Posted by: Becoming Gaia | Jul 5, 2010

Immanuel Kant on the Science of Morality


The contemplation of the world began from the noblest spectacle that the human senses present to us, and that our understanding can bear to follow in their vast reach; and it ended in astrology.  Morality began with the noblest attribute of human nature, the development and cultivation of which give a prospect of infinite utility; and ended in fanaticism or superstition.   So it is with all crude attempts where the principal part of the business depends on the use of reason, a use which does not come of itself, like the use of the feet, by frequent exercise, especially when attributes are in question which cannot be directly exhibited in common experience. But after the maxim had come into vogue, though late, to examine carefully beforehand all the steps that reason purposes to take, and not to let it proceed otherwise than in the track of a previously well considered method, then the study of the structure of the universe took quite a different direction, and thereby attained an incomparably happier result. The fall of a stone, the motion of a sling, resolved into their elements and the forces that are manifested in them, and treated mathematically, produced at last that clear and henceforward unchangeable insight into the system of the world which, as observation is continued, may hope always to extend itself, but need never fear to be compelled to retreat.

This example may suggest to us to enter on the same path in treating of the moral capacities of our nature, and may give us hope of a like good result. We have at hand the instances of the moral judgement of reason. By analysing these into their elementary conceptions, and in default of mathematics adopting a process similar to that of chemistry, the separation of the empirical from the rational elements that may be found in them, by repeated experiments on common sense, we may exhibit both pure, and learn with certainty what each part can accomplish of itself, so as to prevent on the one hand the errors of a still crude untrained judgement, and on the other hand (what is far more necessary) the extravagances of genius, by which, as by the adepts of the philosopher’s stone, without any methodical study or knowledge of nature, visionary treasures are promised and the true are thrown away. In one word, science (critically undertaken and methodically directed) is the narrow gate that leads to the true doctrine of practical wisdom, if we understand by this not merely what one ought to do, but what ought to serve teachers as a guide to construct well and clearly the road to wisdom which everyone should travel, and to secure others from going astray. Philosophy must always continue to be the guardian of this science; and although the public does not take any interest in its subtle investigations, it must take an interest in the resulting doctrines, which such an examination first puts in a clear light.

— Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Practical Reason, pp 97-98

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