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Най-висшето благо на Кант и епистемичната основа на моралния закон

Неше Аксой, постдокторант, ИФС-БАН

Kant’s highest good and the epistemic ground of the moral law

Neşe Aksoy

Postdoc, IPhS-BAS,

aksoynesee@gmail.com

 1 Introduction

The highest good forms the apex of Kant’s moral philosophy. Kant famously assumes that seeking the highest good is an objective duty for agents and the employment of the moral law would lead to its realization (summum bonum) as a moral world, in which virtue is granted with happiness on a fair basis. Yet, despite the fact that Kant formulates the highest good as an objective duty to be promoted, there are still some ambiguous elements surrounding the highest good, which pertains to the relationship between the moral law and the highest good. As such, there are two main tendencies in the formulation of Kant's doctrine of the highest good in its relation to the moral law. On the one hand, Kantian conception of the highest good is regarded by many critics as an inessential element of morality, suggesting that there is no necessary relationship between the moral law and the idea of the highest good. In parallel, some commentators such as Lewis Beck (1960), Jeffrie G. Murphy (1965)1 and Thomas Auxter (1979) argue that the highest good is not at all necessary for morality. Beck argues that the highest good consists simply in unifying the two legislations of reason, the theoretical and the practical. Beck denounces, however, that the highest good is immediately necessary to the moral law or that promoting it is a necessary duty apart from our duty determined by the categorical imperative (Beck 1960, p. 245). In a similar vein, Auxter argues that we do not have a definite characterization of the highest good because the highest good is beyond our capacities (Auxter 1979, p. 123). Auxter thus suggests that the highest good is not determinable per se by the moral law as a duty or ideal to which one should aspire because it is beyond our capacities and requires the intervention of God.

There is, however, another aspect of the Kantian conception of the highest good, such that Kant recognizes the highest good as a necessary object of the moral law, since the moral law would remain empty and meaningless without the possibility of it (CPrR, 5:114). This suggests, in contrast to the former interpretation, that the moral law requires the highest good as an essential element for its employment. As such, some commentators such as Silber (195), Yovel (1980), Villaran (2018), Wood (1970)2, Pasternack (2017), Kleingeld (2016), and Marina (2000)3, among others, argue that the highest good is an essential element of the moral law. Silber, for instance, argues that the highest good is the “necessary material object of the moral volition.”4 According to Silber, the highest good gives concrete meaning to the moral obligation in that the moral will is not simply “obligated for the abstraction of good-willling but it is obligated for moral perfection and happiness of others” as its ultimate categorical ends (Silber 1959, p. 469). Likewise, Yovel argues that the highest good is an accompanying element of the moral law that gives purpose to all human morality (Yovel 1980, p. 42). According to Yovel, the exercise of the moral law by itself alone means that man "acts in a vacuum without effecting any real change in the world" (Yovel 1980, p. 40-41). For Yovel, however, this is not consistent with Kant's understanding of human nature, since Kant believes that human agents, even when they act out of duty, seek objective outcomes that contribute to the realisation of a moral project in the world. Along similar lines, Alonso Villaran argues that the highest good gives meaning and direction to moral law (Villaran 2018, p. 2239). According to Villaran, Kantian morality is not only about intentions and motivations, but also about direction. Thus, he argues that the highest good "enriches our moral life by providing a horizon of meaning" (Villaran 2018, p. 2239).

In this paper I largely rely on the second approach, and endorse that the highest good is a necessary component of morality, since it provides a systematic unity and ground for the moral law (in a practical and heuristic sense). A major purpose of mine, however, is to argue that there is a necessary and reciprocal relationship between the moral law and the highest good that is analogous to the ratio essendi-ratio cognoscendi relationship between the moral law and freedom. Following Kant's discussion of the reciprocity between the moral law and freedom, I argue that the moral law and the highest good are mutually dependent on each other in a practical and heuristic sense. In this sense, I point out that without the moral law the highest good cannot exist (ratio esssendi) and without the highest good the moral law cannot be fully known or affirmed (ratio cognoscendi). On this basis, I conclude that the idea of the highest good constitutes a special kind of ground for the moral law: it is the possible ground on which the moral law could be more fully and comprehensively known/communicated in the possible moral world. This ultimately suggests that the highest good has a stronger role in extending and affirming the epistemic content of the moral law than is generally assumed.

2 The highest good and the extension of the epistemic content of the moral law

Kant’s moral theory assumes that morality (employment of the moral law and prudence) ultimately produces an ideal moral world (the highest good, or summum bonum)5, in which happiness is distributed in proportion to morality (CPR, A 810/B 838). However, unlike the moral law, which is designated as a synthetic a priori fact6, Kant affirms that the highest good is a dialectical object of pure practical reason and only a matter of hope (CPR, A 805/833). This literally means that the highest good is not cognizable in a theoretical sense, but only to be hoped for in a practical sense. In other words, Kant claims that the highest good is merely a matter of practical assumption, without any theoretical certainty for its realizability. Yet, despite the fact the Kantian conception of duty has a purely formal ground, i.e., is completely independent of any ends or consequences but depends only on its own form, Kant does not refrain from asserting that it is a moral duty to promote the highest good (CPrR, 5:114; CPrR, 5:125; CPJ, 5:471; Rel, 6:98). Kant clearly argues that the pursuit of the highest good is an objective duty for agents to the extent that their powers enable them to do.

 

Kant’s formulation of the highest good as a duty to be promoted might at first glance suggest that there is an analytic relationship between these two concepts. However, the fact that the highest good transcends the analytical commands of the moral law suggests that the moral law and the highest good are related in a synthetic way. This argument is supported especially by Kant's claim that the highest good is a duty that is formed in a synthetic a priori way and thus it differs from the other duties deriving from the moral law (Rel, 6:7n). Kleingeld (2016) underscores the synthetic a priori relationship between the moral law and the highest good by explaining it as neither contingent nor analytic, but synthetic and necessary and concluding that the highest good constitutes the meta-principle for the moral law (Kleingeld 2016, p. 47). Kleingeld thus suggests that without the meta-command of the highest good, the moral laws would be disparate and unbounded to one another lacking a higher principle. Kleingeld is highly right to stress that the highest good is a meta-principle that brings all other duties under a unified and complete end. This is especially clear in Kant’s account, since he views the highest good as the ultimate end of morality that will grant agents with the reward of happiness that they deserve. In that sense, Kant suggests that if there were no possibility for the highest good, the moral activity of agents would be disparate and illogical as they would simply lack any ground for receiving what they are morally worthy of. This is clearly formulated by Kant as the state of absurdum practicum (LPDR, 28:1083)7, which implies that the highest good has a defining role in the promotion of the logical and practical unity of the moral law. Kant’s formulation of the highest good as saving the moral law from the state of practical absurdity essentially implies that despite the unique place that the highest good has within the framework of Kantain morality as a special type of duty (as a postulate that synthetically follows from the moral law), the highest good has a fundamental role in complementing and grounding the logical and practical unity of the moral law as an essential element of the morality.

That the moral law and the highest good are related with each other in a synthetic a priori manner, implies that they relate to each other on a mutual and necessary basis, which, I guess, can be indicated by an analogy. As is known, Kant expresses the relation between the moral law and freedom as a reciprocal one. He basically claims that freedom is the ratio essendi of the moral law and the moral law is the ratio cognoscendi of freedom (CPrR, 5:4). In this respect, Kant maintains that the moral law and freedom interact reciprocally such that while freedom is the ground of the essence (ratio essendi) of the moral law, moral law is what makes freedom known (ratio cognoscendi). In this analysis of the reciprocal relation between the moral law and freedom, what we effectively observe is that the moral law is grounded on freedom that moral agents attain by gaining independence from the natural inclinations, whereas they get conscious of their freedom through their moral conducts8.

The formulation of the ratio essendi and the ratio cognoscendi can, in my opinion, be applied not only to the relationship between the moral law and freedom, but also to the relationship between the moral law and the highest good in an analogous sense. If we elucidate this analogy, we can say that the moral law represents the ratio essendi of the highest good, while the highest good somewhat represents the ratio cognoscendi of the moral law. That is, while the moral law is the reason for the existence of the highest good, the highest good provides a ground or source of cognition, communication and full realisation of the moral law in the world9. We can easily understand that the moral law is the ratio essendi of the highest good because it is the moral law that determines the possibility of the highest good as its ultimate object. However, it seems rather unclear that the highest good plays a role on the moral law similar to the role that the moral law plays on freedom as being its ratio cognoscendi. This is mainly because Kant claims that the moral law is a synthetic fact a priori, which can be known on its own and without further justification (CPrR, 5:31). Kant makes it clear that the moral law is a synthetic a priori fact that every moral agent must know. On this basis, it is widely accepted that Kant's moral law is a pure fact of reason, which is fully achievable through the use of freedom and the employment of the categorical imperative.

However, Kant also gives evidence that the moral law cannot be fully known on its own. Rather, he invokes the highest good as extending the epistemic ground of the moral law in a variety of ways in the Critiques. In the following, I will focus on two points that support this argument. One crucial point that Kant makes in the Critiques is that the highest good as the ideal moral world of morality and happiness refers to the state, which unites the noumenal and the empirical realms. Kant writes in the CPR's "Canon of Pure Reason" that the highest good connects the intelligible world of morality with the sensible realm by pushing the sensible world toward the realization of the moral world, in which human agents are collectively free and happy to the extent that they are moral (CPR, A 808/B836). For this reason, Kant claims that the moral world or the highest good is a moral situation, in which the noumenal character of the moral world is affirmed as a real fact in the empirical world. In other words, the moral law as a noumenal principle proves to be grounded within the phenomenal world because the highest good signifies the realization of moral justice through the distribution of happiness as an empirical element10. Simply put, the distribution of happiness provides the ground for the determination of the morally worthy of agents and thereby leading to the fuller realization of their moral activity. This suggests, in my view, that the moral law as a noumenal fact gets empirical realization in the sensible world by the highest good, whereby it can be more fully known and understood. This line of interpretation is also supported by Yovel (1980), who argues that if the moral agent is guided only by the formal law (merely the categorical imperative), he must remain in a passive position, because he lacks the binding conception of a better world (Yovel 1980, p. 46-47). However, according to Yovel, with the introduction of the conception of the highest good, namely through the appropriation of the object of practical pure reason, the moral agent gains an active position in that he has a conception of a better world in which he can take positive initiatives that enhance the conception of freedom. He can actively create new systems or orders in the world. In this regard, Yovel proposes that the highest good, a world in which moral agents realize the moral law through their initiatives and actions, affirms the fact that the moral law has certain effects in the real world which suggests that it can be more fully known by moral agents. Yovel’s account nicely coheres with my claim that the highest good opens up the space and ground for the realization of the moral law in the empirical world, which suggests that morality of agents is accompanied with empirical content (happiness) that leads them to connect the noumenal aspect of morality with the social and empirical world. This suggests, then, that the agents extend the ground of morality by aspiring towards the realization of the moral world that would enable them enhance the practical understanding of their moral activity in an active moral sphere (moral world) where their moral activity is granted with happiness in proportion to what they deserve for. Thus, I would suggest that the attainment of the fair distribution of justice and happiness enhances the capacity of agents to comprehend the inner value of their moral activity through the realization of their moral activity within the empirical world.

Another important point Kant makes in the Critiques and elsewhere about the role of the highest good in extending the knowledge of the moral law in an analogical sense is that the moral world of the highest good is an intersubjective, universal, and objective ground on which moral agents can more fully mediate and communicate the moral law. As such, Kant argues that the realization of the highest good promises an ideal world, in which moral agents can collectively share the knowledge of the moral law because they can communicate it to each other on a universal and objective ground. In this regard, Kant describes the highest good as “a moral world” in the CPR and as “a kingdom of ends” in the Groundwork, arguing that they constitute the grounds of intersubjective universality and objectivity (G, 4:433 and CPR, A 816/B847). In these texts Kant asserts that “the kingdom of ends” and “the moral world” as the representations of the highest good11 are the ground of objectivity and universality that moral agents share. It represents the moral sphere where the objective and universal laws of moral law are applied on a common basis. In this context, Ergstrom (1992) argues that the Kantian highest good is a collective phenomenon, in which individuals abstract from their individual standpoints and conceive of the highest good as a common and objective ground that is beyond their individual power (Ergstrom 1992, p. 777). Similarly, Palatnik (2018) argues that the highest good saves people from becoming a disparate collection of individuals whose morality makes no sense to each other (Palatnik 2018, p. 143). Instead, individuals at the level of the highest good share a common moral knowledge that binds them together. Palatnik further argues that the Kantian highest good is a moral project that aims to unite humanity collectively, as it is "a collective duty of humanity to give the idea of the moral world an objective reality as a 'corpus mysticum' (CPR, A 808/B 836) of people governed by moral law" (Palatnik 2018, p. 143). Palatnik thus suggests that the collectivity of moral agents in the moral world (the highest good) promises moral unity among individuals as they share the universal and objective knowledge of the moral law on a common basis. Akin to Engstrom (1992) and Palatnik (2018), I would argue that, in Kant’s view, the ideal moral world to be accomplished by the progression towards the “kingdom of ends” and the highest good would create a ground of practical connectivity and interaction among agents that would promote their awareness of the moral law more fully and adequately by putting them in a common noumenal and moral sphere. Such agents, then, would achieve progression towards the realization of universal autonomy that would enhance their sphere of moral activity by sharing the commonality of the noumenal and moral sphere where they engage in a real dialogue and interaction with other rational agents that strive towards their moral ends. This universal and intersubjective realm of morality, then, would extend the genuine and authentic communication of moral agents, thereby extending their practical awareness and cognition of the moral law by leading to a moral world where they pursue common moral ends. 

Thus, we can conclude this section by stating that the ground of the moral law can only be affirmed and extended if we strive for the practical ideal of the highest good. Simply put, we can only recognise the moral law more fully through the possibility of the highest good, since the highest good promises to (a) unite the intelligible and rational realms (the synthesis of morality and happiness) in itself by giving empirical reality to the noumenal character of the moral law, and (b) provide an objective and universal basis on which moral agents can communicate the moral law to one another. That is, since the highest good provides a fuller realization of the moral law (our moral worthiness is granted with fair degree of happiness) in the empirical world and grounds the possibility of further communication of the moral law among moral agents in the noumenal and moral sphere of the “moral world” or “the kingdom of ends”, it appears that the highest good extends the epistemic ground of the moral law (as the ratio cognoscendi of the moral law) to the degree that agents gain moral awareness and understanding of their moral activity and practises more fully and adequately.

3 of the moral law

Our discussion so far has revealed two things: a) the highest good is a moral duty to be promoted, and b) the highest good extends the epistemic ground of the moral law in a heuristic and practical sense. These considerations lead us to ask whether we can think of the highest good as a concept that underlies the moral law in a particular sense. As we have already pointed out, it is clear that the highest good is not the ratio essendi of the moral law. In this sense, it is clear enough to say that the highest good is not the cause of the existence of morality, but the other way around. However, as we have shown, it can be observed that the highest good is the cause of explaining and manifesting more fully the cognition of the moral law (ratio cognoscendi). As such, one could suggest that, without the highest good the moral law could not be fully communicated among moral agents in the world. We can consider this aspect of the highest good in the context of Kant's peculiar formulation of the ratio essendi and the ratio cognoscendi in the New Elucidation, where Kant clearly defines the concepts of ratio essendi and ratio cognoscendi as an antecedent determining ground and a consequent determining ground, respectively (NE, 1:392). In this text Kant claims that every subject has two determinant reasons: an antecedent determinant reason and a consequent determinant reason. By this, he means that the antecedently determinant reason or ratio essendi is the reason without which things cannot exist or be intelligible. In this sense, he calls it the reason of why or the reason of being or becoming. The consequent determining reason or ratio cognoscendi, on the other hand, is the explanation of the fact that things exist, which constitutes the ground of the confirmation of the knowledge of things. In this sense, while the antecedent determining reason provides an explanation for why things exist, the consequent determining reason provides an explanation/confirmation for the fact that things exist through their effects or impacts.

Kant's arguments on the notions of ratio essendi-ratio cognoscendi and on the two different forms of the determinant in his Critical Period works are limited and sketchy. Fortunately, however, we can understand much of his argument with the help of the formulation in the New Elucidation. In light of the Kantian distinction between the antecedent determining ground and the consequent determining ground, which in the New Elucidation correspond to the ratio essendi and the ratio cognoscendi, respectively, one can argue that the moral law, like any other concept, needs two determining grounds: one that makes its essence and existence possible (antecedent determining ground) and another that authenticates it (consequent determining ground). In parallel, one can argue that, while freedom is the antecedent determining ground of the moral law, the highest good may be seen as a consequent determining ground of it. Kant's pre-critical conception of the consequent determining ground (in terms of ratio cognoscendi) is highly illuminating for our central aim, which is to claim that the highest good is a form of the determining ground of the moral law that extends its knowability. It clearly shows that the moral law cannot be fully explained/mediated in a practical sense without the realisation of the highest good. In this sense, the highest good seems to be what promotes and complements the intelligibility and communication of the moral law. It literally signifies the moral world where moral agents establish universal and necessary connectivity and interaction with each other, suggesting that they extend their awareness of the moral law through their practical communication and encounter.

However, some readers would be stunned to read that the idea of the highest good is in fact the ground for the extension of the cognition of the moral law, because the highest good is not in itself a form of theoretical knowledge, but merely a matter of hope. In other words, since the highest good cannot be theoretically known, it might seem confusing to say that the highest good is a ground for extending knowledge of the moral law, which is in itself a synthetic a priori fact. However it may be helpful at this point to point out that the highest good is a consequent determining ground for the knowledge of the moral law is a purely practical and heuristic idea, not a theoretical one. As is well known, Kant opposes the idea that the highest good or other regulative principles of reason extend our theoretical knowledge. Rather, he believes that these principles only help us to know the unity and systematic ground of our practical (moral) experience in a heuristic sense. This ultimately suggests that the moral law cannot be fully cognized without assuming the highest good as a heuristic principle that constitutes the ground of practical unity and totality, which promotes and extends the awarenes of the moral law within a more fully and adequate ground of moral connectivity and interactivity. In sum, one could suggest that the highest good creates a ground of noumenal and moral sphere where the moral law gains a heuristic guidance and direction towards its fuller realization, which leads to a fuller understanding and cognition of agents with regard to their moral activity.

 

4 Conclusion

The main purpose of this article has been to shed light on the conceptual and logical relationship between the moral law and the highest good. As is well known, according to the general contention, the highest good plays no role in determining the epistemic scope of the moral law, since the moral law is already a synthetic a priori fact that can be known by itself. In contrast, this paper has pointed out that the moral law cannot be fully known or understood without the ideal moral world (the highest good) that it produces as its object. This argument is essentially supported by two facts about the highest good: a) the highest good is a ground for the union of the intelligible world with the sensible world (synthesis of morality and happiness), which associates the moral law with a factual content and object in the empirical world (through happiness), and b) the highest good is an objective and universal ground on which moral agents can communicate the moral law more fully with each other. In this sense, the paper has argued that the highest good as an ideal moral world is necessary for the moral law to be more fully understood and known as a real fact in the world by moral agents. It appears clear, then, that the highest good is an indispensable result of the moral law that extends the scope of its cognizability and communication.

 

Notes

1. For a similar approach, see Murphy 1965, p. 102-110.

2. Wood (1970) claims that the highest good is an unconditional goal that is pursued. For Wood, the pursuit of an object of pure practical reason is nothing other than "acting according to a maxim with a legislative form, motivated by that form" (Wood, 1970, p. 73). Wood thus means that the moral pursuit of the highest good is not independent of the legislative form of the moral law. In other words, Wood assumes that the act of striving for the highest good is contained in the execution of the moral law as a legislative form.

3. Pasternack (2017) argues that the highest good is essential to the moral law because it is a duty we must fulfil through the pursuit of moral perfection and happiness (Pasternack 2017, p. 435-468). Kleingeld (2016) claims that the highest good is essential to morality because it is a meta-command that unites all ends and duties in an unconditional totality (Kleingeld 2016, p. 47). Marina (2000) argues that the highest good is indispensable for the moral law because without the assumption of the highest good, the moral law loses its meaning and significance and therefore its validity (Marina 2000, p. 346).

4. Silber 1959, p. 469.

5. See CPR, A 811, B 839; CPrR, 5:113 and CPJ, 5:450.

6. See Rel, 5:31.

7. For a detailed discussion on the role of moral postulates in the attainment of the highest good and sustaining the practical rationality of the moral law, see Wood 1970, p. 25-26.

8. Kant’s conception of the ratio essendi and ratio cognoscendi, which he conceives to be explanatory of the relation between the moral law and freedom, can be traced back to one of his pre-Critical works: New Elucidatio. It is in fact where Kant elucidates these two concepts in detail. In this text, Kant affirms that the determining ground of something is what makes a thing real and true (NE, 1:393). In this sense, he divides the determining ground into two forms: ratio essendi and ratio cognoscendi. Ratio essendi is the explanation of the reason for the essence and existence of a thing, whereas the ratio cognoscendi is the explanation of the knowledge of the things. In other words, Kant holds that the ratio essendi is the explanation for why the things exist whereas the ratio cognoscendi is the explanation of the fact that things exist.

9. By claiming that the highest good is analogously the ratio cognoscendi of the moral law, we do not necessarily mean that the moral law is fully cognized by the highest good. Rather, we claim that the moral law can be more fully communicated/recognised through the highest good in the empirical world.

10. For a reading of distribution of happiness as a manifestation of social and moral justice, see Rawls 2000, p. 313-317.

11. For a detailed discussion of the connection of the “kingdom of ends” with the highest good, see Palatnik 2018, p. 128-135.


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