"The old objection to philosophy that it is 'impractical' seems to
have as one of its best targets Kant's philosophy. In this essay,
Kant responds to this objection in the name of philosophy in
general and in his own name as a philosopher whose thoughts were
and still are commonly believed to be singularly applicable to the
realities of politics and everyday life. This essay is of prime
importance in reaching a just estimate of the contribution
philosophy, including Kantian philosophy, can make to the practical
solution of human problems."--Lewis White Beck In this famous
essay, first published in 1793, Kant considers the alleged conflict
between theory and practice in the conduct of human affairs in
three widening contexts: those of the common person faced with a
moral decision, of the politician and the citizen concerned with
the extent and limits of political obligation, and, finally, of the
citizen of the world whose actions have a bearing on war and peace
among nations. Unlike other animals, Kant reminds us, people must
decide how they will live their lives. They therefore ask for a
guide to action, a set of principles--a theory. From the outset,
Kant rejects the ancient claim that the practical possibilities of
action cannot always be reconciled with moral demands. He offers
his own moral theory, a theory starting out from the principle of
the right as an unequivocal guide to action. In partial
disagreement with the rival theories of Hobbes and Locke, he
proposes that the only condition under which the individual can
achieve true destiny as a person and a member of the human race is
the civil state. Such a state can be secured only by law. Although
"from such crooked wood as man is made of, nothing perfectly
straight can be built," only the rule of law can bring about a
stable society. Last, Kant turns to the relation between theory and
practice in international relations. "Nowhere," he writes, "does
human nature appear less lovable than in the relation of whole
nations to each other." But to hope for world peace on the basis of
"the so-called balance of power is a mere chimera." There is no
other remedy to international lawlessness and war than an
international coercive law, and such law can grow only out of sound
theory. "I put my trust in theory. At the same time, I trust in the
nature of things, and also take account of human nature, which I
cannot, or will not, consider so steeped in evil that in the end
reason should not triumph." Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of
the most important philosophers of the eighteenth century. His
"Critique of Pure Reason" continues to influence thinkers and
critics today. E. B. Ashton is translator of many works, including
"Kant's Political Thought: Its Origins and Development" and "Primal
Vision: Selected Writings of Gottfried Benn." George Miller (1920-
) is James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor,
Emeritus, at Princeton University. His books include "Language and
Speech" and "Mathematics and Psychology."
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