How does Kant define consciousness

Kant's concept of morality and man's commitment to morality and his deviation from morality

Table of contents

Introduction - context of the question

1. Kant's concept of morality
1.1 The pure will and the affected will
1.2 The categorical imperative
1.3 Freedom in the realm of practical reason
1.4 The origin of the awareness of moral obligation

2. Moral evaluation
2.1 Moral rigorism
2.2 The subjective reason of the person

3. The violation of moral law
3.1 The radical evil in the human species and the natural dispositions
3.2 The tendency to evil
3.3 The origin of the tendency to evil

4th epilogue

5. Bibliography

Introduction - context of the question

'Religion within the Limits of Mere Reason' from 1793 is Kant's work on the theory of religion and deals with the third of the four Kantian questions: What may I hope? Here Kant goes back to his three previous criticisms and constructs a closed train of thought for a religion of reason. A religion that is based purely on reason and arises from morality. Accordingly, Kant's religious essay begins with a philosophical moral treatise.

In this work Kant's concept of morality and the commitment of man to morality are explained. Furthermore, it is shown how and why people deviate from moral obligation. Thus, this work mainly deals with Kant's practical philosophy, i.e. the question What should I do?

The first question asked is the origin of the consciousness of moral obligation.

1. Kant's concept of morality

At the very beginning is nature, as the "primary substance of all things"[1]. This runs according to its own laws, the laws of nature. Nature knows no freedom and has no will, but merely pursues the "plan of perfection"[2] and cannot deviate from it. Therefore the course of nature is a course and results that are natural but catastrophic for humans, Kant calls evils[3].

As an intellectual and rational being, Kant describes the person who is endowed with a will, internal legislation and freedom. Attributes that make up the human being. Kant calls the unity of these properties practical intelligibility[4]. These characteristics will now be explained in more detail in order to also explain Kant's concept of morality.

1.1 The pure will and the affected will

The term will is not about wanting or wanting, but about a pure will that determines itself without affect by external factors.

The pure will, however, has an inner, objective lawfulness. This legality is the moral law and is a priori given to reason. Kant therefore speaks of the fact of reason[5], i.e. in contrast to a secular-civil law, no person is the author of this law. This cannot be changed and presupposes the use of reason. Due to the legality of the will, the pure will is self-determined and autonomous[6]. Kant describes the pure will as 'good', since it is determined by moral law. Accordingly, the action that follows from the will and can be perverted into the immoral is not included, but the predicate good only evaluates the pure will. In this context one speaks of a moral will. On the other hand, one speaks of an immoral will when it is a question of the human-empirical will. This is a will that is guided by sensual affects[7] and therefore is not determined from itself, and therefore not according to moral legislation either. Accordingly, an action is only moral, i.e. good, if its maxim is based on a pure will that is determined by moral law.

1.2 The categorical imperative

Based on the train of thought of the legality of the will, Kant formulates the principle of moral law with the categorical imperative[8] This command dictates what should be done in order to act morally. However, an action according to the categorical imperative only has a moral value if this imperative is understood as an end in itself, i.e., that the execution of such an action should not be done on the basis of a consideration, but solely out of duty (virtus noumenon).

1.3 Freedom in the realm of practical reason

Freedom is the attribute that enables a being with practical reason to have options for action. In contrast, in the case of actions that are not related to freedom, one can speak of natural law processes. Freedom is a necessary condition for Kant's concept of morality[9]which, in the realm of practical reason, constitutes human autonomy. This is to be understood in such a way that only through freedom, which is independent of all impulses, there is the possibility of executing the internal legislation of the will. Whereby Kant freedom and internal legislation of the will as synonyms[10] designated. Only freedom makes it possible to bind people to the moral law[11], because only then does a person have the opportunity to consciously decide what he should want, i.e. to perform the categorical-imperative principle. Thus, an act can only be moral or immoral if it is justified by freedom. Otherwise, an act that does not stem from freedom and therefore does not come from one's own will can never be morally attributable. From this it follows that the confession of one's own human freedom entails the binding of the unconditional laws. Accordingly, being bound by these laws is a duty for free people, to which people must admit out of their own mind.

1.4 The origin of the awareness of moral obligation

According to this consideration, the origin of morality in Kant's sense is pure practical reason itself. The binding force between man and moral law arises from freedom, which in turn rests circularly on the awareness of moral obligation. The concept of duty arises through the binding nature, which dictates to the rational subject that the objective moral law always takes precedence over the affected empirical will. Kant expressed this duty in the form of the categorical imperative. How do people deal with the awareness of their moral obligation? What makes people deviate from their obligations and what is Kant's moral evaluation for people?

2. Moral evaluation

In the first part of the religious text, Kant describes that one cannot judge with certainty whether someone is good or bad from experience alone, because whether an acting person is good or bad is not judged by the act, but by his maxim[12]. But nobody has an insight into maxims, neither through external nor through self-reflection[13]. Accordingly, it does not seem possible to make a real moral judgment of good or bad. With this train of thought, the question arises of the neutrality of the attitude with which a person is neither good nor bad, or can be partly good, partly bad.

But Kant shows solutions for both problems, which will be explained in the following.

2.1 Moral rigorism

Kant generalizes the human individual in the first part of the religious writing and speaks there of the entire human species. It focuses on the moral nature of humans and forms four theses[14]: 1. Man is naturally good, 2. Man is naturally evil, 3. Man is neither good nor evil, 4. Man is partly good and partly bad. He immediately rejects the last two theses. The reason for the rejection of the theses is the rejection of Adiaphora, i.e. of neutral values ​​in moral doctrine, deeds and basic human features. Kant assumes that the human being carries the moral law as a driving force, so the moral good is always the consensus of free will and moral law. If the arbitrariness, i.e. the spontaneous act of choice[15], does not accept a moral motive, it is not an indifferent condition, but a reluctance[16] the arbitrariness against the moral law, which leads to moral adversity. In his argument against the indifferent view (thesis three), Kant goes on to say that an act committed out of moral neutrality only comes from the laws of nature. Thus it is not an actual act, but only a process and can therefore not be attributed to free will.

In addition, Kant shows that the syncretistic view (thesis four) does not endure either. If a person does not accept the moral law in his maxim, he has already decided against the dutiful observance of the moral law[17]. As mentioned above, however, nobody can see the maxim and it is also not possible to judge with certainty based on the actions whether the person is good or bad. So the person who has not taken up the moral law in his maxim can also perform good deeds, only the observance of the moral law does not happen out of duty, but because of legality (virtus phenomenon). Kant therefore insistently states that man is either only good or only bad.

2.2 The subjective reason of the person

Nobody can see what the maxim is like. However, Kant explains that it is possible to tap into the inclusion of the immoral in a maxim. He differentiates between the term 'nature' and the term 'human nature'. In general, Kant maintains that nature is not related to moral evaluations, because these can only emerge from free will.

Thus nature is opposed to freedom[18]. For Kant the 'nature of man' is:

[...] only the subjective reason for the use of one's freedom in general (under objective moral laws), which precedes any act that falls into the senses [...]; this reason may now lie in what it wills. However, this subjective reason must itself always be an act of freedom [...] [19].

Kant explains that a deliberate, morally illegal act is sufficient to claim that one has adopted an evil maxim. The acceptance of the evil maxim was decided a priori, for a subjective reason. This subjective reason, which is the first reason for accepting a maxim, is itself a maxim, for the first subjective reason is accepted by reason. Where this reason comes from is, according to Kant, "inexplicable"[20].


[1] Immanuel Kant: General natural history and theory of heaven in: Immanuel Kant works in six volumes Ed. Wilhelm Weischedel: Volume I. Wiesbaden 1960, p. 235

[2] Ibid.

[3] See: Rel. B 97-98

[4] Cf. Georg Römpp: Kant made easy - an introduction to his philosophy. Cologne 2005, p. 165

[5] Christian Schulte: Radically Evil - The Career of Evil from Kant to Nietzsche. Munich 1991, p. 47

[6] See Römpp: p. 130

[7] See Römpp: p. 139

[8] "Act in such a way that the maxim of your will could apply at any time at the same time as the principle of general legislation" from: KpV §7, 54

[9] See Rel. B 3

[10] Schulte: p. 29

[11] Rel. Ibid.

[12] See Rel. B 5-7

[13] Rel. B 22

[14] See Rel. B 3-15

[15] Christoph Hom: The human species nature: dispositions for good and tendency to evil, in: Otfiried Höffe (ed.): Klassiker Auslegen Volume 41, Berlin 2011, p. 51

[16] Rel. B 11

[17] Ibid.

[18] See Rel. B 5-7

[19] Rel. B 6

[20] See Rel. B 8

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