On the Old Saw
That May be Right in Theory But It Won't Work in Practice
Publication Year: 2013
In this famous essay, first published in 1793, Kant considers the alleged conflict between theory and practice in the conduct of human affairs in three widening contexts: those of the common person faced with a moral decision, of the politician and the citizen concerned with the extent and limits of political obligation, and, finally, of the citizen of the world whose actions have a bearing on war and peace among nations.
Unlike other animals, Kant reminds us, people must decide how they will live their lives. They therefore ask for a guide to action, a set of principles—a theory.
From the outset, Kant rejects the ancient claim that the practical possibilities of action cannot always be reconciled with moral demands. He offers his own moral theory, a theory starting out from the principle of the right as an unequivocal guide to action. In partial disagreement with the rival theories of Hobbes and Locke, he proposes that the only condition under which the individual can achieve true destiny as a person and a member of the human race is the civil state. Such a state can be secured only by law. Although "from such crooked wood as man is made of, nothing perfectly straight can be built," only the rule of law can bring about a stable society.
Last, Kant turns to the relation between theory and practice in international relations. "Nowhere," he writes, "does human nature appear less lovable than in the relation of whole nations to each other." But to hope for world peace on the basis of "the so-called balance of power is a mere chimera." There is no other remedy to international lawlessness and war than an international coercive law, and such law can grow only out of sound theory. "I put my trust in theory. At the same time, I trust in the nature of things, and also take account of human nature, which I cannot, or will not, consider so steeped in evil that in the end reason should not triumph."
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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...rejected with the ritualistic formula: "That may be right in theory, but it won't work in practice." Fully appreciative of the enervating and per nicious influence of this nostrum, Kant published in 1793 the most rigorous and sustained critique that it or any other cliche has ever Kant's essay, addressed to a broad intellectual audience, is one of ...
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...as distinguished from his technical works on epistemology, ethics and aesthetics. This distinction may suggest that the popular essays arc only of historical interest, dealing with problems unique to the 18th Century. But if one considers the issues discussed-freedom of the press, the need for world government, the limits of political obedi ...
On the Old Saw: That May Be Right in Theory But It Won't Work in Practice
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...between theory and practice there must be a link, a connection and transi tion from one to the other. To the intellectual concept that contains the rule, an act of judgment must be added whereby the practitioner distinguishes whether or not something is an instance of the rule. observe in subsumption (as this would go on ad infinitum), there ...
I. On the Relation of Theory to Practice in Morality in General (in reply to some exceptions taken by Professor Garve)
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...use of one and the same concept may be valid only in theory or only in practice-! must compare my theory, as set forth elsewhere, with Herr Carve's notion of it, to see beforehand whether we understand A. Provisionally, by way of introduction, I had defined ethics as a science that teaches, not how we are to achieve happiness, but how ...
II. On the Relation of Theory to Practice in Constitutional Law (contra Hobbes)
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...a society (pactum sociale ), the one to found a civil constitution be tween them (pactum unionis civilis) is a special kind. As far as contract aimed at the joint promotion of some purpose; it is essen tially different from the rest, however, in the principle of what it founds (constitution is civilis). The union of many people for some ...
III. On the Relation of Theory to Practice in International Law A General-Philanthropic, i.e., Cosmopolitan View (contra Mendelssohn)
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Mendelssohn) Are we to love the human race as a whole, or is it an object to be viewed with displeasure, an object that has our best wishes (lest to infer that the species will always progress toward the better, and that the evil of present and past times will be lost in the good of the future? If so, we could love the species at least for its constant ...
Page Count: 88
Publication Year: 2013