The Groundwork of Metaphysics of Morals Essay

Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals - …

Grounding for the metaphysics of morals essay - …

The rationalist metaphysics of Leibniz (1646–1716) is alsofoundational for the Enlightenment, particularly the GermanEnlightenment (die Aufklärung), one prominent expressionof which is the Leibnizian rationalist system of Christian Wolff(1679–1754). Leibniz articulates, and places at the head ofmetaphysics, the great rationalist principle, the principle ofsufficient reason, which states that everything that exists has asufficient reason for its existence. This principle exemplifies thecharacteristic conviction of the Enlightenment that the universe isthoroughly rationally intelligible. The question arises of how thisprinciple itself can be known or grounded. Wolff attempts to derive itfrom the logical principle of non-contradiction (in his FirstPhilosophy or Ontology, 1730). Criticism of this allegedderivation gives rise to the general question of how formal principlesof logic can possibly serve to ground substantive knowledge ofreality. Whereas Leibniz exerts his influence through scatteredwritings on various topics, some of which elaborate plans for asystematic metaphysics which are never executed by Leibniz himself,Wolff exerts his influence on the German Enlightenment through hisdevelopment of a rationalist system of knowledge in which he attemptsto demonstrate all the propositions of science from first principles,known a priori.

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Though Locke’s liberalism has been tremendously influential, hispolitical theory is founded on doctrines of natural law and religionthat are not nearly as evident as Locke assumes. Locke’sreliance on the natural law tradition is typical of Enlightenmentpolitical and moral theory. According to the natural law tradition, asthe Enlightenment makes use of it, we can know through the use of ourunaided reason that we all – all human beings, universally– stand in particular moral relations to each other. The claimthat we can apprehend through our unaided reason a universalmoral order exactly because moral qualities and relations (inparticular human freedom and equality) belong to the nature of things,is attractive in the Enlightenment for obvious reasons. However, asnoted above, the scientific apprehension of nature in the period doesnot support, and in fact opposes, the claim that the alleged moralqualities and relations (or, indeed, that any moral qualitiesand relations) are natural. According to a commonEnlightenment assumption, as humankind clarifies the laws of naturethrough the advance of natural science and philosophy, the true moraland political order will be revealed with it. This view is expressedexplicitly by the philosophe Marquis de Condorcet, in hisSketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the HumanMind (published posthumously in 1795 and which, perhaps betterthan any other work, lays out the paradigmatically Enlightenment viewof history of the human race as a continual progress to perfection).But, in fact, advance in knowledge of the laws of nature in thescience of the period does not help with discernment of a naturalpolitical or moral order. This asserted relationship between naturalscientific knowledge and the political and moral order is under greatstress already in the Enlightenment. With respect to Lockeanliberalism, though his assertion of the moral and political claims(natural freedom, equality, et cetera) continues to have considerableforce for us, the grounding of these claims in a religious cosmologydoes not. The question of how to ground our claims to natural freedomand equality is one of the main philosophical legacies of theEnlightenment.

according to Kant's "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals", ..

Let us begin, then, with Grammar. This, in practice, means the grammarof some language in particular; and it must be an inflected language. Thegrammatical structure of an uninflected language is far too analyticalto be tackled by any one without previous practice in Dialectic. Moreover,the inflected languages interpret the uninflected, whereas the uninflectedare of little use in interpreting the inflected. I will say at once, quitefirmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I saythis, not because Latin is traditional and mediaeval, but simply becauseeven a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains oflearning almost any other subject by at least fifty percent. It is thekey to the vocabulary and structure of all the Teutonic languages, as wellas to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literatureof the entire Mediterranean civilization, together with all its historicaldocuments.

morals in the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, ..


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Despite Descartes’ grounding of all scientific knowledge inmetaphysical knowledge of God, his system contributes significantly tothe advance of natural science in the period. He attacks thelong-standing assumptions of the scholastic-aristotelians whoseintellectual dominance stood in the way of the development of the newscience; he developed a conception of matter that enabled mechanicalexplanation of physical phenomena; and he developed some of thefundamental mathematical resources – in particular, a way toemploy algebraic equations to solve geometrical problems – thatenabled the physical domain to be explained with precise, simplemathematical formulae. Furthermore, his grounding of physics, and allknowledge, in a relatively simple and elegant rationalist metaphysicsprovides a model of a rigorous and complete secular system ofknowledge. Though major Enlightenment thinkers (for example Voltairein his Letters on the English Nation, 1734) embraceNewton’s physical system in preference to Descartes’,Newton’s system itself depends on Descartes’ earlier work,a dependence to which Newton himself attests.

Grounding for the metaphysics of morals – Qessays

Immanuel Kant explicitly enacts a revolution in epistemology modeledon the Copernican in astronomy. As characteristic of Enlightenmentepistemology, Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781,second edition 1787) undertakes both to determine the limits of ourknowledge, and at the same time to provide a foundation of scientificknowledge of nature, and he attempts to do this by examining our humanfaculties of knowledge critically. Even as he draws strict limits torational knowledge, he attempts to defend reason as a faculty ofknowledge, as playing a necessary role in natural science, in the faceof skeptical challenges that reason faces in the period. According toKant, scientific knowledge of nature is not merely knowledge of whatin fact happens in nature, but knowledge of the causal lawsof nature according to which what in fact happens musthappen. But how is knowledge of necessary causal connection in naturepossible? Hume’s investigation of the idea of cause had madeclear that we cannot know causal necessity through experience;experience teaches us at most what in fact happens, not whatmust happen. In addition, Kant’s own earlier critiqueof principles of rationalism had convinced him that the principles of(“general”) logic also cannot justify knowledge ofreal necessary connections (in nature); the formal principleof non-contradiction can ground at best the deduction of oneproposition from another, but not the claim that oneproperty or event must follow from another in thecourse of nature. The generalized epistemological problem Kantaddresses in the Critique of Pure Reason is: how is sciencepossible (including natural science, mathematics, metaphysics), giventhat all such knowledge must be (or include) knowledge of real,substantive (not merely logical or formal) necessities. Put in theterms Kant defines, the problem is: how is synthetic, a prioriknowledge possible?