The Submission of our Sensuous Nature to the Moral Law in the Second Critique

  • Amihud Gilead
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 128)


1. According to Kant we are free to choose between two ways in which our will can be determined: either following our natural inclinations, desires and feelings — all of which are sensuous, given and pathological (passional) — or obeying solely the moral law from no other motive but respect for it. This freedom of choice is a fact of reason, which is necessarily presupposed (since without it morality is impossible) but not explicable. Were it possible to explain this fact, our choice would not be free at all but predictable, and, as such, subject to the deterministic laws of nature. No wonder, then, that Kant says that we cannot understand how our will is determined either pathologically or morally and rationally (KpV 5: 72). Neither rational explanation nor empirical example can make us understand the determination of our will (Willkür) which is capable of being independent both of sensuous impulses (A534/B562) and of the moral law, between the two of which it can freely choose. The two systems of determination — that of natural phenomena (“the causality of sensuous nature,” KpV 5: 47) and that of free noumena (“the causality through freedom,” ibid.) — are separate and independent, and the one cannot interfere with the other (A557-58/B585-86; KpV 5:42–43). Following the one excludes the other. When following natural desires, our will is phenomenal, empirical and pathological; whereas when obeying the moral law from no sensuous motive, our will is noumenal. We can choose between enslaving ourselves to the deterministic, phenomenal system and setting ourselves, as noumena, free from it. In the latter case we reluctantly choose, against our natural inclinations, desires and interests, to obey the moral law, which is the most characteristic expression of our autonomy as self-legislative, rational beings.


Natural Inclination Categorical Imperative Deterministic Causation Natural Desire Phenomenal Fact 
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  1. 1.
    Which is also our enlightenment (Aufklärung),namely, our release from the self-incurred tutelage (Unmündigkeit) for which only we ourselves are responsible (according to the beginning of What is Enlightenment). To use this concept for my present purpose, our self-incurred tutelage is our (explicit or implicit) choice or preference to follow our sensuous nature, that is, to remain in a state of heteronomy and dependence, i.e., tutelage, instead of obeying our autonomous, moral law.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amihud Gilead
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of HaifaIsrael

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