Essay on kant and morality

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In other words, the assumption that space and time are transcendentally real instead of transcendentally ideal leads to a contradiction, and thus space and time must be transcendentally ideal. It is a question of central importance because how one understands this distinction determines how one will understand the entire nature of Kantian idealism. The following briefly summarizes the main interpretive options, but it does not take a stand on which is correct.

Appearances and hence the entire physical world that we experience comprise one set of entities, and things in themselves are an ontologically distinct set of entities. Although things in themselves may somehow cause us to have experience of appearances, the appearances we experience are not things in themselves. There have been attempts at interpretations that are intermediate between these two options. After establishing the ideality of space and time and the distinction between appearances and things in themselves, Kant goes on to show how it is possible to have a priori cognition of the necessary features of appearances.

Cognizing appearances requires more than mere knowledge of their sensible form space and time ; it also requires that we be able to apply certain concepts for example, the concept of causation to appearances.

The argument of the Transcendental Deduction is one of the most important moments in the Critique , but it is also one of the most difficult, complex, and controversial arguments in the book. Hence, it will not be possible to reconstruct the argument in any detail here. Kant takes it to be uncontroversial that we can be aware of our representations as our representations. Further, we are also able to recognize that it is the same I that does the thinking in both cases. In general, all of our experience is unified because it can be ascribed to the one and same I, and so this unity of experience depends on the unity of the self-conscious I.

Kant next asks what conditions must obtain in order for this unity of self-consciousness to be possible. His answer is that we must be able to differentiate between the I that does the thinking and the object that we think about. That is, we must be able to distinguish between subjective and objective elements in our experience. So next Kant needs to explain how we are able to differentiate between the subjective and objective elements of experience.

His answer is that a representation is objective when the subject is necessitated in representing the object in a certain way, that is, when it is not up to the free associative powers of my imagination to determine how I represent it.

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For instance, whether I think a painting is attractive or whether it calls to mind an instance from childhood depends on the associative activity of my own imagination; but the size of the canvas and the chemical composition of the pigments is not up to me: insofar as I represent these as objective features of the painting, I am necessitated in representing them in a certain way.

Kant assumed that we have a unified experience of the many objects populating the world.

Kant & Categorical Imperatives: Crash Course Philosophy #35

This unified experience depends on the unity of apperception. The unity of apperception enables the subject to distinguish between subjective and objective elements in experience. This ability, in turn, depends on representing objects in accordance with rules, and the rules in question are the categories. Hence, the only way we can explain the fact that we have experience at all is by appeal to the fact that the categories apply to the objects of experience.

It is worth emphasizing how truly radical the conclusion of the Transcendental Deduction is. Kant takes himself to have shown that all of nature is subject to the rules laid down by the categories. But these categories are a priori : they originate in the mind. Thus the conclusion of the Transcendental Deduction parallels the conclusion of the Transcendental Aesthetic: where the latter had shown that the forms of sensibility space and time originate in the mind and are imposed on the world, the former shows that the forms of understanding the categories also originate in the mind and are imposed on the world.

The Transcendental Deduction showed that it is necessary for us to make use of the categories in experience, but also that we are justified in making use of them. In the following series of chapters together labeled the Analytic of Principles Kant attempts to leverage the results of the Deduction and prove that there are transcendentally necessary laws that every possible object of experience must obey. The first two principles correspond to the categories of quantity and quality.

First, Kant argues that every object of experience must have a determinate spatial shape and size and a determinate temporal duration except mental objects, which have no spatial determinations. The next three principles are discussed in an important, lengthy chapter called the Analogies of Experience.

The Kantian Theory Of Ethics And Morality – Essay

They derive from the relational categories: substance, causality, and community. According to the First Analogy, experience will always involve objects that must be represented as substances. One event is said to be the cause of another when the second event follows the first in accordance with a rule.

And according to the Third Analogy which presupposes the first two , all substances stand in relations of reciprocal interaction with each other. That is, any two pieces of material substance will effect some degree of causal influence on each other, even if they are far apart.


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The First Analogy is a form of the principle of the conservation of matter: it shows that matter can never be created or annihilated by natural means, it can only be altered. Hume had argued that we can never have knowledge of necessary connections between events; rather, we can only perceive certain types of events to be constantly conjoined with other types of events.

In arguing that events follow each other in accordance with rules , Kant has shown how we can have knowledge of necessary connections between events above and beyond their mere constant conjunction. The Postulates of Empirical Thinking in General contains the final set of principles of pure understanding and they derive from the modal categories possibility, actuality, necessity.


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The Postulates define the different ways to represent the modal status of objects, that is, what it is for an object of experience to be possible, actual, or necessary. The most important passage from the Postulates chapter is the Refutation of Idealism, which is a refutation of external world skepticism that Kant added to the edition of the Critique.

In the Refutation, Kant argues that his system entails not just that an external that is, spatial world is possible which Berkeley denied , but that we can know it is real which Descartes and others questioned. Where the skeptics assume that we have knowledge of the states of our own minds, but say that we cannot be certain that an external world corresponds to these states, Kant turns the tables and argues that we would not have knowledge of the states of our own minds specifically, the temporal order in which our ideas occur if we were not simultaneously aware of permanent substances in space, outside of the mind.

Accordingly, Kant holds that there can be knowledge of an object only if it is possible for that object to be given in an experience. This aspect of the epistemological condition of the human subject entails that there are important areas of inquiry about which we would like to have knowledge, but cannot.

Kant and Hume on Morality

The three most important ideas with which Kant is concerned in the Transcendental Dialectic are the soul, the world considered as a totality , and God. The peculiar thing about these ideas of reason is that reason is led by its very structure to posit objects corresponding to these ideas. Kant argues that such reasoning is the result of transcendental illusion. A cognition involves both intuition and concept, while a mere thought involves only concept. For instance, consider the question whether we can cognize the I as a substance that is, as a soul.

On the one hand, something is cognized as a substance when it is represented only as the subject of predication and is never itself the predicate of some other subject. On the other hand, something can only be cognized as a substance when it is given as a persistent object in an intuition see 2f above , and there can be no intuition of the I itself.

Kant and Hume on Morality (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Hence although we cannot help but think of the I as a substantial soul, we can never have cognition of the I as a substance, and hence knowledge of the existence and nature of the soul is impossible. Antinomies arise when reason seems to be able to prove two opposed and mutually contradictory propositions with apparent certainty.

Kant discusses four antinomies in the first Critique he uncovers other antinomies in later writings as well. The First Antinomy shows that reason seems to be able to prove that the universe is both finite and infinite in space and time.

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The Second Antinomy shows that reason seems to be able to prove that matter both is and is not infinitely divisible into ever smaller parts. The Third Antinomy shows that reason seems to be able to prove that free will cannot be a causally efficacious part of the world because all of nature is deterministic and yet that it must be such a cause. And the Fourth Antinomy shows that reason seems to be able to prove that there is and there is not a necessary being which some would identify with God. In all four cases, Kant attempts to resolve these conflicts of reason with itself by appeal to transcendental idealism.

The claim that space and time are not features of things in themselves is used to resolve the First and Second Antinomies. Since the empirical world in space and time is identified with appearances, and since the world as a totality can never itself be given as a single appearance, there is no determinate fact of the matter regarding the size of the universe: It is neither determinately finite nor determinately infinite; rather, it is indefinitely large.

The distinction between appearances and things in themselves is used to resolve the Third and Fourth Antinomies. Although every empirical event experienced within the realm of appearance has a deterministic natural cause, it is at least logically possible that freedom can be a causally efficacious power at the level of things in themselves. And although every empirical object experienced within the realm of appearance is a contingently existing entity, it is logically possible that there is a necessary being outside the realm of appearance which grounds the existence of the contingent beings within the realm of appearance.

It must be kept in mind that Kant has not claimed to demonstrate the existence of a transcendent free will or a transcendent necessary being: Kant denies the possibility of knowledge of things in themselves. Instead, Kant only takes himself to have shown that the existence of such entities is logically possible. In his moral theory, however, Kant will offer an argument for the actuality of freedom see 5c below. The Ideal of Pure Reason addresses the idea of God and argues that it is impossible to prove the existence of God.

Reason is led to posit the idea of such a being when it reflects on its conceptions of finite beings with limited reality and infers that the reality of finite beings must derive from and depend on the reality of the most infinitely perfect being. Of course, the fact that reason necessarily thinks of a most real, necessary being does not entail that such a being exists.

Kant argues that there are only three possible arguments for the existence of such a being, and that none is successful. According to the ontological argument for the existence of God versions of which were proposed by St. Anselm and Descartes , among others , God is the only being whose essence entails its existence. Kant argues that both of these implicitly depend on the argumentation of the ontological argument pertaining to necessary existence, and since it fails, they fail as well.

Although Kant argues in the Transcendental Dialectic that we cannot have cognition of the soul, of freedom of the will, nor of God, in his ethical writings he will complicate this story and argue that we are justified in believing in these things see 5c below. Recall that an analytic judgment is one where the truth of the judgment depends only on the relation between the concepts used in the judgment.

Kant, by contrast argued that mathematical knowledge is synthetic. Recall, however, that a judgment can be both synthetic yet a priori. Like the judgments of the necessary structures of experience, mathematics is also synthetic a priori according to Kant. Surely, this proposition is a priori : I can know its truth without doing empirical experiments to see what happens when I put seven things next to five other things.

If mathematical knowledge is synthetic, then it depends on objects being given in sensibility. And if it is a priori , then these objects must be non-empirical objects. What sort of objects does Kant have in mind here? Recall that an intuition is a singular, immediate representation of an individual object see 2c above.

Empirical intuitions represent sensible objects through sensation, but pure intuitions are a priori representations of space and time as such. These pure constructions in intuition can be used to arrive at synthetic, a priori mathematical knowledge. And this will be true irrespective of what particular triangle I constructed isosceles, scalene, and so forth. Kant holds that all mathematical knowledge is derived in this fashion: I take a concept, construct it in pure intuition, and then determine what features of the constructed intuition are necessarily true of it.

In addition to his work in pure theoretical philosophy, Kant displayed an active interest in the natural sciences throughout his career. Most of his important scientific contributions were in the physical sciences including not just physics proper, but also earth sciences and cosmology.