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KANT (1724-1804). In speculative philosophy Kant was roused from his dogmatic slumbers by Hume. He saw that in carrying out the principles of Locke and Berkeley to their logical consequences Hume had proved too much ; he had proved human experience itself to be untrustworthy and scientific law to be based on fictions. Since this reductio ad absurdum follows from supposing that knowledge comes entirely from sense, we ought now (said Kant) to ask how matters stand if we suppose all knowledge of the data of sense to depend on conceptions of the subject knowing. Hence arose his doctrine of the a priori conditions which make all experience possible; experience has no meaning, unless forms of intuition and categories of the understanding are conjoined with sensations.
The question of chief interest to us here is how far Kant has also parted company with Hume in regard to Moral Philosophy and the Philosophy of Law. In regard to the former, at least, the breach is complete. Moral experience is only possible on the condition of a connecting principle (expressed in the word “ought") which has nothing like itself in our sensible world, and could not be derived from any data of sense; it is the principle that reason is an end and a law to itself, and is not under the conditions of space, time, and causality.
Even the ordinary moral notions of men, imply that there is “nothing absolutely good but a good will," a will which is simply reason, ignoring all consequences and desires, and fixing itself on good for the sake of good. Duty is "the necessity of an act, the only motive of which is reverence for the law," and an act is in keeping with duty only when its maxim (or principle) could be willed to be universal law (or, as he says sometimes, a universal law of Nature') without contradiction. The precept “so act that you could universalize the maxim of your action," is a categorical imperative, as distinguished from the hypothetical imperatives which prescribe certain actions as necessary to ends that we may or may not adopt according to circumstances. The morality of an act thus concerns its form, not its matter. Pleasures are purely relative and accidental ; happiness is merely a general name for satisfactions of desire. Whereas morality deals with reason itself, as sufficient for itself and as opposed to all desires and pleasures which depend on an outside world. In other words, morality deals not with happiness, but with worthiness to be happy. Kant will not hear of any distinction (such as is made by J. S. Mill) between pleasures that are high, and pleasures that are low; pleasures, as Epicurus rightly held, differ only in degree and not in kind. Moreover, so far as man is guided by feelings and desires, he is under the same law of necessity as the physical world,—whereas, when reason is its own end and law, man is (in respect of this autonomy) free. In the first case we have a phenomenal man, and in the second a noumenal (just as for the Speculative Reason we have a phenomenal world and a noumenal ?),—and the two are separated, and contrary the one to the other. In spite of the separation, Kant thinks of man the noumenon, man the moral and rational being, as transforming man, the phenomenon, and making the latter his servant. He has even the idea of a “realm of ends," or one great society of moral beings, members one of another and working to secure the realization of the moral and rational life. He goes farther than Butler, and thinks that the moral law must have inight as well as right and will govern the world. But, as on his own first principles the world and the moral law were defined as excluding one another, they are never fairly reconciled in one system. Oncken has laboured to show that Kant and Adam
1 But see Prof Caird's Kant, II. 173, n.
1 e.g. Metaphys. of Ethics (Hartenstein's ed., IV. 269). 2 Hart., VI. 309, cf. VII. 293 ("Fragment of a Moral Catechism ”).
3 The noumenon, there, is the “thing in itself,” which can never be an object of knowledge.
Smith were at one in their conception of the absoluteness of the law of duty. Smith no doubt expressed a stronger sense of reverence for the law, than many moralists of his time. But his ethics are widely removed from the ascetic or Stoical position of Kant, and the coincidence between their descriptions of religion (duties considered as divine commandments), on which much stress is laid by the author in question, relates after all to a matter not purely ethical.
ethical.? The points of contrast are at least as important as the points of resemblance between two philosophers, one of whom has hardly an economics and the other of whom has no metaphysics.
When Kant goes on to consider how the law of reason is to be realized in the world as it is, he says that reason takes the phenomenal world and tries to make out of it a "type” of the purely rational world. Now, among the objects of the phenomenal world are other rational beings like ourselves. What is to be their relation to one another ? Each of them, as rational, is end and law to himself; and, when brought into relation with each other, they must “so act that humanity in the person of others as well as in their own person shall be an end and never a means.” Still each must work out his own salvation, and they must all be guided by the rule that the freedom of one (or his power to realize the law of duty in the world) shall not prevent another from having the same freedom. This is the first principle of Law (or Right) as distinguished from Morality : so act that your freedom shall not be inconsistent with the freedom of another man.
Law relates in this way not to the matter but to the form of what is willed. It concerns the outward action, not the motives of it; and it is negative where morality is positive. When a man buys goods from me, for example, the question of law is not whether the transaction profited both or either of us, but whether each was free in the making of it. Every action is legally right (as distinguished from morally good) if “the maxim allows the freedom of each
1 Austin whose ethics are hardly Kantian has a similar view of religion. See Province of Jurisprudence (1832).
2 A distinction substituted for that of Pufendorf between duties of imperfect and duties of perfect obligation.
3 Rechtslehre (Hart., VII. 27, § B.).
man's will to exist in harmony with the freedom of every other man's according to a universal law." This (it will be noticed) is simply an application of the supreme canon of morality. Kant deduces from it the rightfulness of compelling one man to abstain from hindering the freedom of another, and the rightfulness of organizing Civil Society to carry out that compulsion. Civil society exists to secure the freedom, not the happiness of its members. Each is to secure his own happiness for himself, and it depends on his own particular desires and his knowledge of nature what shape it takes. No man can judge for another in this matter. But liberty, equality, and independence are only secured by civil society, by a political government (VII. 132). Before its establishment, men are under the law of Nature; they may be socially brought together as one people ; but that people is not a nation till it has a civil constitution ; and the act by which it gets this is the “original contract." By this contract the several individuals (omnes et singuli) give up their wild freedom in order to receive all together (universe) the civil liberty secured by the State. Till this is done men are in a state of war with each other; Hobbes (VI. 194) was only wrong in saying they are warring instead of in a state of war;" till then, all rights (of property or otherwise) are merely provisional; and till rights are secured there is no wealth (IV. 326). Kant does not mean that there was such a social contract as a matter of history ; it is simply his way of stating the fact that the rational basis of civil government is the “volonté de tous." The supreme legislative authority is the collective will of all, “all ” being soon explained to mean only mature persons and those whose personality is not bound up with that of others. The supreme executive and judicial powers once established, no resistance to them is tolerable. The execution of Louis XVI. seemed horrible, because it overturned the whole foundation of law and order. Hobbes himself is thus hardly more autocratic than Kant, though Kant regards the Republican form of government
1 Hart., VI. 322, etc.
3 Hart., VII. 132. Kant mentions amongst his instances women apprentices, and workmen who work for a master.