The Relationship between Two Secular and Theological Interpretations of the Concept of Highest Good in Kant

Dr. Reza Mahoozi, the faculty member of the Institute for Social and Cultural Studies wrote in his latest published article about “The Relationship between Two Secular and Theological Interpretations of the Concept of Highest Good in Kant”
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University of Tabriz-Iran
Philosophical Investigations
Vol. 11/ No. 21/ Fall & Winter 2017
The Relationship between Two Secular and Theological
Interpretations of the Concept of Highest Good in Kant: With
respect to the criticism of Andrews Reath’s paper “Two
Conceptions of the Highest Good in Kant” *
Reza Mahouzi**
Associate professor of philosophy in Institute for Social and Cultural Studies
(ISCS), Tehran, Iran
Zohreh Saidi
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Institute of Culture, Art and Communication,
Tehran, Iran
Discussing two common critiques on theological interpretations of the
concept of the highest good in Kant’s moral philosophy in his paper, Two
Conceptions of the Highest Good in Kant, Reath has invited readers to have
a secular interpretation of this concept and pointed out its advantages. In the
present paper, we will attempt to provide the main principles of Reath’s
claims and demonstrate why Kant has stated both of these interpretations in
all of his critical works—a subject that has confused Reath. For this
purpose, we will indicate that in both of the above interpretations, Kant has
offered the concept of the highest good in a historical context, in which the
intellectual idea of the highest good as a desired ultimate totality makes the
intellect to grow in history and cultivate the talents of human kind through
numerous conflicts embedded in nature.
Keywords: history, nature, highest good, happiness, virtue, conflict.
* Received date: 2017/ 3 /21 Accepted date: 2017/11/28
** E-mail:
92/ Philosophical Investigations, Vol. 11/ No. 21/ Fall & Winter 2017
In his paper, Two Conceptions of the Highest Good in Kant, Andrews
Reath has analyzed the concept of the highest good in Kant’s moral and
political philosophy. As he has pointed out, “one measure of the importance
of the highest good to Kant is that he takes it up in almost all of his major
works” (Reath, p. 595). However, the relation between the constituents of
this concept and the totality of Kant’s moral philosophy, and what he has
stated about culture and politics in his latest works is a controversial
question among the scholars and commentators of Kant’s moral
philosophy—a subject to which Reath’s paper has been dedicated.
Reath seeks to describe the foundations and reasons of proposing two
secular (political) and theological interpretations. Moreover, he shows the
incompatibility of theological interpretations of the concept of the highest
good with regard to the whole claims of this philosopher in the framework of
moral philosophy and its difficulties. As was claimed by Reath, these
difficulties were addressed by Kant in his latest works. Furthermore, Reath
has passed such difficulties through providing a secular narrative of this
According to Reath, two issues in Kant’s point of view caused the
commentators and followers of theological narrative of the concept of the
highest good to encounter some problems: firstly, Kant has introduced the
highest good as the ultimate goal of the moral law as well as a path along
which the moral behavior should be promoted, a purpose through which the
highest good has been imagined as a world in which the happiness—as a
function of virtue—is mainly connected with virtue. Secondly, this
connection is necessary. Thus, the highest good can only be achieved in
another world and with the help of God. For him, according to the first issue,
the highest good has been introduced along the moral good and the goals
corresponding to moral free behaviors or the moral freedom. Therefore, on
the one hand, the highest good is primarily oriented to virtue in spite of
enjoying the two components of happiness and virtue. Indeed, this does not
mean that these two components are independent of each other and exist in
proportion to each other at the later stage. On the other hand, based on the
second issue, not only was a limited role assigned to the human subject
concerning the achievement of happiness, but also God has acted instead of
human being in order to regulate and connect happiness and virtue, and
regulate everything in anticipation (ibid, p.608-609). Therefore, the
realization of the highest good in theological interpretation necessitates
“heteronomy” that contradicts the principles of Kant’s moral philosophy.
Also, the principle of the realization of the highest good only in another
world is contradictory to the growth of the moral behavior in this world as
well as the observation of its social and tangible results.
Due to both of the above-mentioned reasons, Reath supported his
claims utilizing the criticism of some of Kant’s exponents including White
who claimed that the real duty of moving toward the highest good should be
The Relationship Between Two Secular and … /93
set aside as it is detrimental to the moral law and is in contrast to Kant’s
For White Beck, the highest good is not of practical importance
“because there is nothing that an individual can do to promote such an end
beyond acting from the Moral law. The supposed duty to promote the
Highest Good adds nothing to the duties that we already have, and thus is not
a real duty” (Reath, p. 609 & Beck, commentary, pp. 224-5).
For Reath, in contrast to the proponents ignoring the problems of the
theory of the highest good and in line with exponents and critics of Kant’s
moral philosophy, the entire theological interpretation should be dismissed
in order to save Kant’s morality from the above-mentioned results and
consequences. therefore, on the one hand, it should be indicated that: 1) It is
not necessary to interpret the highest good as a theological concept; 2)
According to the first point, the proportionality of the happiness and virtue is
not necessary for this theory. On the other hand, it should be shown that 3)
We can speak of the highest good as an end that is achieved by the human
subject; and finally, 4) According to the third point, the agent of the
combination of virtue and happiness is human being and not God (ibid,
p.594). Based on all of these four points, Reath claims that in contrast to the
theological interpretation of this concept, its secular interpretation is the only
natural result of Moral law, and consequently it can be introduced as Kant’s
original viewpoint.
In order to explain the consistency of Kant’s universal view on the
highest good in all of his works, it is necessary to explain the human
practical effort for achieving freedom and rationality in the domain of will
and contrivance of nature after a brief introduction to Reath’s reductionist
claim. In our view, it is only in the light of this explanation that the concept
of “future” obtains its position in Kant’s whole practical and teleological
philosophy. Consequently, based on the concept of future, we can clarify the
relation between human agency in improving his individual and social
conditions in this world and the realization of the highest good in another
Reviewing Reath’s views
In Reath’s opinion, the common denominator of all of Kant’s
interpretations and claims on the highest good is realizing “the complete
moral world” in which the events happen in accordance with the moral laws
and the moral behaviors are successful in obtaining their ends. In the second
chapter of “analytics” section of Critique of Practical Reason, with
introduction of «good» as “the object of pure practical reason”, viz “the
effect that is possible through freedom” (CPrR 57/59), Kant has introduced
the highest good along the moral good. Here, the object of pure practical
reason results from the moral use of freedom and it is a moral good, because
such an object (end) has been willed in accordance with the categorical
imperative and it is an object of the individual’s moral intention.
In addition to the above case, in “dialectic” section of second critique,
the concept of highest good has also been proposed clearly on the basis of
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the concept of good. Indeed, the highest good has been expounded in the
first presentation as “the unconditioned totality of the object of pure reason”
and as Reath says “the unconditioned totality of the moral law”. This
unconditional totality has been explained as follows: “Where the good, as
object of pure practical reason, refers to an end that could result from the
moral use of freedom, the unconditioned object, or Highest Good, would be
just that the highest good that could result from the moral use of freedom”
(Reath, p.597). In other words, this unconditioned totality is a complete
collection of the ends obtained from the moral behavior. Thus, this
systematic unity that has been introduced as the highest good results from
reason’s further activity on moral behavior ends and in this sense, the highest
good is the extension of moral good and the tendency of moral behavior to
the ends.
For Reath, what Kant has expressed so far, is a general description or
theoretical definition of the highest good, but he has not offered an definition
in proportion to our reasonable behavior maxims, namely in framework of a
practical definition. Therefore, so far, he has not spoken of the content of the
highest good, namely the virtue and happiness and their necessary
connection. He states that, firstly, Kant in a two-stage method has introduced
the concept of the highest good theoretically and solely through reflecting on
the content of the first idea, i.e. the content of the unconditioned idea of the
moral law; then, he has expounded it practically and concretely based on
happiness and virtue and their accompaniment. As Reath has stated, these
two stages are in line with what Kant has expressed formerly about the
highest good in The Critique of Pure Reason. The highest good has been
described there as “moral world” – i.e. an ideal of a world in which all
individuals act based on the moral law and the happiness of all individuals is
obtained as the result of the virtue of all those persons who enjoy the system
of moral principles – and a world whose content is based on the combination
of happiness and virtue (ibid, p.599).
Based on this structure, Reath maintains that the highest good also like
other foundations of moral theory should be considered as a human product:
“What I have tried to establish so far is that attention to how the
Highest Good is introduced in the second Critique (and elsewhere)
shows that it is an end to be constructed out of the Moral law. This
implies, first, that it should initially be conceived as a state of affairs
that could result from human agency. Here we should consider my
earlier point about Kant’s concept of the good. If the good refers to
possible human ends, the same condition should apply to the Highest
Good as well. Second, the procedure by which Kant defines the Highest
Good indicates that a description of its content should be derived from
the content of the Moral law, and should involve some ordering of the
ends that figure in Kant’s conception of moral conduct. Thus, a
conception of the Highest Good whose content cannot be traced to the
Moral law is not a proper description of the Highest Good” (ibid,
The Relationship Between Two Secular and … /95
For Reath, what has made the theological interpretation of the concept
of the highest good – mainly in the first and second critiques –an improper
and false description of this concept is the “role of God” and “life after
death”. The highest good, according to these two components, is a state of
affair that is realized only in another world and thanks to the activity of God.
According to this conception, the moral author of the world, i.e. one who
regulates the laws of history in certain manner, makes possible the
realization of highest good in other world, namely after death (ibid, p.601).
Very this claim negates our ability to realize the highest good in this world
and consequently realize the moral ends. In other words, in accordance with
the theological interpretation, “moral law generates a duty to promote the
Highest Good. But as far as we can see, events in this world do not support
the possibility of its second component, and we have no reason to expect that
happiness will ever exist in proportion to virtue (Cf. KpV 129f/124). But, as
it remains rational for us to act on this duty, we postulate the existence of
God, who establishes a necessary connection between virtue and the
proportionate amount of happiness, thus guaranteeing the possibility of the
second component in another world. In short, our inability to imagine the
Highest Good occurring in this world leads us to posit its possibility in
another world. The theological conception supports this possibility by
assuming the existence of another world in which a system for distributing
happiness in proportion to virtue is already in place. All individuals who
develop a good will (in this life) will eventually enjoy happiness as well, as a
result of the laws of that world. It will be in this world that the Highest Good
is realized, and primarily through the activity of God” (Reath, p.607).
Based on the unacceptable conclusion of this interpretation, that is, “the
heteronomy, as a result of the negation of the fundamental principles of
Kant’s moral philosophy, and on the basis of Kant’s other statements that
confirm the secular interpretation of the concept of the highest good, Reath
has regarded Kant’s claims in this respect vague and lacking frankness. He
has stated the ambiguity that as he said is seen in his latest works as follows:
“In fact there are indications of both versions in nearly every text
in which this subject is taken up. Even in the later works which
emphasize the secular version, the theological version is mentioned at
certain points, even if obliquely. In addition, the earlier discussions
contain elements that require a secular interpretation. Kant does not
seem to have gotten completely clear about, or to have fully resolved,
the ambiguities in his thought. If he was aware of these two strains, he
must have thought that they converged. But this does not appear to be
so” (ibid, p.607).
After referring to the existing conflicts in the theological interpretations
of the concept of the highest good, Reath’s innovative thesis in this paper is
that in a secular interpretation of Kant’s moral theory we can offer the
proportion of happiness and virtue as the condition of realization of the
highest good. According to him:
“One could construct the idea of a historical state of affairs in
which social institutions were arranged to promote happiness in
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proportion to virtue. Its practicality aside, if this state of affairs were
ever realized, the individuals of a particular era would enjoy happiness
in proportion to virtue due to the arrangement of existing social
institutions. This system of institutions might serve as a social ideal
which individuals in the present sought to promote as the final end of
moral conduct” (Ibid).
In this phrase, Reath refers to the state of affair of the concrete that is
different from the state of affair of theological interpretation – as a situation
in which all individuals participate together and in a completely rational way
and of course thanks to God. He believes that the state of affair of
theological interpretation implies another world; whereas the state of affair
of secular interpretation implies the participation of individuals in the
particular historical period and does not involve all humans in the form of
civil participations; an ideal that according to Kant in the Critique of
Judgment is possible in this world and through freedom (CJ 118/450). In
Religion within the Limits of a Pure Reason as an inevitable result, the
maxims that have been laid down with the formal condition of laying down
the moral duties have been described (Rel, 4/5).
Based on this differentiation, Reath has released the principle of the
proportion of virtue and happiness from the theological interpretation of the
concept of the highest good and provided a different interpretation of it. He
argued that as opposed to the theological interpretation, which determines
the individual’s happiness based on the level of his/her virtue and ethical
characteristic and thus explains the proportion of two foundations of highest
good, secular interpretation mainly speaks of the independence of ends of
these two moral and natural interests as well as the harmony of these two
interest rather than the essential connection between virtue and happiness:
“On Kant’s moral view, human beings are moved by two kinds of
interests, moral and natural, which can be combined into a single
scheme by giving priority to the moral. The result is a scheme of
conduct in which people pursue two kinds of ends. The first will be ends
required or prescribed by the Moral law, including the individual’s own
moral perfection; and the second will be their own happiness, limited
by considerations of duty. This is a scheme of moral conduct in that it is
shaped by an ordering that comes from the Moral law and is regulated
at the highest level by moral principles. But natural interests and ends
will have a role in such a scheme when properly subordinated to moral
considerations” (Reath, p.605-606).
According to the above-mentioned expressions, Reath has considered
the harmony of happiness and virtue and consequently the realization of the
highest good in the form of civil institutions. He also viewed social
participations in the form of the harmony of ends of two kinds of moral
behavior. In his view, if in selecting the ends oriented to happiness – that are
independent from the ends oriented to virtue – we consider virtue and in
other words, if we consider the moral virtue, then there would be no conflict
between happiness and virtue and these two can achieve their desired ends
without conflict (ibid, p.612). In this case, the highest good is the idea of
The Relationship Between Two Secular and … /97
“unconditioned object of moral law”-in other words, the totality or a
complete collection of ends that can be embodied in moral behavior. As
Reath indicates, Kant has described the collection of these ends realizable in
this world under the phrases such as “the Kingdom of God on Earth”,
“Reasonable Church” and “Ethical Commonwealth” (ibid, p.606).
A considerable point in Reath’s interpretation is that Kant has gradually
shifted his position from the theological interpretation towards a secular one
in his explanation of the concept of the highest good:
“The Ethical Commonwealth seems to represent a significant
development in Kant’s thought, which, when taken with other texts,
suggests that he is moving towards the adoption o f a secular
conception” (ibid, pp.606-607).
Indeed, Reath has pointed out that the understanding of Kant’s
movement towards a secular interpretation is not so simple, because he
referred to the theological interpretations even in his last writings. He has
considered this as a witness to the lack of Kant’s seriousness in resolving the
ambiguities of his thought or maybe his unawareness of this conflict (ibid).
Unlike Reath, we believe that until the end of his life Kant was faithful
to the theological interpretation of the highest good and always regulated the
secular interpretation of this concept in proportion to it. To demonstrate to
what sense the secular interpretation of the highest good implicates a
theological conception, and vice versa, we do not need to give up the
theological concept to maintain the secular concept of the highest good.
Thus, let us propose this discussion in context of the evolution of the human
kind, the contrivance of nature, and the mission of education.
Contrivance of nature and the growth of reason in history
For Kant, “nature” or “Providence”(TP, 8:361-8:362) achieves its most
superior end that is “the sovereignty of reason on the world and its
domination on nature” through the human. It is noteworthy that the unity of
the ultimate end of nature and the human ultimate end, i.e. the highest good,
the freedom, or pure rationality as both a natural affair and a cultural one, is
achieved only in the last step of evolutionary path of humankind and nature.
Before that, humans lived in the context of conflicts either individually or in
a group. These conflicts emerge not only in the disagreements among
theoretical ideas, but also in the contrast between intellect and nature,
namely culture and nature so that each of them seeks to become the agent
and dominates others. This conflict, however, is the very contrivance of
nature, because nature is greatly cultivated through these conflicts during the
history of human cultivation. In other words, the conflict existing in the
human being that is called by Kant as “asocial socialization” provides the
possibility of the cultivation of human talents as well as the realization of
God’s providence in actualizing a law-governed community, which enjoys
the unity.
“The means which Nature employs to bring about the development of
all the tendencies she has laid in Man is the antagonism of these tendencies
in the social state- no farther, however, than to that point at which this
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antagonism becomes the cause of social arrangements founded in law. By
antagonism of this kind I mean the unsocial sociality of man,—that is, a
tendency to enter the social state, combined with a perpetual resistance to
that tendency which is continually threatening to dissolve it… all the
admirable tendencies in man’s nature would remain forever undeveloped, [if
did not exist nature].Man, for his own sake as an individual, wishes for
concord; but Nature knows better what is good for Man as a species; and she
ordains discord. He would live in ease and passive content: but Nature wills
that he shall precipitate himself out of this luxury of indolence into labors
and hardships, in order that he may devise remedies against them, and thus
raise himself above them by an intellectual conquest, not sink below them by
an unambitious evasion”(IDEA, fp.4).
For Kant, the conflict between intellect and the things such as emotion,
passions, desires and pleasures appears at a superior level in the form of a
conflict between virtue and happiness. In this framework, the conflict
between this two will be preserved as the contrivance of nature in achieving
its ends and goals, as long as it does not reach the end of the path, that is, the
ultimate end (the ultimate reason). In other words, it is only at the end of the
path that conflicts reach the unity, and the conflict between virtue and
happiness turns into their unity. With regard to the degree of intellectual
growth of societies and the progress of intellect, such unity is an intellectual
idea whose achievement is conceivable only for humankind, and not for
“In Man, as the sole rational creature upon earth, those
tendencies which have the use of his reason for their object are destined
to obtain their perfect development in the species only, and not in the
individual” (IDEA, fp.2).
Kant associates such a philosophical awareness of the contrivance of
nature and the ultimate end, which should be achieved by humankind in
order to regulate his current movement, with the nature and mission of the
Education and especially with the mission of universities.
The mission of education and university
The nature can flourish its talents through human beings in order to
gradually approach its desired ultimate end so that it needs humankind.
Moreover, each human generation needs the experiences of the previous
generations and their accumulation in order to approach the ideal, freedom,
rationality, and the highest good and take steps ahead of the previous
generations (IDEA, fp.3). Therefore, based on a posteriori approach that
benefits from the experiences of the previous generations, but is oriented to
the moral ultimate end and is in line with the general end of nature to which
a priori program is assigned, the educational system tries to portray the
future perspective of humankind through the teaching of the skill and
citizenship. In agreement with such a perspective, the moral training is
explained as the third component of the mission of university. In line with
the above-mentioned triple missions, the Education introduces the status of
«work» as the mechanism of conscious utilization of conflicts that the nature
The Relationship Between Two Secular and … /99
puts in human existence for achieving more perfection through work (IDEA,
fp. 9). Indeed, according to Kant, only in this way, the educational system
can be tailored to the natural transition from the animal predisposition to
technical and pragmatic one and eventually to the moral situation, and is
settled in the path of rational excellence (AN277/143&ED, ch.1, n.3).
Kant also asks for the superiority of the faculty of philosophy over two
faculties of theology and medicine so that the soul of philosophy, which is
modern enlightening criticism, governs the totality of university. He believes
that it is only through this superiority that university as the master-mind of
country, nation, and society can make students and employees as well as
society, government, and companions of religion think of their mission for
entering the new era of human rationality, freedom, and development.
According to Kant, determining the historical position of nations and their
duties for moving in their obligatory path is an important subject that can
lead the faculty of philosophy to superiority, only when the determined
position and mission is recognized by government (CF, p. 43-45).
Thus, with respect to the ultimate end or the morality and discipline
culture, and the achievement of the idea of unity and pure practical
rationality, the Ministry of Education seeks to straighten the twisted wood of
humankind. To realize this point, which is only conceivable for humankind
and has no clear end, continuous experiences of previous and current
generations, the initiatives of scientists of our time in enjoying the previous
experiences and establishing society and constitution based on subjectivism,
a level of national and regional security and peace is required:
“Out of wood so crooked and perverse as that which man is made
of, nothing absolutely straight can ever be wrought. An approximation
to this idea is therefore all which Nature enjoins us. That it is also the
last of all problems to which the human species addresses itself is clear
from this,—that it presupposes just notions of the nature of a good
constitution, great experience, and above all a will favorably disposed
to the adoption of such a constitution: three elements that can hardly,
and not until after many fruitless trials, be expected to concur” (IDEA,
fp. 6).
All these requirements are the formal conditions that under “the culture
of skill” allow us to move towards a culture of discipline and the idea of the
highest good.
The culture of skill and the culture of discipline
In the Critique of Judgment, Kant has explained this departure from the
natural and primary state to the cultural, civilized and moral one as the
differentiation of happiness (the desired natural state) from the culture and
the explanation of the achievement of “culture of discipline” through “the
culture of skill” (kant,CJ, 83/ 408&Allison, Kant’s theory of taste, pp.210-
11). In this book, human is introduced as the end of the world from two
perspectives; based on the first perspective, the individuals’ fortune, whether
physical or social, make them deserve the title of prosperous or happy.
According to the second perspective, nature itself provides the necessary
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context for human growth through embedding the multiple talents, defining
various conflicts inside and outside the individual, or bringing other
creatures at human’s services. The human can utilize the alignment of nature
with his natural and rational desires in line with the growth of his rational
and developmental talents. And he can manifest this attitude and informed
utilization of the alignment of nature with his ultimate desires in “culture of
skill” or the formation of civil institutions.
For Kant, the culture of skill is the formal condition of superior stage of
culture, namely the culture of discipline or the freedom, practical rationality
and the highest good. The culture of skill is the formal condition for the
realization of the culture of discipline, because the culture of discipline or
the idea of the highest good whose realization requires the total cultivation
of rational and moral talents cannot be presented without the culture of skill,
i.e. the concrete and objective conditions and without the preparation of the
social precepts.
“The formal condition under which alone nature can attain its final aim
is that constitution in the relations of human beings with one another in
which the abuse of reciprocally conflicting freedom is opposed by lawful
power in a whole, which is called civil society; a for only in this can the
greatest development of the natural predispositions occur” (CJ,5:432).
Through these two categories, namely the culture of skill and the
culture of discipline, Kant has expounded human rational capabilities for
taking advantage of conflicts and other equipment and mechanisms that
nature has placed at the disposal of the humankind so that he achieves
growth and development and consequently makes the nature achieve its
original demand and end.
In Kant’s view, in the form of the culture of skill and the civil
participations will be provided the possibility of alignment of two
components of happiness and virtue is provided in this world through the
formation of “civil society” and “perpetual peace” focusing on
cosmopolitanism that is essential to the survival of such a society:
“For this, however, even if humans were clever enough to discover
it and wise enough to subject themselves willingly to its coercion, a
cosmopolitan whole, i.e., a system of all states that are at risk of
detrimentally affecting each other, is required. In its absence, and given
the obstacles that ambition, love of power, and greed, especially on the
part of those who are in power, oppose to even the possibility of such a
design, war (partly of the kind in which states split apart and divide
themselves into smaller ones, partly of the kind in which smaller ones
unite with each other and strive to form a larger whole) is inevitable”
(CJ, 5:432).
So the highest good in the sense of the culture of discipline and as an
intellectual idea is possible only through the culture of skill and the
formation of civil society. Therefore, even though the ultimate destination of
the evolution of humankind, and not of individuals or groups, is the culture
of discipline through which the conflicts existing in the human, nature, and
society come to an end, the “idea of unity” is realized, the humankind
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achieves the holiness, and absolute and unconditioned freedom, and each
conflict, including the conflict between happiness and virtue is ended, but a
level of this desirability addressing the unity in this world is possible for
individuals, nations, and states only through the participation in the public
system and civil society, namely through the culture of skill as a formal
condition of realization of the culture of discipline, and in other words, it is
possible by passing from the pragmatic predisposition. Accordingly, in very
pragmatic predisposition the human beings are civilized through the culture,
namely science and art, foster their social capacities such as good manners
and good relations, and prepare the civil structures containing the rationality
oriented to “moral altruism”, which enjoys a level of unity and social
socialization (AN, 277).
In all of these historical and intellectual progresses- of course,
compared to what the humanity should traverse, it is a short juncture – a
social socialization or the opposition between the reason and the desires
represents some more advanced civil dimensions; these appearances indicate
a moderation and reconciliation between two aforementioned opposed
The idea of the highest good as a principle of guiding the history
On the one hand, the ultimate reconciliation of virtue (reason) and
happiness (desire), and the end of the conflict is achieved only at the level of
the moral predisposition, the culture of discipline, and the highest good as an
intellectual idea and consequently as an ideal for humankind (LE,ch.2); an
ideal whose realization requires historically passing many passive periods
and the development of rationality oriented to the future (ibid,ch.10, n. 4); on
the other hand, the realization of this ideal as a supra-sensible and a
reasonable idea is conceivable only for the humankind, although we do not
know when and how this is realized or whether it will happen historically at
all due to its reasonability. Therefore, Kant has extended the lack of time
sufficiency to another world postulate and a God, who is guarantor of its
realization in the world. In fact, the intellectual idea of highest good is an
idea that is posed by the reason as a guiding principle. Consequently,
depending on the inherent tendency and thirst of reason, we should not
believe in a specific extension or historical and concrete objectivity for it.
Kant believes that the movement toward the Holiness as a reasonable idea
and desired idea is the virtue, without being assured of the achievement of
the ultimate situation:
“This holiness of will is nonetheless a practical idea that must
necessarily serve as an archetype, which to approach ad infinitum is
alone incumbent upon all finite rational beings; and the pure moral
law, which is itself called holy because of this, constantly and rightly
holds this idea before their eyes. Being sure of this progression ad
infinitum of one’s maxims and sure of their immutability in [this]
constant advance, i.e., virtue, is the highest [result] that finite practical
reason can bring about Virtue itself, in turn, at least as a naturally
acquired power, can never be complete, because the assurance in such
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a case never becomes apodeictic certainty and, as persuasion, is very
dangerous” (CPrR, 33).
Thus, the achievement of the ultimate end of development of
humankind is imagined at the end of the path and this made humankind
move throughout the history. This historical movement toward development,
freedom, and pure rationality is the providence and the contrivance of nature.
In this sense, it is God who makes the full realization of the humankind as
the highest good, freedom, and ultimate happiness as a logical idea in
another world possible. Also, this is God who provides the requirements for
passing from the animal predisposition to moral one through the canal of two
technical and pragmatic predispositions for humans and by humans through
granting various talents, conflicts, and service system among creatures (REL,
60& AN, 277). Therefore, apart from this point that whether the rational idea
of the highest good is absolutely realized for the human or not, this idea and
its final causality has stimulated the passion of its establishment as holiness,
pure rationality, and freedom, and has provided causes to cultivate the
societies and develop the cultures and civilizations.
Thus, the theological interpretation of the highest good or the
intellectual idea of the highest good imagines a condition in which the
conflicts come to an end and the idea of the unity is achieved, but this
rational imagination as the ultimate cause organizes the conflict between
happiness and virtue, culture and nature, and the dialectical contradiction
existing in human asocial socialization for the purpose of more unity,
because these conflicts installed by nature or God’s Providence lead the
humankind to form stronger civil institutions and wider social participations,
develop field of citizenship, strengthen the regional and global peace
foundations, and achieve an overall and global civil law. These conflicts also
cause us to promote our existential situation and transfer from the natural
and primary state to cultural one in which more opportunities for the
alignment between virtue and happiness in this world is tangible (the secular
concept of the highest good).
“[Thus] to this second requisite for culture a purposive effort at an
education to make us receptive to higher ends than nature itself can afford”
(CJ, 5:433).
Accompanying the theological concept and secular concept of the
highest good
In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant has defined the highest good
as a most superior good that “is practical for us, i.e., to be made actual
through our will” (CPrR, 113). This definition and the other expressions of
Kant indicating that we are obligated to follow up the highest good, or that if
it is not possible to realize the highest good, the theory of ethics will be
meaningless, and etc., shows a path and a destination to which the
individuals and humankind should pay attention and use the inner
capabilities, alignments, and outer supports to reach it. In other words, we
should regulate our life with the aim of achieving the idea of the highest
good; even though achieving this destination that is merely a rational idea, is
The Relationship Between Two Secular and … /103
not possible for an individual and a nation in this world. However, adjusting
the path of life and general movement of societies toward “the future” and
the mere rationality can result markedly in the formation of modern
societies, social participations, national and international civil institutions,
and the relative realization of peace in general and worldly happiness. In the
Critique of Practical Reason, Kant has expressed this theme as follows:
“the possibility of such a linkage of the conditioned with its
condition belongs entirely to the suprasensible relation of things and
cannot be given at all according to the laws of the world of sense,
although the practical consequence of this idea, viz., the actions that
aim at making the highest good actual, do belong to the world of
sense”.(CPrR, 119).
Kant’s emphasis that achieving the ultimate end of man and nature in
the indefinite future and after repeated unsuccessful efforts and ongoing
work for flourishing up the talents and capabilities of humankind will
relatively be realized contains a fine point that can sufficiently respond
Reath’s criticism based on the non-affinity of theological conception of the
highest good with the secular and social conceptions of this concept. In
Kant’s opinion, the highest good as the final point in the history of evolution
of human intellect and talents and also as the ultimate end of nature is a
rational idea; as an ideal and a pattern and as a Holy end, it attracts the
attention of mankind to itself and through the final causality attracts mankind
towards itself. This ideal end that is in one respect the human perfected
practical reason and in another respect is the divinity, has been presented in
the total history – from the beginning till now and even in the future – and
causes us to promote cultures and civilizations. Beside this important role,
the God Himself has procured the possibility of the growth for humankind in
the form of the Holy providence through nature. He has made nature
purposeful and given it an awareness for serving humans and providing the
elementariness. Therefore, God both as an efficient cause in designing the
purposeful nature and as a final cause in the form of highest good that is a
total rationality, causes the evolutionary movement of the humankind
throughout history.
In this sense, what the human being has offered in the form of cultures
and civilizations throughout history, is based thoroughly on the conscious
use of the capabilities and the possibility that nature and God’s providence
have offered in the form of capabilities, possibilities, and conflicts so that he
can use them on his benefit and with the formation of comprehensive civil
institutions make the realization of the culture of skill and living coupled
with the moral virtues in a society of peace and security possible and benefit
from strife and war and sectional peace in favor of growth of reason and
stable peace as the highest political good (IDEA, fp. 4 &TP, 8:348-349).In
other words, this is God Himself as a practical reason that with designing
purposeful nature has created both the conflict between virtue and happiness
in this world, and the necessary solution for enjoying such conflict and
getting rid of it through their cooperation and alignment in the civil society
and commonwealth society. All these valuable human measurements in
104/ Philosophical Investigations, Vol. 11/ No. 21/ Fall & Winter 2017
history have been taken place with the aim of achieving a conflict-free
society and the unity between reason and desire or the unity between virtue
and happiness; a motivation always in work.
Nature wants to spread the human wisdom. Hence, in addition to
creating conflicts in human existence, it has taken into his service
purposefully the external world so that the ideal of humanity can flourish
consciously through the above-mentioned conflicts and accompaniment of
nature, and human can be objectively and rationally free and complete.
Although Kant has considered the realization and clearness of this ideal as
intellectual and supersensible, this ultimate idea – that is at the same time the
ultimate purpose of nature and the human being –serves to evolve nature and
the formation of civil society and the republic system. It also paves the way
to the human progress and perfection through the conflicts existing in the
human being. In this totality, the conflict between happiness and virtue in
human existence is not an unnatural and unnecessary conflict, but a
completely fundamental basis for moving towards pure rationality and full
freedom or the intelligible idea of the highest good.
In this framework, as long as the individuals, the nations and states do
activity in this world, they are permanently in conflict; but exactly the same
conflict helps humankind come near the final ideal and the unity free from
conflicts step by step. Therefore, this is the humankind that moves toward
the idea of unity and the highest good free from conflict. Thus, in the process
of the gradual and evolutionary growth of the reason during history, people
and the nations in the best conditions under the culture of skill realize the
civil institutions in which individuals organize the conflicts in a secular and
subjective way for reaching more unity, decrease the friction between virtue
and happiness, and provide a tangible level of the highest good in the
tangible world.
So, contrary to Reath, we can claim that theological interpretation of the
concept of highest good – in which the separation of human practical reason
and divine practical reason comes to an end, and the idea of freedom is
realized alongside the other intelligible ideas and is actualized with their help
– is the ultimate cause of the culture of skill and the secular interpretation of
the highest good concept. Therefore, secular and theological interpretations
of the highest good are complementary and cannot be proposed independent
of one another. On the one hand, the intellectual idea of the highest good in
the theological interpretation or the culture of discipline has a positive and
ultimate presence throughout history, and plays a role similar to the concrete
condition of the culture of skill. On the other hand, the secular and realizable
concept of the highest good in the tangible world that is presented in the
culture of skill as is the formal condition for the realization of the intellectual
idea of the highest good. Therefore, without human civil and cultural
activities or the social and political highest good in the secular interpretation,
the achievement of the ultimate end is not conceivable. In other words, the
intellectual idea of the highest good can be realized through subjective
The Relationship Between Two Secular and … /105
activities. Kant consciously emphasized the agency of human in progressing
the process of rationality. So, considering the interdependence of these two
conceptions of the highest good, their explanations are not separate from
each other; Kant himself has proposed these two interpretations together in
all of his critical works, which also confused Reath.
– Allison, H. (2001) Kant’s Theory of taste, Cambridge University Press.
– Beck, L. (1960) A Commentary on Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason,
University of Chicago press.
– Kant, I. (1960) Education (ED), A. Churton, trans, Ann Arbor, MI. University
of Michigan Press.
– Kant, I. (1983) Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View
(IDEA), E. Humphrey,trans. Indianapolis, IN, Hackett Publishing Company.
– – Kant, I. (1979) The Conflict of the Faculties (CF), translation and
introduction by J. Gregor, New York.
– Kant, I. (2002) Critique of Practical Reason (CPrR), Werner S. Pluhar.Hackett
Publishing Company, United States of America.
– Kant, I. (2000) Critique of the Power of Judgment (CJ), P. Guyer ed.; E.
Matthews and P. Guyer, trans.Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
– Kant, I. (2009) Religion within the bounds of bare reason (REL), Werner S.
Pluhar.Hackett Publishing Company, United States of America.
– Kant, I. (2006) Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (AN), R. Louden,
ed. and trans. M.Kuehn, intro. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
– Kant, I. (1997) Lectures on ethics (LE), Louis Infield; foreword to the
Torchbook ed. by Lewis White Beck, national library of Australia.
– Kant, I. (2006) Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace
,and History (TP), David Bromwich. Yale University, Yale University Press.
– Reath, Andrews (1988), Two Conceptions of the Highest Good in Kant, Journal
of the History of Philosophy, Volume 26, Number 4, pp. 593-619.

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