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his instincts and inclinations.”66
With the concept of the voluntary (which, again, is to be construed
here in a particularly strong sense: “utter voluntariness”) we encounter one
of the starkest differences between Williams and Kant. For Williams, as we
saw earlier, free will is an illusion. Our choices are always surrounded and
held up and partly formed by things over which we have no control, and
any ethical outlook that seeks to overcome illusion and superstition simply
must accept this fact. Kant on the other hand asserts that “we must assume
freedom of the will in acting, without which there would be no morals.”67 It
does not make sense to think that people could even have moral obligations
unless we presuppose that they can be the authors of their own actions. As
Williams notes, Kant™s account of freedom “presents great dif¬culties and
obscurities,” not the least of which is the “extravagant metaphysical luggage
of the noumenal self.”68 But Kant has no desire to hide these dif¬culties
and obscurities from readers. Freedom, he declares in the Groundwork,
“can never be comprehended or even only seen. It holds only as a necessary

65 Schiller (1965), vol. I, p. 300. This objection notwithstanding, Schiller did have an enormous
appreciation for Kant™s philosophy. E.g., he begins Schiller (1795/1967) by exclaiming: “I
shall not attempt to hide from you that it is for most part Kantian principles on which the
following theses will be based,” p. 3.
66 Kant (1783/1996b) Ak. 8: 14; p. 10.
67 Kant (1783/1996b) Ak. 8: 14; p. 10.
68 Williams (1985), pp. 64“65.
124 Robert B. Louden

presupposition of reason.”69 Or, as he remarks somewhat less prosaically
in a Review: “the nexus of the physical and the moral in the human being
surpasses what his spirit can grasp”; when we try to grasp this nexus we
become aware that we are “in the presence of a mystery (ein Geheimnis).”70
Without plunging further into these dif¬culties and obscurities, suf¬ce it to
say that here we are confronted with two radically different outlooks: with
Williams, an outlook that views “human beings as part of nature” and urges
us to adopt a correlative naturalistic moral psychology; with Kant, an out-
look that views human beings as capable of acting according to “a rule and
order that is entirely other than the natural order,” and that subsequently
rejects any wholly naturalistic account of who and what we are.71
However, this is not at all to say that Kant allows room only for the
blunt dichotomy of reason and force in in¬‚uencing human behavior. Here
Williams™ depiction of the morality system strays signi¬cantly from Kant™s
own position. As a strong defender of autonomy (“the sole principle of
morals”), Kant certainly is no friend of brute force.72 But to a much greater
degree than most philosophers, he is also acutely aware that appealing to
abstract reason is not generally the most effective way to get a moral message
across to human beings. As cognitively limited, image-dependent creatures,
human beings always stand in need of tangible symbols of morality. And
they are also creatures who, to a much greater degree than other animals,
require enormous expenditures of care, nurture, education, and encultur-
ation in order to develop their capacities. (“The human being is the only
creature that must be educated.”)73 As a result, a wide variety of cultural
supports need to be enlisted to help get morality™s message across to human
beings and to instill moral dispositions in them. To begin with, art and aes-
thetic experience generally are both viewed by Kant as humanly-necessary
preparations for morality. The experience of beauty, whether in nature or
in artworks, “greatly promotes morality or at least prepares the way for it”
by cultivating the disposition “to love something (e.g., beautiful crystal for-
mations, the indescribable beauty of plants) even apart from any intention

69 Kant (1785/1996d) Ak. 4: 459; p. 105. An additional complication, which need not detain
us here, is that Kant™s position on freedom is not static throughout his works. E.g., at the
beginning of his Critique of Practical Reason he announces that practical reason “furnishes
reality . . . to freedom . . . , and hence establishes by means of a fact” what in speculative
reason could only be thought. Kant (1788/1996f) Ak. 5: 6; p. 141. This is a much stronger
claim concerning our ability to comprehend freedom than anything he asserts in Kant
70 Kant (1788/1996e) Ak. 8: 125; p. 125.
71 Williams (1995c), p. 67. Kant (1781/1787/1998) A 550/ B 575; p. 543. (The ¬rst reference
to the Critique is to the standard A and B pagination of the ¬rst and second editions.)
72 Kant (1785/1996d), Ak. 4: 440; p. 89.
73 Kant (1803/2007), Ak. 9: 441; pagination forthcoming for the translated version.
The Critique of the Morality System

to use it.”74 Through the enjoyment of colors, sounds, and patterns for
their own sakes, without regard to any extraneous considerations, we are
given a palpable glimpse of moral freedom. Similarly, the arts and sciences
generally, though they do not necessarily make human beings “morally
better” (sittlich besser), do, “through a pleasure that can be communicated
universally, and by bringing polish and re¬nement into society, make human
beings civilized (gesittet), and do much to overcome the tyranny of the senses
and thereby prepare human beings for a sovereignty in which reason alone
shall have power.”75 Here too a sense of disinterested pleasure and univer-
sality are promoted; and psychological states strongly analogous to those
found in moral judgment are cultivated.
Much of Kant™s Religion is also premised on the assumption that “for
the human being the invisible needs to be represented through something
visible (sensible).”76 Like many Enlightenment authors, he sees a uni¬ed
moral core beneath the surface differences of the various historical faiths.
But “because of the natural need of all human beings to demand for even
the highest concepts and grounds of reason something that the senses can
hold on to, . . . some historical faith or other, usually already at hand, must be
used” to bring us into touch with this moral core.77
Finally, democratic nation-states also help to promote morality, for in
them each citizen;

believes that he himself would indeed hold the concept of right sacred and
follow it faithfully, if only he could expect every other to do likewise, and
the government in part assures him of this; thereby a great step is taken
toward morality (though it is not yet a moral step) toward being attached to
this concept of duty even for its own sake, without regard for any return.78

In sum, Kant recognizes and explicitly endorses a wide variety of cultural
practices as humanly-necessary vehicles for edging us closer to morality. He
is well aware that abstract reason and brute force are not the only options.
Turning ¬nally to the issue of purity, it is clear both that Kant was
strongly committed to the foundational project of “a pure moral philos-
ophy, completely cleansed of everything that may be only empirical and
that belongs to anthropology”; and that Williams is deeply suspicious of all

74 Kant (1797/1996h), Ak. 6: 443; p. 564. Kant explores this theme in greater detail in Kant
(1790/2000), see, e.g., Ak. 5: 211, 267, 354, 433; pp. 96, 150“51, 228, 301. For discussion,
see Guyer (1993).
75 Kant (1790/2000), Ak. 5: 433; p. 301.
76 Kant (1793/1996j), Ak. 6: 192; p. 208.
77 Kant (1793/1996j), Ak. 6: 109; p. 142.
78 Kant (1795/1996g) Ak. 8: 376 n.; p. 343 n. I explore these cultural inducements to morality
at greater length in Louden (2000), esp. chs. 4“5.
126 Robert B. Louden

“purist views of morality” that reject biological as well as historical and psy-
chological understandings of morality.79 But Kant was equally adamant that
pure ethics was only the ¬rst step: “The metaphysics of morals or metaphys-
ica pura is only the ¬rst part of morals “ the second part is philosophia moralis
applicata, moral anthropology, to which the empirical principles belong.”80
The second part, Kant notes in his Metaphysics of Morals, is a “counterpart
of a metaphysics of morals, the other division of practical philosophy as a
whole, . . . moral anthropology.”81 Unfortunately, philosophical friends as
well as foes of Kant, in their own desire to “keep philosophy pure,” have
virtually ignored this second (impure, empirical) part of his ethics.82 How-
ever, because its aim is to determine how best to make morality ef¬cacious in
human life, the second part forms an integral part of his system of practical
philosophy, and he explores it sporadically not only in his published works
on moral philosophy but also in his classroom lectures on anthropology,
geography, and education, his essays on the philosophy of history, and in
selected aspects of his work in aesthetics and religion.83
Williams exhorts us to recognize that ethics and philosophy generally
“cannot be too pure, and must merge with other kinds of understanding.”84
Kant is opposed to any such forced merger, in part because of the massive
layoffs among philosophers that would follow (“that which mixes . . . pure
principles with empirical ones does not even deserve the name of philoso-
phy”).85 But Kant does nevertheless insist that moral theory “needs anthro-
pology for its application to human beings”; indeed that “morality cannot
exist without anthropology.”86 Both Kant and Williams recognize that eth-
ical theory needs a massive infusion of relevant and accurate empirical data
if it is to be applied successfully to human life.


Although I have challenged several subsidiary aspects of Williams™ identi-
¬cation of the morality system with Kant™s own view of ethics, as concerns

79 Kant (1785/1996d), Ak. 4: 389; p. 44. Williams (1995d), p. 104.
80 Kant (1785) Ak. 29: 599. (This particular lecture transcription from the Moral Mrongovius
II is not included in the Cambridge Kant translations.)
81 Kant (1797/1996h), Ak. 6: 217; p. 372.
82 Cf. Rorty (1982).
83 For further discussion, see Louden (2000), esp. Chap. 1; and Louden (2003). See also Part
II (Anthropological Applications) of Wood (1999).
84 Williams (1996), p. 37.
85 Kant (1785/1996d), Ak. 4: 390; p. 46.
86 Kant (1785/1996d), Ak. 4: 412; p. 65. Kant (1784“85/1997a), Ak. 27: 244; p. 42.
The Critique of the Morality System

the four broad “philosophical mistakes” with which we began this essay,
his analysis is substantially correct. First, obligation, at least in the broad
sense of acting under rational constraint, is for Kant by far the central type
of ethical consideration in human experience. Second, genuine practical
necessity is on his view peculiar to the ethical “ the moral ought, unlike all
varieties of nonmoral oughts, “expresses a species of necessity and a con-
nection with grounds which does not occur anywhere else in the whole of
nature.”87 Third, ethical practical necessity on Kant™s view is peculiar to
obligation, though again the resulting obligation may be perfect or imper-
fect, a duty to oneself or to others. And ¬nally, although Kant does hold
that inclinations and emotions play an important and positive role in human
moral experience, that many factors besides abstract reason and brute force
in¬‚uence human behavior, and that relevant empirical data are necessary
for the study of human morality, it remains the case that his ethics pre-
suppose a strong commitment both to free will and to pure (nonempirical)
foundational principles.
However, the important philosophical question is whether we really
“would be better off without” the morality system. In this last section, I
wish to address this question, albeit all too brie¬‚y. To simplify matters, in
what follows I will construe the morality system to refer to the intersection
between Kant™s ethics and the morality system, as analyzed earlier, focusing
now on the core differences between Kant™s view of morality and Williams™
conception of ethics. The core differences, on my reading, come down to
Kant™s robust commitment to strong senses of free will and practical reason,
and Williams™ ¬rm rejection of both of these two commitments.
Let me start with a few remarks about free will. Traditionally, the ques-
tion of free will has been seen as linked to that of moral responsibility.
Freedom of action, that is, has been viewed as a necessary prerequisite for
moral responsibility “ responsibility both in cases where things go wrong
(and judgments of criticism, rebuke, censure, blame, or punishment seem
appropriate), as well as in cases where they turn out well (and judgments
of encouragement, congratulation, praise, or reward follow). In my view,
Williams™ desire to decouple ethics from the presupposition of free will
would, if widely adopted, be a disaster not only for the morality system
and Kant™s ethics but for any ethical outlook worth taking seriously. Among
other things, it would become exceedingly dif¬cult (I™m tempted to say
impossible) to distinguish convincingly cases where agents were responsible

87 Kant (1781/1787/1998), A 547/B 576; p. 540.
128 Robert B. Louden

from those where they weren™t.88 And the rich vocabulary of terms tradi-
tionally used to refer to the former type of case would no longer make sense.
Gradually, a picture of human beings as creatures who are simply shaped
by various combinations of natural and cultural forces would replace the
contrasting picture of human beings as creatures who at least sometimes
are the authors of their own actions.
It also seems a relatively safe bet to predict that most people would
not ever want to replace the latter picture with the former. For there are
compelling and hard-to-shake-off psychological reasons for believing that
sometimes we are responsible for what we do. For instance, often when we
make a choice (practical or theoretical, moral or nonmoral: for example, it
can happen while constructing a philosophical argument or writing a short
story) and re¬‚ect on what we are doing, it certainly seems as though the next
step is up to us. (“Should I do this “ or that? Say A “ or B? I could go either
way.”) While we are choosing, it is very hard to believe that we are not free
and that what we choose is not up to us.89
By contrast, were we somehow able to convince ourselves (and again, I
don™t think it will be easy) that we lack free will, the psychological reper-
cussions would be severe. Here too a different picture of ourselves and our
possibilities would need to be adopted. For many people, a sort of cosmic
lethargy or ennui would take over. (“What will be will be, so what™s the use
of thinking or trying otherwise? I know that as an agent I am trapped in a
web that I didn™t create and cannot escape from, so why waste the energy
Asserting that most people want to believe they are free is of course not the
same as providing a convincing-to-all-sides argument that proves they really
are free. For many people want to believe many things that turn out not to
be true. But there is also no convincing-to-all-sides argument that proves
free will is an illusion coming from the numerous ranks of compatibilists
or determinists either, and since the psychological weight is on the side
of freedom, the other side has a lot of work to do. Given this apparent
theoretical stalemate on “the most contentious question in metaphysics, the

88 For some hints in this direction, see Williams™ scepticism about the very notion of moral
responsibility in Williams (2003), pp. 56, 67; and his proposal to replace the concept of a
responsible agent with that of a mature agent in Williams (1995b), pp. 28“32.
89 This is Kant™s point when he asserts that reason “must regard itself as the author of its
principles independently of alien in¬‚uences,” Kant (1785/1996d), Ak. 4: 448; p. 96. Thought
seems less than fully rational if it is causally determined. For some expected scepticism, see
Williams (1985), pp. 66“67, 211 n. 16.
The Critique of the Morality System

most contentious science,”90 Kant™s own philosophical agnosticism seems
to me to be a virtue: “reason would overstep all its bounds if it took it
upon itself . . . to explain how freedom is possible. . . . [Freedom] holds only as
a necessary presupposition of reason in a being that believes itself to be
conscious of a will.”91
Next, a few remarks about practical reason, which for Kant is in effect
but a different way of talking about freedom. For on his view, the human
experience of moral obligation itself convinces us that we have free will.
Once we come to the conclusion as a result of practical reasoning that,
morally speaking, we ought to do X, we are also convinced that we also can
(have it in our power to) do X, regardless of whether we feel so inclined or
not. As he remarks in the Religion, once we experience a moral obligation


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