Tag Archives: Immanuel Kant

Happiness, Moral Reason, and Citizenship in Kant

In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant defines happiness derived by practical and moral law:

Happiness is the satisfaction of all our desires (extensively, in regard to their manifoldness; intensively, in regard to their degree, and also protensively, in regard to their duration). The practical law, derived from the motive of happiness, I call pragmatic (that is, rule of prudence); but the practical law, if there is such a law, which has no other motive but the worthiness to be happy, I call moral (law of morality). The former advises us as to what we have to do if we wish to attain happiness; the latter dictates how we ought to conduct ourselves in order to become worthy of happiness (636, emphasis Kant’s).

When reading this I was reminded of the way in which some of the key members of the Frankfurt School—perhaps all of the members—approach the current problems of self-determination and being a member of society in the world. This also may be in part connected to the Frankfurt School’s concern for genuine happiness. This happiness derived from self-determination seems unable to be achieved in an irrational world. For a society to determine itself under practical and moral laws, it would be necessary that its own conception of reason and its place be better understood.

In his lectures on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, Adorno explains autonomy, Kantian moral and practical law:

What lies behind it [the idea of the critique of pure reason as a tribunal]—and in this respect we cannot really separate Kant’s theoretical philosophy, that is, the critique of reason, from his practical philosophy, the Critique of Pure Reason—is Kant’s remarkable conception which actually supplies the unifying factor that must not be made the subject of mockery, but which must rather be properly understood. It is the idea that the freedom and sovereignty of spirit amounts to what he calls autonomy. This element is represented here by the judge who can freely resolve all these matters; it is the ability to give oneself laws, to restrict oneself and to determine one’s own limits. Autonomy literally means that you give yourself laws—and autonomy is the supreme concept in Kant’s moral philosophy, and by implication also of Kant’s theory of knowledge (54).

Kant in an Elevator in Space

In my attempt to follow Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, I thought of a physics analogy to help make sense of a passage. I suppose this isn’t so off-topic since Kant is talking about metaphysics. On the need of the permanent for relations in time, Kant writes,

All relations of time are therefore possible only in the permanent (simultaneity and succession being the only relations in time); so that the permanent is the substratum of the empirical representation of time itself, and in it alone all determination of time is possible. Permanence expresses time in general as the constant correlate of all existence of appearances, of all change and concomitance. For change does not affect time itself, but only appearances in time […] (208).

The point being that there must be another vantage point outside of time for observation of change to be possible. My analogy comes about because this passage reminds me of a physics example in which someone is placed in a kind of windowless elevator in space, outside of the gravitational pull of planets. The force of gravity on earth is mass multiplied by the acceleration of earth’s gravity (9.8 meters/sec/sec). On a stable platform, this force can be felt pushing back up at us as the normal force. This upward force is equal to the gravitational force we exert upon the platform. In the space elevator, if the elevator were accelerating upward (in relation to the passenger’s sense of upward) at earth’s gravitational acceleration (or any positive gravitational acceleration), then the passenger would be unable to tell if the elevator were standing still on Earth or accelerating in space. If the elevator had windows, however, the passenger could possibly see stars, debris, etc. outside from which she could tell if she were seeing a parallax view of space as the elevator moved.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Diagram of a parallax view. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Kant’s Epicurean Exceptions

In The Critique of Pure Reason, on the topic of causation and freedom, there’s a moment near the end of “The Antinomy of Pure Reason: Third Conflict of the Transcendental Ideas”, where Kant gives exception to the Epicurean school with regard to his argument:

This requirement of reason to appeal, in the series of natural causes, to a first beginning from freedom is fully confirmed if we see that, with the exception of the Epicurean School, all philosophers of antiquity felt obliged, for the sake of explaining all the movements of the world, to assume a prime mover, that is, a freely acting cause which, first and by itself, began this series of states. For they did not attempt to make a first beginning comprehensible by an appeal to mere natural (411).

It’s interesting to find Kant’s thoughts on the lack of freedom posited in Epicureanism. I have been thinking about this problem for a few months now, although through a somewhat convoluted path from contemporary philosophers. Specifically, I was thinking about Alain Badiou’s inheritance of Louis Althusser’s aleatory materialism, which Althusser gets from Epicureanism. Badiou’s Events and Truth Procedures seem to come from Althusser’s Encounters, all of which end up leaving little room for subjectivity. Badiou himself makes a similar point about Althusser in Metapolitics (2005): “there is no theory of the subject in Althussser, nor could there ever be one. For Althusser, all theory proceeds by way of concepts. But ‘subject’ is not a concept. […] ‘Subject’ is not the name of a concept, but that of a notion, that is, the mark of an inexistence. There is no subject, since there are only processes” (59). But for both Badiou and Althusser, these processes develop at layers or moments beyond the manipulation of individuals. In a sense, this is true that individuals cannot immediately grasp all relations of the world. However, Badiou puts such a great distance between individuals and change in the world that the only thing left for militants is to keep an open mind in order to think the possibility of change, so that if an “Event” occurs, they’re not too blind to recognize it.

The passages in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason on causation, the conditioned, and the unconditioned are some of my favorite parts so far. More on that late.