The Synthesis of Kant

  • Cees Maris
  • Frans Jacobs
Part of the Law and Philosophy Library book series (LAPS, volume 94)


Chapter 6 focuses on the 18th-century German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, with David Hume in the background, as one of his most important interlocutors. Kant attempts to design a grand synthesis of the two Enlightenment ideals: scientific progress and moral progress. Kant saves both science and morality by fully acknowledging, contrary to empiricism, the constructing role of human consciousness. It is human reason that makes scientific knowledge possible by organising the chaos of observations into general categories and causal relations. If scientific knowledge is partly based on the constructions of human consciousness, it however has only relative value. It only furnishes knowledge of reality as it appears to our consciousness, not of reality itself as it exists separate from observation and human organisation. This, nonetheless, also has an important advantage: with the same manoeuvre with which Kant relativises the validity of science, he secures a space for ethics. The causal relations into which science organises reality are after all similarly a human construction. Reality as such may look quite different. Whether this is the case we cannot possibly know. In Kant’s view, we do however have an indication that there is more, that is, a moral reality. This indication is to be found in our moral consciousness. Kant concludes from this that human reason entails two forms of judgment. Via our theoretical reason we construct a scientific, causal-explanatory worldview. Apart from this, we can also via our practical reason establish how, irrespective of our empirical selfish motives, we should act in the world. In our scientific reality we create order by way of explanatory natural laws, whereas in the moral world we are guided by the moral law as this finds expression in our conscience. According to Kant, the existence of a community is ensured through law, which consists of an application of the categorical imperative to the extent necessary for social co-existence. In its content, positive law can deviate greatly from the ideal, natural law that follows from the categorical imperative. In Kant’s view, such law is indeed immoral, but it nevertheless falls within the concept of ‘law’. Kant even states explicitly that bad positive law must always be obeyed.


Moral Judgment Social Contract Moral Motive Moral Knowledge Human Consciousness 
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  1. Hume, David. 2007. An enquiry concerning human understanding and other writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Kant, Immanuel. 1977. Critique of practical reason, transl. Mary Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Kant, Immanuel. 1991. Political writings, ed. H.S. Reiss, transl. H.B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Faculty of the Humanities, Department of PhilosophyUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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