The Ambitious Idea of Kant’s Corollary

In Violetta L. Waibel, Margit Ruffing & David Wagner (eds.), Natur und Freiheit. Akten des XII. Internationalen Kant-Kongresses. De Gruyter. pp. 1779-1786 (2018)
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Abstract

Misrepresentations can be innocuous or even useful, but Kant’s corollary to the formula of universal law appears to involve a pernicious one: “act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature”. Humans obviously cannot make their maxims into laws of nature, and it seems preposterous to claim that we are morally required to pretend that we can. Given that Kant was careful to eradicate pernicious misrepresentations from theoretical metaphysics, the imperative to act as if I have this supernatural power has typically been treated as an embarrassment meriting apology. The wording of the corollary may be vindicated, however, by recognizing that “as if” (als ob) is a technical term both in the Critique of Pure Reason and here. It signals a modal shift from the assertoric to the problematic mode of cognition, one that is necessitated by the attempt to incorporate the natural effects of a free will into a universal moral imperative that is philosophically practical. In this paper I sketch how the modal shift makes sense of the corollary as a subjectively necessary, philosophically practical idealization of the extension of human freedom into nature, one that accurately represents a necessary parameter of moral conduct: moral ambition.

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Susan V. H. Castro
Wichita State University

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