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- The Critique of Practical Reason - 32/32 -

employment accompanying all our own free actions, as well as the observation of those of others, and to make it as it were a habit, and to sharpen this judgement, asking first whether the action conforms objectively to the moral law, and to what law; and we distinguish the law that merely furnishes a principle of obligation from that which is really obligatory (leges obligandi a legibus obligantibus); as, for instance, the law of what men's wants require from me, as contrasted with that which their rights demand, the latter of which prescribes essential, the former only non-essential duties; and thus we teach how to distinguish different kinds of duties which meet in the same action. The other point to which attention must be directed is the question whether the action was also (subjectively) done for the sake of the moral law, so that it not only is morally correct as a deed, but also, by the maxim from which it is done, has moral worth as a disposition. Now there is no doubt that this practice, and the resulting culture of our reason in judging merely of the practical, must gradually produce a certain interest even in the law of reason, and consequently in morally good actions. For we ultimately take a liking for a thing, the contemplation of which makes us feel that the use of our cognitive faculties is extended; and this extension is especially furthered by that in which we find moral correctness, since it is only in such an order of things that reason, with its faculty of determining a priori on principle what ought to be done, can find satisfaction. An observer of nature takes liking at last to objects that at first offended his senses, when he discovers in them the great adaptation of their organization to design, so that his reason finds food in its contemplation. So Leibnitz spared an insect that he had carefully examined with the microscope, and replaced it on its leaf, because he had found himself instructed by the view of it and had, as it were, received a benefit from it.

But this employment of the faculty of judgement, which makes us feel our own cognitive powers, is not yet the interest in actions and in their morality itself. It merely causes us to take pleasure in engaging in such criticism, and it gives to virtue or the disposition that conforms to moral laws a form of beauty, which is admired, but not on that account sought after (laudatur et alget); as everything the contemplation of which produces a consciousness of the harmony of our powers of conception, and in which we feel the whole of our faculty of knowledge (understanding and imagination) strengthened, produces a satisfaction, which may also be communicated to others, while nevertheless the existence of the object remains indifferent to us, being only regarded as the occasion of our becoming aware of the capacities in us which are elevated above mere animal nature. Now, however, the second exercise comes in, the living exhibition of morality of character by examples, in which attention is directed to purity of will, first only as a negative perfection, in so far as in an action done from duty no motives of inclination have any influence in determining it. By this the pupil's attention is fixed upon the consciousness of his freedom, and although this renunciation at first excites a feeling of pain, nevertheless, by its withdrawing the pupil from the constraint of even real wants, there is proclaimed to him at the same time a deliverance from the manifold dissatisfaction in which all these wants entangle him, and the mind is made capable of receiving the sensation of satisfaction from other sources. The heart is freed and lightened of a burden that always secretly presses on it, when instances of pure moral resolutions reveal to the man an inner faculty of which otherwise he has no right knowledge, the inward freedom to release himself from the boisterous importunity of inclinations, to such a degree that none of them, not even the dearest, shall have any influence on a resolution, for which we are now to employ our reason. Suppose a case where I alone know that the wrong is on my side, and although a free confession of it and the offer of satisfaction are so strongly opposed by vanity, selfishness, and even an otherwise not illegitimate antipathy to the man whose rights are impaired by me, I am nevertheless able to discard all these considerations; in this there is implied a consciousness of independence on inclinations and circumstances, and of the possibility of being sufficient for myself, which is salutary to me in general for other purposes also. And now the law of duty, in consequence of the positive worth which obedience to it makes us feel, finds easier access through the respect for ourselves in the consciousness of our freedom. When this is well established, when a man dreads nothing more than to find himself, on self-examination, worthless and contemptible in his own eyes, then every good moral disposition can be grafted on it, because this is the best, nay, the only guard that can keep off from the mind the pressure of ignoble and corrupting motives.

I have only intended to point out the most general maxims of the methodology of moral cultivation and exercise. As the manifold variety of duties requires special rules for each kind, and this would be a prolix affair, I shall be readily excused if in a work like this, which is only preliminary, I content myself with these outlines.



Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above and the moral law within. I have not to search for them and conjecture them as though they were veiled in darkness or were in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them directly with the consciousness of my existence. The former begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and enlarges my connection therein to an unbounded extent with worlds upon worlds and systems of systems, and moreover into limitless times of their periodic motion, its beginning and continuance. The second begins from my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity, but which is traceable only by the understanding, and with which I discern that I am not in a merely contingent but in a universal and necessary connection, as I am also thereby with all those visible worlds. The former view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates as it were my importance as an animal creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with vital power, one knows not how, must again give back the matter of which it was formed to the planet it inhabits (a mere speck in the universe). The second, on the contrary, infinitely elevates my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of the whole sensible world, at least so far as may be inferred from the destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination not restricted to conditions and limits of this life, but reaching into the infinite.

But though admiration and respect may excite to inquiry, they cannot supply the want of it. What, then, is to be done in order to enter on this in a useful manner and one adapted to the loftiness of the subject? Examples may serve in this as a warning and also for imitation. The contemplation of the world began from the noblest spectacle that the human senses present to us, and that our understanding can bear to follow in their vast reach; and it ended- in astrology. Morality began with the noblest attribute of human nature, the development and cultivation of which give a prospect of infinite utility; and ended- in fanaticism or superstition. So it is with all crude attempts where the principal part of the business depends on the use of reason, a use which does not come of itself, like the use of the feet, by frequent exercise, especially when attributes are in question which cannot be directly exhibited in common experience. But after the maxim had come into vogue, though late, to examine carefully beforehand all the steps that reason purposes to take, and not to let it proceed otherwise than in the track of a previously well considered method, then the study of the structure of the universe took quite a different direction, and thereby attained an incomparably happier result. The fall of a stone, the motion of a sling, resolved into their elements and the forces that are manifested in them, and treated mathematically, produced at last that clear and henceforward unchangeable insight into the system of the world which, as observation is continued, may hope always to extend itself, but need never fear to be compelled to retreat.

This example may suggest to us to enter on the same path in treating of the moral capacities of our nature, and may give us hope of a like good result. We have at hand the instances of the moral judgement of reason. By analysing these into their elementary conceptions, and in default of mathematics adopting a process similar to that of chemistry, the separation of the empirical from the rational elements that may be found in them, by repeated experiments on common sense, we may exhibit both pure, and learn with certainty what each part can accomplish of itself, so as to prevent on the one hand the errors of a still crude untrained judgement, and on the other hand (what is far more necessary) the extravagances of genius, by which, as by the adepts of the philosopher's stone, without any methodical study or knowledge of nature, visionary treasures are promised and the true are thrown away. In one word, science (critically undertaken and methodically directed) is the narrow gate that leads to the true doctrine of practical wisdom, if we understand by this not merely what one ought to do, but what ought to serve teachers as a guide to construct well and clearly the road to wisdom which everyone should travel, and to secure others from going astray. Philosophy must always continue to be the guardian of this science; and although the public does not take any interest in its subtle investigations, it must take an interest in the resulting doctrines, which such an examination first puts in a clear light.


The Critique of Practical Reason - 32/32

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