Pure Reason

We’re continuing with Kant’s Fundamental Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals in Tutorial, and I think Kant is the only person we’ve read besides Marx that I simply don’t comprehend. He keeps talking about a priori pure reason, abstracted from all contingency. Probably I don’t understand because I’ve never read his prior work, the Critique of Pure Reason, but I’m left wondering what on earth is meant by “pure” reason, and why anyone would want to abstract it from all sensory or other non-rational experience. It seems to have something to do with figuring out hypothetical principles that can be agreed on by all rational beings, human or not. Why would we care about the thought processes of non-human rational beings? Why would we suppose it to be possible? That seems more the realm of imagination than reason. It’s kind of frustrating. What I mean by reason and Kant means by reason appear to be two different things, and I feel toward Kant’s ability to find universal imperatives in Pure Reason the way atheists must feel about people who talk about God speaking to them. In that respect Aristotle makes a good deal more sense to me: we have ends we wish to achieve that we perceive as good – usually because they create eudimonea (happiness in A’s sense). Never mind where the desired ends come from – they aren’t the realm so much of deliberation or reason, but of nous. We can sort of see them – or if we can’t, we can see good men and watch what they do. You’d have to be pretty depraved not to even be able to know that good men do goo things and their ends should probably be ours as well. Then reason deliberates on how to achieve possible ends. Or it engages in theoretical science, which is its’ more natural realm.

Some of that was not Aristotelian, but what I’m trying to get at here is… why would anyone want to come up with a metaphysic of morals? If someone didn’t want to try to do good because it is good, why would we suppose him to do it because it is rational? Or if this whole project is so theoretical that it’s not about convincing anyone to do anything, then why is it something anyone, including Kant, would want to think about? As far as I can tell the idea itself offers no incentive – pure reason is about as intrinsically attractive as being locked in a sensory deprivation chamber. Arg.


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