How the return from evil to good is possible cannot indeed be comprehended, but the original fall from good to evil is equally incomprehensible, and yet is a fact. Now, freedom which belongs to the supersensible sphere (the sphere of noumena) cannot be determined by anything in the phenomenal world; consequently, if freedom has, apart from time, given the man a determination, then no event in time can produce a change. Nay, it would be a contradiction to suppose the removal of an act in the noumenal (supersensible) world by a succeeding act. Contrary or contradictory attributes cannot be attributed to the same subject except under the condition of time. If, therefore, the intelligent being is timeless, we cannot possibly attribute to it two decisions, of which one annuls the other. He is not even consistent, for he argues that it is not possible to destroy this radical corruption by human power, but only to overcome it. Why does he not conclude here, I ought to destroy it, therefore I can? Lastly, even if this “I can” were granted, it would be only a theoretical, not a practical possibility. If the man endowed with the faculties in their true subordination, with reason supreme, has yet not had strength or purity of will to remain so, what practical possibility is there that having this subordination perverted he can restore it? There is obviously an external aid necessary here. Not that anything wholly external could effect the change, which can only be produced by something operating on man’s own moral nature; but there must be a moral leverage, an external fulcrum, a πονˆ στωˆ. Such aid, such leverage are provided by the Christian religion. It has introduced a new motive, perfectly original and unique, the overpowering force of which has been proved in many crucial instances; and no more complete theoretical proof of the absolute necessity of some such revelation could be given than is supplied by the attempts of the profoundest philosopher of modern times to dispense with it.
Kant’s own position with respect to Christianity is that of a Rationalist. He accepts the whole moral and spiritual teaching of the New Testament, because he finds it in accordance with reason, and this being so, he judges that it is a matter of no practical consequence whether its introduction was supernatural or not. He did not deny that Divine aid was required to make reformation possible, but he thought that no intellectual belief or knowledge of ours could be a condition of this aid, and, therefore, that all historical questions were adiaphora. But this is to take for granted, that if God gives such aid at all, it must be in a particular way. Butler’s argument from analogy is conclusive against such assumptions. And, indeed, it is certain that the moral and the positive in Christianity cannot be thus kept apart. It is to the facts that the doctrines owe their life and motive power. It is these that supply the leverage, without which the most perfect moral teaching will fall dead on the ears at least of the masses of mankind.
Besides, as Butler shows, revealed facts may be the foundation of moral duties to those to whom the revelation has come.
It is remarkable that, although Kant was fond of reading English authors, and was influenced in his moral discussions by English moralists, Butler (who had written half a century before the publication of the Kritik) was wholly unknown to him. What is more remarkable is, that Butler has remained equally unknown to German writers up to the present day. Whilst German historians of moral philosophy are careful to note the merits of even Wollaston and Ferguson, they pass over Butler’s name in silence. The reason of this silence, doubtless, is to be found in the title of his work. But although foreign philosophers could not be expected to look for a treatise on moral philosophy in a book called Fifteen Sermons, how is it that attention was not called to him by the notices in Mackintosh (who is largely cited, e. g. by I. H. Fichte), which showed the high estimation in which the work was held in England? It is certainly a curious and suggestive fact that writers, professedly and learnedly treating of English moral philosophers, should be wholly ignorant of the writer who holds by far the highest rank among them, whose work is the classical work, the text-book of the Universities, and with a wider circulation, probably, than the works of all the other moralists put together.
The most striking peculiarity of Kant’s moral theory is its connexion with his metaphysical system. It is in the moral law that he finds the means of establishing the existence, and to some extent the nature, of the supersensible reality. He has been charged with inconsistency in this. What he pulls down in the Critique of the Speculative Reason, he restores illogically, it is said, in that of the Practical Reason. The fact appears to be, that readers of the former work are apt to fall into two mistakes. First, they suppose that they have before them a complete system instead of a portion only; and secondly, they mistake the attitude of suspense with regard to the supersensible reality for a dogmatic negation of all knowledge thereof. When they come to the Practical works, they find the impression thus formed respecting Kant’s attitude towards the supersensible contradicted. But the inconsistency is not between the two parts of Kant’s system, but between his system as a whole and the impression derived from a partial view of it. That he limits his affirmation of the supersensible to its practical aspect is quite in accordance with the spirit of his philosophy. Nor is this limitation so very unlike that of the common-sense philosopher, Locke, who, in speaking of the limits of our faculties, says that men have reason to be well satisfied, since God hath given them “whatever is necessary for the conveniences of life, and the information of virtue;” adding, “How short soever their knowledge may come of an universal or perfect comprehension of whatsoever is, it yet secures their great concernments, that they have light enough to lead them to the knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own duties.” (Essay, bk. 1. ch. i. § 5.)