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By T.S.Tsonchev


The Montréal Review, May 2015


“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40


In the next pages, there will be a discussion on Kant's idea of man's autonomy. Thus, it seems logical to ask, at the very beginning of this essay, "What is the autonomy of the reader against the influence of the author and his interpreters?" For a quick answer, Francis Bacon comes in help. In his essay Of Studies, Bacon says, "Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider."(1) I find this advice right. My reading and commentary of Kant's popular "Groundwork" and his ideas on the nature of man will not aim to contradict and confute, nor I will take the authority of Kant's philosophy for granted, or find in it only a talk and discourse; my goal will be to weigh and consider.

I will weigh and consider alone, without the help of Kant's expounders and critics. In the same essay, Of Studies, Bacon, a well-known challenger of authorities, said another important thing concerning reading, "Some books may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy (insipid) things."(2) I couldn't agree more with this opinion. If I read Kant, I first have to "taste" him "un-distilled." No doubt, the expertise of others is indispensible, but it must come second; to preserve his autonomy of independent thinking, the reader must face the great books alone, without the help of others. And only after having the individual experience of reading, he can open for all possible viewpoints and interpretations. So, this reading of Kant will be a personal exploration, an initial and autonomous step into the subject of Kantian ethics.

The essay will consist of three parts. In the first part, I will consider the Kantian ethics as it came to us through his early lectures and will discuss the first chapter of Kant's late work Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason that deals with the human nature and sin. The early lectures will introduce the reader to some basic concepts of Kantian ethics, while the discussion on human nature will facilitate the transition from more general concepts to the concrete topic of human dignity and action in Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (which will comprise the second part of the essay). Perhaps, the reader will notice a certain evolution in Kant's thinking, especially in the development of his early concepts on ethics and his late writings, but this evolution, in my opinion, does not change the fundament of his general understanding of morality. This fundament was laid out while Kant was still a young lecturer at Albertina University in Konigsberg and did not change over the time, but rather developed and "distilled" in concise formulas, or imperatives (commands). The third, final part, of the essay will show clearly that this reading of Kant is a theological reading. It is made by a person who doesn't aim to divorce Kant's philosophy from its religious roots and cultural milieu. In this concluding part, I will try to show that ethics or morality is based exclusively on the idea of human dignity, or human worth, and that human dignity, or the appraisal of human worth, is possible only as an effect of relations between autonomous equals. This last sentence can be taken as a thesis statement.




In his early lectures on ethics, Kant already maps the basic principles that will shape his mature moral philosophy. His early idea of "good" as "free action" expressed as intention, i.e. moral good, and consequences, i.e. physical good, is the matrix on which the Kantian ethics will rest in future. Here, we will explain how this matrix was initially composed and what were its dimensions; this will help us later to understand better the categorical imperative and its relation to human dignity. 

At the very beginning of his lectures, Kant says that self-interest is a force of repulsion, "disinterest" is a force of attraction.(3) What does this mean? As we will see later, self-interest stays at the bottom of wrong action. To think about self-interest as a source of evil is a conventional idea, almost banality,(4) yet in the Kantian moral system, self-interest has a double effect, it is not exclusively bad, and must not be discarded automatically from the good action. This will be clarified in the next pages, now we need only to remember, that self-interest is, by definition, a force of "repulsion." Why this is so becomes clearer when we explain what "disinterest" means as a force of attraction. Self-interest for Kant is a quality of human being, it is particular and related to animality of man, "disinterest" is a quality of divine. The divine, according to Kant, is the totality that unifies everything, and as a unifier, the divine is necessarily universal, it has nothing to win or lose, it is passionless, pure, self-sufficient goodness, in which all dialectical relations are nullified.

So, we already have a concept. According to Kant, there are two realms (if I may use this word)(5): the realm of particular and the realm of universal. These two realms exist in one another, as the universal consists in itself the particular. They exist in harmony, but this can be understood only metaphysically (and partially), not through example. As there are two realms, there are also two types of morality: inner morality that is in our own "heart" and outer, universal morality that is God's law. The inner morality is a reflection of our particularity as autonomous agents and it comes, as we will see later, from the "gift" of freedom of choice. The inner morality is related to self-interest, and the self-interest is beneficial as far as the inner morality is sanctioned by or reflecting the universal morality. To be beneficial, the inner morality, or the expression of intention for good, must conform to God's arbitrium (or the outer morality). The inner morality cannot exist without the obligation to conform to the universal. But Kant notes, the universal morality, that is goodness by itself, cannot be related to man, if he abandons his intrinsic inner feeling (possible through the gift of freedom) of what is right or good, and delegates all choices to God's  arbitrium without any internal, personal sanction. Man cannot comprehend God's law without the help of inner morality or judgement. In other words, the delegation of all personal choices to God's law, as found in the Scriptures or religious dogmas, without any sanction from personal consciousness, from personal feeling and reason, leads to religiosity (or "morality") that has nothing to do with the good or God's arbitrium. So, according to Kant, to be good or moral, man's intention (and action) must be sanctioned by both the inner moral judgement and God's law. If we ask which of these two is superior, we can say that the universal morality is the leading one, but it cannot be realized in man's personal life without the sanction of his inner morality. Therefore, for us, as individuals (or autonomous beings), the question of superiority does not really matter since what is first is nullified by the need of both to be realized in us. In Kant's words, "to disregard the one [inner morality] is wicked; to disregard the other [God's law], godless; the former are moral errors, the latter, sins [...] the one wishes to have people morally good, the other wants their goodness to be complete. In education, we have first to awaken the moral feeling, and then must apply it to God's arbitrium; without that, religion is prejudice and hypocrisy. The one who has a notion of the external obligation without the inner [...] is not moral at all, but mere politically crafty."(6)

We began with the initial definition that good is free action consisting of morally good intentions and physically good consequences. This was the beginning of Kant's lectures. If we apply the logic expressed in the previous paragraphs, we will notice that the intentions correspond to the realm of particular, of personal (and private), while the consequences belong to the realm of universal (or public). The intentions are what we have in us and we are responsible for their quality and character. The consequences are beyond our power, they belong to the divine or to God's universal order. The consequences, Kant says, are part of the "forum externum"; they belong to the realm of natural law and they show us the seriousness of external obligations. Religion, for example, is also part of forum externum. The intentions, on the other hand, are part of forum internum.(7) "The principles of all that pertains to the forum externum are presented in natural law," says Kant.(8) We, as individuals, are not responsible for the existence and the reality of natural law, it is beyond us, but we are obliged to conform to it and, thus, to sustain it. "The principles of all that pertains to the forum internum are presented in ethics," he adds. The forum internum is what we control and what keeps us responsible. Again, although the forum externum is superior to all particular will, for us personally, as autonomous individuals, the forum internum, is of higher importance. Yes, we have said that both inner and outer morality must conform to each other, that the inner morality is complete only with its conformity to God's arbitrium, and on personal level there is no "superior morality," because both are needed, yet, when we speak about intentions and consequences, we discover a gradation. Kant says that in "good" action what is of "greatest importance" for us is the intention. We are responsible for the intention, not for the consequences. The intention falls in the realms of particular, we do not have the ability to control the consequences, nor we can say what will be the immediate effect from our actions. But we can say with a relative certainty what was our motivation and goal. We may not predict the exact effect of our action, the consequences may present it as foolish, even immoral, but we can say, if we are sincere enough, what were our intentions. We will see later that for Kant, what is good is what finishes well, that we can judge the effects of an act or the quality of a life not by its immediate expressions or still developing history, but by its end.(9) So, to understand Kant better in the next pages when we discuss his concept of duty, we must note and remember that in his early lectures he already had a clear idea that the intention is superior to the consequences and that for us as autonomous individuals, the intentions behind our actions are something of "greatest importance."

Ethics or the so-called forum internum (our internal jurisdiction) is not an absolute entity consisting itself of only one category. In fact, ethics or the inner morality is a dynamic whole. Wherever there is a dynamics, there are parts and these parts, although not necessarily contradicting, might be different to each other, complementary, or causing diverse effects and having different quality. Ethics, according to Kant, consists of "beautiful morality" and "sublime" or "serious" morality. The former is the necessary first stage for the achievement of the latter. In the same way as the inner morality cannot be complete without the outer morality, the beautiful morality stays always incomplete, if not developed into sublime morality. What does this mean? It can mean three important things. First, it means that moral feeling and behavior is "dynamic," i.e. something open for development. Second, it consists of "stages," as the first stage is "the beautiful" (Kant also calls it "weak") morality. Thirdly, that the "sublime" morality, which is the last stage of the development of inner morality, is impossible to be achieved without the "weak" morality. The beautiful morality is the one that "impels men merely to kindness, sobriety, and moderation." "[I]t is too feeble," says Kant.(10) The sublime morality impels men to "self-sacrifice," "greater goods," and thus it is "serious."(11) "The tender-hearted ethics makes for a beautiful morality; the strict and serious ethic for a sublime one [...] All moral actions are thus, in their highest stages, religious acts; but this is not the first stage from which we begin."(12)

We see in the last quote how Kant returns to his initial formula that inner morality is complete only when conforming to the universal morality, and how the particular is fully realized through the universal. The new proposition here is that the inner morality, according to Kant, is dynamic and progressive (or optimistic). This new proposition is important for the understanding of Kantian ethics as an optimistic philosophy, a typical philosophy of Enlightenment that embraces and believes in the moral progress of humanity. The sublime morality is the achievement of Christian ethics that is possible only through the "school" of philosophical or pragmatic ethics. Kant stays consistent with his initial formulas, repeating that moral nobility (or Christian ethics of sacrifice) cannot be reached without the experience, development, and sanction of the inner morality of the self-interested, autonomous individual.

He writes, "[I]f I follow God's will, because he has coupled my best interests with those of others, then this is a borrowed God, and it is merely the practical attitude of self-interested agent. The highest degree of connection with God as a means is when we utilize the divine will as a means to the betterment of our own morality."(13) Thus, not the pragmatic self-interest, not the awareness of mind that "legislates" that to act well is in interest of all for the achievement of both personal and collective goals, but the awareness of mind and feeling that we don't have any other rationale or intention except the goal to become better human beings—not wealthier, not honored, not knowledgeable, not influential, not successful, but moral. We see the nuance here—the "common sense" of rational pragmatism is insufficient for the achievement of sublime morality. The application of religion and moral norms in society are proved beneficial and good, but not because they facilitate the achievement of the particular goals of individuals or societies, but because they are good in itself. Self-improvement is what should move us as individuals and society, thus the following of the external obligations that come from God's arbitrium, religion and religious dogmas, should not be a mere result of pragmatic thinking, but of desire for moral perfection that comes with the readiness to sacrifice and struggle, even if it seems foolish. "The man who acts from motives of welfare," says Kant, "is thereby subtly self-interested, and is not acting from religion (i.e. not complying with the forum externum)." Yet, (and this is important!) "even the self-interest prepares us for religion, though not constituting it."(14)

So, what is important here for us is not to "couple our best interests with those of others," which is a simple common sense, but to "couple the idea of God with our morality," which is a true religion. Kant advices his students to "try" and "make the idea of God dominant in the depths of the soul," which is an early hint for his later understanding of the sources of corruption in human heart that we will discuss in the next pages. He tells them, "[t]his is difficult, but if it always predominates in clear ideas, then it also pass over into obscure ones."(15) In the language of Scripture, Kant advices exactly what Jesus said to His disciple, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:36)

Kant continues, explaining what it means to love God and whether such love is possible at all. To love God is difficult, he says, especially in our state of weakness—resulting from our sensual nature— but still possible, if we believe that we are "loved" by Him. "For example," Kant says, "consider specially that God loves you [...] and that men may be moved at receiving your love." We know from experience that our love receives the reciprocity of others, that our good feeling towards others is rewarded with their good feeling towards us, if we show sympathy, we most likely will receive sympathy, if we believe that we are loved, we will love in return. "[T]he storms of my passions, Kant says, can best be confronted by the thought that I am placed in the world, and placed there by supreme goodness, not [simply] for my own benefit... [and] all God's acts (1) cannot be self-interested (i.e. they are passionless and good by itself), and (2) are aimed at happiness, and thus are real benefactors..."(16) Which means that the "tender" love, the "amorous" love, is not God's love. And our love to Him is not such as well. "In love towards God, the amorous, and even tender elements must disappear."(17) And we have this understanding exemplified in Jesus' words "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39), or in Socrates' words quoted by Kant, "Thus Socrates told the praying Alcibiades: Cast your eyes down, and say, Give me, O God, what is best, whether I ask for it or not."(18)  

We are prevented to feel God's love because (1) we are inclined to attribute our ills to Him, we are grumblers, and (2) because we think that it is easy for Him to love us, since He is powerful. Our life and experience coupled with our logic suggest that sacrificing love is impossible for man, possible for God, yet not proved because of the sufferings of human race. Therefore, says Kant, "Only revealed religion discloses to us a love, on God's part, that cost Him an effort, and so, properly understood, can arouse love in return."(19) The revealed religion is, of course, the crucifixion of Christ, this image (and ideal) of highest morality, but again, an ideal left on our own choice and judgement through the gift of freedom. In addition, Kant says that one cannot judge the divine by individual events and outcomes, but only at the end of all things. In any case, "[u]niversal obedience seems to be impossible for us, so long as the knowledge of God is not the dominant idea in us."(20)

To move towards love we must continue from prudence to wisdom, from pragmatism to praxis. The difference between prudence and wisdom, says Kant, is that the first is concerned with discovering the best means for the achievement of a particular goal, whether it be bad or good, while wisdom is the praxis that aims always at the good. Wisdom cares not so much about the means but about the ends. Its expression is hindered by passions "that run counter to wisdom, since they choose silly ends," and assisted by humility that helps us with the "correct estimation of self" and "keep us in bounds." But humility must be not hypocritical, nor "self-abasing."

Wisdom (and the possibility to love) is also degraded by passions such as pride and search for honour. Pride, says Kant, is morally defective because it is a "joy from the imperfections of others." It rests on people's opinion, i.e. it is feeble, and "vain." From pride comes the pursuit of honour that is not wisdom. "[T]he pursuit of honour is more harmful to morality than any other passion; [...] but this one is a phantom of the brain." And he adds, "of all people, [...] the scholar is most covetous of honour, and thinks of nothing else."(21) To subdue pride, Kant says, we must learn "how to recognize our limitations, not merely in logic, but in morals as well." If pride, "the lust for honour" becomes a "prevailing principle, it already sets no bounds to the lie [...] The lust for honour makes lying easier."(22)

Here, we have reached the subject of truthfulness. Reading Kant's ethics, we often find that his favourite example for explaining immorality is untruthfulness. We will see, when discussing the categorical imperative, that Kant chooses the act of saying untruth as an example that shows how we break with the universal laws. The choice of this example is not accidental. In his early lectures on ethics, he says that to be "truthful" is the "first law of nature."(23) In nature, there are no idols and fantasies. No man can escape from the justice of truth that is in him and beyond him. To speak truth, Kant says, to the disadvantage of oneself is sublime, and to speak untruth for your own advantage is always immoral. "True love is rectitude," he says.(24) It is against pride, because the true love, "the love we have by nature, the fundamental love" that we are born with and capable of through the gift of freedom, "is founded upon a living feeling of equality."

I ask the reader to remember these four words—"truth," "freedom," "feeling," and "equality." These four words are keys for understanding the Kantian moral philosophy. These are not "fancy" words from the dictionary of speculative philosophy. Everyone understands them. Everyone can contemplate on them. They lead us to religion, and religion leads us to them. There is no escape from "truth," we should not bow to idols and fantasies; we always have freedom of choice, despite the consequences; we all have intrinsic moral feeling that supersedes all rational speculations;(25) we, as humans, are all equal, because we all have the same origin and destiny.

In these early lectures, Kant explains how rectitude is related to equality. "Equality means that the natural man is equal to all others, and they to him," and since moral sympathy is in everyone, we are able to place ourselves in the place of others, and from this follows "the living rectitude."(26) "[R]ectitude is based on the exalted feeling of equality."(27) But Kant notes, in accordance to his concept of the endless development from beautiful to sublime, that nature framed us to help others, and to love them, but not to the level of complete self-sacrifice. We have limits. As we have said in relation to pride, even trying to fulfil our obligation to God's arbitrium, we must always remember that our reason has limits and our ability to love and sacrifice is not limitless, although open for endless development. As individuals and living beings, we are entitled with self-interest that is a real repulsive force, a force that is a source of evil, but also of good (through its necessity as a stage for the achievement of sublime). We have to recognize our limits for goodness, Kant says. It is self-deceiving to believe that we can go beyond our proper nature; such belief is not audacious, it is ether pride or falsity. We must be practical and truthful, because "loving all, we love none"—our ambition and claim for righteousness would be simply a covered hypocrisy. "There is no one who is righteous, not even one," is written in Scripture (Romans 3:10). "[I] shall be honorable, without wishing to be a great saint," Kant says.(28)

Practical means behaving, theoretical means knowing.(29) It is easier to know, it is difficult to perform,—this is the trap, in which every preacher can fall. Theoretical is the realm of reason, it is logic and knowledge; it is what is intellectually right, but not yet fulfilled in action. Practical is about willing, it is the praxis, or the fulfilment of good. Good is always concrete, Lonergan famously said.(30) It is more than logic, knowledge, or definition; it is actual fulfilment, i.e. praxis.(31)

Logic and willing are "two powers from which everything in our minds arises."(32) Moral philosophy is a practical philosophy, because it "seeks to bring good behaviour under rules." The practical rules are three kinds, Kant says—of skill, of prudence, and of morality. The practical philosophy, that is moral philosophy of praxis, contains only the rules of prudence and morality. As it has been said above, the prudence is concerned to "determine adequately both the end and the means." The first task of prudence, Kant notes, is to answer what is happiness, and then to find the means to achieve it. This is the subjective condition of practical philosophy. The objective condition is the moral imperative. The moral imperative is not concerned with happiness. It is concerned, as we have said, with the question of how to "couple the idea of God with our morality." This is not a question of pragmatism and logic, but of praxis and will. "Moral goodness is thus the governance of our choice by rules, whereby all acts of my choice concur with the universal validity (truth)."(33) Morality, therefore, does not aim to achieve happiness, but to relate us with the universal, to make our morality (and logic) complete. The praxis of morality is therefore not "pleasing" or "enjoyable." Moral philosophy is not a teaching promising "happiness," but rather hardship. It differs from the teachings of the Cynics, the Epicureans, and the Stoics, who are all concerned with happiness. Kant's ethic is much closer to the Christian ethics of self-sacrifice than to Greek philosophy.

Moral philosophy, therefore, is simply a philosophy of duty. But duty that is based on free choice and that aims at only one thing—goodness itself. The moral man does not act "morally" because something is forbidden, he does not act under compulsion, or because of selfish motives such as the search for happiness. He acts with respect to the moral quality of the act itself. "I must not lie," Kant says, "not because God has forbidden it, but because it is bad in itself. All morality [...] rests on the fact that the action is performed because of the inner nature of the act itself."(34) The Kantian ethics echoes Paul's words, "All things are lawful (permitted), but not all things are profitable (prudence). All things are lawful (not forbidden), but not all things edify (sublime). Let no one seek his own good (prudence and happiness), but that of his neighbour (morality and duty, also common good)." (1 Cor. 10:23-24) Or, if we turn again to Kant, "If I do a thing because it is ordained or brings advantage, and omit a thing because it is forbidden or brings harm, that is not a moral disposition. But if I do it because it is absolutely good in itself, that is a moral disposition."(35)

Kant explains that ethics tells us "to act from a good disposition." He says, "The observance of divine laws is the sole case where jus (natural law; forum externum) and ethics (conscience; forum internum) coincide, and both, in regard to God, are compulsory laws, for God can compel us to ethical and juridical actions; but He requires the actions, not out of compulsion, but from duty... [and] from good will."(36) This last quote was already explained in a footnote above with the example of the duties of the sovereign and the subject. Now, we re-affirm that the man has obligations to the divine law, but these obligations are based on free will, not on compulsion. Moreover, freedom of choice, the autonomy of decision, shows us that "God desires, not the action, but the heart. Heart is the principium of moral disposition. So God desires moral goodness, and this is worthy of reward [...] This is what the teacher of the Gospel says: that we should do everything from the love of God. But to love God is to do His commands gladly."(37)

To do God's commands we must first accept them as obligatory and then to execute them. We accept the divine law through understanding.(38) Understanding is what shapes our moral judgement. We understand Scripture's wisdom, but to execute it, we need more than this. Kant says that for the execution of the law, we need "moral impulse" or "will," and this will lies not in reason, but in human heart. Understanding is the "norm," it is the grasp of the divine law; the moral impulse, or the will, is the "motive," it is the autonomous feeling, deep in our heart, that confirms beyond reason what is right.(39) "Where the motive is lacking, we have practical fault, and where judgement is lacking, a theoretical fault," says Kant.(40)

Speaking about human heart, we inevitably face the question of our sinfulness. What fills the heart of man? Is the heart a source of sin? Are we naturally good or bad? In the first chapter of his "Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason," Kant answers, "[T]he human being can neither be good nor evil."(41) This "middle ground," almost ambiguity, concerning the goodness and badness of man, is possible because, as Kant says, we have freedom of choice to act according to good or bad maxims; we are not "good" or "bad" by birth (or origin), but through our choice in the realms of "experience." This means that we are becoming good or bad in every concrete situation. In every choice we make in our interactions with the world, we have the possibility to take one of the two roads. This always-present openness to both directions serves not only as entrance for committing a crime, but also as exit for performing forgiveness and re-conciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation rest on the belief that man is capable to improve, despite his history of violence and faults. Without forgiveness, we must admit, there will be no new beginnings, but only ever-growing ends that eventually would lead this world to complete destruction. The idea of freedom and autonomy from inherited sin reflects the Kantian optimistic view of perfectibility of man.

Man, according to Kant, exists under three basic conditions: animality, humanity, and personality. These three conditions are rather good, than bad. They become bad, only when they are corrupted. For example, animality is the condition of the living being, it is the mechanical self-love—we can call it also the instinct—that is responsible for the "self-preservation," "propagation" (sexuality), and "community" (sociality). There is nothing wrong in the responsibilities of the animality. But corrupted, this mechanical self-love, in which there is no reason involved, leads to gluttony, lust, and lawlessness. Humanity, on the other hand, is the condition of the rational being. It is the expression of our rationality, of our ability to think. It is not bad, too. Through reason we create all social and material technologies, we organise, invent, and create. It is also a self-loving reason, which is not bad in itself. Humanity becomes corrupted when reason starts to judge the worth of oneself and of others, when it starts to compare the incomparable. We all have equal worth, by the fact of our uniqueness and common origin and destiny, comparison that involves evaluation of worth is senseless, what reason needs to do is to learn how to respect the equality in worth. Following Rousseau,(42) Kant sees in the corrupted humanity the "vices of culture." In society, we become inclined to "gain worth in the opinion of others"; we ask for respect, for recognition of "equal worth" and if not checked, this natural impulse, this desire for recognition, can grow into "a drive for superiority," based on jealousy, rivalry, and pride. The third condition is the human predisposition to personality—this is our ability and entitlement to have a free choice. Personality is our actualization in the realms of experience, it is the expression of the choices we make. It can be good or bad. It is good, as we have already said, when it does not contradict the universal laws, does not destroy the common good, and reflects the truth. Thus, we conclude that all these predispositions are neither hierarchically ordered by some criteria of importance, nor bad in nature, but only good, because they affirm our existence. If corrupted, they all make us inclined to act in a bad way. The difference between them is as follows—the animality doesn't have reason at its root at all, the humanity is rooted in reason, which is practical, but forced from outside, and the personality is rooted in the "legislating unconditionally reason."(43)

Then, what is the source of corruption? If we all have the necessary ingredients to be good, why are we not yet? Kant answers that there is propensity to evil in human nature and it comes from weakness (or frailty) of the human heart to follow the good maxims, also from impurity, or mixing of good maxims and moral incentives with bad ones, and finally, from depravity (or corruption) of man's character that comes from his tendency to adopt and follow bad maxims. The enumeration of these three propensities—weakness, impurity, and depravity—doesn't explain the existence of evil. It only names the obvious. We need to go deeper to find out why these propensities exist, and how they become dominant.

"The human being," Kant writes, "(even the worst) does not repudiate the moral law [...] The law rather imposes itself on him irresistibly [...] and if no other incentives are at work against it [...] he would be morally good."(44) This can be understood in one only way—that above man there is an irrefutable moral law, that is known by him, but other incentives are at work against his will to comply with it. Being neither good nor bad, man is always exposed to these "incentives." He would be morally good without them, but he is never completely free of them. This is simply the reality of physical existence, the reality of our "sensual nature." A constant battle between our sensual nature and our intrinsic moral feeling is at work. These two, the sensual nature and the moral feeling, are both in us, and the question is which one of them would lead our choices. If we incorporate "the moral law" in our maxims and in our self-love, then the moral law would become the "supreme condition." This would not make us perfect, our sensuous nature cannot be destroyed, but it would make us willing to be perfect, and thus acting morally as far as possible. We admit the existence of what is superior and we act in compliance with it. If we make self-love a supreme condition, we try to reverse the order of things, we go against the natural law that is the stamp of the eternal law on the creation, and thus we become corrupted. The key here is the fact that we have freedom to reverse the moral order in our personal condition. We don't reverse the moral order of creation, we reverse only the order in our condition, and doing so, we do nothing but harm, first and foremost, to ourselves. If I use the language of religion, if we forget God, if we don't follow the command “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind," i.e. if you don't make the moral law a supreme condition in your heart, you are on the path of reversal of natural order. Once on this path, led by self-love, the evil becomes "radical" in us, "because it corrupts the ground of all maxims."(45)

But is frailty the only source of evil? Is our sensuous nature the only culpable for the corruption of heart? If the evil is in us, can we at all be forgiven for our mistakes? Neither the Scriptures, nor Kant argues that we are "guilty of sin" because we were so constructed. The source of evil is not in us, and Kant follows the Scriptures, while departing from the religious dogma. We are not born sinful. We are born equally capable for good. We do not inherit the sin of Adam and Eve. We are not responsible for the sins of our fathers. We rather repeat them. In this very moment, if we are asked, tempted, to take a decision, we stretch our hands to the tree of knowledge, or follow God's command. We see, if we do so, if we don't respect the universal law, we will learn to, through knowledge, through tasting it—it would be pleasant at first, but it would have consequences. Through the consequences, we discover the seriousness of law. We have this opportunity to taste the knowledge, because we were born free as our parents were. Thus, we don't respect the law, not because we are bad, but because, Kant says, we are free and tempted. The evil, writes Kant, "is not within the human being, but in a spirit of an originally more sublime destiny."(46) It is in Lucifer, the Serpent. It is moral evil, not sensual. "Evil can have originated only from moral evil (not simply from the limitations of our sensuality); yet the original predisposition [...] is a predisposition to the good."(47) And Kant continues, "The absolutely first beginning of all evil is thereby represented as incomprehensible to us [...] the human being is represented [in Scripture] as having lapsed into it [evil] only through temptation, hence not as corrupted fundamentally [...] but on the contrary, as still capable of improvement, by contrast to a tempting spirit." If it is said, "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good," (Genesis 1:28), then "[i]t is said, The human being is created good, this can only mean nothing more than: He has been created for the good and the original predisposition in him is good; the human being is not thereby good as such, but he brings it about that he becomes either good or evil, according as he either incorporates or does not incorporate into his maxims the incentives contained in that predisposition and this must be left entirely to his free choice."(48)




Kant's Groundwork starts with a word on sciences. The philosophy of ancient Greece was divided in three sciences: physics, ethics, and logic. Physics is the "doctrine of nature," ethics is the "doctrine of morals," logic is different from both not having any empirical part, being purely formal philosophy. Physics and ethics are both parts of material philosophy, because they observe and solve empirical problems. The difference between physics and ethics is that the first aims to discover the deterministic laws of nature, while the second is concerned with the laws of freedom. Simply said, natural philosophy (or physics) deals with what happens, while moral philosophy (or ethics) proposes what ought to happen. Both of them, as we said, have empirical and logical parts. Physics, which is a material science, has its "metaphysics of nature" or rational part (logic), which is always helpful in describing the empirical with rational formulas and hypotheses, while ethics has its "metaphysics of morals," which is logic that confirms the empirical necessity of the "ought."

Kant clarifies that ethics normally consists of two fields—practical anthropology, which is empirical, and morals, which is logic or rational inquiry, and asks the question whether it is possible to make "a pure moral philosophy which is fully cleansed of everything that might be in any way empirical and belong to anthropology."(49) This is a valid question since ethics is concerned with the "ought", which means that in ethics the metaphysical "ought" must necessarily excel the physical "is." Kant answers that it is not only possible to make pure moral philosophy, it is necessary, since "all moral philosophy rests entirely on its pure part, and when applied to the human being it borrows not the least bit from knowledge about him, but gives him as a rational being laws a priori." If moral philosophy rests on empirical, if it draws its conclusions from the observable human nature, it wouldn't stay for long moral, but would inevitably become natural and deterministic. Its moral laws would cease to be independent truths presented at the forum of free will; they would become deterministic prescriptions serving lesser ends. Moral laws or moral principles, being truths in themselves, cannot have other goals or ends, except their realisation in the being of man.

So, the goal of Kant's Groundwork is not to observe and explain human nature as it is, but to search and establish "the supreme principle of morality."(50) It is clear that such a principle goes beyond empirical or anthropological, yet it never departs it, since it embraces in itself what is actual and observable. Once discovered and established, this principle could be applied to the entire system of moral philosophy, becoming a universal principle, a unity of matter and spirit.

The search for the supreme principle of morality can start in different ways. Kant begins with a direct proclamation about good that reminds us of the beginning of his early lectures on ethics,(51) "There is nothing it is possible to think of anywhere in the world, or indeed anything at all outside it, that can be held to be good without limitation, excepting only a good will."(52) The good will exceeds understanding, courage, resoluteness, all things we call "good." The simple reason for this is that the "talents of mind" and the "qualities of temperament" can always be used for wrong ends, thus corrupted, while the intention, the will, the motive, as a source of all action, cannot be bad if it is simply good. Good will as a source of action is necessary part of every other thing that claims "goodness." Power, honour, wealth, even health and happiness, can be described as "good" only if they are a result or a subject of good will. Good will presupposes every other "good." All good qualities, such as "moderation in affects and passions," "self-control and sober reflection" cannot be declared "good without limitation," because without the principle of good will, they are exposed to the risk of becoming "extremely evil."(53) Only good will is without limitations, not because it achieves good results, but because it consists of nothing except good. Good is either a beginning of something or a transcendent possibility (potentia), it is never a consequence or effect of something else. If this world is created by a "supreme goodness," as we have said when we discussed the ability to love God, then this "supreme goodness" is the very beginning of everything. Moreover, we are used to saying that this or that thing has produced good effects, but saying this, we are only partially right. In Kant's ethics, the absolute good is beyond empirical; it exists only as an idea with the validity of universal law or as volition. As we have seen in the precedent pages, man becomes good, but in Kantian optimistic philosophy, the end, i.e. achievement, the fulfilment of good, is always limited in us (because of our sensual nature), yet always expanding from beautiful to sublime. Good as an idea or concept is a reflection of truth, as a being, it is eternal law, as an application, it is volition or will. Yes, for us it must be always concrete (as we have said, quoting Lonergan), but in its empirical concreteness, it is always limited. Its effects, its accomplishments, its efficacy, do not change the fact of its intrinsic and absolute positive quality. "Even if [...] this will were entirely lacking in the resources to carry out its aim, if with its greatest effort nothing of it were accomplished, and only the good will were left over (to be sure, not a mere wish, but as the summoning up of all the means insofar as they are in our control): then it would shine like a jewel for itself, as something that has its full worth in itself. Utility or fruitfulness can neither add to nor subtract anything from its worth."(54)

If the good is the eternal law, if it exists for us as potentia ready for fulfilment, if its expression or application is the volition, then how do we reach it, what connects us to it? We have said, man is neither good, nor evil, he was created "for good," then, if the good resides somewhere beyond him, how can he appropriate it and make it part of him? Through reason, says Kant. The very fact that good is not and cannot be related to utility, at least not in a direct way, suggests that reason is involved in its discovery. Good has worth that can be understood only through reason.

Kantian ethics, as we already noted, is not an ethics of happiness, but of sacrifice. And not sacrifice as suffering, but as choice and gladness. It is ethics of enjoyment of doing what is right. If it were ethics of happiness like the ethics of Greek philosophy or British utilitarianism, then reason would play a pitiful role in it, because reason, says Kant, brings more hardship down on people's shoulders than happiness. The cultivated reason do not find pleasure of true enjoyment in life and happiness, on the contrary, "those most practiced in the cultivated use of reason, have a certain degree of misology."(55) Instinct, the animality of man, can achieve the end of happiness or preservation "far more safely" than reason. The function of reason, its "true vocation, must therefore be not to produce volition as a means to some other aim, but rather to produce a will good in itself."(56) Reason is a confirmation, a rational confirmation, of moral feeling. If we are left to do good only from natural inclination, we slip to the level of instinct—we are not free, but predetermined to be good. But if our moral feeling is made into a will through the understanding and dictate of reason then, and only then, we become truly moral; then we pass from the beautiful practicality of humanity to the sublime praxis of a personality devoted to an impossibly achievable ideal, impossible and yet necessary—a praxis shining like a jewel for itself. Only then, our internal judgement, our forum internum, coalesces with the universal moral law, with God's arbitrium.

The act of good will is an act of duty aiming at nothing but the realization of good itself. We are tired, burdened with grieves, we are made emotionally dull from our sufferings, our moral feeling is exhausted by the challenges of life, our heart empty, feeble, incapable of sympathy, lacking energy, and yet reason, reason is this power that supports the weakened feeling of right, and produces a will that leads us to perform universally beneficial actions. "Just here begins the worth of character, which is moral and the highest without any comparison, namely that he is beneficent not from inclination, but from duty."(57) Only reason is beyond determinism, recognizing, the "breath" of moral feeling, the worth of good, and makes us capable to act (not just to feel) as free, autonomous persons. Here we witness a merger of a "holy" trinity—the eternal law as supreme goodness, the moral feeling as a stamp of truth in the heart of mortal man, and reason as a spirit of understanding and will. This reason commands, "I ought never to conduct myself except so that I could also will that my maxim become a universal law."(58) Which means that I ought to do what is right for me and for everyone. This is an example of rectitude and of living sense of equality, an effort of practicing love, because true love, as we have said, is not "amorous," nor sensual, but requiring sacrifice of desires and natural impulses.

I should not lie, says Kant, not because of prudence, but because of duty and respect to truth. I should not lie because I don't want the lie to be a universal law. My reason declares that the lie, any kind of idolatry, is a phantom of mind, not a reality, but a contradiction. It is the fruit of temptation that reason commands not to taste. We learn whether our will is morally good when we turn our eyes from the objects of our desires to the forum of personal judgement and ask, "Should our maxim become a universal law?" Note here, we don't ask what is the universal law, but we ask should our will become a universal law. Thus, we become legislators. We ask for universal validity of our will and action. We proclaim, "If I treat you in this and that way, you, too, have the right to treat me in the same way!" Only when we make our maxim universal for everyone, when we don't exempt us from it, or rather accept the other in the realms of us, we can be confident about the quality of our will. "You shall love your neighbour as yourself!" I and Thou.(59) And Kant says, "[I]t needs no science and philosophy to know what one has to do in order to be honest and good, or indeed, even wise and virtuous."(60) The admission of the other as worthy as yourself, as equal under the law of your own maxim, is enough for a "standard of judgement."

Since our reason, becomes a legislator, it doesn't need example or a precedent beyond its own imperative. As we say "example" or a "precedent" this means something that we can witness and that can impose on us, coercively or in any other way, a legislation that comes from without. Faith doesn't need example. It is a legislature of spirit. That's why the example of the cross and resurrection is open for internal judgement, and it should stay open. It must not be proven until "the end of all things." Our reason and moral feeling don't need historical Jesus to accept the validity of a religious moral ideal that is not less obvious than any simple mathematical formula. Is the cross a true example or a choice? It is before all a choice. And it should stay like this. The choice is either to accept what we know a priori and act according to it or to search for a proof beyond us and not act. "Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it." (Mark 8:12) The principles of morality, says Kant, "are to be encountered in pure concepts of reason, fully a priori, free from everything empirical."(61) These pure concepts can be called "metaphysics of morals." "These concepts cannot be abstracted from any empirical [...] cognition [...] and their dignity lies precisely in the purity of their origin; so that they serve us as supreme practical principles [...] all moral concepts have their seat and origin fully a priori in reason."(62) He says that the representation of an objective principle is called a "command" of reason, and the formula of the command, is called "imperative." "All imperatives are expressed through an ought."(63) The ought of reason is in a necessary harmony with the divine law (and ideal); the imperative comes from us to reveal that we are part of all and all is part of us.

Our ability to legislate points to an important conclusion that sums up this entire discussion, namely, that we have dignity. Many theories were written on human dignity, in different ways it was explained, but the simplest formula for me is the following: dignity is the existence of worth, only one has worth—the one, who has freedom of will, i.e. being able to legislate, and the one, who is an object (end) of the will of pure reason.(64) Now, we need to quote Kant: "Act so that use humanity,(65) as much in your person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as end and never as means."(66) This is the commandment of the pure reason. It tells us that we are living in a world of ends. "In the realm of ends everything has either a price or a dignity. What has a price is such that something else can also be put in its place as its equivalent; by contrast that which is elevated above all price, and admits of no equivalent, has a dignity."(67)

There is difference between the realm of things and the realm of ends. The realm of ends starts where the realm of things ends. Even this last sentence reveals the natural order—things exist for an end. They can be exchanged, they can be used, moved, replaced, but they can never be a substitute of an end. They have price, but not worth. They are measured, but not a measure. In the language of religion, Karl Barth says that the world does not measure the Gospels, but the Gospels measure the world.(68) In the language of Kant—not the world measures the reason, but reason measures the world. In the language of Greek philosophy, Protagoras says that man is measure of all things. Things are "things" because they have no freedom, they are determinates of laws and wills. "The beings whose existence rests not on our will but on nature nevertheless have, if they are beings without reason, only a relative worth as means, and are called things."(69) Rational beings, in contrast, "are called persons, because their nature already marks these as ends in themselves, i.e., as something that may not be used merely as means."(70)




Trying to define the doctrine of Trinity, the Church Fathers and medieval theologians searched for a formula that could explain the plurality of persons in the unity of essence. The Trinitarian doctrine is not a dialectical doctrine; it is polyphonic. In polyphony, we don't have a synthesis of opposites, but relations of autonomous persons within the totality of a whole. The hardest thing for comprehension in the Trinitarian "philosophical speculation" is the existence of plurality, of autonomous "persons" (Father, Son, and Spirit), that are the same in their essence, i.e. not opposed.

Without proper cultivation, our mind would rely only on senses to deal with the diversity of the world. Senses detect the contrast of the singulars, and thus present the singulars only in their dialectical opposition. For example, we would discern the noise, only if we know the silence; we will recognize the colour, only as a part of the spectrum. Any form of visibility and sensuality is based on dialectical opposition of outer elements that takes in our minds the shape of a synthetic totality. The transformed into synthesis dialectics leads only to singularity that becomes either monophonic (one voice) or homophonic (one dominant voice). Thus, in this dominant singularity, our minds can rest, and accept it as truth. But truth is not singular, although always one! And this is a difficult idea to comprehend. Only the cultivated mind, the pure reason, knows its validity, but lacks the tools to deliver it, in its clarity, semantically.(71)

The difference and the difficulty of polyphony is the preservation of the autonomy of every singularity giving equal validity of all voices, including the "voice" of our own singular mind, and yet producing a sublime (not just beautiful) totality without a center, i.e. a harmonic unity, without being monophonic or homophonic. This theory was discussed to some extend by Mikhail Bakhtin in his Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics(72) and to great extend by the Church Fathers in their effort to understand and, if possible, to convince the atheists and the "heretics" that God exists as Three Persons and One Essence. Discussing the Trinity, the Fathers never went beyond the mystery; similarly, Dostoyevsky's polyphonic novel is always mystical. The mystery consist in the fact that reason is good in formulating categorical imperatives, but once trying to explain the relations within the formula (the order), it always fails to define the essence, limited by the borderless reality of the universal truth. In De Trinitate, Augustine took an extraordinary effort to translate and exemplify the meaning of Trinity in a comprehensible way; he wrote thousands of pages of logical reasoning, only to finish exactly where he had started—faith and understanding beyond expression. This made Gregory of Nazianus to exclaim in the end of his 28th Oration that the Trinitarian God is a paradox and mystery, impossible to be explained with the tools of language and logic.

Why do I say all this? Because Kant's idea of autonomy of man, our freedom of will, is an example of a polyphonic theory, where the equality and the simultaneous relational existence of singularities form a whole, without making this whole dictatorial, monophonic or homophonic. It is not a coincidence that Hegel took over the same debate, trying to return everything on a firmer ground, replacing the polyphonic dialogics with a monophonic dialectics, showing the "center" with the concept of the self-realizing Spirit. If we accept the validity of the polyphonic theory, we can say that Hegel's dialectics although different from the dialogics has its own proper rationale. Saying this, we don't slip into relativism, the polyphony is not a form of relativism, it is rather another admission and confirmation of the multitude of voices and concepts without searching for dominance of one voice over the others. In such a world we live! A world where in its sublime reality, as Barth wrote in his Romans, there are no peaks, nor valleys, but all is flat, equal, balanced in a self-generating harmony.

I am Bulgarian. Thrace, the supposed birthplace of Orpheus, is located in Bulgaria, in the Valley of Maritza River. Orpehus, the legendary Greek musician, is the founder of the Orphic mysteries and Hymns.(73) Pythagoreans who worshipped Orpheus put the foundations of mathematical science through experiments with the Orphic music discovering that the world is not an order, but a harmony, a polyphonic harmony. There is not a good mathematician, scientist, or philosopher who in his or her heart doesn't feel awe from the mystery of the world. Mystery is a part of every great philosophy, including the Kantian, and the moving force of science; it is the drive behind human curiosity, it is the source of sinful temptation and sublime obedience. We cannot disregard its importance and cover it with artificial phraseology and dogmatic language. Mystery arises from the fact of harmonic order, of the existence of polyphonic sublimity that goes beyond human capability to formulate and systematize.(74)

Mystery is the enemy of dogma, the enemy of idolatry of any kind. And the Greatest Commandment, as quoted, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind," is nothing but mystery. Yes, we have said that this commandment is our relation with the universal moral law, it is the principle that brings us beyond the simple interest or common reason, the maxim that leads us beyond the particular and puts individuals and societies on the path of self-improvement, not just on the road of welfare and happiness. But this commandment is mysterious. Who is God? Who is God to love Him?(75) So another commandment was needed to bring us back in the realms of comprehensible and possible. A commandment that clarifies if not God at least the meaning of love.

Until now, I quoted the Greatest Commandment from the Gospel of Matthew. This commandment came from Jesus. It came from an "authoritative," outer source. Jesus, the highest presentation of the inner moral ideal, if I use Kant's expression,(76) commands us through the word of Gospel to love God and neighbour—first, to love God more than ourselves, then to love our neighbour as ourselves; first, to go beyond us, second to go beyond us, without betraying ourselves. Now, I turn to the Gospel of Luke, where not Jesus is legislating, pronouncing the command, but the man himself, the "lawyer." Note that discussing Kant, we have reached the conclusion that man is a legislator, and as such, he receives his dignity as a free person. "A lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying 'Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'" (Luke, 10:25) We look at the moral norms; we look at the prescriptions of the forum externum, as persons we are all lawyers, and we ask, "What shall we do to be righteous, how shall we act?" Jesus doesn't pronounce the commandment. He says, "What is written in the law? How does it read to you?" (Luke, 10:26) He returns the question to our own consciousness, he invites us, we to formulate the law that we know a priori. And we answer, "'You shall love, your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.'" (Luke, 10:27) Then, Jesus says, "'You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.'" (Luke, 10:28)

There is no need to explain how Kant's ethics fits in with this part of the Gospel. We have everything here—a legislating, free person, a choice, a categorical imperative, a temptation ("...and put Him to the test"), a universal truth, relations, etc. One thing only is missing; it is the will, the practical implementation, the act of duty, the transformation of the ideal into a concrete deed. But the Gospel doesn't leave this without answer, too. Knowing the law, we know also our weakness, but as Kant says, to act from duty is not something special, something possible only for saints.(77) The Gospel confirms this clearly. The lawyer, wishing to "justify himself," asks "And who is my neighbour?" (Luke, 10:29) Then, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan that we all know too well. In this story, we have a performance of an ordinary (not extraordinary) act of duty. The Samaritan shows mercy to the one who is in obvious trouble, he didn't risk his life for the other, seeking justice from his robbers, didn't spend all his time with him, didn't spend all his money, he just helped according to his means. This is to act from duty: to be attentive (in this case, to notice the robbed), to understand (to "feel compassion," which is the most adequate feeling in such situation), and eventually to act responsibly (to help according to your power). This "tirade"—attentiveness, understanding, responsibility—is an example of the good in its concreteness.

For conclusion, I think, there is no need for additional argumentation to prove that Kant's ethics is not only rational, but also religious and in its essence even mystical. I am sure, not everyone would agree with this last claim. But as I said in the beginning of this essay, this is a personal reading on a subject that elevates the autonomy of man, his ability to judge independently, to the level of imperative. It is an intimate admission of the reality of human dignity and of the validity of every personal effort in the discovery of truth. This reading also offers a thesis that suggests that human dignity, autonomy, freedom, duty, and categorical imperative, have meaning only in the reality of a polyphonic (dialogic) world of relations between equal "voices."             



"Discourses on Rights: The Classical Greek and Roman Concepts of Rights and the Judeo-Christian Understanding of Human Being and Society" is the first book of 10 volume series on the history of the concept of rights. The reader will find a discussion on the meaning of rights, freedoms, and duties and their relation. This volume explores the ancient Greek and Roman natural right theories (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero) and their development. It also explains how Christianity revolutionizes and transforms the concepts of right and dignity of classical antiquity. The part on Christian humanism includes a commentary on the moral and political theology of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Lactantius, Eusebius, Ambrose of Milan and John Chrysostom. The book is suitable for students and academics in the fields of political and moral philosophy, theology, human rights, and law.


1 Francis Bacon, Essays, Civil and Moral. (The Harvard Classics, 1909–14)

2 Ibid.

3 LE, 27:4

4 The opposite concept, best promoted by Adam Smith in his "The Wealth of Nations," that self-interest is a source of good through its positive influence on the organization of society is equally over-exploited.

5 "Realm" can be replaced with the word "jurisdictions"

6 LE, 27:10

7 The terms "forum internum" and "forum externum" are borrowed from the Canonic law, but here they designate human conscience (forum internum) and the universal, objective laws of the world (forum externum) that originate from the eternal law (see Thomas Aquinas' Summa, Book I, Part II.XC) and embrace everything that is actual. In political theory, these terms have a narrower sense, the forum internum is freedom of religion (or conscience), while forum externum is freedom of its expression or simply expression. The easiest way to explain in what sense these terms are used here can come from an example from Kant's lectures: "The sovereign does not require that a subject pay his taxes willingly, but ethics does demand this." (E. 27:273) In this example, we have the sovereign acting as forum externum, a representative of the universal and public, and the subject as a representative of particular and private; the former (the sovereign) has no power over the will of the latter and the latter (the subject) has no power over the request of the former. While the subject has a choice not to comply, a choice sanctioned by his own conscience, the sovereign has the power to coerce, but in any case neither the one nor the other have power over each other's free wills, the final decision is in the natural law that supersedes the particularity of both and demands from both to act from moral disposition. The sovereign, therefore, has to request fair taxes, acting from the duty of good governance, while the subject has to pay his duties, acting from the duty of good citizenship. Both might not be pleased to act from duty (although ethics requires that they should do it gladly), but only thus they can fulfill the demands of natural law, and conform their particular wills to the necessities of universal.

8 LE, 27:13. Kant's definition of law is the following: "Any formula which expresses necessity of action is called law." (LE, 27:273) The natural law is actions under a "general rule," practical law is actions that are based on free choice, or on the "necessity of free actions." Practical law consists of two possibilities—objective and subjective. Objective means that we ought to abide to the natural law. This "ought to" makes the objective practical law pragmatic and moral (as we will see later in this essay). The subjective practical law is as far as we abide to the laws, i.e. it is an expression of the gift of freedom. Ethics "relates to laws of free action," while "all divine laws are natural laws," or as it was mentioned above, an effect of the eternal law. (LE, 27:273)

9 I will mention here in advance that if the intention is based on moral principle that is in conformity to God's  arbitrium (or universality) we can fairly predict the goodness of its effect. A more detailed answer to the question of intentions and ends can be found in Kant's essay "The End of All Things."

10 LE, 27:14

11 Ibid.

12 LE, 27:14-17

13 LE, 27:18

14 LE, 27:19

15  LE, 27:23

16  LE, 27:25

17  LE, 27:26

18  LE, 27:26

19  LE, 27:27

20 LE, 27:33

21 LE, 27:44

22 LE, 27:57-60

23 LE, 27:60. See Thomas Aquinas for comparison, "The eternal law is unchangeable truth." (Summa,I.II. XCIII)

24 LE, 27:65

25 Here a note is necessary. There is a difference between knowledge and understanding. Knowledge is based on facts, it is semantic, necessarily logical, and demonstrative; it is the crown of science, it is reason in its visible expression. Understanding, on the other hand, is subtle, non-semantic, not related to logic, and unsusceptible to complete definition. Understanding is a priori, and as such, it is not simply reason, but reason and feeling. Knowledge is active through demonstration, understanding is passive through consent (or lack of it). The natural development of understanding is knowledge; we can say that knowledge is the expression of the cultivated understanding. Understanding is closer to what we call "will," which is the real engine behind the praxis. The differentiation of knowledge and understanding does not make them contradictory, on the contrary, it shows that both are related to each other, but have different qualities that can be fully realized through their relations. The words "knowledge" and "understanding" could be successfully replaced by analogy with the words "reason" and "faith."  

26 LE, 27:65

27 LE, 27:66

28 LE, 27:73

29 LE, 27:243

30 The exact phrase is "What is good, always is concrete. But definitions are abstract."(Bernard Lonergan, "Method in Theology," University of Toronto Press, 1972, 1990. p.27)

31 For a good discussion on praxis (or the fulfilment of ideas), see Aristotle's concepts of act and potentia in his Metaphysics.

32 LE, 27:243

33 LE, 27:258

34 LE, 27:262

35 LE, 27:262

36 LE, 27:274

37 LE, 27:274

38 See Aquinas, "Law [...] is nothing else than an ordinance of reason for the general good, emanating from him who has the care of the community, and promulgated." Also, "[...] every man is a law to himself, inasmuch as he participates in the direction given by one who regulates him. Hence it is added in the same text: "Who show the work of the law written in their hearts." (Summa, I.II.XC.III)

39 The feeling "feels" what is right beyond reason, but reason is needed to shape it into a will and praxis. The unity of feeling and reason will be clarified in the next pages when we discuss the Groundwork. Also, we can think about feeling and reason as corresponding to understanding and knowledge (something that was discussed in a footnote above), these are two distinct entities, but inseparable in their relations.

40 LE, 27:275

41 R 6:20

42 See especially Rousseau's "A Discourse on the Moral Effects of Arts and Sciences."

43 R 6:28

44 R 6:63

45 R, 6:37

46 R, 6:42

47 R, 6:41

48 R, 6:44

49 GR 4:389

50 GR 4:390

51 Good is free action that is consisted of morally good intentions and physically good consequences.

52 GR 4:393

53 GR 4:394

54 GR 4:394

55 GR 4:395

56 GR 4:396

57 GR 4:399

58 GR 4:401

59 See Martin Buber's "I and Thou" (eBookIt.com, 2013)

60 GR 4:403

61 GR 4:410

62 GR 4:412

63 GR 4:413

64 As an object, he would necessarily be treated by reason as an end by itself. This is how the dignity of people with severe physical or mental illnesses becomes possible. They might not have reason, freedom of will, they might be in a comma, completely dependable on our care, yet the moral feeling and reason confirm the existence of their worth and the necessity of our duty. Moreover, we all collectively are objects of divine legislation that is "supreme goodness."

65 See the discussion above on animality, humanity, and personality.

66 GR 4:429

67 GR 4:434

68 Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans (OUP, 1968), p. 45, p. 63, p. 351, p.444

69 GR 4:428

70 GR 4:428

71 For an alternative discussion on this subject, see Charles S. Pierce's "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" in "Chance, Love, and Logic: Philosophical Essays." (University of Nebraska Press, 1998). Also, William James's ideas on radical empiricism, pluralism and monism in his "The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy" (e-book, Project Gutenberg, 2009)

72 See Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics (University of Minnesota, 1984)

73 See W.K.C. Guterie's "Orpheus and Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement" (Princeton University Press, 1938)

74 Thomas Nagel's book "Mind and Cosmos" created recently a significant discussion on the subject of the limits of human understanding.

75 When we discussed our ability to love God in the previous pages, we didn't mention the difficulty of imagining God. We just concluded that God is the supreme goodness, and that we must hope that despite the challenges, we must be sure that we are loved. We can say that God is goodness and truth, define what goodness and truth could mean, but for a believer there is always something that goes beyond language, and in rather rare moments this "something" is felt so powerfully that reason is not needed to define it. For that reason, Thomas Aquinas places faith above mind: faith supplies what mind lacks. Faith is a direct intuition, for Aquinas, it enjoys deeper participation in the divine reason.  

76 GR 4:408

77 R 6:49. The special thing, the thing deserving the highest wonder and admiration is the existence of "original moral predisposition in us."


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