October 18-19, 2008


“The Moral Import of the Third Critique

Kristi Sweet (Texas A & M University)

Saturday, October 18, 12:00PM (EDT)

Scholars have long been at odds about the meaning of Kant’s Critique of Judgment and its place in his system.  In this paper, I suggest that the third Critique be understood in the context of Kant’s practical philosophy, in particular, the demand that reason places on human beings to work towards the highest good.  In the highest good, as our objective end, we are confronted with heterogeneous ends– the rational end of virtue and the natural end of happiness– that must stand in a synthetic, causal unity.  It is in this task of producing the highest good, the causal union of virtue and happiness, that the problem of the incalculable gulf between freedom and nature, toward which the third Critique is directed, is made manifest. 

In order for human beings to rationally work for our objective end in the causal union of virtue (freedom) and happiness (nature), Kant contends that we must also be able to think that its attainment is possible.  This possibility takes the form, I try to motivate, in our rethinking of nature as having a causality and ends that are commensurable with those of human freedom.  Only when nature can be thought of not as a merely mechanistic causality, but as purposive, can we think the possibility of the highest good. 

While we can certainly point to the postulate of God as the moral author of nature as a rethinking of the kind of causality nature possesses, I argue that this fails to adequately bridge the gulf between freedom and nature, as it remains a merely ideal vision of nature. Rather, I propose that we understand the third Critique to bridge the gulf between freedom and nature insofar as the principle of the purposiveness of nature that Kant develops there takes a step beyond that of the postulate of God as moral author of nature.  Namely, the structure of reflective judgments in which purposiveness is asserted is such that reflective judgments are occasioned by, or dependent upon, our experience of nature itself.  In this way, the third Critique provides a very different kind of evidence, one that is connected to sensibility, that nature is for us and can thus stand in a causal union with our rational ends.