Practical Cognition and Knowledge of Things-in-Themselves
Famously, in the second Critique, Kant claims that our consciousness of the moral law provides us with sufficient grounds for the attribution of freedom to ourselves as noumena or things-in-themselves. In this way, while Kant insists that we have no rational basis to make substantive assertions about things-in-themselves from a theoretical point of view, it is rational for us to assert that we are noumenally free from a practical one. This much is uncontroversial. What is controversial is the cognitive relation to things-in-themselves that is possible from a practical point of view. Interpreters have tended to regard such “practical cognition” of things-in-themselves as a poor step-cousin of its theoretical counterpart — as a sort of mere “rational faith” unworthy of comparison with genuine theoretical knowledge or cognition. Recent work on these issues has begun to shift this picture. But this reassessment is in its early stages and remains highly controversial. My aim here is to take this tendency and push it farther than most have generally been willing to go - at least with respect to our practical self-understanding as noumenally free agents. Indeed, I believe that, far from representing an impoverished cousin of theoretical cognition and knowledge, our practical awareness of ourselves as free possesses the central marks of cognition and knowledge in Kant’s sense of these terms, albeit on practical grounds. Thus, it is no surprise that Kant is willing to speak of our consciousness of the moral law as enabling genuine cognition of noumenal freedom.