Kantian Journal

2021 Vol. 40. №4

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Der Schatten der Tugend. Kant über die unergründliche Tiefe des Herzens



Among the most peculiar traits of Kant’s critical philosophy is the contention that, while we can know our moral maxims and can thus reflect on our actions from a moral point of view, we cannot really know whether in a given situation our actions are actually motivated by those maxims. This means that, although we have a firm sense of our moral duties, we can never be certain whether some particular action of ours is done from duty or simply in accordance with it. This view is voiced in several of Kant’s writings. Most prominent is its appearance in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, but we also find it in Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason and in The Metaphysics of Morals, and it is even present in smaller writings such as “On a Miscarriage of all Philosophical Trials in Theodicy” or “On the Common Saying: That may be correct in theory, but is of no use in practice”. It is against this background that I revisit Kant’s remarks on the lack of self-knowledge regarding the motives of our proper actions. I suggest a reading of Kant’s views on this issue in the light of a tradition reaching back to Plato, in which man’s (moral) self-relation is shaped in an irreducible way by both self-consciousness and self-ignorance.


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