Groundlaying: Kant's Search for the Highest Principle of Morality

The Student Glossary for Kant's Groundlaying toward the Metaphysics of Morals

Kant uses 'absolute' or 'absolutely' to let us know that something is not dependent or based on some empirical, contingent condition. He frequently uses it to describe a good will, necessity, and law. So an absolutely good will is a will that is always guided by the moral law and never swayed by desires and other empirical incentives. And a moral command such as the categorical imperative expresses absolute necessity because it must be followed no matter what desires you might have. This independence from any empirical condition implies that you will not be able to excuse yourself from, or make for yourself an exception to, the moral law.
a posteriori
This Latin phrase is typically used in connection with concepts and incentives. It indicates availability only by means of empirical investigation and is to be understood in opposition to 'a priori'. An example of an a posteriori concept is the concept of gravity. We have the concept of gravity only through experience (e.g., of dropped objects falling to the ground rather than floating) and, in its more precise form, through the empirical investigations of experimenters like Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton. In philosophy in general, it is knowledge justified by appeal to the senses that is typically alleged to be a posteriori.
a priori
This Latin phrase is frequently used in connection with concepts, principles, laws, and propositions. It signals availability without the aid of empirical investigation and so is to be understood in opposition to 'a posteriori'. Characterizing a principle as a priori, for instance, can signal that the principle can be known without the aid of empirical investigation. Kant thinks that all genuinely moral principles are a priori (and also that they are synthetic). In philosophy in general, it is knowledge that is sometimes alleged to be a priori, particularly knowledge of logical truths but also of some moral and metaphysical truths. In these contexts, we are said to know these truths a priori; that is, we can gain access to the truths without having to resort to empirical investigation.
1. Kant's method of investigation is in part analytic, another part being synthetic. In this methodological context, 'analytic' refers to transitioning to higher principles (having a more general or wider scope of application) from lower principles (having a more specific or narrower scope of application) by examination of the lower principles. Other ways to think of it are to see it as a transition from conclusion to premises or assumptions, or as a process of reverse-engineering a finished product into the components from which it is assembled. Kant says (at pp. 95-6) that the first two Sections of the work exhibit this analytic approach.
2. Kant also speaks of analytic propositions (see p. 45). Such a proposition linguistically joins together concepts that are conceptually inseparable in the sense that if you think one concept and fully probe the concept you will come across the other concept, thus merely making explicit what is already implicit in the probed concept. The usual metaphor is that one (i.e., the probed) concept contains the other concept, this containment being what makes the concepts inseparable in the specified sense. As an example, Kant says (pp. 44-5) that the proposition 'whoever wills the end also wills the indispensable means to that end' is an analytic proposition; for if we sufficiently probe the concept of willing an end we will find in it the concept of willing the indispensable means to that end.
This unusual word indicates the absolute necessity of something such as a law or principle. For example (p. 40), the categorical imperative is an apodictic practical principle; hypothetical imperatives, on the other hand, are never apodictic because the necessity they express is always conditional (on, for instance, desires and wants) rather than absolute.
An appearance is an object of experience and is located in space and time. This word ('Erscheinung' in German) occurs most frequently in the Third Section (an earlier and less specific use appears on p. 28) in the context of the world of sense: appearances are what we encounter in the world of sense, in the world that is full of sensible objects such as trees and bumblebees. A closely related term is 'phenomenon' ('phenomena' being the plural, analogous to 'appearances'). An appearance (phenomenon) is to be contrasted with a thing in itself (noumenon). The appearance is supposed to be the appearing, to us in the world of sense, of the thing in itself which is not in the world of sense and which we cannot know; the unknowable thing in itself is in some way "behind" the appearance.
Kant categorizes hypothetical imperatives in several ways. One of these ways is to say that the hypothetical imperative is an assertoric practical principle, by which he means that the imperative, taken as a principle, asserts that an action is appropriate for some actual or real (as opposed to some merely possible) purpose. Kant's example (p. 42) is that everyone has as an actual purpose the pursuit of happiness; the hypothetical imperative prescribing the pursuit is thus assertoric. On p. 40, Kant contrasts assertoric principles with problematic principles.
Kant uses this word to refer to the capacity of the will to govern itself by formulating and following laws and principles that are based in reason. This capacity is a distinguishing feature of rational beings endowed with a will. Such beings can (but, if they are imperfect beings such as humans, do not always) make principled decisions that are the result of thinking things through using their reason; frequently, however, such beings make decisions (and then act) based chiefly on emotions, feelings, desires, wants, likes and dislikes, biases, and prejudices. Kant also speaks (p. 74) of the principle of autonomy, and in this usage he means a principle that prescribes that we should exercise this capacity of the will to act on rational principles or maxims formulable as universal laws.
Most generally, this signals an independence from desires, wants, and needs. So, for example, the categorical imperative is an imperative that holds independently of what you might happen to want or desire. The categorical is aligned with what is universal and absolute rather than with what is personal/individual and relative. This alignment with the universal and absolute is perhaps the chief reason why moral imperatives, which are always categorical, are not hypothetical imperatives.
Although this word has the same root as 'categorical' in 'categorical imperative', their meanings are not closely related. The categories are pure concepts of the understanding. They are basic, very general concepts that are built-in to the structure of our minds and that play an essential role in constructing our experience of the empirical world, the world of sense. According to Kant, there are twelve of these categories; examples of these fundamental concepts include: unity, plurality, causality, and possibility. Kant discusses the categories at length in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781). In the Groundlaying, they are mostly in the background. In fact, Kant only explicitly refers to them once, on p. 80; other references are indirect such as those on p. 108 where they are the concepts that "bring sensuous representations under rules" or on p. 112 where they are the concepts that are "added" to intuitions.
A cognition is a kind of representation (in Kant's sense) of an object or relation between objects. A moral cognition, for instance, might be a true judgment about what our duty is in a particular situation. The German word is 'Erkenntniß' and is sometimes translated as 'knowledge' in the sense of knowing that something is the case or of holding a true proposition about something.
A concept is a kind of representation (in Kant's sense) of a property or characteristic of something of a particular kind. For example, the concept of a rational being specifies the property or attribute of having the power or faculty of reason. Some concepts can be complex and specify more than one property; for example, the concept of a moral principle specifies, among others which Kant does not emphasize so much, the three properties of being universal, being necessary, and being absolute.
Kant speaks several times in the Groundlaying of a critique of reason and of practical reason. These critiques are part of his so-called critical philosophy, which is the philosophy he started putting together in the 1770s and which represents his more mature views. Kant thinks these critiques of reason are necessary in order to prevent reason from exceeding its limits, which it does when it tries to claim knowledge of things that are beyond our possible experience. Examples of such claims to knowledge, from traditional metaphysics (which Kant rejects) include claims about God's abilities, claims about the immortality of the soul, and claims about how freedom is possible. (Note that although in the Groundlaying Kant says a bunch about this last, freedom, he does not say how it is possible but only that it must be presupposed.)
Like so many of the terms he uses, it's hard to pin down what Kant means by 'dignity', but it seems to be closely associated with autonomy. On p. 77, he seems to say that dignity is a kind of inner worth that human beings have insofar as they can be lawgivers. He later (p. 79) also seems to add that this inner worth is unconditional and incomparable. And on p. 87 Kant suggests that dignity is, or arises from, the capability of rational beings to be universal lawgivers.
In the Groundlaying, a duty is a moral obligation. For Kant, this means that duties have several features. They are based on the moral law and so are unconditioned and specify absolutely necessary actions. We feel this necessity that they have, this obligatoriness, when we respect the moral law. These features help explain Kant's account of duty in The Third Proposition (p. 14). Kant also holds that there are different kinds (pp. 52-3) of duties and that the concept of duty contains (p. 8) the concept of a good will.
Ethics is one of the main branches of philosophy. As such, it is the science of morals, the methodological study of the system of duties that govern human conduct. As a branch of philosophy, ethics should be thought of as philosophical ethics or as moral or practical philosophy. Kant says (p. v) that ethics has two parts, one empirical and one rational: practical anthropology (which is the empirical part) and the metaphysics of morals (which is the purely rational part). The term should not be thought of as synonymous with 'morals' or 'morality' because ethics takes morals or morality as its object of study as, for instance, biology takes the living organism as its object of study.
1. As an adjective, it usually characterizes motives, laws, or principles as in some way relying on sense experience. So, for instance, an empirical law (such as the law of gravity) is a law that is established through observation and experiment. For Kant, no genuine moral laws or principles are empirical at their foundations (but applying the laws or principles may require empirical inputs). This is so because all moral laws are synthetic a priori statements while all empirical laws are synthetic a posteriori statements.
2. As a noun (as in 'the empirical'), it refers to content obtained or generated by using the senses. So, for instance, the propositional content in the general claim that humans desire companionship is based on our repeated observations of the social behavior of others (and ourselves). The opposite of the empirical is the transcendent, what is beyond experience (and the analogous adjective is 'transcendental').
end in itself
By an end in itself ('Zweck an sich selbst' in German), Kant means a rational being with a will. Human beings with wills and persons count as ends in themselves. These kinds of beings are able to set goals for themselves and to have purposes which they try to fulfill by following principles of action. This conception of rational beings underlies the Humanity formulation of the categorical imperative.
In a non-technical sense, experience is the empirical knowledge we have from our interactions with the world of sense. More technically, an experience is a judgment or statement our faculty of understanding forms from combining sensory inputs (intuitions) with the twelve categories of the understanding (such as the category of causality). Kant holds that no moral concepts, such as duty, are concepts of experience (p. 25).
Kant uses this word very frequently in various contexts: "ground of obligation" at viii.13; "ground of the difficulty" at 50.12; "ground of desire" at 63.22; "ground of determinate laws" at 64.17; "ground of this principle" at 66.11; "ground of the dignity" at 79.18; "ground of the world of sense" at 111.4; "its good ground" at 125.17; and others. It can, in general, perhaps best be understood as an amalgam of the following: (rational) basis, foundation, cause, source, origin, reason, warrant, justification, account.
A metaphysics of morals requires a rational basis, and in this work Kant is trying to figure out such a rational basis: the content of the sequential transitions passed through in the process of this figuring out constitutes the groundlaying. Others have translated the German word, 'Grundlegung', as 'groundwork', 'fundamental principles', 'foundations', and 'grounding'.
In contrast to autonomy, heteronomy is a capacity of the will to relinquish control to empirical influences such as desires and wants. A will in this state would be a heteronomous will and is not free. Kant also speaks of principles of heteronomy, meaning by this principles, such as the principle of happiness, that prescribe that the will should let itself be governed by desires and wants rather than by reason. According to Kant, such heteronomous principles can never be genuine moral principles.
highest good
Kant says (p. 7) that a will that is good in itself is the highest good. Such a will is good not because of what it accomplishes but only because of the way in which it wills (i.e, willing in accordance with a universalizable maxim). The highest good should not be confused with the complete good, which (as we learn (5:110) in the Critique of Practical Reason) is a good will which is also happy because it has all the virtues that entitle it to that happiness. Note that Kant also remarks (p. 29) that we identify God as the highest good.
This is an adjective characterizing some imperatives as based on wants, desires, and needs rather than on reason. So a hypothetical imperative prescribes that you should do some action provided that you desire some result that would probably be brought about (at least in part) by performing the action. An example of a hypothetical imperative would be: I should do what my boss tells me to do or else I won't get the promotion that I want. In this example, obeying the boss is the necessary means to the unnecessary but wanted end of getting the promotion. Kant's meaning of "hypothetical" should not be confused with the dictionary definition of "hypothetical" which equates it with "imaginary" or "supposed" as in "a hypothetical case"; for Kant, hypothetical imperatives are very real, as are the desires and wants in the world of sense upon which such imperatives are based.
Kant's use of 'idea' ('Idee' in the German) is peculiar. He typically means a representation that comes from pure reason and so which represents something transcendent and unconditional. Examples include the idea of God, the idea of duty, the idea of immortality, and the idea of freedom. He rarely, if ever, uses 'idea' in the ordinary sense of just a thought, conception, or notion. For this ordinary sense, Kant is more likely to use 'representation' ('Vorstellung' in the German). Some translators use 'Idea' for Kant's peculiar sense and 'idea' for the ordinary sense.
An incentive ('Triebfeder' in the German) is just about anything that can influence the will, that can move us to action through an act of willing: feelings, desires, objects of desires, the expected effect of an action, secret or hidden springs of action, etc. They are typically empirical and of a sensuous sort and as such can never be a basis for morality. But Kant leaves it open as to whether there are non-empirical, pure, or a priori incentives. He says (p. 86), for instance, that respect (which is a special kind of feeling) for the law can be an incentive. And, though he holds it out as a possibility, Kant does not claim to be able to explain how something non-sensuous (such as an idea or a thought) could be an incentive (see pp. 123-6). Kant sometimes uses 'motive' ('Bewegungsgrund') for these possible non-sensuous incentives.
An inclination ('Neigung' in the German) is a kind of habitual desire that arises from needs and that is stimulated by sensibility (see the footnote on p. 38). Examples would include desires, either mediate or immediate, for food, sleep, sex, companionship, self-love, and happiness. Because inclinations arise from the needs we have as embodied beings, and are therefore thoroughly empirical in nature, Kant denies that inclinations can ever be a basis for morality.
The intelligible world is that world of things in themselves, including our true selves, which we cannot know or even be acquainted with. According to Kant, we cannot know, for instance, whether the intelligible world exists in space and time or whether causal laws govern the relations between the objects (if there are such) in the intelligible world. We cannot have such knowledge because the intelligible world is not presented to us through sensibility. Because causality cannot be attributed to the intelligible world, when we, as rational beings, think of our true selves as belonging to that world, we must think of ourselves as having freedom of the will. Still (and perhaps inexplicably), Kant wants to go on to say that the intelligible world and its things in themselves lie behind, and are the rational ground of, the appearances in the world of sense that we interact with as embodied beings. Furthermore, this rational ground, reason itself, is the source of morality. So, although we, as rational beings with wills, must think of ourselves as free, we are not totally undetermined; for we, as rational beings, willingly conform to reason and thus to moral law. But, at the same time, we, as also embodied beings belonging to the world of sense, find our wills obligated by these moral laws which have their source in the intelligible world.
An intuition ('Anschauung' in the German), in Kant's technical vocabulary, is a kind of representation which is essential to the operation of the faculty of sensibility. Intuitions can be empirical, as when we have sensuous intuitions of objects in the world of sense; examples would be the mental imagery of a patch of color, the tactile impression of a felt texture, or the auditory awareness of a singular sound. These empirical intuitions, or passively received sensory inputs with uninterpreted content, are unlike non-empirical, pure, or a priori intuitions, which are formal and have no content at all; examples of these are the intuitions of space and time.
For Kant, knowledge is the outcome of the understanding's job of combining intuitions with concepts. The result of the combination is a judgment. So knowledge always occurs in the form of a judgment. Depending on the intuitions and concepts involved, the judgment or knowledge might be either empirical or non-empirical. Examples of the latter kind are the categorical imperative and the claim that every event has a cause, both of which are synthetic a priori judgments.
There are several kinds of laws. Kant refers, for instance on p. 11, to laws of nature (e.g., theoretical laws such as the law of cause and effect), laws of freedom (e.g., practical laws such as moral laws), and laws of thought (e.g., formal laws of logic). What they all have in common is that they are true, universal, absolute, and necessary.
A maxim is a subjective principle of willing on which a rational being with a will acts. Maxims specify the end to be achieved by the action, the means or action used to achieve the end, and the contextual circumstances of the situation. A maxim does not have to be explicitly formulated by the acting rational being. When a maxim is consistent with the moral law then it holds not just subjectively (for the acting rational being) but also objectively (for all rational beings similarly situated). For all maxims that can succeed as moral principles, Kant says (p. 80) that they have: a form, a matter, and a complete determination according to universal law.
It is a subsidiary branch of philosophy; in particular, it is the non-formal (non-logic) part of pure philosophy that deals with objects of the understanding. The knowledge we get from metaphysics is synthetic a priori because it says something about how our experience (hence synthetic) of nature or of morals must (hence a priori) be. Kant thinks this kind of knowledge is possible because our mind, our understanding in particular, is an active participant in constructing our experience. In general, for Kant, metaphysics is possible just to the extent that it helps to explain the structure of our experience. Note, however, that Kant thinks that traditional metaphysics, which goes beyond possible experience by making claims, for instance, about God, the soul, and substance, is not possible.
metaphysics of morals
This phrase refers to the pure, rational part of morals or ethics, the part of morals in which its principles (which are synthetic a priori propositions) are derived only from pure reason rather than also from empirical facts about the nature of human beings. The metaphysics of morals thus provides the rational basis for the system of moral duties that govern our behavior. Kant insists that morals must, for its foundations, have such a metaphysics, but he at the same time allows that morals, for its applications to human life, must have access to empirical facts about humans and their circumstances in the world of sense.
Kant makes use of this uncommon word, which means a distrust or hatred of reason and reasoning, in arguing that reason has not been given to us specifically in order to help us obtain happiness.
1. Morals, in one meaning, is the system of obligations that govern how rational beings ought to behave toward each other. This is closer to the meaning of Kant's use of 'Sitten', 'Sittlichkeit', and 'Moralität' and is the meaning of 'Morals' in the English title of the work. See the first occurrence of 'morals' on page v, embedded in the phrase 'metaphysics of morals'.
2. In another meaning, morals is the rational part of ethics or the rational part of the science (i.e., methodological study) of morality. This is closer to the meaning of Kant's use of 'Moral', 'Ethik', 'Moralphilosophie', and the entire phrase 'Metaphysik der Sitten'. See the second occurrence of 'morals' on page v.
This word does not occur in the Groundlaying, but it is a synonym for 'thing in itself', which does. The opposite of 'noumenon' is 'phenomenon' or an appearance. A noumenon is unknowable because it cannot be intuited and so cannot be an object of experience. If we try to intuit a noumenon and so try to make it an object of experience, we exceed the boundary of reason. Kant is critical of those philosophers who have tried to do this, and it is because of this error that he rejects traditional (speculative) metaphysics which claims knowledge of God, immortality, and freedom. A properly critiqued reason is limited to mere ideas, not knowledge, of such features of the noumenal or intelligible world.
Kant frequently uses 'objective' in two adjectival contexts: to qualify 'reality' and to qualify terms such as 'principle', 'law', and 'necessity'. In the former context (e.g., p. 114), Kant means that there is an actual, really existing, object for a representation (such as an idea or thought) that we have constructed of that object. In the latter context (e.g., p. 37), Kant means that the principle, law, or necessity is valid, holds for, or is applicable to all rational beings simply because they are rational, independently of any individuating characteristics such as desires, wants, or physical abilities.
A phenomenon is an appearance in the world of sense. What lies behind the phenomenon is a noumenon, or thing in itself, in the intelligible world.
It is one of the main branches of philosophy. The term is not synonymous with present-day physics and is even broader in scope than our contemporary notion of the natural sciences as a group of disciplines.
Not used in the sense of 'feasible', 'practical' refers to behavior, conduct, or action. Moral principles are thus practical principles because they prescribe how we should behave, conduct ourselves, and act. And practical reason is the faculty or power of reason in its capacity to issue directives to action (i.e., to determine the will). The term should be understood in contrast to the theoretical and speculative.
practical anthropology
It is the science of human beings with respect to customs and social behavior, in other words, the empirical part of ethics. Practical anthropology, being empirical, is not a part of the metaphysics of morals, but Kant also holds that practical anthropology is essential to the application of moral principles to human life.
A category of hypothetical imperative, Kant uses this word to mark out those practical principles that pertain to merely possible purposes that a rational being might happen to have. On p. 40, Kant contrasts problematic principles with assertoric principles.
Kant typically uses this adjective to describe concepts and motives that are unmixed with empirical content; it is nearly synonymous with 'a priori'.
This word indicates that something (e.g., a person or a principle) is not empirical or is not mixed or encumbered in some way with empirical or sensory elements. For example, 'the rational person' might refer to someone who makes decisions based on principles arrived at through reasoning instead of someone whose actions are caused by emotions or sentiment; it might also refer to the true self, the person considered from the point of view of the intelligible world rather than the world of sense.
rational being
This phrase refers to a special kind of being, a being with a will and so with the capacity to act on a principle. A typical human being is an example of such a being because typical humans have wills, have reason, and can (but do not always) allow their reason to guide their will.
It is a capacity, faculty, or power of rational beings to think in a lawlike or rule-based (i.e., according to a canon of thought) way; it is thus what we use when we think logically, as when we make inferences from premises to a conclusion. It is also an original source of new and pure or a priori concepts. Kant says (p. 7) that the highest practical function of reason is to help our wills become good. This meaning of 'reason' (as a faculty or power) should be distinguished from the meaning of 'reason' as an account of why something is done or what justifies it; for something akin to these latter meanings, Kant's favorite word is perhaps 'ground'.
Kant uses this word in a very special sense. For him, it is a generic term signifying any kind of output or object which we are mentally aware of and which our mind (in particular, our understanding) has actively processed. For example, all of the following are representations: concepts, ideas, intuitions, sensations. Representations can be of varying degrees of complexity, from the simple perception or intuition of a single patch of uniform color to the multi-layered comprehension of a proposition built up or synthesized out of several related concepts. Note, too, that representations do not have to be of actual objects; they can, for instance, be of imaginary objects such as centaurs and so do not have to represent something real.
Respect ('Achtung' in the German) is a special kind of feeling (p. 16). This special feeling does not arise through empirical sensibility; rather, it arises when we become aware that the moral law places us under an obligation. So respect for the law is an effect that the law has on us, and it is thus not a cause of the law.
A science is any organized body of knowledge. Kant's meaning is much broader than in contemporary usage of the word which is more or less restricted to disciplines that employ rigorous experimental methodologies.
A sensation ('Empfindung' in the German) is the immediate or direct effect of something on the senses. There can be external and internal sensations, depending on whether the outer sense or inner sense is affected, but in any case are always empirical, never pure or a priori. For example, visually tracking a bird in flight would involve (external) sensations; consumption of alcohol might give rise to (internal) sensations associated with giddiness. Sensations are one kind of representation and furnish the material for empirical intuitions.
Sensibility ('Sinnlichkeit' in the German) is the capacity, faculty, or power of having sensations and intuitions.
Used frequently in conjunction with 'reason', Kant emphasizes the use of the power of reason to engage in theoretical, as opposed to practical or action-based, pursuits; a first approximation might be to think of it as intellectual curiosity. Kant thinks that speculative reason can get carried away in its attempt to gain theoretical knowledge and in so doing overstep its bounds and hopelessly try to know the transcendent.
Something is subjective insofar as it is particular to an individual at a given time or place, is not possessed by all rational beings, or relates to the perspective of the individual. So, for instance, desires are subjective in that they can differ in various ways (e.g., duration, intensity, existence) from individual to individual and even within the same individual. The opposite of 'subjective' is 'objective'. Another example, is sensibility; it, too, is variable, some individuals having greater perceptual acuity than others, for instance. It is their subjectivity that rules out desire and sensibility as candidates for the basis or source of morality, for Kant holds that morality exhibits universality and necessity.
1. Part of Kant's method is to proceed in a synthetic fashion, that is, by transitioning from higher principles to lower principles and in so doing showing how the lower depend on the higher. For this meaning, see the last paragraph of the Preface.
2. In another context, but in which it is still opposed to 'analytic', the word describes a particular kind of proposition in which conceptually separable concepts are joined. Kant holds that all empirical propositions are synthetic (and a posteriori), the propositions' component concepts being joined by experience (e.g., by intuitions).
synthetic practical proposition a priori
This is a practical proposition which is both synthetic and a priori. So, breaking this down further, it is first of all a practical proposition, a proposition in which at least one of its expressed concepts has to do with action or conduct. Then, second, it is synthetic so that the proposition asserts a connection between concepts that are conceptually distinct, separate, not internally linked just between themselves. Third, the linkage between concepts is a priori in that the concepts are necessarily (and so not empirically) joined together by something other than experience. In sum, it is a proposition in which action-related concepts that can be thought separately are nevertheless bound to each other in a necessary way. For an example, see the footnote on p. 50, where the concepts being connected are will and action.
Teleology is a theory that views processes as aiming for or striving to achieve goals or ends. The conception of nature as having purposes, for instance, is the core of teleological theory. Kant makes use (p. 80) of teleology in comparing an empire of ends with and empire of nature. Teleology also figures in his discussion (starting on p. 4) of the role of reason in the life of a rational being.
thing in itself
A thing in itself, also called a noumenon, is what exists in the intelligible world. We cannot know things in themselves because they cannot be intuited or represented to us and so cannot be possible objects of experience. But Kant claims that they exist and that they somehow lie behind, and provide the ground for, appearances in the world of sense.
What is transcendent is what is beyond the possibility of experience; it is accordingly unknowable. The intelligible world of things in themselves, of noumena, is a transcendent realm.
Kant uses this adjective to refer to what helps explain the possibility of experience. So, for instance, transcendental knowledge, such as the synthetic a priori proposition that every event has a cause, sets a condition that must be met in order for us to have any experience at all. Note that, according to Kant, transcendental knowledge is possible but that transcendent knowledge is not possible.
This word, a noun ('der Verstand' in German), has a special meaning in Kant's philosophy. The understanding is another of the powers, faculties, or capacities of the mind. Unlike the faculty of reason, the understanding is not a spontaneous source of new, pure (i.e., free from the impurities of the empirical) concepts. Rather, the understanding's main job is to take sensory inputs (empirical intuitions) and then process them (using schema) with the understanding's own pure concepts (the categories); the result is a cognition such as a thought or judgment. Unlike reason, the understanding needs sensory inputs or intuitions; without them, it would have nothing to do.
The will ('der Wille' being the German word for it) is an ability or power of a rational being to represent to itself a law, principle, or rule for the specific purpose of action; at one point (p. 36), Kant says that the will is practical reason. This ability (as it occurs in humans) can be compromised or weakened by non-rational empirical factors such as desires, incentives, inclinations, and impulses; a bad will, such as that of the villain, is frequently the result. It is also possible, however, that this ability is guided or determined solely by reason, in which case a good will is the result. But note that, in order for this good will actually to produce a good outcome, further steps and favorable circumstances are required; for instance, the rational being must be free to choose (i.e., must have free will or, in the German, 'die Willkür') to act on or carry out the representation of the law for action that the will has given it, and then the external circumstances must be such that the action will be efficacious.
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