- Report on the Ethics of Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason
- The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd
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[ 49 Report on the Ethics of Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason1 “Report on the Ethics of Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason,” dated 25 May 1913, is Eliot’s third and final essay for “Philosophy 15: The Kantian Philosophy.” The validity of the ethics of practical reason rests on: (1) the possibility of an absolute distinction between practical and speculative reason, and (2) the possibility of an escape from the paradoxes of practical morality into an absolute realm of pure law. The first of these two conditions is simply the question whether there is any other than a provisional distinction between the objects of practical and speculative reason. If it could be shown that this distinction is no other than relative, then the material and mechanical system would no longer maintain its speculative priority, and the objects of both types of reason would preserve absolute guarantee neither of one type nor the other. That is to say, the noumena of pure reason would have to be considered as objects of practical faith, and the objects of practical reason as to some degree already speculatively existent. Such a breaking-down of distinctions is, according to a possible interpretation , already latent in the Critique of Pure Reason. For these the hypothesis of a world of real Gegenstände, with which Kant begins, is virtually refuted by its sequels.2 The thing, clearly, always dissolves upon analysis into a term with relations; and each term, and each relation, is further soluble into a new term with relations. Hence the thing is in some sort an object of faith only; or rather, is a different thing in different relations, always a factor, and always, by hypothesis, unknown. So that the question whether the thing exists or not is of no absolute meaning; in order to answer it, we must first decide at what point we choose to draw a line between the subjective and objective elements in experience; and it is on this basis (arbitrary , if you like, but practical) that we distinguish between “genuine” and “illusory” experience. We find the situation, and do not, in any meaningful sense, create it, and the only criterion of judgment for any new hypothesis (hypothesis adding to the situation something which is not, at that moment, given to us in the 1912-13: Harvard University 50 ] situation)–the only criterion is: does it work? (not precisely in the pragmatic sense, for we never know wholly what our purposes are)–but does it make the situation more consistent, and give it more meaning for us? If so, the new objects introduced by the hypothesis become real, and in the degree to which we are able (as individuals or as social beings) to yield faith. But, as there is nothing in our knowledge which we cannot conceive under the form of hypothesis, it is obvious that the distinction between an object directly experienced and one inferred is a relative distinction; since, in order to account for our direct knowledge, we have to mediate it. In this event it is evident that the distinction between perceptual and inferential knowledge is equally relative. “Pure” perception being only an abstract limit, inference always enters into knowledge; but as inference always implies some direct perception in regard to which inference is made, perception is also an omnipresent limit. It will follow that the distinction between one type of object of attention and another, though real, is only practical, and that there is, in fact, an infinite gradation of objects, from the bestknownobjectofdirectperception,totheleastknownobjectinuntried theories. The law of gravity, for example, is, as an hypothesis, pretty well founded; as an object, then, the question whether it is directly perceived or indirectly inferred is a question which you may answer in either way according as you put it; and the apple which falls is likewise perception or hypothesis. The object, then, considered from an external point of view, is simply part of an organic complex, and you cannot say, except from a practical point of view, upon postulates, whether it “exists” or not. For, on the other hand, it certainly always does exist in some relations, and we cannot know just what these relations are, completely–for investigation changes the relation . All that you know is hypothesis and perception in relation (a relation which is, in a sense, unknowable); we have a certain system of reactions (whichisfromanotherpointofviewhypothetical)whichacertainhypothesis justifies. And of course this hypothesis is in turn a reaction which needs another hypothesis. Beyond...