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Kant’s Transition Project

and Late Philosophy


ii

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Kant’s Transition Project
and Late Philosophy

Connecting the Opus postumum


and Metaphysics of Morals

Oliver Thorndike

Bloomsbury Academic
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Contents

List of Abbreviations vii


Preface xi

Introduction 1
Systematic unity is that which first makes ordinary cognition
into science 2
The connection between a priori foundation and empirical cases of
application is a pervasive problem for Kant’s critical philosophy 6
Kant’s Transition Project in practical philosophy 9
Origins of the gap between a priori morality and embodied agency 14
Moral reflection 19
Moral schemata 25

1 What Philosophical Problem Does the Transition Project of the


Opus postumum Address? 31
Introduction 31
Kant’s philosophia naturalis 32
The systematic function of the “General Remark to Dynamics” 51
Alternative accounts of the Transition Project 65
The schematism of the Transition Project 85
The “Octaventwurf ” and the “Early Fascicles” of the
Opus postumum: The categorical structure of the mediating
concepts of the Transition 92
Conclusion 106

2 Why is a Transition Project in Practical Philosophy Required? 113


Introduction 113
Mundus Intelligibilis and Mundus Sensibilis 116
A priori foundation and empirical open-​endedness of ethics 125
Casuistry and ethical conflict 146
Kant’s alleged rigorism 167
Conclusion 177
vi

vi Contents

3 Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 181


Introduction 181
The four mediating concepts in the “Aesthetics of Morals” 187
Implications 206
The unfinished Metaphysics of Morals and the Opus postumum 217
Conclusion 234

Conclusion 237

Bibliography 243
Index 255
Abbreviations

All references to Kant’s works are in accordance with the Akademie-​Edition Vol.
1–​29 of Kants Gesammelte Schriften, Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften
(formerly: Königlich Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften), Berlin: Walter
de Gruyter (1902–​). References indicate an abbreviation of Kant’s individual
work, followed by volume and page number of the Akademie-​Edition, for exam-
ple, Op 21:373. References to the Critique of Pure Reason follow the customary
pagination of the 1781 (A) and 1787 (B) edition, for example, KrV A692/​B720.
Unless otherwise indicated, all English translations are from the Cambridge
Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant (Cambridge:  Cambridge University
Press, 1992–​). The following abbreviations are used throughout the book:

AA Immanuel Kants Schriften. Ed. Deutsche Akademie der


Wissenschaften (formerly:  Königlich Preußische Akademie der
Wissenschaften). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1902–​.
Anth Anthropologie in Pragmatischer Hinsicht (Anthropology from a
Pragmatic Point of View). In AA, Vol. 7.
Br Briefe (Correspondence). In AA, Vol. 10–​13, 23.
EaD Das Ende Aller Dinge (The End of all Things). In AA, Vol. 8.
EEKU Erste Einleitung in die Kritik der Urteilskraft (First Introduction to the
Critique of the Power of Judgment). In AA, Vol. 20.
FM Welches sind die wirklichen Fortschritte, die die Metaphysik seit
Leibnizens und Wolffs Zeiten in Deutschland gemacht hat? (What
Real Progress Has Metaphysics Made in Germany since the Time of
Leibniz and Wolff?). In AA, Vol. 20.
GMS Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (Groundwork of the
Metaphysics of Morals). In AA, Vol. 4.
GSK Gedanken von der wahren Schätzung der lebendigen Kräfte (Thoughts
on the True Estimation of Living Forces). In AA, Vol. 1.
IaG Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltbürgerlicher Absicht (Idea
for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim). In AA, Vol. 8
JL Immanuel Kants Logik: Ein Handbuch zu Vorlesungen Logik (Logic).
Ed. G. B. Jäsche. In AA, 9.
vi

viii Abbreviations

KpV Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (Critique of Practical Reason). In AA,


Vol. 5.
KrV Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason). Cited in
accordance with standard practice of distinguishing the 1781/​1787
editions as A/​B. In AA, Vols. 3–​4.
KU Kritik der Urteilskraft (Critique of the Power of Judgment). In AA,
Vol. 5.
LK Gedanken von der wahren Schätzung der lebendigen Kräfte und
Beurtheilung der Beweise, deren sich Herr von Leibniz und andere
Mechaniker in dieser Streitsache bedient haben, nebst einigen vor-
hergehenden Betrachtungen, welche die Kraft der Körper überhaupt
betreffen (Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces). In AA,
Vol. 1.
MAN Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft (Metaphysical
Foundations of Natural Science). In AA, Vol. 4.
MpVT Über das Mißlingen aller philosophischen Versuche in der Theodicee
(On The Failure of All Philosophical Attempts in Theodicy). In AA,
Vol. 8.
MS Die Metaphysik der Sitten (incl. MSTL, MSRL) (The Metaphysics of
Morals). In AA, Vol. 6.
MSI De mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis ([Inaugural
Dissertation] On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and the
Intelligible World). In AA, Vol. 2.
MSTL Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Tugendlehre (Metaphysical First
Principles of the Doctrine of Virtue). In AA, Vol. 6.
MSRL Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Rechtslehre (Metaphysical First
Principles of the Doctrine of Right). In AA, Vol. 6.
NG Versuch den Begriff der negativen Größen in die Weltweisheit ein-
zuführen (Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes
into Philosophy). In AA, Vol. 2.
NL Neuer Lehrbegriff der Bewegung und Ruhe und der damit verknüpf-
ten Folgerungen in den ersten Gründen der Naturwissenschaft (New
Theory of Motion and Rest, and the Connected Consequences in the
First Principles of the Natural Sciences). In AA, Vol. 2.
Op Opus postumum (Opus postumum). In AA, Vols. 21–​22.
Päd Über Pädagogik (On Pedagogy). Ed. F. T. Rink. In AA, Vol. 9.
PG Physische Geographie (Physical Geography). In AA, Vol. 9.
Abbreviations ix

PM Metaphysicae cum geometria iunctae usus in philosophia naturali,


cuius specimen I. continet monadologiam physicam (The Employment
in Natural Philosophy of Metaphysics Combined with Geometry, of
which Sample I Contains the Physical Monadology). In AA, Vol. 1.
PND Principiorum primorum cognitionis metaphysicae nova dilucidatio
(A New Elucidation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Cognition).
In AA, Vol. 1.
Prol Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik die als Wissenschaft
wird auftreten können (Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics). In
AA, Vol. 4.
Refl Reflexion (Reflection). In AA, Vols. 14–​19.
RGV Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft (Religion Within
the Boundaries of Mere Reason). In AA, Vol. 6.
SF Der Streit der Fakultäten (The Conflict of the Faculties). In AA, Vol. 7.
TG Träume eines Geistersehers, erläutert durch Träume der Metaphysik
(Dreams of a Spirit-​Seer Elucidated by Dreams of Metaphysics). In
AA, Vol. 2.
TP Über den Gemeinspruch: Das mag in der Theorie richtig sein, taugt
aber nicht für die Praxis (On the Common Saying:  That May Be
Correct in Theory But It Is of No Use in Practice). In AA, Vol. 8.
UD Untersuchung über die Deutlichkeit der Grundsätze der natürlichen
Theologie und der Moral (Inquiry Concerning the Distinctness of the
Principles of Natural Theology and Morality). In AA, Vol. 2.
VARGV Vorarbeiten zur Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der bloßen Vernunft
(Preliminary Works for the Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere
Reason). In AA, Vol. 23.
VAMS Vorarbeiten zur Metaphysik der Sitten (Preliminary Works for the
Metaphysics of Morals). In AA, Vol. 23.
VAnth Vorlesungen über Anthropologie (Lectures on Anthropology). In AA,
Vol. 25.
VASF Vorarbeiten zum Streit der Fakultäten (Preliminary Works for the
Conflict of the Faculties). In AA, Vol. 23.
VE Vorlesungen über Ethik (Lectures on Ethics). In AA, Vols. 27, 29.
VL Vorlesungen über Logik (Lectures on Logic). In AA, Vol. 24.
VM Vorlesungen über Metaphysik (Lectures on Metaphysics). In AA,
Vols. 28–​29.
VP Vorlesungen über Physik (Lectures on Physics). In AA, Vol. 29.
x

x Abbreviations

VPE Vorlesung philosophische Enzyklopädie (Lectures on the Philosophical


Encyclopaedia). In AA, Vol. 29.
VRML Über ein vermeintes Recht, aus Menschenliebe zu lügen (On a
Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy). In AA, Vol. 8.
ZeF Zum ewigen Frieden (Toward Perpetual Peace). In AA, Vol. 8.
Preface

What originally motivated the writing of this book was sheer puzzlement about
a remark Kant makes in §45 of the 1797–​Doctrine of Virtue. In §45 Kant dis-
cusses the problem of how duties with respect to particular conditions can be
seen as falling under the universal laws of obligation. The passage then continues
as follows:
Just as a passage [Überschritt] from the metaphysics of nature to physics is
needed—​a transition having its own special rules—​something similar is rightly
required from the metaphysics of morals:  a transition which, by applying the
pure principles of duty to cases of experience, would schematize these principles,
as it were, and present them as ready for morally practical use . . . —​Even this
application belongs to the complete presentation of the system.1

It became immediately clear to me that Kant is here referring to the Opus pos-
tumum. For example, consider the following passages written between 1796
and 1798:
The Transition from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science to
Physics must not consist entirely of a priori concepts of matter in general, for
it would then merely be metaphysics (e.g. where one talks merely of attraction
and repulsion in general), and also must not consist entirely of empirical rep-
resentations, for they would then belong to physics (e.g. observation of chem-
istry). Rather [the Transition] belongs to the a priori principles of . . . natural
investigation[,]‌. . . that is, to the subjective principle of the schematism of the
power of judgment to classify empirically given moving forces in accordance
with a priori principles . . . and so to pass from an aggregate . . . to a system of
physics.2

The doctrine of the laws of the moving forces of matter, insofar as they are known
a priori, is called metaphysics; insofar as they can only be derived from experi-
ence, physics. That doctrine, however, which envisages only the a priori prin-
ciples of application of the former, rational [doctrine] to [the latter] empirical

MSTL 6:468–​9.
1

Op 21:362–​3, my emphasis and translation.


2
xi

xii Preface

one, can form the transition of the philosophy of nature from the metaphysics of
corporeal nature to physics.3

It surprised me that, as far as I could see, no one had pursued this historical
parallel. What puzzled me philosophically was the question of what precisely the
parallel Kant wants to make in §45 is about. How substantial is it? The thesis
of this book is that Kant formulates a Transition Project not only in his theor-
etical philosophy—​the Opus postumum—​but also in his practical philosophy,
though this side of Kant’s Transition Project is buried in various published pas-
sages of the time period 1796–​8. This is a historical claim. This historical claim
is intricately connected to the constructive thesis of this book: the Transition
Project is not an afterthought. Rather, it stands at the center of Kant’s concep-
tion of critical philosophy, which attempts to provide the a priori foundation
of empirical cognition and thus strictly separates formal from material aspects.
The problem of a gap between the pure and empirical parts of Kant’s theoretical
and practical philosophy, which Kant articulates in the Opus postumum and
various writings on practical philosophy in the same time period of 1796–​8, is
not just a highly specialized project. It goes to the heart of understanding Kant’s
critical philosophy and can be traced throughout Kant’s critical writings. For
this reason, I think, understanding Kant’s Transition Project holds the key for
making progress on various problems currently discussed by Kantians.
Kant’s Opus postumum is still not very well known today. One goal of this
book is to make the Opus postumum more accessible to those Kantians who
are not primarily interested in the metaphysics–​physics connection, and to
show why this project also matters to them. For example, there are many schol-
ars interested in Kant’s moral philosophy who do not sufficiently explain how
empirical considerations (regardless of what degree of generality) can play a sys-
tematic role in a theory that is decidedly a priori. These authors put a lot of
weight on the latitude of Kantian ethics, but fail to address how empirical con-
siderations are supposed to be connected to the a priori foundation of morality,
thereby making the connection between the a priori principle of autonomy and
empirical agency contingent. However, for Kant, the normativity of particular
laws cannot be contingent at the bottom.
The only way to conceive of empirical laws as necessary is by tracing them
to their a priori foundation. In order for an observed empirical regularity in
nature to count as a law proper it must be brought under the a priori principles

Op 21:310–​1.
3
Preface xiii

that are constitutive of the system of nature. Since a priori principles by them-
selves do not guarantee systematicity of the manifold of empirical laws, it is the
task of reflective judgment to assume that empirical laws can be systematically
organized, that is, to look for their arrangement under a priori principles. For,
if we could not assume that it is possible to unify particular empirical laws into
one system grounded in a priori principles, then we could only think of particu-
lar empirical laws as contingently lawful. In the theoretical context, this means
that even though the systematic organization of empirical laws is a contingent
matter, reflective judgment must approach the empirical regularities it observes
in nature as if they were systematically organized in order to comprehend their
necessity, that is, in order to comprehend them as truly law-​governed. But pre-
cisely what principles guide reflective judgment in its necessary endeavor? How
are constitutive principles connected to the regulative maxims that guide empir-
ical inquiry? An answer to this question is quite essential to Kant’s critical phil-
osophy, because the latter aims at a system of empirical cognitions founded on
a priori principles.
The Transition Project lies at the intersection of metaphysical laws and the
empirical variety of specific laws, and it attempts to comprehend the latter as
modifications of the former. This work is not completed with the Critique of the
Power of Judgment. For, the general principle of reflective judgment by itself does
not yet license the necessity of particular empirical laws. The a priori principle of
the faculty of judgment does not guide empirical investigation in any determi-
nate way. Thus, the Transition Project attempts to connect the regulative idea of
the systematic unity of nature in its empirical laws with the determinate princi-
ples of understanding through a theory of mediating concepts that aims to make
comprehensible how particular, experimentally obtained cognitions of empiri-
cal laws (physics) can be regressively linked to the laws constitutive of matter
in general (Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science). This foundationalist
aspect of Kant’s critical philosophy is perhaps clearest in the metaphysics–​ethics
relation: particular moral laws can only be seen as necessary if we can assume
that they can be united in one system. An agent cannot even conceive of herself
as one person unless reflective judgment assumes that all rules that she takes to
be normatively binding on her can be united in a system. The only way to see
particular moral rules as necessary for human beings is to trace them to their a
priori principle: autonomy. But precisely how does the idea of autonomy guide
empirical agency in a noncontingent way?
Understanding the problem of §45 and the solution Kant offers to it requires
drawing an analogy between the Opus postumum and some of Kant’s late thoughts
xvi

xiv Preface

on practical philosophy. The assumption that divers empirical laws can be sys-
tematized is necessary for the Kantian foundation of empirical laws in a priori
principles. So, in the Opus postumum, reflective judgment prescribes mediating
concepts in order to search for systematic unity among empirical laws. These
mediating concepts, or schemata of the Transition from the metaphysical foun-
dations of natural science to empirical physics, are ordered in accordance with
the table of the categories of the understanding, in order to assure a systematic
and exhaustive classification of empirical physics. Once I used the problem of
the Opus postumum as a lens for looking at Kant’s late moral philosophy, I dis-
covered something quite fascinating, a rare archeological find, as it were: Kant’s
“Aesthetics of Morals,” that is, section XII of the introduction to the Doctrine of
Virtue (which was written at the same time as the so-​called Octaventwurf of the
Opus postumum) presents four moral feelings as affective responses to reflective
judgment, and since these four feelings are structured in accordance with the
table of the categories of freedom, it dawned on me that Kant might be pursuing
part of a larger systematic project here. In other words, I found that looking at the
metaphysics–​physics connection from the standpoint of the metaphysics–​ethics
connection, and vice versa, reveals an underlying gap in Kant’s critical philoso-
phy, which is common to both his theoretical and practical philosophy: since the
necessity of particular laws is a feature of their a priori foundation, there has to
be a Transition from the pure to the applied parts of a science. In the time period
of 1796–​8, Kant attempts to bring about this Transition through mediating con-
cepts, which are the product of reflective judgment.
This reading, I think, holds the key for making progress on various problems
currently discussed by Kantians. Here is a list of some of these debates: the prob-
lems of how Kant’s pure morality can be applied to particular circumstances,
that is, the relationship between pure principles and impure ethics (as Robert
Louden has famously called it); problems regarding the indeterminacy of Kant’s
ethics as a doctrine of wide duties (think of Thomas Hill’s famous discussion of
the problem and the numerous responses it has evoked); the question of whether
the systematicity of nature is merely a heuristic assumption of regulative rea-
son or can actually be ascribed to nature as a transcendental principle (think
of the debates regarding the “Appendix to the Dialectic” and the two introduc-
tions to the third Critique); the role of schemata in the Opus postumum (think of
the dispute between Eckart Förster and Michael Friedman regarding the ques-
tion of whether the Opus postumum completes the first Critique or whether it is
directed toward the empirical sciences). This is a list of complex issues for Kant
interpreters. I propose that because the transition problems in both theoretical
Preface xv

and practical philosophy are fundamentally about the same issue of connecting
the pure to the applied part of a science within the framework of Kant’s concep-
tion of critical philosophy, which separates formal from material aspects, it is
worth looking at Kant’s solution to the moral problem in order to shed new light
on his solution to the theoretical problem and vice versa.
I think it will be helpful to the reader if I briefly comment on some of the
criticisms that I have received from readers of this manuscript in order to clarify
what I try to do and what I try not to do in this book. I begin with a methodo-
logical worry. On the one hand, I make a simple historical point, namely, that
parallel to the more familiar Transition Project that takes place in Kant’s the-
oretical philosophy (Opus postumum), there is a Transition Project in practical
philosophy that is hitherto unacknowledged in its systematic significance and
analogous relationship to the Opus postumum. Kant uses the same terminology
to address issues regarding the connection between metaphysics–​physics and
metaphysics-ethics in the time period of 1796–​8. So I want to prove historically
that this parallel exists. That Kant has a Transition Project in mind in his moral
philosophy, which can be found in his writings of 1796–​8, mainly in some pas-
sages of the Metaphysics of Morals, is a new historical insight. On the other hand,
I deal with a lot of contemporary commentary on Kant’s theoretical and practical
philosophy in order to motivate the philosophical importance of this historical
point. So there is a constructive aspect woven into the historical story I want
to tell. Much revolves around the fact that “transition” is something that Kant
thought about a lot throughout his career—​that it is not a new project but one
that is noticeable at various stages of his writings. To establish this point, I rely on
historical evidence (other texts from Kant’s writings, putting Kant into conver-
sation with other authors who I think have not received sufficient attention) and
have selected interpretations of Kant’s works that are taken from an incredible
wealth of secondary sources that is truly awe-​inspiring. For example, Chapter
1 presents a rather detailed discussion of the scholarly dispute regarding the
Opus postumum and its connection to the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural
Science, in order to show how this relationship sets the stage for an understand-
ing of §45, that is, the parallel Transition in practical philosophy. Both historical
methodology (e.g., I show how a manuscript by Kant’s student Kiesewetter that
has not received proper attention provides crucial historical evidence regard-
ing the nature of the Transition) and constructive argumentation go hand in
hand here. It may seem that the constructive point about Kant’s philosophy is
by itself independent of the historical points I am trying to make, or that the
detailed discussion of the scholarly debate regarding the Opus postumum in
xvi

xvi Preface

Chapter 1 is independent of the interpretative points I deal with in the context


of Kant’s moral philosophy in Chapters 2 and 3. Such a view presupposes a div-
ide I try to overcome: this is not a book on Kant’s moral philosophy, and it is not
a book on Kant’s philosophy of nature. It is a book about two parallel Transition
Projects. Because the overall narrative is one about the systematic need to make
these Transitions within the systems of nature and morals, and because Kant
works on these Transitions in the same time period of 1796–​8, I use the singu-
lar: Kant’s Transition Project. The strength of the argument very much depends,
in my view, on reading the theoretical and practical parts of this book together,
because it is the analogy between the Transition from metaphysics to physics
and that from pure morality to empirical ethics that provides the justification
for framing the questions and problems in the way they are presented here. This
is ultimately a historical perspective, because I aim to show how Kant means to
frame these questions and problems. The historical argument presented here
is thus pivotal to the constructive argument of the book, and this is why I treat
Kant’s responses to some of his historical interlocutors, such as Cicero, Garve,
Baumgarten, Kiesewetter, Michaelis, and other figures who deserve more atten-
tion in the literature, as philosophically important. For example, had we read
Baumgarten more carefully, we would not need to discuss the role of moral feel-
ings in the context of motivating moral agency today, because Kant explicitly
rejects this view when he discusses his textbook author Baumgarten. Or, had we
paid more attention to Kant’s parallel thoughts on theoretical and practical phil-
osophy, then the historical fact that the problem of the Transition is not unique
to Kant’s theoretical philosophy would have reshaped the philosophical debate
around the problem of the systematicity of empirical laws. So, this is a book that
uses the history of philosophy to sketch responses to some of the interpretative
problems dealt with in contemporary Kant scholarship. I hope that both, those
who focus on the history of philosophy and those who take a more analytic
approach, will be engaged by this book.
The interpretative problems I discuss are all highly selective; their discussion
is motivated from the perspective of Kant’s parallel thoughts on theoretical and
practical philosophy in 1796–​8. Given the length of this book, I leave untouched
many points that deserve much more attention and should be included here if
this were just a book on Kant’s philosophy of nature or on his moral philosophy.
There remains much work to be done on the path I am sketching here. In some
sense then, this book is programmatic. For me, it was important to get the over-
arching idea out, because I think the historical claim about the Transition Project
in Kant’s works, both in theoretical and practical philosophy, is innovative from
Preface xvii

various perspectives. How deep the analogy between Kant’s Transition Project in
theoretical and practical philosophy really goes, how substantial it is, how help-
ful it is, or not, for solving various debates in Kant’s philosophy of nature and
morals, deserves further discussion.
Naturally, my hope is that Kantians will continue on the route outlined here,
because interpreters have missed the parallel between Kant’s late writings on
practical philosophy and the Opus postumum. I do not think that this book is
of interest only to those who want to learn how two parts of Kant’s philosophy
(the a priori/​rational and empirical parts) come together. Rather, I will show
that looking at the connection between the a priori part of Kant’s philosophy of
nature and morals and its empirical counterparts, physics and ethics, will pro-
vide a new path in the evaluation of Kant’s critical philosophy overall. Kant tells
us that his late thoughts on theoretical and practical philosophy are intended to
bring his critical philosophy to completion. I think this deserves more scholarly
attention than it has received, and I think it will force us to rethink some aspects
of Kant’s philosophy. One reader remarked that a collection of essays on what
Kant understood by transition as a problem of schematism would be desirable. I
agree, and my book takes a first step in this direction.
So, here is another book on Kant. Sauve qui peut! This book is certainly
guilty of citing passages that have already been cited too often, but they are
important for understanding the problems that I discuss. This is particularly
true in Chapter 2, where I try to come to terms with the origins of Kant’s dis-
tinction between a formal principle of morality and material conditions of its
application, which ultimately leads to the indeterminacy of Kant’s conception
of ethics and to the question of what a system of ends could mean for Kant. In
this context, I am thankful to my anonymous reviewers whose insightful writ-
ten comments have helped me to make the thread of the book more coher-
ent. Obviously, I am indebted to all scholars whom I cite and paraphrase in
this study, but I would like to note that I feel especially indebted to the work
of those with whom I disagree. I hope the book will speak to this for itself.
I am also indebted to many scholars with whom I had conversations during
various meetings or who have commented on my work. Specifically, I would
like to thank the following for reading parts of this manuscript in a time
where no one really has time: Mavis Biss, Robert Clewis, James Hebbeler, Tim
Jankowiak, Colin McLear, Michael Bennett McNulty, John W. Peck, Krista
Thomason, and Melissa Zinkin. Your time and support mean a lot to me.
Each of the chapters of this book has been presented at one of the meetings of
the North American Kant Society and/​or the Baltimore/​D C Kant Workshop.
xvi
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xviii Preface

I would like to thank all participants of these meetings for their help, espe-
cially Anne Margaret Baxley, Courtney Fugate, Huaping Lu-Adler, Laura
Papish, Michael Rohlf, Adam Shmidt, Marius Stan, Martin Sticker, Joseph
Trullinger, and Donald Wilson. As member and chair of the Eastern Study
Group of the North American Kant Society and as editor and coeditor of the
book series Rethinking Kant, I had the opportunity to meet and learn from
many Kant scholars, senior, up-​and-​coming, as well as graduate students. I
feel very humbled to be part of the Kant community. I hope this book gives
something back to those from whom I have learned. I owe thanks to Eckart
Förster without whom this book would not exist. Thanks to John H. Zammito
and Pablo Muchnik for their advice and enthusiastic encouragement. There
were various meetings in Istanbul, where I taught for a year, and a workshop
at St. Andrews, from which I have profited and which I remember with great
pleasure. Many passages from the Opus postumum and other German sources
are here translated for the first time into English. I want to thank Patrick
Brugh for helping me with some of these translations. Thanks to Heidi Herr
for being a great librarian. Thanks to my wife, Dörte Thorndike, for choos-
ing the cover design of this book and much more. Special thanks to Colleen
Coalter at Bloomsbury for her friendly assistance and support of this project.
Finally, I would like to thank Loyola University Maryland for being a home
to me.
Baltimore, August 2017
Introduction

Kant’s self-​image as a philosopher essentially hinges on the idea to keep phi-


losophy proper pure, that is, detached from all contingent empirical matter.
This book is about Kant’s attempt in his late philosophy to connect, in a phil-
osophically robust sense, the a priori, noncontingent foundational principles
with empirical cases of their application. I call this systematic attempt “Kant’s
Transition Project.” In the existing literature, the term Transition Project refers to
an unfinished manuscript that Kant calls the “Transition from the Metaphysical
Foundations of Natural Science to Physics,” which is today known as the Opus
postumum. There is a heated debate among commentators about why Kant
describes the Transition Project as filling a “gap” within his system of critical
philosophy. In his letters to Garve and Kiesewetter, Kant reports that only “the
transition from the metaphysical foundations of natural science to physics” will
fill a gap in the “system of critical philosophy.”1 With much pathos, Kant claims
that seeing his critical philosophy unfinished produces pain like that of Tantalus.2
Putting pathos aside, Kant’s point, made repeatedly between 1796 and 1798, is
that there remains a gap in the critical system of philosophy, which needs to be
filled through mediating concepts so that the empirical studies of physics can be
guided by Kant’s metaphysics of nature.3 What philosophical problem does the
Transition Project of the Opus postumum address? Why does Kant describe it as
necessary? How does it complete the critical system? While I will address these
questions in Chapter 1 and suggest an alternative to the existing interpretations,
the other main contribution of this book is to show that there is also a Transition
Project in Kant’s practical philosophy, as I will show in Chapters 2 and 3.
My thesis is that there is a hitherto unacknowledged parallel between Kant’s
late writings on practical philosophy and the Opus postumum. Understanding
the metaphysics–​physics relation not only allows us to see how to resolve

1
Br 12:257. Cf. Br 12:258.
2
Br 12:257.
3
Op 21:476–​7, 484, 486–​7.
2

2 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

indeterminacy issues that are the topic of present Kant scholarship in ethics, but
also vice versa—​understanding the metaphysics–​ethics connection helps under-
standing the sense in which Kant meant the Opus postumum to complete his
critical theory of cognition. I propose that looking at the connection between the
a priori part of Kant’s philosophy of nature and morals and its empirical counter-
parts, physics and ethics, by putting two texts into conversation that Kant wrote
at the same time, that is, the Opus postumum and the Metaphysics of Morals, sheds
new light on Kant’s critical philosophy as a whole. The current introduction pro-
vides a rough outline of the argumentative structure of the book.

Systematic unity is that which first makes ordinary


cognition into science

In order to see why the problem of the Transition Project goes to the heart of
Kant’s systematic conception of critical philosophy, I suggest we begin by asking
why there is no transition problem for those philosophers that Kant labels “math-
ematical scientists,” such as Descartes or Newton. For Descartes, the metaphysical
essence of matter is to be extended, and empirical motion is a mode of extension.
In Descartes’s philosophy of nature, we can in principle understand how empiri-
cal motion depends on the metaphysical essence of matter, because a body having
a determinate motion is just a more determinate way of being extended.4 In other
words, there is a continuous relationship between the metaphysical foundation of
physics and the empirical science of physics, because determinate empirical laws
of motion are modifications of mathematically describable geometrical features
of space. In terms of Kant’s critical philosophy, however, such a conception col-
lapses mathematics (geometrical laws) and philosophy (dynamical laws), because
forces are causal (not mathematical) relations.5 Causal relations are subject to
the principles of the Critique, and for this reason, any mathematical natural sci-
ence, including Descartes’s and Newton’s, presupposes philosophical principles.
Metaphysics must ground mathematical principles in physics.6
In the part of the philosophical science of nature (philosophia naturalis) enti-
tled the metaphysical foundations thereof, there already lies a tendency toward

4
On this point, see Daniel Warren, “Kant on the Substance—​Accident Relation and the Thinking
Subject,” in Rethinking Kant, Vol. 4, ed. Pablo Muchnik et  al. (Newcastle upon Tyne:  Cambridge
Scholars, 2015), 35–​54.
5
Cf. Op 21:352, 505; Op 22:515–​6; Erich Adickes, Kants Opus postumum (Berlin:  Reuther and
Reichard, 1920), 159.
6
Op 22:514–​6.
Introduction 3

physics as the goal to which it is directed—​namely, to expound the empirical


doctrine of material science in a system. What are called the mathematical foun-
dations of science of nature (philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica), as
expressed by Newton in his immortal work, are (as the expression itself indi-
cates) no part of the philosophy of nature. They are only an instrument (albeit a
most necessary one) for the calculation of the magnitude of motions and mov-
ing forces (which must be given by observation of nature) and for the determi-
nation of their laws for physics . . . The same can be said of empirical knowledge
of nature insofar as this forms only a chance aggregate, not a system—for which
a general classification according to concepts a priori is required.7

As I will show in more detail in c­ hapter 1, for Kant, Newton and his followers
merely provide an aggregate of cognition. Their method is experimental, and it
(merely) provides a descriptive and mathematical comprehension of phenomena
but not insight into their possibility. Thus, for the Newtonians there is no tran-
sition problem, because their experimental physics is not deductive but begins
instead with empirical observations. At least this is what Kant claims when he calls
Newton an “opponent”8 and charges that “his Principia philosophicae mathematica
are not developed systematically, from a principle, but had to be compiled empir-
ically and rhapsodically,” and thus could not amount to a “philosophical system.” 9
The same point holds with respect to the evolving science of chemistry: although
Kant does not doubt it to be a rational science insofar as chemical action of matter
is based on causal laws, the mere quantitative measurement of such phenomena
is not sufficient to make chemistry properly scientific.10 As Friedman puts this
point, for Kant, “any empirical regularity is to count as a genuine law” only if it can
be brought “under the transcendental principles of the understanding.” 11 What
would be needed is thus a demonstration of how empirical forces of whatever kind
can be seen as modifications of the forces that Kant has shown to be constitutive
of matter in general, that is, the metaphysical forces of repulsion and attraction:
So long, therefore, as there is still for chemical actions of matters on one
another . . . no law of the approach [attraction] or withdrawal [repulsion] of the
parts of matter . . . chemistry can be nothing more than . . . [an] experimental

7
Op 21:481–​2.
8
Op 22:512.
9
Op 22:518.
10
On this point, see Michael Bennett McNulty, “Chemistry in Kant’s Opus postumum,” The Journal of
the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 6(1) (2016): 64–​95.
11
Michael Friedman, “Regulative and Constitutive,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 30 (S1)
(1991): 73–​102, 89–​90. Despite a famous passage on chemistry in the preface to the Metaphysical
Foundations (4:468), chemistry is not in a different spot than any other empirically observed law of
physics. For further discussion of this point, see Chapter 1, “Kant’s philosophia naturalis.”
4

4 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

doctrine, but never a proper science, because its principles are merely empir-
ical . . . Consequently, they do not in the least make the principles of chemical
appearances conceivable with respect to their possibility.12

The debate between Wolffians and Newtonians among Kant’s contemporaries


precisely revolves around this point: the former claim that true explanation of
phenomena requires insight into their possibility, that is, they must be derived
from the essential features of bodies in general. Kant shares this view. I will use
various terms to describe this foundationalist relationship between metaphysical
and empirical features: for example, the latter are modifications of the former; the
latter are connected or linked to the necessity of the former; the latter stand under
or are derived from the former; or the former make the latter understandable as
necessary. What I try to bring out through these expressions is that, on Kant’s
account, what makes a law necessary is that insight into its a priori foundation
can be provided.13 When Kant says in the “General Remark to Dynamics” in the
Metaphysical Foundations that all natural philosophy consists “in the reduction
of given, apparently different forces to a smaller number of forces and powers
that explain the actions of the former, although this reduction proceeds only
up to fundamental forces,”14 I take him to be committed to the claim that the
fundamental forces make comprehensible those that explain the specific variety
of matter, not the much stronger claim that the derivative forces explaining the
specific variety of matter must be reducible (in the sense of an eliminative reduc-
tion) to the fundamental attractive and repulsive forces. On Kant’s view, a theory
of science that does not explain the metaphysical foundations of causal laws, but
merely enumerates them and describes them mathematically, is not yet a phi-
losophy of nature. According to Kant, Newtonians do not truly explain natural
phenomena but merely provide an aggregate of empirical laws.15
The transition problem that Kant picks up in the “General Remark to
Dynamics,” where he aims to show how empirical moving forces of nature can
be seen to be modifications of the moving forces that are constitutive of matter

12
MAN 4:470–​1. Cf. “Necessity . . . is thought in every law, namely objective necessity from a priori
grounds . . . Even the rules of uniform appearances are called laws of nature (e.g., mechanical laws)
only when they are either cognized really a priori or (as in the case of chemical laws) when it is
assumed that they would be cognized a priori from objective grounds if our insight went deeper”
(KpV 5:26).
13
For similar views, see Friedman, “Regulative and Constitutive,” 89–​92, and also James Hebbeler,
“Kant on Reason in the Sciences,” in Rethinking Kant, Vol. 5, ed. Pablo Muchnik et al. (Newcastle
upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, forthcoming).
14
MAN 4:534.
15
On the debate between Wolffians and Newtonians, see Gunter Lind, Physik im Lehrbuch 1700–​
1850: Zur Geschichte der Physik und ihrer Didaktik in Deutschland (Berlin: Springer Verlag, 1992).
Introduction 5

in general, only occurs for those thinkers who attempt to tie in experience and
its phenomena into a metaphysical system of knowledge. A  theory of science
that begins with empirical observations does not have a transition problem.
Even though Kant does not share the philosophical method of the Wolffians,
he inherits their systematic endeavor. His theory of knowledge cannot proceed
from empirical laws because the transcendental turn makes the subject of cog-
nition the source of the lawfulness of nature:
We must not seek the universal laws of nature from nature by means of experi-
ence, but, conversely, must seek nature, as regards its universal conformity to
law, solely in the conditions of the possibility of experience that lie in our sen-
sibility and understanding . . . [Since] nature is derived from the laws of the
possibility of experience in general and is fully identical with the mere universal
lawfulness of experience . . . the universal laws of nature can and must be cog-
nized a priori (i.e., independently of all experience) and set at the foundation of
all empirical use of the understanding.16

Far from being a marginal concern, what is at stake in Kant’s Transition


Project is nothing less than a defense of Kant’s systematic way to approach
the study of nature, that is, the possibility of a philosophy of nature (philoso-
phia naturalis). Kant aims to demonstrate that, because the metaphysical first
principles of material nature are grounded in the transcendental principles
that make experience possible, there arises the prospect for the faculty of judg-
ment to systematically investigate nature in such a way that physics, which is of
course empirical and open-​ended, can itself be justified as a rational doctrine
of nature. What makes a law necessary, for Kant, is that it can be shown to be
founded on a priori grounds. The necessity of a law is a feature of its meta-
physical foundation. As Kant sees it, this prospect of showing the necessity of
laws is unavailable to both the various Naturlehren Kant encountered in his
textbooks and the mathematical scientists: since they proceed from empirical
phenomena, they only provide an “aggregate of perceptions whose complete-
ness as a system is the object of philosophy.”17 The Opus postumum thus for-
mulates the problem:
There must be a transition from the metaphysical foundations of natural science
to physics if the science of nature is to become a science of reason (philosophia
naturalis).18

16
Prol 4:318f.
17
Op 21:402.
18
Op 21:474–​5. Emphasis in the original.
6

6 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

For Kant, such a systematic approach to the study of nature is supposed to


ground and guide physics as an experimental science. In the Kantian system,
objects of experience are not things in themselves but appearances, and thus any
object of experience must fall under the epistemic restrictions of transcendental
philosophy.19 It is essentially pertaining to Kant’s system of critical philosophy
to show how true natural science is possible, that is, to show how empirical laws
“stand under” these transcendental restrictions.
All proper natural science . . . requires a pure part lying at the basis of the empiri-
cal part, and resting on a priori cognition of natural things. Now to cognize
something a priori means to cognize it from its mere possibility.20

Unlike the dominant interpretations, this stresses the continuity of Kant’s


Transition Project. The Transition from the Metaphysical Foundations to physics
in the Opus postumum is not a fundamentally new project. As I will show, the
problem of a lawful progression from the metaphysical foundations of the cogni-
tion of nature to empirical physics originates in Kant’s very conception of critical
philosophy and its strict separation of formal from material aspects of knowl-
edge. The Transition Project is already explicitly present in the 1786 “General
Remark to Dynamics” in the Metaphysical Foundations, where Kant sets himself
the task of providing an a priori classification of the kinds of moving forces in
their dependence on the two matter constituting forces of repulsion and attrac-
tion, that is, the metaphysical first principles of matter in general.

The connection between a priori foundation and


empirical cases of application is a pervasive problem
for Kant’s critical philosophy

The Transition Project reaches to the beginnings of Kant’s critical project, that is,
the separation of formal and material conditions of knowledge.
I call that in the appearance which corresponds to sensation its matter, but that
which allows the manifold of appearance to be intuited as ordered in certain
relations I call the form of appearance. Since that within which the sensations
can alone be ordered and placed in a certain form cannot itself be in turn sen-
sation, the matter of all appearance is only given to us a posteriori, but its form

19
MAN 4:472; Prol 4:319.
20
MAN 4:470.
Introduction 7

must all lie ready for it in the mind a priori, and can therefore be considered
separately from all sensation.21

The separation of a priori from a posteriori aspects of cognition is hardly at the


periphery of Kant’s notion of philosophy. Given that Kant’s a priori account of
nature in general is established independently of the empirical study of objects,
there is a gap between the formal and material study of nature. As Kant puts it in
the Critique of the Power of Judgment:
One need only consider the magnitude of the task of making an interconnected
experience out of given perceptions of a nature that in the worst case contains
an infinite multiplicity of empirical laws, a task that lies in the understanding a
priori. The understanding is of course in possession a priori of universal laws of
nature, without which nature could not be an object of experience at all; but still
it requires in addition a certain order of nature in its particular rules . . . These
rules, without which there would be no progress [Fortgang] from the general
analogy of a possible experience in general to the particular, it must think as
laws (i.e., as necessary), because otherwise they would not constitute an order
of nature.22

For Kant, knowledge of nature is not a heap of possibly unrelated empirical


laws. Rather, it requires the systematic unity of cognitions. Such unity is possible
because the metaphysical study of nature in general provides the foundation for
the applied study of nature. Both the metaphysical foundation and the appli-
cation to particulars are parts of physics as a rational cognition of nature. It is
“important to the critical system that empirical laws somehow ‘stand under’ . . .
a priori laws of nature in general.”23 I will argue that Kant’s project of explaining
the necessity of empirical laws through a transcendental theory of the possibil-
ity of experience stands in the tradition of philosophia naturalis, which, gener-
ally speaking, means a description of nature’s order based on rational principles.
Metaphysics is supposed to provide secure foundations for empirical knowledge.
Kant’s claim, repeatedly made in the preface to the Metaphysical Foundations,
that already the word “nature” carries with it the concept of a priori laws, and
hence the possibility of systematic empirical knowledge, picks up this general
idea of a philosophia naturalis.

21
KrV A20/​B34.
22
KU 5:184.
23
Michael Friedman, Kant and the Exact Sciences (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 258.
Cf. “But without exception all laws of nature stand under higher principles of the understanding, as
they only apply the latter to particular cases of appearance” (KrV A158–​9/​B197–​8).
8

8 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

The Transition Project is meant to guide natural sciences to a coherent


rational explanation of natural phenomena by connecting the constitutive a pri-
ori principles of material nature to the empirical study of nature. The Transition
Project thus lies at the intersection of metaphysical laws and the empirical vari-
ety of specific laws, and it attempts to comprehend the latter as modifications of
the former. Kant’s student Kiesewetter, who knew of Kant’s Transition Project
from personal conversations with him, unambiguously describes the Transition
Project in terms of the necessary connection between the rational foundation
and empirical manifestation of natural laws.24 The Transition Project is one of
providing mediating concepts, that is, “an exhibition of the laws of the modifica-
tion of matter based on the relation between the two foundational forces.”25 Here
is how Kant puts it:
The science of nature (philosophia naturalis) consists of two parts . . . The first . . .
was composed under the title Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. The
second part, which proceeds from empirical principles, would, if one wished to
undertake it, be called physics . . . The transition from one science to the other
must have certain intermediary concepts, which are given in the one and are
applied to the other, and which thus belong to both territories alike.26
Thus a schema . . . must be brought about, which builds a bridge from the meta-
physical foundations to physics.27

The term “schema” or “intermediary concept” is here not meant in its transcen-
dental sense of determinate judgment outlined in the “Transcendental Analytic.”
Rather, I  will argue that it picks up on the idea of the regulative principle of
the systematic unity of nature, which Kant discusses in the “Appendix to the
Dialectic.” Curiously enough, as we will see, Kant here suggests that the idea
that it is “from a highest intelligence [God] that we derive the order of the world
and its systematic unity,” functions as a “schema of the regulative principle for
the systematic unity of all cognitions of nature.”28 Since a regulative idea is inde-
terminate, the unity of empirical laws of nature must of course be searched for
empirically in terms of the “physical–​mechanical connection according to uni-
versal laws,”29 that is, the constitutive principles of matter in general. Thus, the

24
Arthur Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit über Kants Naturphilosophie von seinem Schüler
Kiesewetter,” Altpreußische Forschungen 5 (1928): 312–​15. All translations from “Eine Nachgelassene
Arbeit” are mine.
25
Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 315.
26
Op 21:524–​5, last emphasis is mine.
27
Op 21:168, my emphasis and translation.
28
KrV A674/​B702, my emphasis.
29
KrV A692/​B720.
Introduction 9

question arises how precisely the regulative principle of reason shall function as
a useful guide for the empirical investigation of nature. Neither the “Appendix”
nor the two introductions to the Critique of the Power of Judgment tell us how
the regulative procedure of reflective judgment is connected to the constitutive
a priori principles of material nature. The schemata of the Transition Project of
the Opus postumum are meant to fill this lacuna, by providing mediating con-
cepts that guide empirical investigation through “the subjective principle of the
schematism of the power of judgment, [which classifies] the empirically given
moving forces in accordance with a priori principles . . . and so [passes] from an
aggregate . . . to a system of physics.”30 The schematism of the Opus postumum is
thus meant to connect the regulative principle of reflective judgment to the con-
stitutive principles of cognition. I will show how the problem of providing an a
priori classification of the kinds of moving forces in their dependence on Kant’s
metaphysics of nature is a continuous and pervasive problem, which is central
to the critical conception of knowledge, and which can be traced throughout
Kant’s critical work, including the “Appendix,” “General Remark to Dynamics,”
the Critique of the Power of Judgment, and the Opus postumum: since the tran-
sition is brought about through a “schematism of the power of judgment,” all
mediating concepts must be rooted in the forms of judgment, and thus we can
understand why Kant attempts to exhaustively classify all mediating concepts
through the table of the categories.

Kant’s Transition Project in practical philosophy

Kant’s critical project is of course not limited to theoretical philosophy. The goal
of the Critique is to set metaphysics on the secure path of a science. Central
to this project is the standpoint of transcendental idealism and its distinction
between formal and material conditions of knowledge. However, the issue of
a transition between the pure and applied parts of a science, universal founda-
tion and its application to contingent particular cases, is also present throughout
Kant’s critical writings on moral philosophy. Just as Kant’s theoretical philoso-
phy separates formal from material conditions of the cognition of nature, so his
practical philosophy separates formal from material conditions of morality. My
thesis is that there is a transition problem not only in Kant’s theoretical phil-
osophy, but also that Kant explicitly addresses a transition problem in practical

Op 21:363, my translation.
30
10

10 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

philosophy in the time period of 1796–​8 as well. In §45 of the Doctrine of Virtue,
which Kant writes at the same time as the passages cited above from the Opus
postumum, Kant alludes to the Opus postumum and demands a Transition
Project also in practical philosophy. In §45, Kant discusses the problem of how
duties with respect to particular conditions can be seen as falling under the uni-
versal laws of obligation. The passage continues as follows:
Just as a passage [Überschritt] from the metaphysics of nature to physics is
needed—​a transition having its own special rules—​something similar is rightly
required from the metaphysics of morals:  a transition which, by applying the
pure principles of duty to cases of experience, would schematize these principles,
as it were, and present them as ready for morally practical use . . . —​Even this
application belongs to the complete presentation of the system.31

“Überschritt” and “Übergang” will be both translated as “transition” in this book


because Kant uses these terms interchangeably.32 This passage raises a number of
questions: What kind of transition does Kant have in mind in §45? What would
a schematism of practical principles be, and why would such a transition be nec-
essary? What precisely does the analogy between the theoretical and practical
spheres look like? Why does this problem become pressing for Kant?
To begin with, an analogous foundationalist relationship guides Kant’s think-
ing in both theoretical and practical philosophy:
In this way there arises the idea of a twofold metaphysics, a metaphysics of nature
and a metaphysics of morals. Physics will therefore have its empirical part but it
will also have a rational part; so too will ethics, though here the empirical part
might be given the special name practical anthropology, while the rational part
might be properly called morals . . . I  ask only whether the nature of science
does not require that . . . a metaphysics of nature be put before physics proper
(empirical physics) and a metaphysics of morals before practical anthropology,
with metaphysics cleansed of everything empirical.33

The rational foundation of moral agency, that is, the essence of duty, is autonomy.
Autonomy is independent of anything sensibly given. This is one of the most
crucial features of Kantian morality, because it establishes that the normativ-
ity of moral claims is not based on contingent interests. However, even though
the ground of obligation cannot lie “in the nature of the human being or in the

31
MSTL 6:468–​9.
32
See, for example, Op 21:178, 362–​3, 373, 505, 617, 618.
33
GMS 4:388. Cf. KU 5:170, 174.
Introduction 11

circumstances of the world in which he is placed,”34 autonomy still needs to be


applied to the empirical human being. The idea of autonomy must be capable of
guiding specific conduct, because just as the necessity of empirical laws of nature
consists in their a priori foundation, so the necessity of particular moral precepts
is a feature of their a priori foundation. Kant explicitly draws this comparison
in the Critique of Practical Reason, when he explains that normativity of moral
rules cannot be based on “merely empirical” grounds, because then they
would not have that necessity which is thought in every law, namely objective
necessity from a priori grounds . . . which must be cognized a priori by reason, not
by experience (however empirically universal this may be). Even the rules of uni-
form appearances are called laws of nature . . . only when they are either cognized
really a priori or (as in the case of chemical laws) when it is assumed that they
would be cognized a priori from objective grounds if our insight went deeper.35

What makes an empirical law necessary is the connection to its metaphysical


foundation. This relationship between a priori foundation and empirical appli-
cation is picked up in §45 of the Metaphysical Foundations of the Doctrine of
Virtue, where Kant explicitly alludes to the Transition Project pursued in the
Opus postumum. This is not entirely surprising, because the time of the publica-
tion of the two parts of the Metaphysics of Morals, that is, the doctrine of right
and the doctrine of virtue (1796–​8), fall into the same time period in which Kant
worked on the Transition from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science
to physics.36
The second part of the Metaphysical Foundations of the Doctrine of Virtue,
which deals with duties of virtue with respect to others, falls into two chap-
ters: (1) On duties to others merely as human beings, and (2) On duties to others
in accordance with the differences in their condition. Kant follows here again
the Wolffian distinction between the pure and applied part of a science, and
attempts to understand duties with respect to specific conditions as modifica-
tions of universally valid moral principles. Kant thus writes in §45, which I now
quote at length:
These (duties of virtue) do not really call for a special chapter in the system of
pure ethics; since they do not involve principles of obligation for human beings

34
GMS 4:389.
35
KpV 5:26.
36
For approximate dates, see Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 54ff., 91ff., 103ff., 153–​4. Cf. Eckart
Förster, Introduction to Opus postumum, by Immanuel Kant (Cambridge:  Cambridge University
Press, 1993), xxvii.
12

12 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

as such toward one another, they cannot properly constitute a part of the meta-
physical first principles of a doctrine of virtue. They are only rules modified in
accordance with differences of the subjects to whom the principle of virtue (in
terms of what is formal) is applied in cases that come up in experience (the mater-
ial). Hence . . . just as a passage [Überschritt] from the metaphysics of nature to
physics is needed—​a transition having its own special rules—​something similar
is rightly required from the metaphysics of morals: a transition which, by apply-
ing the pure principles of duty to cases of experience, would schematize these
principles, as it were, and present them as ready for morally practical use —​. . .
How should people be treated in accordance with their differences in rank, age,
sex, health, prosperity or poverty and so forth? These questions do not yield so
many kinds of ethical obligation (for there is only one, that of virtue as such), but
only so many different ways of applying it (corollaries). Hence they cannot be
presented as sections of ethics and members of the division of a system (which
must proceed a priori from a rational concept), but can only be appended to the
system.—​Yet even this application belongs to the complete presentation of the
system.37

This passage is interesting for many reasons. To begin with, the systematic dis-
tinction drawn in the Opus postumum between primitive forces pertaining to
matter in general and derivative forces as modifications of the former is mir-
rored in §45: duties with respect to particular conditions “are only rules modi-
fied in accordance with differences of the subjects to whom the principle of
virtue (in terms of what is formal) is applied in cases that come up in experi-
ence (the material).” As we will see, the nature of the Transition Project has to
do with the discontinuity between formal metaphysical foundation and mater-
ial empirical application. If this is true, and if I am right that there is also a
Transition Project in Kant’s practical philosophy, then this has dramatic conse-
quences for the interpretation of the Opus postumum, because it immediately
rules out those interpretations that argue that the Opus postumum is addressing
a problem that is unique to Kant’s theoretical philosophy. Rather, we have rea-
son to assume that Kant’s Transition Project, because it originates in the separ-
ation of formal and material aspects, is central to both Kant’s respective theories
of nature and morality.
Besides the implication this passage has for the transition problem in theor-
etical philosophy, the passage is interesting because it requires us to reflect on

MSTL 6:468–​9.
37
Introduction 13

the exact nature of the parallel in practical philosophy: if the empirical manifold
of particular obligations are obligations, then they must be based on the a priori
ground of obligation (in virtue of which they are obligations in the first place).
That is, it must be possible to show that particular duties with respect to specific
conditions (qua being duties) stand under the general principle of duty. As the
last sentence of the quotation points out, even the application of the principle
of obligation belongs to the complete presentation of the system, and this is a
corollary of Kant’s scientific effort to provide the metaphysical foundations of
empirical human agency. Again, this is not a new problem, but one which Kant
already discusses in his lectures of the 1770s. The division of duties into duties
toward others merely as human beings and duties toward others with respect to
specific conditions (§45) is taken from Baumgarten’s Ethica, in accordance with
which Kant taught his lecture courses on ethics. At the very end of the Ethica,
Baumgarten introduces duties with respect to a manifold of specific conditions
“not common to all men”38 such as age, health, social status, sex, and moral con-
dition. Baumgarten emphasizes that besides the traditional natural duties that
are common to all men, we face normative claims as members of society, as
beings with specific status functions, and as agents standing in specific gender
or age relations.39
Already in his lectures of the 1770s, Kant rejects this division between
general and specific duties. He claims that the latter are not so much specific
duties but only specific conditions, in which the universal principle of duty
has to be applied.40 In a quite entertaining manner, Kant tells his students that
Baumgarten’s separation of duties would not be proper: for if we had specific
duties toward the sick, depraved, and elderly (which Baumgarten claims), then,
Kant holds, we would also have specific duties concerning the short and the tall,
the beautiful and the ugly.41 Of course, we—​and this includes Kant—​do think
that we have duties toward the sick and the naturally disadvantaged. Kant does
not deny this. What he is denying is that these obligations, which presuppose

38
Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, Ethica philosophica (Halle: Hemmerde, 1751), §400. All transla-
tions from Baumgarten are mine.
39
Baumgarten’s student, Georg Friedrich Meier, with whose Philosophische Sittenlehre Kant was
acquainted, expands the part on the specific variety of duties: one entire book of the five volumes
is devoted to this subject. See Georg Friedrich Meier, Philosophische Sittenlehre (Halle, 1753–​
61), reprinted in Christian Wolff, Gesammelte Werke, Abt.3, Vol. 109:1–​5, ed. Jean École et  al.
(Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2007).
40
Immanuel Kant, Vorlesung zur Moralphilosophie [= Moral Philosophy Kaehler], ed. Werner Stark
with an Introduction by Manfred Kühn (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004), 358. All translations from Moral
Philosophy Kaehler are mine.
41
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 358.
14

14 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

certain conditions, form a part of a metaphysics of morals. Any taxonomy of


duties that is based on specific conditions is a posteriori and as such conven-
tional and open-​ended (just as experimental physics is a posteriori and open-​
ended). Because duties with respect to specific conditions contain knowledge
that can only be gained empirically, they cannot be part of an a priori system.
Nevertheless, if obligations toward the sick, the elderly, and the ugly are obli-
gations, then they must also depend on the a priori ground of obligation (in
virtue of which they are obligations in the first place). From this perspective,
even the specific variety of duties (with respect to specific conditions) belongs
to the system of ethics in virtue of the fact that all moral precepts share the same
metaphysical foundation. But how are metaphysical foundation and empirical
application connected, that is, how are empirical precepts brought under the a
priori principle of autonomy? Autonomy is merely the formal principle of eth-
ical action, which itself requires sensible conditions of application. Because the
a priori foundation of morality is cleansed of anything empirical, including ends
and empirical motivating grounds, it is generally speaking unclear how particu-
lar obligations (empirical) can be seen as modifications of what is constitutive
of agency in the Kantian system, that is, autonomy. Autonomy is a noumenal
property of the will, and it is only in virtue of this property that agents can dis-
tinguish their agency from physical causation. However, agency takes place in
the phenomenal world.

Origins of the gap between a priori morality and


embodied agency

The problem of a gap between a priori morality and embodied agency pervades
Kant’s writings on moral philosophy. Like the problem of the gap in theoretical
philosophy, it is not a new problem. Rather, it originates in Kant’s very concep-
tion of critical philosophy. The development of Kant’s moral philosophy from
the precritical period to the Metaphysics of Morals has of course been studied
extensively, but I think it is important to briefly highlight its trajectory so that it
becomes clear that Kant’s Transition Project is not an afterthought but rather a
continuous problem.
In his “Inquiry Concerning the Distinctness of the Principles of Natural
Theology and Morality,” that is, the so-​called Prize Essay (written 1762 and pub-
lished 1764), Kant argues that only a formal principle can function as a supreme
Introduction 15

principle of morality.42 In virtue of its formality, which Kant conceives of in analogy


to purely logical rules, the supreme principle of morality holds for all rational beings
independently of their specific desires or situation. To adopt a rule of action on a
ground valid for all rational beings just means to adopt it independently of specific
desires or situations.43 Already in the Prize Essay, however, Kant sees very clearly
the problem this view will ultimately create. For he is fully aware that the “first for-
mal ground of all obligation” alone does not yield any determinate obligation:
And just as, in the absence of any material first principles of our judgments of
the truth, so here no specifically determinate obligation flows from these two
rules of the good, unless they are combined with indemonstrable material prin-
ciples of practical cognition.44

This means that the problem of the indeterminacy of moral obligation, on which
Kant still labors in the context of his casuistical questions and his conception of
ethical duties as wide duties in the Metaphysics of Morals, goes back to the pre-
critical period. At this juncture, Kant splits practical philosophy into a merely
formal principle, which is meant to explain the unconditionality of the supreme
principle of obligation and material principles of application.
This twofold distinction is mirrored in the Critique, where Kant strictly sepa-
rates the intellectual or moral world (mundus intelligibilis) from the world of
empirical agents (mundus sensibilis):
I call the world as it would be if it were in conformity with all moral laws (as
it can be in accordance with the freedom of rational beings and should be in
accordance with the necessary laws of morality) a moral world. This is conceived
thus far merely as an intelligible world, since abstraction is made therein from
all conditions (ends) and even from all hindrances to morality in it (weakness or
impurity of human nature).45

42
UD 2:299. The design of Kant’s principle of perfection in terms of two formal rules mirrors the two
supreme principles of speculative reason, i.e., the principle of identity and the principle of noncon-
tradiction. Cf. VM 28:98–​9; VE 27:9. See also Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, Initia philosphiae
practicae primae (Halle: Hemmerde, 1760), §§31, 43; Christian Wolff, Vernünfftige Gedancken von
der Menschen Thun und Lassen, zu Beförderung ihrer Glückseeligkeit [= Deutsche Ethik], §12 (Halle,
1720), reprinted in Gesammelte Werke, Abt.1, Vol. 4, ed. by Jean École et al. Hildesheim: Georg Olms
Verlag, 1976; Paul Menzer, “Der Entwicklungsgang der Kantischen Ethik in den Jahren 1760 bis
1785,” Kant-​Studien 2(1–​3) (1899a): 306; Dieter Henrich, “Über Kants früheste Ethik: Versuch einer
Rekonstruktion,” Kant-​Studien 54(1–​4) (1963): 424.
43
Cf. KU 5:173: Moral laws are “formal laws . . . not merely precepts and rules for this or that purpose,
but laws, without prior reference to ends and aims.”
44
UD 2:299. Cf. VM 28:99.
45
KrV A808/​B836.
16

16 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

In his famous 1783 review of the Critique, Christian Garve objects that it is not
clear how Kant’s noumenal standpoint of a moral world, in which we abstract
from all inclinations, can provide a compelling reason for action. For Garve, prac-
tical deliberation has to be first personal. Action requires motivating grounds
(not an abstract thought of objective rightness), and motivating grounds reflect
the particular concern of specific agents. Garve objects that Kant’s theoreti-
cal canon, that is, the idea that the absolute worth of an agent consists in the
agreement of her actions with the idea of a purely rational will, cannot properly
explain a person’s agency as her own, because it abstracts from all sensibility,
desire, and happiness:  “It will enter into the mind and into the heart of only
very few people” that a mere speculative “canon of pure understanding,” which
constitutes the “absolute worth” of human agency, “can be an incentive for our
will.”46 For Garve, Kant’s rationalism implies that the deliberating agent stands
outside her particular empirical self. In responding to Garve, Kant thus turns
from separating formal and material aspects to reconnecting them.
Kant’s idea of universal lawfulness is a paradigm that makes it possible
to think duties as unconditionally valid, but the application of this idea to
human sensibility would require something like a transcendental deduction.
Precisely this is what Kant attempts in the Groundwork. Indeed, Garve’s objec-
tion is prevalent throughout the Groundwork: Kant emphasizes, for example,
the “strangeness” of the idea of the absolute worth of a mere will that acts on
purely rational grounds, and asks whether the idea of a mere will that has
absolute worth might not be a “high-​flown fantasy” of philosophers.47 Kant
refers to the moral law as possibly being a “figment of the brain,” “a chimerical
concept,” an “empty illusion,” and a mere “phantom” [Hirngespinst] lacking all
objective reality.48
For, if someone asked us [namely, Garve] why the universal validity of our maxim
as a law must be the limiting condition of our actions, and on what we base the
worth we assign to this way of acting—​a worth so great that there can be no
higher interest anywhere—​and asked us how it happens that a human being
believes that only through this does he feel his personal worth, in comparison
with which that of an agreeable or disagreeable condition is to be held as noth-
ing, we could give him no satisfactory answer.49

46
All quotations are from Garve’s original review, reprinted in Kant’s Prolegomena, ed. Rudolf Malter
(Stuttgart: Reclam, 1989), 240. All translations are mine.
47
GMS 4:394.
48
Cf. GMS 4:394, 400, 402, 406, 407, 410, 445, 449.
49
GMS 4:449–​50, my emphasis.
Introduction 17

Kant eventually takes it on himself to provide such a satisfactory answer by show-


ing how pure reason can be practical through the deduction of transcendental
freedom in the Critique of Practical Reason. Now, it is important to see that Kant
here bridges the gap between noumenal foundation (mundus intelligibilis) and
phenomenal experience of moral obligation (mundus sensibilis) by asserting
that agents become conscious of their ineliminable commitment to autonomy
by an immediately given feeling: consciousness of the authoritative status of the
moral law is experienced as respect for the moral law. The notion of respect for
the moral law introduces the hybrid construction of a moral feeling that is the
effect of the authoritative status of a rational law on an embodied agent. This
means, Kant’s deduction of the objective validity of the moral law establishes
the general possibility of concepts mediating between the a priori foundation
of morality and empirical agency. What do I mean here? It is important to see
that moral feeling originates in an agent’s own rational activity. The practical
commitment to the moral law is ineliminable, because agents must take them-
selves as the cause of their conduct, that is, they must formulate maxims: “As
soon as we draw up maxims of the will for ourselves” we become “immediately
conscious” of our autonomy and the moral law restricting it.50 This constraint is
experienced as respect, which is a “special kind of feeling, which . . . does not pre-
cede the lawgiving of practical reason but is instead produced only by it.”51 For
Kant, autonomous agency and moral feeling are inseparably connected through
moral judgment. Because the feeling of respect affects a particular self only in
the context of specific cases of practical deliberation, we can say that moral feel-
ing connects the universal and contingent aspects of moral agency. Thus, Garve’s
challenge to show that pure reason can be practical is met by introducing the
hybrid concept of moral feeling as the subjective affective state produced by an
agent’s commitment to an objective practical principle. Moral feeling is a bridge
figure connecting the noumenal and phenomenal aspects of human agency. “And
so respect for the law is not the incentive to morality; instead it is morality itself
subjectively considered.”52 Thus, contra Garve, Kant has shown that the nou-
menal self is not alienated from the empirical self. The feeling of respect for the
moral law is the sensible expression of the authoritative status of the objectively

50
KpV 5:29.
51
KpV 5:92.
52
KpV 5:76, my emphases. Cf. Dieter Henrich, “Das Problem der Grundlegung der Ethik bei Kant
und im spekulativen Idealismus,” in Sein und Ethos. Untersuchungen zur Grundlegung der Ethik,
ed. Paulus Engelhardt (Mainz: Matthias-​Grünewald Verlag, 1963), 372–​5; Henry E. Allison, Kant’s
Theory of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 127–​8.
18

18 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

valid moral law. As we will see, moral feelings are also very personal feelings. The
beauty, as it were, of Kant’s response to Garve can be seen in the demonstration
that only the idea of autonomy makes it possible to think of my will as a will of
my own.53 All agents—​simply in virtue of being agents—​must endorse the prin-
ciple of autonomy, and moral feeling expresses this necessary commitment in
sensible terms.
As Kant returns to the aesthetic affect that morality produces in embodied
agents in the Critique of the Power of Judgment, he assigns the systematic place
of mediating concepts to reflective judgment. “The intellectual, intrinsically pur-
posive (moral) good, judged aesthetically, must . . . be represented . . . as sub-
lime, so that it arouses . . . the feeling of respect.54 There is a clear continuity of
Kant’s thought ranging from the Critique of Practical Reason, to the Critique
of the Power of Judgment, to finally Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” of section XII
of the introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue: Kant’s account of respect for the
moral law in the deduction of transcendental freedom in the Critique of Practical
Reason, and the role of aesthetic responsiveness in the “Doctrine of Method” of
that work, presents moral judgment as essentially connected to aesthetic aware-
ness of the pure moral law.55 This thought of providing access of the pure moral
law to empirical agents, and thereby bridging the gulf between the supersen-
sible foundation of morality and empirical conduct, is further developed in
Kant’s treatment of the aesthetic affective response to the supersensible ground
of human agency in the context of the feeling of the sublime (Critique of the
Power of Judgment), because Kant here provides a general theory of how a judg-
ment of reflection produces the aesthetic affective response. I will show that the
main characteristics of the feeling of the sublime can also be found in Kant’s
account of mediating concepts in the “Aesthetics of Morals” of section XII of the
introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue. On my reading, it is the faculty of judg-
ment that allows for the possibility of building a transition from metaphysical

53
“Now, one cannot possibly think of a reason that would consciously receive direction from any
other quarter with respect to its judgments, since the subject would then attribute the determina-
tion of his judgment not to his reason but to an impulse. Reason must regard itself as the author of
its principles independently of alien influences” (GMS 4:448). Cf. KrV A448/​B476; VM 28:268–​9.
Cf. Georg Geismann, “Kant über Freiheit in spekulativer und in praktischer Hinsicht,” Kant-​Studien
98(3) (2007): 283–​305.
54
KU 5:271, my emphasis.
55
On moral judgment and its aesthetic moral affect, see also KU 5:271, and Felicitas G. Munzel: “Kant’s
remarks . . . clearly show that, in his understanding of moral education proper as the cultivation of
moral judgment, the development of the aesthetic quality of our comportment of mind . . . must
go and naturally goes, hand in hand with the cultivation of our cognitive powers of discernment.”
Kant’s Conception of Moral Character: The “Critical” Link of Morality, Anthropology, and Reflective
Judgment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 310.
Introduction 19

principles constitutive of human agency to particular empirical conduct. As in


the Opus postumum, a “schematism of the power of judgment”56 is meant to con-
nect the a priori with the empirical.

Moral reflection

Despite the fact that moral agency cannot be determined by local peculiarities,
it has to be applied to them. But how? The increasing importance of the fac-
ulty of judgment can be traced throughout Kant’s writings. In the Groundwork,
Kant says that ethical principles “no doubt still require a judgment sharpened by
experience . . . to distinguish in what cases they are applicable.”57 The practice of
moral judgment enters Kant’s ethical theory in the context of assessing how to
apply the pure principles of morality [Anwendung]. The function Kant assigns to
a “judgment sharpened by experience” is one separated from the pure part of the
metaphysics of morals, but it is still a moral function.
Precisely how practical judgment is guided in its reflection about what moral-
ity requires in specific circumstances does not need to concern Kant in 1785,
because the sole purpose of the Groundwork is to determine and establish the
supreme principle of moral obligation.58 It is noteworthy that, at this point, Kant
thinks of practical judgment in analogy to determinative theoretical judgment.59
The first Critique, the Groundwork, and the Critique of Practical Reason all con-
ceive of the application problem as the task of subsuming a given particular
under a universal rule.
Now, whether an action possible for us in sensibility is or is not a case that stands
under the rule requires practical judgment, by which what is said in the rule uni-
versally (in abstracto) is applied to an action in concreto.60

In numerous passages, Kant asserts that only transcendental logic provides sche-
mata, that is, rules of application, whereas with respect to moral judgment and
other cases of empirical application problems, the power of judgment can only
be practiced through exercise (but does not provide rules).61

56
Op 21:363.
57
GMS 4:389.
58
GMS 4:392.
59
KrV A131–​2/​B170–​1.
60
KpV 5:67.
61
Cf. KrV A131–​2/​B170–​1; Refl 15:170–​1; Anth 7:199.
20

20 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

However, there is a clear shift of emphasis after the Critique of the Power of
Judgment. For example, in his 1793 “Theory–​Practice” essay, Kant acknowledges
again the central role of moral judgment in the application of duties, that is, in
order to distinguish “whether or not something is a case of the rule,” but now
Kant phrases the problem rather differently: “Between theory and practice there
is required . . . a middle term [Mittelglied] connecting them and providing a
transition [Übergang] from one to the other.”62 Similarly, the 1797 introduction
to the Doctrine of Virtue now emphasizes that application problems must be
solved in a rule-​governed way. Kant writes that a closer determination of moral
principles
call[s]‌upon judgment to decide how a maxim is to be applied in particular cases,
and indeed in such a way that judgment provides another (subordinate) maxim
(and one can always ask for yet another principle for applying this maxim to
cases that may arise).63

A hierarchy of maxims envisions (as a regulative idea of the faculty of judgment)


the possibility of a systematic limitation (under empirical conditions) upon the
general prohibitions and commands of ethics. Such a hierarchical order of max-
ims is here postulated as a regulative tool, yet one that we are rationally enjoined
to search to bring about. There is an obvious parallel to the problem with which
Kant deals in both the “Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic” and the
Critique of the Power of Judgment: rational cognition of nature requires a coher-
ent systematic ordering of divers empirical laws. The same holds for rational
agency: moral judgment must presuppose that it is possible to systematically (as
opposed to arbitrarily) organize maxims. In this vein, we find Kant now assert-
ing that the doctrine of method, that is, the practice of duties, “must be treated
methodically . . . this too must be systematic and not fragmentary if the doctrine
of virtue is to be presented as a science.”64 Yet, Kant does not tell us in these pas-
sages how the practice of moral judgment can be dealt with systematically.
The context of the application problem in the Theory–​Practice essay is that
although moral agency cannot be determined by contingent circumstances,
it must still respond to them on rational grounds.65 Garve, to whom Kant is
responding here, believes that in certain circumstances “the empirical and hence
contingent conditions of carrying out the law” should be made “conditions of

62
TP 8:275.
63
MSTL 6:411.
64
MSTL 6:478.
65
Cf. MSRL 6:217.
Introduction 21

the law itself.”66 In other words, the unconditional necessitation of the moral
law might be granted in theory, but in practice it does not hold. This means,
­autonomy might be right in theory, but when it comes to practical problems,
heteronomy is the way to go. This is like saying that a dynamical theory of matter
and its transcendental foundation are right in theory but not in practice. I will
argue that this is not an option for Kant.
Another dramatic example of the problem of application is in his 1798 “On
a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy.” Kant explicitly acknowledges here
again an indeterminacy question, and claims that practical principles require
“intermediary principles” for “the closer determination of their application to
cases that come up.”67 Unfortunately, Kant does not further specify his theory of
intermediary principles in this essay. The fundamental point that Kant attempts
to make again is that the a priori part of a moral theory must be separated from
the empirical domain, and that conditions of the application of morality cannot
be laid at the foundation of morality. This is of course the heart of Kant’s moral
theory of autonomy and, as Kant’s repeated responses to criticisms show, this is
also the most difficult point to understand for adherents of heteronomous moral
theories. The purity of the foundation of morality, that is, its strict separation
from conditions of application, is the most fundamental aspect of Kant’s theory.
Nevertheless, Kant acknowledges that there remains the problem of connecting
the a priori and empirical domains of morality.
All this evidence shows that §45 is neither an isolated passage, nor a passage
dealing with a new problem belatedly addressed between 1796 and 1798. It is
not a coincidence that once Kant begins to work on the Transition Project in the
Opus postumum he draws numerous parallels between the transition problem
in theoretical and practical philosophy in his writings and notes in that time
period.68 The Transition Project is a systemic problem of Kant’s conception of
critical philosophy. It seems that Kant used most of his final life strength on
thinking through the Transition Project on the theoretical side. The several hun-
dred pages of volumes 21 and 22 of the Academy Edition bear witness to this
attempt. There is less material on the practical side. I  have mentioned §45 of
the Doctrine of Virtue, but there is also the preface to the 1796 Doctrine of Right,

66
TP 8:277.
67
VRML 8:430.
68
For example, MSRL 6:205, 214–​15; MSTL 375–​76; VRML 8:427–​8. Kant’s preliminary works on the
Metaphysics of Morals also contain notes on the transition from metaphysics to physics; e.g., leaves
22, 24, and 46 (Op 21:470ff., 178). Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 52, 108, 157–​60.
2

22 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

which literally begins with the problem of the transition from metaphysical first
principles to cases of experience:
The critique of practical reason was to be followed by a system, the metaphys-
ics of morals, which falls into metaphysical and first principles of the doctrine
of right and metaphysical first principles of the doctrine of virtue. (This is a
­counterpart of the metaphysical first principles of natural science, already pub-
lished) . . . But since the concept of right is a pure concept that still looks to
practice (application to cases that come up in experience), a metaphysical system
of right would also have to take account, in its divisions, of the empirical variety
of such cases, in order to make its division complete (as is essential in construct-
ing a system of reason). But what is empirical cannot be divided completely, and
if this is attempted (at least to approximate to it), empirical concepts cannot be
brought into the system as integral parts of it but can be used only as examples
in remarks . . . For in the application of these principles to cases the system itself
cannot be expected, but only approximation to it. Accordingly, it will be dealt
with as in the (earlier) Metaphysical First Principles of Natural Science: namely,
that right which belongs to the system outlined a priori will go into the text,
while rights taken from particular cases of experience will be put into remarks.69

Kant’s explicit references to the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science are


noteworthy because of the analogy Kant draws between theoretical and practical
philosophy. In the “General Remark to Dynamics,” Kant likewise wrote that he
can only approximate the division that guides the application of the constitutive
principles of matter in general to divers empirical forces. “Instead of a sufficient
explanation . . . I will present completely, so I hope, the moments to which its
specific variety must collectively be reducible.”70 In both theoretical and practical
philosophy, Kant aims for a “system of reason” which requires an account of the
complete “divisions . . . of the empirical variety.” As §45, the above passage from
the preface to the Doctrine of Right states that the empirical manifold of cases
cannot be part of the a priori system, yet a “complete” account of the “divisions”
of the empirical variety is “essential in constructing a system of reason.” So Kant
begins the preface to the Doctrine of Right by reflecting on the necessary separ-
ation of the a priori and empirical parts of a science (“the concept of right is a
pure concept”), mentions the problem of the “application to cases that come up
in experience,” and eventually grants that he cannot present a complete solution

MSRL 6:205.
69

MAN 4:525, my emphasis.


70
Introduction 23

to this transition problem, which, therefore, he will only discuss in Remarks, as


he has done in the 1786 Metaphysical Foundations.
The unpublished second convolut of the Opus postumum, from which I will
cite in a moment, should be read in conjunction with Kant’s remarks in the
preface to the Doctrine of Right. In the second convolut, Kant first claims that
there are a specific number of elementary concepts [eine gewisse Menge von
Elementarbegriffen die sich abzählen läßt] that make possible the application of
the moving forces of matter in general to cases of experience, in the absence
of which there could not be a philosophical science of nature [philosophische
Naturwissenschaft]. “There must be such a part of natural science that lies in-​
between the metaphysical foundations of natural science and physics because
without that intermediate step there is no continuous connection of both parts,”
which, Kant continues, is “dangerous” insofar as it opens the door to mere “opin-
ion” and “hypotheses” in science.71 Therefore, the Transition [Überschritt] to
the empirical laws of physics, which Kant here calls statutory laws of empirical
nature [Überganges zu den gleichsam statutarischen Gesetzen der Erfahrungslehre
der Natur (Physik)] must be dealt with systematically (as opposed to fragmen-
tarily in remarks). Triggered perhaps by the term “statutory,” Kant then makes
the following remark on the notion of right, which I want to juxtapose with the
passage cited from the 1796 preface:
Pure and statutory doctrine of right are distinguished from each other as the
rational and the empirical. Because the latter [statutory doctrine of right] would
be a mere mechanical product without the former [pure doctrine of right], and
thus be no objective right (stemming from laws of reason) but a mere subject-
ive right (originating in the volition of the upper power), that is, no right at all,
there is required a special branch of the doctrine of right in general, which has
to be inserted between the two [i.e., the rational and empirical part] and which
mediates the connection between them as a Transition from the pure doctrine
of right to a statutory [doctrine of right] in general . . . [This] Transition from
the rational to the empirical would be very useful, indeed necessary, for judg-
ing whether the empirical is in accordance with reason [zu Beurtheilung der
Vernunftmäßigkeit der letzteren].72

The pure doctrine of right, which establishes, for example, the a priori principle
of right or the right to possession in general, is directly derived from practical

71
Op 21:177, my translation.
72
Op 21:178, my translation, emphasis is in the original.
24

24 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

reason. Statutory rights, however, are positive laws that are legislated by empir-
ical rulers. As the passage continues, Kant grants that policy makers do not
turn toward the pure doctrine of right in order to guide their reasoning; the
same holds for the natural scientists, who do not turn toward the Metaphysical
Foundations to guide their experiments. I think we see Kant here battling for
the practical relevance of his philosophical heritage. Kant’s critical philosophy
demands that a pure, formal, metaphysical foundation must precede empirical
lawgiving of whatever kind. Without filling the “gap,” Kant writes in the second
convolut, neither continuity in juridical legislation can be expected, nor any cer-
tainty that statutory laws are objectively right. Kant makes a related point in his
1795  “Perpetual Peace” essay, when he writes that conventional exceptions to
practical principles would make moral rules uncertain, and that therefore the
application of a principle requires another (intermediary) principle:
Then it is said that this or that is prohibited, except for number 1, number 2,
number 3, and so forth indefinitely, since permissions are added to the law only
contingently, not in accordance with a principle but by groping about among
cases that come up.73

Certainty and systematicity are essential features of Kant’s conception of a law.


Application problems cannot be resolved conventionally, but rather it is the task
of the philosopher to provide mediating concepts that guide empirical reflection
to a coherent and rational determination of phenomena. The idea of the secure
path of a science is at the bottom of both the transition problems in theoretical
and practical philosophy. As Kant sees it, the Transition Project must be com-
pleted by “the philosopher as theoretician,” but it is meant to benefit the “prac-
titioner.”74 Unfortunately, besides the division of right into “natural right, which
rests only on a priori principles, and positive (statutory) right, which proceeds
from the will of the legislator,”75 neither the 1796 Doctrine of Right nor the Opus
postumum contain any further hint of how the Transition might be brought
about. As I said, Kant focuses his remaining life strength almost exclusively on
the transition problem in theoretical philosophy. There is, however, the quite
cryptic section XII of the introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue, which I propose
to put into connection with §45 and Kant’s conception of a transition in terms
of moral schemata.

73
ZeF 8:348n.
74
Op 21:178.
75
MSRL 6:237.
Introduction 25

Moral schemata

Kant conceives of the filling of the gap in his critical philosophy via schemata.
The task of a schema is not to replace empirical judgment: rather, its task is to
provide a transition to empirical judgment. Moral theory alone cannot provide
determinate answers to specific moral cases, just as Kant’s philosophy of physics
does not solve physical problems. Thus, in §45, the concept of an a priori schema
is not meant itself to determine a priori the case to which a pure concept is
applied, but rather to guide empirical reflection. I will argue that both the theo-
retical and practical divisions of Kant’s critical philosophy require such mediat-
ing concepts, in virtue of which we can understand particular laws as necessary.
The problem of connecting the pure and applied parts of Kant’s moral phil-
osophy is, of course, not new. Robert Louden has rightly emphasized that for
moral judgment to be possible there has to be material knowledge about the
world: just as thoughts without intuition are empty, so pure moral philosophy
requires empirical or “impure” ethics to be action guiding.76 Barbara Herman
has called these empirical elements “rules of moral salience.”77 I agree that it is
absolutely pivotal to insist that Kant’s moral philosophy consists of a pure and
applied part, and that moral agency requires empirical background knowledge.
Louden argues that empirical ethics provides this background in various forms:
knowledge of species-​specific obstacles and aids to morality; knowledge of such
obstacles and aids with respect to specific subgroups, that is, with respect to gen-
der, age, and cultural contingencies; knowledge of art and sciences as instrumen-
tal tools for moral education; knowledge of how to reshape the natural world in
order to make moral progress, that is, institutions of culture, politics, law, and
religion.78 For Louden, all of this provides the empirical “counterpart . . . [to] a
metaphysics of morals”79 insofar as it aids the pursuit of moral ends. Yet, note
that in virtue of its empirical origin, “impure ethics” thus conceived can neither
bridge freedom and nature nor “complete the system of ethical knowledge”80 pre-
cisely because it is a mere aggregate that is in no way systematically connected
to pure philosophy. Kant’s practical anthropology indeed provides material
“knowledge” of the world (think of his remarks on gender, race, and nations),
but this empirical body of data is open-​ended and always changing, that is, it

76
Robert B. Louden, Kant’s Impure Ethics: From Rational Beings to Human Beings (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2000), 3–​30.
77
Barbara Herman, The Practice of Moral Judgment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 77–​8.
78
Louden, Impure Ethics, 167–​82.
79
MSRL 6:217.
80
Louden, Impure Ethics, 23.
26

26 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

cannot amount to a coherent system. Louden himself sees this very clearly as he
cites various passages from Kant to that effect: “In a system it is the whole that
comes before the parts, whereas in an aggregate the parts are first.”81 Louden thus
rightly asks: “How can a body of knowledge based on empirical precepts consti-
tute a legitimate part of ethics in any sense for Kant?”82
I hope that my book provides an answer to that question. Louden subsumes
a very broad range of empirical phenomena under the heading of the counter-
part to pure ethics, which includes historical, political, anthropological, psy-
chological, pedagogical, aesthetic, and religious dimensions of human agency.83
Because I begin with §45, which asks how particular obligations can be seen
as necessary, I formulate the gap problem between pure morality and applied
ethics more narrowly than Louden, namely, as a problem of moral judgment.
What guides moral reflection? How can moral reflection be “brought under”
the a priori principle of morality? How can an agent work toward forming a
coherent web of maxims such that she can conceive of herself as an autono-
mous agent? In short, how is the regulative procedure of empirical judgment
connected to what constitutes us as moral agents? As I see it, moral agency
indeed requires particular knowledge about the world, but it cannot possibly
be the task of the a priori philosopher to present this particular knowledge.
Rather, the task is to show how particular duties formulated in specific con-
texts (whatever these are) can be seen as modifications of the a priori princi-
ples of morality, because it is in virtue of their a priori foundation alone that
duties can be seen as necessary. Thus, I will not attempt to bind Kant’s writings
on anthropology (which present an aggregate of loosely arranged topics) into
the Transition Project, whereas I will say something about moral education
and the role of aesthetics for moral agency. These and other selective topics—​
for example, certainty in ethics and physics; systematicity of divers empirical
laws; the role of the power of judgment in providing transitions; schemata as
a means to connect the a priori and empirical; the clue of the categories for
building systems—​will be motivated from the perspective of Kant’s parallel
thoughts on theoretical and practical philosophy during 1796–​8. I will suggest
that the idea of a whole that is necessary for the scientific status of ethics (and
physics) is provided by the fourfold structure of mediating concepts in Kant’s
Transition Project, which is based on the table of the categories. This four-
fold structure linking pure morality to empirical ethics (and the metaphysics

81
PG 9:158. Cf. Louden, Impure Ethics, 175.
82
Louden, Impure Ethics, 17.
83
Louden, Impure Ethics, 176.
Introduction 27

of nature to empirical physics) is present in both—​Kant’s late theoretical and


practical philosophy.
One key claim of my interpretation is that Kant develops a theory of moral
feelings as aesthetic expressions of (or affective responses to) autonomy, which
he envisions to connect a priori morality and empirical agency in section XII of
the introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue, written in the same time period as the
“Octaventwurf ” of the Opus postumum. I will argue that moral feelings, such as
self-​respect, are the product of an agent’s practical judgment, which reflects on
a particular maxim in the context of the unconditionality of the moral law and
competing empirical motivating grounds. This theory originates in Kant’s the-
ory of respect for the moral law developed in the Groundwork and the Critique
of Practical Judgment. In the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant argues that
such affective responses are the product of reflective judgment. Since all four
moral feelings of section XII are self-​wrought feelings, that is, they are produced
by acknowledging the unconditional status of reason, they are akin to the feel-
ing of the sublime, that is, a product of reflective judgment in its aesthetic form.
For this reason, Kant calls these mediating concepts “aesthetic” [Ästhetische
Vorbegriffe]. To be clear, though practically grounded in moral reflection, these
feelings are purely aesthetic in nature (i.e., they lack motivating force and do not
aid in cognition). They are,

a. moral feeling,
b. feeling of conscience,
c. love of human beings [Liebe des Nächsten], and
d. feeling of respect for oneself (self-​esteem).84

I will show that section XII attempts to link each of the four a priori feelings to
one of the classes of the categories, and that herein it parallels Kant’s efforts in
the Opus postumum, where the Transition is also brought about through a “sche-
matism of the power of judgment.”85 All mediating concepts are rooted in the
forms of judgment, and thus we can understand why Kant attempts to exhaust-
ively classify all mediating concepts through the table of the categories. In my
view, there is overwhelming evidence that section XII has the systematic pur-
pose of building a bridge from the metaphysical account of practical rationality
to embodied agency, which parallels Kant’s idea of the Transition Project in the
“Octaventwurf.” In other words, there is embeded in the Metaphysics of Morals a

84
MSTL 6:399.
85
Op 21:363, my translation.
28

28 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Transition Project in practical philosophy that has completely escaped scholarly


attention, because interpreters have not thought of the Opus postumum and the
Metaphysics of Morals as parallel texts.
Now, pairing rationality and feeling, reason and affect, might appear as a dubi-
ous project within the Kantian framework, because Kant generally sees these
terms as opposites.86 So some terminological remarks on Kant’s use of affect and
feeling are in order. For example, in section XVII, Kant claims that

an affect always belongs to sensibility, no matter by what kind of object it is


aroused. The true strength of virtue is a tranquil mind with a considered and
firm resolution to put the law of virtue into practice. That is the state of health
in the moral life, whereas an affect, even one aroused by the thought of what is
good, is a momentary, sparkling phenomenon that leaves one exhausted.87

The situation is not more promising with regard to the term feeling [Gefühl].
Traditionally, Kant is read, and rightly so, as emphasizing the sovereignty of rea-
son, denigrating feelings in his moral philosophy, because feelings are always
subjective, and, generally speaking, have an empirical origin. Think of the gar-
den variety of empirically caused emotions such as pity, fear, pride, ridicule, and
so on. Why should certain feelings suddenly be required in order for ethical
principles to be “ready for morally practical use”?88 How can Kant claim that
moral feelings are necessary for the receptivity of concepts of duty as such, while
simultaneously maintaining that moral reasons apply to all rational agents?
After all, the categorical authority of ethical precepts is independent of anything
contingent, such as our feelings. Indeed, Kant claims in section XV that “since
virtue is based on inner freedom it contains a positive command to a human
being, namely to . . . control and so to rule over himself . . . forbidding him to
let himself be governed by his feelings and inclinations.”89 So what is going on
in section XII?
There are two ways in which moral feelings might be seen as contributing
to moral agency that have been discussed in the recent literature, and which I

86
Something similar is also true for the transcendental schemata of the “Analytic,” which violate
the strict dichotomy between intellectual and sensible representations. Cf. Gerhard Seel, “Die
Einleitung in die Analytik der Grundsätze, der Schematismus und die Obersten Grundsätze (A130/​
B169–​A158/​B197),” in Immanuel Kant: Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Vol. 17/​18, Klassiker Auslegen,
ed. Georg Mohr et al., (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1998), 230.
87
MSTL 6:409. Cf. KU 5:271f.
88
MSTL 6:468. Thanks to Adam Shmidt for pressing me on this point at the 2016 Biennial Meeting of
the North American Kant Society.
89
MSTL 6:408.
Introduction 29

label motivational and epistemic readings.90 On the motivational reading, feel-


ings might serve as necessary independent motives to moral conduct that moral
reasons alone cannot sufficiently provide given the frailty of human nature. On
the epistemic reading, feelings are tools for recognizing morally salient features
in an agent’s environment. I will reject both readings as inadequate interpret-
ations of section XII, and instead present a third option, namely, that moral feel-
ings are an expression of the authority of moral reasons in aesthetic terms: the
consciousness of moral requirements, in sensibly affected human beings, mani-
fests itself in a particular set of moral aesthetic responses. Thus, as I understand
them, the moral feelings of section XII are rational–​sensible hybrids, and, for
this reason, I will use the terms affects of reason, moral feelings, and rational feel-
ings interchangeably.91 The fourfold schemata of moral aesthetic responsiveness
(moral feeling, conscience, love of human beings, and self-​esteem) are “subject-
ive conditions of receptiveness to the concept of duty . . . All of them are aes-
thetic . . . where the aesthetic state (the way in which inner sense is affected)” is
not “pathological” but “moral,” because it does not precede the presentation of
the law, but, rather “can only follow upon it.”92
What I hope to accomplish with this study is to make the case for a pervasive
transition project that one can trace through Kant’s entire critical philosophy
and that is, in turn, the key to addressing current debates in the scholarship (the
specific transition project of the Opus postumum, and the role of practical judg-
ment in Kantian ethics). The interpretation of such a pervasive transition project,

90
Cf. Marcia Baron, Kantian Ethics Almost without Apology (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995);
Nancy Sherman, Making a Necessity of Virtue: Aristotle and Kant on Virtue (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1997); Anne Margaret Baxley, Kant’s Theory of Virtue:  The Value of Autocracy
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
91
The German term “Gefühl” could be translated as either “feeling” or “emotion.” Many authors in
the existing literature use these terms synonymously. I suggest dropping the terminology of “emo-
tion” and “subjective psychological states” in reference to moral feeling because unlike emotions,
which have an empirical basis, the fourfold schemata of moral aesthetic responsiveness are affective
responses to the imperative of practical reason. It is important to have terminology that underscores
that consciousness of these responses does not have an empirical basis. Therefore, I  will use the
term “emotion” only when I  am talking about empirically caused states such as envy or dismay.
Unfortunately, there is a further ambiguity regarding the term “affect.” The adjectival and adverbial
forms (“affected,” “affective” as a translation for afficirt), as well as the verbal form (“to affect” as a
translation for afficiren) are unproblematic. E.g., Kant refers to the “aesthetic state (Zustand)” as an
“Afficirung des inneren Sinnes” in his discussion of moral feelings in section XII of the Metaphysics
of Morals. However, “affect” as a noun means an agitation of the mind that causes the mind to lose
its composure (cf. VAnth 25:589–​90; KU 5:272). For this reason, I will avoid “affect” in its noun form
when referring to aesthetic responses. Cf. Felicitas G. Munzel, Kant’s Conception of Pedagogy: Toward
Education for Freedom (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2012), 261–​76. I am here indebted
to an anonymous reviewer of this book.
92
MSTL 6:399. Translation modified. The Cambridge edition translates “ästhetisch” as feeling. I prefer
to keep the term “aesthetic” because, as will become clear, it is key to understand the connection of
section XII to Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment. Cf. KU 5:178–​9, 271.
30

30 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

showing where and when Kant himself adds elements, and articulates both the
issue and its solution, is presented against the background of the systematic par-
allel that Kant draws between the Opus postumum and the Metaphysics of Morals
in §45 and elsewhere. The publication of the Metaphysics of Morals falls into
the same time period, in which Kant works on the early drafts of the Transition
Project (1796–​8). However, the systematic parallel between Kant’s late practical
and theoretical philosophy has received no attention in the literature. I think that
putting Kant’s late philosophy of nature in discussion with Kant’s late thoughts
on morals not only serves a better understanding of the former but also sheds
new light on the latter.
1

What Philosophical Problem Does the


Transition Project of the Opus postumum
Address?

Introduction

The fundamental problem of Kant’s Opus postumum is to build a transition from


the metaphysics of nature to empirical physics. Kant reports to Garve that only
“the transition from the metaphysical foundations of natural science to physics”
will fill a gap in the “system of critical philosophy.”1 In the following month, he
writes to Kiesewetter:
With that work the task of the critical philosophy will be completed and a gap that
now stands open will be filled. I want to make the “Transition from the Metaphysical
Foundations of Natural Science to Physics” into a special branch of natural philoso-
phy (philosophia naturalis), one that must not be left out of the system.2

In the “Octaventwurf ” and other drafts of the Opus postumum, written between
1796 and 1798, Kant writes:
In the part of the philosophical science of nature (philosophia naturalis) . . . there
is a gap to be filled between the metaphysical foundations of natural science and
physics; its filling is called a transition from the one to the other.3

There is no consensus in the literature on what motivates the Transition Project,


and why Kant describes it as addressing a gap in his critical philosophy. Why
does Kant think that the Transition Project addresses a philosophical problem?
Why is it not a problem that could be left to the empirical sciences, as Adickes
holds, who has extensively written on Kant’s natural philosophy and the Opus

1
Letter to Garve of September 21, 1798. Br 12:257.
2
Br 12:258.
3
Op 21:482.
32

32 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

postumum?4 The two most prominent Kant scholars who have recently written
on the Opus postumum, Friedman and Förster, come to quite different conclu-
sions regarding the question why Kant worked on a book titled “Transition from
the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science to Physics.”5 Both commenta-
tors come to the conclusion (albeit for different reasons) that Kant’s Transition
Project is a new project.6 I will reject both Friedman’s and Förster’s reconstruc-
tions of the Transition Project. The Transition Project is not a new problem, it
is an old one. It essentially belongs to Kant’s conception of critical philosophy
as philosophia naturalis. Despite the fact that the notion philosophia naturalis
looms large in Kant’s various descriptions of the Transition Project, it has not
received sufficient attention in the literature.
The chapter falls into three parts: First, I will provide my own reconstruction
of the origin of Kant’s Transition Project. I show that Kant’s dynamic account of
matter constitution stands in the Wolffian tradition and that the 1786 “General
Remark to Dynamics” already contains a transition from metaphysical forces of
matter in general to empirical forces. Second, I will elaborate on the continuity
and pervasiveness of Kant’s Transition Project by discussing alternative accounts
of the Transition Project presented in the literature. Third, I  will explain why
Kant takes up the old project of the “General Remark to Dynamics” again in
the Opus postumum. I  will continue to show how the transition problems of
Kant’s critical philosophy are continuous, and trace how the means to solve
them change. In this context, I will discuss the increased importance of reflec-
tive judgment in Kant’s attempts to provide transitions after the Critique of the
Power of Judgment.

Kant’s philosophia naturalis

The Wolffian distinction between a pure and an applied part of a


proper science
The influence of Wolffian thought on the precritical Kant can hardly be over-
estimated. Christian Wolff (1659–​1754), whose scientific method Kant praises
at various places in his writings,7 explicitly demands that metaphysics shall

4
Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 213ff., 514ff.
5
Op 21:373.
6
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 264; Eckart Förster, Kant’s Final Synthesis: An Essay on the Opus Postumum
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 4–​11.
7
E.g., KrV B xxxvi; Refl 18:68.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 33

ground, and thus has to precede, the science of physics for the sake of the latter’s
certainty. In his Preliminary Discourse (1728), Wolff formulates the foundation-
alist relationship between philosophy and physics, that is, between a priori and
empirical laws, as follows:
If everything is to be demonstrated accurately in physics, then principles
must be borrowed from metaphysics. Physics explains those things which are
possible through bodies . . . If these things are to be treated demonstratively,
then the notions of body, matter, nature, motion, the elements, and other
such general notions must be known . . . Now these notions are explained in
general cosmology and in ontology . . . Therefore, if all things are to be dem-
onstrated accurately in physics, principles must be borrowed from general
cosmology and ontology . . . Thus it is clear that metaphysics must precede
physics.8

In his 1737 Cosmologia Generalis, Wolff again begins with the claim that the
pure part of cosmology is supposed to ground an applied, experimental part.
Cosmology is scientific in virtue of its general foundation, and the experimental
part is supposed to confirm the general part:
Scientific general cosmology demonstrates a general theory concerning the
world from the principles of Ontology; on the other hand . . . experimental gen-
eral cosmology elicits a theory established in scientific cosmology . . . Because
those theories that are demonstrated in scientific cosmology are elicited in
experimental cosmology on the basis of observations, experimental cosmology
presupposes scientific cosmology.9

In this vein, Kant declares in his first publication, the 1747 Thoughts on the True
Estimation of Living Forces, that it is “obvious: that the primary sources of the
effects of nature must be a projection [Vorwurf] of metaphysics.”10 Still, in his
mature Metaphysical Foundations, Kant insists that physics requires philosophy:

Christian Wolff, Praemittitur discursus praeliminaris de philosophia in genere: Philosophia rationalis


8

sive Logica, methodo scientifica pertractata et ad usum scientiarum atque vitae aptata [= Preliminary
Discourse], Frankfurt, 1728, reprinted in Gesammelte Werke, Abt.2, Vol. 1:1–​3, ed. by École, Jean
et al. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1983), §§94–​5, my emphasis.
9
Christian Wolff, Cosmologia Generalis:  Methodo Scientifica Pertractata, Qua Ad Solidam,
Inprimis Dei Atque Naturae, Cognitionem Via Sternitur [= General Cosmology], Second
Edition, Frankfurt:  1737, reprinted in Gesammelte Werke, Abt.2, Vol. 4, ed. by École, Jean et  al.
(Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2009), §§4–​5, my emphasis. Cf. Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten,
Metaphysica/​Metaphysik: historisch-​kritische Ausgabe, ed. and trans. Günter Gawlick et al. (Stuttgart-​
Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-​Holzboog, 2011), §351, where Baumgarten picks up Wolff ’s rational–​
empirical distinction. See also Kant’s related Refl 17:331, and Op 21:475.
10
GSK 1:61, my translation.
34

34 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

All natural philosophers who have wished to proceed mathematically in their


occupation have always, and must have always, made use of metaphysical prin-
ciples (albeit unconsciously) . . . Thus these mathematical physicists could in no
way avoid metaphysical principles, and among them, also not those that make
the concept of their proper object, namely matter, a priori suitable for applica-
tion to outer experience, such as the concept of motion, the filling of space,
inertia, and so on.11

Kant claims that proper natural science silently presupposes metaphysics of


nature, which first determines a priori the most fundamental object of natural
science, namely, empirical matter (i.e., the corporeal object of external sense).12
In this foundationalist context, Kant explicitly distinguishes his Wolffian con-
ception of “philosophia naturalis” from the mathematical tradition of this notion
found in Newton’s “philosophia naturalis principia mathematica.”13 The latter,
according to Kant, already presupposes “real motion (wirkliche Bewegungen)”14
and thus requires “physical//​ dynamical principles (Anfangsgründe),”15 which
it is the task of philosophy to develop from “matter’s own [moving] forces.”16
Although it would be false to maintain that “philosophy” for Kant is nothing but
philosophy of science, it is a striking fact about Kant’s writings that, throughout
his career—​from the very first publication, which deals with the scientific problem
of the measurement of force in the context of Cartesian and Leibnizian metaphys-
ics, to the very last reflections contained in the Opus postumum—​Kant develops
his philosophy in the context of the contemporary natural science of his time.17
The reciprocity of empirical science and metaphysics is also apparent in the titles
of two of Kant’s precritical writings: Metaphysicae cum geometria iunctae usus in
philosophia naturali, cuius specimen I.  continet monadologiam physicam (1756)
(The Employment in Natural Philosophy of Metaphysics Combined with Geometry,
of which Sample I  Contains the Physical Monadology); and his New Theory of
Motion and Rest, and the Connected Consequences in the First Principles of the
Natural Sciences (1758). Wundt correctly locates Kant’s conception of philosophy

11
MAN 4:472. Cf. Konstantin Pollok, “Kant’s Critical Concepts of Motion,” Journal of the History of
Philosophy 44(4) (2006): 569–​70.
12
MAN 4:467, 470, 472, 473, 477, 479, 564.
13
Op 21:505. Cf. Op 21:484; Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 159n1.
14
Op 21:505, my translation.
15
Op 21:352, my translation.
16
Op 21:505, my translation.
17
Friedman has recently provided a nice example of this by pointing to Kant’s correspondence
with Lambert. Michael Friedman, Kant’s Construction of Nature:  A  Reading of the Metaphysical
Foundations of Natural Science (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2013), 121–​ 2. Cf.
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 136ff.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 35

in the context of those thinkers who attempt to comprehend the contingent as


grounded on necessary foundations,18 and Adickes has pointed out in this context
that throughout his career Kant attempts to solve problems in the empirical sci-
ences not through experimental methods, but metaphysically.19
Kant stands in the tradition of natural philosophy that aims at a metaphysical
foundation of natural science that precedes physics, a tradition in which also
Descartes stands.20 Locke’s Essay, on the contrary, which also presents a theory
of knowledge that precedes specific knowledge claims, is quite different in char-
acter. Locke does not think that certainty is achievable in the natural sciences,
and thus he explicitly excludes scientific ambitions. For example, Locke con-
ceives of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities as a diversion
into the physical sciences that does not lie on the main path of his Essay.21 It is
of course true that Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason shares the Lockean negative
project of drawing limits to knowledge. However, the limiting of knowledge, the
project of curbing transcendent metaphysics, is intricately connected to show-
ing the possibility of immanent metaphysics, that is, the a priori determination
of the conditions of the possibility of experience.22 It is this latter project that
is connected to philosophia naturalis, that is, to a rational foundation of phys-
ics. Thus, while both the Cartesian and Lockean propaedeutics precede sub-
stantial knowledge claims, only the former is scientific in its motivation. It is
important in this context that Kant, via Wolff, stands in this scientific tradition.
Wolff, whose “strict method,” Kant claims, “gave us the first example . . . of the
way in which the secure course of a science is to be taken,”23 follows Descartes’s
scientific motivation by aiming to demonstrate empirical truths from undeni-
able grounds [“unumstösslichen Gründen”] and thus to bring about “complete
certainty in physics.”24 Certainty and systematicity are essential features of the

18
Max Wundt, Kant als Metaphysiker:  Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Deutschen Philosophie im 18.
Jahrhundert (Stuttgart: Verlag von Ferdinand Enke, 1924), 12–​27.
19
Erich Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher, Vol. 1 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1924), 139.
20
In his seventh set of objections and replies, Descartes writes:  “I have made it clear that my
method imitates that of the architect. When an architect wants to build a house which is stable on
ground . . .” René Descartes, The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Vol. 2, trans. John Cottingham
et  al. (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1984), 366. Similarly, in the first Meditation,
Descartes announces: “I realized that it was necessary . . . to . . . start again right from the founda-
tions if I wanted to establish anything at all in the sciences that was stable.” Descartes, Philosophical
Writings, 17.
21
John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Roger Woolhouse (London: Penguin
Books, 2004), Book 1, Chapter 1, Section 1–​7; Book 2, Chapter 8, Section 22.
22
See, for example, Kant’s famous 1772 letter to Herz (Br 10:129–​30), and Kant’s Progress essay (FM
20:290–​1).
23
KrV Bxxxvi.
24
Cited after Lind, Physik im Lehrbuch, 107.
36

36 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Wolffian philosophy, whose deductive method, which begins from universal


propositions and proceeds to particular cases (as opposed to the experimental
Newtonian method), aims at a hierarchically organized system of concepts.25
Accordingly, Wolff divides the knowledge of nature into a general part, which
demonstrates universal propositions with respect to the essential features of
bodies in general, and a particular part, which contains the application of the
general part to specific empirical phenomena. The goal of the Wolffian concep-
tion of philosophy is to connect metaphysics and experimental physics into a
single system of knowledge.26
The first textbook, which Kant uses for his physics lectures, that is, Eberhard’s
Erste Gründe der Naturlehre, stands in the same tradition.27 It separates a gen-
eral part of physics, which deals with universal attributes pertaining to matter
in general, from a part dealing with the particular variety of bodies, which deals
with specific phenomena such as solid and fluid bodies, and specific elastici-
ties.28 Also Wolff ’s Cosmologia Generalis contains such a systematic distinction
between primitive forces pertaining to matter in general and derivative forces
that are modifications of the former.29 Kant adopts this division early on in his

25
Cf. Lind, Physik im Lehrbuch, 113ff.
26
Cf. Lind, Physik im Lehrbuch, 114–​6.
27
Kant lectured on physics twenty-​one times between 1755/​6 and 1787/​8. As was mandatory, Kant
had to adopt a textbook for his lectures. In the 1750s and 60s, Kant lectured physics based on Johann
Peter Eberhard, Erste Gründe der Naturlehre, Halle, 1753, 21759, 31767. Cf. Physik Herder, 1763 or
1764/​5, VP 29:67–​71. In this time period, he also lectured on mechanics based on Wolff. Cf. Werner
Stark, Nachforschungen zu Briefen und Handschriften Immanuel Kants (Berlin:  Akademie Verlag,
1993), 322. Later, between 1776 and 1783, Kant adopted Johann Christian Polykarp Erxleben,
Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre, Göttingen und Gotha:  1772, 21777. Cf. Berliner Physik or Physik
Friedländer, 1779, VP 29:73–​92. Finally, Kant used Wenceslaus Johann Gustav Karsten, Anleitung
zur gemeinnützlichen Erkenntnis der Natur, Halle, 1783. Cf. Danziger Physik or Physik Mrongovius,
1785, VP 29:93–​169. For his lecture in 1787/​8 he switched back to Erxleben, which was now edited
and enhanced by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Göttingen, 1785. Kant wrote to Lichtenberg in 1798
mentioning his Transition Project (Br 12:247).
28
“Because one either considers the universal properties of bodies or explains the particular occur-
rences that depend on these [universal properties], the philosophical doctrine of nature can thus
be divided into two parts, namely the universal and the particular . . . In the second part . . .
the universal properties of bodies, which were proved in the first part, are applied to particu-
lar bodies in order to explain their appearances from these [universal properties of bodies].”
(Eberhard, Gründe der Naturlehre, 6, my translation). Cf. Konstantin Pollok, Kants ‘Metaphysische
Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft:’ Ein kritischer Kommentar (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag,
2001), 25.
29
“Vis primitive est, quae omni corpori per se inest . . . Vis derivativa est, quae per modificationem
vis primitivae resultat . . . Vis derivativa resultat per limitationem vis primitivae.” Wolff, General
Cosmology, §§358–​ 64. Wolffians, such as Hanov, whose first two volumes of his 1762/​ 1765
Philosophiae naturalis sive physicae dogmaticae were in Kant’s library, further develop this sys-
tematic approach. See Michael Christoph Hanov, Philosophiae naturalis sive physicae dogmaticae,
Tomus I.  continens physicam generalem, coelestem et aetheream tanquam systematis philosophici
Christiani L. B. de Wolff (Halle: Renger, 1762). Tomus II. continens aerologiam et hydrologiam vel
scientiam aeris et aqvae tanquam continvationem systematis philosphici Christiani L.  B.  de Wolff
(Halle: Renger, 1765).
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 37

youth. In accordance with the Leibniz-​Wolffian tradition, Kant discusses in


the second part of his 1756 Monadology empirical phenomena of density and
elasticity as derivative forces that he attempts to understand in terms of his
dynamic theory of matter, that is, primitive forces.30 Kant still holds on to this
Wolffian framework in his mature Metaphysical Foundations: the main chap-
ter on Dynamics deals with forces that are constitutive of matter in general.
The following “General Remark to Dynamics” deals with particular empirical
phenomena such as solids, fluids, elasticity, cohesion, chemical dissolution,
and densities as modifications of the matter constituting forces.31 The import-
ant philosophical point of this rationalist framework is that all empirical mat-
ter must be thought of as standing under the forces that are constitutive of
matter in general, and that in this way certainty and systematicity are sup-
posed to be attained.
In this vein, Jenisch describes Kant’s Metaphysical Foundations as the touch-
stone [Probierstein] of Kant’s “philosophical system,”32 and Kant himself regards
the “metaphysics both of nature and of morals, as confirmation of the correctness
of the critique both of theoretical and practical reason.”33 It is an essential element
of the Wolffian conception of science that, because the empirical part of a sci-
ence presupposes the general part, the former is supposed to confirm the latter.34
It is thus the task of experimental physics “to justify through clear exemplars
[untrügliche Proben] what has been established through reason [was wir durch
die Vernunft herausgebracht].”35
I shall immediately point out that Kant uses the same Wolffian distinction
between a general and particular part of a science in his moral philosophy:
duties with respect to specific circumstances must be conceived of as modi-
fications of duties with universal scope. Accordingly, the second part of the
Metaphysical Foundations of the Doctrine of Virtue (1797), which deals with
duties of virtue with respect to others, falls into two chapters: (1) On duties to
others merely as human beings, and (2) On duties to others in accordance with
the differences in their condition. Kant writes that duties with respect to par-
ticular conditions “are only rules modified in accordance with differences of the
subjects to whom the principle of virtue (in terms of what is formal) is applied

30
PM 1:486–​7.
31
MAN 4:496–​535.
32
Br 10:486.
33
KrV Bxliii, my emphasis.
34
Wolff, General Cosmology, §5.
35
Wolff, cited after Lind, Physik im Lehrbuch, 111.
38

38 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

in cases that come up in experience (the material).”36 The division of duties into
duties toward others merely as human beings and duties toward others with
respect to specific conditions is taken from Baumgarten’s Ethica, in accordance
with which Kant taught his lecture courses on ethics. Baumgarten stands, of
course, in the Wolffian tradition. At the very end of the Ethica, Baumgarten
introduces duties with respect to a manifold of specific conditions “not com-
mon to all men”37 such as age, health, social status, sex, and moral condition.
Baumgarten’s student, Georg Friedrich Meier, whose Philosophische Sittenlehre
Kant knew well, expands the part on the specific variety of duties: one entire
book of the five volumes is devoted to the topic of comprehending specific
duties as modifications of general obligations.
Kant’s Transition Project enters precisely here at the intersection of gen-
eral and particular laws. It must be possible to show that duties with respect
to specific conditions (qua being duties) stand under the principle of duty
in general. Thus, Kant says that even the “application [of a priori principles]
belongs to the complete presentation of the system.”38 This position is a cor-
ollary of Kant’s scientific effort to provide the metaphysical foundations for
empirical human agency. From this foundationalist perspective even the
specific variety of duties (with respect to specific conditions) belongs to the
system of ethics in virtue of the fact that all moral precepts share the same
metaphysical foundation. For this reason, it is the task of metaphysical first
principles of virtue [metaphysische Anfangsgründe] to demonstrate the sys-
tematicity of human duties with respect to the synthetic a priori propositions
laid out in the critical part of practical philosophy.39 Thus “just as a passage
[Überschritt] from the metaphysics of nature to physics is needed—​a transi-
tion having its own special rules—​something similar is rightly required from
the metaphysics of morals.”40
The Transition Project lies at the intersection of metaphysical laws and the
empirical variety of specific laws, which must be comprehended as modifica-
tions of the former. The Opus postumum thus formulates the problem of the
Transition Project as follows:

36
MSTL 6:468.
37
Baumgarten, Ethica, §400.
38
MSTL 6:468–​9.
39
“The critique of practical reason was to be followed by a system, the metaphysics of morals, which
falls into metaphysical and first principles of the doctrine of right and metaphysical first principles
of the doctrine of virtue (this is a counterpart of the metaphysical first principles of natural science,
already published)” (MSRL 6:205). See also MSRL 6:214–​15; MSTL 375–​6.
40
MSTL 6:468–​9.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 39

There must be a transition from the metaphysical foundations of natural science


to physics if the science of nature is to become a science of reason (philosophia
naturalis).41
The science of nature (philosophia naturalis) consists of two parts, different
according to their principles:  The first represents the movable in space (mat-
ter) under laws of motion, according to concepts a priori, and its system was
composed under the title Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. The sec-
ond part, which proceeds from empirical principles, would, if one wished to
undertake it, be called physics . . . The transition from one science to the other
must have certain intermediary concepts, which are given in the one and are
applied to the other, and which thus belong to both territories alike. Otherwise
this advance is not a lawlike transition but a leap in which one neither knows
where one is going, nor, in looking back, understands whence one has come.42

The notion philosophia naturalis, generally speaking, means a description of


nature’s order based on rational principles. Kant’s claim, repeatedly made in the
preface to the Metaphysical Foundations, that already the word “nature” carries
with it the concept of a priori laws, which first makes possible systematic knowl-
edge of empirical nature, picks up this general idea of a philosophia naturalis. For
Kant, nature is a law-​governed whole, and scientific knowledge of it is possible
because the subject of cognition prescribes the laws to nature. More precisely,
scientific knowledge of nature is possible because the “a priori conditions of a
possible experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibil-
ity of the objects of experience.”43 A metaphysical theory of physics is possible
because objects of outer sense (with which physics deals) are appearances (as
opposed to things in themselves). All appearances are subject to the a priori
restrictions of sensibility and understanding. Physics’ systematicity and neces-
sity must stand under these necessary epistemological constraints, but cannot be
based on empirical considerations:
Every doctrine that is supposed to be a system, that is, a whole of cognition
ordered according to principles, is called a science . . . A rational doctrine of
nature thus deserves the name of a natural science, only in case the fundamen-
tal natural laws therein are cognized a priori . . . Since the word nature already

41
Op 21:474–​5. For “philosophia naturalis,” see: Op 21:161, 285, 402, 407, 474–​5, 481–​2, 484, 505; Op
22:426.
42
Op 21:524–​6. Cf. Philosophy of nature contains the necessity of a transition “in virtue of the rela-
tionship which is to be found between a priori rules and the knowledge of their application to
empirically given objects.” (Op 21:407–​8)
43
KrV A111. Cf. Prol 4:320.
40

40 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

carries with it the concept of laws, and the latter carries with it the concept of
necessity of all determinations of a thing belonging to its existence, one easily
sees why natural science must derive the legitimacy of this title only from its
pure part—​namely, that which contains the a priori principles of all other nat-
ural explanations—​and why only in virtue of this pure part is natural science to
be proper science.”44

For Kant, knowledge of nature is not a mere heap of possibly unrelated empirical
laws, but requires systematic unity of cognitions. This unity is possible because
the transcendental study of nature in general provides the foundation for the
applied study of nature. Both transcendental foundation and application are
parts of philosophia naturalis. If this is so, then it is of critical interest to Kant to
show that empirical nature can be cognized through reason. It is “important to
the critical system that empirical laws somehow ‘stand under’ . . . a priori laws
of nature in general.”45
There are two reasons for claiming that Kant’s notion of philosophia
naturalis—​and its insistence on necessity and universality, certainty and sys-
tematicity as marks of any proper science46—​stand, broadly speaking, in the
Wolffian tradition. First, as I  have started to elucidate in this section, a pure
part of a science is supposed to ground its applied counterpart. More specific-
ally, empirical forces are understood as modifications of metaphysical forces.
The Transition Project in the “Octaventwurf ” picks up the Wolffian system-
atic distinction between primitive forces pertaining to matter in general and
derivative forces that are modifications of the former. As we will see, herein lies
the significance of the 1786  “General Remark to Dynamics,” which attempts
to understand empirical laws as modifications of a priori laws. The division
between a general and a particular part of a science—​foundational (metaphys-
ical) properties and specific (empirical) properties—​is an essential part of the
textbooks that Kant used for both his lectures on ethics and physics, and it
shapes almost all areas of Kant’s philosophical thought, be it in logic, mor-
ality, physics, physical geography, or the different races of mankind.47 Kant’s
attempt to explain empirical phenomena by showing how they are grounded
in metaphysics essentially leads to a systematic conception of science, which
Kant explicitly opposes to the Newtonian conception of physics. For, the latter

44
MAN 4:467ff. Cf. Refl 14:118–​9; KrV A645/​B673.
45
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 258. On this point see also Friedman, “Regulative and Constitutive,” 89–​90.
46
MAN 4:468–​9; KrV B4.
47
See KrV A53/​B77, A55/​B79; MSRL 6:217; PG 9:183; Br 10:230.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 41

does not aim at explaining the metaphysical causes of phenomena or organ-


izing these through a system of forces, but rather mathematically determines
empirical forces. The Newtonian textbooks, such as Musschenbroek’s 1747
Grundlehren der Naturwissenschaft, which Kant had in his library, is an aggre-
gate of experiments investigating empirical forces such as gravity, cohesion,
density, elasticity, electricity, magnetism, and so on. There is no attempt to sys-
tematically explain the possibility of these forces by tracing them to the meta-
physical essence of bodies in general. Rather, laws are inductively generated
through observation and subsequently mathematically quantified: “The entire
growth of natural science can be expected to flow from diligent observation
of all [the various] kinds . . . of bodies.”48 For Kant, such a merely descriptive
and mathematical comprehension of phenomena is a mere aggregate of cogni-
tion. True explanation of phenomena requires insight into their possibility—​
they must be derived from the essential features of bodies in general, that is,
the transcendental and metaphysical conditions of knowledge. In other words,
what is at stake in Kant’s Transition Project is a defense of Kant’s transcenden-
tal and systematic way to approach the study of nature—​the possibility of a
philosophy of nature (philosophia naturalis). For Kant, the systematic approach
to nature is undermined by the success of the Newtonian inductive method,
which enumerates and mathematically determines forces, but does not attempt
to metaphysically explain their possibility. According to Kant’s transcendental
turn, the necessity of natural laws cannot be comprehended through contin-
gent data, but must be accounted for in terms of the a priori conditions that the
subject of cognition prescribes to nature. Kant is quite explicit about the two
alternatives: “Either these laws are taken from nature by means of experience,
or, conversely, nature is derived from the laws of the possibility of experience
in general.”49 Newtonian textbooks like those of Musschenbroek present an
aggregate of empirical forces based on experiments, but do not provide “a true
rational coherence of explanations.”50 So, there remains the task for the tran-
scendental philosopher to show how the manifold empirical laws discovered by
science can be brought under the constitutive principles laid out in the Critique
and the Metaphysical Foundations.

48
Peter von Musschenbroek, Grundlehren der Naturwissenschaft; nach der zweyten lateinischen
Ausgabe nebst einigen neuen Zusätzen des Verfassers, ins Deutsche übersetzt, mit einer Vorrede ans
Licht gestellt von Johan Christoph Gottscheden (Leipzig: Gottfried Kiesewetter, 1747): 9. My transla-
tion and emphasis. Cf. Lind, Physik im Lehrbuch, 122–​44, 146–​75.
49
Prol 4:319.
50
MAN 4:534.
42

42 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

The second reason for the claim that Kant’s conception of philosophia natura-
lis stands in the Wolffian tradition is that Kant’s conception of matter is dynamic.
I turn to this point next.

Kant’s dynamic account of matter


The Wolffian school and Kant subscribe to a, broadly speaking, dynamic account
of matter. This is the second feature that makes Kant’s philosophia naturalis
“Wolffian.” That matter can fill a space (i.e., be extended) only through a repul-
sive force is a thought Kant subscribes to from his 1756 Monadologia physica to
the Opus postumum.51
Most essential features of Kant’s dynamic account of matter constitution
stem from the precritical period: two fundamental forces; inverse square and
cube laws describing these forces; further forces, such as elasticity as modifi-
cations of the fundamental forces. Also, Kant’s view that force is an intensive
magnitude stems from the precritical period. The continuous compressibility
of air, for example, is elucidated by the same air pump experiments in both his
precritical and critical writings.52 Further, throughout his career, Kant attacks
the atomist account of matter, which views an extended body as made up of
simple, extended, and impenetrable parts of matter and empty space. On this
broadly Cartesian view, impenetrability or solidity is a primary quality (or ana-
lytic predicate) of matter. Similarly, in Locke, solidity is conceived as a sim-
ple idea, which cannot further be explained.53 In opposition to this view, Kant
emphasizes that impenetrability is caused by a force. Matter is not something
originally given, but rather constituted by continuous forces. Impenetrability is
not a logical predicate of matter in general but has to be explained dynamically,
that is, through a force, because it is a causal relation.54 Certainly, the monado-
logical conception of Kant’s dynamical account of matter in his early writings
(i.e., the assumption of monadic substances as bearer of forces) is eliminated
in the critical 1786 Metaphysical Foundations. In the latter work, matter is infi-
nitely divisible. My point is that the overall theory remains a dynamic theory
of matter.55

51
See PM 1:482ff.; NG 2:175–​6, 179; UD 2:287; Refl 14:108–​9, 112–​3, 145, 296; VP 29:110–​1;
MAN 4:497.
52
Compare NG 2:188 with MAN 4:500.
53
Locke, Essay, Book 2, Chapter 4, Sections 1–​6.
54
PM 1:476; Refl 14:113, 145; NG 2:188; MAN 4:498, 500; VP 29:69, 77–​8. Cf. Daniel Warren, Reality
and Impenetrability in Kant’s Philosophy of Nature (New York: Routledge, 2001), 77ff.
55
See VP 29:77–​8; PM 1:482. See on this point also Pollok, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe, 7, 330–​1.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 43

The dynamic theory of matter is not just Kant’s preferred choice with regard
to empirical physics. Rather, it has its roots in Kant’s precritical philosoph-
ical distinction between logical and real repugnance, and the implications of
this distinction for the proper method of philosophy: force is a causal relation,
and causes cannot be explained analytically. For example, in the 1763 Negative
Magnitudes, Kant elaborates on this distinction as follows:
I fully understand how a consequence is posited by a ground in accordance
with the rule of identity: analysis of the concepts shows that the consequence is
contained in the ground . . . But what I should dearly like to have distinctively
explained to me, however, is how one thing issues from another thing, though
not by means of the law of identity. The first kind of ground I call the logical
ground [logischer Grund], for the relation of the ground to its consequence can
be understood logically . . . The second kind of ground, however, I call the real
ground [Realgrund] . . . A body A is in motion, another body B lying in the direct
path of A, is at rest. The motion of A is something; the motion of B is something
else; and yet the one is posited by the other.56

The relation of real grounds to their consequences cannot be rendered com-


prehensible by analysis. In other words, not all metaphysical concepts can be
clarified analytically, “force” and “cause” being cases in point. Kant realized the
implication of the distinction between logical and real repugnance for the proper
method of philosophy by the end of 1765.57 If the relationship between ground
and consequence cannot be one of analytical dependence, then real possibility,
as a characterization of things, must be distinguished fundamentally from logi-
cal possibility.
This, in turn, has crucial implications for Kant’s understanding of the dis-
tinction between mathematics, which can begin with definitions, and philoso-
phy (which cannot),58 such that it becomes clear why there cannot be a purely
mathematical foundation of natural science. Kant distinguishes between a
mathematical–​mechanical and a metaphysico–​dynamical account of matter. As
to the people Kant calls mathematical physicists, he has in mind, in general,
a class of people who subscribe to an atomist, Cartesian, account of matter in
terms of extension in length, breadth, and depth. The geometrical physics of the
“mathematical–​mechanical” philosophers “attempts to explain physical interac-
tions and material constitution solely in terms of the sizes, motions, and figures

56
NG 2:202–​4. Cf. NG 172–​6; TG 2:370.
57
See Letter to Lambert, Br 10:56.
58
For Kant’s mature account of this distinction, see KrV A713ff./​B741ff. Cf. UD 2:283.
4

44 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

of elementary particles distributed in empty space.”59 For Descartes, the meta-


physical essence of matter is to be extended, and empirical motion is a mode of
extension. In Descartes’s philosophy of nature, we can in principle understand
how empirical motion depends on the metaphysical essence of matter, because
a body having a determinate motion is just a more determinate way of being
extended. For Kant, however, mathematical physicists collapse mathematics
(geometrical laws) and philosophy (dynamical laws), such that the very term of
Newton’s masterpiece “Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica” contains a
contradiction:
Motion can be treated entirely mathematically, for it is nothing but concepts of
space and time, which can be presented a priori in pure intuition; the under-
standing makes them. Moving forces, however, as efficient causes of these
motions such as are required by physics and its laws, need philosophical princi-
ples. All mathematics, then, brings one not the least bit nearer to philosophical
knowledge unless a causal combination, such as that of the attraction or repul-
sion of matter by its moving forces, is first brought onto the scene. 60
In a certain work with the title:  Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science,
philosophical principles of the latter were developed. For metaphysics is a part
of philosophy, and nothing but metaphysics could be at issue in the transition
from philosophy to the science of nature, if it is a matter of knowledge from con-
cepts. But there is an opponent of this view: no less a man, indeed, than Newton
himself in his immortal work Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica.
But there is a self-​contradiction in the very title of his book: For, just as little as
there can be philosophical principles of mathematics, can there be mathematical
principles of philosophy.61

In other words, if we consider matter as a geometrical point (as is done in the


“Phoronomy” of the Metaphysical Foundations) then its motion can be con-
structed a priori in pure intuition.62 However, cognition of the forces constitutive
of matter and motion cannot be derived mathematically. Forces are causal rela-
tions, and these are not mathematical relations but subject to the philosophical
principles of the Critique. Thus, physics must be based on the epistemic restric-
tions laid out in the Critique:

59
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 181–​2.
60
Op 22:515–​6.
61
Op 22:512. See also Kant’s earliest textbook author on the distinction between mathematics and
natural science: Eberhard, Erste Gründe der Naturlehre, 3.
62
Cf. MAN 4:487.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 45

The moving forces belonging to physics must first be given through experience,
which itself must be based on principles, namely, as to its possibility, and hence
these moving forces must be given a priori.63

In the Kantian system, space is a formal intuition that makes possible laws of
physics (“motion can be treated entirely mathematically”), but for the explana-
tion of the real causes of physical forces experience is required, which itself is
subject to the synthetic a priori judgments laid out in the Critique (“Moving
forces . . . need philosophical principles”).
Kant’s own metaphysical–​ dynamical position, which is opposed to the
mathematical–​mechanical model, is Wolffian in that it acknowledges moving
forces as essentially pertaining to matter.64 The 1786 Metaphysical Foundations
attempts to tie such a dynamical position into the transcendental foundation of
knowledge, because “natural science must derive the legitimacy of this title only
from its pure part.”65 The “fundamental natural laws” must be “cognized a pri-
ori,” but they cannot be “mere laws of experience.”66 However, according to Kant,
Newton and Newtonians, such as Musschenbroeck, precisely only present such
laws of experience:
It is noteworthy that Newton’s propositions in his Principia philosophicae mathe-
matica are not developed systematically, from a principle, but had to be compiled
empirically and rhapsodically. Consequently, they led to the expectation of ever
new additions, and, hence, his book could not contain a philosophical system.67

Contrary to this view, Kant aims at a systematic connection between the tran-
scendental, metaphysical, and empirical determination of objects:
[1]‌ A transcendental principle is one through which the universal a priori con-
dition under which alone things can become objects of our cognition at all
is represented. [Critique of Pure Reason] [2] By contrast, a principle is called
metaphysical if it represents the a priori condition under which alone objects
whose concept must be given empirically can be further determined a priori.
[Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science]68

63
Op 22:514, my translation and emphasis.
64
Cf. Christian Wolff, Vernünfftige Gedancken von Gott, der Welt und der Seele des Menschen, auch
allen Dingen überhaupt [= Deutsche Metaphysik], Halle, 1720, reprinted in Gesammelte Werke,
Abt.1, Vol. 1, ed. by École, Jean et al. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1983), §§115, 685, 606. See
also his Vernünfftige Gedancken von den Würkungen der Natur, Halle, 1723, reprinted in Gesammelte
Werke, Abt.1, Vol. 6, ed. by École, Jean et al. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1981), §§4, 11.
65
MAN 4:468.
66
Ibid.
67
Op 22:518.
68
KU 5:181, my emphasis.
46

46 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Accordingly, the starting point of the 1786 Metaphysical Foundations is the


“empirical concept of matter,” that is, something that is an object of outer sense.69
This empirically given concept of matter is subsequently “carried through all
four of the indicated functions of the concepts of the understanding (in four
chapters), where in each a new determination of this concept was added.”70 In
other words, Kant’s Metaphysical Foundations attempts to exhaustively exhibit
the a priori conditions of the empirical concept of matter by relating it to the
four titles of the table of the categories.
Kant’s dynamic theory of matter begins with a quality that can be experi-
enced: repulsive force, which is manifest through the perception of resistance. As
Kant puts it in the Critique, “the matter of appearances, however, through which
things in space and time are given to us, can be represented only in perception,
thus a posteriori.”71 This empirical starting point and the reduction of physics to
a doctrine of motion can also be found in Erxleben’s textbook and throughout
Kant’s writings.72 Kant begins with the empirical concept of matter as it affects
human sensibility, and precisely because sense-​perception requires that senses
be affected, the “basic determination of something that is to be an object of the
outer senses had to be motion,”73 which implies that all natural science is “either
a pure or applied doctrine of motion.”74 Since existence cannot be constructed a
priori, mathematical science cannot be at the foundation of physics, but rather
requires metaphysics.
All natural philosophers who have wished to proceed mathematically in their
occupation have always, and must have always, made use of metaphysical prin-
ciples . . . All true metaphysics is drawn from the essence of the faculty of think-
ing itself . . . which first bring[s]‌the manifold of empirical representations into

69
MAN 4:470, 476, 482, 534; Br 10:406. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 162, 237ff.; Burkhard
Tuschling, “Die Idee des transzendentalen Idealismus im späten Opus postumum,” in Übergang:
Untersuchungen zum Spätwerk Immanuel Kants, ed. Forum für Philosophie Bad Homburg
(Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1991), 107; Pollok, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe, 3, 19, 278–​80,
314, 340. For a different reading, see Friedman, Construction of Nature, 43–​4, 120, 129.
70
MAN 4:476.
71
KrV A720/​B748.
72
See, for example, MAN 4:476; Op 21:387, 476; Op 22: 508, 514; VP 29:79. “The understanding antici-
pates the perception in accordance with the only possible forms of motion—​attraction, repulsion .
. . So, it becomes clear how it is possible to erect a priori a system of empirical representations, and
to anticipate material experience” (Op 22:502, my translation). On Kant’s dynamic position, spatial
extension requires an intensive magnitude in order to be an object of possible experience. “The
degree of moving force is the intensity, be it attraction or repulsion” (Op 21:347, my translation).
73
MAN 4:476.
74
MAN 4:476–​7. Cf. KrV A41/​B58: “In space considered in itself there is nothing movable; hence the
movable must be something that is found in space only through experience, thus an empirical datum.”
Cf. MAN 4:481–​2.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 47

the law-​governed connection through which it can become empirical cognition.


Thus these mathematical physicists could in no way avoid metaphysical prin-
ciples, and, among them, also not those that make the concept of their proper
object, namely, matter, a priori suitable for application to outer experience, such
as the concept of motion, the filling of space, inertia . . . But they rightly held
that to let merely empirical principles govern these concepts would in no way
be appropriate to the apodictic certainty they wished their laws of nature to pos-
sess, so they preferred to postulate such [principles], without investigating them
with regard to their a priori sources.75

Before there can be a mathematical science of nature its basic concepts, such as
motion and force, must be shown to be grounded in the metaphysics of expe-
rience:  “Philosophy is required to ground them primordially . . . As soon as
the latter occurs, the transition to physics has taken place, and there can be
philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica.”76 In other words, a mere math-
ematical and experimental determination of phenomena is not yet a sufficient
explanation of their possibility. What Kant adds to both the empirical starting
point of his textbook authors, on the one hand, and the mathematical scientists
on the other, is a demonstration of how scientific statements regarding physical
objects and their phenomena must be “in accord” with the a priori “rules of an
empirical synthesis.”77 This implies that all empirical objects must stand under
the a priori conditions of perception in general, that is, the anticipations of per-
ception.78 This synthetic a priori principle states that all perception must have
an intensive magnitude. The “Anticipations of Perception” require that matter,
as that which fills space, be conceived of in terms of continuous intensities of
force spheres.
From here follows Kant’s metaphysical dynamic: to fill a space (impenetra-
bility) means to exert a repulsive force.79 Since this expansive force alone would
disperse itself infinitely without a counteracting force, Kant infers from the
repulsive force to the force of attraction as the second original force of matter.80
That is to say, the repulsive force expands until it is limited by the counteract-
ing force of attraction. This counteracting force must be originally pertaining to

75
MAN 4:472.
76
Op 22:516. Cf. “But in order to make possible the application of mathematics to the doctrine of body,
which only through this can become natural science . . . a complete analysis of the concept of a mat-
ter in general will have to be taken as the basis, and this is a task for pure philosophy” (MAN 4:472).
77
KrV A723/​B751.
78
Cf. KrV A166ff./​B207ff.
79
MAN 4:496.
80
MAN 4:508–​9, 513.
48

48 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

matter as well. It cannot be derived from other matter insofar as this other mat-
ter would itself require an attractive force. On this dynamic account of body for-
mation, something that can be perceived by outer sense must be constituted by
the reciprocal limitation of two counteracting forces. The constitution of matter
requires two mutually independent forces.81 If there was just one force, matter
would either be concentrated in one point (attraction), or it would be infin-
itely dispersed (repulsion).82 In both cases, matter could not be perceived by the
senses.83
There can only be two kinds of forces, because a force can either be directed
toward a point in space or directed away from it. For this reason, all moving
forces in material nature must be reducible to repulsion and attraction.84 All
empirical matter must be constituted by these two kinds of metaphysical forces.85
Against this background, it becomes clear why Kant continuously attacks atom-
ist modes of explanation of natural phenomena in the “General Remark to
Dynamics.” Kant begins the “General Remark to Dynamics” with the claim
that “everything real in the objects of outer sense . . . must be viewed as moving
force.”86 Since physics is the science of the systematic exposition of appearances,
its basic concept, that is, the universal and necessary attributes of matter in gen-
eral, must be consistent with the a priori constraints of experience in general.
This entails that matter must be conceived of in terms of continuous intensities of
force spheres. From the critical point of view, all forces that constitute material
substances and their physical properties, that is, everything given in sensation,
all material determinations of objects that can be experienced, all “realities” as
Kant calls them, must be continuous magnitudes. This is what the “Anticipations
of Perception” prove as an a priori principle. Kant makes a very strong claim for

81
MAN 4:514.
82
MAN 4:510–​1.
83
MAN 4:517–​18.
84
Compare PM 1:484. Cf. Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 191.
85
By “metaphysical” forces I mean the a priori claims that philosophers make about empirical forces.
In virtue of this a priori account of matter in general, all empirical forces must be understood as
modifications of these two “metaphysical” forces. This is analogous to Kant’s conception of duties.
All duties are of course empirical. Only empirically situated human beings have duties. Nevertheless,
all empirical duties must be understood in light of the a priori account of autonomy.
86
MAN 4:523, my emphasis. “We know substance in space only through forces that are efficacious
in it whether in drawing others to it (attraction) or in preventing penetration of it (repulsion and
impenetrability); we are not acquainted with other properties constituting the concept of the sub-
stance that appears in space and which we call matter” (KrV A265/​B321). “The matter (the physical)
. . . signifies a something that is encountered in space and time, and which thus contains an exist-
ence and corresponds to sensation” (KrV A723/​B751). “The principle of all appearances as regards
matter is force . . . All force of matter is either a constitutive or modifying force” (Refl 14:119, my
translation).
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 49

an epistemological foundation of the concept of matter in his critical theory of


the constitution of experience.87
It is a further mathematical or empirical question (i.e., a problem lying out-
side a metaphysics of nature) to determine how the two matter constituting
forces limit each other. Kant suggests that the forces of repulsion and attrac-
tion decrease as the distance from the force center r increases. Thus the laws
describing the two counteracting forces will have the form F = 1/​rx, which Kant
describes as the “general law of dynamics.”88 More precisely, Kant argues that the
repulsive force is a surface or contact force, that is, it acts at the surface of con-
tact.89 The degree of the repulsive force is indirectly proportional to the volume
of matter filling space. Thus, Kant suggests that the repulsive force obeys the
inverse cube law Frep= 1/​r3. The original force of attraction, that is, the second
matter constituting force, is a penetrative force (i.e., it acts on all parts of a body
alike) and is directly proportional to the quantity of matter. Kant identifies the
fundamental attractive force with Newtonian attraction, that is, gravity.90 Kant
suggests that the attractive force obeys the inverse square law Fattr= 1/​r2.91
Note that whether the relationship of the two reciprocally limiting forces is
determined by an inverse cube and square law, as Kant suggests, or by some
other quantitative relationship is not part of the a priori foundation of natural
science.92 This is already Kant’s position in the 1756 Monadology:
To inquire into the laws governing the two forces in the elements, the repulsive
and the attractive forces, is an investigation of high importance, and worthy of
exercising the most acute minds. It suffices me here to have proved the existence
of these forces, and to have done so with the greatest of certainty.93

In the Metaphysical Foundations, Kant says along the same lines that “if the
material itself is transformed into fundamental forces (whose laws we cannot
determine a priori . . .), we lack all means for constructing this concept of mat-
ter.”94 Kant’s “metaphysical dynamic”95 only consists in the claim that the recip-
rocal limitation of repulsive and attractive forces are constitutive of matter in

87
For precisely this reason, we may presume, does Kant change his precritical monadic account of
force spheres to a continuum account in MAN.
88
MAN 4:525.
89
MAN 4:516, 524.
90
MAN 4:512; Br 11:376–​7.
91
MAN 4:521, 501, 518–​9.
92
MAN 4:517–​8.
93
PM 1:484. Compare MAN 4:521–​2. Cf. Pollok, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe, 314, 334, 338–​9.
94
MAN 4:525. Cf. MAN 4:543: “No law of either attractive of repulsive force may be risked on a priori
conjectures.” On this point, see also Friedman, Exact Sciences, 183.
95
MAN 4:523, cf. MAN 4:517.
50

50 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

general. For this reason, Kant emphasizes that a failure in determining the laws
describing the repulsive and attractive forces would not imply a failure of the
dynamic theory of matter in general.96 Kant explicitly leaves open how the force
of attraction counteracts the repulsive force, that is, whether it works through
the attractive force of the parts of matter itself or through the attraction of the
entirety of world matter (ether).97
That a transition from the metaphysics of nature to physics must be possible
is part of the philosophical task of the Metaphysical Foundations. It is the funda-
mental claim of the Metaphysical Foundations that everything that can become
an object of outer sense is constituted through the reciprocal limitation of repul-
sion and attraction. Because the derivation of metaphysical forces constitutive
of matter is exhaustive,98 “all moving forces in material nature [i.e., empirical
forces] must be reduced”99 to the fundamental forces of repulsion and attraction.
These are thus called “Grundkräfte,” on which all further modification of forces
must be based.100 This completeness claim, which is essential to the project of
a philosophia naturalis (i.e., a systematic description of nature’s order based on
rational principles) entails that the specific variety of matter (which the physicist
investigates) is grounded upon the two fundamental metaphysical forces, even
though Kant’s dynamic metaphysics is not “capable of enumerating reliably a
manifold of such forces sufficient for explaining the specific variety of matter.”101
The systematic project of the Metaphysical Foundations is to determine matter
in general through dynamic fundamental forces in such a way that physics as
a doctrine of motion can be based on it. Accordingly, Kant emphasizes in the
“General Remark to Dynamics” in the Metaphysical Foundations that anything
real must be constituted by moving forces.102 The natural sciences, which deal
with phenomena of outer sense, must be grounded on the principles pertaining
to matter in general. Kant’s dynamic theory lays out the principles of all explana-
tions of corporeal appearances by making the exhaustive claim that all moving
forces must be reducible to repulsive and attractive forces. In addition to this
essential task of determining the principles of matter in general, Kant hypo-
thetically presents the reader with the moments to which the specific variety of

96
MAN 4:522–​3, cf. MAN 4:517–​9.
97
MAN 4:518, 522–​4, 463–​4, 517–​9; Br 11:362–​5. On this point, see also MAN 4:521, and Pollok,
Metaphysische Anfangsgründe, 331–​4.
98
MAN 4:498–​9.
99
MAN 4:499.
100
See also Refl 14:119, 186, 187, 212.
101
MAN 4:525.
102
MAN 4:523–​4.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 51

matter can be reduced.103 This meritorious task is undertaken in the “General


Remark to Dynamics.” Here Kant presents a transition from original forces con-
stitutive of matter in general to the empirical variety of forces that can be expe-
rienced in specific bodies.
How the transition from the two metaphysical forces of mater in general to
empirical forces must be thought of determinately is merely elucidated in the
“General Remark to Dynamics.” The “General Remark to Dynamics” merely
attempts to show through exemplars how it is possible to account for specific
scientific phenomena through a dynamic account of matter, which can then be
seen to guide empirical inquiry. In this regard, Kant also follows the Wolffian
school, which attempts to tie in empirical phenomena into a system of meta-
physically warranted universal propositions, and which uses the latter as a regu-
lative tool to approach experimental physics.104

The systematic function of the “General


Remark to Dynamics”

In the “General Remark to Dynamics,” Kant deals with density, cohesion, elastic-
ity, and chemical dissolution as mediating concepts that, on the one hand, can be
reduced to the a priori metaphysical forces of repulsion and attraction and, on
the other, can explain the specific variety of empirical matter. The four moments
are supposed to build a transition between the metaphysical forces of repulsion
and attraction (constitutive of matter in general) to the physical laws describing
the phenomena pertaining to the specific variety of matter. Thus, Kant’s dynamic
account lays the foundation for “the procedure of natural science with respect
to the most important of all its tasks—​namely, that of explaining a potentially
infinite specific variety of matters.”105
The crucial point regarding the four moments, to which the empirical mani-
fold of matter can be reduced, is that the transition proceeds via derivative forces.
These forces are not constitutive of matter in general, but can be explained in
terms of the matter constituting forces. The “General Remark to Dynamics”

103
This is analogous to the 1785 Groundwork, published one year before MAN, which establishes the
principle of obligation, provisionally presents a classification of duties, but reserves the problem
of a systematic application of morality to specific cases for the future Doctrine of Virtue (GMS
4:421). See below Chapter 3, “The unfinished Metaphysics of Morals and the Opus postumum” for
discussion.
104
Cf. Lind, Physik im Lehrbuch, 109, 111, 130, 134.
105
MAN 4:532.
52

52 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

aims for “the reduction of given, apparently different forces” to the forces consti-
tutive of matter in general, in order to make possible “a true rational coherence
of explanations” of empirical phenomena.106 The Transition Project is thus tied
to the rational endeavor of reason for systematicity, which is an essential feature
of Kant’s critical philosophy.107
Kant’s “metaphysical dynamics”108 has to be consistent with the constitutive
principles of possible experience established in the Critique on the one hand,
and with empirical physics on the other. Kant claims that proper natural science
silently presupposes metaphysics of nature, which first determines a priori the
most fundamental object of natural science, namely, empirical matter (i.e., the
corporeal object of external sense).109 Although there is a broad consensus on
the general function of the Metaphysical Foundations as connecting metaphys-
ics and natural science,110 the literature has not sufficiently acknowledged that
the function of the “General Remark to Dynamics” does not only lie in pro-
viding legitimacy to Kant’s dynamic theory of matter, but is meant to fulfill the
systematic task of building a transition from the matter constituting forces to
empirical physics, and that the “Octaventwurf ” picks up this same systematic
project again.111 Most commentators tend to think of the “General Remark to
Dynamics” as a section dealing with (1)  isolated problems, and (2)  a general
account of the advantages and disadvantages of a dynamic theory of matter. For
example, Adickes speaks of “eine Anzahl von Einzelfragen” (a number of singu-
lar questions),112 Tuschling speaks of “Randprobleme” (marginal problems),113
and Pollok speaks of selected problems of contemporary empirical physics.114

106
MAN 4:534.
107
Cf. KrV A651/​B679; EEKU 20:242–​3.
108
MAN 4:523.
109
MAN 4:472, 479.
110
See Konstantin Pollok, Introduction to Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Naturwissenschaft,
by Immanuel Kant (Hamburg:  Felix Meiner Verlag, 1997), xxxvii; Michael Friedman, “Eckart
Förster and Kant’s Opus postumum,” Inquiry 46(2), (2003):  224–​5; Béatrice Longuenesse, Kant
on the Human Standpoint (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 41–​3; Sebastian Rand,
“Apriority, Metaphysics, and Empirical Content in Kant’s Theory of Matter,” Kantian Review 17(1)
(2012), 112–​13. Förster is an exception to this reading. He argues that MAN completes the tran-
scendental deduction of the categories. See his “Is there ‘a Gap’ in Kant’s Critical System?” Journal
for the History of Philosophy 25(4) (1987), 533–​55, and his Final Synthesis, 53–​61. For a rejection of
this idea, see Friedman, Exact Sciences, 259n.
111
To my knowledge, only Vittorio Mathieu, Kants Opus postumum (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann,
1989), 55ff. and Dina Emundts, Kants Übergangskonzeption im Opus postumum:  Zur Rolle des
Nachlasswerkes fur die Grundlegung der empirischen Physik (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004), 53–​4,
70 n85 interpret the “General Remark to Dynamics” as a transition from MAN to physics, and cor-
rectly notice the continuity between the “General Remark to Dynamics” and the Opus postumum.
112
Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 219.
113
Tuschling, “Idee des Transzendentalen Idealismus,” 108.
114
Pollok, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe, 248. Cf. ibid., 25, 341.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 53

This generally dismissive attitude toward the “General Remark to Dynamics”


overlooks, first, the mediating character of the four moments and, second, the
fact that Kant picks up the tradition of his textbook authors, who divide their
textbooks into a first section dealing with the general determinations of bodies
and a second section dealing with the application of these general principles to
particular cases.
The following analysis will show that Kant’s discussions in the “General
Remark to Dynamics” reveal a systematic function of building a transition from
original forces constitutive of matter in general to the empirical variety of forces
that can be experienced in specific bodies. My aim in this section is neither to
defend Kant’s account of matter in general, nor to assess the success or failure
of Kant’s systematic attempt to connect the table of the categories to the overall
underlying structure of the Metaphysical Foundations.115 It is also not my goal
to defend Kant’s experimental physics or to approach the “General Remark to
Dynamics” with an interest in the history of physics. My only point is to show
that the “General Remark to Dynamics” aims at a systematic task, the same task
that the Opus postumum will attempt to fulfill.
The main purpose of the Metaphysical Foundations is to determine matter in
general in such a way that physics as a doctrine of motion can be based on it.
The task of connecting the matter constituting forces with the empirical sciences
is attempted in the “General Remark to Dynamics,” which, as the title says, is a
remark, and as such does not belong to the essential project of the Metaphysical
Foundations. To use an analogy, the purpose of the Groundwork is to determine
and establish the principle of moral obligation. Its main task is not to deter-
mine the classification of duties. Nevertheless, Kant hypothetically presents such
a division of duties, but explicitly reserves this project for a future work.116 The
same point holds with respect to the “General Remark to Dynamics,” which
deals with the application of the constitutive principles of matter in general to
divers empirical forces. To this end, the “General Remark to Dynamics” provi-
sionally sketches mediating concepts that make possible the transition from the
principles of matter in general to the empirical variety of matter, with which the

115
Cf. Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 147, 186, 191–​2, 212–​3n, 219, 260ff, 368–​9, 375, who speaks
of “architektonische Spielerei” (architectonic play). “The concept of matter had therefore to be car-
ried through all four of the indicated functions of the concepts of the understanding (in four chap-
ters), where in each a new determination of this concept was added” (MAN 4:476; cf. 4:482, 495,
498–​9, 518, 525). Adickes argues that Kant unconvincingly tags his thoughts on physics onto his
table of the categories, and that, therefore, he fails to provide an a priori foundation of empirical
physics. Similarly, Warren has argued that the connection between the Critique and MAN is “less
direct” than Kant claims it is. Warren, Reality and Impenetrability, 91–​2.
116
GMS 4:421n.
54

54 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

physicist deals. More precisely, the “General Remark to Dynamics” presents the
specific variety of matter as grounded on the four moments of density, cohesion,
elasticity, and chemical dissolution. As Kant stresses, these are mere hypotheses
of how a Transition from the Metaphysical Foundations to physics could look.
Instead of a sufficient explanation for the possibility of matter and its specific
variety from these fundamental forces, which I cannot provide, I will present
completely, so I hope, the moments to which its specific variety must collectively
be reducible.117

Throughout the “General Remark to Dynamics,” Kant’s remarks remain tenta-


tive. His main target is to show that it is possible to account for specific empiri-
cal phenomena, such as density and cohesion, on a dynamic model of matter
constitution. In what follows, I will analyze the “General Remark to Dynamics”
in order to show that Kant envisions the concepts he here discusses as mediating
concepts.

Density
The first moment accounting for the specific variety of matter is density. Density
is defined as the “degree of the filling of a space with determinate content.”118
On an atomist account, different densities are generated “by mere compres-
sion” of matter that is “specifically of the same kind.”119 All “species and kinds”
of matter are constituted through “absolute impenetrability” and “absolute
homogeneity” of undividable fundamental particles.120 Contrary to atomism,
Kant argues that the empirical phenomena of density can also be coherently
explained through the reciprocal limitation of the two fundamental forces of
repulsion and attraction.
But now as to the procedure of natural science with respect to the most import-
ant of all its tasks—​namely, that of explaining a potentially infinite specific var-
iety of matters—​one can take only two paths in this connection: the mechanical,
by combination of the absolutely full with the absolutely empty, and an opposing
dynamical path, by mere variety in combining the original forces of repulsion
and attraction to explain all differences of matters.121

117
MAN 4:525, my emphasis.
118
MAN 4:525.
119
MAN 4:526.
120
MAN 4:533.
121
MAN 4:532.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 55

Kant’s strategy is to demote the atomist account of specific densities “to the value
of a hypothesis”122 by showing that different densities “can be thought without
contradiction” on a dynamical model of matter constitution.123 For, the smaller
the original force of resistance, the more quantity of matter can penetrate into
its force sphere, and thus the larger the density of the body will be.124 And vice
versa: the stronger the original repulsive force, the smaller the quantity of matter
that can penetrate into its force sphere, and thus the smaller the resulting density
of the body. Since the original force of attraction is directly proportional to the
quantity of matter,125 and the repulsive force is originally different in different
matter,126 we can understand through the reciprocal restriction of repulsion and
attraction of the two original forces how matter can fill a space to a determinate
degree, that is, why there is a specific variety of densities: “For since repulsion
increases with the approach of the parts to a greater extent than attraction, the
limit of approach, beyond which no greater is possible by the given attraction, is
thereby determined.”127
Kant’s strategy is twofold. First, he is attacking atomism in order to show that
the assumption of empty space
loses its necessity, and is demoted to the value of a hypothesis. For it could oth-
erwise usurp the title of a principle, under the pretense of being a necessary
condition for explaining the different degrees of the filling of space.128

Second, Kant offers his dynamical account of matter as an alternative possibility


for explaining the physical phenomenon of different densities.129 Both points are
connected in the following passage:
[First] It is only necessary to refute the postulate of the merely mechanical mode
of explanation—​namely, that it is impossible to think a specific difference in the
density of matters without interposition of empty spaces—​by simply advancing a
mode of explanation in which this can be thought without contradiction. For

122
MAN 4:524.
123
MAN 4:533. In 1792, Kant recognizes that it is not possible to think the specific differences in
densities on his dynamic account of matter. See further down “The “Octaventwurf ” and the
“Early Fascicles” of the Opus postumum: The categorical structure of the mediating concepts of the
Transition” for discussion.
124
Br 11:364.
125
MAN 4:516, 524.
126
MAN 5:333–​534.
127
MAN 4:521, 517. On this point, see Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 209, 211, 214.
128
MAN 4:524. Cf. MAN 4:532.
129
“The mathematical–​mechanical mode of explanation has an advantage over the metaphysical–​
dynamical [mode] . . . namely, that of generating from a thoroughly homogenous material a great
variety of matters” (MAN 4:525).
56

56 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

once the postulate in question, on which the merely mechanical mode of explan-
ation rests, is shown to be invalid as a principle, then it obviously does not have
to be adopted as an hypothesis in natural science, so long as a possibility remains
for thinking the specific difference in densities even without any empty inter-
stices. [Second] But this necessity rests on the circumstance that matter does
not fill its space (as merely mechanical natural scientists assume) by absolute
impenetrability, but rather by repulsive force, which has a degree that can be
different in different matters; and, since in itself it has nothing in common with
the attractive force, which depends on the quantity of matter, it may be originally
different in degree in different matters whose attractive force is the same. Thus
the degree of expansion of these matters, when the quantity is the same, and,
conversely, the quantity of matter at the same volume, that is, its density, origin-
ally admit of very large specific differences.130

The moment of density connects the metaphysics of nature with the physical
laws describing empirical phenomena of densities, but it does not provide the
physical laws of density itself. It is the systematic function of the mediating con-
cept of density to show that what the physicist describes (namely, different den-
sities in different kinds of matter, and the laws describing these differences) is
metaphysically grounded, and thus scientific. Divers empirical phenomena are
modifications of the primitive forces pertaining to matter in general. “Density”
is thus part of the Transition from the metaphysics of nature to physics.
On Kant’s dynamical account, the concept of matter in general can be deter-
mined a priori but the specific variety of matter can only be described empir-
ically, namely, in terms of density.131 The Transition Project thus connects the
a priori and empirical parts of physics. Different densities are empirical phe-
nomena, and Kant accordingly warns “against going beyond that which makes
possible the general concept of matter as such, and wishing to explain a priori
its particular, or even specific, determination and variety.”132 The gist of Kant’s
argument is that any empirical description of bodies (physics), in order to count
as truly scientific, has to be based on the two metaphysical forces via mediating
concepts, the first of which is density. Thus, Kant’s dynamic account lays the
foundation for natural science, but it does not determine further the specific
variety of matter a priori.133 In order to determine the specific variety of mat-
ter, for example, their specific densities, the natural philosopher would need to

130
MAN 4:533–4. Cf. PM 1:483–​6.
131
Cf. Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 226.
132
MAN 4:524.
133
Ibid.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 57

determine the specific laws that describe the reciprocal limitation of the two
fundamental forces. But this is something that lies outside a metaphysics of
nature.134 The moment of density is a mediating concept. It stands between the
two fundamental forces of repulsion and attraction and the specific determin-
ation of densities on an empirical level.

Cohesion
The second mediating concept connecting the metaphysics of nature with
empirical laws is the cohesion of matter.135 Kant wants to show that cohesion is
not a “general property of matter” (as it is “commonly taken”), but rather per-
tains to its empirical variety. Cohesion is “no fundamental force of matter, but
only a derivative one.”136 Subsequently, Kant elaborates on the phenomenon of
cohesive forces in fluids, and argues that these can best be explained through
the original repulsive force of matter in general, that is, the principle of general
dynamics.137
An experiment Kant frequently describes in this context is the one of two
communicating bent tubes, where one is much narrower than the other.138
Adding water to the narrower tube leads to an equally rising water level in the
wider tube. This is surprising, insofar as one would expect that the larger mass of
water in the wider tube—​via its downward force of gravity—​has a reactive force
that would prevent the water from rising in both tubes equally. However, the
parts of a fluid can be displaced without any resistance, and, what is more, dis-
placing the parts of a fluid does not affect the cohesion of the parts. This is very
different in a rigid body. A rigid body resists the displacement of its parts, and it
will tear or break, and thus its cohesive force will change too.139 Because in fluids

134
MAN 4:517, 524–​5.
135
MAN 4:526. Cohesion is attraction in contact as opposed to attraction at distance. Lefevre points
out that the three authors of Kant’s compendia, Eberhard, Erxleben, and Karsten, explain cohesion
through attractive forces. The mechanistic approach, which explains cohesion through the external
pressure of an ether, is defended by Euler and Crusius. See: Wolfgang Lefevre, ed. Between Leibniz,
Newton and Kant (Dordrecht: Kluver Academic Publishers: 2001), 267–​81; Adickes, Kants Opus
postumum, 553–​5; Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 37, 178; Erich Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher,
vol. 2. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1925), 117ff., 279ff., 412ff.; Refl 14:138.
136
“Cohesion . . . does not belong to the possibility of matter in general, and cannot therefore be cog-
nized a priori as bound up with this. This property would therefore not be metaphysical but rather
physical” (MAN 4:518).
137
MAN 4:500–​1.
138
See Eberhardt, Erste Gründe der Naturlehre, 160–​3. See also Kant’s drawing in loose sheet 37 (Op
21:430) and Refl 14:277ff.
139
MAN 4:526–​7. See the reference to Kant’s “General Remark to Dynamics” (MAN 4:528) on the
connection between cohesion and fluidity/​rigidity in: Friedrich Albrecht Carl Gren, Grundriss der
Naturlehre (Halle: Hemmerde und Schwetschke, 1797), §126.
58

58 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

the resistance to displacement of its parts = 0, no friction occurs in displacing its


parts and thus the water level rises equally.
If the least amount of friction occurred between the parts of the fluid, a height
for the tubes could be found, at which a small quantity of water, poured into the
narrower tube, did not disturb that in the wider one from its place. So the water
column in the former would come to stand higher than that in the latter, because
the lower parts, at such great pressure against one another, could no longer be
displaced by so small a moving force as that of the added weight of water. But
this is contrary to experience, and even to the concept of a fluid.140

According to Kant, if matter were composed of atoms and void, friction would
have to occur, and this would contradict the scientific evidence provided by the
experiment with the communicating tubes.
As an alternative, Kant suggests an explanation of the cohesion of fluids in
terms of “the principle of general dynamics that all matter is originally elastic.”
Because “if the parts of a matter can be displaced along one another by any force,
without resistance, as is actually the case with fluids, it must be striving to move
in all directions.”141 In rigid bodies, pressure only moves in one direction, that is,
the column of water in the bent tube (if it were rigid) would only move vertically
according to the force of its mass. But since in fluid bodies pressure moves into
all directions, the water level rises equally.142 According to Kant, the phenom-
enon of the cohesive forces in fluids can best be explained through the original
repulsive force of matter in general.143
The explanation of cohesive forces is a controversially discussed topic in
Kant’s time. Resistance to separation of its parts is a surface force, that is, it is only
effective in contact.144 As a contact force, cohesion cannot be based on universal
attraction because the latter is (1) dependent on the quantity of matter (whereas
cohesion is not), and (2) it is a penetrating force (whereas, cohesion always acts
at the surface of contact). Gehler notes that the cause of cohesion is unknown.
He calls it an attractive force, but, like Kant, emphasizes that “attraction” merely

140
MAN 4:529; cf. Pollok, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe, 364–​6.
141
MAN 4:529. Cf. Definition of repulsive force as directed in all directions, MAN 4:496, 503. Cf.
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 140; Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 2, 128.
142
Kant presents the same explanatory relationship between fluidity and repulsive force in his Danzig
physics lecture: “Fluid matter is that in which every point moves in all directions with the same
force with which it is pushed from one side . . . This property can only be explained through a fun-
damental [force of] elasticity. For, when elastic matter is pushed together from one side it seeks to
disperse itself with the same force on all other sides—This property of fluid matter is the foundation
of this law” (VP 29:129, my emphases and translation). Cf. Refl 14:277ff.
143
Cf. MAN 4:500–​1.
144
MAN 4:527.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 59

describes the phenomenon, but is not meant to explain cohesion through uni-
versal gravitation.145 Kant’s contribution to this physical debate consists in argu-
ing that a dynamic account of matter constitution can explain a brought variety
of empirical laws, hydrostatic laws in particular, and the difference between rigid
and fluid bodies.
Insofar as the moment of cohesion is both fundamental from an empirical
point of view and yet derived from a metaphysical force, Kant assigns the same
mediating function to the moment of cohesion as he has done to the moment
of density. The further distinction between fluid and rigid bodies is empirical,
and it is based on, and thus explicable in terms of, the moment of cohesion.146
Cohesion is not a “metaphysical” property of matter because it “does not belong
to the possibility of matter in general.” Rather, it is part of the transition from the
metaphysics of nature to physics.147

Elasticity
Under the third heading, Kant distinguishes between various types of elastic-
ity, expansive and attractive elasticity in particular. This discussion presup-
poses the matter constituting force of repulsion. Elasticity is an immediate
effect of the repulsive force, and thus matter in general must be thought of as
elastic:
The expansive force of a matter is also called elasticity. Now, since it is the basis
on which the filling of space rests, as an essential property of all matter, this elas-
ticity must therefore be called original, because it can be derived from no other
property of matter. All matter is therefore originally elastic.148

In the “General Remark to Dynamics,” Kant defines the empirical phenomenon


of elasticity (or spring-​force) as
the capacity of a matter, when its magnitude or figure are changed by another
moving force, to reassume them again when this latter is diminished. It is either
expansive or attractive elasticity: one to regain a previously greater volume after
compression, the other a previously smaller volume after expansion.149

145
Johann Samuel Traugott Gehler, ed. Physikalisches Wörterbuch oder Versuch einer Erklärung der
vornehmsten Begriffe und Kunstwörter der Naturlehre mit kurzen Nachrichten von der Geschichte
der Erfindungen und Beschreibungen der Werkzeuge begleitet in alphabetischer Ordnung (Leipzig: im
Schwickertschen Verlage, vol. 1, 1798), 514.
146
MAN 4:527, cf. MAN 4:563–​4.
147
MAN 4:518.
148
MAN 4:500.
149
MAN 4:529.
60

60 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Kant argues that both types of elasticity are not fundamental forces but “deriva-
tive” phenomena of the two matter constituting forces. Whereas expansive elas-
ticity is a direct phenomenon of the original repulsive elasticity of matter in
general, attractive elasticity of an object (Kant’s example is a bent sword blade)
functions in “virtue of the same attraction that is the cause of its cohesion.”150
Kant’s aim is again to suggest that it is possible to explain the observed phe-
nomena of expansive and attractive elasticity in terms of a dynamic account of
matter.151
The explanation of elasticity through the original repulsive force of mat-
ter is another early and constant theme in Kant’s thought. Already the 1756
Monadology argues that physical monads fill space through a repulsive force that
hinders adjacent monads to enter the same space. Since every finite force can be
overcome by a counteracting force of a higher degree, it follows that all physical
monads are originally elastic, that is, they can be compressed. Yet all physical
monads are impenetrable because at the center the repulsive force is infinite.152
How contentious Kant’s claims in the “General Remark to Dynamics” are
becomes obvious if one sees that Erxleben, for example, claims that the cause
of elasticity is completely unknown.153 Also Gehler claims that we do not know
“anything” about the underlying cause of elasticity.154 Pollok speaks of hasty ter-
minological determinations (“flüchtige terminologische Festlegung”) in this sec-
tion on elasticity.155 However, even though the execution of the project of the
“General Remark to Dynamics” leaves open many questions, this should not
distract us from seeing its main underlying intention, namely, to suggest a pos-
sible explanation of physical phenomena in terms of the two matter constituting
forces, and thereby to tie empirical phenomena into a metaphysics of nature.

Chemical forces
Under the fourth heading, Kant discusses chemical forces of matter. Chemical
forces are understood in opposition to mechanical forces.156 For example, the
parts of a body can be either separated via an external push or pull (mechanical),

150
Ibid.
151
MAN 4:530.
152
PM 1:486f.
153
Erxleben, Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre, §142.
154
Gehler, Physikalisches Wörterbuch, 695ff., 698.
155
Pollok, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe, 368–​70.
156
“The action of moved bodies on one another by communication of their motion is called mechanical;
but the action of matters is called chemical, insofar as they mutually change, even at rest, the com-
bination of their parts through their inherent forces” (MAN 4:530).
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 61

that is, via communication of motion, or through applying acids (chemical),


that is, via “inherent forces.” In chemical reactions, the constitution of matter
is inwardly changed “by means of inherent force.”157 The distinction between
mechanical and chemical forces is drawn in virtue of the fact that chemical
experiments cannot yet be explained mathematically, whereas this is possible
for mechanical communication of forces.158 In the preface to the Metaphysical
Foundations, Kant denies chemistry the status of a proper science on the ground
that its inherent forces cannot be cognized a priori.159 However, if chemical
forces are forces, and if their laws are laws of nature, then they, too, must be cap-
able of being traced back to the mathematically describable forces of repulsion
and attraction. Kant presents precisely such an attempt in the “General Remark
to Dynamics.”
In this context, Kant discusses the phenomena of absolute chemical dissolu-
tion, that is, chemical penetration. Kant argues that the controversially discussed
phenomenon of chemical dissolution cannot be understood on an atomistic
model of matter, whereas this would be comprehensible on his own dynamic
account. In absolute dissolution or chemical penetration, two specifically differ-
ent matters penetrate each other in such a way that
no part of the one is found that would not be united with a specifically different
part of the other, in the same proportion as the whole . . . When two materials fill
one and the same space, and each of them entirely, they penetrate one another.160

How is such a complete penetration of two specifically different kinds of mat-


ter possible?161 On an atomist account of matter constitution, there would
always remain atoms of the resolved matter (solute) that hinder the atoms of
the other matter (solvent) to enter its space. By definition, an atom is impene-
trable. So, complete penetration is not thinkable on an atomist view, insofar
as chemical dissolution does not allow for discrete parts of solute and solvent
to remain.
Now it is obvious that, so long as the parts of a dissolved matter remain small
clots (moleculae), a dissolution of them is no less possible than that of the larger

157
MAN 4:530–​2.
158
MAN 4:468; KrV A847–​8/​B875–​6; VP 29:97. Chemical forces do not rest on “laws of impact or
attraction at a distance” (VP 29:117).
159
MAN 4:468.
160
MAN 4:530.
161
“Whether the dissolving forces [i.e., “salts and combustibles,” (Salze und brennliche Wesen, KrV
A646/​B674)] that are actually to be found in nature are capable of effecting a complete dissolution
may remain undecided. Here it is only a question of whether such a dissolution can be thought”
(MAN 4:530).
62

62 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

parts. Indeed, if dissolving force remains, such a dissolution must actually pro-
ceed until there is no longer any part that is not made up of the solvent and the
solute, in the same proportion in which the two are found in the whole. Thus,
because in such a case there can be no part of the volume of the solution that
would not contain a part of the solvent, the latter must fill this volume com-
pletely as a continuum.162

What holds for the solvent, namely, its continuous filling of space in a given vol-
ume, must also hold for the solute because “there can be no part of this same vol-
ume of the solution that would not contain a proportional part of the solute.”163
Thus, Kant suggests that chemical dissolution is thinkable if we think of matter
as a force continuum, that is, if we assume a dynamic account of matter.164
Kant also attempts to show that the specific volume of chemically dissolved
matters is explainable in terms of “the ratio of the attracting forces to the repul-
sions,” that is, the constituting forces of matter in general.
The volume occupied by the solution may be equal to, smaller than, or even
greater than the sum of the spaces occupied by the mutually dissolving mat-
ters before mixing, depending on the ratio of the attracting forces to the repul-
sions. In the solution, each matter by itself, and both united, constitute an elastic
medium.165

Again, Kant’s suggestions touch on topics that were controversially discussed at


Kant’s time. Erxleben, for example, attempts to account for the general obser-
vation that the volume of mixtures does not increase, for example, when salt is
mixed with water. Erxleben suggests a corpuscularian framework in order to
account for dissolutions in fluids.166 After the dissolution, salt must be located
in the interstices of water, Erxleben claims. Nevertheless, Erxleben combines the
corpuscularian framework with dynamic elements when he claims that dissol-
ution is the effect of attractive forces between the different penetrating matters.
For example, compare the dissolution of water and wine with the mixture of
water and oil.
Kant attempts to show that no corpuscularian features are necessary in order
to account for chemical phenomena. Kant applies his dynamic theory of matter

162
MAN 4:530, my emphasis.
163
Ibid.
164
Compare for the identical position Kant’s preparatory notes for his 1776 physics lecture, in which
he calls chemical dissolution “dynamic.” Loose Sheet Toebe (Refl 14:410–​1). Kant lectured on phys-
ics in accordance with Erxleben’s Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre in 1776.
165
MAN 4:531. Cf. Refl 14:397.
166
Erxleben, Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre, §§206, 211.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 63

in general to a specific empirical problem of chemistry. He claims that while


specific chemical phenomena and their laws can only be determined through
experiment in the natural sciences,167 they can be understood on the ground of
a dynamic account of matter.168

Summary
The argumentative structure is identical throughout the “General Remark
to Dynamics.” All four mediating concepts build a transition from the met-
aphysical forces constitutive of matter in general to empirical phenomena.
Kant indeed discusses “isolated problems.” However, he does so in order to
make a systematic point. He binds empirical inquiry into his metaphysics of
nature by sketching that it is possible to apply his dynamic metaphysics of
nature to empirical phenomena. As Kant puts it, the task of philosophy is not
to “uncover hypotheses for particular phenomena, but only the principle in
accordance with which they are all to be judged.”169 All natural philosophy
consists
in the reduction of given, apparently different forces to a smaller number of
forces and powers that explain the actions of the former, although this reduc-
tion proceeds only up to fundamental forces, beyond which our reason cannot
go. And so metaphysical investigation behind that which lies at the basis of the
empirical concept of matter is useful only for the purpose of guiding natural
philosophy, so far as this is ever possible, to explore dynamical grounds of expla-
nation. For these alone permit the hope of determinate laws, and thus a true
rational coherence of explanations.170

The goal of the Transition Project is “true rational coherence of explanations,”


that is, the rational endeavor of reason to ground empirical sciences in a meta-
physics of nature. The “General Remark to Dynamics” represents Kant’s attempt
to tie reason’s regulative assumption of the systematic unity of divers empirical
laws to the constitutive a priori principles of cognition.171 The “General Remark
to Dynamics” proceeds via (1) an attack on atomism, which seems less suited
to account for a variety of empirical phenomena (such as hydrostatic laws or

167
MAN 4:534.
168
For “impenetrability” and “chemical dissolution,” see: GSK 1:27; Refl 14:113, 313, 344.
169
MAN 4:532, my emphasis.
170
MAN 4:534.
171
Cf. KrV A651/​B679. EEKU 20:242–​3.
64

64 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

chemical dissolution), and (2)  explaining specific phenomena in terms of the


constitutive forces of matter in general, that is, an application of matter consti-
tuting forces to empirical phenomena.
The result of the “General Remark to Dynamics” is the following: what occurs
in experience are different properties of matter, more precisely,

a. different densities,
b. degrees of cohesions,
c. types of elasticities, and
d. varying chemical processes.

These phenomena and their laws can only be investigated empirically. However,
in order to secure the scientific status of natural sciences, the laws and phe-
nomena of bodies must be reducible to, that is, be varieties of, the two a priori
moving forces of matter in general. Precisely this is done through the Transition
Kant presents in the “General Remark to Dynamics.” Kant tries to explain the
phenomena of density, cohesion, elasticity, and chemical action in terms of the
reciprocal action of repulsive and attractive forces. The four moments aim to
show that it is possible to apply the metaphysical first principles of matter in gen-
eral to empirical phenomena. Their task is to guide natural sciences to a coher-
ent rational explanation of natural phenomena.172
Kant has argued that only two original forces can be thought a priori—​an ori-
ginal repulsive and attractive force—​because these are necessary for any filling
of space to be possible. A further determination of specific forces and their laws,
which would be required for the explanation of the specific variety of matter, is
not possible a priori. The systematic task of the “General Remark to Dynamics” is
thus to connect the rational with the empirical part of the science of nature, and
Kant does so by presenting the moments to which the specific manifold of mat-
ter “must be reducible a priori.”173 The apriority that Kant claims for these inter-
mediary moments lies in the attempt to show how each of the four moments is
based on the a priori matter constituting forces. For example, on Kant’s dynam-
ical account, the concept of matter in general can be determined a priori but the

172
The literature is certainly right in being dismissive of some of Kant’s cryptic explanations in the
“General Remark to Dynamics.” Just to name one example, under the heading of chemical forces
it is entirely unclear how complete penetration of matters should be possible on Kant’s dynamic
account: matter is by definition impenetrable, regardless of whether one conceives of impenetra-
bility as an analytic predicate of matter or as derived from a repulsive force. It is not evident how
Kant’s dynamic account is an improvement over Erxleben’s theory. Nevertheless, Kant’s attempt to
locate chemical forces, and all other moments of the Transition, at an intermediate level is obvious.
173
MAN 4:525.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 65

specific variety of matter can only be described empirically, namely in terms of


the middle concepts of density, cohesion, and so on. The systematic place of Kant’s
Transition Project is thus to tie in experimental physics into the rational foun-
dation of knowledge, that is, to present a connection between the general and
particular parts of philosophia naturalis, which is a division Kant has adopted
from his textbooks.

Alternative accounts of the Transition Project

My thesis is that the Opus postumum picks up the project of the “General Remark
to Dynamics.” Kant begins the “Octaventwurf ” by stating that the “science of
nature (philosophia naturalis) turns upon two hinges,” namely the “metaphysical
foundations” and “physics.” He continues to argue that for the sake of the scien-
tific status of physics there must be a

transition from the metaphysical foundations of natural science to phys-


ics, in virtue of the relationship which is to be found between a priori rules
and the knowledge of their application to empirically given objects . . . My
Metaphysical Foundations etc. already undertook several steps in this field,
but simply as examples of their possible application to cases from experi-
ence, in order to make comprehensible by examples what had been stated
abstractly.174

I suggest that one best understands this passage by picking up on Kant’s explicit
reference to the Metaphysical Foundations at the end of this quotation. Kant says
he had provided some first steps into the direction of applying a priori meta-
physical foundations to empirically given objects, in order to make compre-
hensible by examples what had been stated abstractly. More specifically, Kant is
referring to the “General Remark to Dynamics,” where Kant showed “simply as
examples” the “possible application” of the metaphysics of nature to “cases from
experience.” That the Opus postumum picks up the old project of the “General
Remark to Dynamics” is overlooked by the two most influential interpretations
of the Opus postumum that are currently available, namely Friedman’s and
Förster’s. Both scholars believe that the Opus postumum embarks on an entirely
new project.

174
Op 21:407–​8.
6

66 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Friedman’s account of the necessity of a Transition


For Friedman, there is a gap in Kant’s critical philosophy because the
Metaphysical Foundations does not show how the two forces that are constitutive
of matter in general account for “the phenomena studied by the emerging new
sciences of heat, light, electricity and magnetism, and chemistry.”175 The transi-
tion thus deals with a “real scientific problem,” and “that problem . . . concerns
the lack of tight fit between theory and observation in experimental sciences
such as chemistry.”176 Friedman rightly insists on the foundationalist connec-
tion between transcendental and empirical laws of nature, and hereby correctly
depicts the spirit of Kant’s Transition Project: “The Transition project therefore
aims at a continuous connection between metaphysics and physics, between the
rational and the empirical.”177 It is a problem pertaining to the system of critical
philosophy to show how more specific forces of matter, which account for the
diversity of empirical phenomena, are rooted in Kant’s metaphysics of nature.
The answer to the question of why the Transition Project addresses a problem in
Kant’s critical philosophy has to do with a proper understanding of Kant’s claim
that physics is an “applied rational cognition.”178 Particular empirical moving
forces must be seen as modifications of the metaphysical forces constitutive of
matter in general, such that the science of physics has three parts:
1) The Metaphysical Foundations [of Natural Science] . . . 2) the systematic divi-
sion of the moving forces of matter, whose enumeration I call the Transition to
physics, but not yet a part of physics itself . . . 3) Physics as a system itself.179

Kant clearly states the systematic motivation behind the Transition Project by
claiming that “physics as a system” cannot be based on “empirical principles,”
because these are “fragmentary,” only provide an “aggregate,” and thus cannot
bring about a system of physics, which, however, is “necessarily . . . contained”
in the notion of “physica generalis.”180 The Transition Project is “directed at the
systematic unity of the understanding’s cognition,” that is, the unity of experi-
mentally derived empirical laws.181

175
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 264.
176
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 253.
177
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 260.
178
MAN 4:468.
179
Op 21:287, my translation.
180
Op 21:407.
181
KrV A647/​B675. I will discuss the significance of the “Appendix to the Dialectic” and the introduc-
tions to the third Critique in the following section “Förster’s account of the necessity of a Transition”
and “The schematism of the Transition Project” below.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 67

Friedman is absolutely right in claiming that chemical short range forces do


not seem to rest on the fundamental forces of matter in general, universal attrac-
tion acting at distance in particular, and thus seem to lack an a priori foundation.
This means that the “proper methodological goal of Kant’s preferred dynamical
natural philosophy,”182 which is to guide the purely experimental investigations
of the empirical sciences,183 seems to fall short in the case of chemistry. However,
Kant explicitly acknowledges this point in the preface to the Metaphysical
Foundations. Because “every doctrine of nature must finally lead to natural sci-
ence and conclude there,”184 chemical principles leave behind “a certain dissat-
isfaction” insofar as they are disconnected from the “a priori grounds” of nature
in general.185 It is for precisely this reason that Kant shows hypothetically in the
“General Remark to Dynamics” how chemical phenomena—​among others—​
could be explained through his a priori dynamic account of matter. The “General
Remark to Dynamics” sketches how mediating concepts can be thought to con-
nect the pure and applied parts of physics in order to address the “dissatisfac-
tion” that remains if we explain appearances through empirical laws without
being able to link these laws to the necessity of the laws of nature in general.
Specific empirical moving forces must be based on metaphysical moving forces
constitutive of matter in general in order for the scientific status of natural sci-
ence to be possible. If chemical laws are laws, then they, too, must be based
on Kant’s metaphysical account of matter in general. This is why Kant includes
chemical phenomena in the “General Remark to Dynamics” and the Opus pos-
tumum as part of the Transition: “The whole of chemisty belongs to physics—​in
the topic [of moving forces] we deal with chemistry as part of the Transition.”186
There is really no fundamental change in Kant’s endeavor to tie chemistry to
the pure natural science of the Metaphysical Foundations between the “General
Remark to Dynamics” and the Opus postumum.187
Friedman concludes his considerations regarding the origin of the Transition
Project with a rhetorical question: “Could it not be this growing awareness of
the new physical chemistry which, more than any other factor, fuels the new
optimism about the empirical or experimental sciences manifest in Kant’s transi-
tion project?”188 Note that throughout his career, Kant attempts to understand a

182
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 244.
183
Cf. Friedman, Construction of Nature, 108, 243.
184
MAN 4:469.
185
Ibid. Cf. KpV 5:26.
186
Op 21:288, my translation. Cf. Op 21:529.
187
Cf. Friedman, “Regulative and Constitutive,” 92–​5.
188
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 290, my emphasis.
68

68 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

broad variety of empirical phenomena such as heat, light, electricity, magnetism,


and chemical acids in terms of the more foundational forces of repulsion and
attraction.189 Kant’s textbook authors discuss precisely these topics in the second
part of their textbooks, which deal with the application of general principles
to particular cases.190 Friedman correctly asserts that topics such as the ether,
magnetism, electricity—​though very much a concern in Kant’s physics lectures
throughout his career—​are only treated marginally in the 1786 Metaphysical
Foundations, and that Kant expands on these topics in the Opus postumum. The
Metaphysical Foundations leaves questions regarding heat, electricity, chemistry,
and so on “solely to empirical physics,” Friedman writes.191 But why would this
project suddenly become a new problem for Kant’s critical philosophy? Why is
it suddenly necessary to extend the constitutive a priori principles “even further
into the domain of the empirical in order ultimately to meet or connect with the
. . . merely regulative, procedure of reflective judgment?”192 I think it is right to
say that there is “a serious problem,” and “most significant “gap” in the critical
system,” albeit not a gap of which Kant was previously unaware.193 Kant already
points out in the “Appendix to the Dialectic” of the Critique and the introduc-
tions to the Critique of the Power of Judgment that the transcendental philosopher
cannot stop with the constitutive principles of knowledge, but that in addition
he must assume that nature specifies its universal laws to empirical laws for the
sake of a system of physics.194 Friedman very clearly sees the continuity of this
problem as well.195 So why not emphasize the continuity between the “General
Remark to Dynamics” and the Opus postumum, which then invites a rather dif-
ferent question: Why is the Transition Project presented in the “General Remark
to Dynamics” not sufficient for Kant’s philosophia naturalis?196
In his latest book, his path-​breaking Kant’s Construction of Nature, Friedman
downplays the significance of the “General Remark to Dynamics.” According to
Friedman, the goal of the “General Remark to Dynamics,” that is, Kant’s detailed

189
See, for example, Refl 14:287ff.
190
Compare the basic structure of Eberhard’s Erste Gründe der Naturlehre, which falls into two
parts: “First Part of the Doctrine of Nature: Of Universal Properties of Bodies,” which deals with
“extension,” “impenetrability,” and “motion;” and “Second Part of the Doctrine of Nature:  Of
Particular Properties of Bodies,” which discusses phenomena such as fluidity, cohesion, fire, light,
electricity, and magnetism.
191
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 238.
192
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 261.
193
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 256, 257.
194
EEKU 20:213–​4; KU 5:182; KrV A663/​B691.
195
Friedman, “Regulative and Constitutive,” 94–​5.
196
I discuss this question further down in “The ‘Octaventwurf ’ and the ‘Early Fascicles’ of the Opus
postumum.”
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 69

discussion of physical phenomena and experiments on the basis of his dynamic


account of matter, is not to provide explanatory hypotheses or reductive expla-
nations of empirical phenomena.197 Rather, Friedman holds that Kant’s discus-
sion of chemical forces in the “General Remark to Dynamics” is merely meant
to clear the way for a purely experimental investigation, without reliance on any
theoretical hypotheses, and even compatible with “possible future explanation
of the properties . . . by a discrete or atomistic model.”198 On Friedman’s read-
ing, the “General Remark to Dynamics” presents “Kant’s preferred dynamical
natural philosophy” as an optional guide for the purely experimental investiga-
tions of the empirical sciences.199 Kant’s purpose for rejecting the necessity of
the mathematical–​mechanical alternative lies in clearing the way for “a purely
empirical investigation proceeding without reliance on any theoretical hypoth-
esis whatsoever.”200
If this were true, in what sense can we maintain that Kant’s critical philoso-
phy guides the natural sciences at all? Why would a Transition be necessary if
the dynamic continuum model of matter is only a possible alternative for guid-
ing science at an experimental level? What is the sense of Kant’s Metaphysical
Foundations if Kant’s dynamic continuum model of matter in general (which
Kant proves to be necessary) does not carry over to an explanatory continuum
model of specific phenomena? By analogy, what is the sense of deriving the
categorical imperative if it cannot be applied to human beings in specific cir-
cumstances? Does the categorical imperative only extend to the formulation of
duties, but not to their application, such that, with respect to practical prob-
lems in everyday life, the categorical imperative is merely a “preferred” mode of
deciding specific cases?
Friedman emphasizes the advantages, “open-​endedness and flexibility,” of
Kant’s dynamic model over the mathematical–​mechanical approach that Kant
opposes.201 Open-​ endedness of empirical research—​ as opposed to founda-
tional reductionism—​is the interpretative perspective that Friedman takes on
the “General Remark to Dynamics.”202 But note that any regulative guidance
that Kant’s critical philosophy can possibly provide for the empirical sciences
must progress from his constitutive account of what an object of experience is.

197
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 243, 252.
198
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 254.
199
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 244, my emphasis. Cf. ibid., 108, 243.
200
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 242–​3, my emphasis.
201
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 254.
202
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 249, 256; Exact Sciences, 182. Cf. KrV Bxii–​xiii; KrV A646/​B674;
MAN 4:533.
70

70 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

A metaphysical theory of matter is possible only because objects of outer sense


(with which physics deals) are appearances (as opposed to things in themselves),
and all appearances are subject to the a priori forms of sensibility and the prin-
ciples of the understanding. This means that, for Kant, physics is based on uni-
versally valid epistemological considerations; and only from this philosophical
foundation—​as opposed to an empirical, experimental orientation—​does phys-
ics’ systematicity and necessity derive. Regulative reason is not free-​floating,
but can only provide rules on “how the empirical regress is to be undertaken”203
in accordance with the epistemological restrictions of Kant’s critical philoso-
phy. Regulative reason can only guide the empirical investigations of physics if
empirical laws of nature can be seen as modifications of the universal laws of the
understanding. This project is not merely optional. On my reading, it is the task
of the mediating concepts of the Transition to tie regulative principles of empir-
ical natural science into pure natural science.
If it is true, and I think Friedman is right about this, “that a necessary conver-
gence of constitutive and regulative procedures is absolutely essential to Kant’s
entire [critical] project,”204 then we should not assume that the “General Remark
to Dynamics” merely represents Kant’s preferred way of tackling empirical prob-
lems. As we have seen, Kant’s dynamical account of empirical phenomena in the
“General Remark to Dynamics” is deeply rooted in his critical philosophy, as one
would expect given the “progressive unfolding” of the concept of an object in
space.205 Yet, Friedman proposes that Kant’s discussion of “phenomenological or
experimental properties of various types and states of matter”206 in the “General
Remark to Dynamics” is motivated by empirical considerations.
Kant, following Euler, thinks that a continuum approach to matter represents a bet-
ter way to pursue experimental philosophy than an atomistic approach.207
Kant’s choice of this preferred (dynamical) concept over the alternative (mechan-
ical) concept rests, in the end, on . . . the empirical success of Newton’s theory in
comparison with the opposing mechanical philosophy.208

Friedman stresses that insofar as the mathematical–​mechanical natural phil-


osophy commences from absolutely hard solid particles, it erects “an ultimate

203
KrV A510/​B538.
204
Friedman, “Regulative and Constitutive,” 95.
205
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 108–​9.
206
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 243.
207
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 258.
208
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 569. Cf. ibid., 347.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 71

barrier to the further progress of both theoretical and experimental inquiry.”209


This is correct as far as it goes. In addition, it should be emphasized that atomism
does not just erect barriers to experimental inquiry. Rather, Kant’s metaphysical
theory of matter implies that the concepts of empty space (in which all motion
is absent), absolute space (which cannot move because any space in relation to
which it could move is absent), and the absolute simple cannot be experienced
and “hence in the exposition of appearances it has no application or object.”210
Kant’s point is that the concept of matter designates an object of experience,
whereas empty space and a simple, indivisible substance (atom)—​logically pos-
sible as they may be—​are not. Given the transcendental ideality of space, matter
is not metaphysically real but that which persists in appearance. Objects of outer
sense (with which physics deals) are subject to the a priori forms of sensibility.
Since space is infinitely divisible, the real in space cannot consist of simple, that
is, discrete, elements.211 Because space and time are necessary representations
that determine how our senses can be affected,212 that is, because space and time
are necessary conditions of the possibility of empirical perceptions, these per-
ceptions become first possible through the subjective forms of space and time,
and thus have to agree with them. If space and time are continuous, discontinu-
ity is not an object of possible experience:
By nature (in the empirical sense) we understand the combination of appearances
as regards their existence, in accordance with necessary rules, i.e., in accordance
with laws. There are therefore certain laws, and indeed a priori, which first make a
nature possible; the empirical laws can only obtain and be found by means of experi-
ence, and indeed in accord with its original laws, in accordance with which experience
itself first becomes possible.213

After the Inaugural Dissertation, that is, after Kant has taken the point of view
of transcendental idealism regarding space, his worry is that both elements
of the atomist theory, that is, empty space and fundamental particles, are not

209
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 255. Cf. MAN 4:498, 502, 532, where Kant rejects “absolute
impenetrability” as an occult quality hindering the progress of empirical sciences. Cf. Friedman,
Construction of Nature, 256. Cf. KrV A508–​9/​B536–​7.
210
KrV A437/​B465. Cf. KrV A487/​B515. “For we cannot understand anything except that which has
something corresponding to our words in intuition” (KrV A277/​B333).
211
“Therefore, because appearance does not consist of absolute simple parts, so matter does not con-
sist of this [absolute simple parts]. Space determines the possibility of appearance, and space does
not consist of simple parts” (Refl 14:187, my translation). “The law of continuity thus rests on the
continuity of space and time” (VM 28:204–​5). Cf. MAN 4:503–​4.
212
KrV A23–​4/​B38–​9, A30–​1/​B46.
213
KrV A216/​B263, my emphasis. Cf. Prol 4:283–​4, 287; KrV A357–​8; Refl 17:732; Refl 18:176.
72

72 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

“determinable or discoverable by any experiment.”214 They are “occult qual-


ities.”215 Empty space and simple atoms are analogous to “blind accident and
blind fate” and, taken as appearances, they have no application or object. The
Critique of Pure Reason has determined the conditions of the possibility of an
“object of experience,” and the basic elements of an atomist account of matter,
that is, empty space and simple atoms, are incompatible with these conditions.216
The “Anticipations of Perception,” which treat of matter as the real that can be
perceived, formulate as a principle of experience that all perception must have
an intensive magnitude. The “Anticipations” require that space be filled by con-
tinuous realities.217 The principle of continuity is a constitutive principle of the
understanding, and no empirical synthesis can possibly violate it.218 For this rea-
son, the “law of continuity is . . . spread through the whole of nature.”219
This does not yet rule out atomism, as Warren rightly points out.220 It is of
course logically possible that the ultimate constituents of reality are discrete
atoms. Kant himself frequently emphasizes this point and is generally cautious
by insisting that he only aims to refute the necessity of atomism.221 In many
passages, Kant’s moderate aim is to merely demonstrate the possibility of a
metaphysical–​dynamical account of body formation, which he recommends
insofar as it is “much more appropriate and conducive to experimental philoso-
phy” because its alternative, the mathematical–​mechanical model, is prone to
framing hypotheses given that its basic constituents, “empty intermediate spaces
and fundamental corpuscles,” cannot “be determined or discovered in any
experiment.”222 Thus, Kant does not argue in the “General Remark to Dynamics”
that the metaphysical–​dynamical account is the only valid model. However,
insofar as all objects of perception must have a degree, cognition of atoms and
empty space is impossible, and thus a theory of physics based on atomism would
be based on occult, dogmatic qualities, that is, transcendent metaphysics. It is in
this epistemological context that Kant takes the “Anticipations of Perception” to
provide a “transcendental proof ” against the suppositions of atomism,223 despite
the fact that his 1781 Critique defines matter as the real in space without further

214
MAN 4:533. Cf. Refl 14:122.
215
MAN 4:532.
216
Cf. Prol 4:288; Refl 14:186.
217
KrV A166/​B207, A169–​70/​B211–​2, A175–​6/​B217–​8.
218
KrV A229/​B281.
219
VM 28:201–​2.
220
Warren, Reality and Impenetrability, 66–​7, 81. The following remarks are indebted to his work.
221
E.g., MAN 4:524.
222
MAN 4:533.
223
KrV A173–​4/​B215. Cf. KrV A171–​2/​B213–​4.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 73

specifying it in terms of dynamic forces.224 Kant’s argument against atomism


is merely “negative,” insofar as atomism does not stand the test of the Critique
[“Probe der Kritik”].225
It should be clear what is at stake here: if atomism were true, then physics
would be based on a transcendent metaphysics. Friedman’s reading implicitly
embraces this option when he says that specific empirical phenomena might not
be based on a dynamic continuum model of matter in general, but rather on a
discrete or atomistic model.226 For Kant, this cannot be an option, because atom-
ism would undermine the entire project of the Metaphysical Foundations, which
is to provide a rational—​not a transcendent—​foundation of natural science.
Kant’s project of explaining the necessity of empirical laws through a transcen-
dental theory of the possibility of experience would fail if atomism would split
the formal (a priori) and material (empirical) study of nature into two halves. It
cannot possibly be Kant’s critical position to first curb transcendent metaphysics
in the Critique by establishing the a priori conditions of the possibility of experi-
ence (the law of continuity being one of these conditions), and subsequently to
grant that the empirical study of objects is based on fundamental attributes to
which the principles of cognition do not apply, that is, to base physics on a tran-
scendent metaphysics.227 Recall that the origin of Kant’s critical philosophy coin-
cides with the rejection of cognition from mere concepts, that is, metaphysically
suspect notions such as absolute space. For this reason, Kant’s project of imma-
nent metaphysics in the Critique is closely connected to the project of providing
a rational foundation to physics. Thus, empirical laws must agree with the formal
laws through “which experience itself first becomes possible.”228 “Properly so-​
called natural science presupposes, in the first place, metaphysics of nature,”229
because a rational doctrine of nature requires that “the fundamental natural
laws therein are cognized a priori,”230 and to “cognize something a priori means
to cognize it from its mere possibility.”231 If physics is a proper science, which
Kant does not doubt, then rational insight into its grounding principles must be
obtainable. These grounds must lie in the subject of cognition, which prescribes
the laws to nature. This means, for epistemological reasons, for reasons having to

224
KrV A173/​B215.
225
MAN 4:524. Cf: “Metaphysics does not explain anything, rather it removes falsely assumed axioms
of explanation” (Refl 14:194, my translation). Cf. Refl 14:162; MAN 4:563–​4.
226
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 254.
227
Cf. Warren, Reality and Impenetrability, 93.
228
KrV A216/​B263.
229
MAN 4:469.
230
MAN 4:468.
231
MAN 4:470.
74

74 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

do with the rational status of physics as a science, Kant cannot allow that phys-
ics be grounded on transcendent metaphysics. There is only rational cognition
of empirical laws insofar as it can be shown how they are grounded on a priori
laws. Kant’s secure path of a science is incompatible with the speculations of a
mathematical–​mechanical model.232 Kant is committed to a dynamic account of
matter for epistemological reasons. If Kant’s “dynamische Naturphilosophie”233
(dynamic philosophy of nature) cannot account for divers empirical phenom-
ena, then the project of basing the science of physics on the principles laid out
in the Critique would fail. It is for this reason that Kant is concerned in the
“General Remark to Dynamics” about the possibility that atomism could be a
more plausible theory for explaining empirical phenomena, such as density.234
For, this would open up a gap in Kant’s philosophia naturalis. Thus, Kant intends
to reject the necessity of atomism in the “General Remark to Dynamics.”235
“Atomism is a false doctrine of nature,” as he will put it in the Opus postumum.236
Kant justifies his theory of matter epistemologically (as opposed to physically).
Kant’s entire scientific mindset is driven by epistemological/​metaphysical—​not
empirical—​considerations. I think we have here to agree with Adickes, who
has convincingly shown that “even in the midst of [empirical] natural science
Kant . . . remains a metaphysician above all.”237 It is of critical interest to Kant
to show that it is really possible to progress from the principles of cognition to a
scientific study of nature. Precisely herein lies the systematic significance of the
“General Remark to Dynamics.”238
To sum up, on Friedman’s interpretation, the origin of the Transition Project
lies in the new developments of the scientific study of empirical phenomena,
such as “heat, light, electricity and magnetism, and chemistry.”239 According to
Friedman, advances in the empirical sciences after Kant’s 1786 Metaphysical
Foundations make it necessary to expand Kant’s philosophy of nature from the
forces constitutive of matter in general to the specific variety of forces found in
nature, chemical forces in particular. Whereas Kant’s Metaphysical Foundations
provides metaphysical foundations for Newtonian Physics, experimental

232
KrV A735/​B763. Cf. KrV Bvii.
233
MAN 4:532.
234
MAN 4:525.
235
MAN 4:523–​4.
236
Op 22:212.
237
Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 139. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 589.
238
Cf. Kant’s rejection of empty space in the “Third Analogy” (KrV A487/​B515), of absolute space in
the “Phoronomy” (MAN 4:487), and of absolute hard bodies in the “General Remark on Mechanics”
(MAN 4:551–​3). See Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 342–​8.
239
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 264.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 75

chemistry lacks such a foundation. As the empirical sciences expand, Kant needs
to “extend the a priori foundations of empirical narural science much further
than is envisaged in the Metaphysical Foundations itself.”240 What we should
retain from Friedman’s reading is that Kant’s notion of philosophy is closely con-
nected to the empirical sciences insofar as philosophy explains how the necessity
and universality of particular laws are possible. On this reading, the Transition
Project becomes necessary, because it is an essential task of Kant’s critical phil-
osophy to provide a secure foundation for the empirical sciences.241 That it is
part of transcendental philosophy to ground knowledge of the empirical sci-
ences is the right way to look at the Transition Project. If chemical, electrical,
and magnetic forces are forces, and if their laws are laws of nature, then they
must stand under the transcendental laws that the understanding prescribes,
and which make objective experience possible in the first place. Friedman is also
right in maintaining that there is a lack of fit between empirical laws and crit-
ical philosophy. However, this lack of fit is not due to advances in the empirical
sciences. By assuming that new developments in the empirical sciences motivate
Kant’s Transition Project, we lose sight of the continuity of Kant’s aim to con-
nect the transcendental and metaphysical levels of his critical philosophy to the
empirical sciences. My reconstruction of the “General Remark to Dynamics”
tried to show that it is neither true that the Metaphysical Foundations “says noth-
ing at all about any additional, more specific forces of matter”242 (such that the
Opus postumum emerges as a “radically new project”243), nor that the “General
Remark to Dynamics” is motivated by experimental interests.

240
Friedman, “Regulative and Constitutive,” 93. “What, then, is lacking in the Metaphysical
Foundations? Why should it be necessary to go beyond this work to the new project of the
Transition? The answer, I think, is actually quite straightforward: the Metaphysical Foundations is
correct as far as it goes . . . the problem is that it simply does not go far enough . . . Whereas the
Metaphysical Foundations deals with the universal forces of matter in general (the original forces
of attraction and repulsion), it says nothing at all about any additional, more specific forces of mat-
ter—​which, therefore . . . are left solely to empirical physics. As far as the Metaphysical Foundations
is concerned, any additional, more specific forces are thus left entirely without an a priori founda-
tion, and the task of the Transition is to fill precisely this lacuna . . . The problem of the Transition
is therefore to establish something a priori, not solely concerning the two fundamental forces of
attraction and repulsion as universal properties of matter in general . . . but rather concerning the
rest of the moving forces that may be found in nature” (Friedman, Exact Sciences, 237–​8). Cf. Ibid.,
254–​64, 290; Construction of Nature, 121–​2.
241
“Although empirical laws are not of course derived from the transcendental laws of the understand-
ing, it is equally important to the critical system that empirical laws somehow ‘stand under’ the lat-
ter, that they are in some sense ‘special determinations’ of the a priori laws of nature in general . . .
And it is only the Metaphysical Foundations, I suggest, that first makes it clear what the nature of
this crucially important relationship between transcendental laws and empirical laws actually is”
(Friedman, Exact Sciences, 258–​9).
242
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 238.
243
Friedman, “Regulative and Constitutive,” 77.
76

76 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

To put this in yet another way, it might be true that Kant’s Transition Project
is chasing a “fata morgana”244 and that the concepts and phenomena of the
“General Remark to Dynamics” are properly speaking physical phenomena,
which cannot in principle be tied back to the system of the categories, that is,
the epistemic foundation of knowledge. However, the historical Kant does not
share such an experimental stance toward physics. For him, it must be possible
to show how empirical laws are determinations of metaphysical principles. The
whole point of the Metaphysical Foundations is to provide a proper philosoph-
ical foundation to physics. For, this is something that Kant’s textbook authors
(regardless of whether they are Wolffians, Newtonians, or eclectics) did not do
despite the titles of their books, such as “Erste Gründe der Naturlehre” (First
Principles of Natural Science) (Eberhard) or “Anfangsgründe der Naturlehre”
(Foundational Principles of Natural Science) (Erxleben).245 Kant’s claim in the
preface to the Metaphysical Foundations that all “proper natural science therefore
requires a pure part”246 is a criticism of Kant’s contemporaries and predecessors
who have failed to provide such an a priori foundation, that is, “Erste Gründe”
(First Principles).247 Kant shares the intention of his textbook authors to provide,
as Eberhard puts it, “first principles of natural science, from which all further
occurrences can be deduced.”248 For Kant, however, such first principles can-
not proceed from what is given, that is, ontology, but must rather proceed from
the a priori conditions of knowledge prescribed by the subject of cognition. For
this reason, Kant’s dynamic account of matter in general is not compatible with
a “possible future explanation of the properties . . . by a discrete or atomistic
model.”249 If Kant’s dynamic model of matter were compatible with a possible
future explanation of the properties by a discrete or atomistic model, then Kant’s
Transition Project from forces constitutive of matter in general to empirical phe-
nomena would become superfluous and unintelligible. Friedman literally elimi-
nates the Transition Project.
Kant’s Transition Project in the Opus postumum must be understood against
the background of attempting to explain empirical phenomena through tran-
scendental philosophy: philosophia naturalis. As Kant sees it, it is the task for the
philosopher to further specify the maxims for investigating nature, a task that

244
Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 162.
245
I am here indebted to Pollok, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe.
246
MAN 4:469.
247
Cf. MAN 4:472; Friedman, Construction of Nature, 263–​4.
248
Eberhard, Erste Gründe der Naturlehre, 4, my emphasis.
249
Friedman, Construction of Nature, 254. Cf. Ibid., 91ff.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 77

cannot be left to empirical physics, if nature is to be a law-​governed whole. The


Transition Project aims at providing the foundation for guiding natural investi-
gations.250 By this, Kant means transcendental guidance. Kant’s dynamic mode
of explanation in the “General Remark to Dynamics” is not merely a regulative
idea in the sense of empirical hypotheses. Friedman has an empirically minded
conception of science and regulative ideas, but Kant did not. Kant’s conception
of philosophia naturalis does not allow for empirically driven regulative ideas.
Kant’s very conception of a regulative idea in the “Appendix to the Dialectic” and
the “General Remark to Dynamics” is geared toward systematicity of the empir-
ical as based on the a priori.251

Förster’s account of the necessity of a Transition


Förster’s view on the origin of Kant’s Transition Project is quite different, because
he puts a different emphasis on what the term “critical philosophy” means. For
Förster, critical philosophy is, at least to begin with, an investigation of the
possibility of metaphysics, that is, transcendental philosophy. In transcenden-
tal philosophy, reason deals with nothing but itself.252 Förster thus insists that
the “gap” within the critical system of philosophy must address a problem that
is internal to “critical philosophy” proper. Advances in the empirical sciences
lie—​by definition—​outside the proper territory of Kant’s philosophical inter-
est. Accordingly, Förster says that Friedman “sees the origin of Kant’s Transition
project not in any problem internal to the critical philosophy itself.”253 Förster
limits the notion of critical philosophy to transcendental philosophy. The dis-
agreement between Förster and Friedman thus originates in their differing
views on the notion and aims of critical philosophy. Against the background
that critical philosophy must be limited to a priori knowledge, Förster suggests
that the Transition Project originates in Kant’s discovery of the a priori principle
of purposiveness in 1790.254 The principle of the purposiveness of nature creates
a “sudden hope that the Transition project of the Opus postumum is possible,”255
because the a priori principle of reflective judgment “allows us for the first time

250
Op 22:263; Op 21:362–​3.
251
KrV A644/​B672; MAN 4:534.
252
KrV A845/​B873, Axx. This means that the results of the Critique are neither conditioned on any
contingent scientific truths nor do they presuppose any synthetic a priori facts; cf. Prol 4:274.
253
Förster, Final Synthesis, 2.
254
Förster, Final Synthesis, 1–​23.
255
Eckart Förster, “Reply to Friedman and Guyer,” Inquiry 46(2) (2003): 230; Final Synthesis, 5, 8–​10,
48–​74, 85; “Is there ‘a Gap,’ ” 533–​55.
78

78 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

to regard as purposive the part of nature that from the standpoints of the first
Critique and the Metaphysical Foundations had to be regarded as contingent
and deterministic.”256 Förster’s thought is that the 1790 Critique of the Power of
Judgment a priori justifies the empirical specification of transcendental laws into
an empirical system of nature—​namely, through the principle of purposiveness
of the reflective power of judgment.257 In contrast, the 1781/​87 Critique could
merely postulate the systematicity of divers empirical laws within the domain
of the regulative interest of reason.258 Thus, according to Förster, there arises
the “sudden hope” that the Transition project of the Opus postumum is possible.
I think there are two reasons, one systematic, the other historical, that prohibit
drawing this conclusion.
1. The possibility of the specification of transcendental laws into an empirical
system of nature is beyond doubt for Kant in the Critique as well. That it must
be possible to progress from the laws of a nature in general to empirical laws
because “all empirical laws are only particular determinations of the pure laws of
the understanding” is a fundamental claim pertaining to Kant’s critical project to
begin with.259 The 1786 Metaphysical Foundations attempts to demonstrate the
apodictic certainty and systematicity of natural science.260 This project presup-
poses the possibility of a progression from transcendental philosophy, to a priori
principles pertaining to matter in general, to empirical bodies formed from two
counteracting metaphysical forces. The possibility of an a priori system of mov-
ing forces is thus presupposed in the Metaphysical Foundations. It is hardly a
new thought that would suddenly occur to Kant in 1790. Thus, as Friedman and
others have rightly pointed out as well, the principle of purposiveness by itself
cannot “constitute the key to the Transition project” because the conceptual
framework regarding the purposive unity of nature is already in place in 1781.261
Förster is of course right when he insists that the epistemic status of the
principle of purposiveness changes in 1790. In the Critique, Kant still seems to
waver between two perspectives regarding the systematic unity of divers empir-
ical laws of nature. On the one hand, it is reason’s own demand for uncondi-
tional completeness that makes the idea of systematic unity of empirical laws

256
Förster, Final Synthesis, 6.
257
EEKU 20:242–​3. Cf. EEKU 20:212n, 215–​16n.
258
KrV A651/​B679, A826/​B854.
259
KrV A127–​8. See on this point Hansgeorg Hoppe, “Die transzendental Deduktion in der ersten
Auflage,” in Immanuel Kant: Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Vol.17/​18, Klassiker Auslegen, ed. Georg
Mohr et  al. (Berlin:  Akademie Verlag, 1998), 180–​1; Friedman, Exact Sciences, 257–​9. Cf. KU
5:208–​11.
260
MAN 4:467–​9.
261
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 253–​4. See also Emundts, Kants Übergangskonzeption, 71 n86.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 79

necessary.262 On the other hand, Kant claims that there could not be “a logical
principle of rational unity among rules unless a transcendental principle is pre-
supposed, through which such a systematic unity, as pertaining to the object
itself, is assumed a priori as necessary.”263 In other words, whether such a sys-
tematic unity of divers empirical laws actually pertains to the objective world is
still undecided, because it can neither be proved nor disproved in the Critique.264
As a merely logical or subjective principle,265 the idea of the systematicity of
empirical laws is a focus imaginarius, toward which understanding is directed
in its systematic investigation of nature. Kant elucidates his position through
the example of a fundamental force underlying the manifold of empirical forces:
For by what warrant can reason in its logical use claim to treat the manifold-
ness of the forces, which nature gives to our cognition, as merely a concealed
unity, and to derive them as far as it is able from some fundamental force,
when reason is free to admit that it is just as possible that all forces are differ-
ent in kind, and that its derivation of them from a systematic unity is not in
conformity with nature? For then reason would proceed directly contrary to
its vocation, since it would posit as its goal an idea that entirely contradicts
the arrangement of nature. Nor can one say that it has previously gleaned this
unity from the contingent constitution of nature in accordance with its prin-
ciples or reason. For the law of reason to seek unity is necessary, since without it
we would have no reason, and without that, no coherent use of the understand-
ing, and, lacking that, no sufficient mark of empirical truth; thus in regard to the
latter we simply have to presuppose the systematic unity of nature as objectively
valid and necessary.266

The introductions to the 1790 Critique of the Power of Judgment pick up again
this very same topic of the progression from transcendental laws of nature to the
systematicity of divers empirical laws:
The introduction of the power of judgment into the system of the pure facul-
ties of cognition through concepts rests entirely on its transcendental principle,
which is peculiar to it:  that nature [in] the specification of the transcendental
laws of understanding (principles of its possibility as nature in general), i.e., in

262
KrV A309/​B365, A508–​9/​B536–​7, A782–​795/​B810–​23.
263
KrV A650/​B678, my emphasis. Cf. KrV A693/​B72.
264
KrV A649/​B677; EEKU 20:208–​9.
265
KrV A658–​9/​B686–​7, A581–​3/​B609–​11.
266
KrV A651/​B679, translation modified, my emphasis. Cf. KrV A644–​5/​B672–​3, A693–​4/​B721–​2;
EEKU 20:214–​5; KU 5:183–​6; Gerhard Lehmann, Kants Tugenden: Neue Beiträge zur Geschichte
und Interpretation der Philosophie Kants (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), 99–​100.
80

80 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

the manifold of its empirical laws proceeds in accordance with the idea of a
system of their division for the sake of the possibility of experience as an empirical
system.267

Förster’s point is that the principle of reflective judgment justifies a priori (as
opposed to merely postulates) that a progression from transcendental to the sys-
tematicity of divers empirical laws is possible. Yet, it seems to me that while the
propositional attitude toward the idea of the systematic unity of nature changes,
its substantial content does not. That judgment provides us with a “universal but
yet indeterminate principle of a purposive ordering of nature in a system,” as Kant
says in 1790,268 is not substantially different from Kant’s view presented in the
Critique “that all possible cognitions of the understanding (including empirical
ones) have the unity of reason, and stand under common principles from which
they could be derived despite their variety.”269 Against this background, Förster’s
claim that “one can easily see . . . why [with the principle of purposiveness] Kant
came to realize that a step beyond the Metaphysical Foundations can and must
be taken”270 is too strong. The “General Remark to Dynamics” already sketches
“the procedure in accordance with which the empirical and determinate use of
the understanding in experience can be brought into thoroughgoing agreement
with itself,”271 by providing mediating concepts that have “the purpose of guiding
natural philosophy . . . [to] a true rational coherence of explanations.”272
2. There is also a piece of historical evidence that supports my own reconstruc-
tion:  Kiesewetter, who knew firsthand about the Transition Project, and who
worked on a commentary on the Metaphysical Foundations, neither mentions
the Critique of the Power of Judgment nor its principle of purposiveness. Rather,
he views the “General Remark to Dynamics” of the Metaphysical Foundations as
the origin of the Transition Project.
Förster uses the June 8, 1795 letter from Johann Gottfried Carl Christian
Kiesewetter in order to argue that the Transition Project originates in Kant’s
discovery of the principle of purposiveness in 1790.273 Kiesewetter, who studied
with Kant between 1788–​9 and subsequently visited Kant in the fall of 1790,
writes:

267
EEKU 20:242–​3, my emphasis. Cf. EEKU 20:203–​4, 212n, 215–​16n.
268
EEKU 20:214.
269
KrV A648/​B676.
270
Förster, Final Synthesis, 11, my emphasis.
271
KrV A665-​6/​B693–​4.
272
MAN 4:534.
273
Förster, Final Synthesis, 1–​23.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 81

For some years now you have promised to present the public with a few sheets
that are to contain the transition from your Metaphysical Foundations of Natural
Science to physics itself, which I await eagerly.274

On Förster’s interpretation, Kiesewetter’s remark provides evidence for the


claim that the Transition Project of the Octaventwurf originates between 1789
and 1790.
It is remarkable that Kiesewetter does not mention the principle of purpos-
iveness a single time in this letter of 1795. Rather, he talks about the general
difficulties that readers of the Metaphysical Foundations experience.275 In this
context, Kiesewetter (1)  expresses his indebtedness to Kant, who explained
the Metaphysical Foundations to him in person, and (2)  reminds Kant of his
promise to provide a transition from the Metaphysical Foundations to empir-
ical physics.276 Kiesewetter, who was planning to write a commentary on Kant’s
Metaphysical Foundations, began to collect material for this commentary as
early as his first visit to Königsberg.277 Not only did Kiesewetter attend Kant’s
lectures, was among Kant’s regular table guests, and daily discussed with Kant
problems within the latter’s philosophical system,278 he also functioned as a
copyist for Kant’s manuscript of the Critique of the Power Judgment. Kant had
explicitly recommended Kiesewetter to his publisher de la Garde “because he
[Kiesewetter], being a specialist, is most qualified to notice and correct mis-
takes.”279 Subsequently, Kiesewetter visited Kant again in the fall of 1790. What
is more, during Kiesewetter’s last stay in Königsberg, Kant directly provided him
with explanations that were supposed to be included in Kiesewetter’s commen-
tary on the Metaphysical Foundations.280 Surely, Kiesewetter would mention the

274
Br 12:23.
275
Regarding the history of the reception of Kant’s MAN, see Pollok, Introduction, xix–​xxix. Cf. the
letter from Jenisch (Br 10:486).
276
“For some years now you have promised to present the public with a few sheets that are to con-
tain the transition from your Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science to physics itself, which I
await eagerly. In my opinion, it is a striking appearance that only few have studied the Metaphysical
Foundations of Natural Science, even though your other writings have been . . . explained . . . and
commented on so much. I do not know whether this is because one does not see the . . . value of this
work or because one finds it too difficult . . . Would it not be aggreeable to the public if a commen-
tary on this work would be published? Among all of your writings it [the Metaphysical Foundations
of Natural Science] has required the greatest effort on my side, and I still remember with great
gratitude that I am indebted to your lectures for a complete understanding of this work (ich denke
immer noch mit großer Dankbarkeit daran, daß ich das völlige Verstehen desselben Ihrem mündlichen
Unterricht schuldig bin)” (Br 12:23–​4, my translation).
277
Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 310.
278
Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 312. Kiesewetter had conversations with Kant throughout
the winter of 1788–​9, apparently, every day from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus
postumum, 42ff.
279
Br 11:97, my translation.
280
Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 312.
82

82 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

principle of purposiveness as the key to understanding the Transition Project if


this was indeed Kant’s position. But there is no mentioning of the principle of
purposiveness at all.
The preface and introduction of Kiesewetter’s commentary, which are the
only parts that have been written or survived, are dated 1808. A  year earlier,
Kiesewetter had traveled to Königsberg in order to gain access to Kant’s notes
on the Transition Project—​that is, what is now called the Opus postumum—​
but he could not get a hold of the manuscript. Thus, Kiesewetter makes an
informed guess about the topic of Kant’s Transition Project. He assumes that the
Transition Project has to do with the “modification of [empirical] matter based
on the relation between the two foundational forces [of matter in general].”281
This is, of course, precisely the problem of the “General Remark to Dynamics”
in the Metaphysical Foundations. This is also precisely the problem of the very
first page of the Transition Project presented in the “Octaventwurf.” Here is how
the “Octaventwurf ” begins:
Transition From the Metaphysical Foundations Of Natural Science To
Physics. From the moving forces, by which matter in general is possible, to
those which give it a determinate connection (which is alterable by other nat-
ural forces), that is: (1) density, (2) cohesion, (3) movability . . . of the parts
which cohere.282

There is thus also historical evidence for my thesis that Kant’s “Octaventwurf,”
written ten years after the “General Remark to Dynamics,” picks up precisely
the project of the “General Remark to Dynamics”: transition from the moving
forces by which matter in general is possible to those that give it a determinate
connection alterable by other natural forces. Kiesewetter describes this project

281
Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 315. “After Kant—​in the Critique of Pure Reason—​determined
the limits of the realm of cognition, and the laws that must necessarily hold within this realm, he
used these results for his philosophy of nature and wrote the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural
Science . . . [Yet], he thought something additional was required to complete his philosophy of
nature, namely, the transition from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science to Physics . . .
As becomes clear from his letters to me, he did not think that transcendental philosophy connected
with the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science is the whole philosophy of nature. Rather, he
was working on an essential and integrating part [of the philosophy of nature], which he wanted to
publish under the title Transition from the Metaphysics of Nature to Physics, and which he calls the
keystone of his system in one of his letters. Because this work has not yet been published . . . its sub-
ject matter can only be guessed. Perhaps it contains an exposition of the laws of the modification
of [empirical] matter, based on the relation of the two foundational forces [of matter in general],
or perhaps heuristic maxims for attaining empirical laws from observations and experiments. (Sie
enthielt vielleicht eine Darstellung der Gesetze der Modification der Materie aus dem Verhaltnis der
beiden Grundkräfte, vielleicht auch heuristische Maximen, um aus Beobachtungen u. Versuchen zu
empirischen Gesetzen zu gelangen)” (Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 312–​15).
282
Op 21:373.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 83

as “an exposition of the laws of the modification of matter, based on the relation
of the two foundational forces.”283
It should also be noted that already loose sheets 29 and 35, which belong to
the “Octaventwurf ” fascicle, explicitly pick up the old problems of the “General
Remark to Dynamics,” namely, the “cause of cohesion,” “chemical . . . permeating
of materials,” “fluidity and rigidity,” the claim that atomism is “a nest of imagina-
tion,” and that only the “physic-​dynamical” approach can be true, “proportion
of attraction and . . . repulsion” producing an “infinite manifold” of qualitatively
different matter, problems of “density” and “elasticity.”284 These are the problems
of the “General Remark to Dynamics,” and with these problems Kant begins
the Transition Project in the “Octaventwurf.” What is more, Adickes locates the
loose sheets 29 and 35 in the context of the Kiesewetter papers that Kant wrote
for his discussions with Kiesewetter.285 Therefore, I  suggest that Kiesewetter’s
remark that “for some years now you have promised to present the public with a
few sheets that are to contain the transition from your Metaphysical Foundations
of Natural Science to physics itself,” which Förster takes to be referring to the
principle of purposiveness of the Critique of the Power Judgment, is better inter-
preted as a reference to the 1786 Transition presented in the “General Remark
to Dynamics.”
We also learn from Kiesewetter’s manuscript that Kant did not restrict crit-
ical philosophy to transcendental philosophy. Rather, Kiesewetter provides the
following foundationalist outline of Kant’s system of critical philosophy: (1) The
Critique of Pure Reason draws the boundaries of cognition. It determines the
constitutive laws of cognition. (2) The results of the Critique are applied in the
Metaphysical Foundations. (3) The transition from the metaphysical foundations
of natural science to physics Kant considered to be the “Schlusstein [keystone]
of his system.”286 Kiesewetter’s classification of Kant’s critical system is identi-
cal with the tripartite structure of Kant’s conception of a philosophia naturalis,
which Kant also sketches in numerous drafts in the Opus postumum.287 Kant uses

283
Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 315.
284
Op 21:440, my translation. Cf. Op 21:438–​43.
285
Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 44–​5.
286
Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 312–​15.
287
E.g., “Natural philosophy thus consists of metaphysics of nature—​the Topic (of the moving forces
of nature), and Physics (the connection of these moving forces into a system of the cognition of
nature through experience). Although without this Topic there can be an investigation of nature,
there cannot be such [an investigation of nature] that can be called empirical science of nature”
(Op 21:485, my translation). The “scientific doctrine of nature (philosophia naturalis)” falls into
“1. The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, which is justified a priori, 2.  The general
physiological doctrine of forces that is based on empirical principles . . . [and] is justified a priori,
3. Physics” (Op 21:293, my translation).
84

84 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

the term philosophia naturalis expressis verbis in his letter to Kiesewetter,288 as


well as in many passages of the Opus postumum.289 Kiesewetter uses the German
translation of this term, Naturphilosophie, and characterizes Kant’s planned
Transition as providing “heuristic maxims,” whose purpose is to guide “observa-
tions and experiments” with the goal of attaining “empirical laws.” This project
is one of providing mediating concepts, or—​as Kiesewetter formulates it—​“an
exhibition of the laws of the modification of matter, based on the relation of the
two foundational forces.”290
This is also confirmed by Rink, Kant’s friend, frequent table companion, and
the editor of Kant’s Physical Geography and “Progress” essay. In 1793, Kant sum-
marizes an article, published in Gren’s Journal der Physik (1793), which attempts
to account for elasticity without recourse to the original repulsive force of matter
in general.291 Friedrich Albrecht Karl Gren (1760–​98) was Professor in Halle,
and the editor of the Journal der Physik,292 which, besides Gehler’s Physikalisches
Wörterbuch, is one of the major sources from which Kant draws for his Opus
postumum.293 There are quite a few passages in which Kant and Rink mention
Gren,294 one of which is particularly interesting because Rink mentions Kant’s
Transition Project in the context of discussing whether heat could be under-
stood on a dynamic theory of matter. He writes:

But whether heat itself can be assumed to be something material, or whether a


dynamic type of explanation is required in respect of it, is a question which has by
no means been decided . . . If only the worthy author of this Physical Geography
[i.e., Kant] could have made known his “Transition from the Metaphysics of
Nature to Physics”! Then, as I know for certain [wie ich bestimmt weiss], many a
profound observation would be found here.295

Thus, also Rink, who was a frequent table guest of Kant between 1792–​93
and 1795–​1801, confirms that the Transition Project attempts to tie empirical

288
Br 12:258.
289
See Op 21:174–​5, 293, 360, 361–​2, 366–​7, 402–​3, 474–​5, 482, 618.
290
Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 315.
291
Refl 14:499ff.
292
Journal der Physik, ed. Friedrich Albrecht Carl Gren (Leipzig:  Johann Ambrosius Barth, 1790–​
94). Gren was also the editor of the Neues Journal der Physik (Leipzig: Johann Ambrosius Barth,
1795–​7). He is the author of Systematisches Handbuch der Gesamten Chemie (Halle: Waisenhaus-​
Buchhandlung, 1787–​94), and Grundriss der Naturlehre (Halle:  Hemmerde und Schwetschke,
1787–​94).
293
Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 471.
294
PG 9:185, 198, 221; Refl 14:499, 521–​4.
295
PG 9:221.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 85

phenomena into Kant’s dynamic theory of matter.296 This, however, is not a new
project made possible by Kant’s discovery of the principle of purposiveness. It
is a continuous project of Kant’s critical philosophy. What makes an empirical
law of nature necessary is that it can be linked to a transcendental theory of the
possibility of experience. For Kant, knowledge of nature is not a heap of pos-
sibly unrelated empirical laws but requires systematic unity of cognitions. This
unity is possible because the metaphysical study of nature in general provides the
foundation for the applied study of nature. Thus, in the Critique he writes:
Categories are concepts that prescribe laws a priori to appearances, thus to nature
as the sum total of all appearances (natura materialiter spectata) . . . All possible
perceptions, hence everything that can ever reach empirical consciousness, i.e.,
all appearances of nature . . . stand under the categories . . . The pure faculty of
understanding does not suffice, however, to prescribe to appearances through
mere categories a priori laws beyond those on which rests a nature in general
. . . Particular laws, because they concern empirically determined appearances,
cannot be completely derived from the categories, although they all stand under
them.297

How precisely natura materialiter spectata stands under natura formaliter spec-
tata is a continuous question for Kant. The problem of attributing necessity to
empirical laws is subsequently formulated in the Opus postumum as follows:
In order to achieve physics I must know in advance how to investigate nature.
Natural science is either metaphysics of the doctrine of nature or physics. The
latter does not constitute a system with the former because physics is a mere
aggregate of experiences, unless there is a transition from the one to the other.298

The schematism of the Transition Project

Kant’s critical account of objects of experience begins with the separation of two
stems of cognition, sensibility (intuition) and understanding (concept). Because
intuition and concept are not homogeneous representations (as in the Wolffian
school), they require schemata to fill the gap between them. Kant introduces the

296
Cf. Friedrich Theodor Rink, Aussichten aus Immanuel Kants Leben (Königsberg:  Göbbels und
Unzer, 1805), 120.
297
KrV B163–​5.
298
Op 21:488.
86

86 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

term “schema” in the Critique by asking how, given the heterogeneity of concept
and intuition, “[is] the application of the category to appearances possible?”299
This “important” question [erhebliche Frage] “makes a transcendental doctrine
of the power of judgment necessary.”300 The conception of a schema as a “third
thing” or “mediating representation” is supposed to make possible the “appli-
cation” of pure concepts in general to appearances. It is “intellectual on the one
hand and sensible on the other.”301
Everyone schooled in Kant’s critical philosophy will immediately associ-
ate the term “schema” with this transcendental sense of determinate judg-
ment outlined in the “Transcendental Analytic.” It is thus not surprising
that interpreters, upon reading the term in the Opus postumum, were led to
assume that Kant must mean to revise his theory of the schematism of the
“Transcendental Analytic.” However, this is not the only use Kant makes of the
term in the Critique, because he also uses it in the “Appendix to the Dialectic”
in the context of regulative principles. The “Appendix to the Dialectic” sets
forth regulative principles guiding empirical investigation in order to meet
reason’s demand for systematic unity of a science: the regulative principles of
homogeneity, specificity, and affinity are meant to guide empirical investiga-
tion toward the goal of a complete system of empirical laws. In the “Appendix
to the Dialectic,” the regulative principle of the systematicity of nature in its
divers empirical laws is presented as connected to the idea of a divine intel-
lect. More precisely, the idea of a divine intellect functions as the schema of
the regulative idea of the purposive arrangement of nature in the multiplicity
of its empirical laws:  the idea that it is “from a highest intelligence [God]
that we derive the order of the world and its systematic unity,” functions as a
“schema of the regulative principle for the systematic unity of all cognitions
of nature.”302 And again, “this transcendental thing is merely the schema of
that regulative principle through which reason, as far as it can, extends sys-
tematic unity over all experience.”303 Reason in its regulative function thinks
a divine intellect as if the systematicity of divers empirical laws was based
on it. Kant presents an idea of reason as “a schema of the regulative principle
for the systematic unity of all cognitions of nature.”304 Such “immanent” use
of regulative ideas, Kant tells us, is “of great importance for transcendental

299
KrV A137–​8/​B176–​7.
300
Ibid.
301
KrV A138–​40/​B177.
302
KrV A673–​4/​B701–​2.
303
KrV A682/​B710.
304
KrV A674/​B702, my emphasis.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 87

philosophy” because it first makes possible “systematic unity” of manifold


empirical laws, and thus empirical truth.305
Kant’s use of the term “schema” in the “Appendix to the Dialectic” is curious
enough. How can an idea of reason, that is, the assumption that it is “from a
highest intelligence [God] that we derive the order of the world and its system-
atic unity,” function as a “schema of the regulative principle for the systematic
unity of all cognitions of nature?”306 As other scholars have rightly observed, an
idea of reason seems incapable of guiding empirical investigation because, first,
it does not have any determinable content, and, second, it is in no obvious way
mediating, that is, located between reason and understanding. It is an idea, that
is, it lacks any sensible component that one would think is required to guide
empirical sciences.307
Yet, I think it is clear why Kant uses the term in this context: for, just as the
actions of the understanding . . . apart from the schemata of sensibility, are
undetermined, likewise the unity of reason is also in itself undetermined in regard
to the conditions under which . . . the understanding should combine its con-
cepts systematically.308

In other words, Kant sees an analogy between the gap between sensibility and
understanding, that is, the two stems of cognition, and that between the princi-
ples of the understanding, which provide constitutive unity to nature, and rea-
son, which rationally enjoins us to seek for systematic unity of empirical laws
as a regulative idea. “The understanding constitutes an object for reason, just as
sensibility does for the understanding.”309 Despite the fact that the determina-
tive schemata of the categories do not address the same gap as the regulative
schemata of the “Appendix to the Dialectic,” Kant chose to use the same term,
schema, to indicate transition problems between two heterogeneous elements
that in each case are necessarily involved in the process of cognition.310

305
See KrV A643ff./​B671ff., A676–​9/​B704–​6, A651/​B679.
306
KrV A673–​4/​B701–​2.
307
For an attempt to make sense of Kant’s idea of a schema in the “Appendix to the Dialectic,” see
Rachel Zuckert, “Empirical Scientific Investigation and the Ideas of Reason,” in Kant and the
Laws of Nature, ed. Angela Breitenbach et  al. (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2017),
89–​107; and Henry Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense, revised
and enlarged edition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004), 423ff. I am indebted to both
readings.
308
KrV A664–​5/​B692–​3.
309
KrV A664/​B692.
310
Whether and how reason must be involved in theoretical cognition is itself a debated topic. See my
discussion of Kant’s notion of a system in “Kant’s philosophia naturalis” above. For further discus-
sion, see, for example, Rolf-​Peter Horstmann, “Why Must There Be a Transcendental Deduction in
Kant’s Critique of Judgment?” in Kant’s Transcendental Deductions: The Three Critiques and the Opus
postumum, ed. Eckart Förster (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989), 157ff.; Reinhard Brandt,
8

88 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

In the third Critique, this schema of reason finds its ultimate development
in the synthetic a priori principle of reflective judgment. For, even though all
objects of experience stand under the formal principles of the understanding
that determine nature in general, particular empirical laws of nature could be
so divers that “no thoroughgoing interconnection of empirical cognitions into a
whole of experience would take place.”311 Thus there arises the transition prob-
lem that Kant described in the “Appendix to the Dialectic,” a problem that calls
again upon judgment, albeit in its regulative employment.
The reflecting power of judgment, which is under obligation from ascending
from the particular in nature to the universal, therefore requires a principle . . .
in order to make possible a system of experience in accordance with particular
laws of nature.312
The power of judgment, which is obliged to bring particular laws, even with
regard to what differentiates them under the same general laws of nature,
under higher, though still empirical laws, must ground its procedure on such
a principle.313
The understanding is of course in possession a priori of universal laws of nature,
without which nature could not be an object of experience at all; but still it
requires in addition a certain order of nature in its particular rules . . . These
rules, without which there would be no progress [Fortgang] from the general
analogy of a possible experience in general to the particular, it must think as
laws (i.e., as necessary), because otherwise they would not constitute an order
of nature.314

Note that neither an idea of reason nor the a priori principle of the faculty
of judgment is capable of guiding empirical investigation in any determinate
way. The “affinity” of empirical laws is merely a “subjectively necessary tran-
scendental presupposition.”315 But this presupposition by itself is completely
indeterminate, because the unity of empirical laws of nature must, of course,
be searched for empirically in terms of the “physical–​mechanical connection

“The Deductions in the Critique of Judgment:  Comments on Hampshire and Horstmann,” in


Kant’s Transcendental Deductions: The Three Critiques and the Opus postumum, ed. Eckart Förster,
177ff. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989). My own view is indebted to Friedman’s works
cited above and to Hannah Ginsborg, “Kant on the Systematicity and Purposiveness of Nature,”
in Rethinking Kant, vol. 5., ed. Pablo Muchnik et al. (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars,
forthcoming).
311
KU 5:183.
312
KU 5:180.
313
EEKU 20:210.
314
KU 5:184, my emphasis.
315
EEKU 20:209.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 89

according to universal laws.”316 What would be needed to connect the regula-


tive idea of the systematic unity of nature in its empirical laws with the deter-
minate principles of understanding is a theory of mediating concepts that
would make comprehensible how particular, experimentally obtained cogni-
tions of empirical laws (physics) can be regressively linked to the laws con-
stitutive of matter in general (MAN). For, the general principle of reflective
judgment by itself (which reflective judgment prescribes a priori to judgment
in its empirical investigation of nature) does not yet license the necessity of
particular empirical laws.317
The schemata of the Transition Project of the Opus postumum are meant to
fill this lacuna by providing mediating concepts that guide empirical investi-
gation. As we have seen, the main part of Metaphysical Foundations shows
that everything that can become an object of outer sense must be constituted
through the reciprocal limitation of repulsion and attraction. Because the der-
ivation of metaphysical forces constitutive of matter is exhaustive, “all moving
forces in material nature [i.e., empirical forces] must be reduced” to the fun-
damental forces of repulsion and attraction.318 This completeness claim entails
that the specific variety of matter, as well as specific mechanical forces (which
the physicist investigates) are grounded upon the two fundamental metaphys-
ical forces.319 In other words: in order to secure the scientific status of natural
sciences, the laws and phenomena of bodies must be reducible to, that is, be
varieties of, the two a priori moving forces of matter in general. The Transition
Project is meant to guide natural sciences to a coherent rational explanation of
natural phenomena by connecting the constitutive a priori principles of mater-
ial nature with the regulative procedure of reflective judgment. The Transition
Project thus lies at the intersection of metaphysical laws and the empirical var-
iety of specific laws, and it attempts to comprehend the latter as modifications
of the former. The regulative idea of the unity of particular empirical laws of
nature, which the faculty of judgment must assume so that it becomes “possible
to organize experiences in a systematic way,”320 is further specified by a system
of moving forces (based on the forces that are constitutive of matter in general),
in virtue of which the scientist can, and, from the standpoint of transcendental
philosophy, indeed must, seek for a coherent explanation of nature. The goal of

316
KrV A692/​B720.
317
Cf. EEKU 20:208–​11.
318
MAN 4:499.
319
Cf. “General Remark to Dynamics,” 4:524ff., and “General Remark to Mechanics,” 4:551ff.
320
EEKU 20:211.
90

90 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

the Transition is to determine the topic of moving forces that founds the system
of physics.321 Kant says,
Between metaphysics and physics there still exists a broad gulf (hiatus in sys-
temato) across which the transition cannot be a step but requires a bridge of
intermediary concepts which form a distinctive construction. A system can never
be constructed out of merely empirical concepts.322
The Transition from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science to Physics
must not consist entirely of a priori concepts of matter in general, for it would
then merely be metaphysics (e.g. where one talks merely of attraction and repul-
sion in general), and also must not consist entirely of empirical representations,
for they would then belong to physics (e.g. observation of chemistry). Rather
[the Transition] belongs to the a priori principles of . . . natural investigation . . .
that is, to the subjective principle of the schematism of the power of judgment to
classify empirically given moving forces in accordance with a priori principles . . .
and so to pass from an aggregate . . . to a system of physics.323

Kiesewetter, as we have seen, characterizes Kant’s planned Transition as pro-


viding “heuristic maxims,” whose purpose is to guide “observations and experi-
ments,” with the goal of providing a priori insight into the explanatory grounds
of “empirical laws.” This requires “an exposition of the laws of the modification
of matter, based on the relation of the two foundational forces.”324
The Transition is the schematism of the composition of moving forces insofar
as these constitute an a priori system in accordance with the form of classifica-
tion for a system of physics in general. Thus, [it is] the architectonic of natural
investigation.325

The term schema here is not meant in its transcendental sense of determinate
judgment outlined in the “Transcendental Analytic.” Rather, it picks up the
regulative idea of a schema presented in the “Appendix to the Dialectic”: the nat-
ural scientist must investigate nature as if its particular empirical laws formed

321
Op 22:297, 299.
322
Op 21:476, my emphasis. Cf. Op 21:310–​1, 402–​3, 474–​5. “Therefore, the transition from metaphys-
ics to physics, from the a priori concept of the movable in space (i.e. of the concept of a matter in
general) to the system of moving forces, can proceed only by means of that which is common to
both . . . Insofar as it contains for itself a system of the application of a priori concepts to experience”
(Op 21:478, my emphasis). For further passages describing the transition as a “schematism” for the
composition of empirical moving forces from metaphysical forces for the sake of the possibility of
physics as a science, see Op 21:174, 362–​3, 425; Op 22:265.
323
Op 21:362–​3, my emphasis and translation.
324
Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 315.
325
Op 22:263, my translation.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 91

a systematic unity. The schemata of the Transition attempt to link this inde-
terminate regulative use of reflective judgment to the constitutive metaphysical
principles of material nature. Thus, Kant’s use of the term schematism neither
indicates a revision of the “Transcendental Analytic,”326 nor does it aim to trans-
form the regulative validity of the principle of the power of judgment into consti-
tutive statements regarding nature.327
The Transition is not meant to intrude into physics (chemistry, etc.) [.]‌It only
anticipates the moving forces, which are thought a priori . . . and it only classifies
the empirical/​general in accordance with the former, in order to regulate [reg-
ulieren] the conditions of empirical investigation for the sake of a system of the
investigation of nature [zum Behuf eines Systems der Naturforschung] (regulative
principles).328

The project of showing how particular laws can be seen as necessary is a con-
tinuous endeavor of Kant’s critical philosophy, and it can be traced throughout
Kant’s critical work, including the “Appendix to the Dialectic,” “General Remark
to Dynamics,” the Critique of the Power of Judgment, and the Opus postumum.329
Already the earliest fascicles of the Opus postumum—​Convolut 4, which also
contains the “Octaventwurf ”—​characterize the transition in terms of a sche-
matism.330 Kant consistently uses the notions transition (Übergang, Überschritt),
schematism, and intermediary concepts synonymously.331 The term “schematism”
in the Opus postumum is always directed toward the systematicity of empirical
physics, never backward to a completion of the deduction of the categories.332
The Transition proceeds from the metaphysical foundations, and Kant consist-
ently emphasizes the tendency of MAN toward physics, as one would expect
against the background of the problem of the “Appendix to the Dialectic.” Also,
the Doctrine of Virtue, finished by February 1797, describes the transition in

326
For this reading, see Förster, Reply, 238, n5; Final Synthesis, 50–​1, 59–​74.
327
For this reading, see Mathieu, Kants Opus postumum, 138, 239–​46.
328
Op 22:263, my translation. Friedman is absolutely right when he says that “the apparently paradoxi-
cal demand for principles that are, at the same time, both constitutive and regulative—​literally for
an intersection of the constitutive and regulative domains—​is thus a natural and inevitable demand
of the critical philosophy” (Friedman, “Regulative and Constitutive,” 95).
329
For similar assessments regarding the continuity of the problem, see: John H. Zammito, The Genesis
of Kant’s Critique of Judgment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 158ff.; Henry Allison,
Kant’s Theory of Taste:  A Reading of the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment (Cambridge:  Cambridge
University Press, 2001), 37–​39, 204f.; Michael Friedman, “Laws of Nature and Causal Necessity,”
Kant-​Studien 105(4) (2014): 545ff.
330
Op 21:362–​3, 367, 369, 485.
331
See Op 21:485, 487, 167, 285–​6, 290, 291, 505, 617; Op 22:263.
332
E.g., Op 21:482, 617; Op 22:189. Cf. Friedman, Exact Sciences, 260–​1; Adickes, Kants Opus postu-
mum, 113, 165n1; Pollok, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe, 2–​3, n7.
92

92 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

practical philosophy in terms of a schematism. This is important because it


shows that the Transition Project is not meant to fix a problem that is unique to
theoretical cognition, but rather goes to the heart of Kant’s comprehensive con-
ception of philosophy.333 The problems of application (schema, mediating con-
cepts) and systematicity are two sides of the same problem, which deals with the
lawful progression from the metaphysical foundation of nature to empirical phys-
ics. Such a transition becomes necessary if Kant’s claim that the scientific status
of physics can only be comprehensible through transcendental philosophy is to
be true. Kiesewetter reports twice that Kant described the Transition Project to
him as a “Schlussstein,” which would complete Kant’s philosophia naturalis. Kant
describes the Transition as a special part in his “philosophia naturalis,” and that
without it there would remain a gap in the system.
Through the Transition (Übergang) a gap in the system of the pure science
of nature (philosophia naturalis pura) is filled, and the circle of all that which
belongs to the a priori cognition of nature is closed (der Kreis alles dessen was
zum Erkentnis a priori der Natur gehört geschlossen).334

Kant already announces this project in the preface to the 1786 Metaphysical
Foundations:  “Every doctrine of nature must finally lead to natural sciences
and conclude there . . . and therefore makes claim to be thoroughly compre-
hended.”335 The central thought of Kant’s conception of philosophia naturalis is
that a formal a priori determination of nature in general is supposed to ground
the necessity of divers empirical laws. It is crucial for an understanding of the
Opus postumum to be aware of the continuity of this problem in Kant’s critical
philosophy.

The “Octaventwurf ” and the “Early Fascicles” of the Opus


postumum: The categorical structure of the mediating
concepts of the Transition

The “General Remark to Dynamics” conceives of density, cohesion, elasticity,


and chemical forces as mediating concepts facilitating the application of the
metaphysics of nature to objects of outer sense. Yet, despite the strong claim
that “all moving forces in material nature must be reduced” to the fundamental

333
See MSTL 6:468, and Introduction to this book.
334
Op 21:640, my translation. Cf. Kant’s 1798 letter to Kiesewetter cited above, Br 12:258.
335
MAN 4:469, my emphasis.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 93

forces of repulsion and attraction,336 Kant could merely “hope” to present the
reader “completely” with the moments to which the specific variety of matter
can be reduced “a priori.”337
Instead of a sufficient explanation for the possibility of matter and its specific
variety from these fundamental forces, which I cannot provide, I will present
completely, so I  hope, the moments to which its specific variety must collec-
tively be reducible a priori . . . The remarks inserted between the definitions will
explain their application.338

Kant lacks any principle that would derive these moments “completely.” The
“General Remark to Dynamics” merely sketches a topic of moving forces, but it
neither justifies its systematicity and completeness nor its method of generation.
The Opus postumum attempts to make one step beyond the “General Remark
to Dynamics” by searching for an elementary system of mediating concepts that
demonstrates the systematicity of physics as a science. Only a principle through
which all mediating moments are derived could guarantee the systematic status
of physics. For this reason, the “Octaventwurf ” explicitly orders the mediating
concepts in accordance with the table of the categories: quantity, quality, rela-
tion, and modality. The difference between the “General Remark to Dynamics”
and the “Octaventwurf ” lies in the attempt to establish the completeness of the
four mediating moments, “which cannot be brought about in any other way
than by following the order of the categories.”339 Kant says in the “Octaventwurf ”
that he would have to generate, from a principle, an elementary system of specific
moving forces that is both a priori (i.e., derived from the fundamental forces)
and applicable to experience (i.e., account for specific phenomena of matter).340
We deal here of the physical first principles of natural science (philosophiae
naturalis), because the mathematical [first principles] are not a part of philoso-
phy . . . The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science have a natural ten-
dency toward physics . . . because this is the goal of philosophy as a doctrine of
nature [Philosophie als Naturlehre] . . . Thus, the moving forces of matter must
specifically be enumerated a priori in a complete system in order to make pos-
sible the transition from the Metaphysics of Nature to Physics.341

336
MAN 4:499.
337
MAN 4:525. Cf. Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 226–​7; Förster, Final Synthesis, 5.
338
MAN 4:525, my translation and emphasis.
339
Op 21:363, my translation.
340
Op 22:265.
341
Op 21:617–​ 8, my emphasis and translation. Cf. Op 21:532; and Adickes, Kants Opus
postumum, 165–​8.
94

94 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

The “General Remark to Dynamics” only hypothetically specifies the moments


to which the empirical diversity of moving forces can be reduced. From this
perspective, a systematic transition (derived from one principle) would indeed
entitle us to speak of the transition to physics as a Schlussstein of Kant’s critical
system, as Kiesewetter does. I  propose that it is for this reason that the Opus
postumum—​in contrast to the “General Remark to Dynamics”—​emphasizes
that the Transition has to be based on a principle and ordered in accordance
with the table of the categories.
Physics as a system requires a principle of how one is to investigate methodically
the moving forces of nature, divide them into classes, and thus is to be guided
with regard to the coordination of the whole.342

The Transition aims to demonstrate the necessity and systematicity of divers


empirical laws by determining the moments to which empirical physics can be
reduced, and by showing from which principle these moments can be derived
systematically.343 The “General Remark to Dynamics” had only addressed this
task by way of examples. The sketch of the four moments, to which Kant refers
in the “Octaventwurf ” as the steps he had already taken into the direction of
a transition from metaphysical foundations to physics,344 needs to become a
systematic transition to physics. Without a system of a priori moving forces,
metaphysical principles cannot be applied to empirically given objects (objects
in concreto) so to make possible systematic knowledge of outer objects. This,
however, Kant says, “cannot be tolerated in a philosophy such as physics ought
to be.”345
Completeness and systematicity are built-​in requirements of Kant’s critical
philosophy. This is just as true of the table of the categories as it is of the princi-
ples of the understanding, the fourfold division of the Metaphysical Foundations,
and the four mediating concepts that guide the investigation of empirical mov-
ing forces of nature:
That this table [of the categories] is uncommonly useful, indeed indispensable
in the theoretical part of philosophy for completely outlining the plan for the
whole of a science . . . is already self-​evident from the fact that this table com-
pletely contains all the elementary concepts of the understanding, indeed even
the form of a system of them in the human understanding, consequently that it

342
Op 22:265, my emphasis and translation.
343
Op 21:169, 177, 475, 492.
344
Op 21:407–​8.
345
Op 21:407.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 95

gives instruction about all the moments, indeed even of their order, of a planned
speculative science, as I have elsewhere given proof. *Metaphysical Foundations
of Natural Science346
Now this completeness of a science cannot reliably be assumed from a rough cal-
culation of an aggregate put together by mere estimates; hence it is possible only by
means of an idea of the whole of the a priori cognition of the understanding, and
through the division of concepts that such an idea determines and that constitutes
it, thus only through their connection in a system.347

Because the metaphysical first principles of material nature are grounded in the
transcendental principles that make possible experience, there arises the pro-
spect for the faculty of judgment to systematically investigate nature in such a way
that physics, which itself is of course empirical and open-​ended, can be justified
as a rational doctrine of nature. This prospect is unavailable to both the various
Naturlehren Kant encountered in his textbooks and the mathematical scientists,
because these proceed from empirical phenomena, that is, they provide an “aggre-
gate of perceptions, whose completeness as a system is . . . a task for philosophy.”348
The “Octaventwurf ” thus formulates the problem:

The concept of natural science (philosophia naturalis) is the systematic expos-


ition of the laws of motion of objects in space and time, insofar as these can be
cognized as a priori, i.e., as necessary. For empirical knowledge of them con-
cerns only contingent knowledge of these outer appearances, only to be acquired
by experience; and it is not philosophy, but merely an aggregate of perceptions,
whose completeness as a system is, nevertheless, a task for philosophy. The supreme
division of the science of nature . . . can be none other than that between its meta-
physical foundations . . . and physics, which systematically orders the content of
empirical knowledge . . . There can be a relationship of one form of knowledge
to the other, which rests neither entirely on a priori principles nor on empirical
principles, but simply on the transition from one to the other. [The Transition
shows] how it is possible for us to collect and order the elements of a doctrine

346
KrV B109–​10.
347
KrV A64–​5/​B89. Cf. KrV A80–​2/​B106–​8; B109–​10; A645/​B673. “Systematic unity is that which
first makes ordinary cognition into science . . . I understand by a system, however, the unity of the
manifold of cognitions under one idea. This is the rational concept of the form of a whole, insofar
as through this the domain of the manifold as well as the position of the parts with respect to each
other is determined a priori” (KrV A832/​B860). Cf. MAN 4:473–​6; PG 9:72; EEKU 20:242ff. On
this point, see also Zammito, Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, 170ff.; Pollok, Metaphysische
Anfangsgründe, 128ff., 133; Rand, “Apriority, Metaphysics, and Empirical Content,” 112–​3.
348
Op 21:402.
96

96 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

of nature to be based on experience, and to arrange them with the completeness


required for systematic classification.349

In accordance with these programmatic remarks emphasizing the systematicity


of natural science, the “Early Fascicles” and the “Octaventwurf ” plan to present
four intermediate concepts guided by the four classes of categories (quantity,
quality, relation, modality). Kant aims at a “complete specification of moving
forces . . . by following the order of the categories.”350 This means the goal is to
classify empirical moving forces in accordance with a priori considerations.
The elementary system of the moving forces of matter . . . is the system of catego-
ries under which the concepts of the moving forces are systematically ordered,
i.e., in accordance with principles a priori.351

At this stage of his reflections, 1796–​8, Kant’s drafts do not pass beyond the
first two mediating concepts—​density and cohesion.352 Under the heading of
density (quantity), Kant discusses the ponderability of matter, which, as Kant
argues, presupposes the penetrative force of gravitation (attraction).353 Under
the category of quality, Kant discusses the cohesion of matter, which, Kant
argues, is based on a universally distributed heat material that he calls caloric
or ether.354 The caloric itself is conceived of as continuously pulsating, that is,
it alternates between attraction and repulsion.355 Under relation, Kant again
discusses cohesion; he never really gets to develop his thoughts pertaining to
modality.356
What the first drafts written between 1796 and 1798 clearly illustrate is that
Kant does not revise his general theory of matter of the Metaphysical Foundations,
but rather picks up on the problems of the “General Remark to Dynamics,” that
is, he builds a transition toward empirical physics. Kant continues with his pro-
ject of the “General Remark to Dynamics,” which he attempts to systematically
organize by linking the mediating concepts to the table of the categories. Note
again the continuity of Kant’s Transition Project: already the “General Remark
to Dynamics” presented four moments, and held that the specific variety of

349
Op 21:402–​3, my emphasis, translation altered. Cf. Op 21:290; Op 22:240, 312; Adickes, Kants Opus
postumum, 155ff.
350
Op 21:363, my translation. Cf. Op 21:367.
351
Op 22:226, my translation. Cf. Op 21:311, 527; Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 200ff., 210–​2.
352
Op 21:388, 311.
353
Op 21:408–​9.
354
Op 21:387.
355
Op 21:378.
356
See Op 21:291, 394ff, 403ff., 405ff.; Op 22:205, 211, 220. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 71–​2,
78, 81, 83, 89, 105ff, 112, 588ff.; Förster, Final Synthesis, 13–​16.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 97

matter must be reducible a priori to these four moments. Adickes takes this to
be indicative of an implicit attempt to link the definitions and explanations of
the “General Remark to Dynamics” to the table of the categories.357 Given the
continuity between the “General Remark to Dynamics” and the Opus postu-
mum, this assessment strikes me as plausible. However, whereas Kant makes
a convincing case regarding the necessity of mediating concepts as application
conditions for searching systematic unity of empirical laws, and thus for guiding
natural science, it remains unclear in both the “General Remark to Dynamics”
and the Opus postumum how precisely the mediating concepts are generated.
What is the procedure? What gives it logical force?
Under Quantity, Kant begins by defining a body: “A limited mass is a body.”358
Kant now asks how one can determine the specific quantity of matter in a body,
and he answers—​by way of gravitation only. Kant’s general answer stresses that
the “determinate concept” of matter’s quantity presupposes dynamic moving
forces.359 “Only the motion of matter in mass determines its quantity.”360 Kant
insists that the quantity of matter cannot be determined by an atomist theory.
The rejection of atomism with respect to an empirical determination of mat-
ter in a given volume, that is, the explanation of different degrees of physical
densities,361 is Kant’s major concern in these passages. Because absolutely simple
parts of matter are inconceivable, the quantity of matter cannot be determined
arithmetically by counting the parts of matter.362 Nor can the quantity of mat-
ter be determined by measuring the volume of a body, that is, geometrically,
because this would presuppose that all specifically different kinds of matter are
equally dense. Therefore, Kant argues, the quantity of matter must be deter-
mined dynamically.
The quantity of matter can only be securely investigated by the moving force
through which it becomes ponderable (ponderabilis). Were all matter uniform
and equally distributed in equal volumes then the quantity of matter could
be geometrically measured and compared . . . Since this cannot be assumed,
it follows that the universal measure of the quantity of matter is only possible
through dynamic but not geometric measurement, more precisely, through the
moving force of gravitational attraction.363

357
Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 226–​7.
358
Op 21:341, my translation. Cf. Op 21:347; Op 22:205.
359
Op 22:206, my emphasis.
360
Op 22:208. Cf. Op 21:403.
361
Op 21:206, 267; Op 22:207, 226–​7, 268, 556–​7. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 131ff., 475ff.
362
Op 21:339.
363
Op 22:226–​7, my translation. Cf. Op 21:387, 405, 408.
98

98 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

What makes a body heavy, that is, an object of experience as a quantum in space,
is the attractive force of universal gravitation. Ponderability is thus based on the
a priori force of universal attraction, on the one hand, and makes possible “the
precise determination of the quantity of matter, of whatever type it be,”364 on the
other. The ponderability of matter is thus a bridge from matter in general toward
empirical physics insofar as the experience of different “types of matter”365 is
based on it. Without ponderability of matter, the scientist could not empirically
compare the different quantities of various types of matter. The “investigation of
nature”366 thus depends on the force of gravity, because it is only proportional to
the quantity of matter, but independent of the different kinds of matter.367
Thus ponderability (ponderabilitas) is the first function of the moving forces
according to the category of quantity. It belongs to both, metaphysics of nature
and physics, and for this reason to the transition from the first to the second.368
So all matter must be regarded as ponderable, for otherwise one could have no
determinate concept of its quantity.369

Thus, the Transition commences from bodies in space with mass, i.e., density,
and moves toward the determination of specific differences in densities. Kant’s
first intermediary concept, ponderability, builds a “transition . . . from concepts
of nature given a priori to empirical ones which yield empirical knowledge.”370
Ponderability is thus a necessary precondition for the empirical determination
of matter.371
Under Quality, Kant aims to reject atomist models explaining the cohesion
of matter.372 Kant argues that the empirical phenomena of cohesion in fluids
and rigid bodies presuppose a heat material (caloric). Recall Kant’s treatment of
coherence in rigid and fluid bodies in terms of the displacement of their parts

364
Op 22:208, my emphasis.
365
Op 21:409.
366
Op 21:362, my translation.
367
Op 22:217. Cf. Op 21:409, 340–​1, 347, 411; Op 22:206.
368
Op 21:307. Cf. Op 22:217; Förster, Final Synthesis, 13–​17. “The proposition that all matter is pon-
derable is not an empirical proposition” (Op 21:295, my translation), but rather makes empirical
inquiry of different types of matter possible. “That ponderosity must belong to all matter . . . can be
recognized a priori. The ponderability in bodies . . . may yet be different, precisely in consequence
of the specific differences of types of matter” (Op 21:375).
369
Op 22:209–​10. Cf. Op 21:405: “Ponderability (ponderabilitas) differs from ponderosity (ponderosi-
tas) in that the latter signifies greater than average weight in comparison with other [types of mat-
ter] of the same volume.” “The more matter a body contains in the same volume the heavier it is,
and this condition is called its ponderosity” (Op 22:210).
370
Op 21:387.
371
Op 21:409, 607; Op 22:268. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 130–​3.
372
Op 22:270.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 99

in his 1786 “General Remark to Dynamics.” Kant had argued that whereas rigid
matter resists displacement of its parts through friction, no such friction occurs
in fluid matter. Förster draws attention to this passage from the “General Remark
to Dynamics,” in which Kant says:
But why certain matters, even though they may have . . . a lesser force of cohesion
than other matters that are fluid, nevertheless resist the displacement of their
parts so strongly . . . how, that is, rigid bodies are possible—​is still an unsolved
problem, no matter how easily the common doctrine of nature presumes to have
settled it.373

Kant’s explanation of different aggregate states in terms of friction in the “General


Remark to Dynamics” (degree of cohesion → friction → rigidity) appears to be
problematic insofar as friction already presupposes rigidity. This theory of the
“General Remark to Dynamics” is revised through the theory of caloric and heat
in the Opus postumum.
On this theory, all matter is originally fluid, and the escape of heat produces
a variety of rigid textures:
[The] division of matter in regard to its quality can be only this: It is either fluid
or solid . . . The principle of all fluidity is generally attributed to heat, whose
escape must have rigidification as its inevitable consequence.374

The overall claim that the formation of rigid and fluid bodies presupposes heat
as a moving force, which Kant identifies with caloric or ether [Wärmestoff] that
“permeates all bodies universally,” has been reconstructed in detail by Adickes.375
What I like to focus on is the systematic use to which Kant wants to put this
intermediary principle of caloric (cohesion). For, caloric is supposed to account
for the different aggregate states of matter in such a way that various empirical
phenomena can be explained through it.
It can be seen from the texture of fibres, laminae and blocks, which is formed by
crystallizing minerals . . . that this [escape of caloric] is the cause of rigidity.376

“That all fluid matter assumes a texture when it progresses from fluidity to rigid-
ity can be learnt from empirical science of nature,” Kant writes, however, it is

373
MAN 4:529. Cf. Förster, Introduction, xxxviii; Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 38–​9n2, 501ff.
374
Op 22:213, my emphasis. Cf. “The moving forces of matter with respect to quality, insofar as matter
is either fluid or . . . rigid, are based on an all-​permeating movable and moving . . . heat material”
(Op 22:232, my translation).
375
Op 22:214. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 41, 70, 72, 483ff., 486, 506ff., 510ff., 525–​6; Op
21:380, 418, 428–​9.
376
Op 21:522–​3. Cf. Op 21:382, 391–​2, 397; Op 22: 213, 232.
10

100 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

“the Transition from the metaphysics [of nature] to physics” that “develops”
through a priori principles “the conditions of the possibility [Grund und Art der
Möglichkeit]” of these “operations of nature.”377 The phenomena of the various
textures of rigid and fluid bodies, so Kant’s thesis, cannot be explained without
the moving forces of caloric, which, for this reason, is considered a priori.378 The
point of the Transition is to develop principles that are “necessary insofar as that
without them no experience regarding specific appearances would be possible.
Cognition a priori.”379
The “exposition of the empirical laws of motion of matter does not belong to
the task of the Transition from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science
to Physics,” because the Transition only provides the “principles a priori for the
system of the moving forces of matter in general,” which is subsequently applied
[Anwendungen] in physics.380 The task of the Transition is to “guide” physics,381 such
that the phenomena of physics can be classified in a system based on “the concepts
of the moving forces of matter a priori.”382
This means, the a priori account of matter in general of the Metaphysical
Foundations is the unquestioned starting point for Kant’s reflections in the Opus
postumum.
All matter must have repulsive forces, since otherwise it would fill no space; but
attractive force must also be attributed to it, since otherwise it would disperse itself
into the infinity of space—​in both cases space would be empty.383

With respect to the definition of matter in general, Kant explicitly refers back to
his “Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science.”384 “All moving forces are either
attraction or repulsion.”385 Since repulsion is a surface force and attraction a pene-
trative force, “one [may] profitably use the division of moving forces into superficial
force and penetrative force for the distinction of physical forces.”386
I thus cannot follow those interpreters who see the Opus postumum as a revi-
sion of Kant’s conception of matter in general as presented in the Metaphysical

377
Op 22:590–​1, my translation.
378
Op 22:231, 232; Op 21:332.
379
Op 21:331, my translation. Cf. Op 21:378.
380
Op 22:232, my translation. Cf. Op 21:332; Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 513, 515ff.
381
Op 21:321, my translation. Cf. Op 22:152 (“guidance for natural investigation in accordance with a
system”), 255, 263.
382
Op 21:477.
383
Op 21:310. Cf. Op 22:211–​12.
384
Op 22:205–​6.
385
Op 21:307. Cf. Op 21:165.
386
Op 21:308, my emphasis. Cf. Op 21:390–​1.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 101

Foundations.387 Förster, for example, maintains that Kant’s theory of rigidifica-


tion in terms of caloric in the Opus postumum is “an effort to overcome the
problem of the Metaphysical Foundations.”388 This is not a problem of the
metaphysical foundations but a problem with which Kant deals in the “General
Remark to Dynamics,” that is, the application of the metaphysical foundations
to physical phenomena. That is why Kant explicitly addresses the natural scien-
tist.389 The early leaves of the Opus postumum have thus to be seen in continuity
with the Metaphysical Foundations, but not as “modifications of his [Kant’s] earl-
ier position.”390
The task of the Transition is to present an “elementary system” of all moving
forces of matter “in order to systematically classify them a priori in accordance
with the concepts of attraction and repulsion, under which the empirical con-
cepts of the moving forces” are completely subsumed.391 The project of deter-
mining the systematicity of empirical forces thus presupposes the theory of body
constitution in the Metaphysical Foundations, where Kant had proved a priori
that matter can fill space only through the reciprocal limitation of repulsive and
attractive moving forces. More than these two kinds of moving forces cannot
be thought as pertaining to matter.392 This is also the starting point of Kant’s
Transition Project, which begins with “original forces” of attraction and repul-
sion, beyond which further “original forces cannot be thought,” although they
can be “derived” from them.393 The goal of the Transition is to guide empirical
investigation by devising a system of moving forces, which are “empirical in one
respect, but a priori in another,” and thus to make a systematic application of
the rational part of philosophia naturalis to its empirical part possible, without
thereby being physics itself.394
By tracing a broad variety of empirical phenomena to the concept of caloric,
Kant attempts to systematically organize the contents of the “General Remark
to Dynamics” around one underlying principle. Caloric is supposed to make
possible the explanation of a vast range of empirical phenomena including crys-
tallization, cohesion, adhesion, light, electricity, magnetism, and elasticity “in

387
E.g., Burkhard Tuschling, Metaphysische und Transzendentale Dynamik in Kants Opus postumum
(Berlin: De Gruyter, 1971), 34ff., 63, 90ff.
388
Förster, Introduction, xxxviii.
389
MAN 4:529; Op 21:487. On this point, see also Pollok, Introduction, xxxvii, xxxiii, xxxix, lix.
390
Förster, Introduction, xxxviii.
391
Op 21:507, my emphasis and translation. Cf. Op 22:533.
392
MAN 4:496ff., 511.
393
Op 21:423, my translation. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 39n1.
394
Op 21:289, my translation. Cf. Op 21:310–​1; Op 22:263, 255.
102

102 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

order to explain a manifold of appearances from one principle.”395 For example,


with respect to elasticity, Kant says:
The causality of heat is that it expands all bodies, weakens their cohesion, and
renders them fluid; that it is the cause of all elasticity, which is thus fundamen-
tally derived from it.396

Kant continues to reflect on empirical phenomena in their connection to repul-


sive and attractive forces. Many of these connections appear to be mere stipu-
lations, as, for example, Kant’s reflections on cohesion as attraction in contact
(friction, slippage) and the possible basis of these phenomena in caloric.
Adhesion is a displaceable cohesion, as, for instance, when slippage on a smooth
inclined plane meets a resistance, which is called friction . . . Even a mirror-​
smooth surface has such a friction which gradually wears away the solid mat-
ter which is rubbed . . . Rigid bodies rubbed against one another give heat
[caloric].397

Kant uses the metaphysics of matter in general in order to reflect on empirical


problems, and he uses physically conditioned phenomena to hypothesize cal-
oric.398 What the “Early Fascicles” and the “Octaventwurf ” show is that Kant
stipulates that cohesion of physical bodies could be brought about by an oscil-
lating ether as opposed to inner molecular forces of matter. Cohering parts are
pushed together by the pulsations of the ether. The bodily moving forces in
cohesion are grounded in the oscillating pushes of an ether, which is alternating
between attraction and repulsion.399 Attraction in contact (cohesion) is thus not
an original force, but derived from the permeating force [Durchdringung] of an
oscillating ether. As such, the moment of coherence belongs to the Transition
Project.
Kant’s attempt to unify and solve physical problems through one underlying
principle can be already found in the first loose leaves of the “Octaventwurf,”
which picks up the topics of fluids, densities, and rigidification in their relation
to caloric.400 In his drafts from 1796–​8, Kant attempts to solve the problem of
the systematicity of divers empirical laws through the ether as the principle
of all moving forces of matter. From the very beginning, the purpose of the

395
Op 21:319, my translation. Cf. Op 21:380–​2; Op 22:215.
396
Op 21:521. Cf. Op 21:319, 338, 383–​4, 410; Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 464ff.
397
Op 21:411. Cf. Op 22:215.
398
Op 21:417, 423; Op 22:152. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 39n1, 87–​8, 135, 487, 535ff., 590.
399
Op 22:152; Op 21:331.
400
Op 21:428–​9. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 41.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 103

Transition Project is to systematically guide (“reguliren,” “regulative Principien”)


the empirical sciences (“System der Naturforschung”) through mediating con-
cepts (“Schematism”) for the sake of an “architectonic of natural investiga-
tion.”401 Kant begins to reflect on the ether in the context of explaining specific
physical phenomena from the very beginning, and this development will even-
tually lead to the proofs of the ether in Übergang 1–​14, dated 1799, which posits
the ether as the basis of all moving forces of matter, and thus provides a real
“principle” of the system of moving forces.402 Kant’s Opus postumum attempts to
systematically present what the “General Remark to Dynamics” had dealt with
hypothetically.
Kant’s revisions with respect to the explanation of specific physical phe-
nomena, I insist, are revisions that fall into the proper domain of the “General
Remark to Dynamics.” They are not revisions of the metaphysical constitution of
matter in general. This becomes also clear with respect to the well-​known circle
in Kant’s account of density: in 1791, Kant invited his former student and math-
ematician, Jacob Sigismund Beck, to write commentaries on his major works
in order to make his critical philosophy more accessible. In this context, Kant
becomes aware of a circle in his dynamical account of matter.403 The repulsive
and attractive forces are supposed to be constitutive forces of matter. This means
they are supposed to make the filling of space to a determinate degree possible
in the first place. Yet the attractive force, which Kant conceives of as Newtonian
attraction, being a penetrative force, already presupposes a given quantity of
matter to which it is proportional.404 Kant thus presupposes what he wants to
explain. It is impossible that the attractive force, on the one hand, constitutes
matter and as such precedes all given quantity of matter and on the other hand,
presupposes the quantity of matter.405 For Förster, the 1792 circle implies that
the a priori construction of matter in general through the two opposing forces of
attraction and repulsion in the Metaphysical Foundations has failed.406 But is this
true? Does the 1792 circle, which Kant explicitly calls a “physical question”—​not

401
Op 22:263, my translation. Cf. Op 22:152; Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 163–​4.
402
“The concept of this material [the ether] is the basis for the a priori connection of all the moving
forces of matter, without which no unity in the relation of this manifold of forces in a single whole
of matter could be thought” (Op 21:229). Cf. Op 21:224, 231, 241, 549, 487; Op 22:540, 584. Note
that the ether, on which all moving forces are based, is incompatible with atomism. (Op 21:229, 537;
Op 22:192) “Atomism is a false doctrine of nature” (Op 22:212).
403
See Beck’s September 8, 1792 letter, Kant’s notes on it, and Kant’s responses in his October 17, 1792
and December 4, 1792 letters (Br 11:376–​7, 359–​65).
404
MAN 4:516.
405
Gravitational force is dependent on the quantity of mass (and thus density). See on this point: Pollok,
Metaphysische Anfangsgründe, 309–​10. Cf. Refl 14:337–​8; Förster, Final Synthesis, 35.
406
Förster, Final Synthesis, 59, 71.
104

104 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

a metaphysical question—​in the letter to Beck,407 really affect the metaphysical


determination of matter in general? The metaphysical explanation of body for-
mation in the Metaphysical Foundations required two opposing forces of differ-
ent measures. Kant argued that the forces of repulsion and attraction decrease in
different proportions as the distances from the force center r increases. Yet, Kant
emphasized that the precise mathematical quantification of the counteracting
forces is not part of the metaphysical argument. For this reason, Kant explicitly
noted that a failure in determining the laws describing the repulsive and attract-
ive forces would not imply a failure of the dynamic theory of matter in gen-
eral.408 Kant merely suggested that the repulsive force obeys the inverse cube law
Frep= 1/​r3, and that the original force of attraction, which Kant identified with
Newtonian attraction, would obey the inverse square law Fattr= 1/​r2.409 These were
only possible mathematical determinations of the foundational forces.410 Kant is
neither committed to this mathematical formulation nor to the specific way in
which these forces work.411 Note that already in the Metaphysical Foundations,
Kant considers the pulsation of the ether as an alternative to Newtonian gravita-
tion in order to comprehend the fundamental attractive force.412 Therefore, the
1792 circle does not affect the metaphysical determination of matter in general.
Rather it affects the “General Remark to Dynamics,” for it is here that Kant had
said that the atomic theory of matter constitution is a mere “hypothesis in nat-
ural science, so long as a possibility remains for thinking the specific difference
in densities” on a dynamic account of matter.413 Kant wanted to show that his
dynamic account of matter could account for specific physical phenomena, such
as specific varieties of densities. Precisely this project, that is, the project of the
“General Remark to Dynamics,” has failed.414
In his letter to Beck, Kant emphasizes that it must be possible to think differ-
ent physical densities if one wants to avoid the atomist model.415 The Transition
Project of the “General Remark to Dynamics” consisted in showing, through
examples, that the metaphysical determination of matter in general through

407
Br 11:376.
408
MAN 4:521–​3. Cf. MAN 4:517–​9.
409
MAN 4:512, 521, 501, 518–​9; Br 11:376–​7. Cf. Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 212.
410
MAN 4:521. Here and in the following I am indebted to Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1; Pollok,
Metaphyische Anfangsgründe; and Emundts, Kants Übergangskonzeption.
411
See MAN 4:524 and Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 226. For a critical assessment of Kant’s con-
structive account of matter, see Friedman, Construction of Nature, 223, n200.
412
MAN 4:518. Cf. MAN 4:508–​9, 514, 564; Br 11:362; VP 29:146.
413
MAN 4:534.
414
See again Emundts, Kants Übergangskonzeption, who comes to the same result.
415
Br 11:376–​7.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 105

dynamic fundamental forces is a coherent alternative to atomism. The goal was


to show the real possibility of grounding physics (as a doctrine of motion) on
a dynamic account of matter in general. The examples in the “General Remark
to Dynamics” were meant as a touchstone of truth of Kant’s critical philosophy,
insofar as their task was to verify the coherency of a dynamic account of matter,
and thereby refuting the necessity of the mere mechanical mode of explanation.
Kant prefaces the entire debate in the “General Remark to Dynamics” with a
rejection of atomism:
The general principle of the dynamics of material nature is that everything
real in the objects of the outer senses . . . must be viewed as moving force.
So by this principle the so-​called solid or absolute impenetrability [and thus
atomism] is banished from natural science, as an empty concept, and repulsive
force is posited in its stead . . . Now from this it follows that space . . . can be
assumed to be completely filled, and in different degrees . . . For, in accordance
with the originally different degree of the repulsive forces . . . their relation to
the original attraction (whether of any [piece of] matter separately, or to the
united attraction of all matter in the universe) can be thought of as infinitely
various.416

The metaphysical claim that repulsion and attraction are the two matter consti-
tuting forces (which rules out atomism) is meant to be confirmed by the discus-
sion of particular empirical phenomena in the “General Remark to Dynamics.”
What the circle shows, however, is that Kant’s dynamic account is not a coherent
alternative to atomism insofar as it cannot explain one of most general features
of empirical bodies: different densities. The “General Remark to Dynamics” fails
to show that it is possible to appropriately relate the a priori account of matter
in general to the empirical part of physics. Thus, without a progression from
transcendental philosophy, to a priori principles pertaining to matter in general,
to empirical bodies formed from two counteracting metaphysical forces, there
remains a gap in the system of Kant’s philosophia naturalis.417

416
MAN 4:523–​4. First emphasis is mine. Cf. “Anticipations of Perception” KrV A173–​6/​B215–​8. See
also Kant’s usage of “anticipating” at Op 22:502, 263.
417
Kiesewetter reports that while he was working on the commentary on MAN, Kant, at some point,
wanted him to put the work on hold until he, Kant, had finished his own book on the Transition.
Unfortunately, the letter in which Kant requests that Kiesewetter put his commentary on hold
must have been lost, so that we cannot exactly determine when this happened. Kant’s request that
Kiesewetter put his work on MAN on hold could have taken place after he discovered that the
circle in his account of body formation implied that he had to substantially rework his “General
Remark to Dynamics.” But this is, of course, speculation. Cf. “Many of the remarks . . . were already
written by me during my stay in Königsberg. [They] were read and approved by him [Kant], and
other [remarks] were given to me by himself. For, already back then did I have the plan to publish
a commentary on the named work [MAN] . . . A plan that also found his [Kant’s] approval. At first,
106

106 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Friedman holds that the circle in Kant’s theory of matter must be irrelevant to
the Transition Project because it is not explicitly mentioned in the Opus postu-
mum.418 I think this latter claim also needs to be revised. The problem of physical
body formation (“How does matter produce a body?”419) makes Kant consider,
in the early drafts of the Opus postumum, how the problematic attractive force
(which as Newtonian force leads into the circle) could be replaced by other
attractive forces such as cohesion (i.e., attraction in contact), and if it can, how
one would have to account for cohesion (e.g., through the continuous oscilla-
tions of an ether). Kant discusses alternative attractive and repulsive forces for the
possibility of physical body formation.420 In other words, Kant addresses the cir-
cle in the early leaves of the Opus postumum with his theory of a pulsating ether.

Conclusion

Kant’s attempt in the Opus postumum to generate an elementary system of


mediating concepts that is both a priori (i.e., derived from the two fundamental
forces) and applicable to experience (i.e., account for body formation and the
specific phenomena of matter) picks up the project of the “General Remark to
Dynamics” again.
However, there must be a unique facet [of the science of nature] which links the
Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science a priori with the empirical princi-
ples of physics, and which contains mediating concepts that lead from the former
[Metaphysical Foundations] to the latter [empirical physics] as a system. This
facet is the systematic embodiment of all a priori thinkable moving forces of attrac-
tion and repulsion along with their modifications . . . Hence the name Transition
from the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science to Physics, similar to a
bridge that leads from one territory to the next . . . spanning over a chasm.421

The task of the Opus postumum is to build a bridge from the metaphysical
foundations of natural science (more precisely, forces that constitute matter in

external circumstances hindered the more specific execution of my plan and its completion. Later,
Kant himself requested that I may wait until he had completed his work, which was to contain the
transition from the Metapysical Foundations of Natural Science to Physics, and which he considered
to be the capstone of his critical system” (Warda, “Eine Nachgelassene Arbeit,” 310).
418
Friedman, Exact Sciences, 223n13. Cf. Adickes, Kant als Naturforscher 1, 184, 214–​5; Förster, Final
Synthesis, 182 n13.
419
Op 21:476.
420
Cf. Op 21:387, 423, 430, 476.
421
Op 21:616–​7, my emphasis and translation. Cf. Op 21:618:  “philosophiae naturalis;” “mediating
concept,” “completeness.”
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 107

general a priori) to physics (i.e., natural forces that can be experienced) for the
sake of the scientific status of physics (which is the empirical branch of philo-
sophia naturalis).422 For precisely this reason does Kant identify the problem of
the “gap” with the problem of a “transition.”423 The terminology of transition and
gap, schematism and systematicity addresses the same problem. The Transition
is necessary if Kant’s claim that the scientific status of physics can only be com-
prehensible through transcendental philosophy is true.
Kant’s key claim in the “Octaventwurf ” is that his theoretical philosophy has
a gap because it cannot provide—​in principle—​a procedure for explaining the
empirical variety of matter on the basis of his dynamic account of matter in
general, to which Kant is committed for epistemological reasons argued for in
the Critique. In other words, Kant’s philosophy of nature lacks the resources for
investigating the empirical variety of matter on scientific grounds. The general
idea underlying the Transition Project originates in the task of Kant’s critical
philosophy to provide secure foundations for knowledge. The Transition Project
is a philosophical problem because it addresses a gap in the system of critical
philosophy understood as philosophia naturalis. The Transition Project is meant
to guide natural sciences to a coherent rational explanation of natural phenom-
ena. The faculty of judgment must assume in its regulative function that it is
possible to comprehend particular empirical laws on the basis of more univer-
sal laws, which in turn are based on the transcendental conditions of possible
experience.424
Kant’s critical philosophy stands in the tradition of the Wolffian philosophia
naturalis, which demands that metaphysics precede physics. The Transition
Project must be understood against the background of the various attempts of
Wolffians to divide the knowledge of nature into a general part, which dem-
onstrates universal propositions with respect to the essential features of bodies
in general, and a particular part, which contains the application of the general
part to specific empirical phenomena. The goal of the Wolffian conception of
philosophy is to connect metaphysics and experimental physics into a single
system of knowledge, because in order to demonstrate the necessity of natural
laws, insight into their a priori foundation must be provided. As Paul Franks
has put it, the problem of how “physics [can] be kept rigorously separate from

422
Op 21:310–​1.
423
“Thus there is a gap to be filled between the metaphysical foundations of natural science and phys-
ics; its filling is called a transition from the one to the other” (Op 21:482, my emphasis). Cf. Op
22:149. For a reading suggesting that “gap” and “transition” signify two different problems, see
Förster, Final Synthesis, 48ff.
424
KU 5:183–​6.
108

108 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

metaphysics, while being grounded in it,” has a long history in other early mod-
ern philosophers and continues into German Idealism.425 If one wants to hold on
to Kant’s conception of the necessity of laws as being based on a priori grounds,
which—​in the system of critical philosophy—​implies the various dualisms of
intuition and understanding, formal and material conditions of nature, phe-
nomena and noumena, and so on, then there has to be a theory of mediating
concepts.
The general possibility of such a theory is provided by the principle of
reflective judgment, which enjoins us to search for the systematic unity of
divers empirical laws. Given the critical foundations of knowledge, a system
of empirical cognition can only be asymptotically approached if reflective
judgment “explore[s]‌ dynamical grounds of explanation. For these alone per-
mit the hope of determinate laws.”426 The Transition Project guides natural
investigation in its search for the unity of empirical laws by connecting the
constitutive principles of nature with empirical investigation via a system of
mediating concepts. This is a continuous project originating in the strict sep-
aration of formal from material conditions of knowledge. The “Appendix to
the Dialectic,” the “General Remark to Dynamics,” the Critique of the Power of
Judgment, and the Opus postumum are stages of an answer to a single pervasive
gap problem.
Kant provides a first systematic sketch of the Transition from the pure to the
applied part of physics in the 1786 “General Remark to Dynamics.” However,
there are two shortcomings of this attempt. First, the “General Remark to
Dynamics” only hypothetically specifies the moments to which the empirical
diversity of moving forces can be reduced. A systematic transition would need
to be derived from a principle. Thus, the “Octaventwurf ” explicitly refers back
to the “General Remark to Dynamics,” and it attempts to systematically order all
mediating concepts through the table of the categories. Second, the purpose of
the Transition Project of the “General Remark to Dynamics” is to show, through
examples, that the metaphysical determination of matter in general through
dynamic fundamental forces is a coherent alternative to atomism. However,
the 1792 circle in the dynamic account of densities requires Kant to rethink the
Transition from a dynamic account of matter in general to the specific variety of
densities of empirical bodies.

425
Paul Franks, All or Nothing: Systematicity, Transcendental Arguments, and Skepticism in German
Idealism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), 17–​25.
426
MAN 4:534, my emphasis.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 109

The project of attempting to understand empirical laws as necessary is at


the heart of Kant’s philosophy of nature. What do these early drafts of the
Opus postumum, written between 1796 and 1798, ultimately accomplish? Kant
attempts to systematically link the mediating concepts to the table of the cat-
egories, and he attempts to trace a broad variety of empirical phenomena to
the concept caloric as one underlying principle. Are these attempts more con-
vincing than Kant’s hypotheses in the “General Remark to Dynamics”? As has
become clear in this chapter, it is entirely unclear how the mediating concepts
of the Transition Project are generated. How this application is supposed to
work, that is, how the schemata of the Transition Project are supposed to enable
the application of metaphysical laws of nature in general to sensible particulars
is not addressed by Kant. Nowhere does he spell out how judgment produces
these schemata of the Transition Project. What is the procedure? What gives
them logical force? Where do the mediating concepts come from? They are the
product of judgment reflecting on empirical phenomena in their connection to
repulsive and attractive forces. Kant uses the metaphysics of matter in general in
order to reflect on empirical problems. This means, reflective judgment inves-
tigates particular empirical cases as if they were the products of the metaphys-
ical matter constituting forces. Reflective judgment is both source and referent
of the system of mediating concepts.427 Yet, these considerations are entirely
independent of the table of the categories.428 This is why, for example, Kant
cannot decide whether cohesion should be discussed under quality or relation.
In the time period from 1796 to1798, Kant’s mediating concepts remain mere
stipulations. Besides the numerously repeated programmatic remarks, there
cannot be found any proper deduction that would establish a normative link
between the a priori foundation of matter in general and the system of medi-
ating concepts. If caloric is supposed to make possible the systematic explan-
ation of empirical phenomena including crystallization, cohesion, magnetism,
elasticity, and so on “in order to explain a manifold of appearances from one
principle,”429 then Kant would need to demonstrate how the normativity of the
mediating concepts is rooted in the forms of judgment. Only then would he
show that the concepts of the Transition are logically necessary. The conceptual
scheme of mediating concepts that is supposed to guide the empirical study

427
I borrow the phrase “source and referent” from Allison, Kant’s Theory of Taste, 41, who uses it to
emphasize that reflective judgment prescribes normative rules to itself (as opposed to nature and
freedom). This makes judgment merely reflective (as opposed to determinative). Cf. EEKU 20:225.
428
See Chapter 3, “The unfinished Metaphysics of Morals and the Opus postumum,” for further
discussion.
429
Op 21:319, 380–​2; Op 22:215.
10

110 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

of nature is the product of reflective judgment, and so it must be rooted in the


epistemological restrictions of theoretical judgment in general. This means, the
procedure of reflection cannot be free-​floating or contingent. The early drafts
of the Opus postumum do not philosophically improve the “General Remark to
Dynamics” in this respect, precisely because Kant’s mediating concepts remain
mere hypotheses.
Kant establishes the general condition of the possibility of mediating concepts
through the principle of reflective judgment, but he fails to show how particular
schemata are connected to the various categories or classes of categories. Kant nei-
ther shows how the fourfold structure of the “General Remark to Dynamics” nor
how the four classes of mediating concepts of the Opus postumum are precisely
based on the table of the categories.430 For this reason, Adickes rightly claims that
Kant’s classification of empirical moving forces in accordance with a priori con-
siderations, that is, the table of the categories, is forced and arbitrary.431 Kant pre-
sents artificial schemata (“geküntselte Schemate”) in order to discuss “physikalische
Einzelprobleme” (particular problems of physics), which he relates to the categories
and the ether with the hope to solve them philosophically.432
This does not mean, however, that Kant’s Transition Project expresses an
“overly rationalistic endeavor,”433 which chases a “mere fata morgana,” and is
ultimately “a waste of labor and time.”434 Adickes thinks as a modern scientist
when he claims that Kant did not see the scientific problems of the “General
Remark to Dynamics” and the Opus postumum as what they are: scientific prob-
lems, which cannot be solved philosophically.435 Kant, however, thinks as an
eighteenth-​century philosopher who sees physics as a branch of philosophy.436
To the contemporary, scientifically minded ear, the project of the systematic
unity of empirical moving forces of nature ordered on a priori grounds sounds,
of course, “overly rationalistic.” But this is Kant’s project.
Even though the execution of Kant’s attempts to connect the formal to the
material study of nature might be seen as unsatisfactory, it has become clear that
the underlying philosophical problem of providing explanations of how par-
ticular empirical laws can be seen as necessary is a continuous problem of Kant’s

430
On this point, see also Pollok, Metaphysische Anfangsgründe, 2–​3, 20, 27–​30, 128–​137ff.; Warren,
Reality and Impenetrability, 90ff. For a similar worry regarding the schemata of the “Transcendental
Analytic,” see Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, 218ff.
431
Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 105, 207ff., 213–​4, 474.
432
Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 210f.
433
Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 210.
434
Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 162.
435
Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 589.
436
Op 21:407.
The Transition Project of the Opus postumum 111

critical philosophy. Reflective judgment must approach empirical problems in


terms of what is constitutive of material nature in general, that is, by means of
metaphysical presuppositions, if a rational doctrine of nature is to be realized.
Kant responds to all inductively minded scientists that only a “metaphysical
investigation behind that which lies at the basis of the empirical concept of mat-
ter” can successfully serve the regulative function “of guiding natural philosophy
[toward] a true rational coherence of explanations.”437
My task in this chapter was to explain the origin of the Transition Project
in the “Early Fascicles” and the “Octaventwurf ” of the Opus postumum. I let
Kant’s philosophy of nature rest at this point, and turn toward an explanation
of Kant’s idea of a Transition in moral philosophy of the same time period
of 1796–​8. Kant’s final solution to the theoretical Transition Project in the
Opus postumum, the so-​called ether deductions of 1799, where Kant attempts
to demonstrate the real possibility of the ether, falls outside the time period
under investigation, and would require a separate chapter.438 The result of
this chapter is that Kant’s Transition Project originates in the very structure
of transcendental idealism as it is conceived in the Critique. It is by no means
a new project. As Zammito has put it, “the problem, then, was how to make
the transition from the transcendental certainty to the empirical application.
From the outset [i.e., the 1781 Critique] Kant felt confident that such a transi-
tion is possible,” and so he promised his readers both metaphysical doctrines
of nature and morals that would provide the specification of transcendental
truths in their application to “empirical knowledge both cognitive and prac-
tical.”439 The Transition Project is not unique to theoretical reason, but can also
be found in Kant’s moral philosophy. How else can we understand a practical
rule as necessary, or how else could the noumenal idea of freedom and its law
guide specific empirical conduct?

437
MAN 4:534.
438
Kant’s attempted ether deduction continues to stand in the Wolffian tradition insofar as he con-
ceives of the ether as “the basis (first cause) of all the moving forces” and the specific variety of
empirical forces as “modes of the latter (e.g., light)” (Op 21:605). In this context it is noteworthy
that the Wolffian Hanov in the two volumes of his 1762 and 1765 Philosophiae Naturalis, of which
Kant owned a copy, attempts—​like Kant—​to derive the particular part of physics dealing with
optics, heat, electricity, magnetism, and so on from the ether as the single underlying principle. A
thorough investigation of Hanov’s influence on Kant remains a desideratum for Kant scholarship.
Cf. Lind, Physik im Lehrbuch, 139.
439
Zammito, Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, 159.
12
2

Why is a Transition Project in Practical


Philosophy Required?

Introduction

Kant believes that the accidents or modes of empirical matter, such as its different
aggregate states, densities, and elasticities, must be seen to be specific modifica-
tions of the essential structure of matter in general. This kind of foundation-
alism constitutes Kant’s rational account of nature. Kant’s idea of a transition
from a metaphysical account of matter in general to empirical physics, which he
pursues in the Opus postumum, originates in the foundationalist idea that the
modes of matter must be explainable in terms of the essential matter constitut-
ing forces. An analogous foundationalist relationship also guides Kant’s thinking
in practical philosophy. The metaphysical basis of all empirical duties is the idea
of autonomy. This means, it must be in terms of autonomy that we understand
the diversity of ethical duties. The idea of autonomy must be capable of guid-
ing specific conduct, because just as the necessity of empirical laws of nature
consists in their a priori foundation, so the normativity of empirical maxims is a
feature of their a priori foundation. But precisely how are metaphysical founda-
tion and empirical agency connected?
In his 1762 Prize Essay, Kant argues that all anthropological dimensions of
practical philosophy must be bracketed with respect to the project of determining
the supreme principle of moral obligation. This is a response to Baumgarten and
other natural law theorists who held that without a sufficient empirical motivating
ground, a human being can neither will nor not will. These authors argued that
the psychological foundation of action consists in the fact that agents are inclined
toward one thing rather than toward another insofar as it is perceived as good.
We have to take something as good in order to desire it. What Kant describes
in the second Critique as “an old formula of the schools, nihil appetimus, nisi
14

114 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

sub ratione boni; nihil aversamur, nisi sub ratione mali”1 just describes this psy-
chological foundation of practical philosophy. Kant is not so much against this
psychological aspect with respect to describing action in general.2 Rather, Kant
argues that a theory of obligation that begins with this psychological perspective
of action, and subsequently argues that a theory of obligation “is entirely based
on motivating grounds,”3 cannot be a proper theory of obligation. For, any the-
ory commencing from antecedent motivating grounds presupposes that some-
thing is perceived as good or bad, which means that it presupposes a standard of
morality. Because the conception of practical philosophy in terms of motivating
grounds already presupposes the concept of moral obligation, Kant separates the
various dimensions of ethical action and isolates the problem of a supreme prin-
ciple. Kant argues that only a formal principle can function as a supreme principle
of morality. For this reason, he splits practical philosophy into a merely formal
principle, which is meant to explain the possibility of the concept of moral obliga-
tion, and its application to the empirical human being, which includes sensibility,
desires, feelings, and local peculiarities of agents.
The strength of Kant’s account of morality lies in its formalism, because
human freedom can only be secured from contingent infringements if the nor-
mative force of moral rules is independent of contingent peculiarities, interests,
and motivating grounds. What makes a principle moral is its unconditional
basis: the idea of autonomy. However, with the formal conception of obliga-
tion as necessitation through the moral law, specific human obligations are not
yet determined. Despite the fact that moral agency cannot be determined by
local peculiarities, it has to be applied to them. In order to understand a specific
material maxim as morally justified, it must be possible to show how it is based
on the formal principle of morality. Thus, self-​identification as an autonomous
agent requires a law-​governed progress from the idea of autonomy to the formu-
lation of specific maxims. In other words, it must be possible to see an agent’s
obligations that arise from her local, particular identity (empirical) as a modifi-
cation of her universal identity as moral agent (a priori). What defines an agent’s
empirical identity is the quite specific web of her maxims, in virtue of which she

1
KpV 5:59. “We desire nothing except under the form of the good; nothing is avoided except under
the form of the bad.”
2
Quite to the contrary, Kant’s notion of a maxim, on the most general level, reflects that each choice
presupposes that an agent takes something as good or as bad. Cf. Allison, Theory of Freedom, 39–​40,
51; RGV 6:23–​24, 29; KpV 5:60.
3
Wolff, Deutsche Metaphysik, §512. See also, Georg Friedrich Meier, Allgemeine Practische
Weltweisheit, §69 (Halle, 1764), reprinted in Christian Wolff, Gesammelte Werke, Abt.3, Vol. 107, ed.
Jean École et al. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2006).
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 115

provides reasons for her actions. This makes it possible to conceive of herself as
the author of her actions, precisely because all specific duties are only cases of
applying one and the same a priori value of autonomy. Thus, Kant writes in §45
of the Doctrine of Virtue that obligations deriving from specific identities (e.g.,
with respect to age, health, social status, and gender) must be incorporated into
the system of ethics, because specific duties
are only rules modified in accordance with differences of the subjects to whom
the principle of virtue (in terms of what is formal) is applied in cases that come
up in experience (the material) . . . These . . . do not yield so many kinds of ethical
obligation (for there is only one, that of virtue as such), but only so many differ-
ent ways of applying it (corollaries) . . . —Yet even this application belongs to the
complete presentation of the system.4

The reason why Kant must be committed to the idea of a system of morals is
that all moral obligations are grounded in one unitary principle. Abandoning
the idea of a systematic unity of laws would entail abandoning the idea of a
lawful restriction of freedom. Systematicity of moral laws is a presupposition
of rational agency, just as the systematicity of natural laws is a presupposition
for a rational explanation of the physical universe. The mediating concepts of
the Opus postumum attempt to connect the multitude of divers empirical laws
to the a priori foundation of nature in general, and thus to provide a route for
understanding empirical laws as necessary. Analogously, the gap between the
metaphysical foundation of morality and specific moral rules must be filled in
such a way that the latter can be understood as morally justified.
As we will see, the principle of autonomy by itself neither provides a proced-
ure for determining what it means to strive toward autonomy under empirical
circumstances nor does it provide a procedure for resolving moral dilemmas.
There is no nonarbitrary way to choose between principles to which an agent
is morally committed in cases where these principles require opposing courses
of action. I will show that, generally speaking, it is unclear how the process of
moral reflection of empirically situated agents can be seen as guided by the con-
stitutive a priori principle of Kantian morality. However, agents can only con-
sider themselves as the authors of their conduct insofar as they can rationally
justify the maxim on which they act. If agents cannot—​in principle—​coherently
judge which maxim is permitted, obligatory, or forbidden in situations of moral
dilemma because they cannot make this decision on nonarbitrary grounds,

4
MSTL 6:468–​9, my emphasis.
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116 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

autonomy has reached its practical limits. Agents can only distinguish their
agency from physical causation insofar as agency is expressive of principles that
agents have adopted. This implies that agents need to aim at coherently organ-
izing their maxims in order to understand themselves as persons. To the extent
that principles contradict themselves—​or to the extent that agents cannot jus-
tify how they prioritize among various grounds of obligations—​agents cannot
conceive of themselves as agents. Prioritization among rules must be guided by
autonomous choice, that is, through moral judgment.
The goal of this chapter is to elaborate on the gap problem between a priori
morality and empirical agency as a pervasive problem for Kant’s moral theory,
and to set the stage for Kant’s way of addressing it through a theory of moral
feelings in the “Aesthetics of Morals.”

Mundus Intelligibilis and Mundus Sensibilis

Throughout his career, Kant charges a theory of morality based on motivating


grounds with circularity.5 This is to say, if motivation is put at the basis of obliga-
tion, “as is in fact commonly done,”6 then
the object by its relation to the will gives the law to it. This relation, whether it
rests on inclination, or on representations of reason, makes possible hypothet-
ical imperatives only.7

Motivating grounds, regardless of whether they originate in the lower or higher


faculty of desire, can thus not be at the foundation of morality. Kant is here criti-
cizing Baumgarten, whose Metaphysica, Ethica, and Initia Kant used as a foil
for his lectures on metaphysics and moral philosophy. For Baumgarten, agency
means to move toward the realization of an end, and not merely to think about
it.8 That which moves us is called the causa impulsiva (motivating ground)9 or
the elateres animi (incentives of the mind, Gemuethsbewegungen).10 Motivating
grounds are the key element in Baumgarten’s theory because humans only move
to action from desire. Baumgarten’s theory of morality thus originates in this
general theory of action, which is developed in his Empirical Psychology. Here

5
E.g., VE 27:9; GMS 4:443.
6
KpV 5:9.
7
GMS 4:441.
8
Baumgarten, Metaphysica, §726.
9
Baumgarten, Metaphysica, §342. Cf. Baumgarten, Initia, §§12–​26.
10
Baumgarten, Metaphysica, §§669, 671.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 117

Baumgarten elaborates on the thought that the faculty of desire and aversion
follows upon [sequitur] the faculty of cognition:  the perception of something
as good provides a motive that determines our desire. In Ethics Herder, Kant
reports on Baumgarten’s threefold division:
Introduction into Practical Philosophy. Foundation in Psychology. Three main
concepts within the soul. 1) Cognition. To hold phenomena for true or false . . . 2)
Feeling: presupposes cognition, phenomena [are] pleasure and displeasure . . . 3)
Desire presupposes both: a) representation [and] b) reference to pleasure and
displeasure.11

It is important to understand why Kant rejects this model of cognition → pleas-


ure → desire as a proper model for accounting for moral obligation.
For Baumgarten, what brings about a motivating ground, that is, what gives
the representation of an object its appealing or aversive value, is the cognition
of the object with respect to its good or bad consequences. There is a strong
current of naturalism here in Baumgarten: good actions have, by nature, good
consequences. The standard of rightness of an action is thus a fact about the
structure of the world, which exists independent of an agent’s particular will,
and to which her actions ought to conform. Because there is a natural connec-
tion between good conduct and good consequences (happiness), Baumgarten’s
theory provides a good explanation of why moral standards bind an agent, that
is, motivate her.12
Baumgarten tries to understand the ground of obligation from the concept
of inner motivation. Natural obligations motivate us to pursue the good in vir-
tue of their good consequences. Thus, by nature, human beings “are obliged to
pursue happiness.”13 Since by nature the stronger motivating grounds propel
us toward the good, Baumgarten’s principle of obligation is at bottom a prin-
ciple of utility or eudemonism. This eudemonism is already contained in the
very definition of the appetitive faculty, that is, the intention to realize what
induces pleasure.14 Baumgarten is not the typical “rationalist” that one might
expect: what provides a motivating ground is not the certainty of a cognition,
as, for example, Descartes holds.15 Rather, Baumgarten’s theory of obligation in

11
VE 27:12, my translation. Cf. VAnth 25:1334; VE 29:877–​8.
12
Baumgarten, Initia, §39. Cf. Ibid., §33.
13
Baumgarten, Ethica, §13. Cf. Schmucker, Die Ursprünge der Ethik Kants in Seinen Vorkritischen
Schriften und Reflektionen (Meisenheim am Glan:  A. Hain, 1961), 28–​51; Henrich, “Über Kants
früheste Ethik,” 428–​9.
14
Cf. Baumgarten, Metaphysica, §665.
15
Descartes argues that clear perception of truth comes with a built-​in moving ground to pursue it.
The “great light in the intellect [is] . . . followed by a great inclination in the will.” The will is drawn
to the good appetitively, and the more an agent is inclined toward one choice because she clearly
18

118 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

terms of motivating grounds holds that intuitive cognition alone, that is, cogni-
tion of a particular, is a motivationally loaded representation, and thus provides
an incentive for action.16 The general idea is: thoughts do not move; abstract,
conceptual knowledge is insufficient to incite action.17
For Baumgarten, it is because “deeds cannot exist without the effectual appe-
tite of the person who is obligated to them”18 that the task of ethics is to provide
“its cognitions with life [Leben], [i.e.,] presenting the will with sufficient motiv-
ating grounds to do what is good and to omit what is evil.”19 The most important
practical task of practical philosophy (for Baumgarten) is to make cognitions of
the good effective.20 The topic of the life of cognitions, which provides the motiv-
ating ground for action, continuously reoccurs in Baumgarten’s textbooks. The
more vividly we comprehend the good or bad consequences of our conduct, the
more likely it is that we end up doing the right thing. In order to attain the great-
est degree of distinctness about our deeds, that is, their effects on our condition,
Baumgarten urges us “to collect as many observations and experiments” as we
can. Specific judgment of something as good is bound to a vivid understand-
ing of the good consequences of our conduct, and these are brought to “life”
through examples taken from books, plays, history, and observations of one-
self and others. Only in this way, Baumgarten emphasizes, can cognition of the
good become alive (lebendig) and thus become an incentive qua being intuitively
(anschaulich) convincing.21
In his Anthropology, Kant picks up on this idea and frequently refers to nov-
els, biographies, plays, and history as pedagogical aids to “produce an enliv-
ening of the will.”22 In the Groundwork, Kant says that “examples serve for

perceives it, the freer her choice is. “The indifference I feel when there is no reason pushing me in
one direction rather than another is the lowest grade of freedom . . . If I always saw clearly what was
true and good, I should never have to deliberate about the right judgment or choice.” (Descartes,
Philosophical Writings, 40–​1)
16
Note that Baumgarten does not use intuitive cognition in the Leibnizian sense. Leibniz’s introduc-
tion of the terminology in his 1684 Meditationes de cognitione, veritate, et ideis reserves “cognitio
intuitiva” (immediate grasp) as the highest form of cognition, which is only possible for God. On
the contrary, for Baumgarten, intuitive cognition belongs to sensible cognition. It is awareness of a
particular that is always bound to the senses (Baumgarten, Metaphysica, §544).
17
See Baumgarten, Ethica, §444; De Vi et Efficacia Ethices Philosophicae, §10, ed. Armin Emmel (www.
ruhr-​uni-​bochum.de/​aesth/​Emmel/​Spalding.pdf); Metaphysica, §§220, 671.
18
Baumgarten, Initia, §141.
19
Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, Philosophische Brieffe von Aletheophilus, 12 (Frankfurt, Leipzig,
1741); Cf. Baumgarten, Initia, §4.
20
Cf. Baumgarten, Initia, §3. Cf. Meier, Allgemeine Practische Weltweisheit, §§10, 13, 18, 21.
21
Cf. Pietro Pimpinella, “Cognitio intuitiva bei Wolff und Baumgarten,” in Vernunftkritik und
Aufklärung:  Studien zur Philosophie Kants und seines Jahrhunderts, ed. Michael Oberhausen
(Stuttgart-​Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-​Holzboog, 2001), 265–​94.
22
Anth 7:253–​4. Cf. KpV 5:151–​4; Anth 7:121; VAnth 25:734, 857–​8, 1213–​14. Cf. Robert Louden,
“Applying Kant’s Ethics:  The Role of Anthropology,” in A Companion to Kant, ed. Graham Bird
(Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 358.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 119

encouragement . . . they make intuitive what the practical rule expresses more
generally.”23 However, for Baumgarten, encouragement through examples is a
constitutive part of morality because he understands morality through a theory
of action, and action depends on motivating grounds. The Popularphilosophie of
Christian Garve, for example, also takes examples as central to morality. Kant,
on the contrary, responds to these theories by saying that a theory of morality
cannot be grounded on examples, since these already presuppose a standard of
morality.24 For Kant, examples belong to anthropology or applied ethics, which
deals with the empirical homo phenomenon (as opposed to homo noumenon).25
Kant’s criticism of Baumgarten’s account of obligation in terms of motivation
points out that “motivation” is always already intentional, that is, directed
toward an object. This object has to be comprehended as good, or otherwise it
could not provide a motivating ground to pursue it. However, the standard of
judging something as good cannot be presupposed by a theory of obligation. It
is precisely the task of a theory of obligation to make such a standard of the good
comprehensible in the first place. This means that Baumgarten has not explained
the possibility of the concept of obligation. Rather, he has described a means-​
end relationship. In Ethics Herder, we read:
The ethics of our author [Baumgarten] . . . always wrongly presupposes the
broad concept of obligation, to which he attributes motivating grounds of utility,
merely, in an improper sense of the term “ethics.” For only he performs a morally
good action, who does it from principles, not as a means, but as an end.26

Still, in the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant holds that Baumgarten calls
good what is a means to happiness.27 It is in response to Baumgarten that
Kant brackets all questions regarding the motivation to act morally, because
as long as theoretical cognition of an object has to precede the determin-
ation of the will, the immediate or unconditional necessity of moral obliga-
tion cannot be comprehended. The alleged primacy of theoretical cognition
and a morality that builds on it leads into a circle, because it already pre-
supposes what it needs to make comprehensible. Baumgarten’s theory is

23
GMS 4:409, my emphasis. Cf. KpV 5:151ff.
24
GMS 4:408.
25
KrV A54–​5/​B79; A550–​1/​B578–​9. Cf. Robert Louden, “The Second Part of Morals,” in Essays on Kant’s
Anthropology, ed. Brian Jacobs et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 60–​84; Robert
Louden, “Making the Law Visible:  The Role of Examples in Kant’s Ethics” in Kant’s Groundwork
of the Metaphysics of Morals:  A  Critical Guide, ed. Jens Timmermann, (Cambridge:  Cambridge
University Press, 2009), 63–​81.
26
VE 27:14.
27
KpV 5:58–​9.
120

120 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

a paradigm case of a heteronomous theory of morality, an Allgemeine


Praktische Weltweisheit.28
Thus, Kant isolates a principium diiudicationis and declares that only this
principle belongs to pure morality, not empirical principles of execution or
means of implementation. By not distinguishing between the principium dii-
udicationis and executionis of morality, Kant says, “everything was false in mor-
ality.”29 Only the objective principle of diiudication is the topic of pure moral
philosophy; everything else is part of empirical anthropology.30 Kant splits prac-
tical philosophy into a merely formal principle, which is meant to explain the
unconditionality of the supreme principle of obligation, and material principles
of execution and implementation belonging to sensibility. As Kant puts it in
his 1770 Inaugural Dissertation, the formal principle of moral obligation is the
“paradigm” of “NOUMENAL PERFECTION,” “which can only be conceived by
the pure understanding and which is a common measure for all other things in
so far as they are realities.”31 Everything empirical is here dismissed from Kant’s
idea of a metaphysics of morals. “Virtue, and with it human wisdom in its entire
purity, are ideas.”32
In the metaphysics of morals we must abstract from all human conditions, the
application and its hindrances in concreto. We only look for the canon, which is
a pure and universally valid idea.33

Prior to the Groundwork, Kant does not tell us how the pure moral law can
affect an actual human will. Kant simply assumes that it is possible.34 Kant’s

28
Cf. KpV 5:64; GMS 4:390, 441.
29
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 56. Cf. Ibid., 40, 106; VE 27:97–​8, 145; Refl 19:112, 117, 131, 135,
167, 199.
30
Cf. Manfred Kühn, Introduction to Vorlesung zur Moralphilosophie, by Immanuel Kant (Berlin: De
Gruyter, 2004), xxviii.
31
MSI 2:395–​6.
32
KrV A569/​B597.
33
Refl 19:172. Cf. TG 2:334–​5; MSI 2:396; Br 10:97–​8; KrV A61/​B85, A533/​B561, A554/​B582; Refl
17:483–​4, 515–​16, 520, 552–​3, 589; Refl 18:89; Refl 19:120, 230–​1, 233; VL 24:481; VM 28:173; VPE
29:12. Cf. Schmucker, Ursprünge der Ethik, 148–​255, 389–​91; Paul Menzer, “Der Entwicklungsgang
der Kantischen Ethik in den Jahren 1760 bis 1785,” Kant-​Studien 3(1–​3) (1899b): 49–​51; Klaus
Reich, Die Tugend in der Idee: Zur Genese von Kants Ideenlehre, in Gesammelte Schriften: Mit
Einleitung und Annotationen aus dem Nachlass, ed. Manfred Baum et al., (Hamburg: Felix Meiner
Verlag, 2001), 306–​13; Clemens Schwaiger, Kategorische und Andere Imperative: Zur Entwicklung
von Kants praktischer Philosophie bis 1785 (Stuttgart-​Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-​Holzboog, 1999),
81–​95. Kant’s formal law of morality is a completely ahistorical product built upon a “conception
of a fully proper rational will—​which for Kant is still something that we must always conceptualize
in terms of a divine will” (Karl Ameriks, Kant’s Elliptical Path (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2012), 57).
34
“I assume that there are really pure moral laws, which determine completely a priori (without
regard to empirical motives, i.e., happiness) the action and omission, i.e., the use of the freedom of
a rational being in general” (KrV A807/​B835). Cf. KrV A555/​B583.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 121

replacement of the Wolff/​Baumgartian foundation of morality in a theory of


action with the idea of formal universality splits morality into an a priori (mun-
dus intelligibilis) and an empirical part (mundus sensibilis), which ultimately will
require a middle term connecting these two parts.
Kant finds this middle term in his conception of moral feeling understood as
an affective response to pure reason. Kant’s deduction of the moral law through
the fact of reason, which I will discuss in more detail below, shows that moral
feeling is an expression of objective rationality in subjective aesthetic terms. For
this reason, moral feeling is a rational/​sensible hybrid, and because it shows
that pure reason is practical, it functions as a middle term connecting the tran-
scendental and empirical levels of agency. It is important to emphasize from
the outset that moral feeling is a subjective affective state produced by an agent’s
commitment to an objective practical principle, but that it is not meant to dir-
ectly motivate ethical conduct:
And so respect for the law is not the incentive to morality; instead it is morality
itself subjectively considered . . . inasmuch as pure practical reason, by rejecting all
the claims of self-​love in opposition with its own, supplies authority to the law.35

Many authors in the recent literature have ascribed a direct motivational role
to the feeling of respect as competing with other empirical motivating grounds.
It should be obvious that such authors essentially subscribe to a Baumgartian
picture of moral agency, which Kant explicitly rejects. Kant’s theory of moral-
ity is not a theory of one set of motivating grounds outweighing another set of
motivating grounds. For example, McCarty has claimed that moral feelings are
always comparable to the subjective forces of alternative and competing motiv-
ational states. The “strength” of a motive force, in other words, is always gauged
in relation to other motive forces coexisting in the agent’s psychology . . .
Consequently, when we refer to respect as a motivating feeling, we refer impli-
citly also to all other, comparable feelings in the motivational economy of the
moral agent.36

A similarly mechanistic view of competing desires is attributed to Kant by


Grenberg, who holds that “the relative strengths of . . . desires and aversions . . .
constitute an agent’s drives to action . . . and are what determines action.”37
35
KpV 5:76, my emphases. Cf. Henrich, “Das Problem der Grundlegung,” 372–​5; Allison, Theory of
Freedom, 127–​8.
36
Richard McCarty, Kant’s Theory of Action (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2009), 178, my
emphasis.
37
Jeanine Grenberg, “Feeling, Desire and Interest in Kant’s Theory of Action,” Kant-​Studien 92(2)
(2001): 163.
12

122 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

That to which an agent is ultimately moved by her desire will depend upon the
strength of a particular feeling in relation to others, upon how the agent repre-
sents that feeling to herself in relation to her other feelings, and upon her overall
sensible state.38

Grenberg argues that because motives of self-​love are inextirpable impulses,


they need to be overcome by other impulses that are actively endorsed by the
rational agent, that is, the superior and stronger force determines action: “An
agent depends upon being moved to action through the influence of feeling
on the faculty of desire.”39 All of this is Baumgarten talk: pleasures determine
action. The distinction between “two main types of drives:  practical feeling
or mere desire on the one hand, and more rational interests on the other,”40 is
just Baumgarten’s distinction between the lower and higher faculty of desire.
McCarty’s and Grenberg’s positions are compatible with Baumgarten’s theory
of moral obligation, but not with Kant’s. For Kant, the spontaneity of adopting a
rule is independent of pleasure, desire, and interest.41
This requires us to rethink the proper function of Kant’s conception of moral
feeling. On my reading, Kant’s deduction of the moral law through the fact of
reason establishes the general possibility of mediating concepts between the a
priori foundation of morality and empirical agency, but it does not aim to estab-
lish moral feeling as itself motivating moral agency. The feeling of respect for the
moral law is the sensible expression of the authoritative status of the moral law.
Neither the authority nor the motivational grip of the moral law stems from the
feeling of respect. As Sherman has correctly put it:
Kant’s claim is that practical reason motivates us directly (that is, we take a direct
interest in [the] principle of pure practical reason), but in addition, insofar as we
are affective creatures, we experience that determination affectively, as respect.
Respect is not itself a separate source of motivation. Rather, it is the effect of
moral motivation on feeling.42

Kant’s conception of moral feeling as the sensible expression of a purely intellec-


tual law is key to understanding his theory of mediating concepts in section XII
of the introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue as building a bridge between the a
priori foundation of morality and empirical agency. The mediating concepts of

38
Ibid.
39
Grenberg, “Feeling, Desire and Interest,” 164. Cf. Ibid., 155f.
40
Grenberg, “Feeling, Desire and Interest,” 172.
41
MSTL 6:384–​5.
42
Sherman, Necessity of Virtue, 176.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 123

the Transition Project are located between the a priori and empirical territories
of morality.43 If moral feeling played a direct epistemic or motivational role, it
would have to be located at the level of empirical agency, which Kant clearly
rejects, as we will see in more detail in the next chapter.
Kant’s deduction of the moral law through the fact of reason shows that
the feeling of respect for the moral law originates in an agent’s own rational
activity. Since it is only in specific empirical contexts that the feeling of
respect affects a particular self, we can say that the moral feeling of respect
connects the universal foundation of agency with quite particular empirical
agents. Let me briefly elaborate on this point. Kant’s Critique of Practical
Reason argues from the reality of the moral law to transcendental freedom.44
The fact of reason reveals a certain kind of freedom, namely, self-​legislat-
ing agency that is independent of contingent desires and interests. Moral
feeling is not a contingent aspect of human agency, but rather it is the ratio
cognoscendi of an agent’s universal commitment to rationality.45 Respect is a
feeling that is self-​w rought by means of a moral judgment.46 It is the sensible
effect of rationality on embodied agents: consciousness of our autonomy
through the feeling of respect “is not an empirical fact but the sole fact of
pure reason.”47 Kant’s whole point of saying that the feeling of respect forces
itself upon us as a fact of reason is to insist that it is the immediate product
of rational deliberation, and that it cannot be deduced otherwise.48 Moral
feeling is the product of moral reflection. The practical judgment comes
first, and the moral feeling of respect accompanies this judgment.49 The
objective validity of the moral law is thus legitimized through its immedi-
ate practical evidence. Kant’s famous gallows examples show how agents
become conscious of autonomy, namely, through an affective aesthetic

43
Cf. Op 21:524–​6.
44
Cf. Dieter Henrich, “Die Deduktion des Sittengesetzes:  Über die Gründe der Dunkelheit des
Letzten Abschnittes von Kants ‘Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten,’ ” in Denken im Schatten
des Nihilismus:  Festschrift für Wilhelm Weischedel zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. Alexander Schwan
(Darmstadt:  Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1975), 55–​ 112; Allison, Theory of Freedom,
214–​29. For a different view, see:  Reinhard Brandt, “Der Zirkel im Dritten Abschnitt von Kant’s
‘Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten,’ ” in Kant: Analysen, Probleme, Kritik, ed. Hariolf Oberer
et al. (Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 1988), 169–​91.
45
KpV 5:5n.
46
Cf. GMS 4:401n; KpV 5:76.
47
KpV 5:31.
48
“Hence the objective reality of the moral law cannot be proved by any deduction, by any efforts of
theoretical reason, speculative or empirically supported” (KpV 5:47). Cf. KpV 5:42, 72; VE 27:1428;
VM 28:271.
49
Cf. MSTL 6:406, 448, 454, 464.
124

124 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

response. Consciousness of autonomy and the moral feeling of respect can-


not be separated.
The feeling of respect is thus a necessary product of practical deliberation
and it occurs at the intersection of universal and empirical aspects of moral
agency. For, the “voice of reason” that “so distinct, so irrepressible, and so aud-
ible to even the most common human beings”50 announces that an action ought
and can be done irrespective of any sensible interest, does so only in particu-
lar circumstances, and for a particular individual who is deliberating a spe-
cific problem.51 On the one hand (re: universal), the fact of reason expresses
the ineliminable commitment to rationality. Agents can only distinguish their
agency from physical causation insofar as they take their agency as expressive
of rules that they have adopted themselves. What constitutes agency is thus the
idea of autonomy. An agent exempting herself from the moral law in virtue
of a freely adopted maxim is violating the law that is constitutive of her own
freedom. That is why even the commonest understanding must acknowledge
the bindingness of the law of autonomy. The notion of respect is thus always
directed to persons qua personhood, not to an agent’s specific practical iden-
tity.52 As Ameriks rightly remarks, the “meaning of ‘self ’ in Kantian Self-​legis-
lation is . . . tied to the nature or structure of reason itself, not to the self in any
mere empirical or psychological or physical sense.”53 On the other hand (re:
empirical), the fact of reason is always experienced by individual agents who
are reflecting on whether or not to act on a specific empirical maxim. Kant
elucidates this through the example of an agent who is ordered by a tyrant to
bear false witness against an innocent person. In the gallows example, it is clear
that the Kantian virtuous agent is strongly inclined to save her life in such cir-
cumstances. She experiences the fact of reason as a constraint imposed on her.
She also recognizes that she is the author of that constraint. Thus, Kant holds
that the feeling of respect involves both a negative feeling, because the moral
law restrains our self-​love, and a positive feeling of self-​approbation.54 The feel-
ing of respect for law requires an agent’s quite specific practical deliberation.55

50
KpV 5:35.
51
KpV 5:42. Cf. KpV 5:73, 76, 88; TP 8:283.
52
KpV 5:76. Cf. Konstantin Pollok, “Kant und Habermas über das Principium Executionis Moralischer
Handlungen,” in Moralische Motivation:  Kant und die Alternativen, ed. Heiner Klemme et  al.
(Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2006), 197–​8.
53
See Karl Ameriks, Interpreting Kant’s Critiques (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 262–​81.
54
KpV 5:72–​3. Cf. Sherman, Necessity of Virtue, 177; Munzel, Moral Character, 126–​32, 296–​313.
55
“Sensible feeling, which underlies all our inclinations, is indeed the condition of that feeling we
call respect” (KpV 5:75). I am here indebted to Melissa Zinkin, “Respect for the Law and the Use of
Dynamical Terms in Kant’s Theory of Moral Motivation,” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 88(1)
(2006):31–​53.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 125

As Kleingeld puts it, “Kant’s account of the fact of reason is, therefore, radic-
ally agent based. The argument is developed from the agent’s point of view.”56
Because the feeling of respect affects a particular self only in the context of spe-
cific cases of practical deliberation, we can say that moral feeling connects the
universal and contingent aspects of moral agency. The notion of respect for the
moral law introduces the hybrid construction of a moral feeling that is the effect
of the authoritative status of a rational law on an embodied agent. Kant’s theory
of moral feeling thus establishes the general possibility of concepts mediating
between mundus intelligibilis and mundus sensibilis by showing that practical
judgments have a necessary effect on the sensibility of agents. Practical judg-
ments and moral feeling are inseparable.

A priori foundation and empirical open-​endedness


of ethics

Since the deduction of transcendental freedom through the fact of reason pre-
supposes cognition of particular moral commands, the question arises how
these particular commands are generated. Although the principle of morality
is a priori, the concepts of desire and inclination, “which are all of empirical
origin” must “necessarily” be included “in the composition of the system [of
duties],” namely as hindrance that needs to be overcome or incentives that must
not be made the motivating ground to action.57 Putting this point slightly dif-
ferently, the motive to act from duty is essentially one-​dimensional. The single-
ness of the motive of duty arises from Kant’s fundamental goal—​pursued in the
Groundwork—​to separate the many contingent motivating grounds of pruden-
tial agency from an unconditioned motivating ground. Because the separation
of morality from prudence leaves Kant with a single moral motivating ground,
he rightly says that, strictly speaking, there is just one duty, namely, to act from
the motive of duty.58 Given the one-​dimensionality of moral motivation, how do
agents determine ethical ends?

56
Pauline Kleingeld, “Moral Consciousness and the ‘Fact of Reason,’ ” in Kant’s Critique of Practical
Reason: A Critical Guide, ed. Andrews Reath et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 72.
That the fact of reason only occurs in the context of specific commands is also pointed out by Dieter
Schönecker, “Kant’s Moral Intuitionism:  The Fact of Reason and Moral Predispositions,” Kant
Studies Online (2013): 15–​16.
57
KrV B29.
58
VAMS 23:417–​18. Cf. 6: MSTL 394–​5, 406, 447; Mary J. Gregor, Laws of Freedom: A Study of Kant’s
Method of Applying the Categorical Imperative in the Metaphysik der Sitten (New York: Barnes and
Noble, 1963), 64, 70, 74.
126

126 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

The “supreme principle of the doctrine of virtue” states that “the human being
is an end for himself as well as for others.” This makes it an agent’s general “duty
to make the human being as such his end.”59 But what does it mean to make the
human being an end in specific circumstances? In this respect, the principle of
the doctrine of virtue is undetermined. With the formal conception of obliga-
tion as necessitation through the moral law, specific human obligations are not
yet determined. In addition, ethics requires material conditions specifying the
idea of self-​legislation with respect to concrete aspects of human agency. The
content of specific ethical duties can only be determined in an empirical con-
text, because ethical duties aim at securing an agent’s self-​determination in the
light of inclinations and passions, which hinder the exercise of the free power of
choice: “There is only one principle of practical reason . . . the law of autonomy,
but there are different ways to fall away from autonomy,” and the different ethical
laws “instruct us not to fall away from our autonomy in these different ways.”60
The ways in which agents can act inconsistently with the idea of autonomy are
infinite. For example, lying, avarice, and servility are three types of action that
make inner freedom impossible.61 Many other types of conduct could easily be
added. Exactly which purposes are essential to the will—​besides the two general
obligatory ends of one’s own perfection and other’s happiness—​cannot be deter-
mined from pure reason alone. The metaphysics of morals requires anthropo-
logical knowledge for its application. Thus, Kant says,
the special determination of duties as human duties, with a view to classifying
them, is possible only after the subject of this determination (the human being)
is cognized as he is really constituted.62

Because specific duties need to be determined in relation to general anthropo-


logical facts and specific empirical situations, it is unclear how ethics could ever
be more than an aggregate of rules. Kant’s conception of ethics is essentially
dynamic, that is, open to dealing with changing circumstances, because there
is only one a priori virtue, namely, to act from a virtuous disposition (to which

59
MSTL 6:395. Cf. “The ground of this principle is: rational nature exists as an end in itself.” (GMS
4:428) Cf. GMS 4:431.
60
Christine M. Korsgaard, Self-​Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2009), 71–​2.
61
I am speaking loosely here. An agent is still exercising her inner freedom when she lies, but she
is exercising it “deficiently.” For two senses of inner freedom, as capacity and as developed cap-
acity, see, e.g., Stephen Engstrom, “The Inner Freedom of Virtue,” in Kant’s Metaphysics of
Morals: Interpretative Essays, ed. Mark Timmons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 289–​315.
62
KpV 5:8. Cf. GMS 4:412. See also Oliver Thorndike, “Understanding Kant’s Claim that ‘Morality
Cannot Be Without Anthropology,’ ” in Rethinking Kant, vol. 1, ed. Pablo Muchnik (Newcastle upon
Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), 109–​35.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 127

Kant also refers as moral character), and many empirical virtues.63 Accordingly,
Kant says that ethics “is an inexhaustible field” (ein unerschöpfliches Feld).64 The
dynamic aspect of Kant’s ethics is encapsulated in Kant’s conception of ethics as
a doctrine of virtue. Virtue is self-​constraint, that is, strength in ruling over the
empirical variety of human inclinations. Empirical anthropology tells us what
these inclinations, affects, and desires, are. Kant says,
Virtue is the capacity to control one’s inclinations as hindrances to practical rea-
son . . . The difference of inclinations conceived of as hindrances thus constitutes
the material difference of virtue, and, therefore, there are many virtues.65

Virtue is understood as denying external factors the authority over an agent’s


choices. If this is so, then the determination of specific duties always involves
an a priori and an empirical aspect. Autonomy is merely the formal principle of
ethical action, which itself requires sensible conditions of application, such as
current psychological states. Thus, Kant stresses how important empirical obser-
vations are that elucidate the general conditions under which phenomena such
as avarice, love of honor, or servility occur. He also stresses the need for particu-
lar self-​knowledge: individual agents need to reflect on their specific motives.
Think of the Groundwork, where Kant rejects specific maxims such as “the act
of lying for contingent interests,” or “the act of suicide to prevent psychological
hardship.” Kant’s ethics rejects maxims:  acts-​in-​order-​to-​achieve-​ends. Not
everything in this “package” is a priori.66
The indeterminacy of Kant’s conception of ethics makes it necessary to inquire
into the exact relationship between the a priori foundation of morality and its
open-​ended application. Siep, for example, has asked how we are to understand
Kant’s claim that “ethics can also be defined as the system of the ends of pure
practical reason.”67 How can pure practical reason have ends?68 Even if one accepts
Kant’s argument, outlined in the third Critique and the Religion, that the ultimate
end of pure practical reason generates two ends that are also duties, namely one’s
own perfection and other’s happiness, what does Kant’s moral theory say about
the relationship between these two a priori ends and the empirical multiplicity of
ethical ends that we ought to pursue in everyday life? If ethics is open-​ended, in

63
See MSTL 6:394–​5, 406, 410.
64
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 358.
65
VAMS 23:388. Cf. VAMS 23:384; MSTL 6:477.
66
Cf. Korsgaard, Self-​Constitution, 82.
67
MSTL 6:381.
68
Ludwig Siep, “Wozu Metaphysik der Sitten?” in Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten: Ein koopera-
tiver Kommentar, ed. Otfried Höffe (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1989), 31–​44.
128

128 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

what sense can we speak of ethics as a system? For example, Kant announces in the
Groundwork that he intends to “publish some day” the system of morals under the
title of a “metaphysics of morals.”69 What does systematicity here mean, and why
is it required? Does Kant here merely mean the complete division of duties, and if
yes, how can it be derived a priori?70 Siep’s argument runs as follows: (1) A meta-
physics of morals must be cleansed of everything empirical and, hence, must
exclude all anthropological knowledge.71 (2) The published Metaphysics of Morals
explicitly includes anthropology.72 (3) Therefore, Kant’s conception of the meta-
physics of morals must be incoherent. Siep rightly insists that the Doctrine of
Virtue, that is, the second part of the Metaphysics of Morals, can by no means be
conceived of as pure because Kant defines virtue as “the capacity and considered
resolve to withstand . . . what opposes the moral disposition within us” and thus
to overcome hindrances to the fulfillment of duty.73 Insofar as human hindrances
can only be known empirically, it is either incoherent to include the doctrine of
virtue in a metaphysics of morals or it is a weakening of Kant’s demand for pur-
ity. It is mysterious, Siep asserts, what the “completeness of pure philosophy as
metaphysics of morals” would consist of, given that already “the metaphysical
first principles” contain anthropological concepts such as inclination, hindrance,
and happiness.74 “If the doctrine of virtue is to be presented as a science,” then it
“must be systematic and not fragmentary,” Kant stresses.75 But how is a systematic
doctrine of virtue possible?
In order to address Siep’s concern, and in order to see why it hits an essen-
tial nerve of Kant’s moral philosophy, it is helpful to point out that Kant designs
both the metaphysics of morals and the metaphysics of nature to ground empir-
ical sciences, namely, ethics and physics, respectively. In the preface of the
Groundwork, Kant distinguishes between an a priori part of morality cleansed
of everything empirical, called metaphysics of morals, and its empirical coun-
terpart, called practical anthropology or doctrine of virtue—​Kant uses these
terms synonymously—​which determines laws for the human will insofar as he
is affected by nature.76 In his lecture on ethics of the same time, Kant makes the
same distinction:

69
GMS 4:391. Cf. MSRL 6:219; MSTL 6:375.
70
GMS 4:421n.
71
GMS 4:389.
72
MSRL 6:216–​17.
73
MSTL 6:380.
74
Siep, “Wozu Metaphysik,” 36–​7: “It thus seems that Kant has weakened the Groundwork’s demand
for purity in the later Metaphysics of Morals.” My translation.
75
MSTL 6:478.
76
GMS 4:388. Cf. GMS 4:387, 410n.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 129

The metaphysics of morals, or metaphysica pura, is only the first part of morality;
the second part is philosophia moralis applicata, moral anthropology, to which
empirical principles belong. Just as there is metaphysics and physics, so the same
applies here . . . Moral anthropology is morality applied to men. Moralia pura is
based upon necessary laws, and hence it cannot be founded upon the particu-
lar constitution of man. The particular constitution of man, and the laws based
upon it, come to the fore in moral anthropology under the name of ethics.77

Kant intends the metaphysics of morals to ground and precede ethics in the
same way as the metaphysics of nature grounds and precedes empirical physics.
The doctrine of virtue is an empirical discipline, in which the idea of self-​deter-
mination is applied to “the hindrances of the feelings, inclinations, and passions
to which human beings are more or less subject.”78 Ethics is the counterpart to
pure morality. Whereas the latter deals with the homo noumenon, the former
deals with the empirical homo phenomenon.79 The relationship between the a
priori and empirical parts of Kant’s theory of morality is a foundational one: eth-
ical laws are founded on a priori principles, from which they derive their neces-
sity. The notion “metaphysics of morals” must thus be reserved for the a priori
foundation of the system of morals, but it is not yet the system of empirically
determined ethical duties itself.80
Siep is absolutely right in questioning what a system of morals would
amount to given the dynamic character of Kant’s ethics, but he is wrong in
accusing Kant of watering down his conception of a metaphysics of morals.
Kant consistently holds onto the distinction between a pure and an applied
part of a science, which, as we have seen in Chapter 1, stands in the Wolffian
tradition. Siep’s legitimate worry is that the categorical imperative alone can
neither determine the manifold obligatory ends of human beings nor whether
they form a system or not, because the restrictions necessary to formulate
obligatory ends are contingent.
Many scholars have thought to overcome this problem by comparing the
notion of “matter in general” of the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science
with the concept of a “human being in general” in the Doctrine of Virtue. For
example, Gregor writes:

77
VE 29:599, my translation.
78
KrV A54–​5/​B79. Cf. VPE 29:12.
79
KrV A550–​1/​B578–​9. Cf. Louden, Impure Ethics, 62–​ 106; Louden, “The Second Part of
Morals,” 60–​84.
80
Cf. Rüdiger Bittner, “Das Unternehmen einer Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten,” in
Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten: Ein kooperativer Kommentar, ed. Otfried Höffe (Frankfurt
am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1989), 14–​16, 29.
130

130 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

In practical metaphysics the minimal a posteriori elements are characterized


more vaguely as what pertains to “men considered simply as men,” and include
man’s various instincts, inclinations and powers . . . A metaphysics of morals . . .
will limit empirical elements and thereby be able to give an a priori, and hence
exhaustive, enumeration of the duties of men qua men.81

To begin with, Kant never argued that empirical elements could be enumer-
ated exhaustively. The project of deriving a multiplicity of ethical duties out of
desires, which any human being can be expected to have, or general conditions
of rational self-​determination, which every human being can be expected to rely
on, is empirical, and thus cannot be compared to Kant’s a priori construction
of matter in general. As I have shown in detail in Chapter 1, Kant has a philo-
sophical argument for why the two matter constituting forces of matter in gen-
eral, repulsion and attraction, are a priori forces, and why further a priori forces
beyond these two cannot be thought, which is why any other more specific
empirical forces must be conceived of as modifications of these two fundamental
forces. Kant’s alleged a priori conception of humanity in general, however, is an
empirical generalization. The derivation of duties of virtue from the conditions
for rational agency is not a priori, because the things that undermine the con-
ditions for rational agency—​be this for all humans across all contexts, or with
respect to certain cultural/​institutional arrangements and contexts—​can only be
determined empirically. Kant does not have an a priori anthropology analogous
to the a priori concept of matter in general.
An enumeration of “man’s various instincts, inclinations and powers” cannot
provide an a priori determination of what the human being qua human being
ought to do. Gregor’s distinction between human nature in general and “contin-
gent circumstances and conditions”82 is an empirical distinction. Allen Wood,
to provide another example, points out that a metaphysics of morals is limited
to those duties that can be derived from the pure principle of morality via its
application to human nature in general (as opposed to human nature in specific
conditions).83 Wood does not say what the concept of human nature in general
contains, that is, what the anthropological constants are to which the pure prin-
ciple of morality is applied. Like Gregor, he mentions the concept of matter in
general as a parallel concept, but does not further explain this parallel.84

81
Gregor, Laws of Freedom, 14–​15.
82
Gregor, Laws of Freedom, 14–​15.
83
Allen W. Wood, Kant’s Ethical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 196.
84
Wood, Ethical Thought, 385–​6. See also his Kantian Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2008), 60.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 131

The importance of Siep’s train of thought consists in forcing us to chal-


lenge the predominant view that Kant’s system of duties is somehow unfolded
a priori, in response to certain characteristics and situations, against the back-
ground that commentators fail to sufficiently explain what “a priori” here
means.85 On the one hand, there is a whole school of recent scholars that does
not sufficiently explain how empirical considerations can play a systematic role
in a theory that is decidedly a priori, or that, by putting all the weight on the
latitude of ethics, fails to address how empirical considerations are supposed
to be connected to the a priori foundation of morality, making the connection
between the a priori principle of autonomy and empirical agency conventional.
Wood, for example, writes that there “will always be questions about how far
the requirements of morality can be brought under stable rules and how far
they must be left to individual judgments about particular circumstances.”86
It has become fashionable to argue that Kant is not a rigorist, by emphasiz-
ing the indeterminacy in the latitude of choice.87 But without addressing how
exceptions to otherwise binding ethical maxims can be morally determined,
this cannot be seen as a satisfactory Kantian approach. For, in order to think
of exceptions in the Kantian system, the categorical imperative would need
to lose its obligatory force. On the other hand, those scholars who criticize,
with good reason, interpretations that attempt to incorporate empirical con-
siderations into Kant’s conception of pure morality, seem rather insensitive
to the legitimate motivation of their colleagues for doing so, and fail to pro-
vide a viable alternative to the allegedly too empirically minded readings they
criticize.88
I think we should reject this alternative. The Kantian position does not
face the question of either stability (pure rationality) or individual judgment
(embodied agency). The Transition Project is Kant’s attempt to stay clear of
these two extremes, because it is designed to fill the gap between the pure and
applied part of ethics. But where lies the boundary between these two parts?
Kant clearly invites the parallel between matter in general and human nature

85
See, for example, Claudia M. Schmidt, “The Anthropological Dimension of Kant’s Metaphysics of
Morals,” Kant-​Studien 96(1) (2005):  66, 70, 73, 77. For similar views, see Alix Cohen, Kant and
the Human Sciences:  Biology, Anthropology and History (London:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 90;
Louden, Impure Ethics, 168; Annemarie Pieper, “Ethik als Verhältnis von Moralphilosophie und
Anthropologie:  Kants Entwurf einer Transzendentalpragmatik und ihre Transformation durch
Apel,” Kant-​Studien 69(1–​4) (1978): 314–​29.
86
Wood, Kantian Ethics, 64.
87
E.g., Wood, Kantian Ethics; Thomas E. Hill, Human Welfare and Moral Worth (Oxford:  Oxford
University Press, 2002).
88
See, for example, Nandi Theunissen, “Kant’s Commitment to Metaphysics of Morals,” European
Journal of Philosophy (2013): doi: 10.1111/​ejop.12051.
132

132 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

in general through his many remarks on a twofold metaphysics, a metaphys-


ics of nature and a metaphysics of morals. If this parallel is supposed to be
more than a groping among mere concepts, then we should first acknowledge
that Kant’s a priori construction of matter in general cannot be seen on a par
with his empirical endeavors in the Doctrine of Virtue. Instead, I suggest the
following parallel: just as the concept of matter in general is an application of
the transcendental conditions of cognition to something that is empirically
given in space, so the categorical imperative is the formula of all moral neces-
sitation for a rational but finite will. This means, the categorical imperative
already represents an application of the moral law (autonomy) to sensibility in
general. All other duties of the Doctrine of Virtue presuppose contingent cir-
cumstances and conditions and thus fall under the empirical science of ethics.
Herein it would parallel the problems Kant discusses in the “General Remark
to Dynamics.”
Kant conceives of laws of freedom (Sittengesetze) in analogy to laws of nature
(Naturgesetze). In the preface to the Metaphysical Foundations, which is com-
posed at roughly the same time as the Groundwork,89 Kant claims that any
genuine science must meet two criteria: first, apodictic certainty of its laws, and
second, systematic unity of its cognitions.90 Because moral philosophy is con-
ceived of as a metaphysics, which lays the foundation for a system of duties, Kant
claims that

the doctrine of virtue (ethics), also needs metaphysical first principles, so that it
can be set forth as a genuine science (systematically) and not merely as an aggre-
gate of precepts sought out by one (fragmentarily).91

That the published Metaphysics of Morals presents hardly anything more than
an aggregate of fragmentary precepts is commonly acknowledged in the litera-
ture.92 It is important to explain why, given the open-​endedness of ethics and

89
The Groundwork was finished by September 19, 1784 and published by March 1785. The
Metaphysical Foundations was finished during the summer of 1785. Cf. Bernd Ludwig, Introduction
to Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Rechtslehre: Metaphysik der Sitten Erster Teil, by Immanuel Kant
(Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1998), xvii.
90
MAN 4:468.
91
MSTL 6:375. Cf. KrV A841/​B869, A850/​B878.
92
See Paul Guyer, Kant’s System of Nature and Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005),
259; Bernd Ludwig, Introduction to Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Tugendlehre: Metaphysik der
Sitten Zweiter Teil, by Immanuel Kant, xiii–​xxviii (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1990), xvii–​xxiii;
Andrea Esser, Eine Ethik für Endliche: Kant’s Tugendlehre in der Gegenwart (Stuttgart-​Bad Cannstatt:
Frommann-​Holzboog, 2004), 344–​8; Gregor, Laws of Freedom, 115; Lehmann, Kants Tugenden, 90.
Cf. MSRL 6:219, and my detailed discussion in Chapter 3, “The unfinished Metaphysics of Morals
and the Opus postumum.”
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 133

Kant’s numerous remarks indicating that ethical duties in virtue of their inde-
terminacy lack the necessity and completeness required for a system,93 it is a
philosophical task to present the systematicity of divers laws. The answer to this
question has to do with Kant’s notion of science and lawfulness.
Both nature and freedom are essentially tied to the concept of law.94 The
concept of nature is “synonymous” with law-​governed experience, because
“all empirical laws are only particular determinations of the pure laws of the
understanding.”95 Physics is possible as a science of the systematic exposition of
appearances only insofar as it has its epistemological foundation in the a priori
constraints of experience in general. Metaphysics grounds physics, and it is this
grounding relation that provides necessity to empirical laws.
Kant argues that ethical laws, too, require an a priori foundation. As nature is
synonymous with lawfulness, so freedom is synonymous with moral laws uni-
fying the use of freedom into a coherent whole. Morality is “freedom in general
under laws.”96 Since all moral obligations are grounded in the sole principle of
morality, abandoning the idea of a systematic unity of laws would entail abandon-
ing the idea of a lawful restriction of freedom. The requirement of systematicity
is an essential ingredient of the notion of autonomy, because the consistency of
maxims is a presupposition of rational agency, just as the systematicity of natural
laws is a presupposition for a rational explanation of the universe. This not only
implies that Kant must be committed to the claim that there cannot be a conflict
of duties,97 it also requires to assign a systematic role to moral judgment to hier-
archically order moral principles. The closer determination of moral principles
under empirical circumstances
call[s]‌upon judgment to decide how a maxim is to be applied in particular cases,
and indeed in such a way that judgment provides another (subordinate) maxim
(and one can always ask for yet another principle for applying this maxim to
cases that may arise).98
A hierarchy of maxims envisions (as a regulative idea of the faculty of judgment)
the possibility of a systematic limitation (under empirical conditions) upon the
general prohibitions and commands of ethics. With respect to the conditions of

93
MSTL 6:447; VAMS 23:417.
94
KpV 5:19–​20. Cf. KpV 5:26, 30, 43, 46, 47, 51; GMS 4:446–​7.
95
KrV A127–​8. Cf. Refl 19:239; MAN 4:468–​9; KrV A645/​B673. For a detailed discussion, see
Chapter 1, “Kant’s philosophia naturalis” and “Friedman’s account of the necessity of a Transition”
under the head “Alternative accounts of the Transition Project.”
96
Refl 19:239. Cf. Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 64–​5, 177–​8; Refl 19:239–​40; GMS 4:447, 450; KpV
5:4n, 29, 70; RGV 6:97.
97
MSRL 6:224.
98
MSTL 6:411.
134

134 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

the possibility of such a hierarchy, which is here postulated as a regulative tool,


Kant says in the introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue:
But a wide duty is not to be taken as permission to make exceptions to the
maxim of actions but only as permission to limit one maxim of duty by
another (e.g., love of one’s neighbor in general [allgemeine Nächstenliebe] by
love of one’s parents), by which in fact the field of the practice of virtue is
widened.99

Here the limitation of one maxim of duty is envisioned via another maxim of
duty. Some Kant interpreters have not been too sympathetic to the idea expressed
in this passage. Wood, for example, writes that the “theorists most hopelessly
addicted to rules are those who cannot imagine making an exception to a rule
unless there is some other rule telling them when to do so.”100 I think it is import-
ant to understand why Kant must indeed be “addicted” to rules. A free will and a
will under maxims are one and the same.101 Autonomous agency is condemned
to be rule-​governed, because the most fundamental act of autonomous choice
is to adopt rules.102 Only the adoption of maxims provides reasons for action.
When agents need to prioritize among rules, they must do so through another
free, autonomous choice, that is, through another rule. Otherwise they abandon
autonomy, loose autonomous control of their lives, and the most fundamental
principle of Kant’s moral philosophy would be inapplicable to everyday conduct.
Kant’s demand for a limitation of general rules by other rules first makes pos-
sible an autonomous self-​conception of agents in everyday conduct. This is quite
the opposite of an addiction.
But how are agents supposed to limit one maxim of duty by another maxim
of duty? Kant defines practical principles as “propositions that contain a general
determination of the will, having under it several practical rules.”103 For example,
the ethical duties of caring for neighbors and foreigners stand under the duty
to promote others’ happiness. This means Kant conceives of practical rules as
coming in various degrees of generality.104 Allison suggests to think of max-
ims in analogy with concepts “as arranged hierarchically, with the more gen-
eral embedded in the more specific, like genera and species.”105 I like to use this

99
MSTL 6:390.
100
Wood, Kantian Ethics, 63.
101
GMS 4:447.
102
E.g., MSTL 6:385.
103
KpV 5:19.
104
Here I use the notions of maxim, rule, and practical principle synonymously. Practical principles
are rules that agents freely adopt.
105
Allison, Theory of Freedom, 93.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 135

suggestion in order to make visible a parallel to the problem of the “Appendix to


the Dialectic”: In order to be able to ascribe actions to herself, an agent needs to
coherently—​hierarchically as genius and species—​order her maxims. Empirical
judgment must decide in cases in concreto [in vorkommenden Fällen] what is
ethical–​permissible and what is not. In order to fulfill its task, judgment must
assume that cases in concreto are decidable in a noncontingent way. For, without
the assumption that it is possible to decide what in cases in concreto is ethical–​
permissible and what is not, there is no coherent use of ethical principles. And
without a possible coherent use under empirical conditions, there is no coherent
notion of duty, just as there is no notion of empirical truth unless empirical laws
can be assumed to be orderable in a systematic whole.106
This does not mean, and Kant does not say so in the passage cited above,
that, in every single case, love of one’s parents must limit love of one’s neighbor.
Prioritizing among moral considerations is not based on an a priori algorithm
but rather allows for variation and flexibility in judgment. The web of maxims
that constitutes an agent as a person is always in flux. There is no a priori hier-
archy of principles that will settle all cases once and for all. However, agents
need to be able to determine on moral grounds what token duties they have on
a given occasion. This choice cannot be made on arbitrary grounds, but requires
moral guidance. Unless the Kantian agent can provide a moral account of when
and where universally valid principles are or are not sufficient to issue a token
obligation, she loses her foothold in the foundation of Kantian morality. This is
why the gap between a priori morality and empirical agency must be bridged. In
other words, what is required is a transition of intermediate principles guiding
empirical judgment.
If the progression from the pure part of morals to the empirical part of ethics is
not lawful, then agency cannot be morally justified. For this reason, Kant demands
a moral transition from principle to action:
Just as a passage [Überschritt] from the metaphysics of nature to physics is needed—​
a transition having its own special rules—​something similar is rightly required
from the metaphysics of morals: a transition which, by applying the pure principles
of duty to cases of experience, would schematize these principles, as it were, and
present them as ready for morally practical use.107

106
Cf. KrV A644/​B672, and Chapter 1 “Alternative accounts of the Transition Project” and “The sche-
matism of the Transition Project.”
107
MSTL 6:468.
136

136 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

This passage is written at the same time as the “Octaventwurf ” of the Opus postu-
mum, in which Kant provides mediating concepts that connect the metaphysics of
nature to empirical physics. The idea of a schema is not to replace empirical judg-
ment, but to provide an a priori guidance for it. It is a transition to empirical judg-
ment. Kant’s concept of a schema in the Transition Project is not meant itself to a
priori determine the case to which a pure concept is applied, but rather to provide
a moral foundation to casuistry that otherwise remains “fragmentary.”108 Casuistry
is a tool to reflect on and prioritize maxims. This process of reflection cannot be
based on agent-​specific interests, because, for Kant, casuistry searches for objective
truth.109 It does not express individuated agency that might allow for discretion-
ary exceptions based on agent-​specific idiosyncrasies. This means, actualizing the
idea of autonomy in the context of situation-​specific peculiarities requires moral
guidance. Even though it is true that philosophy books do not solve ethical prob-
lems, because only agents located in specific circumstances can do that, it is a task
pertaining to Kant’s conception of philosophy to show how particular moral rules
can be seen as morally justified. Although the Transition Project is a step beyond
the a priori foundation of morality, it first makes comprehensible how an agent’s
particular web of moral rules can be seen as necessary, that is, morally justified.
In other words, the idea of a Transition demands a continuity between
universal and local identities of agents. This terminology of univer-
sal and local identity stems from Korsgaard, who has used Platonic and
Aristotelian ideas to show that choosing principles means to adopt an
identity.110 In order to conceive of ourselves as practically free agents, that is,
as agents who think of themselves as the authors of their conduct, we need
to be able to distinguish human agency from other causes in the world. We
do so by relating our actions to maxims. The adoption of maxims, that is,
practical principles, stands at the center of Kant’s moral theory. Only in vir-
tue of them can an agent hold herself—​as well as others—​responsible for her
actions, because only through them can agents attribute actions to them-
selves. Act attribution presupposes that agents can choose on what principle
to act. Korsgaard shows that adopting maxims and adopting a practical iden-
tity are reciprocal concepts. Her key claim is that an agent is only the author

108
MSTL 6:411; VAMS 23:389.
109
MSTL 6:411; GMS 4:432.
110
See Christine M. Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge:  Cambridge University
Press, 1996), 311–​31; The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996),
120–​30; and her Self-​Constitution. For a good account of Korsgaard’s constructivism, see Laura
Papish, “The Changing Shape of Korsgaard’s Understanding of Constructivism,” Journal of Value
Inquiry 45(4) (2011): 451–​63.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 137

of her actions as the possessor of a specific personal identity.111 This is so


because agency is expressive of principles, and principles are ways in which
an agent identifies herself. A practical identity is an agent’s self-​conception
as a rational agent, in virtue of which it becomes possible for an agent to
ascribe actions to herself. There is no autonomy in action without some self-​
conception, that is, some local identity. This is true also for an agent who is
self-​deceived about what maxims she acts on. Even an agent with a deluded
sense of her practical identity, for example, one who rationalizes the uncon-
ditional status of moral reasons, has a local self-​conception, because she acts
on considerations that she convinces herself to be reasons.
Insofar as an agent fails to live up to her practical roles—​and the obli-
gations these generate—​she has no reasons to act.112 For example, if a fish-
monger has adopted the maxim to protect endangered species, and then
purchases fish that is endangered because of the profit that trading this par-
ticular kind promises, she acts inconsistently with herself. Now, depending
on what authors mean by “adopting a maxim,” one could object that buying
the endangered species just shows that the person did not in fact sincerely
adopt the maxim to protect the species. A maxim is not just a thought or wish
but a commitment to act. In this sense, the fishmonger might have a deluded
self-​conception, or he might be the type of frail person that Kant describes in
the Religion.113 My point here is that, regardless of the degree of sincerity of an
agent, organization of maxims into a coherent whole is a mandatory require-
ment for full-​fledged personhood. The constitution of an agent as one person
requires a coherent web of maxims. Consistency is a necessary condition for
having one unitary practical identity. In everyday life, this is not an all-​or-​
nothing matter. The more consistent a web of maxims, the more perfect, and
less deficient, is the realization of inner freedom. Virtue allows for degrees of
realized autonomy—​how else could we make sense of the idea of moral pro-
gress and striving toward self-​perfection?114
Although the particular identity of an agent is contingent—​subject to an
agent’s biological, social, and personal history—​the fact that every agent must be
governed by some conception of a practical identity is something universal.115

111
Korsgaard, Self-​Constitution, 125ff.; Sources of Normativity, 120ff.
112
Korsgaard, Sources of Normativity, 121.
113
RGV 6:29.
114
Cf. Engstrom, Inner Freedom of Virtue; Grenberg, “What is the Enemy of Virtue?” in Kant’s
Metaphysics of Morals: A Critical Guide, ed. Lara Denis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2010), 163.
115
Korsgaard, Sources of Normativity, 121.
138

138 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

The fact that only identities give us reasons to do one thing rather than another
does not spring from an agent’s particular identity, but is something that is
common to all rational agents simply as human beings. This means, from the
necessary condition for agency as such—​namely, to act from reasons at all, that
is, reasons that flow from the local identity an agent has adopted—​it follows a
universal constraint on rational agency. For any agent, agency is grounded in
the same capacity of adopting principles: practical reason. A consistently acting
rational agent is compelled to endorse a universal moral identity just in virtue of
her having adopted a contingent practical identity. Thus, Korsgaard concludes,
“Not every form of practical identity is contingent or relative after all:  moral
identity is necessary.”116
Now, one would assume that the normative force of the reasons, which
springs from an agent’s local identity, would ultimately stem from the uni-
versal value of autonomy, because this is what Kant’s foundational perspec-
tive dictates. But this is not what Korsgaard argues. Rather, she interprets the
distinction between local and universal identities in such a way that the lat-
ter imply generic moral duties that are valid for everyone in virtue of their
“rational inescapability,” and then, on top of it, there are more mundane par-
ticular obligations whose source of normativity is not morality proper, but
an agent’s local identity.117 This view assumes that moral obligations proper
stem from our identity as moral agents and are unconditional—​such as self-​
development, mutual cooperation, and freedom of external coercion, because
the elective function of the human faculty of choice depends on them—​
whereas other obligations are derived from our more contingent identities and
are not unconditionally valid. I think that this reading misunderstands what
the term “unconditional” means for Kant.
Normal life is full with obligations that agents have in their various social
roles. These roles depend on contingent circumstances and conditions and do
not, at least immediately, imply any inescapable ends valid for all human beings
in general. Yet the obligations that agents meet in everyday life are, and must be,
unconditionally binding, if they are obligations. The unconditionality of obliga-
tions is Kant’s key insight already in the 1762 Prize Essay, and, as the Groundwork
argues, what makes duties unconditional is that they are grounded in the idea of
autonomy. This means, the incorporation of ends into one’s maxims is free, but
the ends themselves are never ends of pure reason; rather, they are always ends

Korsgaard, Sources of Normativity, 122.


116

Korsgaard, Sources of Normativity, 120–​30, 251–​8; Self-​Constitution, 32, 83.


117
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 139

that we pursue as embodied agents.118 This is also true of Korsgaard’s “inescap-


able” ends, which, however general, cannot be determined a priori. Instead of
arguing for two sets of obligations, one expressive of inescapable human projects
and one bound up with local identities, I suggest to read Kant as being com-
mitted to the view that autonomy, or universal identity, is the foundation of any
obligation whatsoever. The empirical variety of duties, which itself always needs
to be determined in specific circumstances, is grounded in autonomy. Every obli-
gation is unconditional in the sense that its obligatory force stems from a rule
expressing autonomous agency. If, for example, I have adopted the role as a team
captain, then my responsibilities are binding independently of competing non-
rational desires; and if I do not act on my responsibilities then I thwart my own
purposes—​which is the basic form of Korsgaard’s notion of practical irrational-
ity. A practical contradiction is a contradiction where a rational agent contra-
dicts her own maxims and thus undermines her rational self-​determination.119
Whenever an agent adopts a maxim, she hereby assumes that her practical rea-
son will determine her actions,120 and if an agent acts inconsistently with her
web of maxims she undermines her practical self-​determination. An imperative
expresses a practical necessitation that aims at consistency of human volition,
disregarding intervening inclinations and conflicting maxims. Consistency is a
constitutive principle of rational agency as such. For example, Kant says:
But a human being’s duty to himself as a moral being only . . . consists in what is
formal in the consistency of the maxims of his will with the dignity of humanity
in his person. It consists, therefore, in a prohibition against depriving himself
of the prerogative of a moral being, that of acting in accordance with principles,
that is, inner freedom, and so making himself a plaything of the mere inclina-
tions and hence a thing.—The vices contrary to this duty are lying, avarice, and
false humility (servility).121

The first part of this quotation describes what it means to be a rational agent. The
last sentence then plugs in empirical vices that can be seen to express bad max-
ims because they undermine rational self-​determination. A list of such bad max-
ims is, of course, open-​ended, and cannot yield anything like an a priori system

118
Cf. Jerome B. Schneewind, “Kant and Stoic Ethics,” in Aristotle, Kant and the Stoics:  Rethinking
Happiness and Duty, ed. Stephen Engstrom et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996),
285–​301.
119
Korsgaard, Kingdom of Ends, 93, 96.
120
Cf. Konstantin Pollok, “ ‘Wenn Vernunft volle Gewalt über das Begehrungsvermögen hätte’—​Über
die gemeinsame Wurzel der Kantischen Imperative,” Kant-​Studien 98(1) (2007): 57–​80.
121
MSTL 6:420.
140

140 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

of duties. For example, servility can serve an agent’s career hopes and pruden-
tial self-​interest very well. However, it also undermines the faculty of giving the
law to oneself, that is, the dignity of a human person. A servile agent makes it
her “basic principle to have no principle.”122 The prohibition on servility is an
example of a duty that can be derived from Kant’s conception of inner freedom
under empirical anthropological conditions: a servile person does not act from
her own reasons. However, from the idea of autonomy alone, the prohibition on
servility can certainly not be derived. That a maxim of servility makes rational
self-​determination impossible, and what kind of behavior in particular counts
as servile, can only be known empirically. What specific empirical actions are
morally prohibited requires knowledge of the phenomenon of servility, which
is embedded in an anthropological, social, historical, natural, and personal con-
text. What we can know a priori is that personhood is bound to the idea of being
the first cause of one’s own actions, and that any “self-​determination” undermin-
ing that capacity will be self-​destructive. The prohibition on servility thus holds
a priori, that is, in virtue of the principle of autonomy. The idea of autonomy
makes a moral prohibition possible in the first place, but it does not generate
obligations independently of local maxims.
For Kant, the question underlying moral philosophy is:  “What should I
do?”123 Accordingly, Korsgaard rightly stresses that maxims are directed at the
quite particular actions an agent proposes to perform, which includes the speci-
fication of all relevant particular features. Maxims are always specific to the situ-
ation at hand; reasons always require a high level of specificity, because otherwise
they could not guide conduct.124 Duties arise for a specific person that attempts
to solve specific problems in specific circumstances. Maxims specify particular
features that an individual agent takes to be relevant in a specific situation. This
means maxims always include empirical considerations regarding time, place,
and social role. A web of maxims does not exist independently of specific social
roles and continually changing specific circumstances, to which virtuous agency
must respond. Herein lies the dynamical character of Kant’s conception of eth-
ical duties. This means, for example, that the general duty of beneficence does
not provide a reason for action until it is manifested in an agent’s specific role as
a neighbor. By caring for my neighbor, I am acting on an unconditional ground,

122
Ibid. Cf. Esser, Ethik für Endliche, 366–​70; Jens Timmermann, “Kantian Duties to the Self, Explained
and Defended,” Philosophy: The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy 81(3) (2006): 527.
123
KrV A805/​B833, my emphasis.
124
Korsgaard, Self-​Constitution, 73ff.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 141

even though the forms of caring for neighbors differ from culture to culture.
Kant’s concept of autonomy requires us to think of the relationship between
universal and particular identities of agents as continuous, that is, in terms of a
foundational relationship. The value of autonomy grounds any particular local
identity. Because there is only one moral foundation—​autonomy—​there cannot
be two qualitatively different sets of duties. All duties must derive their norma-
tive force from autonomy.
The gap between universal and local identity, and the role of judgment that
this necessitates, is also captured through Kant’s conception of the wideness
or indeterminacy of ethical duties. Kant capitalizes on the exposition of eth-
ical duties as wide duties in the introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue. In three
consecutive sections, Kant elaborates on the distinction between wide (duties
of virtue) and narrow duties (duties of right). Section VI bears the title “Ethics
does not give laws for actions (ius does that) but only for maxims of actions.”125
Section VII is titled “Ethical duties are of wide obligation, whereas duties of
right are of narrow obligation.”126 The subsequent section VIII discusses “One’s
own perfection as an end that is also a duty” and “The happiness of others as an
end that is also a duty” under the title “Exposition of duties of virtue as wide
duties.”127 Ethical laws are of wide obligation because they merely prescribe the
adoption of obligatory ends:
For if the law can only prescribe the maxim of actions, not actions themselves,
this is a sign that it leaves a playroom (latitudo) for free choice in following
(complying with) the law, that is, that the law cannot specify precisely in what
way one is to act and how much one is to do by the action for an end that is also
a duty.128

Because ethical duties are wide duties, ethics cannot determine a priori what
specific act is required in the infinite variety of specific situations. Kant’s account
of ethics as a doctrine of wide duties is thus designed to deal with the empir-
ical variety of “the different situations in which human beings may find them-
selves.”129 This dynamic aspect of Kant’s ethics is expressed in his emphasis that
virtue must be equipped to deal with changing circumstances. If virtue was
not flexible, it could not adapt to varying situations, and, in this case, “like any

125
MSTL 6:388.
126
MSTL 6:390.
127
MSTL 6:391–​4.
128
MSTL 6:390. Cf. MSRL 6:233; VAMS 23:391, 419.
129
MSTL 6:392.
142

142 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

other mechanism of technically practical reason, it is neither armed for all situ-
ations nor adequately secured against the changes that new temptations could
bring about.”130 Kant explicitly conceives of action from duty in opposition to
mechanically predictable habit.131 Any kind of habitual response undermines
autonomous reflection. Here blind “moral” rigorism is not better than habitual
sensuous appetite. In contrast, moral agency is the expression of a moral mode
of thought (sittliche Denkungsart), that is, a moral character, which is why the
question of how to form a moral character is so central for Kant’s theory of mor-
ality.132 Kant emphasizes the endless situations in which agents need to solve
practical problems, to which virtuous action must respond. For this reason, Kant
makes the casuistry an essential part of the doctrine of virtue.133 Casuistry is not
guided by technical and prudential reasoning. Rather, through casuistry agents
practice their moral judgment. It is a moral casuistry that provides “practice in
how to seek truth.”134 The practice of moral judgment in specific circumstances
plays an indispensable role for morality.135
Accordingly, Kant says in the Groundwork that ethical principles “no doubt
still require a judgment sharpened by experience . . . to distinguish in what cases
they are applicable.”136 The practice of moral judgment enters Kant’s ethical
theory in the context of assessing how to apply the pure principles of morality
[Anwendung]. The function Kant assigns to a “judgment sharpened by experi-
ence” is one separated from the pure part of the metaphysics of morals, but it
is still a moral function. For example, during the discussion of the duty against
suicide, Kant makes the following remark:

I must here pass over a closer determination of this principle [duty against
suicide] that would prevent any misinterpretation [zur Vermeidung alles
Mißverstandes], e.g., as to having limbs amputated in order to preserve myself,
or putting my life in danger in order to preserve my life, and so forth; that
belongs to morals proper.137

130
MSTL 6:383–​4.
131
VAMS 23:289; MSTL 6:383; VAnth 25:1498–​9.
132
MSTL 6:387; Anth 7:294–​5. See Chapter 3, “Attitudinal function of moral feelings, self-deception,
and moral progress” under the head “Implications.”
133
MSTL 6:413.
134
MSTL 6:411.
135
Cf. Herman, Practice of Moral Judgment, 73–​ 58; Barbara Herman, Moral Literacy
93, 132–​
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 230–​53; Baron, Kantian Ethics, 194–​226; Sherman,
Necessity of Virtue, 141–​86; Louden, Impure Ethics, 50.
136
GMS 4:389.
137
GMS 4:429. Cf. GMS 4:404: The function of “morals proper” is “to present the system of morals all
the more completely and apprehensibly and to present its rules in a form more convenient for use.”
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 143

Kant here points to the possibility of misinterpretation of the duty against


suicide and to the need of a closer determination of this principle. “Morals
proper” thus essentially involves a hermeneutical reflection about what mor-
ality requires in specific circumstances. Whether “having limbs amputated in
order to preserve myself, or putting my life into danger in order to preserve
myself, and so forth”138 is a practical rule falling under the duty against suicide
is a question that has to be decided by moral judgment. The same systematic
point holds with respect to all other cases of the application of duties in specific
circumstance.
For example, to say that there is an unconditional prohibition on lying
means to say that, regardless of the beneficial consequences of an untruth-
ful statement, any person A must not make an untruthful declarative state-
ment (i.e., a statement that A believes to be false) to any other particular
person B with the intention to create a false belief in B (i.e., with the inten-
tion that B takes the statement to be true). 139 Thus, “between truthful-
ness and lying . . . there is no mean.”140 However, “there is indeed a mean
between candor and reticence . . . Duties of virtue have a latitude in their
application (latitudinem).”141 Whether an agent chooses reticence or can-
dor to instantiate her duty of truthfulness is a question of how to apply
the principle of truthfulness. On Kant’s account, someone who is being
reticent is being truthful, and someone who is candid is being truthful.
A might not be frank, but nevertheless truthful. There is no duty of candor,
but a duty of truthfulness:
What the honest but reticent man says is true but not the whole truth. What
the dishonest man says is, in contrast, something he knows to be false. Such an
assertion is called a lie, in the doctrine of virtue.142

The point that I want to emphasize is that Kant clearly distinguishes between
the morality of a rule itself (lying vs. truthfulness) and the manner of its appli-
cation under empirical circumstances (candor vs. reticence), which is ultimately
guided by moral concerns:

138
GMS 4:429.
139
I am here indebted to James Edwin Mahon, “The Truth about Kant on Lies,” in The Philosophy of
Deception, ed. Clancy Martin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 201–​24; and his “Kant and
Maria von Herbert: Reticence vs. Deception,” Philosophy 81(3) (2006): 417–​44.
140
MSTL 6:433n.
141
Ibid.
142
Br 11:332. Cf. RGV 6:190n.
14

144 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Uprightness, and that in its greatest purity, i.e. integrity . . . are natural obliga-
tions of man, and so everyone must frame only such utterances as can coexist
and agree with the greatest consciousness of truth and the total absence of any
consciousness of the opposite. Openheartedness, on the other hand, is subject . . .
to those limits beyond which it might bring our worth into contempt . . . Hence
concealment, reservation . . . is approved of in ethics.143

Note that Kant’s defense of reticence about one’s private thoughts and feelings
is guided by moral concerns (not personal idiosyncrasies): the limits of can-
dor are set by our worth that we ought not bring into contempt. This means,
reticence is not necessarily a form of impermissible deception. Quite to the
contrary, as Kant’s discussion of defamation, that is, bringing the worth of
another person into contempt, makes further clear: here Kant again argues that
an all too candid statement is ethically prohibited, “even if what is said is true,”
namely, when it “diminishes respect for humanity as such,” and thus we should
rather “throw the veil of philanthropy over [other’s] faults,” because the “respect
that we give others can arouse their striving to deserve it.”144 Kant gives many
examples of simulating respect and benevolence with the intention to even-
tually promote virtuous agency. This means, also pretense, that is, giving the
appearance of what we know is not the case, can be a form of ethically per-
missible reticence.145 Another such case occurs in Kant’s casuistical questions,
where it is again clear that the choice between reticence and candor is a moral
choice of how to apply the duty of truthfulness. Consider how Kant phrases
this case: “An author asks one of his readers ‘How do you like my work?’ . . .
The author will take the slightest hesitation as an insult.”146 What guides the
implementation of an ethical maxim is moral concern for the other person as
a person, whom we do not want to offend.147 This means, autonomous agency
must always take into consideration individual features of the situation. Hence,
the role of moral judgment:
A moral casuistic would be very useful, and it would be an undertaking much to
the sharpening of our judgment, if the limits were defined, as to how far we may
be authorized to conceal the truth without detriment to morality.148

143
VE 27:699.
144
MSTL 6:466.
145
Anth 7:151–​2; Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 324–​5. Cf. Mahon on permissible deception
(Reticence vs. Deception, 425–​6).
146
MSTL 6:431. Cf. MSTL 6:433n.
147
On this point, see also Amelie Rorty, “Kant on Two Modalities of Friendship,” in Rethinking Kant,
vol. 3, ed. Oliver Thorndike (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011), 33–​51.
148
VE 27:701.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 145

Some agents are better than others in living an autonomous life, and the
reason for this does not lie at the level of principle, but at the level of
practicing moral judgment, for which agents are responsible. Thus, if A is
truthful to B by telling her in an all too candid way what she thinks about
her latest book, she makes a moral mistake, because being too candid con-
flicts with other obligations. It is for moral reasons that A  should hold
back on making certain truthful statements that would be relevant to B’s
question.149
At the level of principle, there is no mean between lying and being truth-
ful. But there are, Kant holds, different degrees of candor and reticence in
the application of the ethical duty of truthfulness. Thus, even though Kant
distinguishes between principle and its implementation, we should not take
him to be denying that there is a moral connection between the two. The
capacity of moral assessment of duties in specific circumstances needs to
be developed through moral training. The evaluation of various options for
realizing a principle is a moral evaluation. What matters in such moral eval-
uations are the reasons that agents provide for their actions. Being truthful
(candid) for no good reason is ethically impermissible if it is insensitive to
other grounds of obligation, such that truthfulness would better be imple-
mented through reticence. Ethics prescribes wide duties. As one author has
formulated it:
Although Kant’s ethics are ultimately based on an absolute and exception-
less “categorical imperative” . . . Kant does not derive any absolute prohib-
itions . . . considered in abstraction from the reasons for which they might be
performed . . . In principle Kantian duties can be as fine-​grained as our own
deliberations about what to do . . . By seriously considering these [casuistical]
questions, [Kant] intimates that there are real difficulties here, such that the
correct answer cannot be immediately read off of the moral law. If Kant were
really a rigorist, there should be little room for any interesting sort of casuistry
or practical judgment.150

Because ethical duties are wide duties, ethics requires moral judgment regarding
what specific act is required in the infinite variety of specific situations.

149
For a similar reading, see Mahon, Reticence vs. Deception, 437; Kant on Lies, 204. For a differ-
ent reading, see Jens Timmermann, “Kant on Conscience, ‘Indirect’ Duty, and Moral Error,”
International Philosophical Quarterly 46(3) (2006): 307; Lehmann, Kants Tugenden, 80.
150
David Sussman, “On the Supposed Duty of Truthfulness: Kant on Lying in Self-​Defense,” in The
Philosophy of Deception, ed. Clancy Martin (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2009), 226–​7, my
emphasis.
146

146 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Casuistry and ethical conflict

The latitude inherent in the conception of wide duties requires a casuistry, which
Kant assigns to empirical judgment.
Because the doctrine of virtue contains only wide duties, which are directed
toward the maxim of the action but do not determine the action, as is the
case in the doctrine of right, there will be a dialectic of practical reason. This
occasions a contradiction [Widerstreit] of maxims, which, however, cannot be
called an antinomy (for there is no contradiction of laws), but rather a casuis-
try, i.e., a canon [Inbegriff] of tasks for the power of judgment in order to decide
what in cases in concreto [in vorkommenden Fällen] is ethical–​permissible or
not.151

Kant’s mentioning of the term antinomy is a direct response to Baumgarten,


who calls the collisions of moral laws “antinomia.”152 Baumgarten holds that a
collision of duties proper must be understood as strictly antinomical such that
both a prescriptive and a prohibitive law apply to one and the same action. This is
possible within Baumgarten’s theory of morality because Baumgarten conceives
of obligation in terms of the “more powerful motivating grounds.”153 In cases of
an equilibrium of motivating grounds, an agent is obliged to an action and its
opposite equally. Thus, obligations proper can conflict among each other. Since
obligation is defined by Baumgarten in terms of the relative strength of motivat-
ing grounds, which comes in various degrees, Baumgarten’s system permits of
prioritizing various obligations by weighing motivating grounds, and it allows to
resolve conflicts between conflicting obligations by adding motivating grounds
to break the equilibrium.154
Kant dismisses this account because a moral motivating ground is not quan-
titatively but qualitatively different from nonmoral motivating grounds.155 Thus
Kant corrects the terminology of his author Baumgarten: the contradiction of
maxims cannot be called an antinomy. Moral commands are based on reason,
and there is no contradiction of reason with itself. At the level of principle, a
collision of duties is thus inconceivable (obligationes non colliduntur).156 Neither

151
VAMS 23:389. Cf. MSTL 6:411.
152
Baumgarten, Initia, §85. Cf. Ibid., §§142–​4, and Kant’s commentary in Kant, Moral Philosophy
Kaehler, 35, 76. See also VE 27:508; Meier, Allgemeine Practische Weltweisheit, §137.
153
Baumgarten, Initia, §§15, 23, 85.
154
Regarding the balance of pleasure and displeasure, and an equilibrium between desire and aver-
sion, see: Baumgarten, Metaphysica, §§656, 661, 670, 674.
155
On this point, see also Dieter Henrich, “Hutcheson und Kant,” Kant-​Studien 49(1–​4) (1957/​58): 53.
156
MSRL 6:224.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 147

do moral principles contradict themselves nor do they allow for exceptions. It is


completely obvious why this must be the case: agents can only distinguish their
agency from physical causation insofar as agency is expressive of principles that
agents have adopted. To the extent that principles contradict themselves, that
is, to the extent that agents cannot rationally justify how to prioritize among
various conflicting grounds of obligations, agents cannot conceive of themselves
as autonomous. A  conflict of grounds of obligations that cannot in principle
be resolved morally undermines the notion of autonomy. Consistency of divers
practical principles thus leads to the requirement of systematicity. Agents need
to coherently organize their empirical maxims in order to understand them-
selves as persons. The latitude in the application of duties must be determinable
on rational grounds.
The problem of contradicting maxims arises at the level of the application of
moral principles to specific circumstances. An individual agent might err with
respect to which ground of obligation issues a token obligation in a particu-
lar situation, but this cannot be called an antinomy between ethical laws them-
selves. In order to get from principle to action, Kant thus assigns to casuistry a
systematic place within the “Doctrine of Elements,”157 which makes casuistry an
essential part of Kant’s theory of moral agency. However, casuistry is “neither
a science nor a part of a science . . . [it] is not so much a doctrine about how to
find something as rather a practice in how to seek truth.”158 The next question is
thus: How does empirical judgment decide what is ethical–​permissible in spe-
cific circumstances? What guides empirical judgment? The question is quite par-
allel to the question of the Opus postumum: How do scientists search for a true
rational coherence of empirical phenomena? In both cases, humans are engaged
in a process of discovery and progress. For Kant, the regulative principles that
guide this process have to be tied to the constitutive a priori principles. This is
where the necessary role of mediating concepts emerges.
Kant’s fundamental distinction between heteronomy and autonomy in the
Groundwork leads to a theory of moral motivation that is essentially one-​
dimensional (because it is composed in opposition to theories that attempt
to ground morality on empirical motivating grounds). This makes it easy for
Kant to decide those cases, in which prudential motives collide with moral
motives. Kant’s cases in the Groundwork are clear enough: we can be absolutely
certain that the maxims of “lying in order to satisfy a contingent desire” and

157
MSTL 6:413.
158
MSTL 6:411.
148

148 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

“committing suicide out of fear” are heteronomous principles, and thus uneth-
ical. Kant’s motivational dualism clearly structures his discussion of moral
duties in the Groundwork. In all of the four famous cases, an agent attempts
to justify the adoption of a maxim by reference to contingent motivating
grounds, and Kant’s point is always the same, namely, that duties are uncondi-
tionally valid, and their violation cannot be justified by reference to contingent
motivating grounds.
Whether and how Kant’s moral theory can also account for conflicting
moral motives is a different question. The urgency of this question could not
surface in the foundational writings of the 1780s, which were written from
the perspective of curbing the pretensions of prudentially determined prac-
tical reason. These writings led to the motivational dualism at hand, that
is, action either done from duty or not. But this dualism is not sufficient to
resolve Kant’s casuistic questions of the Doctrine of Virtue, where he asks, for
example, whether it would be a case of suicide “to hurl oneself to certain death
(like Curtius) in order to save one’s country.”159 Here, two ethical precepts seem
to collide: the prohibition on suicide and the promotion of the public good.
Thus, Kant asks whether Cato’s suicide could be defended because it seems to
rest on a “noble motivating ground,” which he opposes to cases exemplifying
“pragmatic motivating grounds” such as intending to prevent pain.160 The case
of Cato’s suicide was widely discussed in the peaking philosophical debate on
the permissibility of suicide in the eighteenth century.161 In Cicero’s De Officiis,
which was translated and commented on by Garve—​a work with which Kant
was intimately familiar—​Cicero reflects on the application of the general pro-
hibition on suicide as follows:
Differences of natures have such a great force that sometimes one man ought to
choose death for himself, while another ought not. For surely the case of Marcus
Cato was different from that of the others who gave themselves up to Caesar in
Africa? . . . But since nature had assigned to Cato an extraordinary seriousness,
which he himself had consolidated by his unfailing constancy, abiding always by

159
MSTL 6:423–​4. Cf. Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 218, 222. Cf. Michael J. Seidler, “Kant and
the Stoics on Suicide,” Journal of the History of Ideas 44(3) (1983):  446–​7; Guyer, Nature and
Freedom, 268–​9.
160
Cf. Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 218–​19, 222, and editor’s note No.144–​5; Lehmann, Kants
Tugenden, 75–​6; Reinhard Brandt, Die Bestimmung des Menschen bei Kant (Hamburg: Felix Meiner
Verlag, 2007), 92–​4, 373; Meier, Sittenlehre, §671.
161
See, for example, Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohns Frühschriften zur Metaphysik
(Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1969), 138–​64; Johann David Michaelis, Moral, Part I, Part
II, ed. Carl Fridrich Stäudlin (Göttingen: Im Bandenhock und Ruprechtschen Verlage, 1792), Part
II, Section 2:48ff., §56.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 149

his adopted purpose and policy, he had to die rather than look upon the face of a
tyrant.162

Cicero argues that Cato’s extraordinary character and the specific circumstances
of his suicide, namely, the intention to resist Caesar, make it legitimate (“ought to
choose”) for Cato “to choose death for himself.” The same act, suicide, would have
been a vice for someone with a different character, who can more easily adjust to
new political leadership. The external circumstances are here the same for various
agents. However, the particular decision by Cato is justified by the specific differ-
ences of his individual nature and the maxims that he has adopted based on them,
which set him apart from “the others who gave themselves up to Caesar.”163 Self-​
determination is here individuated self-​construction, which is guided by the value
of self-​consistency:
When, therefore, someone has adopted a plan of life entirely in accordance with his
nature . . . let him then maintain constancy.164
Orderliness must, then, be imposed upon our actions in such a way that all the
parts of our life . . . are fitted to one another and in agreement.165

Consistency is a necessary requirement for unified agency. Kant clearly grasps


this aspect of personal consistency when he comments on Cato: “His thought
was:  since you can no longer live as Cato, you cannot go on living at all.”166
Since Cato could not “escape falling into Caesar’s hands,” he “could no longer
live in accordance with virtue,” and thus “put an end to his life from honor-
able motives.”167 Kant clearly sees that it is not a nonmoral consideration that
leads to Cato’s suicide. Neither does Cicero consider Cato’s free choice as a
case of subordinating moral responsibilities to self-​love, nor does Kant read
Cicero this way. Cato’s problem is not that he is overcome by weakness of will
and that he is falling away from his commitment to morality because of self-​
love. Rather, Cato needs to decide which of his various commitments deserve
precedence.
It seems that Kant’s moral theory would be incapable of accommodating such
a case of individuated self-​legislation because it sacrifices the universal status of

162
Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis, ed. and trans. Christian Garve, in Christian Garve, Gesammelte
Werke, vols. 9–​10, ed. Kurt Wölfel (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1987), 1.112. References to
Cicero list book and section number. Cf. Andrew R. Dyck, A Commentary on Cicero, De Officiis
(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 282.
163
Cf. Dyck, Commentary, 282.
164
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.120.
165
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.144.
166
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 218–​9, my emphasis.
167
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 218, my emphasis.
150

150 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

moral commands. For Kant, morally permissible conduct must follow from the
universal nature of agency. It cannot be determined by an agent’s peculiar char-
acteristics, “because a rule is objectively and universally valid only when it holds
without the contingent, subjective conditions that distinguish one rational being
from another.”168 Moral agency cannot be determined by local peculiarities, such
that specific obligations undermine the basis of all obligations. If local identities
could generate true obligations that are in conflict with an agent’s universal iden-
tity, moral rules would become uncertain. An agent may give up her life if she
cannot avoid it (think of Kant’s gallows example, where an agent needs to choose
to either “give false testimony against an honorable man” or face execution169),
but she may not kill herself. Kant insists that amid “all torments, I can still live
morally, and must endure them all, even death itself, before ever I perform a dis-
reputable act.”170 In this vein, Kant claims that Cato should rather have suffered
all martyrdoms done to him by Caesar:
If Cato, under all the tortures that Caesar might have inflicted on him, had still
adhered to his resolve with steadfast mind, that would have been noble; but not
when he laid hands upon himself.171

From a Kantian perspective, genuine self-​determination is not individuated


self-​construction that is determined by personal and contextual peculiarities.172
Cicero’s conception of a specific personal nature of an agent173 is diametrically
opposed to Kant’s usage of nature in the natural law formula in the Groundwork.
Kant’s purpose is to show that what is ethically permissible must be determined
with certainty and universality. Any Kantian who wants to argue that the notion
of latitude makes it merely an empirical matter of how to apply moral princi-
ples, and anyone who wants to allow for conventionally determined exceptions,
should be aware that she opens the door to uncertainty in ethics, which Kant
thought to be unacceptable.
While Kant is quite aware that empirical circumstances affect our common
judgment about the moral worth of an act—​think of Kant’s vivid descriptions
of particularly trying circumstances174—​it is also clear that, on Kant’s account,
there must not be any motivational contingency when it comes to the assessment

168
KpV 5:21.
169
KpV 5:30.
170
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 228.
171
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 224.
172
On this point, see Rorty, “Two Modalities of Friendship,” 33–​51.
173
See Cicero, De Officiis, 1.97, 107, 114–​5.
174
GMS 4:398; KpV 5:155–​6, 158. Cf. editor’s note No.146 in Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 219.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 151

of moral worth.175 What counts as a noble motivating ground must not be


determined by an assessment of contingent circumstances. What counts as a
noble motivating ground is unambiguously clear within Kant’s theory of free-
dom: only actions done from duty (as opposed to those done from inclination)
possess moral worth.176 There is simply no room for motivational contingency
in Kant’s account of morality. For this reason, Kant’s Anthropology discusses
the variety of empirical motives leading to suicide—​such as desperateness,
sadness, rage, and courage—​as “psychological question[s]‌” but not as morally
relevant.177 The method of distinguishing motivating grounds in order to solve
cases of genuine ethical conflict is a nonstarter precisely because there is only
one moral motivation. This means that Kant’s distinction between autonomous
and heteronomous motivating grounds resolves one type of moral conflict with
ease, namely, when heteronomous motivating grounds undermine autonomy,
but it also means that Kant’s theory has no genuine tool for resolving conflicts
between ethical maxims. The dilemma then is that although moral agency can-
not be determined by contingent circumstances, it must still respond to them on
rational grounds.178
As was the case with respect to Kant’s Transition Project in the Opus postu-
mum, it is here again worth inquiring into why other competing theories do
not have such a transition problem.179 Since both Cicero and Baumgarten are
in the immediate background of Kant’s intellectual thought, it is worth taking a
particular look at these authors, in order to see why their approach to resolving
cases of colliding precepts is not an option for Kant.
In Cicero’s moral system, various grounds of obligation are modifications of
what is constitutive for moral agency: the value of communal life. For example,
Cicero suggests that, in case of competing obligations,
as to who ought most to receive our dutiful services, our country and our parents
would be foremost . . . Next would be our children and our whole household,
which looks to us alone and can have no other refuge. Then our relations, who
are congenial to us and with whom even our fortunes are generally shared.180

175
Cf. Allison, Theory of Freedom, 113.
176
GMS 4:398.
177
Anth 7:258. Cf. VAnth 25:243–​4.
178
Cf. 6:217.
179
See Introduction and Chapter 1, “Kant’s philosophia naturalis.”
180
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.58. The following discussion of Cicero is indebted to Dyck, Commentary, and
Martha Nussbaum, “Duties of Justice, Duties of Material Aid: Cicero’s Problematic Legacy,” The
Journal of Political Philosophy 8(2) (2000):176–​206.
152

152 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

This prioritization is not arbitrary, because, unlike in a Hobbesian system,


human fellowship is not a project that humans pursue for nonmoral reasons. For
Cicero, agents do not embark upon communal life in order to provide for life’s
necessities. Rather, by nature, social associations are constitutive of humanity.
The various grounds of obligation, that is, the various social responsibilities of
agents, are modifications of the supreme value of human fellowship. Through the
natural law formula, convenientiam conservationeque naturae,181 Cicero shows
that duties of justice and beneficence are rooted in (or can be derived from) the
core value of human sociability. Both iustitia and beneficentia are equally consti-
tutive aspects of what binds society together.182
There are some rather striking similarities between Cicero’s and Kant’s theor-
ies. For Cicero, for example, an agent who commits an injustice, and thus under-
mines “the fellowship of the human race” in order to secure some advantage
to himself, contradicts himself: “He takes all the ‘human’ out of the human.”183
Committing an injustice is “more contrary to nature than death and pain or
anything else of the type [of the expedient].”184 Since all obligations are derived
from the “law of human fellowship,”185 morality (honestum) must be fundamen-
tally distinguished from prudential, that is, nonmoral, interests (utile). Like
Kant, Cicero claims that conflicts between virtue and expediency can never be
resolved in favor of the expedient, no matter how much it appears to quantita-
tively outweigh the honorable.186 Cicero’s “rule of procedure” [Latin:  formula]
distinguishes categorically between honestum and utile, and thus allows agents
to “pronounce judgment without error” [Latin: diiudicare] in cases where the
beneficial seems to conflict with virtue.187 Compare this to Kant’s moral formula,
which can be used as a “compass” that allows “how to distinguish in every case
that comes up what is good and what is evil.”188 Cases of conflict between vir-
tue (honestum) and expediency (utile) can be easily resolved. Kant’s thesis that
there is no “supposed right to do wrong when in extreme (physical) need,” like-
wise emphasizes the qualitative difference between morality and prudence.189
What merely concerns the condition of a human being, utile (prudential rea-
soning), must never undermine what is essential to human agency, honestum

181
Cf. Cicero, De Officiis, 1.11–​14, 50, 100, 110; 3.13, 25, 26, 30, 32.
182
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.28–​9. Cf. 1.12, 20–​5, 97, 100–​2, 153–​60; 3.21, 23, 27–​8.
183
Cicero, De Officiis, 3.21, 22, 26, 29–​30.
184
Cicero, De Officiis, 3.24.
185
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.21.
186
Cicero, De Officiis, 3.90, 99–​111.
187
Cicero, De Officiis, 3.19. Cf. ibid., 1.9–​10.
188
GMS 4:404.
189
Compare Kant’s TP 8:300 with Cicero, De Officiis, 3.29–​30.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 153

(moral reasoning). There is a qualitative difference between an action oriented at


moral concerns and one guided by the empirical condition of a person. Cicero’s
distinction between honestum and utile can be seen as a predecessor to Kant’s
distinction between autonomy and heteronomy. Kant explicitly comments on
the Ciceronian distinction in his lectures,190 and Kant’s four examples in the
Groundwork also insist on the qualitative difference between actions done from
duty and those motivated by empirical considerations.
The parallel between Cicero and Kant goes only a certain way, of course.
Kant does not base his moral principle on the value of community, and precisely
herein lies the reason why Kant’s distinctions between various social grounds of
obligation must be considered as lying outside the domain of morality proper,
as Kant conceives of it. When Kant suggests a hierarchical order of maxims by
limiting “one maxim of duty by another (e.g., love of one’s neighbor in general
[allgemeine Nächstenliebe] by love of one’s parents),”191 then it is generally speak-
ing unclear how specific social conditions such as ties between friends, fam-
ily members, and citizens can be used legitimately to prioritize ethical conduct.
A hierarchy of grounds of obligation [Verbindlichkeitsgründe] is a hierarchy of
reasons for action along the lines of: I adopt this maxim because it is my obliga-
tion as a citizen, because it is my obligation as a father, because it is my obliga-
tion as a neighbor.
Cicero, on the contrary, legitimately prioritizes among moral actions by
restricting the single “law of human fellowship”192 through a hierarchy of
grounds of obligation, because he can show how particular grounds of obliga-
tion are modifications of what is essential to humanity, that is, serving the com-
mon advantage: there are degrees of duties within social life itself; consequently,
we can understand which takes precedence over which.193 Various grounds of
obligation reflect various degrees of shared human association, and thus pro-
vide a transition from the rule of procedure (formula) to agency in specific cir-
cumstances, such that “we can become good calculators of our duties.”194 What
guides practical deliberation are considerations regarding the type of commu-
nal relationship, the gratitude we owe, how much and in what respect a per-
son depends on us, and the specific need of an agent, that is, criteria regarding
the functioning of human affiliations. It is critical to see that the application

190
E.g., VE 27:1330.
191
MSTL 6:390.
192
Cicero, De Officiis, 1:21, 29. Cf. ibid., 3.27.
193
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.160. Cf. ibid., 1.149, 152ff.
194
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.59.
154

154 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

of Ciceronian duties does not require meta-​ethical commitments, because the


various grounds of obligation are modifications of the supreme value of human
affiliation. The more important the shared association is, the more we should
provide benefit in this respect, because this most furthers the community.195
Note that Cicero’s rule of procedure (i.e., the analogue to Kant’s categorical
imperative) only distinguishes between honestum and utile. It does not guide
an agent to prioritize ethical maxims. Rather, the application of duties to spe-
cific circumstances is mediated by a hierarchy of grounds of obligation that pri-
oritizes according to the benefit a maxim bestows on the community.196 This
implies, for example, that if you have made the promise to function for someone
as advocate in the near future, and your son has seriously fallen ill in the mean-
time, it is not contrary to duty to break your promise.197 The illness of a son is
the stronger ground of obligation because of the degree of association: family
duties have priority over duties toward neighbors.198 Or, consider Cicero’s dis-
cussion of a case involving a conflict between obligations toward a parent and
toward the state: Do we have to denounce our father if he should try to impose
a tyranny? Yes, Cicero says, the safety of the homeland has to be put before that
of one’s father.199 In other sections, Cicero asks whether agreements and prom-
ises that have been made without force or malicious fraud should always be
kept.200 If a man who has deposited money with you plans to make war on your
country, you are not obligated to return it. You would be acting contrary to the
republic, which ought to be the dearest thing to you.201 In this way, Cicero says,
many things that seem honorable by nature are not so due to circumstances if
what is truly beneficial changes.202 What act a duty requires “alters” with the
circumstances and is not “invariable.”203 This means, the acts that instantiate the
general rules of justice and beneficence alter with different circumstances. For
example, in some cases it is “just to set aside such requirements as the returning
of a deposit, or the carrying out of a promise, or other things that relate to truth
and keeping faith, and not to observe them.”204 What Cicero has in mind in the
first case is the deposit of a sword, with which a madman could do himself or

195
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.58. Cf. ibid., 1.49–​59.
196
Cicero, De Officiis, 3.30-​1.
197
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.32. Cf. ibid., 1.58; 2.66.
198
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.58.
199
Cicero, De Officiis, 3.90. Cf. ibid., 3.19; 1.58. Cf. Kant’s treatment of this case at TP 8:301n.
200
Cicero, De Officiis, 3.92. Cf. ibid., 1.31–​2, 40.
201
Cicero, De Officiis, 3.95. Cf. ibid., 1.57–​8, 160; 3.89.
202
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.96.
203
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.31.
204
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.31.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 155

someone else mischief if the borrower returned it to him.205 Thus, “occasions


often arise when the actions that seem most worthy of a just man, of him whom
we call good, undergo a change, and the opposite becomes the case.”206 In all
of these cases, practical deliberation is guided by the value of community. This
means, any “exception” to a general rule is always justified by a moral reason.
There cannot be an exception based on considerations regarding what would be
expedient. In this respect, Cicero is a rigorist. But he is no rigorist when it comes
to the specific act that instantiates the supreme value of morality. For example,
the act of killing is prohibited when done from the motive of self-​love, but it is
commanded when done from the motive of benefitting the community, as in the
case of the tyrannicide of Caesar, which restores the human fellowship.207
My point is that the various grounds of obligation are modifications of what
is constitutive for moral agency in the Ciceronian system: communal life. Social
identities (local identities) give rise to justifying reasons and obligations, and
these are essentially connected to the foundation of morality (universal iden-
tity). The hierarchy of grounds of obligation is couched in terms of the value
of human affiliation, which adjudicates conflicting obligations. The practice of
becoming a good calculator of one’s duties in order to do justice to one’s various
responsibilities is guided by what is internal to Cicero’s supreme principle of
morality. Because of this continuity or homogeneity, there is no transition prob-
lem in Cicero’s theory.
The same systematic point holds for Baumgarten. He also determines various
grounds of obligation in terms of what is constitutive of agency in his system: the
quantitative strength of motivating grounds. As we have seen, for Baumgarten,
obligations can be stronger or weaker, that is, their normative force comes in
various degrees. Accordingly, Baumgarten hierarchically determines excep-
tions to obligations in terms of superior laws outweighing weaker laws.208 In
the cases of colliding duties, the agent is required to make an exception from
the inferior obligation.209 For example, moral laws regarding eternal happiness
have a stronger motivating ground than laws with respect to finite happiness.
The martyr is justified in violating her natural duty to preserve her life, because
the religious duty to promote eternal happiness is superior to the former. Moral

205
Cf. Cicero, De Officiis, 3.95. The case of returning a deposit to a madman has a long history, because
Plato has already discussed it. See Plato, Republic, 331c. Cf. Dyck, Commentary, 617–​8; Korsgaard,
Self-​Constitution, 15f.
206
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.31. Cf. ibid., 3.19.
207
Cicero, De Officiis, 3.19, 30–​2. Cf. Dyck, Commentary, 518–​9.
208
Baumgarten, Initia, §86.
209
Cf. Meier, Allgemeine Practische Weltweisheit, §§116–​8, 137–​8.
156

156 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

laws are laws of perfection,210 and agents perceive more perfection in eternal
happiness than in finite happiness. Thus, they are obliged to choose the former.
Collisions of moral laws are resolved by making an “exception,” such that “the
law, which must be fulfilled, is said to be victorious, the opposing law, which
must be withdrawn, is said to yield to the victorious one.”211 In other words, one
obligation is rendered invalid by another obligation. The tool for prioritizing
grounds of obligation is determined in terms of what is constitutive of agency in
the Baumgartian system: the strength of motivating grounds.
As we have seen, Kant rejects Baumgarten’s attempt to understand obliga-
tion via a theory of motivating grounds. This makes all contemporary readings
of Kant obsolete, which claim that “the maxim incorporating the motivation-
ally stronger incentive” prevails in cases of conflict.212 Such readings of Kant
fall back into Baumgarten’s model of weighing motivating grounds. Kant is at
pains to emphasize against Baumgarten that the restriction of a general duty
is not tantamount to making an exception to an obligation.213 An obligation
does not allow for exceptions. For Kant, an obligation is the necessity of an
action from duty. Moral commands are grounded in reason, and reason does
not contradict itself. Thus, the task is to determine when and which one of
the divergent grounds of obligation is sufficient to actually put an agent under
obligation. However, in Kant’s moral philosophy, a moral reason for resolving
conflicts among ethical obligations is missing, because neither the quantita-
tive strength of motivating grounds nor the various thickness of social rela-
tionships are modifications of what is constitutive of agency in the Kantian
system—​autonomy.
So, how does Kant deal with colliding grounds of obligation? Kant either dis-
cusses colliding grounds of obligation (rationes obligandi) as clear-​cut cases of
conflict between a duty of right and a duty of virtue, where duties of right are
said to always trump ethical duties (a), or he assigns cases of conflicting ethical
duties to casuistic reasoning (b). I begin with the former.
(a) Duties of right always prevail over ethical duties.214 A collision of duties
is here inconceivable. Accordingly, in the introduction to the Metaphysics of

210
Baumgarten, Initia, §86.
211
Baumgarten, Initia, §85. Cf. Baumgarten, Metaphysica, §97.
212
McCarty, Kant’s Theory of Action, 182.
213
E.g., MSTL 6:390.
214
Cf. VE 27:282, 493; Päd 9:490; Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 35–​6, 78. See on this point also
Schmucker, Die Ursprünge der Ethik Kants, 297, 340–​50; Lehmann, Kants Tugenden, 71; Jens
Timmermann, “Kantian Dilemmas? Moral Conflict in Kant’s Ethical Theory,” Archiv für Geschichte
der Philosophie 95(1) (2013): 43ff.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 157

Morals, which comprises both the Doctrine of Right and Doctrine of Virtue, it
makes sense to say that “the stronger [juridical] ground of obligation prevails.”
When two such grounds conflict with each other, practical philosophy says, not
that the stronger obligation takes precedence . . . but that the stronger ground of
obligation prevails.215

Kant refers to “practical philosophy,” and hereby means the Praktische


Weltweisheit of the Wolff/​Baumgarten school. Contrary to this school, Kant does
not distinguish between the strength of obligations. An obligation is an obliga-
tion. Obligations do not come in different degrees of motivating grounds. Thus
Kant comments on Baumgarten: “The statement that, on collision, causa mora-
lis potior vincit [the stronger moral cause wins] means only that the ground of
obligation that is not sufficient . . . yields no obligation.”216 For example, grounds
of obligation that are derived from the relationship of gratitude toward a bene-
factor or from the filial relationship toward a father, that is, ethical duties, do
not prevail over the stronger juridical ground of obligation of truth-​telling in
court.217 “If testifying is injurious to a father or benefactor,” then “these relation-
ships, of filial duty, and of gratitude,” are “rationes obligandi” “running counter
to the duty of truth-​telling.”218 Kant’s point is that ethical grounds of obligation
are not sufficient to bring about an obligation when they conflict with juridical
grounds of obligation. Truth-​telling in court prevails over beneficence toward
one’s father or neighbor. To provide another example, the ground of obliga-
tion that provides a reason to give money to charity is not sufficient to put an
agent under obligation if that money is necessary to repay debts. There are two
grounds of obligation, beneficence and a duty of right, but only one issues an
actual token obligation in these specific circumstances. So here Kant discusses
colliding grounds of obligation (rationes obligandi) as clear-​cut cases of con-
flict between a duty of right and a duty of virtue. Generally speaking, he prefers
examples elucidating that the permissibility of acts instantiating ethical duties
is conditional on the juridical permissibility of these acts. In this context, Kant
picks up Cicero’s example where “it is a matter of preventing some catastrophe
to the state by betraying a man who might stand in the relationship to another
of father and son.”219 Duties of right (“preventing some catastrophe to the state”)

215
MSRL 6:224. Cf. MSTL 6:390, 393; VE 27:537–​8.
216
VE 27:508; VE 27:537–​8.
217
VE 27:508.
218
Ibid. Kant makes the same point regarding the conflict between ethical and juridical rationes obli-
gandi in the second Critique, KpV 5:159.
219
TP 8:300n. Cf. Cicero, De Officiis, 3:90.
158

158 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

outweigh duties of virtue (“preventing misfortune” to the father).220 Thus we are


compelled by “moral necessity” to report the plans of a relative to overthrow the
state.221 Supporting one’s father is a wide duty that is conditional on the legal and
ethical permissibility of one’s father’s ends.
Kant uses the same method for resolving what he calls a casus necessita-
tis: in order to preserve her own life, an agent is not ethically permitted to push
another survivor of a shipwreck from her plank. There is no “supposed right to
do wrong when in extreme (physical) need.”222 “For to preserve my life is only a
conditional duty (if it can be done without a crime).”223 It is worth pointing out
that the shipwreck example is also taken from Cicero. It can hardly be a coin-
cidence that both Cicero and Kant discuss the same two examples together in
one passage.224 The superiority of legal obligations over ethical grounds of obli-
gation and extreme physical need could also be defended in the Kantian system,
although I will not try to do this here. In other words, Kant might legitimately
help himself to Cicero’s examples. But how does Kant plan to deal with conflicts
among ethical duties? For, cases of conflict between duties of right and ethics are
not the only types of collision that occur.225
(b) Cases of conflict among ethical grounds of obligation are referred to casu-
istry. Kant says,
Because ethical duties cannot be determined with precision (as is the case with
duties of right) it becomes often difficult for moral judgment to decide in actual
cases of the collision of grounds of obligation [Verbindlichkeitsgründe] what our
duty is. For this reason ethics will also provide a casuistry, which sharpens the
understanding in the assessment of duties.226

Note that Kant says it is “difficult” to make this decision. We are thus not dealing
here with the Groundwork perspective any more, where moral and nonmoral
considerations collide, the categorical imperative providing the tool to resolve
such cases with ease. Rather, here agents need to choose among various moral
considerations. Since this is a task for “moral judgment,” Kant proposes to limit
ethical maxims on moral grounds, that is, one ethical maxim by another ethical
maxim, in order to prioritize action.227

220
TP 8:300n.
221
Ibid.
222
TP 8:300.
223
TP 8:300n. Cf. Kant’s gallows case at KpV 5:30.
224
TP 8:300n. Cf. Cicero, De Officiis, 3:90.
225
On this point, see also Guyer, Nature and Freedom, 267–​74.
226
VAMS 23:419. Cf. VRML 8:430; VAMS 23:397.
227
MSTL 6:390, 411.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 159

Kant maintains that grounds of obligation are defeasible, but it is unclear


how some grounds of obligation can be shown to be stronger than others.228
For example, should gratitude toward a neighbor take precedence over help-
ing a stranger, or vice versa? From the perspective of Kant’s moral theory, the
thickness of social relationships is an external constraint, a meta-​ethical com-
mitment, as it were. In Kant’s system, there is no connection between the uni-
versal identity of a human being, from which the two universal ends that are
also duties originate, and the various local identities of agents, from which spe-
cific duties arise. Different grounds of obligation would need to be expressed as
modifications of the single motivating ground of autonomy. Otherwise it can-
not be morally justified why charity to foreigners should be limited by the need
of one’s own family, or why several imperfect duties should outweigh a single
one.229 Both Baumgarten and Cicero make these claims,230 but what justifies
Kant making them?
Cholbi has rightly emphasized that the literature “fails to provide a credible
picture of when and how we may violate otherwise binding . . . duties.”231 If there
are exceptions to otherwise binding ethical duties, then the Kantian
needs to show, in a way that is not simply ad hoc, that we are obligated to fol-
low second-​order norms through which particular responses . . . turn out to be
uniquely justified or obligatory because other responses . . . are wrong.232

Cholbi makes a very important point here, because only if an agent can morally
justify which ground of obligation produces an actual token obligation can she act
autonomously. Either an agent can morally determine what her duty is in particular
circumstances, or she must feel loss of autonomy when “resolving” conflicts.
The categorical imperative resolves conflicts between maxims of prudence
and maxims of morality, but it does not by itself prioritize among ethical max-
ims. This is the systematic function of a theory of grounds of obligation. But
how do agents choose between them? Some authors believe that general obliga-
tions can only be limited by other moral considerations (a), whereas others have
tried to defend the view that general obligations could be limited by nonmoral
considerations of self-​interest (b). Both camps have in common that they do

228
Cf. MSRL 6:224. Cf. Jens Timmermann, “Acting From Duty:  Inclination, Reason and Moral
Worth,” in Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals: A Critical Guide, ed. Jens Timmermann
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 48–​53.
229
VE 27:537.
230
Cicero, De Officiis, 1.45, 50ff.; Baumgarten, Initia, §§15ff.
231
Michael Cholbi, “The Constitutive Approach to Kantian Rigorism,” Ethical Theory and Moral
Practice 16(3) (2013): 444.
232
Cholbi, “Kantian Rigorism,” 446.
160

160 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

not sufficiently address the indeterminacy problem, because they do not offer
an account of how particular priorities can be justified. Briefly sketching these
views will show how pressing the transition problem really is.
(a) Timmermann has rightly noticed that selectively applying principles
requires moral grounds. He stresses that agents may have multiple grounds of
obligation but only one token duty in any given instance.233 This is an import-
ant insight, because the distinction between conflicting grounds of obligation and
conflicting obligations allows us to account for Kant’s claim that there cannot be
conflicts of duties in ethics. I agree with Timmermann on this point. However,
as I see it, already conflicting grounds of obligation are sufficient to undermine
an agent’s autonomy if, in principle, it cannot be shown on what moral grounds
an agent may choose between them. How do agents remain in control of their
agency if there is no rational procedure for deciding which ground of obligation
shall issue a token obligation? For Timmermann,
there appear to be certain general rules of thumb that can serve to decide prac-
tical conflicts . . . If one action falls under several imperfect duties this out-
weighs the ground of just a single one. Debts of gratitude break ties when claims
of charity conflict . . . But beyond these generalities there seems to be nothing
Kantian ethics can tell us about how to resolve conflicts of obligating reasons.234

On my reading, even these alleged rules of thumb are not morally justified. For,
how precisely does “pure practical reason” determine that “parents are morally
more important” than a “benefactor” who also deserves an agent’s support?235
How precisely does reason decide “that a ground is strong enough to constitute
a token obligation?”236
Esser writes that “conflicts can easily be resolved in that the Categorical
Imperative either proves one of the reasons of obligation not to be binding, or
simply requires us to follow the stronger one.”237 But how does the categorical
imperative do that in a noncontingent way? Korsgaard argues that a practical
principle is provisionally universal in the sense that it applies to every case of
a certain sort unless there is a good reason why not.238 But how does judgment

233
Timmermann, “Good but not Required?—​Assessing the Demands of Kantian Ethics,” Journal of
Moral Philosophy 2(1) (2005): 14–​15.
234
Timmermann, “Kantian Dilemmas,” 53.
235
Timmermann, “Kantian Dilemmas,” 57.
236
Timmermann, “Kantian Dilemmas,” 58.
237
Andrea Esser, “Kant on Solving Moral Conflicts,” in Kant’s Ethics of Virtue, ed. Monika Betzler
(Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008), 279.
238
Korsgaard, Self-​Constitution, 73.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 161

decide this? Korsgaard argues that an agent resolves ethical conflicts by giving
up one of the local identities that bring about conflicting obligations. “Conflicts
that arise between identities, if sufficiently pervasive or severe, may force you to
give one of them up.”239 But how precisely can a hierarchy of maxims be brought
about such that an agent can morally justify her choice? How does an agent
choose among the empirical reasons stemming from her various local identities?
What provides moral guidance as to why agents are permitted to limit the scope
of maxims?240
In order to address such questions, Gregor has suggested to conceptually
define the scope of moral laws. She discusses the general prohibition of mur-
der, and claims that a precise definition of murder would have to be such that
“soldiers in time of war, executioners, etc.” do not fall under it.241 On such a read-
ing, there would not be any exception to the universal prohibition on murder.
Instead the general prohibition would be systematically limited with respect to
contingent circumstances. I quote Gregor at length:
Under certain conditions a man may commit suicide because he thinks that his
ground of obligation not to destroy himself is in conflict with a stronger ground
of obligation (e.g. the benevolence to others). Such cases must be given casuis-
tical treatment to determine which ground of obligation is stronger and hence
really obligatory. If the opposing ground of obligation turns out to be stronger,
then the man has a moral title to kill himself because he has an indirect duty
to do so. The prohibition against suicide permits no arbitrary exceptions, but
when we descend into contingent circumstances it does admit morally neces-
sary exceptions.242

Gregor clearly sees that a conventionally defined exception would not fit
Kant’s bill. That is why she wants to allow for exceptions “on moral grounds,”
that is, make “morally necessary exceptions.”243 This is an important insight,
because it aims to hold on to certainty and objectivity in ethics; it aims at pro-
viding a principled way of identifying which among several maxims is, mor-
ally speaking, more salient. However, the question that Gregor faces is how

239
Korsgaard, Sources of Normativity, 120.
240
For an answer to these questions, see Chapter 3. Here I only want to show that the problem is more
severe than commentators assume.
241
Gregor, Laws of Freedom, 101. For a similar strategy, see Esser, “Moral Conflicts,” 293–​4: “There
cannot be a general ‘right to lie,’ but in some situations—​which, however are to be carefully [pru-
dentially? morally?] specified by the ruling law—​one is not obliged to make true statements.
Therefore, the statement made in such situations must not be referred to as ‘lie,’ either.”
242
Gregor, Laws of Freedom, 102.
243
Gregor, Laws of Freedom, 153. Cf. Sally Sedgwick, “On Lying and the Role of Content in Kant’s
Ethics,” Kant-​Studien 82(1) (1991): 54.
162

162 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

empirical judgment can determine morally necessary exceptions. Because


empirical concepts cannot be defined,244 an exposition of empirical concepts
like suicide, murder, or war is always contingent. Therefore, a noncontingent
hierarchy of maxims guided by the definition of empirical concepts is not
possible.
(b) Hill has argued that the latitude in Kant’s conception of wide ethical
duties would allow for exceptions based on nonmoral preferences. Ethical duties
require agents to adopt ends, which agents can realize in a variety of ways, thereby
retaining discretion as to how and when to instantiate the duty. This position
permits an agent to fulfill a wide duty only from time to time, and to an extent
that is subject to individual discretion.245 Although such discretion presupposes
the moral commitment to fulfilling that end sometimes, to some extent, the zone
of discretion itself is determined by nonmoral considerations. Moral agents may
pursue an inclination, thereby forego an opportunity to fulfill an ethical duty,
and still be committed to the moral end in question. Timmerman has convin-
cingly objected to this view that an “action correctly judged to be morally good
cannot rationally be rejected in favour of one that is not.”246 An agent can never
rank the pursuit of an inclination above the fulfillment of an ethical duty.247 Since
this view seems to fall into the other extreme of a too-​demanding Kantian ethics,
Timmermann suggests that some duties toward oneself may have priority over
duties toward others, such that the general obligation to aid does not overwhelm
agents in a world of sheer infinite need and suffering. However, Timmermann
does not specify how the moral ordering of conflicting ethical grounds of obli-
gation could be decided in a Kantian framework.248
Neither side of the debate specifies a moral basis on which to determine when,
how, and to what extent obligatory ends should be promoted. Timmermann
takes it to be a “rule of thumb” to prefer the near and dear because debts of grati-
tude trump charity. Hill considers it to be “common sense” that “basic needs for
life and functioning . . . are clearly more important than doing pleasing favors for
someone well off.”249 Rules of thumb and common sense are not philosophical
arguments, and thus some authors have rightly questioned their validity.250 For

244
Cf. KrV A727-​728/​B755–​6.
245
See Hill, Human Welfare, 202ff. Cf. Sherman, Necessity of Virtue, 332–​50; Timmermann, “Good but
not Required,” 14ff.
246
Timmermann, “Good but not Required,” 14.
247
For a similar position, see Sedgwick, “On Lying,” 55–​6, 57n50, 59.
248
Timmermann, “Good but not Required,” 24–​7.
249
Hill, Human Welfare, 212–​3.
250
See Nussbaum, “Duties of Justice,” 178; Sherman, Necessity of Virtue, 341; Herman, Moral
Literacy, 226ff.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 163

example, why is it so obvious that we should help neighbors before we help stran-
gers? The question is not whether helping others is always morally demanded or
always morally optional, but, rather, how to determine when it is optional and
when it is demanded, and to what extent. I  think this debate brings out how
pressing the problem of a Transition Project in practical philosophy really is. It
must be in terms of autonomy that agents determine the latitude of ethical duties
and prioritize among them in cases of conflict. As I will show in the next chapter,
Kant’s theory of mediating concepts does just that.
Note that these kinds of indeterminacy problems are immune to whether we
talk about “narrow” ethical duties that aim at promoting the basic capacity to
self-​determination (e.g., the prohibition on servility), or wide ethical duties con-
cerning the effective exercise of moral agency more generally (e.g., cultivating
one’s talents). Even narrow duties are not “self-​deploying,” as Louden has rightly
stressed:  “Judgment is also needed to know how and when to apply them.”251
None of the indeterminacy problems that Kant’s ethics faces can be solved unless
a moral transition connects the supreme value of autonomy with its manifold
implementations in specific circumstances.
Autonomous agency requires that agents provide reasons for their actions,
and only to the extent that they can do so, can they conceive of themselves as the
authors of their conduct. From this follows that the indeterminacy of wide duties
(latitude for choice) must not imply arbitrariness. The Kantian agent cannot give
up the project of rationally justifying her agency. This means, the problems of
specifying the scope of obligations and of providing reasons for a hierarchical
ordering of grounds of obligation cannot be resolved by extra-​moral consid-
erations. Even though it is important to separate metaphysical considerations
regarding the structure of duties in general from their application to specific
circumstances, a coherent moral theory also needs to provide an account of the
latter. A moral theory must provide a tool for prioritizing moral considerations.
How else could agents understand their moral priorities?
To sum up, the problem of providing reasons for a hierarchical ordering of
grounds of obligation cannot be resolved by pointing out that ethical duties only
prescribe the maxim to adopt a moral end, and thus leave playroom as to when,
whether, and how this should be done in specific circumstances. The decision
to fulfill an ethical duty here and now must be morally justifiable. This does not
mean that philosophy should decide moral dilemmas from its armchair, but it
does mean that it needs to provide a theory that allows making general rules

251
Louden, Impure Ethics, 197n40.
164

164 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

applicable to specific circumstances. Kant’s suggestion that empirical judgment


has to decide how a maxim is to be applied in particular cases, “and indeed in
such a way that judgment provides another (subordinate) maxim (and one can
always ask for yet another principle for applying this maxim to cases that may
arise)” requires a first-​person perspective of autonomy that limits “one maxim of
duty by another (e.g., love of one’s neighbor in general by love of one’s parents).”252
Since the universal necessity thought in the concept of duty requires a lawful
limitation of one maxim of duty by another maxim of duty, the transition from
principle to casuistry cannot be conventional, because this would replace uni-
versality with subjectivity in applied ethics. This would contradict Kant’s notion
of science and lawfulness, and eliminate what is most distinctive about Kantian
morality. Moral conflict must be capable of a philosophical solution. Otherwise
agents cannot rationally justify their agency and feel inescapable regret when
“resolving” conflicts. Autonomy would have reached its practical limit, just as
Kant’s principles of the understanding would reach their limits if the dynamic
account of matter could not in principle explain empirical phenomena.253
Solving ethical problems is the very substance that moral agency is made of.
What else would the virtuous agent try to figure out to do, if not solve prob-
lems? After all, Kant phrases the question of moral philosophy as “What should
I do?”254 In the case of conflicting obligations, an agent feels that her autonomy
is violated. Kantian agency is based on reason, and reason does not contradict
itself. There are no antinomies between duties; there is no such thing as an irre-
solvable ethical conflict in Kant’s moral philosophy. Divers practical principles
are subject to a systematicity requirement. Agents must assume that ethical con-
flicts are resolvable, despite the fact that human beings are historically situated,
imperfect, vulnerable, and plagued by inevitable shortcomings. Empirical agents
always miss information and overlook alternative perspectives. It is precisely in
light of human imperfection that agents need to resolve ethical conflicts so as to
preserve their dignity as agents. This cannot be done on arbitrary grounds as, for
example, Hill has suggested:
Conscientious people . . . confront situations in which . . . moral considerations
seem to demand incompatible courses of action, condemning all their options,
and they see no reasonable way to resolve the conflict . . . Principles . . . that they
assumed could never be compromised pull at them from opposite directions . . .

252
MSTL 6:390.
253
See Introduction and Chapter 1, “Friedman’s account of the necessity of a Transition” under the
head “Alternative accounts of the Transition Project.”
254
KrV A805/​B833, my emphasis.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 165

The problem is that . . . given the facts as we see them, the moral . . . principles to
which we are committed . . . draw us strongly to opposing conclusions without
offering any non-​arbitrary way to choose between them.255

For Hill, agents “must make an arbitrary choice” of sorts in such circumstances,
because “sometimes . . . one cannot fully respect the value of humanity in one
person without violating it in another.”256 This “opens a gap in Kantian the-
ory.”257 I agree with Hill’s description of moral dilemmas and his terminology of
a gap. However, Kant’s theory of agency forces us to go another route, because
agents cannot give up the project of rationally justifying their conduct. Given
Kant’s theory of autonomy, the next question ought to be the following: If in
order to maintain a meaningful notion of autonomous agency it is necessary
that ethical conflicts be resolvable, how can casuistry (which is empirical)
resolve ethical conflicts, and, further, how can it do so in such a way that we can
uphold the universality of moral judgment that is pivotal to a Kantian concep-
tion of morality?
One could label this problem a paradox of subjective universality if this phrase
would not have been already reserved for Kant’s discussion of pure judgments
of taste, with which the problem outlined here has a striking similarity. Let me
briefly elaborate on this parallel: A pure judgment of taste is disinterested, that is,
it can neither be based on sense pleasure nor on intellectual interest.258 For this
reason, we can settle disputes about particular cases of beauty when agents do
not make a pure judgment of taste, for example, when they base their judgment
on charming qualities of an object. Disagreements and disputes in taste can thus
sometimes be resolved by determining whether aesthetic evaluation is based on
dependent beauty or not.259 The distinction between absolute and dependent
beauty is as clear as the distinction between autonomy and heteronomy.
But not all controversies in aesthetics are resolvable. Judgments of taste are
singular judgments. There is no science or doctrine of aesthetics. There can also
be no doctrine of method teaching us how to become good judges in taste.260
The disinterestedness of taste is a necessary condition for the legitimacy of judg-
ments of taste, and this is where the critical investigation of taste ends. Kant’s
deduction of the principle of taste does not provide a guide for how to judge

255
Hill, Human Welfare, 363–​4. Timmermann suggests that in some “dilemmatic situations” agents
“should toss a coin” (“Good but not Required,” 21).
256
Hill, Human Welfare, 365, 371.
257
Hill, Human Welfare, 384.
258
KU 5:278.
259
KU 5:231.
260
KU 5:304–​5, 309, 354–​5.
16

166 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

particular cases correctly.261 Aesthetics only provides the principle but no rules
for judging specific cases. We may all agree about the metaphysics of aesthetics,
as it were, and yet disagree about particular works of art. The principle of pure
taste retains its validity even though one can never determine with certainty that
a given judgment accords with it. Kant focuses on a judgment type, not particu-
lar judgments. A  science of beauty is impossible, because whether something
is beautiful or not cannot be determined by a proof. Thus, there can only be a
critique, but there is no transition from principle to application. On this point,
Kant follows Hutcheson, who concludes that even though there is just one and
the same principle of beauty, particular judgments differ vastly due to education,
custom, and experiences.262
The question is whether moral judgments are like pure judgments of taste.
Can Kantian morality accommodate that acts following from an ethical prin-
ciple vary vastly, depending on the cultural or personal background of agents?
There is a current trend in Kantian scholarship of embracing contingency
regarding ethical judgment. For example, Timmermann writes that “moral
conflict is not capable of philosophical treatment;”263 Esser leaves the applica-
tion of ethical principles to rules of prudence;264 and Wood says that “there will
always be questions about how far the requirements of morality can be brought
under stable rules and how far they must be left to individual judgments about
particular circumstances.”265 Thus it seems there is no certainty in moral con-
duct after all. But, surely, there is an important difference between ethics and
aesthetics. Contrary to aesthetics, ethics is conceived of as a science. It does
have a doctrine. It is not just critique.266 Whereas we cannot settle disputes
between two art critics who both take themselves to make disinterested judg-
ments, autonomy requires that we can settle moral disputes. As I have argued,
these disputes can neither be resolved through a third-​personal hierarchy of
grounds of obligation (historical: Cicero; contemporary: Gregor) nor through
the relative strength of subjective motivating grounds (historical: Baumgarten;
contemporary: McCarty), let alone through individuated self-​construction that
is determined by personal and contextual peculiarities (historically: Cicero;
contemporary: Korsgaard).

261
KU 5:282–​3, 284, 290n, 291.
262
Francis Hutcheson, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue in Two Treatises,
ed. Wolfgang Leidhold (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2004), Treatise 1, Section 6.
263
Timmermann, “Kantian Dilemmas,” 54.
264
Esser, “Moral Conflicts,” 296.
265
Wood, Kantian Ethics, 64.
266
Refl 15:269.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 167

Kant’s alleged rigorism

Kant’s essay “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy” is written


shortly after the Metaphysical Foundations of the Doctrine of Virtue,267 that is,
during the time period in which Kant works on the Transition Project of the
Opus postumum. The essay is typically regarded as a paradigm case for Kant’s
alleged rigorism, and thus it seems to contradict the thesis that a transition in
practical philosophy is required. The charge is that Kant’s moral philosophy
issues absolute prohibitions, which do not require an agent’s context-​sensitive
deliberations about what to do in specific circumstances. The goal of this sec-
tion is to show that Kant’s “Supposed-​Right-​to-​Lie” essay does not only not
support the view of Kant’s alleged rigorism in ethics, but that, quite to the
contrary, it provides historical evidence for Kant’s work on the Transition
Project.
Benjamin Constant argues that mediating concepts are needed in order to
apply the prohibition on lying to specific cases. Indeed, without such mediat-
ing concepts, Constant claims, society would become impossible. Constant fam-
ously argues that the agent who attempts to murder “a friend of ours . . . [who]
has taken refuge in our house”268 forsakes his right to truthfulness and that we
may legitimately lie to him. He argues that
every time that a principle proved to be true seems inapplicable, this is because
we don’t know the intermediary principle, which contains the means of
application.269

The first point that should be noted is that Kant explicitly approves Constant’s
point that metaphysical principles require “intermediary principles” for “the
closer determination of their application to cases that come up.”270 This is, of
course, an allusion to the problem of the Transition Project. Kant’s point of con-
tention in the “Supposed-​Right-​to-​Lie” essay is that such principles of appli-
cation must not undermine the principle itself. Practical principles do not
allow for exceptions. The principle of right must “never be accommodated to”
empirical circumstances.271 This means, whether lying is wrong or not cannot
depend on the person to whom we are lying, or on the utility of a lie in specific

267
The Doctrine of Virtue was finished by February 1797 (and published before the end of August
1797). Cf. Ludwig, Introduction Rechtslehre, xxii–​xxiii.
268
VRML 8:425.
269
VRML 8:427.
270
VRML 8:430.
271
VRML 8:429.
168

168 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

circumstances. Thus, “the unconditional principle of truthfulness” is incompat-


ible with intermediary principles of expediency determining exceptions (e.g., “to
prevent . . . danger”).272 Kant vehemently rejects the notion of such conventional
exceptions insofar as “exceptions would nullify the universality” of practical
principles.273 A moral principle
makes no distinction between persons to whom one has this duty and those to
whom one can exempt oneself from it, since it is, instead, an unconditional duty,
which holds in all relations.274

For this reason “the so-​called intermediary principles can contain only the
closer determination of their application to cases that come up . . . but never
exceptions from those principles.”275 Intermediary principles are indeed
required “in order to progress from a metaphysics of right (which abstracts
from all conditions of experience) to a principle of politics (which applies
these concepts to cases of experience),” but these intermediary principles can-
not be principles of expediency undermining the unconditionality of duty.276
Responding to Constant’s specific understanding of intermediary principles
of expediency, Kant responds that “there is actually no such principle to be
inserted.”277
Kant rejects Constant’s claim that empirical considerations regarding harm
and benefit can be put at the basis of moral obligations. Constant confuses “an
action by which someone harms (nocet) another by telling a truth he cannot
avoid admitting with an action by which he wrongs (laedit) another.”278 The
notion of justice is independent of harm and benefit. To “lie to one’s advantage”
is “opposed to all lawfulness.”279 What constrains A’s freedom to lie to B is not the
harm that ensues from the lie. No contingent interest or need, not even one that
we may attribute to the well-​being of society as a whole, can justify a lie. Right
does not derive its justification from some further end it intends to achieve. It
is unconditional. “Justice ceases to be justice if it can be bought for any price
whatsoever.”280

272
VRML 8:428.
273
VRML 8:430.
274
VRML 8:429.
275
VRML 8:430.
276
VRML 8:429.
277
VRML 8:428, my emphasis. For a different reading of this passage, see Sedgwick, “On Lying,” 61–​2.
Cf. Sussman’s discussion of Sedgwick: “Supposed Duty,” 234ff.
278
VRML 8:428.
279
Ibid.
280
MSRL 6:332.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 169

As Ripstein has convincingly shown,281 right protects an agent’s innate right


to act on her own reasons from arbitrary interference by others. At the bot-
tom of Kant’s conception of right lies freedom as independence from another’s
choice.282 No person is allowed to compel another person to use her powers to
a purpose she has not set for herself. Lying is a case in point. If A lies to B, then
she misrepresents the situation in order to manipulate B. A makes an untruth-
ful statement to B with the intention that B believes the statement to be true.
This is unjust, independently of the harm or benefit that A’s lying entails. Herein
lies the unconditional character of moral principles. Right is a constraint on
the conduct of persons imposed by the moral fact that each person is entitled
to independence. Exceptions would destroy that unconditional entitlement. It
is precisely only through the imperative of right283 that each agent can think of
her freedom as not being arbitrarily disrupted, that is, she can make rightful
claims at all. As in ethics, here is a systematicity requirement. The consistent
exercise of the right to independence by a plurality of persons presupposes a
system of equal freedom.284 To have a right to lie would mean to undermine
the very notion of such a system of equal freedom. Conventional exceptions
would be a leap within the lawfulness of a system of right. The answer to the
question “Is there a right to lie?” is thus fairly easy, once it is clear that harm
and benefit are irrelevant to the notion of right. Regardless of its good or bad
consequences, a lie
makes the source of right unusable . . . for truthfulness is a duty that must be
regarded as the basis of all duties to be grounded on contract, the law of which is
made uncertain and useless if even the least exception to it is admitted.”285

In other words, Kant turns Constant’s point that society would become impos-
sible unless there were exceptions of expediency against Constant. Insofar as
the civil condition presupposes rights based on contracts untruthful statements
violate “the most essential part of duty in general.”286 For,
I bring it about, as far as I can, that statements (declarations) in general are
not believed, and so too that all rights which are based on contracts come

281
Arthur Ripstein, Force and Freedom:  Kant’s Legal and Political Philosophy (Cambridge:  Harvard
University Press, 2009). This paragraph is indebted to Ripstein’s work.
282
MSRL 6:237.
283
“So act externally that the free use of your choice can coexist with the freedom of everyone in
accordance with a universal law” (MSRL 6:231).
284
See on this point again Ripstein, Force and Freedom.
285
VRML 8:426–​7. Cf. MSRL 6:238n; Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 323–​36; Baumgarten, Ethica,
§§338–​47.
286
VRML 8:426.
170

170 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

to nothing and lose their force; and this is a wrong inflicted upon humanity
generally.287

Truthfulness is an unconditional duty in the sense that it commands independ-


ently of contingent interests of advantage or disadvantage.
Thus a lie, defined merely as an intentionally untrue declaration to another, does
not require what jurists insist upon adding for their definition, that it must harm
another.288

So, the first point is that Kant acknowledges Constant’s demand for intermediary
principles, and that he provides an explanation of why intermediary principles
must not undermine the foundation of right. The second point to note is that
Kant’s response to Constant explicitly argues for the duty against lying as “a duty
of right” and not as a duty of virtue.289 This is commonly acknowledged in the
literature.290 What is not so well known is that Kant’s distinction between a jurid-
ical and ethical meaning of lying picks up a standard enlightenment distinction
between mendacium and falsiloquium.291 A mendacium is an intentional untruth
that violates another person’s right and is universally prohibited. A falsiloquium,
on the other hand, is an untruth that does not violate another person’s right.
This distinction is well known in the philosophical literature of Kant’s time. For
instance, Wolff distinguishes between lie (mendacium), which wrongs another
person, and falsifications, that is, untruthful declarations (falsiloquium), which
are permissible under specific circumstances, namely, insofar as they do not
wrong the right of another person. The latter are not only permitted, rather,
according to the standard enlightenment position, we are obliged to intention-
ally tell the untruth in order to prevent harm or further a good if this can be
done without unjustly wronging a third party.292 In this context, Wolff expli-
citly mentions the case of providing untrue information to an enemy who is
chasing someone else with a drawn sword.293 A falsiloquium thus takes specific

287
VRML 8:426.
288
Ibid.
289
“I here prefer to sharpen this principle to the point of saying: ‘Untruthfulness is a violation of duty
to oneself.’ For this belongs to ethics, but what is under discussion here is a duty of right” (VRML
8:426n).
290
Cf. Sedgwick, “On Lying,” 43; Esser, “Moral Conflicts,” 291; Wood, Kantian Ethics, 244, 327n16;
Mahon, “Kant on Lies,” 221–​2; Helga Varden, “Kant and Lying to the Murderer at the Door . . . One
More Time: Kant’s Legal Philosophy and Lies to Murderers and Nazis,” Journal of Social Philosophy
41(4) (2010): 406.
291
The following remarks are indebted to Georg Geismann and Hariolf Oberer, eds., Kant und das
Recht der Lüge (Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 1986).
292
Wolff, Deutsche Ethik, §§ 983ff.
293
Wolff, Deutsche Ethik, §§ 987.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 171

circumstances into consideration. It aims at preventing harm or promoting util-


ity without wronging a third person. In his lectures, Kant elucidates this Wolffian
position as follows:
If an enemy, for example, takes me by the throat and demands to know where
my money is kept, I can hide the information here, since he means to misuse the
truth. That is still no mendacium, for the other knows that I shall withhold the
information, and that he also has no right whatever to demand the truth from
me . . . Not every untruth is a lie; it is so only if there is an express declaration of
my willingness to inform the other of my thought.294

The case of protecting a human life through telling an untruth, which Constant
approvingly picks up in order to show that a universally valid prohibition on
lying is against common sense, is such a common position in the literature of
Kant’s time that the editor of the Philosophische Lexikon, Walch, writes,
If a drunkard chases someone else, who is hiding in my house, with a drawn
sword, then I am obliged to answer with “No” if the drunkard asks me whether
the person he chases is hiding in my house, even if I know that the opposite is
true.295

Now, as the lecture notes and Kant’s “Supposed-​Right-​to-​Lie” essay show, Kant
does not subscribe to this standard enlightenment distinction between menda-
cium and falsiloquium, which permits false declarations (falsiloquium) in cases
where an agent is unjustly compelled to speak. For, an important nuance of the
“Supposed-​Right-​to-​Lie” essay is Kant’s claim that, from a juridical point of
view, lying to the murderer at the door does not violate the right of that particu-
lar person, but it is nevertheless prohibited because it is a formal wrong that is
incompatible with the foundation of right. Kant is unambiguously clear on this
point: “Although I indeed do no wrong to him who unjustly compels me to make
the declaration if I falsify it, I nevertheless do wrong in the most essential part
of duty in general by such falsification.”296 If A  unjustly requires a declaration
from B, then A does not wrong B by falsifying her declaration.297 However—​and
this is the nuance of Kant’s essay—​even though I do not violate the right of the

294
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 327–​9. Cf. VE 27:700.
295
Johann Georg Walch, Philosophisches Lexikon, ed. Justus Christian Hennings, vol. 1, fourth edition
(Leipzig: Gleditschens Buchhandlung, 1775), 2318. Geismann/​Oberer show that this example can
also be found in Grotius, Pufendorf, Thomasius, and Baumeister (Recht der Lüge, 6–​8).
296
VRML 8:426.
297
Cf. “Where the declaration is wrung from me, and I am also convinced that the other means to
make a wrongful use of it.” Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 330. Cf. Sedgwick, “On Lying,” 45ff.;
Wood, Kantian Ethics, 246, 327n13.
172

172 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

murderer at the door (i.e., a particular other person), my untruthful statement


would wrong humanity in general.298
From the perspective of the Transition Project, this means that the particu-
lar instantiation of an obligation cannot undermine its a priori foundation.
This rules out various ways in which the literature has dealt with the connec-
tion between a priori principle and empirical agency. For example, Sedgwick
sees a hiatus between principle and action when she concludes her study of
Kant’s “Supposed-​Right-​to-​Lie” essay by saying that “a right to lie . . . may be
granted only at the level of deciding actual cases . . . never at the level of . . .
metaphysics.”299 Drawing the fundamental distinction between a metaphys-
ical and an empirical level of moral agency in these terms ultimately destroys
autonomy, because it becomes impossible to rationally justify how and when
exceptions shall be granted. Because the source of all morality in the Kantian
system is independent of contingent human ends, there cannot be exceptions
based on utility at the practical level of agency. It is of course correct to say
that moral theory by itself cannot fill the role of moral judgment in empir-
ical circumstances, because what duty requires can only be determined once
all factual content is accounted for in a particular maxim.300 However, it nei-
ther follows from this that prudential reasoning can legitimately manage the
latitude in the application of principles, nor that there are exceptions under
empirical circumstances from otherwise universally valid principles. Rather,
what follows is the need of a Transition Project:  if there are exceptions on
moral grounds, then there needs to be an intermediate principle guiding the
prioritization of moral principles.
It is not only Kant who opposes the standard enlightenment position of con-
ventional exceptions, but also the German philosopher and theologian Michaelis,
who argues in his 1750  “Von der Verpflichtung des Menschen die Wahrheit zu
reden” (On the Obligation of Man to Speak the Truth) that any kind of untruth
is prohibited. Michaelis only exempts the Scherzlüge (telling untruth with the
purpose of mere entertainment), and the Höflichkeitslüge (telling untruth from
politeness), both of which Kant also discusses in his casuistical questions.301

298
Cf. Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 327–​9; VE 27:447–​9. For illuminating discussions of Kant’s
claim that an untruthful statement is impermissible with respect to “humanity in general” even
though it does not violate another person’s right, see Varden, “Kant and Lying,” 409, 414; Mahon,
“Kant on Lies,” 212–​3; Sussman, “Supposed Duty,” 230ff.; Sedgwick, “On Lying,” 47ff.
299
Sedgwick, “On Lying,” 61.
300
E.g., Esser, “Moral Conflicts,” 296; Wood, Kantian Ethics, 64; Sedgwick, “On Lying,” 56.
301
Michaelis, Moral, Part II, Section 3:162ff., §71). MSTL 6:431. Cf. VE 27:701. Kant’s mentioning of
the Scherzlüge and Höflichkeitslüge can hardly be an accident but suggests that Kant was studying
Michaelis’s 1792 Moral in preparation for his own Metaphysics of Morals. A precise study of the
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 173

Kant, who was quite familiar with Michaelis’s work,302 argues, like Michaelis,
that any untruthful statement intended to deceive must be considered a lie.303
Walch’s Philosophische Lexikon extensively discusses Michaelis’s 1750 essay
(in its 1773 edition), which holds that if telling an untruth were not univer-
sally prohibited then the obligation of contracts would be undermined.304 In
his 1792 Moral, Michaelis repeats his argument for the universal scope of
the duty of truthfulness.305 Again, Michaelis’s argument explicitly refers to
the extreme case of an agent who is in rage and “asks me where someone ran
whom she wants to murder.”306 Michaelis argues that we are obliged to tell
the truth in this case. In other words, Constant’s “German philosopher, who
goes so far as to maintain that it would be a crime to lie to a murderer who
asked us whether a friend of ours whom he is pursuing has taken refuge in
our house”307 is more likely Michaelis, not Kant. Geismann/​Oberer deserve
full credit for pointing this out.308 The editor of the German translation of
Constant’s essay, Cramer, also mentions Michaelis in this context as the phil-
osopher who has defended this “extraordinary opinion earlier than Kant.”
Cramer maintains, however, that Constant had Kant in mind. Allegedly,
Constant explicitly told him so. Kant himself, however, “cannot . . . recall
where” he ever defended this view.309 Nevertheless, Kant accepts the chal-
lenge, and shows why there cannot be a right to lie from a juridical point of
view, explicitly bracketing the ethical dimension of the controversy. But what
about the ethical dimension of lying? Can the values of “life, philanthropy
and friendship”310 justify a lie?

influence of Michaelis’s 1792 Moral on Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals would be desirable but lies
beyond the scope of this book. There are many other examples, phrases, and topics in Michaelis’s
1792 Moral that seem to have had some influence on Kant’s thoughts. Such topics include, for
example, the problem of inoculation in regard to the impermissibility of suicide (Moral, Part II,
Section 2:313ff., §43; Part II, Section 2:33ff., §55); the justification of the prohibition on cruelty
toward animals (Moral, Part II, Section 3:340, §104); the specification of the universal duty of love
with respect to particular relationships (Moral, Part II, Section 3:169ff., §74; Part II, Section 2:296f.,
§41); and the distinction between moral shame and unpleasant feelings (Moral, Part I:84ff., §11).
Although Kant never simply aligns his position with Michaelis, the latter seems to be providing key
points of reference for Kant’s own reflections.
302
See, for example, RGV 6:13, 110; SF 7:8; VARGV 23:94, 102, 114.
303
See MSTL 6:429. Cf. Anth 7:152, VE 27:62.
304
Walch, Lexikon, 2319. Within the juridical context of his reply to Constant, Kant defends this
aspect of Michaelis’s argument, namely, that untruthfulness undermines the basis of contracts.
(VRML 8:426)
305
Michaelis, Moral, Part II, Section 3:159ff., §71. Cf. Michaelis, Moral, Part II, Section 1:255f., §32.
306
Michaelis, Moral, Part II, Section 3:160–​1, §71.
307
VRML 8:425.
308
Geismann/​Oberer, Recht der Lüge, 10.
309
VRML 8:425.
310
Esser, “Moral Conflicts,” 290.
174

174 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Kant’s justification of the prohibition on lying in its ethical meaning like-


wise abstracts from the good or bad consequences of the lie. Any untruthful
statement with the intention to deceive is a lie:  “In ethics . . . every falsi-
loquium, every knowing deception, is impermissible, even though it be not
immediately coupled with an injury.”311 The prohibition on lying is a moral
prohibition, but not one determined by prudential considerations.312 This
makes it rather easy to decide one case of lying, namely, when an agent wants
to promote her contingent interest by violating a moral command. In the
Doctrine of Virtue, Kant discusses the ethical prohibition on lying together
with servility and avarice. For Kant, what these vices have in common is that
they share a heteronomous motivating ground, which undermines the fac-
ulty of giving the law to oneself, that is, the dignity of a human person. As
Kant presents the ethical prohibition on lying, the liar is a plaything of her
desires. The liar commits “a crime of a human being against his own person
and a worthlessness that must make him contemptible in his own eyes.”313
Considered as an ethical duty, truthfulness is a duty toward oneself as a
rational being. As Kant points out in his reply to Constant:
Untruthfulness is a violation of duty to oneself . . . The doctrine of virtue looks,
in this transgression, only to worthlessness, reproach for which a liar draws upon
himself.314

This ethical dimension of lying presupposes that an agent intentionally under-


mines her rationality by choosing to act on a heterogeneous principle. The
proposed maxim in the case of the murderer at the door, however, does not
seem to contain a heterogeneous motivating ground. Rather, what motivates
the act of lying are considerations regarding the preservation of life (a), philan-
thropy (b), and—​since the person seeking refuge in our house is “a friend of
ours”—​also friendship (c).315 These considerations do not seem to be heteroge-
neous interests conflicting with moral motivation, but are rather moral inter-
ests themselves. In this case, prudential calculations of benefit do not threaten
to undermine the status of A  as a rational being. Rather, what threatens to
undermine A’s inner freedom is the fact that she faces irreconcilable moral
demands, or so it seems.

311
VE 27:700.
312
MSTL 6:429–​30.
313
MSTL 6:429–​30. Cf. Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 172; KpV 5:87–​8.
314
VRML 8:427.
315
VRML 8:425.
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 175

(a) For Kant, the value of human life is not an absolute moral value. “Thus the
preservation of life is not the highest duty; rather, one often has to give up life,
merely in order to have lived in an honorable way.”316 Accordingly, no necessity,
not even the physical necessity of saving one’s own or another’s life, can “make
what is wrong conform with law.”317 Kant here reiterates Cicero’s well-​known
claim that an immoral action
is more contrary to nature than death, than poverty, than pain and than any-
thing else that may happen to [one’s] body or external possessions.318

The classic example, which Cicero discusses at length, is the one of Regulus, who
chooses to be tortured to death rather than failing to live up to his moral respon-
sibilities.319 Kant comments on such positions as follows:
If I cannot preserve [my life] other than by violating the duties to myself, then
I am bound to sacrifice it, rather than violate those duties . . . It is better to sacri-
fice life than to forfeit morality.320

This implies that attempting to save a life by violating a duty would mean to act
on a maxim of heteronomy after all, because the value of human life is not by
itself a moral value.
(b) The same systematic point holds for the empirical feeling of philanthropy
(Menschenliebe), if it is taken to determine the agent’s maxim. An agent must
not violate a duty for nonmoral reasons. Kant’s moral principle prohibits one to
make an “exception in favor of inclination.”321
(c) This leaves us with the conflict between saving a friend and telling the
truth. Kant clearly acknowledges both truthfulness and friendship as moral
grounds of obligation. In contrast to the two previously mentioned scenarios,
which involved the values of human life and the empirical feeling of philan-
thropy, here no contingent interest is threatening to undermine an agent’s iden-
tity. The problem is not that the agent is guided by a principle of heteronomy. It
is not the case that, for example, she judges it to be too unpleasant to be honest

316
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 229. Cf. “If a man can preserve his life no otherwise than by dis-
honoring his humanity, he ought rather to sacrifice it.” Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 228. Cf.
ibid., 220, 221, 222, 226.
317
MSRL 6:236.
318
Cf. Cicero, De Officiis, 3.21. This passage was well known in the literature of Kant’s time. Adam
Smith also cites it approvingly in his 1759 Theory of Moral Sentiments. On this point, see Nussbaum,
“Duties of Justice,” 179n8.
319
Cicero, De Officiis, 3.99–​111.
320
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 221–​2. Compare again Kant’s gallows example at KpV 5:30.
321
GMS 4:421n. Cf. Sedgwick, “On Lying,” 54.
176

176 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

in these particular circumstances. Rather, the agent faces a true conflict of moral
grounds of obligation. Shall I be truthful or shall I live up to the obligations of
friendship? One could argue that truthfulness is a duty of right and friendship a
duty of beneficence, which would resolve the conflict for Kant.322 There cannot
be a legal permission to lie in order to help a friend. So what about the conflict
between truthfulness and friendship considered as two ethical grounds of obli-
gation? Unfortunately, Kant chooses to bypass the problem of how to hierarch-
ically order ethical grounds of obligation in his “Supposed-​Right-​to-​Lie” essay.
As Sedgwick rightly puts it,
Kant can exclude as impermissible exceptions in the name of prudence or expe-
diency as a class, simply by reflecting on the nature of duty as he has defined
it. Whether duty may on some occasions be excepted to on other grounds (on
moral grounds), whether Kant is able to provide us some objective means of
arbitrating among duties when they conflict—​these are questions that belong
outside that domain of inquiry which has as its task the determination of the
foundation of duty.323

Kant addresses the question whether there can be a right to lie, but not the ques-
tion of the Transition Project of how to order conflicting ethical grounds of
obligation.
To conclude, Kant’s famous debate with Constant does not argue that ethics
prescribes duties that hold absolutely in all cases that come up. Kant strictly
distinguishes between a juridical meaning of a lie (mendacium), in which case
an agent violates another person’s right, and the ethical meaning, in which an
agent undermines her self-​determination. In its ethical meaning, what spe-
cific empirical acts are prohibited requires knowledge of the phenomena of
lying, which are embedded in an anthropological, social, and also personal
context. Ethics considers maxims, and maxims include the various grounds of
obligation that give rise to reasons for action. Kant’s “Supposed-​Right-​to-​Lie”
essay does not argue for a rigorist position in the sense that duties hold abso-
lutely over all cases that come up. Rigorism for Kant means that maxims must
express autonomy as opposed to heteronomy. When maxims conflict, as in
the case of the colliding grounds of obligation of truthfulness and friendship,
agents lose their autonomy, unless there is a moral transition from principle
to application.

See my discussion of rationes obligandi in this section above, and, e.g., VE 27:493.
322

Cf. Sedgwick, “On Lying,” 51.


323
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 177

Conclusion

The strength of Kant’s account of morality lies in its formalism, because human
freedom can only be secured from contingent infringements by uncondition-
ally binding principles. The unconditional normative force of moral rules lies
in their independence from personal peculiarities and interests. What makes
principles moral is their universal, unconditional basis: the idea of autonomy.
Because morality is independent of contingent human ends, there cannot be
exceptions based on utility at the practical level of agency. This is what Kant’s
famous examples in the Groundwork and the “Supposed-​Right-​to-​Lie” essay are
meant to elucidate. Scholars who interpret the notion of latitude regarding the
application of moral principles in terms of individualistic lenience, and who
argue for exceptions to moral principles on contingent grounds, undermine the
essence of Kantian morality.
Self-​identification as an autonomous agent requires a law-​governed progress
from the a priori foundation of morality to empirical agency. What constitutes
the a priori foundation of moral agency is, to begin with, the idea of autonomy.
The categorical imperative, which is a formal rule, applies this idea to sensibility
in general. Beings whose will is not necessarily in accord with the pure moral
law but who are also subject to sensible grounds of motivation are bound by the
categorical imperative. Besides this formal restriction on human volition, Kant
presents two ends that are also duties as the material first principles of all empir-
ical duties. These ends, promoting an agent’s own moral perfection and other
agents’ happiness, are not ends of nature but moral ends (i.e., objects of pure
practical reason).324 Principles such as the prohibition on lying are uncondition-
ally valid in the sense that their violation based on prudential interests would
imply heteronomy (i.e., their violation is incompatible with an agent’s striving
for moral self-​perfection). All of this is part of the a priori foundation of moral-
ity. It constitutes the universal identity of human beings. However, the formula-
tion of particular duties requires the formulation of maxims, which are the result
of an agent’s context-​sensitive deliberations about what to do in specific circum-
stances. The principle of virtue, in accordance with which the human being is
an end for himself as well as for others, does not determine how specifically an
agent has to act under contingent circumstances. Yet, in order to understand a
material maxim as morally justified it must be possible to show how it is based
on the formal principle of morality. Agents can only distinguish their agency

324
See Chapter 3, “The unfinished Metaphysics of Morals and the Opus postumum.”
178

178 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

from physical causation insofar as agency is expressive of principles that agents


have adopted. This implies that agents need to aim at coherently organizing their
maxims in order to understand themselves as persons. To the extent that agents
cannot justify how they prioritize among various grounds of obligations they
cannot conceive of themselves as agents.
Neither proponents of inclination-​based specification of moral duties nor their
opponents provide a moral guide for solving indeterminacy problems. Kant’s
influential predecessors, Cicero and Baumgarten, provide such a moral guide by
conceiving of various grounds of obligation as modifications of what is constitu-
tive for moral agency in their respective moral systems. Cicero prioritizes between
moral obligations with respect to the thickness of social relations, because in his
system moral agency derives its normative force from the value of communal
life. Baumgarten hierarchically orders obligations as superior laws outweighing
weaker laws in terms of their obligatory strength. In his system, moral agency
derives its normative force from the quantitative strength of motivating grounds.
In Kant’s moral philosophy, however, a moral reason for ordering ethical maxims
is missing, because neither the quantitative strength of motivating grounds nor the
various thickness of social relationships are modifications of what is constitutive of
agency in the Kantian system: autonomy. In Kant’s system, prioritization of ethical
maxims would need to be couched in terms of the single motivating ground of
autonomy. Thus, there is a gap between the a priori part of morality and embodied
agency, because Kant’s ethical theory cannot determine—​in principle—​the lati-
tude of choice on nonarbitrary grounds. It must be in terms of autonomy that
agents determine the latitude of ethical duties and prioritize among them in cases
of conflict.
It is in this context of application that §45 demands a moral transition from
principle to application, which would “schematize these principles, as it were,
and present them as ready for morally practical use.”325 There are two precursors
to §45, which confirm that the context of Kant’s idea of a Transition is the appli-
cation of general duties to empirical cases for the sake of connecting universal
and local identities of agents.
Whether there is a collision of virtues. Duties of virtue for human beings in gen-
eral [Menschen überhaupt]; for the sex, age, rank; and how the latter must not
contradict the former. For these are only different cases of applying one and the
same virtue.326

MSTL 6:468–​9.
325

VAMS 23:397, my emphasis.


326
The Transition Project in Practical Philosophy 179

We see Kant here pondering duties, which are not common to all men, but pre-
suppose particular conditions such as ties between friends, family members, and
citizens. Since these duties are “only different cases of applying one and the same
virtue,” it is clear that an agent’s obligations arising from her specific local iden-
tities are only modifications of her universal identity. In his preliminary works
to the Doctrine of Virtue, Kant notes:
Doctrine of Virtue with respect to the sexes, age, rank, and society. Everything a
priori [Alles blos a priori].327

Because all specific duties are only cases of applying one and the same a priori
value of autonomy, it must be possible to show how particular obligations (what-
ever they may be) are modifications of the universal ground of all normativity.
This is the task of the Transition. In §45 of the published Doctrine of Virtue, Kant
commences from the question of how duties with respect to a manifold of spe-
cific conditions such as age, health, social status, and gender can be incorporated
into the system of ethics.
These (duties of virtue) . . . are only rules modified in accordance with differ-
ences of the subjects to whom the principle of virtue (in terms of what is formal)
is applied in cases that come up in experience (the material) . . .—Yet even this
application belongs to the complete presentation of the system.328

An autonomous self-​conception requires that an agent has one coherent notion


of her practical identity, and this is why even the application of moral principles
belongs to the complete presentation of the system of morality.

327
VAMS 23:404.
328
MSTL 6:468–​9, my emphasis.
180
3

Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals”

Introduction

The previous chapter has argued that there is a pervasive gap problem in Kant’s
moral theory, which originates in the strict separation of formal from material
aspects of agency. Kant’s theory of obligation lacks the resources for determining
the latitude of moral principles on nonarbitrary grounds. Thus, Kant demands
a transition which, by applying the pure principles of duty to cases of experience,
would schematize these principles, as it were, and present them as ready for mor-
ally practical use.1

A schema is the condition of sensibility under which an a priori principle can


be applied to empirical objects. As such schemata, Kant presents four moral
feelings in the brief section XII of the introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue,
published in 1797. It is a rough and unfinished draft. Section XII presents four
moral feelings under the title “CONCEPTS OF WHAT IS PRESUPPOSED ON
THE PART OF FEELING BY THE MIND’S RECEPTIVITY TO CONCEPTS
OF DUTY AS SUCH.”2 These concepts are

a. moral feeling,
b. conscience,
c. love of human beings, and
d. respect for oneself (self-​esteem).3

Moral feeling, conscience, love of human beings (beneficence), and self-​respect


are topics that have individually occupied Kant’s attention throughout his car-
eer in various contexts. However, never before has Kant presented these four

1
MSTL 6:468.
2
“ÄSTHETISCHE VORBEGRIFFE DER EMPFÄNGLICHKEIT DES GEMÜTS FÜR
PFLICHTBEGRIFFE ÜBERHAUPT.” I will refer to this section as Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals.”
3
MSTL 6:399.
182

182 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

aesthetic concepts combined in one section. The question thus arises whether
Kant here simply enumerates leftovers from his lectures on ethics (which some-
how should be part of a moral theory, but which do not really fit into his particu-
lar account of a priori morality) or whether he assigns a specific, unitary function
to the four aesthetic concepts. My claim is that Kant’s attempt to specify four a
priori feelings in section XII has the systematic purpose of building a bridge
from the metaphysical account of practical rationality to embodied agency,
which parallels Kant’s idea of the Transition Project in the “Octaventwurf.”
Already the outer appearance of section XII duplicates Kant’s many attempts
of the “Octaventwurf.” There is a clear systematic implication of Kant’s design
of section XII. Kant’s classificatory scheme of ordering the four mediating con-
cepts under four headings in the “Octaventwurf ” is either labeled a, b, c, d, as
Kant does in section XII, or it explicitly uses the headings of quantity, quality,
relation, and modality.4 The clue of the categories is supposed to exhaustively
enumerate the mediating concepts of the Transition. As I will show, the fact that
Kant presents exactly four moral feelings, and the order of their presentation, are
hardly coincidental. All four moral feelings are the product of moral judgment.
As such, they are rooted in the elementary forms of practical judgment, that is,
the “table of the categories of freedom with respect to the concepts of the good
and evil.”5 Thus, Kant attempts to use the table of the categories of freedom as the
clue for the arrangement of the four aesthetic concepts.
I will show that all four moral feelings are aesthetic affective responses to the
unconditionality of the moral law. They are the product of moral judgment, and
they have the double nature of schemata insofar as each of them has both a meta-
physical and a phenomenal aspect. The rational–​sensible hybrid character that
Kant ascribes to moral feelings can already be seen from the general description of
the “aesthetic of morals” as “a subjective exhibition of the metaphysics [of morals].”6
XII. CONCEPTS OF WHAT IS PRESUPPOSED [ÄSTHETISCHE
VORBEGRIFFE] ON THE PART OF FEELING BY THE MIND’S RECEPTIVITY
TO CONCEPTS OF DUTY AS SUCH. There are certain moral endowments
such that anyone lacking them could have no duty to acquire them.—​They are

E.g., Op 21:394f.
4

KpV 5:66.
5

“—​
6
Daher ist eine Ästhetik der Sitten zwar nicht ein Teil, aber doch eine subjective Darstellung der
Metaphysik derselben; wo die Gefühle, welche die nötigende Kraft des moralischen Gesetzes begleiten,
jener ihre Wirksamkeit empfindbar machen.” (—​So an aesthetic of morals, while not indeed part of
a metaphysics of morals, is still a subjective presentation of it in which the feelings that accompany
the constraining power of the moral law . . . make its efficacy felt.) (MSTL 6:406) Cf. VAMS 23:396;
Lehmann, Kants Tugenden, 56.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 183

moral feeling, conscience, love of one’s neighbor, and respect for oneself (self-​
esteem). There is no obligation to have these because they lie at the basis of
morality, as subjective conditions of receptiveness to the concept of duty . . . ante-
cedent predispositions on the side of feeling . . . Every human being has them,
and it is by virtue of them that he can be put under obligation.—​Consciousness
of them is not of empirical origin; it can, instead, only follow from consciousness
of a moral law, as the effect this has on the mind.7

The general conception of moral feelings as the effect of pure practical reason is,
as was shown in the previous chapter, not new. The critical project of connecting
autonomy to empirical agency through a theory of a priori feelings reaches back
to the 1785 Groundwork. The deduction of transcendental freedom through the
feeling of respect for the moral law establishes that agents have access to the
rationality of their own conduct through an affective aesthetic response. Moral
feeling is a subjective affective state produced by an agent’s commitment to an
objective practical principle.
And so respect for the law is not the incentive to morality; instead it is morality
itself subjectively considered . . . inasmuch as pure practical reason, by reject-
ing all the claims of self-​love in opposition with its own, supplies authority to
the law.8

Thus, Kant holds that the feeling of respect involves both a negative feeling,
because the moral law restrains our self-​love, and a positive feeling of self-​
approbation.9 Kant further elaborates on this double movement of displeasure
and pleasure in the Critique of the Power of Judgment in the context of the feeling
of the sublime:
The object of a pure and unconditioned intellectual satisfaction is the moral
law in all its power, which it exercises in us over each and every incentive of the
mind antecedent to it; and, since this power actually makes itself aesthetically
knowable only through sacrifices (which is a deprivation, although on behalf
of inner freedom, but also reveals in us an unfathomable depth of this super-
sensible faculty together with its consequences reaching beyond what can be
seen), the satisfaction on the aesthetic side (in relation to sensibility) is negative,
i.e., contrary to this interest, but considered from the intellectual side it is posi-
tive, and combined with an interest. From this it follows that the intellectual,

7
MSTL 6:399. Cf. VAMS 23:396–​7.
8
KpV 5:76, my emphases.
9
KpV 5:72–​3.
184

184 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

intrinsically purposive (moral) good, judged aesthetically, must . . . be repre-


sented . . . as sublime, so that it arouses . . . the feeling of respect.10

This double movement of displeasure and pleasure is characteristic of all four medi-
ating concepts of section XII.11
There is a continuous trajectory from the Critique of Practical Reason, which
presents moral feeling as the affective response to moral reason, to the Critique
of the Power of Judgment, which argues that the “feeling of the sublime in nature
is respect for our own vocation” expressed in aesthetic terms,12 to, finally, section
XII, where Kant argues that conscience is practical reason, namely pure practical
reason in aesthetic terms, just as self-​respect is practical reason in aesthetic terms,
and so on. Kant’s conception of moral feeling in the Critique of Practical Reason
(as an aesthetic affective response of beings who are rational and sensible) sets the
precedence: the supersensible ground of the will is disclosed to the subject in form
of a feeling. In the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant comes to see this aes-
thetic responsiveness as the systematic middle term between objective and subject-
ive morality. I say “systematic” because this affective moral responsiveness is now
ascribed to the faculty of reflective (aesthetic) judgment:
But the determinability of the subject by means of this idea [freedom], and
indeed of a subject that can sense in itself obstacles in sensibility but at the same
time superiority over them through overcoming them as a modification of its
condition, i.e., the moral feeling, is nevertheless related to the aesthetic power
of judgment and its formal conditions to the extent that it can serve to make the
lawfulness of action out of duty representable at the same time as aesthetic.13

10
KU 5:271, second emphasis is mine.
11
I am indebted here to Munzel, Moral Character, 118–​32, 297–​313; and her “ ‘Doctrine of Method’
and ‘Closing’ (151–​63),” in Immanuel Kant:  Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, vol. 26, Klassiker
Auslegen, ed. Otfried Höffe (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2002), 216f.
12
KU 5:257, my emphasis. Cf. Louden, Impure Ethics, 122ff.; Munzel, Moral Character, 128; Zammito,
Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, 280.
13
KU 5:267. For further passages emphasizing that a priori feelings are sensible expressions of the state
of the subject who is affected by an act of judgment, see: EEKU 20:229, 223. Cf. Annemarie Pieper,
“Zweites Hauptstück (57–​71),” in Immanuel Kant: Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, vol. 26, Klassiker
Auslegen, ed. Otfried Höffe (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2002), 129n8: “Mir scheint, dass man . . . eine
ästhetische Variante der praktischen Urteilskraft qua reflektierende Urteilskraft annehmen kann . . .
Man könnte . . . den Vergleichspunkt bei der “Erhabenheit” ansetzen (“bestirnter Himmel”—​“moralis-
ches Gesetz”).” (It seems to me that . . . one can assume an aesthetic variant of the practical faculty of
judgment via the reflective faculty of judgment . . . One could . . . begin with the sublime as a point of
comparison [“starry heavens”—​“moral law”]). Similarly, Munzel, Moral Character, 312: “The moral
law in its subjectively practical form ‘allows us to perceive’ (or more literally, ‘get a sense, feel, or taste
of,’ spüren] the ‘sublimity of our own supersensible existence.’ (KpV 88)” (first and last emphases are
mine). The feeling of the sublime makes us aesthetically “feel an appreciation for who and what we
are, to feel the very dignity of our essential nature” (Munzel, Moral Character, 129). Cf. Zammito,
Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, 278: “A correct estimation of the role of the “Analytic of the
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 185

There are several characteristics that Kant develops in the context of the feeling
of the sublime, which are clearly carried over to section XII.

1. The feeling of the sublime has its foundation in a “natural” predisposition,


namely, “in the predisposition to the feeling for (practical) ideas.”14
2. It is a “necessary” feeling, which is not produced by culture (i.e., based on
convention), although it requires cultivation of moral ideas.15 This means,
“the feeling for the sublime” both “presupposes and cultivates a certain
liberality in the manner of thinking [Denkungsart].”16
3. The feeling of the sublime is a “schema” for intellectual ideas in two
senses: its essence consists in the relation between the sensible and
supersensible, and it allows reflective judgment to apply intellectual ideas to
particular objects in nature.17
4. Finally, the feeling of the sublime commences in a feeling of discomfort,
succeeded by a feeling of intellectual gratification.18

As we will see in this chapter, all of these aspects are picked up in section XII
with respect to each of the four moral feelings:

1. They are “natural” predispositions; not a matter of convention.


2. They are necessary expressions of rationality; there can be no duty to
acquire them: their possession is already presupposed insofar as they are the
indispensable media through which agents are attentive to the moral worth
of their conduct. They are “self-​wrought” products of moral judgment and
must be cultivated.
3. They are conceived of as schemata in two senses: they connect the noumenal
and phenomenal sides of the human agent, and make moral ideas applicable
to particular phenomena.
4. They involve the double movement of displeasure and pleasure.

Sublime” in the Third Critique must find its function . . . in demonstrating a connection between
aesthetic experience in general and the ultimate nature of the self.”
14
KU 5:265, my emphasis. “But just because the judgment on the sublime in nature requires culture
. . . it is not therefore first generated by culture and so to speak introduced into society merely as a
matter of convention; rather it has its foundation in human nature . . . namely in the predisposition
to the feeling for (practical) ideas, i.e., to that which is moral.” (Ibid.) Cf. KU 5:256.
15
KU 5:265f. Cf. KU 5:356: “But since taste is at bottom a faculty for the judging of the sensible ren-
dering of moral ideas . . . it is evident that the true propaedeutic for the grounding of taste is the
development of moral ideas and the cultivation of the moral feeling.”
16
KU 5:268, first two emphases are mine. Cf. Munzel, Moral Character, 300.
17
KU 5:257, 265, 269ff. Cf. Zammito, Genesis of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, 273ff., 283; Allison,
Theory of Taste, 324ff.
18
E.g., KU 5:260ff. Cf. Allison, Theory of Taste, 318; Louden, Impure Ethics, 121–​2.
186

186 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

The term “aesthetic precondition” [Ästhetische Vorbegriffe] in the title of section


XII clearly points toward the third Critique’s discussion of the sublime as an aes-
thetic judgment of reflection. Precisely for this reason, it is important to point
out that Kant’s moral feelings of section XII are aesthetic affective responses to
practical reflection. These feelings are purely aesthetic in nature, that is, neither
do they provide motivating force nor do they aid in cognition.19
The point of the Transition is to develop principles that are “necessary inso-
far as that without them no experience regarding specific appearances would be
possible.”20 Kant says repeatedly that moral feelings are basic for moral agency,
such that a person lacking these affective responses could not act in the sens-
ible world as an autonomous agent. They are indispensable from the perspective
of the empirical agent. Moral feeling, conscience, love of human beings, and
self-​respect first make autonomy sensible, and, in this mediating sense, all aes-
thetic preconditions are “at the basis of morality.”21 To be clear, the pure moral
law, which holds independently of sensible nature, does not need the support
of moral feelings. However, from the perspective of an agent involved in moral
deliberation, reflective judgment “serve[s]‌to make the lawfulness of action out
of duty representable at the same time as aesthetic,” and thus applicable to par-
ticular circumstances.
My thesis is that the connection between §45 of the Doctrine of Virtue (i.e., the
problem of how the normativity of particular moral commands can be shown
to originate in the a priori universal restriction of morality) and section XII of
the introduction (i.e., the conception of moral feelings as the product of reflect-
ive judgment) can only be grasped against the background of Kant’s Transition
Project in the 1796–​1798 fascicles of the Opus postumum. If read in this context,
which interpreters have entirely missed, it will become clear that Kant’s aesthet-
ics of morals is supposed to play the role of schemata analogous to the schemata
of the Transition Project of the Opus postumum. More precisely, I will show that
for the application of the universal intellectual moral law to particular sensible
agents, aesthetic moral responsiveness is indispensable. I will suggest two ways
in which moral feelings can be said to be indispensable for moral agency under
empirical circumstances. First, moral feelings are indispensable for moral devel-
opment: moral progress requires one to be attentive to the moral law. But what
are we attentive to? Since the moral law itself is an unschematized idea of reason,

19
For a different reading on the analogy between aesthetic and moral feeling, see Allison, Theory of
Taste, 326–​7, 331–​2, 341–​4.
20
Op 21:331. Cf. Op 21:378.
21
MSTL 6:399.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 187

agents cannot be directly attentive to it. I argue that to be attentive to the moral
law means, for example, to be attentive to our conscience and self-​respect insofar
as these are sensible expressions of the moral law. Second, moral feelings trans-
late impartial moral concern for humanity in general into partial concern for
specific individuals. This relates to the main point of the previous chapter, so it
is worth repeating: by recognizing that a maxim is justified, an agent affirms that
a maxim can be consistently located within the web of other maxims that con-
stitute the agent as a person. Because the Kantian agent cannot give up the pro-
ject of rationally justifying her agency, the problems of specifying the scope of
obligations and of providing reasons for prioritizing among obligations cannot
be resolved by extra-​moral considerations. Yet, this is what the literature attrib-
utes to Kant, and I think the Transition Project provides historical evidence that
Kant thought otherwise. The content of ethical duties must be determined at
the empirical level, by an agent’s local web of maxims, which takes into account
what kind of relationships we are committed to, and so on, that is, in short, what
kind of persons we think we are. My thesis is that Kant’s theory of the fourfold
schemata of aesthetic responsiveness allows us to translate the a priori concern
for autonomy into context-​sensitive local self-​conceptions.

The four mediating concepts in the “Aesthetics of Morals”

Moral feeling
Moral feeling is the way in which rational beings that are also sensible are
affected by the unconditional necessitation of moral commands. Recall Kant’s
gallows example: an agent reflects upon an action as the possible effect of her
will. The process of moral reflection consists in determining whether the maxim
under which this action would be performed shall be judged as good or evil.
The maxim could be formulated as follows: in order to prevent harm to myself
and save my life, I judge it as good to make a false statement against an innocent
person. In this process of moral reflection, the “irrepressible” voice of reason is
disclosed to an individual agent through a mode of moral sensitivity. An agent
judges and perceives that a proposed maxim in a given situation threatens to
undermine her standing as an autonomous agent.22 Accordingly, Kant says in

22
KpV 5:30, 35, 36. Cf. my discussion of the fact of reason in Chapter 2 “Mundus Intelligibilis and
Mundus Sensibilis.”
18

188 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

section XII that “any consciousness of obligation depends upon moral feeling to
make us aware of the constraint present in the thought of duty” and that moral
feeling is “the susceptibility to feel pleasure or displeasure merely from being
aware that our actions are consistent with or contrary to the law of duty.”23 Kant
defines moral feeling as “the susceptibility [Empfänglichkeit] on the part of free
choice to be moved by pure practical reason (and its law).”24 Moral feeling is thus
not an arbitrary feeling of empirical origin. Rather, it expresses the objective law
of pure practical reason—​in specific circumstances—​in subjective (aesthetic)
terms.
Because any attentiveness to the unconditional authority of the moral law
presupposes moral feeling (denn alles Bewusstsein der Verbindlichkeit legt dieses
Gefühl zum Grunde), “there can be no duty to have moral feeling or to acquire
it.”25 Moral feeling expresses the unconditional normative force of rational prin-
ciples in aesthetic terms. Moral feeling is an original predisposition, that is, a
necessary prerequisite, on the side of the subject regarding the consciousness
of duty.26 Agents can thus only further cultivate their original predisposition
through the practice of rational deliberation.
Obligation with regard to moral feeling can be only to cultivate it and strengthen
it . . . No human being is entirely without moral feeling, for were he completely
lacking in receptivity to it he would be morally dead; and if (to speak in medical
terms) the moral vital force could no longer excite this feeling, then humanity
would dissolve (by chemical laws, as it were) into mere animality.27

Since the commitment to the moral law is ineliminable, there is no human


being without some degree of moral feeling.28 Moral feeling is an agent’s “moral
vital force” [moralische Lebenskraft]. In its absence, autonomous agency would
be dissolved, and the human faculty of desire would turn into mere “animal
inclination.”29 To elucidate this, imagine Kant’s agent in the gallows example
lacked moral feeling. In this case, preservation of his life, sensible pleasure and

23
MSTL 6:399.
24
MSTL 6:400.
25
MSTL 6:399. Cf. “Certainly, the will must have motives; but these are . . . nothing other than the
unconditional law itself; and the will’s receptivity to finding itself subject to the law as unconditional
necessitation is called moral feeling, which is therefore not the cause but the effect of the determina-
tion of the will, and we would not have the least perception of it within ourselves if that necessitation
were not already present in us” (TP 8:283f.).
26
Cf. “Respect for the law”, which in its subjective aspect is called moral feeling, is identical with con-
sciousness of one’s duty” (MSTL 6:464).
27
MSTL 6:399–​400.
28
See Chapter 2, “Mundus Intelligibilis and Mundus Sensibilis.”
29
See VAMS 23:397.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 189

displeasure, would be the only determining ground of his will. He literally could
not be receptive to “concepts of duty as such,”30 because he would lack awareness
of their unconditionality. Moral feeling is the vehicle that makes agents suscep-
tible to the difference between moral and prudential reasoning. Lacking moral
feeling, an agent could not adopt a maxim for moral reasons, but only for heter-
onomous ones. This is why Kant says in pedagogical contexts that every kind of
moral education requires moral feeling.31
Because the ground of moral feeling is intellectual and its mode of existence
empirical, it has a hybrid structure. Moral feeling is neither entirely a priori nor
entirely empirical, and this is why it can bridge morality and nature. It “can be
read” from both the phenomenal and noumenal sides of the human being. Note
how Kant presents the hybrid character of moral feeling: “every human being (as
a moral being) has [it] . . . in him originally.”32 Moral feeling expresses the law of
pure practical reason in aesthetic terms. Since it is only in specific empirical con-
texts of moral reflection that the feeling of respect affects a particular self, we can
say that the moral feeling of respect connects the universal foundation of agency
with quite particular empirical agents. The feeling of respect is located at the
intersection of the metaphysical and empirical levels of agency, and it involves
the double movement of displeasure and pleasure: as I have pointed out in the
previous chapter, in the gallows example it is clear that the Kantian virtuous
agent is strongly inclined to save her life in such circumstances. She experiences
the fact of reason as a constraint imposed on her. She also recognizes that she is
the author of that constraint. Thus, Kant holds that the feeling of respect involves
both a negative feeling, because the moral law restrains our self-​love, and a posi-
tive feeling of self-​approbation.
It should be noted that Kant insists that moral feeling “yields no cognition.”33
This means, moral feeling is not meant to be an epistemic tool that discloses
how we ought to act. It is not a tool for determining the content of maxims. For
example, what counts as servile behavior is not disclosed to me “emotionally,”
but first cognized through a judgment. The moral feeling of worthlessness is the
product of my judgment. Moral feeling only discloses the unconditional status of
moral laws. Finally, note that Kant does not mention any direct motivational role
of moral feeling either. Moral feeling is a mode of consciousness (susceptibility),

30
MSTL 6:399.
31
See “Attitudinal function of moral feelings, self-deception, and moral progress” under the head
“Implications” below for further discussion.
32
MSTL 6:400, my emphases.
33
MSTL 6:400. Pleasure and emotion are not a faculty of cognition. Cf. Anth 7:239–​40; VAnth 25:1499.
190

190 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

which indicates that free choice can be “moved by pure practical reason,” but
nowhere does Kant say in section XII that moral feeling itself moves agents.34
Moral feeling discloses an agent’s autonomy, which cannot be deduced, ration-
ally comprehended or explained otherwise, because autonomy is unconditional.
“For, how a law can be of itself and immediately a determining ground of the will
(though this is what is essential in all morality) is for human reason an insol-
uble problem.”35 This remark is important because by attributing an epistemic or
motivational function to the moral feelings of section XII, the recent literature
overlooks the systematic place of the aesthetics of morals within Kant’s critical
conception of morality.36

Conscience
Likewise, conscience has neither a direct epistemic nor motivational role. Rather,
section XII discusses conscience as an affective response to an agent’s own moral
reflection. To use Kant’s legal metaphor, conscience is merely the court in which
maxims are submitted to practical deliberation.37 Thus Kant says that when we
say to someone, “But don’t you have any conscience,” we mean that he either has
not developed his capacity to be attentive to his rational deliberation or that he
is not heeding it. For,
if he really had no conscience . . . he would neither impute anything to himself as
conforming to duty nor reproach himself with anything as contrary to duty . . .
Unconscientiousness is not lack of conscience but rather the propensity to pay
no heed to its judgment . . . The duty here is only to cultivate one’s conscience.38

Reason affects an agent moral-​aesthetically through conscience: we “unavoid-


ably” hear its voice, because as agents we always already are committed to ration-
ality.39 For this reason, conscience cannot be acquired, but only cultivated:
So too, conscience is not something that can be acquired . . . rather every human
being, as a moral being, has a conscience within him originally. To be under
obligation to have a conscience would be tantamount to having a duty to recog-
nize duties.40

34
MSTL 6:400.
35
KpV 5:72. Cf. “Now reason’s ability to become master over all the inclinations striving against it
through the mere idea of a law is absolutely inexplicable” (RGV 6:59n).
36
For further discussion, see “The unfinished Metaphysics of Morals and the Opus postumum” below.
37
MSTL 6:437ff.
38
MSTL 6:401. Cf. Timmermann, Kant on Conscience, 293–​308.
39
MSTL 6:401.
40
MSTL 6:400, first emphasis is mine.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 191

The parallel between moral feeling and conscience is obvious. In both cases, an
agent has the duty to “sharpen” her “attentiveness” to her practical reason.41 To
make moral progress means to provide a hearing for one’s moral feeling and to
be conscientious.
Conscience is a prerequisite for moral development, but it does not deter-
mine for us a substantial ethical maxim, that is, it does not take the place of
moral judgment. Conscience does not objectively determine the solution to eth-
ical conflicts. It “is not directed to an object but merely to the subject.”42
For while I can indeed be mistaken at times in my objective judgment as to
whether something is a duty or not, I cannot be mistaken in my subjective judg-
ment as to whether I have submitted it to my practical reason (here in its role as
judge) for such a judgment; for if I could be mistaken in that, I would have made
no practical judgment at all.43

Kant asserts that an individual agent may err as to whether an action is ethically
permissible. Conscience can fail in this objective respect. Conscience errs when
it proceeds from “false moral principles,” or when it falsely subsumes a deed
under a principle: “error facti and error legis.”44 However, conscience cannot err
with respect to whether an agent has scrutinized her maxims, and whether she
has taken alternative reasons into consideration. Conscience cannot err with
respect to whether an agent acts under the subjective consciousness that her
action is ethically permissible.45 An agent cannot be mistaken about whether
she takes her maxim to be justified. Thus, an erring conscience is inconceivable.
In the Religion, Kant had already presented a similar view:
Conscience does not pass judgment upon actions as cases that stand under the
law, for this is what reason does so far as it is subjectively practical (whence the
casus conscientiae and casuistry, as a kind of dialectic of conscience). Rather,
here reason judges itself, whether it has actually undertaken, with all diligence,
the examination of actions (whether they are right or wrong).46

41
MSTL 6:401.
42
MSTL 6:400.
43
MSTL 6:401, my emphases.
44
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 193–​4. Baumgarten, Ethica, §§175ff.
45
Cf. Thomas Sören Hoffman, “Gewissen als praktische Apperzeption: Zur Lehre vom Gewissen in
Kants Ethik-​Vorlesungen,” Kant-​Studien 93(4) (2002): 438–​9.
46
RGV 6:186. Cf.: “One cannot always stand by the truth of what one says to oneself or to another (for
one can be mistaken); however, one can and must stand by the truthfulness of one’s declaration or
confession, because one has immediate consciousness of this. For in the first instance we compare
what we say with the object in a logical judgment (through the understanding), whereas in the
second instance, where we declare what we hold as true, we compare what we say with the subject
(before conscience)” (MpVT 8:267).
192

192 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Although Kant also uses the notion “casibus conscientiae” in the context of
“cases where conscience is the sole judge,”47 in section XII Kant is clearly not
interested in specifying conscience’s role as a tool in determining ethical maxims.
Rather, the feeling of conscience is an affective state, produced by moral reflect-
ive judgment. Conscience expresses whether or not an agent takes herself to be
responsive to her own reasons in the context of competing motivating grounds
in particular circumstances.
For, Kantian duties are also performance obligations. Every duty essentially
relates to an act and is apprehended with reference to a concrete act possible as
an effect of the agent. It is a fundamental aspect of Kant’s conception of ethics
that with “respect to the authorization [Befugnis] one has to be absolutely cer-
tain.”48 Consider the following passage:
And as for what concerns in particular the objects of practical cognition by rea-
son in morals, rights and duties, there can just as little be mere belief in regard to
them. One must be fully certain whether something is right or wrong, in accord-
ance with duty or contrary to duty, allowed or not allowed. In moral things one
cannot risk anything on the uncertain, one cannot decide anything on the danger
of trespass against the law.49

If there are circumstances in which agents are uncertain with respect to the per-
missibility of an act, the agent is not permitted to act on her maxim.
With respect to the action I want to undertake, however, I must not only judge,
and be of the opinion, that it is right; I must also be certain that it is. And this
is a requirement of conscience to which is opposed probabilism, i.e., the prin-
ciple that the mere opinion that an action may well be right is itself sufficient for
undertaking it.50

Kant is unequivocally clear on his rejection of epistemic risk taking in ethics.


Throughout his career, Kant is committed to a certainty requirement in ethics.51

47
MSTL 6:440. Cf. VE 27:619; Lehmann, Kants Tugenden, 31, 51; Baumgarten, Ethica, §190; Initia,
§§85, 142–​4; Christian August Crusius, Anweisung Vernünftig zu Leben, in Die Philosophischen
Hauptwerke, vol.1, ed. Giorgio Tonelli (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 1969), §§404–​37; Gottfried
Achenwall and Johann Stephan Pütter, Anfangsgründe des Naturrechts (Elementa Iuris Naturae),
ed. and trans. Jan Schröder, vol. 5, Bibliothek des Deutschen Staatsdenkens, ed. Hans Maier et  al.
(Frankfurt, Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 1995), §§202–​6.
48
Refl 19:68. Cf. VASF 23:436; 24:734; VE 27:128, 359, 564, 1495.
49
RGV 9:69–​70. Cf. KrV A476/​B504, A823/​B851; VE 27:615; RGV 9:67; Refl 19:296; VE 29:633.
50
RGV 6:186.
51
See, for example, Kant’s 1770s lecture Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 329–​30, and his discussion of the
life-​threatening risk of smallpox vaccination in the Opus postumum and the casuistical questions of
the Metaphysics of Morals (MSTL 6:424. Cf. Br 13:498, 518; Br 12:314; Refl 15:971–​6; Op 22:295–​7,
302–​5).
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 193

It is precisely here that the role of moral judgment to build the transition from
the a priori moral law to particular cases of application emerges.52 I showed in
the previous chapter that progressing from Kant’s a priori foundation of moral-
ity to empirical agency is not as unproblematic as most commentators think it
is. I asked: How does empirical judgment decide what is ethical–​permissible in
specific circumstances? In response to this question, I showed that what guides
empirical judgment has to be connected to the a priori foundation of morality;
just as there has to be a continuous connection between the rational and empir-
ical studies of nature if critical philosophy is supposed to provide secure founda-
tions for empirical knowledge.
Now, the experience of loss of autonomy in our attempts to coherently
organize our various commitments under the moral law might very well
be an empirical fact of human agency (“damned if you do, damned if you
don’t”).53 Resolving ethical dilemmas requires that empirical agents work
toward prioritizing their obligations. As in the case of virtue, this involves
a process of empirical discovery. I tried to show that the notions of latitude
and playroom do not help explaining how this project of making progress
might work in a Kantian framework because they cannot address the arbi-
trariness problem. The indeterminacy within Kant’s conception of ethics
demands a specification of the exact relationship between the a priori foun-
dation of morality and its open-​ended application, because otherwise it is
impossible to comprehend particular moral rules as necessary. I take it that
this is what Kant means by “certainty” in ethics. Moral agency is developed
over the course of a life, in which we learn to better understand what moral-
ity requires of us in particular situations. I suggest that, for Kant, this process
of discovery is guided by reflective judgment and its mediating concepts. The
practice of searching for truth is just as indispensable in science as it is in
morality. In both cases, humans are engaged in a process of discovery and
making progress. Within the Kantian system, the regulative principles that
guide this process have to be tied to the a priori principles that are constitu-
tive of the domains of nature and freedom in which our respective activities
of empirical discovery take place. The Kantian agent cannot give up the pro-
ject of rationally justifying her agency, just as she cannot give up the attempt
to coherently explain empirical laws by providing insight into their a priori
foundation. It is at the intersection of constitutive principles and regulative

52
See the head “Casuistry and ethical conflict” in this book, Chapter 2.
53
I am here indebted to Krista Thomason with whom I dicussed this point.
194

194 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

judgment that the need of Kant’s Transition Project and the necessary role of
mediating concepts emerge.
The hybrid character of conscience becomes clear in Kant’s claim that every
“human being” (empirical) has a conscience qua being a “moral being” (a pri-
ori).54 Conscience thus connects the noumenal and phenomenal sides of “the dual
personality” of the human being.55 Neither does the moral feeling of conscience
belong exclusively to the a priori part of Kant’s theory of morality, nor to applied
ethics. Rather, it mediates between both parts. Autonomy (a priori); feeling of
conscience (mediating concept); casibus conscientiae (empirical agency, applied
ethics). Kant’s clear distinction between the casuistical role of conscience as a
tool for moral fine-​tuning in empirical cases (applied ethics) and conscience as a
moral predisposition in general, presents conscience as a bridge figure between
reason and empirical agency. Conscience has the status of a schema: “conscience
is practical reason” made sensible.56 In other words, what it means to judge in
accordance with the moral law is to judge conscientiously.
In order to elucidate this, consider Kant’s shopkeeper example, in which an
agent may perform the same act from either moral concern or prudential inter-
est.57 The same act of not overcharging an inexperienced customer can be part
of two very different maxims.58 In the first case, an agent represents it as good to
treat customers in a fair manner because the moral law requires this. In the latter
case, an agent represents it as good to treat customers in a fair manner in order
to make a profit in the long term. This latter maxim is of course heteronomous
insofar as it is based on a contingent desire. The shopkeeper’s moral reflection
regarding the practical rule that underlies her action is now expressed through
the moral feeling of conscience. If a maxim violates the idea of autonomy in her-
self or another person, that is, if a maxim is inconsistent with an agent’s own web
of reasons, conscience sensibly expresses the need to reexamine the adoption of
her maxim.59 Of course, agents can either heed the voice of reason or not. Moral

54
MSTL 6:400, my emphasis.
55
MSTL 6:438. “But the human being as the subject of the moral lawgiving which proceeds from the
concept of freedom and in which he is subject to a law that he gives himself (homo noumenon) is
to be regarded as another (specie diversus) from the human being as a sensible being endowed with
reason, though only in a practical respect—​for there is no theory about the causal relation of the
intelligible to the sensible” (MSTL 6:438n).
56
MSTL 6:400, my emphasis.
57
GMS 4:397–​8.
58
I assume that maxims include (1) an act-​a, and (2) an end-​e for the sake of which act-​a is done. Cf.
Allison, Theory of Freedom, 119f.; Korsgaard, Self-​Constitution, 11ff.
59
In one of the examples of the Groundwork, Kant’s agent “still has enough conscience to ask himself ”
whether he can will to make a lying promise in order to borrow money (GMS 4:422). I owe the ref-
erence to this passage to Timmermann, “Kant on Conscience.”
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 195

feeling only expresses the need of a meta-​reflection of moral consciousness on its


own judgment, but it neither decides moral dilemmas by itself nor does it motiv-
ate to carry out such a reexamination.60

Benevolence
The third mediating concept, love of human beings [Menschenliebe] is like-
wise the product of moral judgment and also involves the double movement
of displeasure (self-​love, heteronomy) and pleasure (autonomy). For example,
naturally I do not feel inclined to help my elderly mother organize her per-
sonal correspondence. However, the practical judgment that I ought to help
her—​because I judge that she is struggling to accomplish this project of hers
and I am in a unique position to work through her personal papers—​produces
the feeling of Menschenliebe. This feeling is based on the rational acknowledg-
ment that another person struggles in her project of being a person and that I
ought to support her, despite other competing motivating grounds. It is nei-
ther the bad condition as such nor my subjective connection to my mother
that grounds this feeling of love. Rather, Menschenliebe is a rational feeling.
Kant distinguishes between pathological and true love. True love of human
beings is opposed to an agent’s direct sensible inclination or natural impulse
to be benevolent. “So the saying ‘you ought to love your neighbor as yourself ’
does not mean that you ought immediately (first) to love him and (afterwards)
by means of this love do good to him.”61 For this would be heteronomy. Rather,
the feeling of true love is based on moral concern for the other agent. The
rational principle to make the human being as such one’s end lies at the basis
of the feeling of Menschenliebe.62 In the context of other competing motivating
grounds, moral reflection judges a maxim as good, and this judgment pro-
duces the aesthetic affect of true love.
The schematic or “bridge building” character of this moral feeling becomes
clear in Kant’s claim that the rational feeling of love of human beings is the basis
of the “aptitude of the inclination to beneficence.”63 In other words, an individual

60
Cf. Felicitas G. Munzel, “What does his Religion contribute to Kant’s conception of practical rea-
son?” in Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason:  A  Critical Guide, ed. Gordon
E. Michalson (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2014), 230–​1; Dean Moyar, “Unstable
Autonomy: Conscience and Judgment in Kant’s Moral Philosophy,” Journal of Moral Philosophy 5(3)
(2008):327–​60; Timmermann, “Kant on Conscience,” 295; Lehmann, Kants Tugenden, 43.
61
MSTL 6:402.
62
MSTL 6:393.
63
MSTL 6:402, my emphasis.
196

196 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

agent’s empirical inclination to help specific individuals in particular contexts


can be seen as based on moral considerations. True love is autonomy made sens-
ible. As a schema it provides sense and meaning to the abstract imperative of
the moral law to make the human being as such one’s end. To love my mother
means that I have made the rational judgment to adopt the maxim of making
her ends my own. Based on my local identity, I can thus legitimately be partial
toward loved ones.
In his 1794 “The End of All Things,” Kant writes that “true love . . . [is the] free
assumption of the will of another into one’s maxims.”64 Incorporating another’s
will into one’s maxim means to judge that I ought to support another person’s
projects. True love is based on “respect for a person.” “Respect is without doubt
what is primary.”65 True love is the sensible product of moral deliberation. It
is how an agent is affected by her moral judgment. Kant makes a related point
in his 1793 Religion, where he says that the “aesthetic” expression “of having
incorporated the good into one’s maxim is “love for the good.”66 At a phenom-
enological level, the “aesthetic constitution . . . of virtue” is experienced as the
feeling of true love.67 Note that because moral feelings are self-​wrought, they
are not accidentally connected to moral agency. In order to act benevolently, we
need to incorporate another agent’s maxims into our own willing, and since this
moral concern produces a moral/​sensible affection—​true love of other human
beings—​we can say that true love is an essential part of moral agency. Adopting
another person’s will into one’s maxim is necessarily accompanied by the moral
feeling of love.68 Therefore, Kant says, love “is the sign of genuineness of virtu-
ous disposition.”69 Without this “aesthetic constitution” of virtue, “one is never
certain . . . of having incorporated the good into one’s maxim.”70 In other words,
the aesthetic expression of virtue is the ratio cognoscendi of an agent’s moral
state. We saw Kant making the same point with respect to moral feeling and con-
science. Since the moral feeling of philanthropy is the sensible mode in which
an agent experiences her autonomous agency with respect to other agents, it is
the indispensable medium through which agents can make moral progress. The

64
EaD 8:338, my emphasis. I owe this reference to Pollok, “Kant und Habermas,” 208.
65
EaD 8:337–​8.
66
RGV 6:23–​4n.
67
RGV 6:23n. Cf. The cheerful heart in the observance of one’s duty “constitutes an indispensable and
notably aesthetic quality of the morally good comportment of mind” (Munzel, Moral Character,
304–​5).
68
MSTL 6:448, 454, 406, 399ff. Cf. Baxley, Theory of Virtue, 153, 156.
69
RGV 6:23–​4n, my emphasis.
70
Ibid., my emphasis.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 197

more an agent is attentive to her moral feelings, the more she succeeds in acting
autonomously.
Because true love is a sensible expression of autonomy, it can be seen as a
bridge figure between the impartiality of autonomy and the partiality of empir-
ically situated agents: To love a person means, of course, to value that particular
person. The empirical person that we love is unique. When I love a particular
person—​quite discriminatively, as opposed to another person—​then I am atten-
tive to her specific life projects, which I share to the degree that I have incor-
porated her maxims into my will. True love is directed at the true self of the
beloved, her rational self, which is instantiated in specific life projects, that is,
her maxims. True love is thus a way to value the universal personhood in specific
persons. It is a schema of morality. We love this person and these characteristics
of her. However, although true love is directed at the uniqueness of the person
we love, it is not based on her uniqueness, but rather on her personhood. Moral
feelings translate impartial concern for personhood into partial moral concern.
Thus, Kant says, “without violating the universality of the maxim [of benefi-
cence]” I can legitimately prioritize my beneficent acts “in accordance with the
variety of loved-​ones [Verschiedenheit der Geliebten] (one of whom concerns me
more closely than another).”71
What it means in specific circumstances to make the dignity of humanity in
another person one’s end (prohibition on arrogance, defamation, ridicule; and
duty of beneficence, gratitude, sympathy) needs to be determined empirically.
Neither the command of pure practical reason to promote the happiness of other
human beings nor the mediating concept of love of human beings by themselves
provide the context-​sensitive content of maxims: dignity of humanity in another
person (a priori); feeling of love for human beings (mediating concept); cases of
application, that is, local conceptions of beneficence (applied ethics).

Self-​respect
As the fourth aesthetic precondition for autonomous embodied agency, Kant
presents respect for one’s own status as a person, that is, self-​esteem. Just as Kant
has distinguished between the heteronomous feeling of pathological love (or
love from inclination) and the autonomous feeling of practical love, so he dis-
tinguishes here between the heteronomous desire of the honor-​seeker to glitter

71
MSTL 6:452, my translation.
198

198 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

in the eyes of others and true honor or self-​esteem.72 Kant thus distinguishes
between a rational and an empirical feeling of self-​esteem. The feeling of moral
self-​esteem originates in the respect for the humanity in one’s own person.
Like all other mediating concepts, it is the affective aesthetic response of sens-
ible agents to the command of pure practical reason. It is a feeling of a “special
kind,” that is, a self-​wrought feeling.73 Any violation of a duty toward oneself—​
prohibition on lying, avarice, servility, suicide, carnal self-​degradation, exces-
sive use of food and drink—​disavows an agent’s own status as a person. This
throwing away of one’s autonomy is accompanied by an affective response that
expresses that an agent is contemptible “in his own eyes.”74 Self-​esteem is the aes-
thetic product of moral judgment. Kant says:
Accordingly it is not correct to say that a human being has a duty of self-​esteem; it
must rather be said that the law within him unavoidably forces from him respect
for his own being, and this feeling (which is of a special kind) is the basis of cer-
tain duties, that is, of certain actions that are consistent with his duty to himself.75

Moral agency, as well as the vices opposed to it, are necessarily accompanied by
a sense of self-​esteem, or a lack thereof. Self-​esteem is a moral feeling, in virtue
of which an agent distinguishes between x as “being merely unpleasant” and
“undermining her personhood.” The feeling associated with the judgment that an
action was imprudent differs qualitatively from the feeling that follows upon the
judgment that an action was immoral. The former type of feeling is experienced
as unpleasant, whereas the latter type is experienced as shameful. For example, if
I violate a maxim that is essential to my personal identity, such as acting incon-
sistently with my marriage commitment, then, regardless of whether my partner
finds out or not, the feeling that I experience is not merely unpleasant. Rather, I
feel moral shame. The perception of x as contrary to self-​esteem presupposes a
moral lens, which is qualitatively unique in that it differs from other feelings of
pleasure or displeasure. Expressions such as “I owe it to myself ”76 or “I am letting
myself down” indicate that an agent’s moral conception of honor is based on her
rational judgment. Moral contentment and discontent are qualitatively different
from all other pleasures and displeasures caused by imprudence.77

72
See also Kant’s Vigilantius lecture that was given in preparation for the composition of the
Metaphysics of Morals: VE 27:666ff.
73
MSTL 6:402.
74
KpV 5:38. Cf. Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 215. See also Timmermann, “Kantian Duties to the
Self,” 505–​30.
75
MSTL 6:402–​3, last two emphases are mine.
76
MSTL 6:418n.
77
For other passages, see, e.g., KpV 5:37; TP 8:288.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 199

What it is that we owe to ourselves, and where we lose our self-​esteem can-
not be determined a priori. Again, moral feelings do not determine the con-
tent of maxims. Which features of the world morally affect an agent depends on
her empirical character, her quite specific maxims that are shaped by her local
identity. That an individual agent perceives some specific x as undermining her
status as a person is an expression of her specific maxims. Since these are assess-
able by practical judgment, we are entitled to say that agents should feel one way
rather than another. The Transition from autonomy to agency does not replace
empirical judgment, just as the Transition of the “Octaventwurf ” does not
replace physics. Moral sensibility is a lens, as it were, through which agents look
at the world. This lens is subject to rational deliberation. It expresses aesthetic-
ally that an agent takes some aspects of her agency as constitutive of her rational
self-​conception. The mediating concept of self-​esteem makes it possible to say
that the specific conception of self-​respect that an agent entertains as part of her
empirical local self-​conception is embedded in universal respect for humanity
in her own person.
As Kant has done with respect to all previous mediating concepts, he also
argues here that there cannot be a duty of respect toward oneself, because respect
“regarded as a duty, could be represented to us only through the respect we have
for it.”78 There cannot be a duty to have self-​esteem, but only the duty to cultivate
it. The feeling of self-​esteem is a necessary precondition for autonomous agency,
“for he must have respect for the law within himself in order even to think of
any duty whatsoever.”79 Self-​esteem mediates between the respect for the moral
law and ethical duties toward oneself under specific circumstances. Thus, Kant
remarks that self-​respect lies at “the basis of certain duties”:80 dignity of human-
ity in my own person (a priori); feeling of self-​esteem (mediating concept); cases
of application, that is, local conceptions of honor (applied ethics).

Moral feelings as based on the table of the categories of freedom


The “Aesthetics of Morals” emphasizes that the four moral feelings are original
presuppositions for being susceptible to any duty whatsoever, and that, there-
fore, to “have these predispositions cannot be considered a duty.” Kant insists on
this point with respect to all four mediating concepts:

78
MSTL 6:402.
79
MSTL 6:403.
80
MSTL 6:403.
20

200 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

(a) “There can be no duty to have moral feeling or to acquire it,”


(b) “Conscience is not something that can be acquired, and we have no duty to
provide ourselves with one,”
(c) “A duty to love is an absurdity,” and
(d) Self-​respect “is again . . . not . . . a duty to bring about or promote . . . for he
must have [self]-​respect . . . in order to think of any duty whatsoever.”81

The fourfold schemata of aesthetic responsiveness to the unconditional


ground of moral obligation are the effect of the unconditional imperative of
practical reason on an agent’s sensibility. What allows for the transition from
the noumenal law of freedom to embodied agency is the faculty of moral judg-
ment, because all mediating concepts are the product of moral reflection.82 The
reflective act of comparing a particular maxim with the moral law, which, of
course, involves an a priori normative relationship, produces an aesthetic affect,
that is, a state that can be sensed. The fact that Kant presents exactly four moral
feelings, and the order of their presentation, are hardly coincidental. All four
moral feelings are the product of moral judgment. As such they are rooted in the
elementary forms of practical judgment, that is, the “table of the categories of
freedom with respect to the concepts of the good and evil.”83 Although a detailed
reconstruction of the table of the categories of freedom is beyond the scope of
this study,84 we can gain a good grasp of the connection between the table of the

81
MSTL 6:399–​403.
82
What I mean by moral reflection is reflection in its practical meaning, i.e., reflection on whether a
maxim must be judged as good or evil. Judgment proceeds from a particular action as the possible
effect of an agent’s will and reflects on the universal rule under which this action is performed. I fol-
low here Longuenesse’s account of the capacity to judge (Human Standpoint, 18ff., 237–​9). “Forms
of judgment are forms of reflection” (Ibid., 232). Cf. KU 5:179.
83
KpV 5:66.
84
For a detailed discussion of the categories of freedom, see: Ralf M. Bader, “Kant and the Categories
of Freedom,” British Journal for the History of Philosophy 17(4) (2009): 799–​820; Jürgen Stolzenberg,
“The Pure ‘I will’ Must Be Able to Accompany All of My Desires: The Problem of a Deduction
of the Categories of Freedom in Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason,” in Recht und Frieden in der
Philosophie Kants: Proceedings of the Tenth International Kant Congress, ed. Valerio Rohden et al.
(Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 435–​45; Claudia Graband, “Das Vermögen der Freiheit: Kants
Kategorien der praktischen Vernunft,” Kant-​Studien 96(1) (2005): 41–​65; Susanne Bobzien, “Die
Kategorien der Freiheit bei Kant,” in Kant: Analysen, Probleme, Kritik, ed. Hariolf Oberer et al.
(Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann, 1988), 193–​220; Lewis White Beck, A commentary on
Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 144–​63; Erich
Adickes, Kants Systematik als systembildender Faktor (Berlin: Mayer und Müller, 1887). Historically,
the categories of freedom concerned Kant already in the late 1770s (cf. Refl 19:180, 192–​4, 211, 278)
and they continued to occupy his attention after the second Critique (KpV 5:65–​7) in the prelim-
inary works to the Metaphysics of Morals (VAMS 23:382, 218). For other attempts by Kant to use
categories in practical philosophy, see: GMS 4:415–​6, 436; KU 5:266; RGV 6:101–​2; MSRL 6:247–​8;
VM 28:257. See also the letter to Jung-​Stilling of March 1, 1789 (Br 23:494–​5). Cf. Kant’s note on the
organization of the “Analytic of Aesthetic Judgments”: “In seeking the moments to which this power
of judgment attends in its reflection, I have been guided by the logical functions of judging” (KU
5:203n, my emphases).
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 201

categories and section XII by noting that Kant claims that “these categories . . .
proceed in their order from those which are morally still undetermined and
sensibly conditioned to those which, being sensibly unconditioned, are deter-
mined only by the moral law.”85 This means it is always the third category in each
of the four classes that is determined by the moral law alone.86 Accordingly, it
is always the third category of each class that Kant uses to bestow logical force
to the mediating concepts of the Transition. Because the table of the categories
of freedom contains “the whole plan of what has to be done, every question of
practical philosophy that has to be answered, and also the order that is to be fol-
lowed,”87 Kant attempts to use this table as the clue for the arrangement of the
four aesthetic concepts.
Under quantity, Kant presents:

1. Of quantity
Subjective, in accordance with maxims (intentions of the will of the individual)
Objective, in accordance with principles (precepts)
A priori objective as well as subjective principles of freedom (laws)88

Kant’s general thought is that maxims express the formal determination of


something as good for an individual; precepts express the formal determination
of something as good for a plurality of individuals; and laws express something
as good for the totality of individuals.89 Thus, Kant takes as his clue the categories
of the understanding, that is, unity, plurality, totality. In the gallows example, the
agent reflects in the context of competing motivating grounds on an action as a
possible effect of her causality and its basis in a practical rule. She judges that the
maxim of bearing false witness in order to save her life cannot be considered as
good. Thus “(a) moral feeling” can be understood in terms of the last category of
quantity: “A priori objective as well as subjective principles of freedom.”90 This
means the aesthetic affect corresponding to the categorical determination of
moral judgment (under quantity) is moral feeling, because the unconditional
objective bindingness of a moral judgment is experienced subjectively as moral

85
KpV 5:66.
86
Thus, this table contains the “logical characterizations of the maxims under which a good will acts”
(Longuenesse, Human Standpoint, 239n5). Cf. Bader, “Categories of Freedom,” 800.
87
KpV 5:67.
88
KpV 5:66.
89
“Practical principles are propositions that contain a general determination of the will, having under
it several practical rules. They are subjective, or maxims, when the condition is regarded by the
subject as holding only for his will; but they are objective, or practical laws, when the condition is
cognized as objective, that is, as holding for the will of every rational being” (KpV 5:19).
90
KpV 5:66.
20

202 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

feeling. This is, of course, true for all of the fourfold aesthetic responses, so that
the systematic significance of the table of the categories can be seen as providing
a rational progression of these four moments.
Under quality, Kant presents rules of commission, omission, and exceptions.

2. Of quality
Practical Rules of Commission (praeceptivae)
Practical Rules of Omission (prohibitivae)
Practical Rules of Exceptions (exceptivae)91

Moral laws (quantity) are now further specified with respect to ”quality” as
being rules of exceptions.92 What this means can be brought out by refer-
ence to the categories of the understanding (reality, negation, limitation),
and Kant’s preliminary works to the Metaphysics of Morals, where Kant con-
siders as a variation the notions “permission,” “prohibition” and “collision
(in collisione).”93 The aesthetic affect corresponding to the categorical deter-
mination of moral judgment (under quality) is conscience, because moral
reflection indicates the necessity to limit one moral maxim by another moral
maxim, or to override a practical rule based on prudential considerations
that conflicts with the moral law through a practical rule based on moral
concerns. In both cases, there is a conflict of rules.94 I elucidated this conflict
through the shopkeeper example above: what it means to judge in accord-
ance with the moral law is to judge conscientiously in the light of conflicting
grounds of obligation or motivation. Moral reflection with respect to quality
produces a feeling that expresses the struggle for autonomous agency: “(b)
conscience” is thus related to the last category of quality: “Practical Rules of
Exceptions (exceptivae).”
Under the heading of the categories of relation, Kant notes:

3. Of relation
To Personality
To the Condition of the Person
Reciprocally, of one person to the condition of others.95

91
Ibid.
92
The status of ‘rules of exception’ has been discussed controversially in the literature. See Pieper,
“Zweites Hauptstück,”132; Gregor, Laws of Freedom, 74, 100–​108; and Chapter 2, “Casuistry and
ethical conflict” and “Kant’s alleged rigorism” above.
93
VAMS 23:382.
94
As Bader comments on rules of exceptions: “rules that tell us to do x even though there is a rule to
not do x, or not to do x even though there is a rule to do x” (“Categories of Freedom,” 809).
95
KpV 5:66.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 203

Since it is only the third category in each of the four classes that is determined
by the moral law alone, it is not surprising to find “(c) love of human beings” in
section XII, because this mediating concept can be linked to the last category of
relation: “Reciprocally, of one person to the condition of others.” So, the aesthetic
affect corresponding to the categorical determination of moral judgment (under
relation) is the feeling of beneficence. It is a feeling directed toward the commu-
nity (third category of relation) of humanity.
Under the heading of modality, Kant distinguishes between problematic,
assertoric and apodictic determining grounds.

4. Of modality
The permitted and the forbidden
Duty and what is contrary to duty
Perfect and imperfect duty96

Thus, for example it is forbidden to an orator, as such, to forge new words or con-
structions; this is to some extent permitted to a poet; in neither case is there any
thought of duty. For if anyone is willing to forfeit his reputation as an orator, no
one can prevent him. We have here to do only with the distinction of imperatives
under problematic, assertoric, and apodictic determining grounds.97

Thus, both perfect and imperfect duties are apodictic. The modality of moral
judgment is experienced always in terms of self-​esteem, that is, respect for
humanity in one’s own person. As I pointed out, expressions such as “I owe it
to myself ” or “I am letting myself down” indicate that an agent’s moral feel-
ing of self-​respect is based on her rational judgment. The modality of a moral
judgment, its normative claim, is apodictic and this is aesthetically experienced
as the feeling of self-​respect. This implies that any moral reflection, including
pondering a duty toward others, ultimately also invokes an agent’s notion of
self-​respect.
To conclude, there is a clear systematic implication of Kant’s design of sec-
tion XII, which parallels Kant’s attempts in the “Octaventwurf.” Kant’s classifi-
catory scheme of ordering the four mediating concepts under four headings in
the “Octaventwurf ” is either labeled a, b, c, d, as Kant does in section XII, or
it explicitly uses the headings of quantity, quality, relation, and modality.98 The

96
KpV 5:66.
97
KpV 5:11n.
98
E.g., Op 21:394f. See Chapter 1, “The ‘Octaventwurf ’ and the ‘Early Fascicles’ of the Opus postu-
mum: The categorical structure of the mediating concepts of the Transition” above, and “The unfin-
ished Metaphysics of Morals and the Opus postumum” below for further discussion.
204

204 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

fact that Kant presents exactly four moral feelings, and the order of their pres-
entation, are hardly coincidental. Kant attempts to use the table of the categor-
ies of freedom as the clue for the arrangement of the four aesthetic concepts.
This is possible because moral aesthetic responsiveness is the product of the
acts of moral reflection (which itself is based on the logical functions of the
table of the categories of freedom). Note that the categorical structure of sec-
tion XII is an important result—​one that has eluded Kant scholars until now
because they did not read the Opus postumum and the Metaphysics of Morals
as parallel texts.

Summary
All mediating concepts of section XII have those four features that Kant has out-
lined in the context of the feeling of respect (Critique of Practical Reason) and
the feeling of the sublime (Critique of the Power of Judgment): they are original
predispositions, require cultivation, have a schematic structure, and involve the
double movement of displeasure and pleasure. Understanding the intermediate
level, at which Kant’s conception of moral feelings operates, is critical: moral feel-
ings have a hybrid structure. They are both subjective and universal. On the one
hand, moral feelings are intensely personal feelings. For example, it is my self-​
respect that is violated, it is my love for my mother. These personal feelings only
occur as part of my local identity. Of course, there is a broad empirical variety
of local identities. However, the particularity and selectivity of moral feelings is
not based on subjective idiosyncrasies. For example, it does not matter that I was
disrespected. Rather, my personhood was disrespected, that is, the moral status
of me as a person that I share with everyone else. On the other hand, despite the
individuality of moral feelings, moral feelings have a universal basis. In order
to elucidate the universal basis of moral feelings, consider a parallel to Kant’s
notion of right. What makes a lie right or wrong is neither the fact that it is me
who someone lied to, nor the advantageous or disadvantageous consequences of
a lie. Right is not based on the fact that some wrong was done to me, but rather
on the universal fact that right was broken. Right is neither a tool to obtain some
beneficial condition nor is it based on the needy conditions of particular human
beings. Rather, right is based on, and meant to secure, an agent’s autonomy in
her external relations to other human beings. Nevertheless, if right is broken, it
is experienced as intensely personal. For example, it is me who got raped. It is my
condition that has been disadvantageously affected. In the same sense, moral feel-
ings are intensely personal feelings, despite the fact that their basis is universal.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 205

Personal feelings are thus morally justified insofar as they are expressions
of universal moral concern. Conventional local identities and their associated
moral feelings of self-​respect, conscience, and so on can be seen as modifica-
tions of the universal law of autonomy. For example, (1) an agent’s particular
motherly love is a modification of (2) the moral feeling of true love, which is
(3) based on universal respect for humanity in another person. It matters that
it is this individual person that I feel concerned about. However, the founda-
tion of normativity is not the fact that it is this very person. In this sense does
the hybrid nature of moral feelings build a continuous connection between
the universal and local identities of agents. This implies, for example, that an
agent acts from duty when he acts from the motive of true love in his spe-
cific role as a son, or from the motive of self-​esteem in his specific role as a
scholar. Consider the alternative:  if compassionately caring for my mother
were an alternative motive in competition with the motive to act from duty,
then the justification of ethical conduct (the motive of duty alone) could not
also explain ethical action.99
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” thus provides the subjective preconditions for
moral agency in their dependence on pure practical reason, because it fills
the gap between reason’s single pure motive and various empirical motivat-
ing grounds located at the quite specific level of maxims. Acting from respect
for the law is not a motive on top of the empirical motivation located within
a maxim.100 Maxims specify particular features that an individual agent takes
to be relevant in a specific situation (epistemic role) and contain a motivat-
ing ground (motivational role). Moral feelings connect this local identity of
agents—​including their history, social role, and personal preferences (every-
thing that makes them the individual person they are)—​to the purely rational
identity of agents.101 A maxim involving the empirical motivating ground of
compassionate care can be a moral maxim if the motive of compassionate care
is based on the recognition that the recipient’s personhood makes valid claims
on us. This transition from reason to embodied agency is possible because the
mediating concept of true love is a schema for acknowledging the authoritative
status of the moral law.

As I understand it, this is rightly one of the major concerns of McCarty, Kant’s Theory of Action.
99
100
Cf. my discussion of Korsgaard in Chapter 2, “A priori foundation and empirical open-​endedness
of ethics.”
101
The Transition Project can thus be seen along the lines of Herman’s project of showing how the
a priori motive of duty is “dispersed” into an agent’s empirical self-​conception. On this reading,
206

206 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Implications

Attitudinal function of moral feelings, self-​deception, and moral


progress
How do moral feelings work, and why do I think that they are central to Kant’s
moral theory? I suggest we begin this discussion by looking at the topic of moral
feelings through the lens of self-​deception, which, on Kant’s account, lies at the
foundation of moral corruption and radical evil in human nature. Scholars have
rightly emphasized that the true enemy of virtue is self-​deception,102 that is, “dis-
honesty, by which we throw dust in our own eyes and which hinders the estab-
lishment in us of a genuine moral disposition.”103 Self-​deception, which Kant
also calls “the foul stain of our species,”104 consists in rationalizing the universal
propensity to subordinate the moral law to interests of self-​love.105 My contri-
bution consists in showing that without moral sensitivity, agents could not fight
self-​deception and make moral progress.
What does it mean to make moral progress? What does it mean to be atten-
tive to the moral law? What are we attentive to? Since the moral law itself is an
unschematized idea of reason, agents cannot be directly attentive to it. To be
attentive to the moral law means, for example, to be attentive to our conscience
insofar as it is a sensible expression of the moral law. To cultivate one’s con-
science means to “use every means to obtain a hearing for it.”106 Consider Kant’s
depraved agent in the Religion, who is accustomed to her self-​deceit because she
habitually subordinates moral concerns to nonmoral incentives.107 Because all
agents must be committed to the rationality of their conduct, any agent acting
on a heteronomous principle “unavoidably” hears reason’s voice, which affects an
agent through conscience.108 Thus, she needs to actively silence her conscience.
A  depraved agent is willing to be moved by self-​love; and yet, because moral
feelings are ineliminable, even the depraved agent still desires to see herself as

compassionate feelings such as gratitude, kindness, or filial love can be seen as moral grounds
of motivation, because they are reason-​responsive desires. See Herman, “Making Room for
Character,” in Aristotle, Kant and the Stoics: Rethinking Happiness and Duty, ed. Stephen Engstrom
et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 48, 52.
102
Grenberg, “Enemy of Virtue,” 152–​69. I am indebted here to Mavis Biss and Laura Papish with
whom I discussed this topic on various occasions.
103
RGV 6:38.
104
RGV 6:38.
105
Allison, Theory of Freedom, 121.
106
MSTL 6:401.
107
RGV 6:30.
108
MSTL 6:401.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 207

“justified before the law.”109 Heteronomous agents desire to be “conscientious


in their own estimation” in order to “derive their peace of mind.”110 Even the
“scoundrel” wants to be virtuous.111 This is so because moral feelings are moral
predispositions that can be silenced but not completely eliminated. Agency is
always accompanied by some degree of a felt moral state, on the basis of which
it is first possible to be morally affected. It is worth repeating that, for Kant,
“any consciousness of obligation depends on moral feeling.”112 To the degree that
agents cultivate their moral feelings does reason have influence on them. The
more an agent practices self-​deception, that is, the more she takes inclinations as
reasons for action, the less does reason have influence on her.113 This is why Kant
says that agents are morally required to cultivate moral feelings. Moral cultiva-
tion is striving against the fundamentally human propensity to self-​love; it is the
struggle for autonomous agency in the phenomenal world. The more cultivated
an agent’s moral feelings are, the more she provides a hearing for her moral judg-
ment and the better she gets at realizing inner freedom (which is not an all-​or-​
nothing thing). Virtuous agency comes in degrees.
Think again of Kant’s shopkeeper, who might pretend to act based on moral
concerns, whereas in fact his interest is profit maximization. In light of the pro-
pensity to lie to oneself about the true incentive incorporated into a maxim, the
authoritative status of reason is made sensible by a person’s moral feelings. The
subordination of the idea of autonomy to empirical incentives is experienced in
aesthetic terms. Every agent who subordinates moral concern to empirical self-​
interest necessarily experiences reason’s demand through an affective response,
as a sense of guilt, as loss of self-​esteem. For Kant, there are different stages in
silencing one’s own reason:  frailty, impurity, and depravity. The degree of the
feeling of rational self-​esteem declines as we move from frailty to depravity.
A frail agent feels awful about her frailty because she intends to act on the good,
but is too weak to actually act on it.114 The depraved agent is accustomed to his
inconsistent personality and only feels a lingering state of discomfort. Virtuous
agency and its corresponding affective states come in degrees. As human beings,
we are both sensible and rational, and neither self-​love nor the moral law can be
eradicated. Moral cultivation is striving against the fundamentally human pro-
pensity to self-​deception. This process requires moral feelings, through which

109
RGV 6:38.
110
RGV 6:38.
111
GMS 4:454–​5.
112
MSTL 6:399.
113
Here I am indebted to Korsgaard, Self-​Constitution.
114
RGV 6:29.
208

208 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

agents become attentive to their moral state, and which can be cultivated by
practice because they are the product of rational deliberation. This is why Kant
says, for example, that very young children do not yet have moral feelings, such
as a sense of shame or honor.115 Very young children neither self-​legislate princi-
ples, nor do they deceive themselves.
Now I would like to distinguish between three different ways in which agents
may deceive themselves. I might deceive myself about (1) the motivating ground
underlying my action (motivational aspect), (2) what the situation requires, what
its morally salient features are, and what my own capacities are with respect to
them (i.e., what I actually can and cannot do) (epistemic aspect), and (3) my
“emotional” attitude toward an act (e.g., I externally profess to care for some-
thing whereas in fact I do not) (attitudinal aspect). The terminology stems from
Sherman who distinguishes between an epistemological, a motivational, and an
attitudinal function of moral feelings.116 Here I want to focus on the latter. By the
attitudinal function of moral feelings, Sherman means that a moral feeling “is
not something apart from how we fulfill our other duties;” rather, “it informs the
attitude by which we fulfill our duties.”117 Moral agents respond “with the right
sort of emotional attitude;” moral feelings “express our morally required actions
in a humanly engaged way.”118 Hill captures the same point when he writes that
in human beings, as a matter of fact, our moral judgments and commitments
are typically accompanied by corresponding feelings. Normally, we might add,
we find these virtually inseparable: that is, we experience and express our judg-
ments and commitments in an emotional way.119

Moral feelings are expressions of “morally relevant attitudes” such that “the
defects signaled by the absence of the expected affective responses are moral
defects.”120
Both Sherman and Hill capture something that is absolutely central to sec-
tion XII of the introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue, namely, that there cannot
be a duty to have moral feelings because moral feelings necessarily accompany
moral agency; they are the product of moral judgment. Moral feelings are the
mode, as it were, in which an agent fulfills her duties. Returning to my previ-
ous example, if I take myself to have adopted the ends of my ailing mother into

115
Päd 9:465.
116
Sherman, Necessity of Virtue, 145–​52.
117
Sherman, Necessity of Virtue, 346.
118
Sherman, Necessity of Virtue, 150, 154. Cf. Baxley, Theory of Virtue, 165–​6.
119
Hill, Human Welfare, 395.
120
Ibid.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 209

my will, and as I am visiting her I express that I would rather not be there, I am
deceiving myself about the maxim I have adopted. To put it differently, I deny
the estrangement of my affection by sticking to routine habits that are typically
expressive of true dedication; I hug her and pretend to listen carefully. I might
be acting in accordance with duty, but not from duty. For, if I were acting from
duty, then I would feel practical love for my mother, because practical love is the
necessary aesthetic expression of moral concern. This necessity allows Kant to
say that moral sensitivity is the ratio cognoscendi of our moral state: without the
feeling of practical love “one is never certain . . . of having incorporated the good
into one’s maxim.”121 If I really mean what I do, then I feel practical love for the
other person. For Kant, moral sensitivity is thus an essential part of beneficent
agency. Lack of affective attitude indicates lack of moral commitment, because
moral feelings are necessary expressions of moral maxims. This has the follow-
ing implications for the topics of self-​deception and moral progress.
(1) Self-​deception. For Kant, practical judgments and feelings are inseparable.
The acknowledgment of a maxim as binding is expressed in an affective attitude.
For example, according to Kant’s theory of moral feelings outlined in section
XII, we would have to say that an agent who takes himself to have adopted the
maxim of beneficence but lacks moral feelings has not adopted the maxim she
professes to act on. Here is a clear case of self-​deception. Perhaps the benefac-
tor’s motivation to help stems from his reveling in the “satisfaction he derives
from his beneficence.”122 Perhaps he wants to relieve his own pain that seeing
another person in need causes him. Perhaps he does it out of habit because “one
has to help other human beings.” Whatever his motivation might be, it is not
grounded in a reflective concern for the other person. Lacking the moral feeling
of philanthropy means to lack true interest in the other person. In this case, the
recipient is not treated as an end, but as a means to satisfy the impulses to ben-
eficence, public reputation, or some other heteronomous motivating ground. In
other words, adopting the happiness of others as an end on nonmoral grounds
does not only mean to fall short on what duty requires, it means to not having
adopted the happiness of others as an end at all. The cold-​hearted “benefactor”
who merely complies with the letter of the law fails morally because he does
not act from duty. He has not actively incorporated the other person’s will into
his maxim; he feigns an interest in dutiful action “that is not in his heart.”123
Acting from duty is always expressed in terms of moral feelings: “What is not

121
RGV 6:23–​4n.
122
MSTL 6:453.
123
MSTL 6:484.
210

210 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

done with pleasure but merely as compulsory service has no inner worth for
one who attends to his duty in this way and such service is not loved by him.”124
Bare compliance with the law is not a substitute for true moral agency. This is
why Kant says that acts of beneficence should be done as if the benefactor were
“honored by it,” as if “the duty is merely something that he owes.”125 The benefi-
ciary is a person of equal worth, and this is what true love expresses. Beneficent
acts based on heteronomy (self-​interest or mere interest in the condition of the
other person) are not directed at another agent as an agent. Promoting another
person’s condition without moral concern for his personhood is not a maxim of
true beneficence. The feeling of concernment cannot be separated from genuine
concern for the other person. Moral feelings are thus necessary for moral agency.
They are the vehicles for treating other human beings as ends in themselves, and,
therefore, without them there is no transition from the formal foundation of
morality to material agency.
That the moral character of an agent is flawed if his affective response is
flawed, becomes also clear from the vices opposing the moral feeling of philan-
thropy, such as hate of mankind (misanthropy) or mere indifference to others.
Imagine cases in which others get what you do not get: other couples get preg-
nant, others get jobs, others get nice vacations, others get nice partners, whereas
you are less successful in these regards. Witnessing another’s failure to succeed
in areas where you have fallen short might be experienced as a kind of relief, a
kind of pleasant comfort. When you see others succeed, you might experience
a feeling of envy and dismay. Clearly, these empirically caused emotions are at
odds with true love for another human being. Because of the universal authori-
tative status of the moral law, every agent who experiences such emotions feels a
degree of guilt for having them. Morality is necessarily expressed through feel-
ings because moral feelings accompany the adoption of maxims.
(2) Moral progress. Because moral feelings are rational–​sensible hybrids, they
are subject to normative evaluation. We can ask whether feeling pity for one spe-
cific agent is justified, that is, whether there is a good reason for her feeling. In this
sense, an agent’s morally-​affective response is voluntary. Moral feelings follow
upon a principle that agents have adopted, and thus they can be objectively right
or wrong. The cultivation of moral feelings is a rational process, which is subject
to the formal requirement of the categorical imperative. Therefore, agents can,
and ought to, cultivate their affective responsiveness. Although agents cannot

124
Ibid., my emphasis.
125
MSTL 6:453.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 211

change how they feel right here and now, in the long run agents can change their
moral affective responses because they are expressions of the maxims they have
adopted. Agents are thus responsible for their feelings. For example, we may tell
an agent that she ought to feel practical love for his mother because the feeling
of practical love originates in the act of including another person’s will into one’s
own maxim. Moral reflection and agency is the source of an affective attitude.
It is a myth that the virtuous Kantian agent is required to take action to help
regardless of whether she feels compassion or not. The truth is that the virtuous
agent could not act ethically without feeling moral compassion. The myth, of
course, originates in Kant’s attempts to show that morality cannot be based on
empirical emotions. But this point is unrelated to the point I am making here: an
agent who truly makes an obligatory end her end thereby cultivates a particular
affective attitude. A central concern of section XII is to argue that agency always
already has both a rational and a sensible aspect. Cultivating moral feelings is
not a precondition for moral agency in the sense that, temporally speaking, we
first need to have developed, say, the feeling of love toward others before we can
act beneficently. Rather, we cultivate moral feelings by working on our maxims.
Moral feelings are based on an agent’s self-​conception, and only in this context
can they be cultivated. Moral feelings are not antecedent to moral agency but are
rather based upon it. Particular local conceptions of self-​respect, for example,
are of course contingent. But the very fact of having a sense of self-​respect—​
understood as affective responsiveness to reasons—​is a necessary prerequisite
for any moral education. Thus, Kant says in his anthropology lecture that if an
agent would lose all sense of “honor, then all is lost with him, then there is noth-
ing more on which one can base the good.”126 This means that without moral
feeling, agents could not be susceptible to the difference between moral and pru-
dential reasoning. Lacking moral feeling, an agent could only adopt a maxim for
heteronomous reasons, that is, act on pleasure and displeasure. This is why Kant
says in pedagogical contexts that every kind of moral education requires moral
feeling.127 Without a sense for morality (e.g., self-​respect) agents could not work
toward a justified conception of the good.
On my reading of moral feelings as mediating concepts, moral feelings are
based on an agent’s practical judgment regarding the morality (as opposed
to prudence) of her conduct. For example, you will not feel shameful for an
imprudent action unless you also judge it as immoral. The local feeling of

126
VAnth 25:652. Cf. KpV 5:154.
127
E.g., KpV 5:38, 159ff.; Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 357. Cf. Munzel, Doctrine of Method, 204–​8.
21

212 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

shame is an empirical phenomenon based on an agent’s rational feeling of


self-​respect. So if you get reprimanded for doing something that others see
as shameful, but if upon rational deliberation you find those reasons utterly
non-​justifiable, you will not experience a feeling of true shame. Getting
reprimanded will be experienced as unpleasant, but not as shameful. The
merely unpleasant feeling of getting reprimanded is based on a heteroge-
neous sense of honor, which aims at a comparative estimate of my person
with other persons in society, whereas the moral feeling of shame is based
on “true love of honor,” which is an expression of the inner worth of an
agent, that is, an agent’s autonomy.128 The principles underlying our agency
always shape an agent’s affective responsiveness. Even though every agent
begins with an inherited conception of the good and its associated feel-
ings, agents are free to cultivate their affective responses through rational
deliberation. Kant mentions the “honor of one’s sex,” “military honor,” “the
mother’s shame,” “the honor of his estate [Stand],” such as the honor of a
scholar, to indicate the idiosyncratic level of moral feelings at the empirical
level.129 Moral feelings are based on an agent’s self-​conception, and they
are essential for implementing morality, because only on their basis can
agents be “affected by concepts of duty.”130 Moral development means to
develop a moral character, which requires an agent to draw on her own nat-
ural predispositions to morality, that is, moral feelings. The development of
moral character requires the practice of judgment, which uses the fourfold
aesthetic responsiveness for providing access for the pure moral law to the
human mind.131

The role of moral feelings in the determination of wide duties


Autonomous agency requires that agents provide reasons for their actions, and
only to the extent that they can do so, can they conceive of themselves as the
authors of their conduct. Autonomy reaches its limit where agents cannot jus-
tify their agency. Reflecting on a maxim means to ask whether the maxim can
provide a reason for action. That reason for action cannot contradict another
reason for action. By recognizing that a maxim is justified, an agent affirms
that a maxim can be consistently located within the web of other maxims that

128
E.g., VE 27:666, 695.
129
MSRL 6:336. Cf. MSTL 6:469.
130
MSTL 6:399, my emphasis.
131
Cf. KpV 5:151ff.; Munzel, Doctrine of Method, 203–​17; Kant’s Conception of Pedagogy, 261–​76.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 213

constitute the agent as a person. Agency requires “volitional unity.”132 Because


the Kantian agent cannot give up the project of rationally justifying her agency,
the problems of specifying the scope of obligations and of providing reasons
for prioritizing among obligations cannot be resolved by extra-​moral consid-
erations. The decision to fulfill a duty here and now must be justifiable. There
must be a reason why this specific action is appropriate to these specific cir-
cumstances. The indeterminacy of wide duties (latitude for choice) must not
imply arbitrariness. Yet, this is what the literature suggests with respect to the
determination of the content of wide duties in general, and in cases of moral
dilemmas in particular.
Two general strategies to determine the latitude of obligatory ends can be
found in the literature. On Hill’s reading, we may choose to pass up opportun-
ities to promote obligatory ends, “even if we are not doing so to fulfill another
duty,” because imperfect duties “allow some ‘exception in the interest of inclin-
ation.’ ”133 Particular acts instantiating wide duties can be “permissibly omitted,
even for the sake of pursuing a nonmoral project of our own.”134 On this reading,
inclination may determine on which imperfect duty to act, and to what extent.
Further, there are inclination-​based exceptions to promoting obligatory ends.
For Hill, the latitude of free choice should be interpreted as “Sometimes, to some
extent, do what promotes X.” “No-​one . . . disputes that imperfect duties imply
act principles of this form, as a minimum; the controversy is about what more
they imply.”135 Hill’s opponents have argued that no inclination-​based exceptions
to obligatory ends are permissible.136 On these readings, questions of indeter-
minacy and moral conflict cannot be decided based on inclination, but must
reflect the core value of autonomous agency. Exceptions are only permissible
on moral grounds. This reading implies that the determination of the latitude
of choice requires agents to “always, whenever you can, promote X unless you
act on another principle of duty.” Note that the quantitative terminology (“min-
imum,” “always,” “more than the minimum”) used in this debate is surprisingly
widespread in the literature.137

132
Christine M. Korsgaard, The Constitution of Agency:  Essays on Practical Reason and Moral
Psychology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 119.
133
Hill, Human Welfare, 207, 214, 216.
134
Hill, Human Welfare, 237.
135
Hill, Human Welfare, 204, my emphasis. Cf. ibid., 209, 214n, 219, 221.
136
E.g., Herman, Moral Literacy, 213–​4; Timmermann, “Good but not Required,” 16ff.
137
E.g., “Even if it is not the case that one is required to do as much as possible to promote the happi-
ness of others, the virtuous person will certainly endeavor to do more than the minimum” (Allison,
Theory of Freedom, 123, my emphasis).
214

214 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Couching Kant’s theory of morality in terms of quantity is a very questionable


project to begin with. While there is a morally relevant more and less in utilitar-
ian systems, morality is not quantifiable for Kant. The autonomy of an agent is
independent of how often an agent is acting on an obligatory end. Agents need a
reason for foregoing or not foregoing an opportunity to act on a morally required
end. Yet, neither a “minimalist” nor “a most-​possible” account specifies the basis
on which to determine when, how, and to what extent obligatory ends should be
promoted. The question is not whether helping others is always morally optional
or always morally demanded, but rather how to rationally determine when it is
optional and when it is demanded, and to what extent. As was discussed in the
previous chapter, the problem is that the moral law and its derivative two obliga-
tory ends do not by themselves disclose morally salient features. Normative
standards of virtue do not by themselves specify the scope of duty: reason alone
“cannot specify precisely in what way one is to act and how much one is to do by
the action for an end that is also a duty.”138 Individual agents need to assess with
respect to whom, to what degree, when, and how they judge it as good to act on
an obligatory end. This can certainly not be decided by reason alone. Rather, the
content of wide ethical duties must be determined, at the empirical level, by an
agent’s local web of maxims, which takes into account the kind of relationships
we are committed to, the needs and interests of those with whom we engage, our
own capacities, and so on.
Hill has rightly emphasized the role of moral judgment in this regard: “Some
may devote more effort to caring for an ailing parent than to doing public char-
ity work, but others may do the opposite.”139 The question is how these decisions
can be morally justified? How can agents justify the scope of promoting obliga-
tory ends? As Longuenesse has forcefully put it, “even supposing Kant succeeded
in his ambition to formulate ‘the supreme principle of morality’ . . . did he not
remain helpless when it came to grounding on this principle the indisputable
validity of any moral judgment at all?”140 How does my proposed account of
moral feelings help here?
Kant says that the closer determination of moral principles under empirical
circumstances
call[s]‌upon judgment to decide how a maxim is to be applied in particular cases,
and indeed in such a way that judgment provides another (subordinate) maxim

138
MSTL 6:390.
139
Hill, Human Welfare, 221.
140
Longuenesse, Human Standpoint, 237.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 215

(and one can always ask for yet another principle for applying this maxim to
cases that may arise). So ethics falls into a casuistry.141

A hierarchy of maxims envisions (as a regulative idea of the faculty of judgment)


the possibility of a systematic limitation (under empirical conditions) upon the
general prohibitions and commands of ethics. This regulative idea is connected
to the constitutive moral law through Kant’s theory of mediating concepts. This
means that moral discovery and progress are guided by an agent’s moral self-​
respect, and so on. Empirical agents work toward coherently organizing their
various maxims under the moral law through a process of moral reflection. Moral
feelings are the media through which any kind of moral cultivation is bound to
work. Let me sketch what, I think, Kant has in mind. Kant’s theory of the fourfold
schemata of aesthetic responsiveness allows to translate the motive from duty
(e.g., the respect for humanity in another person) into a specific empirical motiv-
ation with all its local background knowledge regarding bonds of intimacy and
attachment, which “allow us to help in substantive and deep ways often unavail-
able to others less well placed,”142 (e.g., because she is my mother). Moral feel-
ings establish a continuity between universal and local identities, because they
translate impartial moral concern into partial moral concern. As we have seen,
the feeling of practical love originates in the act of including another person’s
will into one’s own maxim. Insofar as practical love is responsive to reason, it is
a moral sensitivity as opposed to blind loyalty based on impulse. An agent feels
obliged on the basis that she understands the reasons that make the rule norma-
tive for her. I have argued that, given the core value of autonomy, neither inclin-
ation nor other nonmoral concerns (such as my finances) can determine when
and how to support, for example, a friend. Rather, I will need to reflect on my
web of maxims. What justifies agency is the web of maxims that an agent adopts,
based on her moral deliberation. The local web of maxims, that is, my local iden-
tity, determines which relationships and interests deserve priority. In cases of
conflict, I will ultimately ask: What person am I? Which aspect of my identity is
most pivotal to my self-​conception? Which ends of my friend are central to her
self-​conception? What is my relationship to the person in need? Am I the right
person to help? Have I judged this case conscientiously?143 I suggest that it is an

141
MSTL 6:411.
142
Sherman, Necessity of Virtue, 341. Cf. Timmermann, “Good but not Required,” 24; Nussbaum,
“Duties of Justice,” 186–​7; Herman, Moral Literacy, 222.
143
Herman has suggested such a “relationship-​sensitive” account of obligations. While her project is to
determine limits to the duty of beneficence by bringing concerns of “own-​happiness into the space
of moral reasons,” and by exploring how “the obligatory end of one’s own perfection limits actions
for the end of others’ happiness,” the Transition Project shows with respect to agency in general
216

216 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

agent’s moral aesthetic responsiveness that provides logical (moral) force to this
type of moral reflection, that is, the fact that an agent reflects on a dilemma in
terms of self-​respect, and so on. Consider Kant’s duties toward oneself, which are
expressed in terms of the feeling of self-​respect. For example, Kant writes that
whether an agent chooses “a trade, commerce, or a learned profession” is a mat-
ter “left for him to choose in accordance with his own rational reflection about
what sort of life he would like [Lust] to lead.”144 Now, many authors have thought
that Kant’s term Lust (pleasure) would indicate that contingent personal choice
shall determine the latitude of agency. On this reading, nonmoral interests that
agents care about shape their maxims such that one person chooses to build her
life around x while another person makes y her life-​defining commitment. For
Sherman, for example, “subjective preference and natural ability” of each agent
“lead the way” in choosing a life’s profession.145 But how can subjectivity “lead
the way” in a theory of autonomy? What is left of Kant’s idea of autonomy, if
self-​determination at the empirical level is determined by personal and context-
ual peculiarities? If we are serious about the project of determining ourselves as
persons, then empirical agency cannot be determined by “natural leanings and
arbitrary preferences.”146 This is a misrepresentation of what latitude can mean
within the limits of a theory of autonomy. Ethical duties indeed need to take into
account and respond to an agent’s contingent capacities and skills. However, for
Kant, what determines the content of maxims must ultimately be a moral concern.
Consider how Kant expresses this moral concern: in choosing one’s profession,
the agent must not deceive himself with respect to whether he “has the powers
necessary for” the kind of life he wants to adopt; he needs to choose based on his
“own rational reflection,” such that it makes him “a useful member of the world,”
and his choice must be consistent with “the worth of humanity in his own per-
son, which he ought not to degrade.”147 Another word for “the worth of humanity
in his own person” is self-​respect. There is a moral restriction on choosing a local
identity. It is not an agent’s free-​floating arbitrary preference that lies at the basis
of guiding the “latitude of free choice,”148 but rather an agent’s moral self-​respect,
which transforms the fundamental concern of autonomy into a context-​sensitive

how Kant’s theory of moral feelings can provide a theoretical framework for solving scope and
hierarchy problems in terms of autonomy (Herman, Moral Literacy, 210, 219, 218). I am indebted
here to Donald Wilson with whom I discussed this topic on various occasions.
144
MSTL 6:445.
145
Sherman, Necessity of Virtue, 348.
146
Ibid.
147
MSTL 6:445–​6.
148
MSTL 6:446.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 217

local self-​conception. The limits of latitude with respect to duties toward oneself
are expressed in terms of self-​respect. The limits of latitude with respect to duties
toward others are expressed in terms of love of human beings. The task of moral
feelings is to guide empirical agency to a coherent rational explanation of human
conduct.149

The unfinished Metaphysics of Morals and


the Opus postumum

If Kant has established a theory of moral judgment and its aesthetic affects as the
missing link between the universal noumenal law of morality and particular phe-
nomenal agency, which is quite significant for his moral theory as a whole, why
does he not tell us so directly in the Metaphysics of Morals? Schönecker has cor-
rectly observed that “Kant rather abruptly introduces”150 the four moral predis-
positions in section XII, and I think this fact should make us pause and reflect.
The many oddities and discrepancies between the introduction and the main
part of the Doctrine of Virtue have often been noted.151 Ludwig has suggested
that the published Doctrine of Virtue is a compilation of passages written long
before 1796 and those that were newly composed.152 He calls the Metaphysics
of Morals an “unbalanced Opus.”153 Mary Gregor has pointed out that the
Metaphysics of Morals is an unfinished and hastily written work.154 Gerhard
Lehmann has claimed that the Doctrine of Virtue is an attempt to systematically
reformat Kant’s lectures on ethics into a system.155 Let me briefly elucidate what
these authors have in mind.
To begin with, the introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue is almost half as long
as the main text of the Doctrine of Virtue!156 This is something unheard of. We
do not find this in any other of Kant’s publications. The extensive length of the
introduction is already a first indication that the Metaphysics of Morals is work

149
A related issue deserving more discussion is the problem that, as a sensible creature, I cannot ignore
my “personal” life, yet the demands of pure practical reason lack this personal dimension. Kant’s
theory of mediating concepts, as I have sketched it here, can be seen as providing the missing link
between reason and embodied agency. For further discussion of this topic, see Baron, Kantian
Ethics, 10n9; David J. Velleman, “Love as a Moral Emotion,” Ethics 109(2) (1999): 367.
150
Schönecker, “Kant’s Moral Intuitionism,” 26.
151
See Ludwig, Introduction Tugendlehre, xvii–​xxiii; Esser, Ethik für Endliche, 344–​8.
152
Ludwig, Introduction Tugendlehre, xviii, xx, xxiii.
153
Ludwig, Introduction Tugendlehre, xvii.
154
Gregor, Laws of Freedom, 115.
155
Lehmann, Kants Tugenden, 90.
156
Ludwig, Introduction Tugendlehre, xvii.
218

218 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

in progress. The Metaphysics of Morals attempts to unite lecture notes dating


back to the 1770s with very recent thoughts. A case in point is the reference to
the Transition Project of the Opus postumum in §45, at 6:468, which is directly
followed by thoughts that we already find in the Kaehler lecture on moral phil-
osophy.157 Here Kant raises the problem of the application of the principle of
morality to specific conditions by asking a series of questions: “How should one
behave, for example, toward human beings who are in a state of moral purity or
depravity? . . . How should people be treated in accordance with their differences
in rank, age, sex, health, prosperity or poverty and so forth?” These questions
directly pick up passages from Baumgarten and Meier, whose textbooks served
as the basis for Kant’s lectures. All of this is lecture material from the 1770s that
is now republished in the Metaphysics of Morals.158 However, that these ques-
tions lead to the need of schematizing principles in order to make them ready for
morally practical use, and the parallel to Kant’s metaphysics of nature, represent
Kant’s latest thoughts of 1797. Only two hyphens separate the passages stem-
ming from two periods!159
Just as a passage [Überschritt] from the metaphysics of nature to physics is
needed—​a transition having its own special rules—​something similar is rightly
required from the metaphysics of morals:  a transition which, by applying the
pure principles of duty to cases of experience, would schematize these principles,
as it were, and present them as ready for morally practical use —​. . . How should
people be treated in accordance with their differences in rank, age, sex, health,
prosperity or poverty and so forth? . . . —​Yet even this application belongs to the
complete presentation of the system.160

Another such hyphen occurs in section VII of the introduction to the Doctrine
of Virtue, at 6:390. Here Kant first stresses that the latitude in the notion of eth-
ical duties allows for playroom (implying that nonmoral reasons could deter-
mine such playroom). Immediately after the hyphen, Kant presents an entirely
new thought, namely that the specification of wide duties always requires moral
grounds.
If the law can only prescribe the maxims of actions, not actions themselves, this
is a sign that it leaves a playroom (latitudo) for free choice in following (com-
plying with) the law, that is, that the law cannot specify precisely in what way

157
See Introduction to this book.
158
E.g., Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 358.
159
Unfortunately, the current Cambridge edition has omitted these hyphens.
160
MSTL 6:468–​9.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 219

one is to act and how much one is to do by the action for an end that is also
a duty.—​But a wide duty is not to be taken as permission to make exceptions
to the maxim of actions but only as permission to limit one maxim of duty by
another (e.g., love of one’s neighbor in general by love of one’s parents).161

Interpreters have stressed the passage either before or after the hyphen. Hill, for
example, stresses the indefiniteness of obligatory ends expressed in the first part,
and attempts to align the second part accordingly, suggesting that agents have
“choice among various ways of furthering the end of happiness in others.”162 Since
“no determinate limits can be assigned to what should be done,” Hill supposes
that we may choose to pass up opportunities to promote obligatory ends, “even if
we are not doing so to fulfill another duty.”163 This means imperfect duties “allow
some ‘exception in the interest of inclination.’ ”164 Herman and Timmermann,
on the other hand, emphasize the latter part of the passage, arguing that no
inclination-​based exceptions to obligatory ends are permissible.165 Again, the
passage after the hyphen belongs to Kant’s Transition Project of 1796–​8.
A further such hyphen is found in §35, at 6:457. Here Kant first asserts that we
have “an indirect duty to cultivate the compassionate natural (aesthetic) feelings
in us, and to make use of them as so many means to sympathy based on moral
principles.”166 Note that feelings are not conceived of as passive and potentially
overwhelming, but rather as based on moral principles. The terminology of aes-
thetic feelings is also striking, given its proximity to section XII. Kant rejects
the idea to be beneficent from “compassion” understood as passive suffering,
but instead demands to cultivate “sympathy based on moral principles.”167 Not
pathological emotion, but practical deliberation ought to be the ground of phil-
anthropy. The feeling of sympathy is here conceived of as a sensible product of
moral judgment, that is, a self-​wrought feeling. After the hyphen, however, Kant
talks about moral feelings as “impulses” of nature that may serve as additional
empirical motivational aids to do what duty requires. Agents ought to
cultivate the compassionate natural (aesthetic) feelings in us, and to make use of
them as so many means to sympathy based on moral principles and the feeling
appropriate to them.—​It is therefore a duty not to avoid the places where the

161
MSTL 6:390, my emphasis.
162
Hill, Human Welfare, 222.
163
Hill, Human Welfare, 207, 216.
164
Hill, Human Welfare, 214.
165
Herman, Moral Literacy, 213–​4. Timmermann, “Good but not Required,” 18–​9.
166
MSTL 6:457.
167
Ibid.
20

220 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

poor who lack the most basic necessities are to be found but rather to seek them
out, and not to shun sickrooms or debtors’ prisons and so forth in order to avoid
sharing painful feelings one may not be able to resist. For this is still one of the
impulses that nature has implanted in us to do what the representation of duty
alone might not accomplish.

Not surprisingly, there is sheer puzzlement in the literature about how Kant can
hold this latter view in the Metaphysics of Morals because it clearly implies a
pre-​Groundwork position of impure moral motivation.168 Note the passivity of
these sympathetic feelings: they are “unfree,” “like receptivity to warmth or con-
tagious diseases,” and agents “may not be able to resist” the painful feelings that,
for example, a visit to sickrooms causes.169 To repeat, these feelings are natural
“impulses,” they are the product of being passively affected by the poor condi-
tion of agents. The discrepancy between such natural impulses and Kant’s moral
feelings of section XII of the “Aesthetics of Morals” is obvious: moral feelings
proper are self-​wrought feelings, they are based on rational agency directed at
the moral status of agents (not their condition) and do not potentially over-
power the agent who holds these feelings. Because Kant’s mature theory of moral
motivation is not a theory of the relative strength of various motivating grounds,
interpreters have been perplexed by this passage (assuming that it reflects Kant’s
views of 1796–​8), and have used all of their ingenuity to make Kant consistent
with himself. However, it is quite clear that the passage after the hyphen reflects
on the moral feeling of philanthropy from the perspective of motiva auxiliaria,
which we find in numerous passages in Kant’s lectures and notes from the 1770s,
where Kant ponders motiva auxiliaria (such as sympathetic joy and sadness,
natural impulses, fear of punishment, pleasures of fame and recognition, and
religious belief) as aids to realize what duty alone might not accomplish.170 These
passages reflect a Baumgartian theory of action, in which various motivating
grounds can compete among each other, and where the motive of duty can be
supplemented by sympathetic impulses.171 On Kant’s mature view, of course,

168
MSTL 6:457. Cf. Allison, Theory of Freedom, 121; Baxley, Theory of Virtue, 163ff.
169
MSTL 6:457.
170
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 113, 120–​2; VE 27:166–​7; Refl 19:77, 113, 131–​2, 153, 181, 212,
221; Refl 15:282; VAnth 25:650, VE 27:1452; VM 28:258.
171
Cf. Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 81–​6; VE 29:635–​41, 777; VE 27:1425. See Chapter 2, “Mundus
Intelligibilis and Mundus Sensibilis” for an outline of Baumgarten’s theory of action. In his
Anthropology, which is developed from Baumgarten’s “Psychologia Empirica,” Kant is a proponent
of such an empirical theory of action, where pleasure and displeasure are opposed to each other as
counterparts (realiter oppositum), such that we can add and subtract pleasures like forces. See, e.g.,
Kant’s discussion of Verri and Locke at Anth 7:230, 235; VAnth 25:1071, 1513; Count Pietro Verri,
Gedanken über die Natur des Vergnügens, aus dem Italienischen übersetzt und mit Anmerkungen
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 221

moral motivation does not compete with empirical motivation. Kant’s theory
of autonomy does not weigh motivating grounds. The spontaneity of adopting
a rule is independent of pleasure and desire.172 The spontaneous act of adopting
a maxim has indeed an aesthetic effect on the agent, but this aesthetic respon-
siveness cannot be interpreted as the incentive for the adoption of maxims with-
out reversing the direction of determination: autonomy grounds moral feeling,
but moral feeling cannot motivate the autonomous adoption of a maxim. Kant
insists that the strength of motivating grounds at the phenomenal level, even the
strongest of all inclinations to act contrary to what duty requires, is in a differ-
ent category than moral motivation. Recall again Kant’s gallows example. Moral
feelings are unique, and not among the sensibly caused garden variety of other
pleasures and displeasures. Kant is at pains to insist on the peculiarity of moral
feelings, which originate in an agent’s autonomy. Thus, it is inexplicable how
the mere thought of duty can overcome the counterweight of all other sensible
inclinations.173 When Kant uses “pleasure” to describe moral feeling it is always
clear that this is not a pathological but a rational feeling.174 Consider how Kant
stresses the rational basis of moral feelings:
Moral feeling . . . is the susceptibility to feel pleasure or displeasure merely from
being aware that our actions are consistent with or contrary to the law of duty.175
Consciousness of them is not of empirical origin; it can, instead, only follow
from consciousness of a moral law, as the effect this has on the mind.176
Moral feeling is the capacity to be affected by a moral judgment.177

Moral feeling does not precede and cause the adoption of a maxim, but fol-
lows upon the rational determination of the will.178 Moral feeling is not a sens-
ible inclination leading to action, as the Baumgartian model has it, but rather
expresses an autonomous agent’s “self-​approbation.”179 Moral feeling is the effect
of an intellectual, not a sensible, representation.180 Both kinds of feelings cannot

begleitet von Christoph Meiners, Professor der Weltweisheit in Göttingen (Leipzig:  In der
Weygandschen Handlung, 1777), 113; Locke Essay, Book 2, Chapter 20, Section 6; ibid., Book 2,
Chapter 21, Section 31.
172
E.g., KpV 5:117, 161.
173
E.g., KpV 5:72, RGV 6:59n.
174
Cf. Baron, Kantian Ethics, 196.
175
MSTL 6:399.
176
MSTL 6:399. Cf. KpV 5:38.
177
Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 68. Cf. KpV 5:80, 159ff; TP 8:283.
178
E.g., MSRL 6:212–​3; MSTL 6:399.
179
KpV 5:81: “The subjective effect on feeling, in as much as pure practical reason is the sole cause of it,
can thus be called self-​approbation.” Cf. KpV 5:118, where Kant opposes passive empirical feelings
with pure practical reason’s interest.
180
MSRL 6:211n.
2

222 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

be weighed against each other. A  motivational function of feelings is both


unnecessary and incompatible with Kant’s theory of freedom.181 Even though
there are many passages—​dispersed throughout Kant’s writings—​in which Kant
talks about moral feelings in terms of pleasure and incentives,182 a motivational
reading of moral feelings is not supported by section XII of the introduction to
the Metaphysics of Morals, where Kant talks of moral feelings as an expression of
an agent’s commitment to morality, which itself is independent of pleasure and
displeasure.
Since Kant’s statements after the hyphen in §35 cannot be brought under the
umbrella of Kant’s mature theory of moral motivation, other interpreters have
suggested we read this passage in terms of an epistemic function of moral feel-
ing. On this reading, Kant means to say that duty alone is insufficient to provide
information about which objects require moral attention. Feelings are “needed
for us to notice where help is needed . . . they draw our attention to human need
and to ways in which we might help.”183 This epistemic reading of moral feelings
does not square well with Kant’s explicit use of the technical term “impulse,”
which denotes a sensible motivating ground of the faculty of desire. In addition,
feelings, for Kant, do not have objective intentionality but rather express a rela-
tion to the subject. Moral feelings tell me something about myself (namely, how
I subjectively experience the affective impact that the active adoption of princi-
ples has on me).184
My point is that the Metaphysics of Morals is not a coherently written work
that reflects Kant’s position of 1796–​8. Speaking metaphorically, the published
Metaphysics of Morals is a mixed bag. Consider Manfred Baum’s observation
that Kant presents two different deductions of the duty of beneficence.185 The
introduction puts the principle to make the human being as such one’s end at
center stage.186 In contrast, the main text works with the teleological assump-
tion that human beings are “rational beings with needs, united by nature in
one dwelling place so that they can help one another.”187 In other words, the
main text follows Baumgarten’s realism, whereas the later composed introduc-
tion focuses on Kant’s proper principle of morality. This is an example of the

181
Cf. Baron, Kantian Ethics, 218–​20.
182
E.g., GMS 4:460; KpV 5:71ff.; VE 27:498.
183
Baron, Kantian Ethics, 220, my emphasis. Cf. Sherman, Necessity of Virtue, 146–​50; Baxley, Theory
of Virtue, 164–​5.
184
See MSRL 6:211n, 212; EEKU 20:230–​2; KU 5:204. Cf. Allison, Theory of Taste, 51f., 216.
185
Manfred Baum, “Probleme der Begründing Kantischer Tugendpflichten,” in Jahrbuch für Recht und
Ethik: Annual Review of Law and Ethics, vol. 6 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1998), 52.
186
MSTL 6:393.
187
MSTL 6:453; my emphasis.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 223

Janus face of Kant as the lecturer and Kant the philosopher.188 Even though
many passages of the lecture notes accompany the development of the crit-
ical philosophy, it is also true that Kant lectures on positions that are super-
seded by his critical standpoint, so that writing and teaching do not always
cohere. Some of the lecture notes find their way directly into the Metaphysics
of Morals, and this adds to the complexity of reading this work. Various pas-
sages in Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals, similar to those I have drawn attention
to, are likely to be a mixture of passages written by Kant around 1796–​8; pas-
sages from his textbook authors, on which his lectures are based; and Kant’s
notes and reflections on these. How to distinguish the various components is
difficult and not always unambiguously possible. The Metaphysics of Morals
is not a coherently written book. One tool for finding the passages that Kant
actually wrote during 1796 and 1798—​Kant finished the Doctrine of Right
by October 1796, the Doctrine of Virtue by February 1797, and the appendix
to the Doctrine of Right by April 1798—​189 is finding Kant’s allusions to the
Opus postumum, which are clearly traceable and distinguishable from other
passages. There is overwhelming evidence that the Metaphysics of Morals is
an unfinished work, using material from different periods, and that the pas-
sages written around 1796 resemble construction areas similar to those of the
“Octaventwurf ” of the Opus postumum, in which Kant is developing his ideas.
Thus, I suggest that besides the motivational and epistemic readings of moral
feelings, which assumes that the Metaphysics of Morals is a coherently written
work, there is a third alternative, which interprets moral feelings as located
at an intermediate level connecting the noumenal and phenomenal aspects of
human agency. Acknowledging the cross references to the Opus postumum is
pivotal for this interpretation.
Both the Opus postumum and the Metaphysics of Morals are unfinished
works. At 6:457, Kant calls the cultivation of moral feelings an indirect duty. In
section XII, only conscience is labeled an indirect duty.190 Based on this text-
ual evidence, Timmermann wants to locate Kant’s general conception of moral
feelings in the context of indirect duties, which are of instrumental value only.
On Timmermann’s reading, the cultivation of moral feelings is like acquiring
prosperity, which can be used as a means to morally worthy ends. This means
the cultivation of moral feelings itself lacks moral worth. Their cultivation is
merely an indirect duty concerning instrumental means for implementing

188
I am here indebted to Robert R. Clewis, ed., Reading Kant’s Lectures (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015), 1–​29.
189
Cf. Ludwig, Introduction Rechtslehre, xxiii–​xxiv.
190
MSTL 6:401.
24

224 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

moral ends.191 Think of the beginning of the Groundwork, where Kant speaks of
talents of the mind, gifts of fortune, and qualities of temperance as conditional
goods that can play a supportive role for the realization of moral ends.192 Along
these lines, Timmermann attempts to locate moral feelings in the broader con-
text of Kant’s theory of indirect duties in general. My concern with this reading
is that, as a class, indirect duties do not share the features of moral aesthetic
responsiveness presented in section XII. Kant consistently emphasizes in sec-
tion XII that moral feelings are indispensable prerequisites for moral agency (this
includes conscience’s function as a meta-​reflection on maxims), and not mere
optional means for the promotion of moral ends. Kant presents the cultivation
of moral feelings as essential for receptivity to concepts of duty as such. Because
indirect duties do not share these features, we should not think of moral feelings
as indirect duties on a par with acquiring prosperity or pursuing our own happi-
ness. Moral feelings are dispositions that should be cultivated for their own sake
(their cultivation is morally obligatory), because any moral cultivation of charac-
ter requires them. They are not optional instrumental means that facilitate moral
action or help to ward off temptations to trespass the moral law. Agents cannot
leave moral feelings behind at any point of their moral development, because
they are the media through which any kind of moral cultivation is bound to
work. It is because moral feelings play an indispensable role in the never-​ending
process of moral progress that they cannot be indirect pedagogical aids. Passages
in the Metaphysics of Morals, in which Kant sees sympathetic feelings as “a means
to promoting active and rational benevolence,” and which, therefore, it is a “con-
ditional duty” to cultivate,193 differ markedly from section XII, where moral feel-
ings are conceived of as rational–​sensible hybrids. Kant’s characterization of the
cultivation of moral sympathy and conscience as indirect duties in two passages
of the Metaphysics of Morals is fully compatible with the kind of discrepancies
we find in the “Octaventwurf,” which, like the Metaphysics of Morals, is unfin-
ished work. This means, section XII, that is, Kant’s theory of moral judgment
and its aesthetic affects as the missing link between the universal noumenal law
of morality and particular phenomenal agency, is an unfinished sketch, signifi-
cant for his moral theory as a whole but not yet ready for publication.

191
Timmermann, “Kant on Conscience,” 298–​302. For similar readings of the cultivation of moral/​
aesthetic feelings as indirect duties, see Allison, Theory of Freedom, 122–​3; Theory of Taste, 212;
Pablo Muchnik, “The Heart as Locus of Moral Struggle in Religion,” in Kant on Emotion and Value,
ed. Alix Cohen (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave McMillan, 2014), 233–​4.
192
GMS 4:393–​4. Cf. MSTL 6:388.
193
MSTL 6:456.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 225

At the time of the publication of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant has a clear
grasp of the problem that he labels the transition from the metaphysical founda-
tions of natural science to physics, but he does not yet have its final solution.194
The goal of the Transition Project is a systematic a priori classification of the
various kinds of empirical moving forces in their dependence on the two mat-
ter constituting forces of repulsion and attraction. In the Metaphysics of Morals,
Kant attempts to present a systematic classification of ethical duties, which, how-
ever, like Kant’s work in the Opus postumum, remains work in progress. The
project of a systematic classification of ethical duties goes back at least to the
Groundwork. The sole purpose of the Groundwork is to determine and estab-
lish the supreme principle of moral obligation.195 It is sufficient for this purpose
to show (1)  that moral obligation can only be understood through a categor-
ical imperative, where a categorical imperative must be based on autonomy, and
(2) that autonomy has objective reality. It is neither the task of the Groundwork
to show which specific duties follow from the principle of moral obligation nor
what the conditions are for thinking of these duties as systematically organized.
Thus, Kant entirely reserves the classification of duties for a future Metaphysics of
Morals.196 Nevertheless, as the Groundwork makes also clear, the completeness of
the classification of ethical duties belongs essentially to Kant’s critical conception
of ethics, because Kant aims to demonstrate the derivability of all duties from
the single supreme principle of moral obligation: “All imperatives of duty can be
derived from this single imperative,”197 and immediately after the presentation
of the exemplary duties in the second section of the Groundwork, Kant claims
that “all duties, as far as the kind of obligation (not the object of their action)
is concerned, have by these examples been set out completely in their depend-
ence upon the one principle.”198 Thus, like in the “General Remark to Dynamics,”
where Kant attempts to provide a classification of the kinds of empirical mov-
ing forces, there is both a claim to systematicity and a lack of a principle that
would account for such an exhaustive classification. The Groundwork simply
assumes “the usual division of them [duties] into duties to ourselves and to other
human beings and into perfect and imperfect duties.”199 It should be noted that
what Kant describes as the “usual division” of duties is from Kant’s historical

194
The so-​called ether deductions are written much later, i.e., after the publication of the Metaphysics
of Morals.
195
GMS 4:392.
196
GMS 4:421.
197
Ibid., my emphasis.
198
GMS 4:424, my emphasis.
199
GMS 4:421.
26

226 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

perspective rather unusual. For example, the usual division in Baumgarten


begins with duties against God and then continues with duties toward oneself
and toward others. Kant thus eliminates an entire class of duties, and explicitly
acknowledges that the introduction of perfect duties toward oneself is contro-
versial.200 In other words, Kant’s “usual division” could also be replaced by some
other classification:
It must be noted here that I reserve the division of duties entirely for a future
Metaphysics of Morals, so that the division here stands only as one adopted at
my discretion (for the sake of arranging my examples).201

Kant claims in the Groundwork that there are four types of duties to which
the specific variety of human duties can be reduced, namely, perfect duties
toward oneself (example: prohibition of suicide), perfect duties toward others
(example:  prohibition of making promises without the intention of keeping),
imperfect duties toward oneself (example: duty to cultivate one’s natural predis-
positions), and imperfect duties toward others (example: duty of beneficence).
This classification, like the one of the “General Remark to Dynamics,” has only a
provisional status because Kant does not derive it a priori. It is thus not surprising
that Kant picks up again the problem of a complete classification of duties in the
Metaphysics of Morals in order to replace their provisional division by a system-
atic account. As the Opus postumum picks up on the provisional classification
of the “General Remark to Dynamics” of the Metaphysical Foundations, so the
Metaphysics of Morals picks up the provisional classification of the Groundwork.
Both are continuous projects.
Unfortunately, instead of providing a justification for the classification of
duties in the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant simply declares in sections I–​V of the
introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue that ethics is a doctrine of ends, which
agents are required to adopt, and that “My own end which is also my duty (My
own perfection)” and “The end of others, the promotion of which is also my duty
(The happiness of others)” are the two topoi of the division of the duties of virtue.
These two ends are presented as exhaustive.202 However, the main text does not
follow this distinction laid out in sections I–​V. Subsequently, in sections VI–​X,
Kant lays out the distinction between duties of right and duties of virtue, arguing
that the former prescribe action and the latter maxims. Again, the main text does

200
Cf. GMS 4:421n; Kant, Moral Philosophy Kaehler, 169, n106.
201
GMS 4:421n. For critical positions on Kant’s classification of duties, see Guyer, Nature and Freedom,
259–​60; Gregor, Laws of Freedom, 186–​7; Henrich, “Das Problem der Grundlegung,” 363–​4.
202
MSTL 6:398.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 227

not follow that distinction because it does not restrict ethical duties to imperfect
duties, but also discusses ethical duties as perfect duties. Finally, sections XI and
XVIII–​XIX present various divisions of the Doctrine of Virtue, none of which are
to be found in the main text. There is “no connection” between these divisions of
the introduction and the following main part of the Doctrine of Virtue.203 Hill has
noted that “Kant’s classification of duties contains some anomalies. For example,
the so-​called ‘perfect duties to oneself,’ such as a duty to avoid lying . . . are not
easily construed as duties to adopt ends and so fit uneasily into Kant’s general
description of ethics as concerned with ‘duties of virtue.’ ”204 “Given these labels,”
Hill continues, “it remains a substantive, and controversial issue, which duties
are ‘perfect,’ which ‘imperfect,’ and how exactly they should be stated.”205 Note
that the one division of ethics presented in the introduction that does reoccur
in the main text, namely the division of the “Doctrine of Elements” into a dog-
matic and a casuistry,206 is introduced for the reason that wide duties allow for a
latitude in their application, and thus require a casuistry. However, the casuistry
is also appended to the discussion of narrow duties in the main text.207 This is
not entirely surprising given the increased importance that Kant ascribes to the
role of moral reflection for the completion of his moral theory in 1796–​8. Yet
the question remains, where do the two ends that are also duties (the perfection
of an agent’s own self and the happiness of other agents), which function as the
topoi of all empirical duties, come from?
Kant writes:
The supreme principle of the doctrine of virtue is: act in accordance with a
maxim of ends that it can be a universal law for everyone to have.—In accord-
ance with this principle a human being is an end for himself as well as for others
. . . it is in itself his duty to make the human being as such his end. This basic
principle of the doctrine of virtue, as a categorical imperative, cannot be proved,
but it can be given a deduction from pure practical reason.208

This deduction, however, is nowhere to be found in the Metaphysics of Morals.


Note that the principle of virtue is a synthetic a priori proposition because it
adds two ends to the formal principle of obligation.209 Given that freedom and

203
Ludwig, Introduction Tugendlehre, xx.
204
Hill, Human Welfare, 205–​6.
205
Hill, Human Welfare, 209.
206
MSTL 6:413.
207
This has also been noted by Sedgwick, “On Lying,” 57n50.
208
MSTL 6:395.
209
MSTL 6:396. “For were there no such ends, then all ends would hold for practical reason only as
means to other ends; and since there can be no action without an end, a categorical imperative
28

228 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

nature are two separate domains of legislation “entirely barred from any mutual
influence that they could have on each other … by the great chasm that separates
the supersensible from the appearances,”210 only the power of reflective judg-
ment can make fully explicable the notion that “ethics can also be defined as the
system of the ends of pure practical reason.”211 In other words, the bridge from a
merely formal law of freedom to material ends that are to be realized in the phe-
nomenal world presupposes the work of the Critique of the Power of Judgment.
The effect in accordance with the concept of freedom is the final end, which (or
its appearance in the sensible world) should exist, for which the condition of its
possibility in nature (in the nature of the subject as a sensible being, that is, as a
human being) is presupposed. That which presupposes this a priori and without
regard to the practical, namely, the power of judgment, provides the mediat-
ing concept between the concepts of nature and the concept of freedom, which
makes possible the transition from the purely theoretical to the purely prac-
tical, from lawfulness in accordance with the former to the final end in accord-
ance with the latter, in the concept of the purposiveness of nature; for thereby is
the possibility of the final end, which can become actual only in nature and in
accord with its laws, cognized.212

In order to see how precisely the two ends that are also duties presuppose the
principle of the power of judgment, it is necessary to take a brief look at the
argument in the Critique of the Power of Judgment:
In nature we find natural purposes, that is, organisms. For example, a tree
is a system of parts, where each part is simultaneously means and end with
respect to the whole tree.213 Without the concept of an intentional ordering of
the parts in an organism, that is, the assumption of an organization, we could
not understand the possibility of an organism.214 What makes “organization”
possible is an underlying idea with reference to which all parts are ordered.
The causality, which produces an object in accordance to an underlying idea, is
the causality of ends (as opposed to the mere mechanistic causality of nature).
Since organisms are products of nature, we conceive of them as natural ends

would be impossible. This would do away with any doctrine of morals” (MSTL 6:385). “Ethics . . .
provides a matter (an object of free choice), an end of pure reason which it represents as an end that
is also objectively necessary, that is, an end that, as far as human beings are concerned, it is a duty
to have” (MSTL 6:380). Cf. KU 5:172.
210
KU 5:195.
211
MSTL 6:381.
212
KU 5:196.
213
KU 5:376.
214
KU 5:425–​6.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 229

[Naturzwecke]. Kant now asserts that because one part of nature is purposively
organized, reflective judgment is urged to assume that the whole of nature is
purposively organized, that is, ordered in accordance with ends. However, the
“chief condition [Hauptbedingung] for regarding the world as a whole inter-
connected in accordance with ends and as a system of final causes” is the pre-
supposition of a final end.215 A final end is an unconditioned end.216 However,
within nature there is no final end, that is, something about which it cannot
any longer be asked why it exists.217 So what could this unconditional end,
which we would have to think as an end in itself, be? Kant holds that this can
only be “the human being under moral laws” because the only unconditioned
purposiveness we know of is the formal law of practical reason.218 It is for this
reason that reflective judgment is forced to go beyond nature, that is, to the
supersensible. The final end must be independent of nature (because it has to
be unconditioned), yet it also has to be thought in relation to nature (because
the argument proceeds from natural purposes).219 Kant therefore concludes
that the final end can only be pure practical reason insofar as it realizes ends
in nature. More precisely, the final end of pure practical reason is the real-
ized “existence of rational beings under moral laws.”220 The whole of human-
ity under moral laws is the final end, that is, an end in itself. This means, an
individual agent can only comprehend her unconditional dignity as part of a
rational cosmos, whose final end is the highest good (understood as a com-
munal good). It is only through the principle of the power of judgment that
“the possibility of the final end, which can become actual only in nature and
in accord with its laws,”221 is cognized. The two ends that are also duties follow
from this conception of the final end:

215
KU 5:444.
216
KU 5:434.
217
Cf. KU 5:426–​7, 434–​5, 449; Brandt, Die Bestimmung des Menschen, 483. “In the system of nature, a
human being (homo phenomenon, animal rationale) is a being of slight importance and shares with
the rest of the animals, as offspring of the earth, an ordinary value . . . Although a human being
has, in his understanding, something more than they and can set himself ends, even this gives him
only an extrinsic value for his usefulness . . . But a human being regarded as a person, that is, as the
subject of a morally practical reason, is exalted above any price; for as a person (homo noumenon)
he is not to be valued merely as the means to ends of the others or even to his own ends, but as an
end in itself, that is, he possesses a dignity (an absolute inner worth) by which he exacts respect for
himself from all other rational beings in the world . . . Humanity in his person is the object of the
respect which he can demand from any other human being, but which he must also not forfeit”
(MSTL 6:434–​5).
218
KU 5:445, 449, 435.
219
Cf. KU 5:453–​4.
220
KU 5:449–​50, my emphasis. Cf. KU 5:442–​3.
221
KU 5:196.
230

230 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

We are determined a priori by reason to promote with all of our powers what is
best in the world, which consists in the combination of the greatest good [grösste
Wohl] for rational beings in the world with the highest condition of the good for
them, i.e., the combination of universal happiness with the most lawful morality.222

The two ends that are also duties provide an all-​encompassing perspective on
human agency and thus provide the a priori and exhaustive topoi for the classifi-
cation of specific human duties.223 Kant’s presentation of ethics as the system of
the ends of pure practical reason in the introduction to the Doctrine of Virtue,
in “accordance with [which] . . . a human being is an end for himself as well as
for others,” is thus justified.224 For human beings in general, striving for moral
perfection and supporting the happiness of others are the two constitutive meta-
physical first principles of what it means to be an autonomous agent. The moral
aesthetic responses of self-​respect and love of human beings can then be seen
as schematizations of the principles of self-​perfection and other’s happiness,
respectively. But why are there then not only these two mediating concepts in
section XII? Why are there four schemata?
Again, I  think this can only be explained by reference to the Opus postu-
mum, because here, too, the mediating concepts shall ultimately be ordered by
the table of the categories in order to assure a systematic and exhaustive classi-
fication of divers empirical moving forces. Both the Metaphysics of Morals and
the Opus postumum remain work in progress. The key insight, outlined in the
section “Moral feelings as based on the table of the categories of freedom” above,
was that all four moral feelings of section XII are the product of moral judgment,
and that, therefore, they are rooted in the elementary forms of practical judg-
ment, that is, the “table of the categories of freedom with respect to the concepts
of the good and evil.”225 I showed that there is a “connection” between the third
category of each of the four classes and the four mediating concepts of section
XII by emphasizing that “these categories . . . proceed in their order from those

222
KU 5:453. Cf. KU 5:450. The development of Kant’s conception of the highest good within his
critical writings is a complex topic in itself. Given the communal conception of the highest good,
the Religion should be read together with Kant’s views presented in the third Critique. For more
discussion, see, for example, Munzel, Religion, 214–​32; Eckart Förster, “Die Wandlungen in Kants
Gotteslehre,” Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 52(3) (1998): 341–​62.
223
Cf. Gregor, Laws of Freedom, 89–​90, 92–​4; and Herman, The Practice of Moral Judgment, 182 for
similar interpretations. The happiness of other agents is not an end that intrudes into a moral
agent’s life, but something that is part of the perspective on the entire cosmos and its final end,
which no single agent can bring about by herself.
224
For an alternative reading of the “deduction from pure practical reason,” see Allison, Theory of
Freedom, 155–​68. For a criticism of Allison see Baum, “Probleme der Begründing,” 41–​56.
225
KpV 5:66.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 231

which are morally still undetermined and sensibly conditioned to those which,
being sensibly unconditioned, are determined only by the moral law.”226 There is
overwhelming evidence that Kant attempts to use this table of the categories as
the clue for the arrangement of the four aesthetic concepts. Historically speak-
ing, this is a new discovery. But precisely what establishes the “connection?”
What injects the right kind of necessity into this categorical determination of
aesthetic responsiveness?
The “connection” between form of judgment and mediating concept is sup-
posed to be necessary. How then can it be ambiguous whether a mediating con-
cept belongs to one category or another? For example, in the preliminary works
to the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant considers the notions “permission,” “prohib-
ition” and “cases of collision” under “universale,” “particulare,” and “singulare,”
respectively (i.e., the forms of judgment under quantity, not quality).227 So, why
is conscience then not a categorical determination of quantity, that is, of sin-
gular judgments? Why does section XII assign it to quality?228 Like in the Opus
postumum, we see Kant wavering in the Metaphysics of Morals and its prelim-
inary works whether a mediating concept should be subsumed under one or
another class of categories. The “Octaventwurf ” plans to present four intermedi-
ate concepts guided by the four classes of categories (quantity, quality, relation,
modality).
The elementary system of the moving forces of matter . . . is the system of categor-
ies under which the concepts of the moving forces are systematically ordered,
i.e., in accordance with principles a priori.229

Yet, at this stage of his reflections, 1796–​8, Kant’s attempts to systematically link
the mediating concepts to the table of the categories remain mere stipulations.
Kant fails to show how particular schemata are connected to the various categor-
ies or classes of categories.230
Nevertheless, can we attempt to indicate what could guide the categor-
ical structure of Kant’s mediating concepts? What would such a reconstruc-
tion look like? Kant aims to provide the complete list of all possible kinds of
moving forces. For this reason, it is understandable why Kant would want

226
Ibid.
227
VAMS 23:382.
228
See “Conscience” under the head “The four mediating concepts in the ‘Aesthetics of Morals’ ” above.
229
Op 22:226. Cf. Op 21:311, 363, 367, 527; Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 200ff., 210–​2.
230
See Chapter 1, “The ‘Octaventwurf ’ and the ‘Early Fascicles’ of the Opus postumum: The categorical
structure of the mediating concepts of the Transition” above, and “Conclusion” below.
23

232 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

to resort to the table of the categories, which is “indispensable in the the-


oretical part of philosophy for completely outlining the plan for the whole
of a science.”231 The table of the categories exhaustively provides what is
required to make a complete theoretical judgment. In order to achieve a
complete classification of all kinds of empirical moving forces, Kant expli-
citly notates the table of the categories in the margin of some of his numer-
ous drafts:
Of matter in general. Classification a priori.
A
Variety in accordance with Quantity.
[in the margin] Categories. 1. Unity, Plurality and Totality of the homogeneous.
[in the main text] [Quantity of matter] can be cognized through gravita-
tion, which is the universal world attraction . . . Density, Ponderosity, and
Imponderability.
B
Quality
Of the different qualities of matter
[in the margin] 2 Reality, Negat. and Limitation
[in the main text] . . . Specific Differences of matter per se or their states . . .
Cohesion
C
Relation
[in the margin] 3 Inherence, Causality, and Community
[in the main text] The state of matter is either fluid or rigid . . . Cohesion232

Under quantity, Kant concludes that ponderability of matter, which is based


on the a priori force of universal attraction, makes possible “the precise deter-
mination of the quantity of matter, of whatever type it be.”233 Ponderability
applies “to all matter,”234 and for this reason it is “connected” to the totality
(third category under quantity) of empirical matter. As a next step, one would
need to elaborate on how exactly the quantity of matter (i.e., its ponderability)

231
KrV B109. Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 211–​2.
232
Op 21:394–5, my translation.
233
Op 22:208.
234
Op 21:375, my emphasis.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 233

is rooted in the quantity of a logical judgment. I assume that only such a fur-
ther step would establish the normativity of the moment of ponderability as
a mediating concept of the Transition. That is to say, why is ponderability
the only quantitative determination of matter that is part of the Transition?
What about the many other forms of quantitative determinations of empirical
matter that cannot be subsumed under ponderability, for example, forces of
electricity, magnetism? Only such an explanation would truly build a neces-
sary bridge from matter in general toward empirical physics. Moving on to
the moment of quality, Kant declares that the “division of matter in regard to
its quality can be only this: it is either fluid or solid.”235 Note the language: it
“can only be this . . .” However, under relation, Kant again discusses cohesion
and various phenomena of rigidification. The fact that Kant discusses fluid-
ity and rigidity under both quality and relation seems to make the connec-
tion between category and mediating concept conventional. What precisely
determines the location of this mediating concept in the system of moving
forces? Does cohesion belong to the category of community (relation), as
some of Kant’s drafts indicate, or should we think about rigid and fluid bodies
in terms of reality and negation (quality), as other drafts indicate, and what
would justify any of these stipulations?236
My point is that reading the “Octaventwurf ” next to section XII of the
Metaphysics of Morals conveys the same impression: both are unfinished works
with a clear systematic effort. Both use a loose and seemingly conventional con-
nection to the categories. The mediating concepts of self-​respect and love of
human beings as moral aesthetic responses have been established independently
of the table of the categories (namely, as the aesthetic affect of moral reflection
with respect to the two ends that are also duties). Only afterward does Kant
attempt to force these mediating concepts into his table of the categories. This is
precisely the conclusion that Adickes also draws with respect to the mediating
concepts of the Opus postumum.237 Kant does not derive these mediating con-
cepts through the table of the categories, but rather arrives at them independ-
ently from architectonic considerations, and subsequently attempts to use the
table of the categories as an “a priori” guide.

235
Op 22:213, my emphasis.
236
Cf. Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 210–​4.
237
Adickes, Kants Opus postumum, 212.
234

234 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

Conclusion

On the one hand, Kant is perceived as presenting a rationalist notion of moral-


ity, in which feelings cannot play a significant part. The moral subject is guided
by reason, whereas feelings seem to indicate passivity, affection, and natural
impulse. This claim is entirely correct insofar as the authoritative status of the
moral law is independent of an agent’s feelings, desires, and inclinations. For
Kant, morally permissible conduct follows from the universal nature of agency; it
cannot be determined by an agent’s peculiar characteristics. On the other hand,
interpreters have also rightly emphasized that specific duties cannot be derived
or deduced from the categorical imperative alone, and that what is universal
needs to be instantiated with respect to particular idiosyncrasies, which requires
empirical knowledge. Wood, for example, has stressed the dynamic and open-​
ended character of Kant’s ethics. He insists that ethics is open to “modification
and correction,” and that there is no “rigorous deductive process”238 that would
connect the fundamental level of morality with the specification of moral duties.
I have argued that this must not mean that the various levels of Kant’s moral
theory—​autonomy, moral rules, and moral judgment—​are only “loosely” con-
nected.239 For, a loose connection is at odds with Kant’s foundationalist concep-
tion of morality, which demands that empirical laws be brought under a priori
principles. Moral agency is always instantiated through quite particular maxims.
What makes these maxims moral is their universal basis: the idea of autonomy.
The Transition Project suggests a way to provide the missing link between
the a priori and empirical aspects of Kant’s moral philosophy through a theory
of moral reflection and its aesthetic moral affects. The role of reason-​responsive
mediating concepts (rational–​sensible hybrids) is to connect the a priori norma-
tive foundation of autonomous agency with empirical obligations. For example,
adopting another person’s maxim into one’s own will is always informed by rele-
vant values, contexts, needs, and peculiarities of the other person. The moral feel-
ing of love of human beings, which is the product of our practical judgment, is
always first-​personal and it attends to particular individuals. Yet the basis of our
moral aesthetic responsiveness is universal moral concern. Thus, Menschenliebe
is a schema of the moral law, in virtue of which agents can understand their
empirical reflection as grounded in the constitutive principles of morality.

Wood, Kantian Ethics, 61, 62.


238

For this view, see, Wood, Kantian Ethics, 60.


239
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” 235

The development of Kant’s theory of moral feelings is a continuous project. It


can be traced to the Groundwork, the Critique of Practical Reason, the Critique
of the Power of Judgment, and section XII of the introduction to the Doctrine of
Virtue. Kant’s discussion of moral feelings shows that the active endorsement of
a maxim is always affective. Originating in an act of moral reflection, the fourfold
aesthetic affective states are responses to the unconditional command of reason.
Moral feelings can thus be explained rationally, and precisely because they are
the product of practical judgment are agents capable of cultivating them. Moral
feelings are subject to rational assessment; they do not happen to an agent but
are shaped by an agent’s Denkungsart.240 Since moral feelings require cultivation,
they have different degrees of strength in different agents. To cultivate our atten-
tiveness to the moral law means to cultivate moral feelings. Moral feelings are
the indispensable media of any moral education, because they are the sensible
expression of an agent’s moral state.
Kant’s “Aesthetics of Morals” sketches how moral reflection produces medi-
ating concepts that allow for the possibility of a transition from autonomy to
empirical agency. The role of the capacity of judgment for allowing transitions
is developed in the Critique of Judgment and applied in section XII. The four-
fold structure of aesthetic responsiveness in section XII is the result of Kant’s
architectonic efforts. Kant’s argument for his theory of mediating concepts as the
product of moral judgment is independent of the table of the categories. Both
the Metaphysics of Morals and the Opus postumum remain unfinished works.

240
MSTL 6:387. Cf. Anth 7:294–​5.
236
Conclusion

This study sets out by asking, “What philosophical problem does the Transition
Project of the Opus postumum address?” The central insight gained by addressing
this question is that the issue of a transition, that is, the problem of a lawful pro-
gression from the metaphysical foundations of the cognition of nature to empir-
ical physics, originates in Kant’s very conception of critical philosophy and its
strict separation of formal from material aspects of knowledge. The issue of sys-
tematic knowledge of the empirical on a priori grounds is in fact not a new project
that is first raised in Kant’s Opus postumum. Rather, it is at the heart of critical
philosophy and had occupied Kant for many years. “Systematic unity is that
which first makes ordinary cognition into science,” Kant writes in the Critique.1
From the very outset, Kant’s critical conception of knowledge emphasizes the
prospect of a coherent rational explanation of physical phenomena founded on
the transcendental laws of the understanding. Kant claims repeatedly that such a
systematicity of the empirical is something that mathematical scientists, such as
Newton, cannot provide. For Kant (and the Wolffian school, to which he is deeply
indebted), comprehending the necessity of a law means to provide insight into its
a priori foundation. How precisely the necessary and universal foundation is con-
nected to contingent and particular cases is a pervasive problem for Kant’s critical
philosophy that can be traced to the “Appendix to the Dialectic,” the “General
Remark to Dynamics” of the Metaphysical Foundations, the introductions to the
Critique of the Power of Judgment, and the Opus postumum. The continuity of
Kant’s Transition Project is the first result of this study. Contrary to what is com-
monly assumed in the literature, Kant’s Transition Project is not a new project.
In the time period of 1796–​8, which is the main focus of this study, Kant’s
vehicle for addressing the issue of the lawful progression from the a priori to
the empirical, or—​what is the flip side of the same problem—​the systematicity
of the empirical, is a theory of schematism or mediating concepts. This is the

KrV A832/​B860.
1
238

238 Kant’s Transition Project and Late Philosophy

second result of this book. The general possibility of such a theory of mediating
concepts connecting the metaphysical foundations of natural science to empir-
ical physics is established a pr