Kant and modern philosophy modern philosophy begins with René Descartes (1596-1650)




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“Good Will, Duty, and the Categorical Imperative”



KANT AND MODERN PHILOSOPHY

  • Modern philosophy begins with René Descartes (1596-1650).

  • However, Kant is regarded by many as the greatest of all the modern philosophers.

  • Indeed, with Plato and Aristotle, Kant is often considered to be one of the three greatest philosophers.

  • Kant made great contributions in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics.

  • The Critique of Pure Reason widely regarded as a masterpiece, and the greatest single work in philosophy since the Greeks, perhaps since Aristotle’s Metaphysics.



MAN, NATURE, AND RATIONALITY

  • Kant notes that “everything in nature works according to laws.” However, humans differ from other parts of nature in that humans alone can according to principles.

  • Thus, Kant recognizes the rationality of human beings.

  • Humans are rational in having a “conception of laws,” or principles.

  • Our rationality enables us to understand the correctness of moral laws such as “keep your promises,” and to know the difference between right and wrong.



FREE AGENCY

  • Human beings are also free agents, that is, we have free will, or can freely choose between options, including moral options. That is, we can freely choose to do right or wrong.

  • Because of our rationality, we can understand the difference between right and wrong. And, because of our rationality, we can understand moral laws which it is our duty to accept as binding.

  • Our freedom to choose means then that we are capable of freely acting on this knowledge. That is we can freely choose to do what is proper.



REASON AND AGENCY

  • Knowing how to act morally requires reason. Thus we must be able to deduce and understand the principles of correct moral behavior.

  • Having understood what is the right thing to do, we then act in a morally correct way when we freely choose to act according to the moral law which reason has recognized to be correct.

  • Kant calls our ability to act according to principles, or our capacity to use our free will to do the right thing, practical reason.

  • Thus, for Kant, the will puts to use or practice the principles of reason insofar as they concern moral behavior.



RATIONALITY AND DESIRE

  • Kant recognizes that people are not only rational agents but we also have desires and appetites.

  • However, as a rational agent, a person can choose to do what is right in spite of the influence of desires and appetites.

  • When desires and appetites, or what Kant calls “subjective conditions,” would lead a person not to do the morally correct thing, or when morality and desire conflict, the moral person acts according to reason to do the right thing, in spite of the influences of their desires and appetites.



MORAL WORTH

  • For Kant, a person of moral worth does the right thing, and does so in spite of the influence of desire and appetite which may lead her to do the wrong thing.

  • And, for Kant, moral worth is the most important attribute which a person can have.

  • Moral worth is more important and more admirable than such “talents of the mind” as “intelligence, wit, and judgment” and is more important than such “qualities of temperament” as “courage, resolution, and perseverance.”

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