Monday, August 07, 2006

Reason and Reasons

Whilst re-reading some of Allison's excellent book Kant's Theory of Freedom, I came across a rather strange argument regarding the causal efficacy of reason. According to Allison, it is not intelligible how reasons could be causes. Reasons do not seem to be the right kind of things to possess causal efficacy. Allison claims that “construing free actions as literally caused by reason makes nonsense of Kant’s position.” (Allison: 1990, p. 49) This is because “it is clear that principles do not themselves literally have causal efficacy. ... reasons can be causes in the sense that beliefs or belief states can be used to explain human actions but not in the sense that the content of what is believed (the principle on which an agent acts) is itself a cause.” (Allison: 1990, pp. 49-50) This argument appears to be highly problematic since there seems to be an illicit move from talking about the faculty of reason to reasons considered as abstract rational principles. While Allison is right in saying that it would be strange to attribute causal efficacy to abstract principles, this does not imply that the faculty of reason cannot be causally efficacious.

3 Comments:

Blogger NabberGnossi said...

I hope you don't mind if I bring up a few things. I love the blog by the way but I don't comment much because my knowledge of Kant is just enough to realize the limits of that knowledge. I spent a bit of time trying to understand the intricacies of Kantian freedom for my senior thesis, I spent most of my time in the Metaphysics of Moral on pages [6:211] to [6:213]

As far as I understand it, Kantian freedom depends on the faculty of desire. Kant defines the faculty of desire "is the faculty to be by means of one’s representations the cause of the objects of these representations." ([6:211]) This faculty has the ability to do or to refrain. When this ability is combined with the consciousness of this ability, Kant calls it choice. The faculty of desire has its determining ground within the subject's reason, practical reason. I think this complex interaction is necessary for autonomy to avoid determinations by sensible impulses.

I wonder if Kant's notion of positive freedom might inform this topic. From the Metaphysics of Morals, “the ability of pure reason to be of itself practical.” ([6:213]). As I understand it, this means that freedom in the positive sense is made possilbe only when the form of the law (not the matter) is the sole determining ground for the will.

I believe that the faculty of reason must be at efficacious to some extent, insofar as it is part of a chain of determinations that begins with reason and terminates with the action itself. I imagine this also relates to the phenomena/noumena distinction but I think I need a few more years of Kant study to make the connection.

(thanks for your blog)

10:17 pm  
Blogger Bader said...

Thanks for your kind remarks about my blog and your comments on my post. I am glad that you enjoy the blog.

As far as I understand it, Kantian freedom depends on the faculty of desire. Kant defines the faculty of desire "is the faculty to be by means of one’s representations the cause of the objects of these representations." ([6:211]) This faculty has the ability to do or to refrain. When this ability is combined with the consciousness of this ability, Kant calls it choice. The faculty of desire has its determining ground within the subject's reason, practical reason. I think this complex interaction is necessary for autonomy to avoid determinations by sensible impulses.

I think that the analysis of the will and of freedom in the Metaphysics of Morals in terms of the faculty of desire is rather messy. There, Kant seems to portray it in a way such that there is one faculty of desire and that it can be choice (Willkür) if it is accompanied by the consciousness of the power of bringing about the object of its representation by means of its actions. It is Wille if its inner determining ground is to be found in the subject's reason. I much prefer the distinction in terms of the legislative and elective faculty. Doing and refraining then pertains to Willkür, whereas Wille is the author of the laws that bind Willkür. The final sentence of that paragraph at 6:213 makes this pretty clear, where Kant says that Wille is the faculty of desire with respect to the determining grounds of Willkür, whereas Willkür is the faculty of desire with respect to actions. I take this to mean that Wille is the capacity to produce incentives by means of its representation that then affect Willkür and can become the determining grounds of Willkür, while Willkür is the power to bring about the object of the incentive by means of action. Accordingly, it would seem that freedom understood in the negative sense depends on Willkür and that freedom understood in the positive sense depends on Willkür as well as Wille, since positive freedom requires Wille to be the determining ground of Willkür.

(It is worth noting that the translation of 'Begehrungsvermögen' as 'faculty of desire' is rather problematic since a Vermögen is a power or capacity and should not necessarily be associated with a distinct psychological faculty. Pluhar in his 2002 translation of the Critique of Practical Reason has translated it as 'power of desire', which seems more adequate.)

I believe that the faculty of reason must be at efficacious to some extent, insofar as it is part of a chain of determinations that begins with reason and terminates with the action itself.

Indeed, the faculty of reason must do something. The important question is what kind of efficacy is involved and what kind of determination features in the chain of determinations that leads to actions. My own opinion is that its efficacy consists in providing an incentive that Willkür can incorporate into a maxim. Accordingly, the determination on the part of reason is only a formal and not an efficient kind of determination. (cf. Ameriks distinction between formal and efficient determination in Ameriks: 2003)

6:11 pm  
Anonymous John said...

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11:31 am  

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