Knowledge Rational Philosophy and Natural Boundaries

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So if we do not assume a first or free cause we cannot completely explain causal series in the world. So for the Third Antinomy, as for all of the Antinomies, the domain of the Thesis is the intellectual, rational, noumenal world. The domain of the Antithesis is the spatiotemporal world. The faculty of reason has two employments.

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For the most part, we have engaged in an analysis of theoretical reason which has determined the limits and requirements of the employment of the faculty of reason to obtain knowledge. Theoretical reason, Kant says, makes it possible to cognize what is.

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But reason has its practical employment in determining what ought to be as well. Reason's practical use is manifest in the regulative function of certain concepts that we must think with regard to the world, even though we can have no knowledge of them. Kant believes that, "Human reason is by its nature architectonic. That is, reason thinks of all cognitions as belonging to a unified and organized system. Reason is our faculty of making inferences and of identifying the grounds behind every truth. It allows us to move from the particular and contingent to the global and universal.

I infer that "Caius is mortal" from the fact that "Caius is a man" and the universal claim, "All men are mortal. In a different kind of example, the biologist's classification of every living thing into a kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species, illustrates reason's ambition to subsume the world into an ordered, unified system. The entire empirical world, Kant argues, must be conceived of by reason as causally necessitated as we saw in the Analogies.

We must connect, "one state with a previous state upon which the state follows according to a rule. Reason generates this hierarchy that combines to provide the mind with a conception of a whole system of nature.

Kant believes that it is part of the function of reason to strive for a complete, determinate understanding of the natural world. But our analysis of theoretical reason has made it clear that we can never have knowledge of the totality of things because we cannot have the requisite sensations of the totality, hence one of the necessary conditions of knowledge is not met.

Reason's structure pushes us to accept certain ideas of reason that allow completion of its striving for unity. We must assume the ideas of God, freedom , and immortality , Kant says, not as objects of knowledge, but as practical necessities for the employment of reason in the realm where we can have knowledge. By denying the possibility of knowledge of these ideas, yet arguing for their role in the system of reason, Kant had to, "annul knowledge in order to make room for faith.

It is rare for a philosopher in any era to make a significant impact on any single topic in philosophy. For a philosopher to impact as many different areas as Kant did is extraordinary. His ethical theory has been as influential as, if not more influential than, his work in epistemology and metaphysics.

Reasoning About Reasons

Most of Kant's work on ethics is presented in two works. The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals is Kant's "search for and establishment of the supreme principle of morality. Kant is the primary proponent in history of what is called deontological ethics.


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Deontology is the study of duty. On Kant's view, the sole feature that gives an action moral worth is not the outcome that is achieved by the action, but the motive that is behind the action. The categorical imperative is Kant's famous statement of this duty: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

For Kant, as we have seen, the drive for total, systematic knowledge in reason can only be fulfilled with assumptions that empirical observation cannot support. The metaphysical facts about the ultimate nature of things in themselves must remain a mystery to us because of the spatiotemporal constraints on sensibility. When we think about the nature of things in themselves or the ultimate ground of the empirical world, Kant has argued that we are still constrained to think through the categories, we cannot think otherwise, but we can have no knowledge because sensation provides our concepts with no content.

So, reason is put at odds with itself because it is constrained by the limits of its transcendental structure, but it seeks to have complete knowledge that would take it beyond those limits. Freedom plays a central role in Kant's ethics because the possibility of moral judgments presupposes it. Freedom is an idea of reason that serves an indispensable practical function. Without the assumption of freedom, reason cannot act. If we think of ourselves as completely causally determined, and not as uncaused causes ourselves, then any attempt to conceive of a rule that prescribes the means by which some end can be achieved is pointless.

I cannot both think of myself as entirely subject to causal law and as being able to act according to the conception of a principle that gives guidance to my will. We cannot help but think of our actions as the result of an uncaused cause if we are to act at all and employ reason to accomplish ends and understand the world. So reason has an unavoidable interest in thinking of itself as free. That is, theoretical reason cannot demonstrate freedom, but practical reason must assume it for the purpose of action.

Having the ability to make judgments and apply reason puts us outside that system of causally necessitated events. It is dissatisfying that he cannot demonstrate freedom; nevertheless, it comes as no surprise that we must think of ourselves as free. In a sense, Kant is agreeing with the common sense view that how I choose to act makes a difference in how I actually act.

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Even if it were possible to give a predictive empirical account of why I act as I do, say on the grounds of a functionalist psychological theory, those considerations would mean nothing to me in my deliberations. When I make a decision about what to do, about which car to buy, for instance, the mechanism at work in my nervous system makes no difference to me. I still have to peruse Consumer Reports , consider my options, reflect on my needs, and decide on the basis of the application of general principles.

My first person perspective is unavoidable, hence the deliberative, intellectual process of choice is unavoidable. The question of moral action is not an issue for two classes of beings, according to Kant. The animal consciousness, the purely sensuous being, is entirely subject to causal determination.

It is part of the causal chains of the empirical world, but not an originator of causes the way humans are. Hence, rightness or wrongness, as concepts that apply to situations one has control over, do not apply. We do not morally fault the lion for killing the gazelle, or even for killing its own young.

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The actions of a purely rational being, by contrast, are in perfect accord with moral principles, Kant says. There is nothing in such a being's nature to make it falter. Its will always conforms with the dictates of reason. Humans are between the two worlds. We are both sensible and intellectual, as was pointed out in the discussion of the first Critique. We are neither wholly determined to act by natural impulse, nor are we free of non-rational impulse. Hence we need rules of conduct. We need, and reason is compelled to provide, a principle that declares how we ought to act when it is in our power to choose.


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Since we find ourselves in the situation of possessing reason, being able to act according to our own conception of rules, there is a special burden on us. Other creatures are acted upon by the world. But having the ability to choose the principle to guide our actions makes us actors. We must exercise our will and our reason to act. Will is the capacity to act according to the principles provided by reason.

Definition of Philosophy.

Reason assumes freedom and conceives of principles of action in order to function. Two problems face us however. First, we are not wholly rational beings, so we are liable to succumb to our non-rational impulses. Second, even when we exercise our reason fully, we often cannot know which action is the best. The fact that we can choose between alternate courses of actions we are not determined to act by instinct or reason introduces the possibility that there can be better or worse ways of achieving our ends and better or worse ends, depending upon the criteria we adopt.

The presence of two different kinds of object in the world adds another dimension, a moral dimension, to our deliberations.