Cours Vincennes : synthesis and time (14/03/1978)
We are returning to Kant. May this be an occasion for you to skim, read or re-read The Critique of Pure Reason. There is no doubt that a tremendous event in philosophy happens with this idea of critique. In going into it, ourselves, or in going back into it, I had stopped reading it a very long time ago and I read it again for you, it must be said that it is a completely stifling philosophy. It’s an excessive atmosphere, but if one holds up, and the important thing above all is not to understand, the important thing is to take on the rhythm of a given man, a given writer, a given philosopher, if one holds up, all this northern fog which lands on top of us starts to dissipate, and underneath there is an amazing architecture. When I said to you that a great philosopher is nevertheless someone who invents concepts, in Kant’s case, in this fog, there functions a sort of thinking machine, a sort of creation of concepts that is absolutely frightening. We can try to say that all of the creations and novelties that Kantianism will bring to philosophy turn on a certain problem of time and an entirely new conception of time, a conception of which we can say that its elaboration by Kant will be decisive for all that happened afterwards, which is to say we will try to determine a sort of modern consciousness of time in opposition to a classical or ancient consciousness of time. Why it is that it was Kant who created the philosophical concepts of this new consciousness of time, making his philosophical expression possible, does not concern us or in any case does not interest me, but what I would like to say is that it is indeed this sort of consciousness of time which takes on a philosophical status in Kant, and which is completely new. I will proceed by numbered points because I’m always working with the idea that to each point corresponds a type of concept, and once again, I will be happy if you grant me at the end of these lessons that philosophers are precisely this, that they are no less creative than painters or musicians, simply that they create in a determinable domain that is the creation of concepts. Firstly, what does Kant understand by the a priori which he opposes to the a posteriori? These are common terms. In some cases new words must be invented, and this happens with Kant when he creates the notion of the transcendental, which is a very strange notion, transcendental subject… no doubt you will tell me that the word existed before, but it was rarely used and it marked no difference from the ordinary word transcendent, whereas Kant gives it a very special sense: the transcendental subject, he almost created a word… in the case of the a priori and the a posteriori he borrows a word, but he completely renews its sense. A priori, in the first place, means: independent of experience, that which does not depend on experience. In opposition to a posteriori which means: given or givable in experience. What things are a priori? Note that I don’t ask myself: does the a priori exist, which is to say, are there things independent of experience? The question of existence is secondary, we must first know what a thing is in order to be able to say and reply to the question of existence: does it exist or not? I’m saying that if it exists, what is something that would be independent of experience? Thus not givable in experience. Nothing complicated so far, Kant takes this up very quickly, the a priori in this sense is the universal and the necessary. Everything that is necessary and universal is said to be a priori. Why? It certainly fulfills the first condition of the a priori: not given in experience, because, by definition, experience only gives me the particular and the contingent. With expressions of universality and necessity it is always so necessarily, as also with certain uses of the future tense, or expressions of the type “each time”: each time I bring water to 100 degrees it will boil. Philosophers have said this for a very long time: there is something in this which is not given in experience. What is it? It’s the expressions: “always”, “necessarily”, or even the future tense. What experience has given me is, strictly speaking, that each time I have effectively brought water to 100 degrees, it has boiled, but in the formula “water necessarily boils at 100 degrees”, the necessarily is not an object of experience. Similarly if I say “all objects of experience” – do I have the right to say this? We don’t even know if “all objects of experience” is not nonsensical. Supposing that it is not nonsensical, “all objects of experience” are not given in experience, for the simple reason that experience is ???? Thus you can always make a summation, a sum of the objects you have experienced, but this sum is indefinite. 
Thus the universal and the necessary by definition are not givable in an experience since an experience is always particular and contingent. So that gives us a second determination of the a priori. The a priori was first of all what is independent of experience, in the second place it is what is universal and necessary. 
Third point: how can this universal and necessary be defined? There is already something extremely delicate here. To say that something is independent of experience doesn’t prevent this something perhaps being applied to experience and only to it. The question of application is entirely different. When I say “water will always come to a boil at 100 degrees”, I don’t know where this idea of “always” comes from, since it is not given to me in experience, I don’t know where this idea of necessity comes from, since it is not given to me in experience, this doesn’t prevent the fact that “always” is applied to water, boiling, 100 degrees, all things which are given in experience. Let’s suppose then that the a priori is itself independent of experience but applies to objects given in experience. In other words the universal and the necessary are said of objects of experience; perhaps they are said of other things as well, but they are said of objects of experience. What is universal and necessary? What would these universals and necessaries be which can be said of objects of experience? Here is introduced a notion which is famous in philosophy, that of the category. A certain number of philosophers have even made or proposed what are called tables of categories. There is a famous table of categories in Aristotle. With Kant, who did not escape a strong influence from Aristotle, there will be another table of categories. What is a category? A category is not just anything in philosophy, it’s as rigorous as a scientific notion in another domain. What is called a category is a universal predicate, or universal attribute if you want. Which is to say a predicate which is attributed to, or predicated of, or said of any object. This notion of “any object” is bizarre. I say “the rose is red”. What is that? “The rose is red” is not complicated, it’s a relation between two concepts, the rose and red, and if I say “what is universal or necessary in that?” I can reply: nothing. Not all objects are roses, not all roses are red. Not all reds are the colour of roses. I would say that there is an experience of the red rose and that this experience is particular, contingent, a posteriori like all experience. 
Compare this judgement: “the rose is red” to this other judgement: “the object has a cause” or even “the rose has a cause”. 
I see a difference straight away, which is that the concept of rose defines what will be called a class in so far as it is an a posteriori concept, the concept of rose defines a class or set. Red is a property of a subset of this set, the subset formed by red roses. I can define a set according to what it excludes and in relation to what it excludes: all that is not a rose. The set of roses is carved out of a broader set which is that formed by flowers, and the set of roses can be distinguished from the rest, which is to say all the flowers which are not roses. When I say “all objects have a cause”, am I not in another domain completely? Evidently I am, I am completely in a different domain because to have a cause is a universal predicate which is applied to all objects of possible experience, to the point that I don’t even need to – or I believe that – but that makes no difference because “I believe” will become an act that we will have to analyse – I believe that if an unknown object emerged in experience before my eyes, this object would not be an object if it didn’t have a cause. To have a cause or to be caused is a predicate of a wholly other type than the predicate “red”. Why? Because the predicate “to be caused” – to the point where we can wonder, after reflection, is that really a predicate or is it something else? – the predicate “to be caused” is predicable of any object of possible experience, to the point where it is not going to define a set or a subset within experience because it is strictly coextensive with the totality of possible experience. 
Moreover, we must go back. When I said that the totality of possible experience has perhaps no sense, now we have the response: the totality of possible experience makes no sense in itself, but it is precisely to the extent that there are predicates which are attributed to all possible objects, which are thus more than predicates, and this is what Kant will call conditions, they are the conditions of possible experience, it is thus via the notion of conditions of experience that the idea of a whole of possible experience will take on a sense. There is a whole of possible experience because there are predicates or pseudo-predicates which are attributed to all possible objects and these predicates are precisely what are called categories. I’ll cite some examples of categories according to Kant: unity, plurality, totality (with Kant they come in threes). 
Reality, negation, limitation. 
Substance, cause, reciprocity. 
I’ll stop there. In what sense are these categories and not predicates of the type red, green, etc…? They are categories or conditions of possible experience for the simple reason that any object is only an object to the extent that it is conceived as one, but also as multiple, having the unit parts of a multiplicity, and in this forming a totality, any object whatever has a reality. On the other hand, it excludes what it is not: negation, and by virtue of this it has limits: limitation. Any object whatever is substance, any object whatever has a cause and is itself cause of other things. 
That’s enough to be able to say that my notion of object is made in such a manner that if I encountered a something which did not allow the categories be attributed to it, I would say that it is not an object. 
So there we have as a last determination of the a priori, they are the conditions of possible experience, which is to say universal predicates as opposed to empirical predicates or a posteriori predicates. 
I could define the categories in the simplest way as being the predicates of any object whatever. Thus you can yourselves make your list of categories according to your mood, according to your character… what would be good would be to see if everybody came up with the same list of categories. In any case you do not have the right to cheat with the word. To make your list of categories is for you to ask yourselves what is for me predicable of any object whatever. I have already given a certain list of them, with nine categories. In fact, for Kant, there are twelve of them, but I left three aside for later; you see: unity, plurality, totality, affirmation, negation and limitation, substance, cause, reciprocity or community. 
To finish with this first point, I am saying that the categories, qua predicates of any object whatever, are a priori, and they are conditions of possible experience; understand that it is through them that the notion of possible experience takes on a sense. 
To the question: does the whole of possible experience mean something? No meaning [sens] at all if we remain in an a posteriori approach, because in an a posteriori approach I am led to make an addition: the roses, the flowers other than roses, the plants which are not flowers, the animals, etc…. I could go to infinity like that and nothing tells me that I have a whole of possible experience. On the contrary, experience is fundamentally fragmented, it is opposed to a totalisation. If Kant launches this very very new notion of a totality of possible experience it is because he is in a position to define, to say: yes, there is a level where the whole of possible experience takes on a sense, it is precisely because there are universal predicates which are attributed to all things, which is to say are attributed to any object whatever. Thus it is a priori that the notion of the totality of possible experience will be founded. 
Is there anything else besides the categories that can be a priori, which is to say, universal and necessary? The reply is yes, and this other thing is space and time. Because every object is in space and in time, or at least in time. But you will say to me straight away, very well then, why not make a category of them, why not add space and time as two categories? Because space and time are also, it seems, predicates. Obviously, Kant has the most serious reasons to not want to and he will go to great pains to distinguish the categories on the one hand, and on the other hand space and time. There will thus be two sorts of a priori elements: the categories and space and time. Why doesn’t he want space and time to be among the categories? I will give a reason very quickly which will become clear afterwards: it is that the categories qua predicates of possible experience are concepts, whereas Kant fundamentally holds that, these are a priori representations, a priori representations or concepts, while space and time are presentations. There you also have something very new in philosophy, it will be Kant’s work to distinguish presentation and representation. So there will be two sorts of elements in the a priori. 
My second point is Kant’s importance at another level, which is the notion of phenomenon, and that also is very important. There Kant operates a kind of essential transformation of a word which was frequently employed previously in philosophy. Previously philosophers spoke of phenomenon to distinguish what? Very broadly we can say that phenomenon was something like appearance. An appearance. The sensible, the a posteriori, what was given in experience had the status of phenomenon or appearance, and the sensible appearance was opposed to the intelligible essence. The intelligible essence was also the thing such as it is in itself, it was the thing in itself, the thing itself or the thing as thought; the thing as thought, as phenomenon, is a Greek word which precisely designates the appearance or something we don’t know yet, the thing as thought in Greek was the noumenon, which means the “thought”. I can thus say that the whole of classical philosophy from Plato onwards seemed to develop itself within the frame of a duality between sensible appearances and intelligible essences. You can see clearly that this already implies a certain status of the subject. If I say that there are appearances and that there are essences, which are basically like the sensible and the intelligible, this implies a certain position of the knowing subject, namely: the very notion of appearance refers to a fundamental defect in the subject. A fundamental defect, namely: appearance is in the end the thing such as it appears to me by virtue of my subjective constitution which deforms it. The famous example of appearance: the stick in water appears broken to me. It’s what is called the rich domain of sensory illusions. So much so that in order to reach the thing in itself the subject must in fact overcome this sort of constitutive infirmity which makes it live amongst appearances. It’s Plato’s theme: leave appearances to find essences. 
With Kant it’s like a bolt of lightning, afterwards we can always play clever, and even must play clever, with Kant a radically new understanding of the notion of phenomenon emerges. Namely that the phenomenon will no longer at all be appearance. The difference is fundamental, this idea alone was enough for philosophy to enter into a new element, which is to say I think that if there is a founder of phenomenology it is Kant. There is phenomenology from the moment that the phenomenon is no longer defined as appearance but as apparition. The difference is enormous because when I say the word apparition I am no longer saying appearance at all, I am no longer at all opposing it to essence. The apparition is what appears in so far as it appears. Full stop. I don’t ask myself if there is something behind, I don’t ask myself if it is false or not false. The apparition is not at all captured in the oppositional couple, in the binary distinction where we find appearance, distinct from essence. 
Phenomenology claims to be a rigorous science of the apparition as such, which is to say asks itself the question: what can we say about the fact of appearing? It’s the opposite of a discipline of appearances. What does an apparition refer to? The appearance is something that refers to essence in a relation of disjunction, in a disjunctive relation, which is to say either it’s appearance or it’s essence. The apparition is very different, it’s something that refers to the conditions of what appears. The conceptual landscape has literally changed completely, the problem is absolutely no longer the same, the problem has become phenomenological. For the disjunctive couple appearance/essence, Kant will substitute the conjunctive couple, what appears/conditions of apparition. Everything is new in this. 
To make things a little more modern, I would just as well say: to the disjunctive couple appearance/essence, Kant is the first who substitutes the conjunctive couple apparition/sense, sense of the apparition, signification of the apparition. There is no longer the essence behind the appearance, there is the sense or non-sense of what appears. Grant me at least that even if what I say remains just a matter of words, it’s a radically new atmosphere of thought, to the point where I can say that in this respect we are all Kantians. 
It’s obvious that thought, at that time, was changing elements. People had for a long time thought in terms which didn’t come from Christianity but which fit in very well with Christianity, in the appearance/essence distinction, and towards the end of the eighteenth century, prepared no doubt by all sorts of movements, a radical change takes place: for the whole appearance/essence duality which in a sense implies a degraded sensible world, which even implies if need be original sin, is substituted a radically new type of thought: something appears, tell me what it signifies or, and this amounts to the same thing, tell me what its condition is. 
When Freud comes up and says that there are certain phenomena which appear in the field of consciousness, what do these phenomena refer to, Freud is Kantian. How so? In a way that is at the same time very general but also very rigorous, namely that, like all those of his era and since Kant we spontaneously think in terms of the relation apparition/conditions of the apparition, or apparition/sense of what appears, and no longer in the terms of essence/appearance. 
If you don’t see the enormity of the reversal, admire the fact that the subject, in my second couple, the subject is not at all in the same situation. In the disjunctive couple appearance/essence, the subject is immediately condemned to grasp appearances by virtue of a fragility which is consubstantial with it, and the subject requires a whole method, it needs to make a whole effort to get out of appearances and reach the essence. In the other case, what makes the subject take on an entirely different value? It’s when I say that every apparition refers to the conditions of the appearing of the apparition, in this very statement I am saying that these conditions belong to the being to whom the apparition appears, in other words the subject is constitutive – and understand this well, otherwise it’s a radical misinterpretation – the subject is constitutive not of the apparition, it is not constitutive of what appears, but it is constitutive of the conditions under what appears to it appears to it. 
I mean that the substitution of the conjunctive couple phenomena-conditions, or apparitions-conditions ensures a promotion of the subject in so far as the subject constitutes the very conditions of the apparition, instead of constituting and being responsible for the limitations of appearance, or the illusions of appearance. There is indeed a subject, Kant will say, which is subordinated to appearances and which falls into sensory illusions; it will be called the empirical subject, but there is another subject which is evidently neither you nor me, which above all is not reducible to any empirical subject, which will be from that point on named the transcendental subject for it is the unity of all the conditions under which something appears, appears to whom? Appears to each empirical subject. It’s already beautiful as a system of ideas. I hope you can feel its extent, it’s a tremendous machine. 
To finish this second point, I’ll make two corrections: Kant is at the turning-point of something, so it’s more complicated than I’m making it out to be because he keeps something of the old essence-appearance difference, and effectively he will say all the time: do not confuse the phenomenon with the thing in itself, the thing in itself is the pure noumenon, which is to say it is what can only be thought, while the phenomenon is what is given in sensible experience. So he maintains the disjunctive duality phenomenon/thing in itself, noumenon. It’s the duality of the couple appearance/essence. But he gets out of it and he is already in another type of thought for a very simple reason for he says that the thing in itself, it is so by nature or the noumenon – the thing in itself can be thought, it is thus noumenon, but it cannot be known. So if it can be determined, it is a completely different point of view than that of knowledge; so we don’t bother with it or at least we will bother about it in very special conditions. 
What counts from the point of view of knowledge and of all possible knowledge is the other couple, apparition-conditions of appearing, conditions of the fact of appearing. 
Once again if I sum up this reversal it’s the one which consists in substituting for appearance-essence, apparition-conditions or apparition-sense of the apparition. 
If you ask me what these conditions of appearing are, fortunately we have got somewhere because our first point gave the answer, the conditions of appearing, which is to say the conditions of the phenomenon, in so far as the phenomenon is what appears, we will not look for an essence behind the phenomenon, we will seek the conditions of its apparition, and in fact the conditions of its apparition are, the categories on one hand and on the other space and time. 
Everything which appears appears under the conditions of space and time, and under the conditions of the categories. By this fact space and time on the one hand and on the other the categories are the forms of all possible experience and they belong not to things as they are in themselves, but as forms of all phenomena, as forms of all apparition, space and time on the one hand, the categories on the other hand are the dimensions of the transcendental subject. Time is already completely involved here

In your opinion, which of Kant’s ideas have universal and enduring value? Part. II

Other views on the immortality of the Kant’s ideas:

Christine Korsgaard: Many of Kant’s ideas have an enduring value. I suppose I would place two at the top of the list.
The first is the idea embodied in Kant’s Formula of Humanity, the idea that every human being is to be treated as an end in himself or herself. This way of expressing the categorical imperative sets a high ideal for human relationships and interaction, and yet at the same time resonates with people’s actual moral experience. It captures something very important about the kind of treatment we hope for from one another. Of course the Formula of Humanity rules out certain obvious ways of treating others badly: treating another as a mere means, or running roughshod over her interests and concerns. But it also rules out treating others “well” in the wrong way – treating another with paternalism and disrespect, treating her like a child or a pet who cannot be expected to know what is best. Kant’s ethics commands not only that we avoid taking our interests to be more important than the interests of others, but also that we avoid assuming that our judgment is better than the judgment of others. It commands that we share decisions as equals. I think that Kant’s is the only ethical theory that commands that human beings treat one another as adults who share both the right and the responsibility of determining the fate of humanity and through humanity of the world.
The other is the basic idea of the Copernican Revolution itself. I take that basic idea to be that the laws of reason are our laws, human laws. The laws of reason are laws that we impose upon nature rather than laws that we find already realized there. This idea is associated with a kind of metaphysical modesty – we cannot just assume that nature will meet the standards that seem intelligible to us – and at the same time with an assumption of responsibility: it is up to us to make sense both of the world and of our relations with each other; it is up to us, to human beings, to make the world a rational place. Although Kant himself attached a doctrine of faith to these ideas, I take the basic idea to capture an essentially secular vision of the human plight, and one to which most of humanity has yet to face up.
These two ideas come together in one of my favorite remarks from the Critique of Pure Reason:
“Reason has no dictatorial authority; its verdict is always simply the agreement of free citizens, of whom each one must be permitted to express…his objections or even his veto.” (A738-9/B766-7).
That remark embodies a radically modern, frightening, inspiring, vision of where human beings stand in the world and to each other.

Beatrice Longuenesse: I am not sure what you mean by ideas having “universal value.” I suppose you mean something like this: ideas have “universal value” if they do not merely reflect the state of science, morality and culture at a particular time (in this case, Kant’s time), but would at any time and in any social/cultural context help human beings come to terms with their own condition, indeed help answer the question Kant set for himself as the central question of philosophy: “What is a human being?”
I think having defined the task of philosophy as the task of answering this question and conducting one’s life in accordance with the answer one will have given to this question, is itself of universal value. Also of universal value is the core point common to all three Critiques: understanding human beings (i.e. understanding their capacity for knowledge, for morality, for aesthetic creation and pleasure, for purposeful activity) is understanding the conflicted ways (rational *and* irrational) in which they relate to themselves in thinking and saying ‘I’.

Robert Louden: I believe that many of the core ideas of Kant’s ethics have universal and enduring value. If I were to pick just one, I would choose the second formula of the categorical imperative: “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” (Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Academy Edition 4: 429).

Robert Makkreel: I think that Immanuel Kant’s importance as a philosopher lies in his efforts to explicate the conditions for making justified claims about the world as well as for judging what is valuable and worth striving for. His strategy is to locate those formal conditions that are most likely to gain us normative agreement. By placing form before content, Kant hopes to sidestep psychological prejudices rooted in content and regress to those transcendental conditions that are presupposed by all inquiry. The inevitable price we must pay in striving for cognitive agreement is to limit the scope of our claims. The idea of basic limits is central to Kant’s conception of the world as lawbound. To experience nature as governed by causal laws and to see ourselves as moral beings freely submitting to rational laws is to acknowledge dual limitations on ourselves–from without and from within. External limits reduce our power, but the setting of inner limits can actually lead us to strengthen the highest side of ourselves.
For me the most significant contribution that Kant made to philosophy is to supplement his original determinant mode of judging the world with a reflective mode that introduces the idea of lawfulness without law–a felt order that is exemplary. This is especially important for applying philosophical critique to the arts and to the human sciences. Since determinant judgment proceeds from a given universal to particulars, it clearly involves a subordinating mode of thought. Reflective judgment, however, proceeds from particulars and can be said to be a coordinating mode of thought. Determinant judgment appeals to universals to either describe the nature of particular objects or explain their behavior by subsuming them under the laws of the understanding. Reflective judgment, by contrast, is an expansive mode of thought that appeals not just to the understanding, but to reason as a framework for interpreting particulars. Being comparative, reflective judgment is less concerned with finding the universals to which particulars can be subsumed than in locating commonalities that particulars may share.

Arthur Melnick: Kant’s most enduring contribution was to make the study of the human mind a method for investigating the nature of the world. Whatever else, for Kant, the world that concerns us must conform to the conditions of our thinking and understanding. This makes possible a metaphysics that is independent of the method of empirical science and is grounded, rather, in the philosophical study of thought and cognition (transcendental logic). In one way or another a great deal of philosophy since Kant has looked at the world in this «for-us» way as something that is relative to our mind or our language or our phenomenological experience or our social institutions or our cultural norms.

Susan Neiman: Kant is the only thinker in the history of western philosophy to clearly distinguish between the claims of reason and the claims of reality, and to give equal weight to each. I take the beginning of the “Transcendental Dialectic” of the Critique of Pure Reason to be the most important part of his work: having given us a detailed analysis of what it means for an object to be real, he turns to discuss what it means for ideals to be real. They are neither fantasies, nor wishes, nor Vorländer’s well-meant but fatal als ob; but entities with their own sort of force and power, whose reality cannot be the same as that of objects of experience. For their task is to question the necessarily limited experience with which we are confronted, and to challenge reality to meet the claims of the ideal – be it a just society in the practical realm, or a complete and transparent science in the theoretical realm. Kant’s metaphysics has thereby a crucial political function. One the one hand, it provides reason with the basis to change the world to meet its own standards. This is crucial in order to answer conservatives like Hume, for whom reason is impotent to decide any of the questions which determine our lives. It is, on the contrary, custom and tradition which insure our conviction that the sun will rise tomorrow, as well as our preference for preserving worlds to itching fingers. Having undercut the legitimacy of reason in the realms we already experience, it is no surprise that Hume, and disciples like Burke, should be chary of its use in uncharted waters. If custom and tradition have preserved us thus far, it is wiser to follow them than the allegedly untried demands of reason. By strengthening the claims of reason Kant’s metaphysics, by contrast, provides the groundwork for radical social change. At the same time, his emphasis on the demands of experience should undercut those utopian thinkers who wish to proceed without much attention to it – with the disastrous consequences the 20th century has seen. Thus even more than his moral philosophy Kant’s metaphysics provide the foundation for a stance towards the world that is mature without being resigned, hopeful without being naive.

Thomas Nenon: I think there are many, but to name just a few ideas that have been particularly important and will continue to be important, not just in academic philosophy: Kant’s insight in the role that structures of human thinking are constitutive for all objects of human cognition, his emphasis on the irreducibility of the moral to the expedient or advantageous, and the introduction of a notion of regulative ideals as an integral part of scientific as well as political thought.

And in your point of view? which of Kant’s ideas have  universal and enduring value?

Kant’s Derivation of the Principle of Autonomy

Some hold that Kant’s conception of autonomy requires the rejection of moral realism in favor of “moral constructivism.” 

What do you think about the following discussion on Kant’s conception of legislation?

In the first section of theGrundlegung, Kant begins with the concept of a good will as the only unqualified good. A good will acts not out of inclination, but from objective practical laws. For a being with needs this means that a good will acts from duty, according to an “ought”. Because duties or moral obligations are categorically rather than hypothetically commanded, this means that a will that acts from duty is not determined by material motives but by pure practical reason, out of respect for the moral law. Thus Kant writes,
For since, other than the law, the imperative contains only the necessity that the maxim be in accord with this law, but the law contains no limiting conditions, nothing remains for the maxim of action to accord with other than the universality of law itself. The only thing the imperative actually represents as necessary is this conformity. 

The essential thing is the law-like, properly legislative form. Pure practical reason can determine our will to act only on maxims that are appropriate for universal legislation. A will that is so determined is a good will. And that is the only way a good will can be specified. Kant infers a principle: “the idea of the will of every rational being as a universally legislative will.” 

He explains:
“According to this principle, all maxims are rejected that can’t co-exist with the will’s own legislation. Thus, the will is not merely subjected to the law, rather it is subjected in such a way that it must also be regarded as self-legislating and precisely on this account, above all, as subjected to the law (of which he can consider himself author).”
Moral necessity, Kant argues, must be based on the self-legislation of a will, because, otherwise, this necessity would have to be based on an interest, which would contradict the requirement that moral necessity be a categorical necessity. This analysis generates the third formulation of the categorical imperative: “Act only such that the will can at the same time regard itself, through its maxim, as universally legislating” and is supposed to be the basis for the dignity of humanity.

We assume that this derivation of the principle of autonomy is more or less familiar. The present question, of course, focuses on the metaphysical significance of the requirement that agents regard the moral law as self-legislated. Does this imply that the moral law is a positive law or a human creation? That it is the object of a procedure of construction rather than discovery? While our contemporary conception of legislation might suggest such conclusions, there has been remarkably little discussion of Kant’s conception of legislation. One explanation for this is that in theGrundlegung and the Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, Kant never elaborates his conception of legislation. But there is some interesting material in the Metaphysik der Sitten. In the introduction Kant wrote:
A (morally practical) law is a proposition that contains a categorical imperative (a command). The one who commands (imperans) through a law is the legislator (legislator). He is the author (autor) of the obligation in accordance with the law, but not always the author of the law. In the latter case, the law would be a positive (contingent) and arbitrary [willkürlich] law. The law which obligates us a priori and unconditionally by our own reason can also be expressed as proceeding from the will of a supreme legislator, i.e., one that has only rights and no duties (hence from the divine will), but this only signifies the idea of a moral being whose will is a law for everyone, without his being thought of as the author of it.”
Here Kant explains his conception of legislation in connection with his distinction between the author of obligation in accordance with a law and the author of a law. Unfortunately, the point and significance of the distinction seems obscure. As is often in the case in Kant’s writings, especially the Metaphysik der Sitten, a passage absent its context may remain cryptic. But further study of this distinction reveals an anti-constructivist strand in Kant’s thought which lies at the core of his conception of legislation.

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What does ‘goodness without qualification’ mean?

Kant calls moral values the only values that are ‘good without qualification,’ and thereby states something very profound about morality. Let us read his great text in which he expresses many insights into eternal and absolute truths about morality, forgetting as it were his whole epistemology in the Critique of Pure Reason which would have forbidden him to make such statements valid “outside the world of appearance.” Only an objectivist epistemology and therefore only a critique of Kant can justify these insights: 
It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will. Intelligence, wit, …, and any other talents of the mind . . . or courage . . . and constancy of purpose, as qualities of temperament are without doubt good and desirable in many respects; but they can also be extremely bad and hurtful when the will is not good which has to make use of these gifts of nature . . . Power, wealth, honour, even health and that complete well-being and contentment with one’s state which goes by the name of ‘happiness’, produce . . . often over-boldness . . . , unless a good will is present. . . . Moderation in affections and passions, self-control and sober reflection . . . may even seem to constitute part of the inner worth of a person. Yet they are far from being properly described as good without qualification (however unconditionally they have been commended by the ancients). For without the principles of a good will they may become exceedingly bad; and the very coolness of a scoundrel makes him, not merely more dangerous, but also immediately more abominable in our eyes than we should have taken him without it. 
Kant describes – with some explanations added – moral values as ‘good without qualification.’ But what does this ‘goodness without qualification’ mean? Only by a return to ‘things themselves’ – to the moral data themselves – can this question be answered adequately. Let us therefore interpret Kant by a critical return to moral data and things themselves which alone can provide criteria to judge Kant’s assertions.

1. Moral goodness is first of all good without qualification inasmuch as this goodness does not depend on the subjective judgment about it. Kant sees that the goodness of moral values is not relative to, not dependent on, anybody’s judgment. Moral goodness is not just good according to some person’s opinion. It is not just the purely intentional correlate of a judgment. It is of course possible that a Pharisee who is in reality very evil is judged to be morally good by someone, or that some good deeds evoke in a person subjectively bad feelings so that he or she judges the deed to be bad; but this never constitutes moral goodness or evilness themselves. Moral goodness, when it is really found in a person, is thus not just good in relationship to the judgement of a person but ‘in itself.’ Neither David Hume nor C.L. Stevenson and A.J. Ayer have seen this point.  John L. Mackie in his Inventing Right and Wrong recognizes the inherent claim of moral judgments to assert some objective qualities not relative to our judgment in ethical propositions but holds that these claims are illusory. Kant sees: if moral qualities were not properties of a will independent of anyone’s judgment, they would not be morally good nor could they be ‘good without qualification.’

2. ‘Good’ in the context of moral goodness is understood as ‘good without qualification’ also in the sense of intrinsic goodness, i.e., as that which is not merely subjectively satisfying or relative to our inclinations in its importance. This unconditional goodness in the sense of the intrinsic preciousness of a thing signifies also that which is not just good for an individual who has certain interests. This objectivity of value “which is not relative to our inclinations” (which is neither exclusively subjectively satisfying for our inclinations nor exclusively an objective good for the person, we may interpret), is clearly stated by Kant as an essential feature of moral and of morally relevant values, namely of the person’s dignity which is of “absolute value” and from which moral imperatives proceed:
But suppose there were something the existence of which had itself absolute worth, something which, as an end in itself, could be a ground of definite laws. In it and only in it could lie the ground of a possible categorical imperative, i.e., of a practical law.
Now, I say, man and, in general, every rational being exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will…All objects of inclinations have only a conditional worth, for if the inclinations and the needs founded on them did not exist, their object would be without worth.
This meaning of ‘unrestricted goodness’, the objectivity of moral values which is inseparable from their character of intrinsic value-importance and goodness, is absolutely decisive for understanding ethics. Many persons regard moral values as subjective and therefore relativistic physicians will carry out patient’s wishes thinking that the patient’s morals are just as well as their own and that they therefore have to willfully carry out what the patient wishes. But this treats moral values or disvalues not as objective and intrinsic positive or negative importance of human acts but along the lines of the merely subjectively satisfying.

3.  ‘Good without qualification’ can also be interpreted in the sense that moral values are values in a higher sense which express more purely the idea of value and goodness. If we say that cows or horses are good, we realize that we use the term ‘good’ in a relatively poor analogous sense compared with the manner in which we use it in reference to moral values. Similarly, the concept of evil, when applied to diseases, does not mean ‘evil’ in any similarly powerful way as the moral sense of ‘evil.’ Moral goodness is good in a new and higher sense of goodness than extramoral goods, and moral evil is evil in a more terrible sense of evil than any extramoral evil. In German, two different words (schlecht and bösedas Übel and ‘das Böse’) indicate this difference which is so great that one might claim that between the two senses of good and evil (the moral and the extramoral one) there is not even analogy properly speaking but that we find in moral goodness a radically new sense of this term.
Also this profound truth, and the new and higher sense of goodness found in moral goodness, is frequently overlooked. One forgets that, while human life is morally relevant and imposes moral obligations on us, it is nevertheless not as high a good as the moral goodness of the acts in which we relate properly to life. For this reason, we should rather die than commit a morally evil act. A proper ethics can only be built on this insight into the absolute primacy and higher meaning of goodness in the case of moral goodness when compared to saving a life or curing a patient.

4.  Good without qualification can also be understood in the sense that moral goodness cannot be ‘abused’ like other talents which turn terrible when abused. This involves a new and more pure sense of goodness found in moral goodness, which is that which is good unconditionally speaking and not only good depending on how it is used (such as wit, courage, self-control, etc.). While one could challenge this element of Kant’s intuition posing the question whether not phariseism or proud humiliation of others constitute a form of ‘abuse’ of moral values even at a deeper level than the abuses of intelligence, one could reply in the following way:
Moral qualities in the person change through this abuse in a very different way from that in which intelligence is vitiated by moral evil. Intelligence does not cease to be intelligence by its abuse per se (even though it may become affected and perverted by the stupidity resulting from pride), whereas the moral value in the person is changed immediately into evil by the abuse of phariseism. The ‘abused moral value’ does not remain morally good or continue to bestow moral goodness on the subject. Thus as long as the morally good quality and intention (Gesinnung) remain in the person, they cannot be abused as such.

In your opinion, which of Kant’s ideas have universal and enduring value?

Once again, valuable answers to a challenging question: 

Henry Allison: If by this expression you mean contemporary philosophical relevance, I have to say many, from all aspects of Kant`s thought, including transcendental idealism correctly understood. But if you mean of broad human concern, then it would have to be some of the central themes of his moral philosophy, such as the conceptions of the autonomy of the will and rational being as an end in itself.

Maria Borges: I think Kant is still contemporary, because his morality is based on three powerful concepts that people actually use in their moral judgments. These three concepts are autonomy, humanity and the idea that moral rightness is based on reason. Kant´s moral ideas have an universal and enduring value, because they grasp the three main features of what we still call morality. First, we should be autonomous human beings, in order to freely decide to enter in any personal or social relationship. Second, that we should respect the intrinsic value of human beings and think about them as an end in themselves, not only as a means. Third, that what is right should be reasonable for everyone. Also, Kant has showed that morality is not about utility or consequences, but about what we can consider reasonable for everyone.

Andrew Brook: Kant’s claims about the equal and infinite value of each moral agent will come to most peoples’ minds. Since I know his philosophy of mind and epistemology far better than the rest of his work, let me single out his claims about the interplay of the constructive, concept-using aspects of the mind and input to which we are and must remain passive, and his claims about the centrality of the unity of consciousness.

Jefrrey EdwardsI suspect that my response to this question will be quite similar to the replies of many other interview participants. The fact is that I would be extremely hard-pressed to name any of Kant’s fully articulated ideas and well-grounded positions that are not of universal and enduring value. (Whether they are “mistaken” or not is, of course, another question.) My difficulty in this is, I think, something more than just evidence of a Kant scholar’s prejudice for his preferred subject, though it certainly may be that to some degree as well. Its source is a far more inclusive question—namely, how could one possibly go about deciding which of the major ideas of Western philosophy are not of enduring value, even if some of them are not (or ought not to be) of universal validity? Since it cannot be seriously maintained that Kant was not a major thinker firmly embedded in the historical context of Western philosophy, I might be able to answer question (1) if I could first eliminate from the pool of universally and enduringly valuable ideas an array of ideas that were, historically, “opposed” to those put forward by Kant. But I don’t think that philosophy really allows for this kind of thinking about the relationship between the history and the value of ideas—especially since the major positions of Kant’s theoretical and practical philosophy have historically played such crucial roles in determining which ideas we in fact hold to be of particular value. They continue to do this whether we like it or not, so we might as well finally get used to it. They’re not going away any time soon.

Paul Guyer: I think that the basic ideas of Kant’s moral and political philosophy have universal and enduring value. As I interpret it, the basic idea of Kant’s moral philosophy is that no matter what else they value, all human beings value the freedom to make their own choices, free of domination by either their own irrational impulses or those of others, and that the only way for any human being to preserve the freedom of his or her choice from such domination is if all human beings act in accordance with a conception of reason requiring consistency within the free choices of each and among the free choices of all. Kant presupposes that each human being could come to acknowledge these fundamental premises through genuine reflection on their own motivations, and I don’t think that history has shown him to be wrong; but history certainly has shown how prejudice and especially claims to have been vouchsafed divine revelation can stand in the way of such reflection, and the greatest challenge is to get human beings to listen to the voice of their own reason rather than other voices. In political philosophy, I believe that Kant’s greatest contribution is to have shown that the state should exist to provide security and justice, not to address every possible human desire, but that there can be no genuine security or justice anywhere unless there is genuine security and justice anywhere, so that global security and global justice must be the ultimate aim of every just state.

Robert Howell: At the core of Kant’s theoretical philosophy is the idea that our a priori cognition of objects concerns only «what we ourselves put into» those objects. This idea goes along with a specific conception of the a priori and of our a priori knowledge of synthetic judgments. Kant then develops this idea as a form of ontological idealism about the objects of knowledge. Twentieth-century research has shown that we need to rethink his detailed views about the a priori/a posteriori and the analytic/synthetic distinctions. Post-Kantian thinkers have also pointed out serious flaws in his arguments for transcendental idealism. However, underlying the above idea is a basic research project that does not depend on the fine details of Kant’s own views. That is the project of investigating how far we have a fundamental, structural knowledge of the world that is constrained in one way or another by the structure of our mind and language. This project, which Kant initiated, remains open. Moreover, the particular points that Kant makes as he develops the above idea also raise open, foundational questions: about space and time, the nature of mathematical and physical knowledge, first-person self-awareness, judgment and the possibility of a priori categories, the nature of objectivity and of causality, and our ability to achieve a complete knowledge of the totality of facts about the world. These questions will remain fruitful subjects of investigation for a long time. I believe that Kant’s specific answers to many of these questions, for example the details of the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories, are open to doubt. But the depth to which he pursues these questions, and the depth of the many further issues that his answers to them raise, are unmatched. As the twists and turns of thought since 1804 show, a similar depth and influence surely belong also to Kant’s practical philosophy and to his work in aesthetics.

Patricia KitcherOn the theoretical side, I think that the enduring value of Kant’s work lies in attempt to show that cognition is an incredibly complex process that involves input from the structure of the mind as well as from the senses. What Kant tried to show, I believe, was that empirical knowledge, that is, knowledge based on sensory evidence, was not possible on its own. Rather, knowledge had to be constructed by the mind on the basis of the sensory evidence. This idea has been incredibly influential in fields as different as theories of poetry and theories of the function of different areas of the cortex. What was different about Kant’s view, as opposed to many that came later, was that although cognition was mind-dependent, it was not for that reason subjective in the sense that it varied from subject to subject.

On the practical side, I think the centerpiece of Kant’s view is the idea that morality is egalitarian and and autonomous, hence a matter of laws that apply to all. Although Rawls and his students have popularized the idea that Kant gave the right priority over the good, I think that his view was in fact driven by a certain conception of the good. What is good is to live in a world where you and everyone is subject to no moral law other than those that you and everyone recognize as such. I think that this simple, but crucial, idea stands behind the elaborate proceduralisms of Rawls and others.

And in your point of view? which of Kant’s ideas have  universal and enduring value?

Kant Can: Allen Wood Clears A Path To Kants Complex Philosophies

Allen W. Wood is Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University. He has also taught at Cornell and Yale Universities, with visiting appointments at the University of Michigan and the University of California at San Diego. His many books include Kant’s Moral ReligionHegel’s Ethical ThoughtKant’s Ethical Thought, and Kantian Ethics; and is the co-editor of the Cambridge edition of Kan’t works.
Q: Kant is notoriously one of the most difficult philosophers to understand. His works are very dense with obscure locutions which impede many from completing his works much less understanding them at all. How would you advise someone approaching Kant’s work for the first time?
A: I don’t know how to make difficult philosophy easier. I can only recommend that someone read it over and over again. (I think I misunderstood most of Kant’s Groundwork the first fifty or so times I read it. Then I finally began to understand it.) About his terminology, however, I do have something to say. Kant uses a set of terms he borrowed from the Wolffian tradition, which in turn got most of them from Latin scholasticism. Kant was not a well-informed historian of philosophy, but his choice to use the jargon he borrowed from Wolff and Baumgarten was very fortunate, because it connects him to medieval scholastic philosophy and thereby to Aristotle (when he did not know either the scholastics or Aristotle very well at all, first hand). So we should be grateful for this terminology, since it enables us to relate Kant to the whole history of Western philosophy, despite the fact that he didn’t know it very well.
Q: Although primarily known as a philosopher, Kant had an abiding interest in science. In fact, his early writings address scientific matters. Did he make any important contributions in this area?
A: Probably Kant’s most famous single scientific contribution was the nebular hypothesis of the origin of the solar system, which he presented in an early essay (1755). This work was not widely circulated, however, and so the hypothesis was not known to be his until after it had received a much more precise mathematical formulation by La Place years later. Kant also had some interesting things to say in early essays about Leibnizian physics. But perhaps Kant’s greatest scientific contributions were to what we would now call ‘earth sciences’ and to anthropology. He was among the first to teach both ‘physical geography’ (as he called it) and the science of human nature. He regarded these two studies as related: the first teaches us about the physical environment of humanity, the second about the social environment.
Q: Kant famously remarked, as is often reported, that he was awoken from his dogmatic slumbers by Scottish philosopher David Hume’s problem of induction. However, you’ve argued that “There never was any ‘dogmatic slumber’ from which to awake.” Can you explain?
A: The term ‘dogmatic slumber’ (used by Kant in the Prolegomena) suggests (in Kantian terms) unthinking acceptance of Wolffian philosophy. But Kant never was an uncritical follower of Wolff. That’s why, in his case, there never was a dogmatic slumber from which to awaken. I think his imaginary account of his philosophical development in theProlegomena is better seen as his conception of a possible course that a typical reader of that work, educated in Wolffian philosophy, might take – going from uncritical acceptance of Wolff through Hume to Kant’s philosophy. Kant was hoping, by depicting his own course as having followed this one, to lead his readers on the same path, even though it was not the path he himself had followed.
Q: Kant’s philosophical works were largely a result of his reaction to his predecessors – Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau. What was he reacting against?
A: This question would require a much longer answer than I can give if it were to be answered adequately. In metaphysics, Kant was chiefly reacting against Wolff and Baumgarten. In moral philosophy, he was reacting against them too, but also against Hutcheson’s moral sense theory, though he also was positively influenced by Wolff and Baumgarten and also by Hutcheson. He saw himself (I think correctly) as a follower of Rousseau, not a critic. His relation to Hume was ambivalent, but I think in his own view, more positive than negative. Philosophers brought up in the empiricist tradition tend to see Kant’s relation to Hume as oppositional, but that tells us more about them, their philosophical prejudices, and the limits of their philosophical imagination, than it does about Kant’s relation to Hume. This is not an adequate answer to your question, but as I said, an adequate answer is beyond what I can give in any brief space.
Q: One of his most prominent works is the Critique of Pure Reason, an investigation into the limitations and structure of reason itself. It encompasses an attack on traditional metaphysics and epistemology, and highlights Kant’s own contribution to these areas. Can you briefly explain what he set out to do in this work?
A: His chief aim in the work is to explore the limits of the capacity of reason to gain knowledge a priori. This was done in the Dialectic of Pure Reason, and the conclusions from it are presented in the ‘Doctrine of Method’ (the last part of theCritique, which few people have the stamina ever to read). The most famous parts of the Critique, the Aesthetic andAnalytic, attempt to explore what we can know a priori. This seems controversial to people brought up in the empiricist tradition because they’ve internalized the dogma that we can know nothing at all a priori, so that is the part they concentrate on. But for Kant, these early parts of the Critique had the aim mainly of setting the stage for the exploration of how we come to ask metaphysical questions we cannot answer, why we cannot answer them, and what positive lessons we may learn from the fact that we are driven to ask these questions which lie beyond the bounds of our faculties. We can see that this is really the aim of the Critique from the very first sentence of the Preface in the A edition: “Reason has the peculiar fate in respect of one species of its cognitions that it is burdened with questions which it cannot dismiss, because they are prescribed to it by the nature of reason, but which it also cannot answer, because they surpass every faculty of human reason.” This sentence talks about what happens in the Dialectic, not in theAesthetic and Analytic.
Q: Kant believed that our mind actively structures how we encounter the world – that the mind makes the world not the other way round. Can you briefly explain this?
A: I think this is a very common but very misleading characterization of Kant’s transcendental idealism. He doesn’t think the mind makes the world – as though it were a figment of our imagination and nothing more. Our cognitive capacities rather prescribe the conditions under which we can cognize the world, and therefore enable us to distinguish questions about the world that we can answer from questions we cannot. That seems to me a more accurate way to put it.
Q: Kant also made significant contributions to the field of ethics as set out in his The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Can you briefly tell us what his principal contribution in this area was? And does any of it have any relevance today?
A: Kant’s explicit aim in the Groundwork is to search for and establish the supreme principle of morality. This provides the basic grounding of moral philosophy, but nothing beyond that. It is still relevant if you think that morality rests on a single fundamental principle. I do think it is still relevant, and especially relevant to the way we think about things is the second formula of the moral law (of the three main ones Kant gives): Namely, the formula of Humanity as End In Itself. I think it is a powerful idea that humanity in the person of each and every human being has absolute worth or dignity – hence equal worth. This is the basis of a radical Enlightenment conception of moral value, the full consequences of which are still very far from having been fully understood and applied in human affairs.
Q: Peter Strawson’s work The Bounds of Sense (1966) reinvigorated interest in Kant’s philosophy. Since then, have there been any other major contributions worth noting in Kant studies?
A: When I last saw Strawson, in November, 2005 (about two months before his death) he insisted that the Bounds of Sense was not, and was never intended as, a work of ‘Kant scholarship’. He said it was a philosophical encounter with Kant. But I think that along with Jonathan Bennett’s Kant’s Analytic, it played an essential role in getting analytically trained philosophers thinking about Kant. A number of books since then have developed this interest in a way that really is what Strawson meant by ‘Kant scholarship’. If I had to name the single most important of these, I would say it is Henry Allison’s Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, first published in 1983 and then much revised for the second edition of 2004. To list all the excellent studies of Kant since then would be a foolish enterprise: I’d have to list a great many names and I’d be sure to leave out some important ones. So I won’t try.
Q: You’re regarded as one of the leading scholars on Kant. How have you extended Kant’s work? And what relevance does Kant have for us today?
A: I won’t comment on my own contributions, since that is a job for others. Kant’s relevance today is too manifold to attempt to describe. But it can be indicated by simply listing some of the philosophical movements in the past two centuries that would have been impossible without Kant’s philosophy as their background: German idealism, Neo-Kantianism, Pragmatism, Logical Positivism, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Analytical Philosophy. If I have left out any important philosophical movements of the last two centuries, they probably belong on the list as well. In short, Kant is central to the background and context of all significant philosophy for the past two hundred years. To say he is ‘relevant’ to any and all philosophy today would be grossly understating it.