Self-Consciousness in Kant's Moral Philosophy
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AbstractIn the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), Kant declares that our consciousness of the moral law is a “fact of reason,” and that this fact suffices to establish the reality of moral obligation. With this doctrine, Kant asserts that a “deduction” of morality, such as he attempted in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), is neither necessary nor possible. This reversal has seemed to some commentators to be a retreat to the pre-critical dogmatism that the Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787) positioned itself against. I defend the doctrine of the fact of reason against this charge, arguing that the doctrine is not just consistent with, but in fact an expression of, the fundamental methodological commitments of critique. The lynchpin of my defense is a conception of the critical method according to which critique relies on a form of self-cognition that has its basis in the subject’s pure apperception. In chapter one, I give an account of pure apperception according to which it is the subject’s consciousness of engaging in the activity of thought. In chapter two, I argue that the pure apperceptive form of thought makes available a form of self-cognition, labeled “reflection,” on the basis of which critique can be undertaken. Crucially, critique’s presumption of our rational autonomy includes the presumption of a capacity for reflective self-cognition. In chapter three, I argue that the self-consciousness of autonomous agency is identical to the pure apperception of moral deliberation and action. This fact, along with the moral law’s status as a fundamental practical principle, entails that a deduction of the moral law is impossible. Finally, in chapter four, I argue that Kant’s invocation of a “fact of reason” indicates the second Critique’s reliance on a distinctively practical mode of reflection. This is no lapse into dogmatism, but rather an expression of critique’s commitment to the autonomy of reason.
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