Kant and Dualism

I bought an old textbook from the bookstore down the street, and after being recommended a look at Kant I decided to read his chapter. It’s too long to condense into one day, but I have a few things to say so far.

On sum-totals and totalities: Why the distinction between heteronomy and autonomy?
Kant’s dualism pervades all aspects of his philosophy, culminating in a description of man as a “totality”, or a sum of parts. He describes man as a moral agent in two realms: that of the senses and that of the intellect. Man as subject to the laws of nature is heteronomous because he must submit to the control of desires, societal order, and things beyond his own will. This is contrasted with man’s intellectual realm, in which he is autonomous as he can instruct himself to act in accordance to principle. This rational autonomy is, as you may imagine, what leads us to act in accordance with our innate and unknowable sense of duty (unknowable, as it is transcendental, and beyond our phenomenal knowledge). But is duty something we freely choose when we are acting in accordance with what we should rightly choose (as our rational faculties would be functioning incorrectly should we choose otherwise)? This doesn’t seem to me to point to such an autonomous will, after all. I see that our experience of duty and its quality of necessity must be filtered through the mind (and understood, and accepted) before it is enacted, but why did Kant make the distinction? Perhaps it is the same as Aristotle’s virtue ethics—we “will” freely to act in accordance with what is right. Or perhaps our autonomous “sums” of experience give way ultimately to the “total” of accordance with duty. What, too, makes morality obligatory; is it simply because duty —as pure necessity— resides in the mind? Kant’s second stipulation in his Categorical Imperative states that in order to be a moral obligation, an action cannot be theoretically willed to be universally omitted. If an action cannot be willed to be universally omitted, it is a moral obligation; otherwise, it is simply a “right action”. This raises two questions: one, is this a proper test for determining moral obligation; and two, what is the defining difference between moral necessity and a “right action”?

On Hume and the causal antinomy: Kant named four antinomies that occur as we try to decipher the metaphysical “whole” of the world—a “whole” we cannot discover by reason alone. First, the contradicting claims that the world has a temporal beginning and that the world is infinite. Second, the claims that everything is divisible into simple parts, and that the world is not ultimately indivisible; third, the contradicting claims of free causality and a denial of freedom (which would favor determinism); and fourth, the claims both supporting and denying an absolute and necessary Being.  Kant says that these antinomies come about precisely because we try to decipher this metaphysical “whole”. The third statement is the one I would like to focus on; Kant actually denied that these two claims were incompatible. His pervasive dualism is very apparent in this denial, as he states that while people as rational subjects are free from deterministic necessity, all objects in the phenomenal realm are not. Hume’s influence on Kant is apparent as well, as Kant seems to be making up for the fact that Hume had condemned causality as pure habit. Kant confines Hume’s denial of causality to the phenomenal realm (thereby rescuing the idea of free will). The way we can navigate around this refutation is by the simple fact that we are equipped with three original filters (“sense, imagination, and apperception”) which allow us to make any sense of our world and account for any empirical truths. Transcendental apperception is a necessary condition of experience, for its synthetic unity allows for us to have any comprehension at all.

Kant’s dichotomous nature shows through his separation of metaphysics and ethics—his metaphysics a teleological totality and his ethics within it deontological. His sense faculties culminate in the unity of apperception, and his moral agents work autonomously while being subject to heteronomous laws of nature (”reason transcends sensibility”). I wonder whether Kant considers pure apperception to be the absolute subject (or pure reason). If apperception cannot exist without its baser senses, can reason exist without empirical input?


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