Section III: critical rationalism, moral philosophy and human action

In one sense, the goal of an action is the state of affairs that the actor attempts to reach. Hence, the role of an actor’s access to critical reason in achieving such a state of affairs finds central importance in solving the problem of action theory. While Kant realizes that the resource we find in reason can be used to solve the problem of action, his solution, i.e. practical reason, involves infinite regress. Having said that, a new theory of rationality is required to overcome the ‘problem of human action’.

Moral philosophy: from ‘practical’ reason to ‘critical’ reason

The separation of justification and criticism in moral philosophy leads to a key reform in the doctrine of practical reason based on the idea critical rationalism. If Kant’s justificationism does not allow for showing how reason actually determines the goals of action, then his moral philosophy has failed to fulfil its task. That is reason why the normative approaches of Weber and Parsons cannot address the rationality of action ends and does not provide us with a correct answer to the question of how reason drives action. While their critique of the utilitarian model is valuable, their Kantian alternative is not tenable for it involves infinite regress.

Under this condition, the general theory of critical rationalism suggests a new foundation for the theory of action, showing that it is reason, not a plurality of passions, that guides human action. In his Critique of Practical Reason, Kant (1956 [1788]: 29) asks, "How would a free will with nothing constraining or guiding it determine its actions?” His answer is by moral law. Kant argues that there must be an ‘uncaused cause' in the noumenal world of rational beings for an unconditional explanation of the phenomenon to be given. The resources that Kant looks for in pure reason to enable him to find a ‘practical’ solution for the ‘problem’ of rational action may be interpreted in the following maimer: due to a human being's access to reason, there must be an ‘uncaused cause’ of action reflecting this free will. Kant establishes his theory of practical reason on the aforementioned usage of Iris resource in terms of pure reason.

However, justificationism forces Kant to conclude wrongly that pure reason cannot justify the objectivity of a metaphysical judgment such as a universal moral law. According to Kant's theory of knowledge, a priori true categories of thought are not imposable on a metaphysical object. Since Kant defines knowledge as justified true belief, his critique of pure reason leading to his critique of practical reason suffers from infinite regress. In other words, with logical rejection of the demand for justification, Kant’s critique of pure reason to solve the problem of rational action loses its epistemological foundation. However, the separation of justification and criticism requires a shift from the idea of practical reason as the Kantian solution to the problem of action to the idea of critical reason as a new resource bedded in reason to overcome the problem of human action. Hence, a non-justificationist moral philosophy can enable us to indicate the reason why the ends of an action are not subjective, but capable of being objective and rational.

With this clarification in place, moral philosophy may use the general theory of critical rationalism to show how a moral claim regarding the ends of action can be judged rationally, provided that none of its premises and inferences are shown to be false. According to Kant,

Rational beings are the determiners of ends - the ones who set value on things. So a rational being must value rational nature as an end in itself; and it is with this end in view that we act only on maxims which could be universal laws. Since we are the ones who make rational nature our end, we are the ones who give ourselves this law. We are autonomous.

(Korsgaard 2000: 22)

However, if justificationism does not allow Kant to prove such a theory of rational action, a new theory rational action is to be presented to offer a non-justificational solution. I suggest the general theory of critical rationalism that lets us have a non-justificational theory of action and shows that critical reason drives action not only through action goals but also through action means.

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