A History of Philosophy

A History of Philosophy
Volume VI, Part III: Immanuel Kant
Frederick Copleston, S.J.
Chapter XIV: Morality and Religion
A. Kant’s Aim
1. Kant took for granted our ordinary knowledge of objects and our scientific knowledge
2. Says it is the business of the critical philosopher to isolate and exhibit the a priori elements in our
theoretical knowledge – which he can distinguish from the a posteriori elements – in a systematic
way (308c)
3. There is our knowledge of objects which are originally given in sense intuition, but Kant says
there is also moral knowledge:
a. Moral knowledge is not knowledge of what is, but of what ought to be
b. “This knowledge is a priori, in the sense that it does not depend on men’s actual behavior.”
i. “Even if they [men] all told lies, it would still be true that they ought not to do so.”(308e)
c. “The statement is true independently of their conduct, and in this sense is true a priori.”
i. “We cannot verify the statement that men ought to tell the truth by examining whether they
in fact do so or not.” (309a)
4. For Kant, the primary task of the moral philosopher should be that of isolating the a priori
elements in our moral knowledge and showing their origin.
a. The moral philosopher asks how the synthetic a priori propositions of morals are possible