Stephen Engstrom
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Immanuel Kant's claim that the categorical imperative of morality is based in practical reason has long been a source of puzzlement and doubt, even for sympathetic interpreters. In The Form of Practical Knowledge, Stephen Engstrom provides an illuminating new interpretation of the categorical imperative, arguing that we have exaggerated and misconceived Kant's break with tradition. By developing an account of practical knowledge that situates Kant's ethics within his broader epistemology, Engstrom's work deepens and reshapes our understanding of Kantian ethics.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-05379-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Note on Citations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. I Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    When Socrates propounded his famous paradox, that he knew only that he did not know, he spoke for all of philosophy. Or so we might surmise when we consider that consensus is a touchstone of knowledge. For philosophers commonly confess that if they agree on anything in matters of philosophy, it is that agreement is not to be had. However far they carry their investigations into the principles of knowledge and action, they encounter incomprehension, doubt, and opposition when they attempt to communicate their ideas. Nor do these miscarriages always indicate a deficiency in intelligence or education, or a greater...

  6. Willing as Practical Knowing
    • II The Will and Practical Judgment
      (pp. 25-65)

      Stationed at the junction of reason and desire, knowledge and life, the will can be regarded from two vantage points, which afford contrasting ways of understanding it. In identifying the will with practical reason, Kant reverses the order of concepts in the traditional Scholastic conception of the will as rational desire, reconceiving the will as desiderative reason.¹ This reconception is not, however, a simple rejection of earlier accounts. Kant accepts the traditional practice of identifying the will with the higher faculty of desire, so long as the distinction between the higher (rational) and lower (sensible) faculties of desire is properly...

    • III Fundamental Practical Judgments: The Wish for Happiness
      (pp. 66-94)

      Practical judgments can depend in various ways on other practical judgments. Choices, for instance, when considered against the backdrop of the theoretical cognition they presuppose, characteristically stand in relations of interdependence with other choices. For the object of choice is always either some end or the means recognized to be necessary for its attainment, and in practical cognition the choice of one of these objects is always in tandem with the choice of the other, as is reflected in Kant’s proposition that “who wills the end wills (so far as reason has decisive influence on his actions) also the indispensably...

  7. From Presuppositions of Judgment to the Idea of a Categorical Imperative
    • IV The Formal Presuppositions of Practical Judgment
      (pp. 97-128)

      In the preceding sections we have been developing the idea that willing, in the sense Kant has in view, consists in a certain sort of judgment. If this account is correct, then we may reasonably expect that an examination of the concept of judgment, giving due regard to ingredients to which Kant himself calls attention, will throw further light on his conception of the will. It would be a considerable undertaking, one beyond the scope of this study, to survey the many types of judgment Kant distinguishes and to look for a generic concept that covers them all, or a...

    • V Constraints on Willing
      (pp. 129-146)

      As was stated earlier, the will, as Kant conceives of it, is practical reason. Practical reason is the capacity for practical knowledge, the capacity exercised in practical judging. So willing is practical judging, and the form of practical knowledge presupposed in such judging is equally presupposed in willing, as the form of willing. This form, as we have seen, lies in universality; it is found in the idea of self-related double universality that resides in the presupposition of universality. As form, it is one and the same in all possible exercise of the will and so can also be characterized...

  8. Interpretation
    • VI The Categorical Imperative
      (pp. 149-183)

      The last two sections explicated Kant’s identification of the will with practical reason by elaborating his conception of practical reason as the capacity for practical knowledge. By outlining an account of practical judgment as the exercise of this capacity, we identified the form of practical knowledge, and in a series of steps we traced practical judgment’s presupposition of this form down to the point where it emerged as the formal practical (or self-legislated) law of willing, encountered in the human will as a categorical imperative. With this key in hand, we now return to Kant’s exposition of the categorical imperative...

    • VII Applications
      (pp. 184-240)

      In the preceding sections we have developed an account of the categorical imperative that traces it to the form of practical knowledge. By interpreting this imperative as the expression of the first principle of such cognition, we have explained how it is related to reason. We have now to consider this principle’s relation to familiar substantive requirements of morality. Since this principle lies in theformof practical knowledge, its relation to these requirements must be ascertained through considering its use, its application in conduct.

      We noted earlier that thedirectapplication of the will’s fundamental formal practical law in...

    • VIII Conclusion
      (pp. 241-248)

      1. The principal aim of this study has been to develop an account of the categorical imperative that elucidates its basis in practical reason in a way that also clarifies how it constitutes a substantive constraint on the will, the same constraint in each of its three formulations. In our pursuit of this aim we have stepped back from the details of Kant’s argument in order to take a broader interpretive approach, in which we have elaborated his idea that practical reason is the capacity for practical knowledge, or the capacity to know the good, and his related thought that...

  9. Epilogue: Kant’s Idea of the Practical Purpose of Moral Philosophy
    (pp. 249-252)

    Perhaps it will seem surprising to some readers to find Kant’s ethics portrayed as it has been in these pages. There are so many often-cited pronouncements in his writings, as well as aspects of tone and manner of expression, that seem to suggest that Kant sees morality as quite unconnected with, or even opposed to, happiness and the good, that it may still be wondered how the interpretation outlined here could emerge from those texts. This is not the place to take up for individual consideration the particular passages that have often been thought to reflect this or that Kantian...

  10. Index
    (pp. 253-260)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-261)