Time and Ethics: How Is Morality Possible?

  • C. M. Sherover


It has frequently been remarked that Immanuel Kant brought the concept of time into the forefront of philosophic discussion; that much of our preoccupation with time stems from his work. But it is too often forgotten that he had carefully and painstakingly restricted the dimensions of time to the cognitive functioning of the human understanding, that he had denied time applicability to the human self in its exercise of that moral freedom which he regarded as the secured foundation of moral reason.


Practical Reason Moral Judgment Moral Responsibility Moral Reason Present Situation 
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  1. 1.
    See Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason,tr. N.K. Smith (London: Macmillan and Co.; New York: St. Martin’s Press) — hereafter referred to as CPR — A142 = B187, pp. 183-87 together with the chapter entitled “System of All Principles of Pure Understanding.” Taken together, it becomes quite clear that the Kantian categories are derived from or rooted in what Kant described as the four possible modes of temporal experience and that the Principles of human knowledge are explicitly temporalized versions of those same categories.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Critique of Practical Reason,tr. Lewis White Beck (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1949), hereafter referred to as CPrR,pp. 224-25.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
  4. 4.
    The “Typic” (to which N. Lawrence has kindly redirected my attention) hardly serves as the practical counterpart of the Schematism in the First Critique; in fact, Kant explicitly distinguished the two. Yet what is needed is a `moral schematism’ which would function as the fount of a temporal “procedure of the imagination” (cf. CPrR,p. 177) for practical reason as the Schematism does for cognitive reason. For Kant's own explanations of his moral doctrines always involve a temporalizing imagination to bring and test possible imperatives in concreto. Yet apparently because the Schematism was tied, in the first Critique, to that notion of time which yields the determinism of the natural world, he eschewed its use and could not replace it in the realm of moral freedom.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Strangely enough, as Locke for one pointed out, Aristotle did not explicitly bring space into the discussion of time qua measure. But it was certainly presupposed. His essay on time in the Physics was quite clearly concerned with time in terms of the measuring of the motion of physical entities; this seems especially clear from section twelve of that essay. It even seems true in his brief (and generally overlooked) discussion of psychological time (cf. 448a-448b).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Cf. CPR, A532, 33 = B560, 61, p. 464.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The Principles of Nature and of Grace, Based on Reason, Leibniz Selections, ed. P.P. Wiener ( New York: Charles Scribner's Sons 1951 ), p. 530.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Cf. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, tr. H.J. Paton (New York: Harper and Row, Torchbooks), hereafter referred to as GMM, p. 115.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Cf. GMM,pp. 114, 126; CPrR,pp. 165, 175, 200, 236; also through the discussion of the Third Antinomy in CPR.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Kant obviously could only have taken prior’ in a logical sense here; but, if the capacity for free decision, and motivating action, is not also, in some sense, temporally as well as logically prior, it is not clear just what could be meant in any concrete instance. But, if there must be some temporal meaning somehow implicit, then the strict alleged nontemporality of moral reason collapses.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    GMM, p. 1 19.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cf. CPR, A98-110.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Cf. CPR, A98-110.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    For an indication of this temporal analysis of understanding generally, see my Heidegger, Kant and Time (Indianapolis and London: Indiana University Press 1971), esp. pp. 142-70.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See notes 2 and 3 above.Google Scholar

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© Springer-Verlag New York Inc. 1975

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  • C. M. Sherover

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