Morality and the Course of Nature: Kant's Doctrine of the Highest Good

Dissertation, Harvard University (1984)

Andrews Reath
University of California, Riverside
This study presents a defense of Kant's doctrine of the Highest Good. Though generally greeted with skepticism, I propose an interpretation that makes it an integral part of Kant's moral philosophy, which adds to the latter in interesting ways. Kant introduces the Highest Good as the final end of moral conduct. I argue that it is best understood as an end to be realized in history through human agency: a state of affairs in which all individuals act from the Moral Law, and in doing so achieve their intended ends. Part One is a discussion of the Moral Law oriented towards showing how it can generate a final end. I proceed by showing how Kant's conception of duty and moral conduct incorporates a concern for ends and consequences. Included is a discussion of the concept of the good as object of pure practical reason, which is the basis for the Highest Good in Kant's system. Part Two is a survey of the texts which shows that they in fact contain different versions of the Highest Good. The aim here is an interpretation that states the leading idea and yields a way of saying what is essential. Though the Highest Good is commonly viewed as a theological ideal in which happiness would exist in proportion to virtue, I argue that a complete account can be given, faithful to the texts, in which neither feature appears. Here lies the key to my defense. Standard objections do apply to the Highest Good so conceived. But since neither the theological aspect nor the proportionality of happiness and virtue are essential features of the doctrine, the problems they raise do not affect the doctrine as a whole. Moreover, a secular alternative is found that is more consistent wth Kant's overall conception of moral conduct. It would be characterized by two distinct ends: the moral perfection of all individuals and the satisfaction of their permissible ends
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