Friday, March 11, 2011

Christ the King

Apologies for not having posted for quite sometime now. I was organizing my the philosophical journal entries I posted and thought that I would post the paper I wrote for that ethics class, which in many ways is the culmination of those journal entries. It is a bit long, but I think it is still approachable. Enjoy.

Christ the King

Chapter 1: Kant’s great distinction

Several times in the history of philosophy, a thinker has come along and due both to his ability to organize and to synthesize thought, has provided the tradition with a new way of looking back upon itself. Aristotle did it with Plato and the pre-Socratics. St. Thomas Aquinas did it with Plato and Aristotle and the Christian Tradition. And Kant did it with Modernity and Enlightenment. These thinkers did this by means of a new distinction, which allowed them to categorize and define the prior tradition, placing themselves as the advent of a new tradition or as the further development of a smaller and more neglected aspect of the old tradition.

In this paper, I will take what I see as Kant’s addition to the ethical tradition—his distinction between heteronomy and autonomy which in some ways provides for the organization of all ethical thought prior to and in some cases coming after Kant—and ask three questions: (1) whether Kant’s distinction is merited; (2) whether Kant’s favor of autonomy is correct; and (3) whether these are the only options, i.e. is there some other category that can be given a voice in the ethical tradition? In asking these three questions, I hope to prove what I see are two reductions of the ethical life. The first—represented by John Stuart Mill—is the bodily reduction, that is, the reduction of ethics to the human psyche and the consequences produced for pleasure. And the Second—represented by Kant—is the “spiritual”[1] reduction, that is, a reduction of morality to a purely universal transcendent and rational concept, finding no aposteriori influences be they bodily or psychological. It is my intention in naming these two reductions as I have to note the dualistic tendencies of both sides of Kant’s distinction and in turn, the particularly Catholic character of the solution, participated theonomy, which playing out the analogy, would be a singular theory incorporating both body and soul (spirit), and their relation to God as creator and ruler. While keeping in the philosophical realm, I do hope to do some justice to this very Catholic understanding of moral autonomy in light of the solemnity of Christ the King, which marks the end of the liturgical year, by using the image of a kingdom as a metaphorical conceit to further the understanding of each of these theories and their consequences.

Chapter 2: The Bodily or Psychological Reduction—Heteronomy

Kant says that any person is heteronymous “insofar as he belongs to the world of sense subject to the laws of nature.”[2] That is to say, heteronomy consists in determining causes from outside of the person, as an “alien law” to which he is subject. Rhonheimer adds to this definition a threefold conception of heteronomy, reflecting the three spheres of autonomy that will be spelled out in the “spiritual” reduction. The first is contrary to “personal autonomy,” distorting the personal determination of an action through ignorance, compulsion, violence, or fear. In other words, there is no inner consent of the person, but rather a coercion of the person by such outward influences through compliance or subjection. The second is contrary to “functional autonomy,” placing certain dependencies or influences on the person in particular areas of self-government. The third is contrary to “constitutive autonomy,” making the person dependent through incursions in certain decisions due to the incompetence of the said person.[3]

If I may bring in the metaphorical conceit here, the first sense of heteronomy is marshal law, in which the subjects of the king are coerced through violence to do the will of the king. There is no true sense of consent in this way, for the subjects merely fear for their lives. The second sense is the feudal lord, who rules and has power only on account of his allegiance to the king, not due to his own position as lord over a particular area or manor. He cannot justify himself on his own authority, but only in relation to a higher authority. The third sense would be that same feudal lord, who receives edicts from the king due to the lord’s poor level of prudence in certain areas. He is in effect a “puppet ruler,” someone that merely does what they are told.

How, then, does John Stuart Mill fall into this category of heteronomy? As I alluded to in the opening, Mill in his Utilitarianism makes man determined by his psychological instincts towards pleasure. It is here that I will allow Mill to speak for himself, since he is not shy about admitting such convictions. He says:

“If the opinion which I have now stated is psychologically true—if human nature is so constituted as to desire nothing which is not either a part of happiness or a means of happiness—we can have no other proof…If so, happiness is the sole end of human action, and the promotion of it the test by which to judge of all human conduct; from whence it necessarily follows that it must be the criterion of morality.”[4]

Mill will go out of his way to hear and to refute such contrary conceptions as virtues by showing that such an analysis conflates the ends and the means to pleasure. Such conceptions make virtue (a means to pleasure) a stipulation of the pleasurable end. In other words, such individuals make it such that they cannot be happy without having done the action for its own sake, yet in this very articulation one can see (Mill would claim) how such individuals have not done the act for its own sake, but rather for pleasure.[5] In fact, Mill would go so far as to say that the idea of the object as desirable and the thought of that object as pleasurable are the very same thing, viz., “to desire anything except in proportion as the idea of it is pleasant is a physical and metaphysical impossibility.”[6] In other words, one desires the object because he thinks it will produce some amount of pleasure for him. Moreover, Mill believes that all social projects and resources should be devoted to the education and fostering of this happiness, particularly the happiness of the greatest amount of individuals, for if such a psychological claim is true what would be more charitable and illuminating than opening the mind to its own underlying convictions for pleasure and how it is to adequately cultivate them so as to maintain a level of qualitatively better and sustainable happiness.

Looking back to the particular definition of heteronomy by Kant, one can see how at first glance Mill might pass as truly autonomous, for he has based morality on that underlying aspect of man, his desire for pleasure. It comes from within and is established by his own desiring. Yet this is not what Kant means by autonomy and Mill’s own heteronomy becomes more clear when one looks at how one is to evaluate the act in this system of Utility. Necessarily, Mill is a consequentialist, that is, the moral content of the action is determined by the effects the act produces, in Mill’s case the pleasure produced either for the individual or the greatest amount of people. That is to say, Mill has subjected morality to the empirical realities that follow from human action. This makes morality by nature aposteriori, since it must look outside of the self at the material effects to determine the acts goodness or badness. In this assessment, Mill is diametrically opposed to Kant, who as was seen above wishes to void morality of the sensible world, here the empirical world. Morality must be determined for Kant apriori by the universalization of the will before the act is ever committed. Moreover, for Mill morality is determined by something outside of the individual. Although driven by the individual himself through his desires for pleasure, the particular acts of the individual are determined by that after-the-fact, i.e. what is produced. I might sum up Mill in this way that in the individual’s deliberation, he sorts through possible outcomes of his actions and realizes the most pleasurable, thereby binding himself to act in such and such a way. In this way, the individual is bound to those contingent consequences, which although induced by his action, are not determined by his act.

Although this is clear that Mill falls into this category of heteronomy, I see Mill’s subjection of morality to the empirical even more destructive than Kant originally thought in so far as he has subjected morality to the human psyche. This is the bodily or in this case psychological reduction referred to in the title of this chapter. In this way, morality has nothing to do with the spiritual or religious aspect of man past the unity of happiness achieved in the individual’s seeking for the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. Yet this “feeling of unity to be taught as a religion”[7] does not transcend beyond the empirical reality of the consequences of human action. In this way, morality is reduced to a material or psychological reality.

I need not mention how this compares and reflects psychological assessments of the human person such as Sigmund Freud, which render the human person essentially unable to act freely outside of such innate convictions, but rendering the account in light of the threefold heteronomy mentioned above I will show this incapacity for true freedom. In the first sense (personal heteronomy), there is no inner consent for Mill, since the consent has already and will by our very nature always be made for man towards pleasure. I might go so far as to say that in this account one is coerced in his inner psyche to be subject to the possible material consequences of his action. This would be the marshal law of the human psyche over the human person. In the second sense (functional heteronomy), man has a particular dependency on the consequences of his actions for pleasure, which determines the very governance of his own decision-making. One cannot give an account or justify his own actions without referring to the material conditions that determined his actions. Why did he do it?—because the material conditions were such that the act would produce such and such a pleasure. Again, this would be the lord who rules merely on account of his relative authority to the king. He has no innate authority, but authority only in relation to the determining consequences of the king’s actions. Lastly, in that third sense (constitutive heteronomy), man is incompetent as it were to make his own particular decisions. He must appeal to what the psyche tells him, and how such and such an act will bring about the fulfillment of such a desire. Man as lord of himself is puppet to his own inner psyche and the determinate material conditions of his actions. Moreover, this reduction of man to his psychological or bodily tendencies towards pleasure reveals that dualistic tendencies of such thinkers as mentioned in the opening. In this way, Mill has in his morality practically left out any spiritual or immaterial aspects of man in determining the origin of that “ought,” which gives morality its content.

Although I will not be covering Hume in this paper, I might mention him here in so far as this bodily reduction becomes even more clear in light of his basing morality on those inclinations towards the “agreeable.” In his discussion of “cleanliness” he mentions that we would have no consideration of such small virtues and vices if not for those “uneasy sensations, which it [they] excites in others.”[8] Ultimately for Hume, “the laws of humanity” otherwise known as sympathy is to determine how we act towards others such as the weak, providing them sustenance not out of justice, but out of regard for their humanity.[9] Again, this is a merely passive glance at Hume in light of this reduction, since more could be said on how this conception falls into heteronomy by its seemingly consequential nature in its determination of human action on the social “agreeableness” which includes aposteriori convictions in the sensible world. Yet simply put, by placing the origin of that moralizing “ought” in the appetitive powers of man Hume has reduced morality to the bodily aspect of man. Certainly for Hume reason has some sort of role in this for how would one determine such a course of action to maintain such “laws of humanity,” yet the grounding or the origin of morality is primarily the appetitive or bodily part of man. Hence, Hume falls like Mill into this bodily reduction.

Chapter 3: The “Spiritual” or Rational Reduction—Autonomy

Although much has been said about Kant in a negative way, i.e. that his ethics are not based on aposteriori conditions, empirical claims, inclinations of the body or psyche, or the consequences of human action, there needs be a positive account of Kant’s understanding of moral autonomy. Kant defines autonomy as the very “ground of the dignity of human nature and of every rational nature.”[10] Later he adds that “all his [man’s] actions…insofar as he [man] belongs to the intelligible world subject to laws which, independent of nature, are not empirical but are founded only on reason.”[11] Thus, Kant founds morality on universal practical reason, that part of man, which likens him to God as part of the intelligible realm. This is man’s dignity: the ability to reason and to determines his actions autonomously from the sensible or material realm. Man is in this sense indeterminate outside of himself. Key to this concept is that of reason as self-determining law, which shows up in the fourth formulation of the categorical imperative: “the supreme condition of the will’s conformity with universal practical reason, viz., the idea of the will of every rational being as a will that legislates universal law.”[12] Having established the universal, the natural, and the formalistic aspects of the law—the moralizing “ought”—Kant formulates the categorical imperative in such a way that makes every rational creature a universal law maker, i.e. the grounds qua rational creature for that moralizing “ought.” Moreover, Kant’s autonomy consists of rational individuals, whose dignity is such that they have the capacity to legislate universal laws for themselves.

What does Kant find wrong with heteronomy? In what way is that “ought” not able to be founded on principles outside of the self? Kant treats two kinds of “ought” in the hypothetical and the categorical (formal). The former is of two types. The first is properly called the “hypothetical” and is formulated as an “if…then” statement: if you want ‘y’, then do ‘x’. The problem (as Kant sees it) with such statements is that they amount to nothing more than “rules of skill” or instructional statements on how to achieve a particular goal. The second is called the “assertoric” and is formulated as a causal clause: since you want ‘y,’ then do ‘x’. Again, Kant sees a problem with such statements because they give mere general councils of prudence or advice by which to attain a particular desire. In this way, both formulations, which are oriented to an object outside of the self (heteronomy), do not give rise to that moralizing “ought” because they are mere suggestions, not a moral imperative. One could simply drop the desire for the given object and the statement falls flat, or one could shrug the statement off as false and unfounded, thinking himself more knowledgeable. There is no binding “ought.” “The moral imperative,” Kant concludes, “must therefore abstract from every object to such an extent that no object has any influence at all on the will, so that practical reason (the will) may not merely minister to an interest…[but] show its own commanding authority as the supreme legislation.”[13] This “moral imperative” is that latter categorical (formal) kind of “ought” which is self-authoritative and thus, autonomous.

Kant in the next section goes through four types of heteronomy corresponding to two categories: the empirical and the rational. The first type of heteronomy under the empirical is “the principle of happiness,” which Kant objects to on account of what could be seen as a non-moral happiness. As he says making someone happy can be altogether different from making him moral or good. In such a way, someone can do such actions as mathematics, making him extremely happy, but in no way moral. Or, more concerning, someone could find a great amount of happiness in doing a very bad thing. Ultimately, Kant wants to say that basing morality on such a concept as happiness obliterates the distinction between virtues and vice, since the motives for either are put in the same class. The second type of heteronomy under the empirical is a morality based on those physical or moral feelings. While Kant admits that such a conception is closer to morality than is “the principle of happiness,” it still falls short because such feelings cannot establish a uniform understanding of good and evil, but merely a subjective following of passion, which could in some cases support vice over virtue. The third type of heteronomy under the rational is “the concept of perfection.” Kant claims that this conception is empty and indeterminate, continually presupposing the very morality that it hopes to found. The fourth type of heteronomy under the rational is “theological” or a morality based on God’s most perfect will. This conception, oddly enough, Kant shows as indeterminate because it draws its characteristics from such things as might and vengeance, which could be contrary to morality.[14] In the end for Kant, whether or not these conceptions of morality can be proved to be contrary to ordinary understandings of morality is not as important as their subjection to the “particular constitution of human nature [rational heteronomy] or from the accidental circumstances in which such nature is placed [empirical heteronomy].”[15] In either conception the human Will (practical reason) is determined by something outside of itself, making it by nature (as Kant sees it) heteronymous.

Having understood Kant on his own terms and how, as is now apparent, he establishes a morally autonomous system, a greater understanding of the nature of Kant’s autonomy might be seen if I put the account terms of Rhonheimer’s threefold autonomy.[16] I have already negatively defined these conceptions in the articulation of their reciprocal heteronomies, but a positive account is now needed. As mentioned before, the first is “personal autonomy,” which concerns self-determinate and conscious human action with a rational insight into the good. In this way, the individual has mastery over one’s deeds and the freedom to will as he pleases. Here, Kant is in agreement with Rhonheimer in so far as the “ought” arises out of that rational insight by which man acts for the sake of the said good, i.e. he is honest because it is the right thing to do. The second is “functional autonomy,” which in the case of man is the same as his “personal autonomy.” Yet in its essence, “functional autonomy” follows its own law or logic with its own inherent integrity or immanent ratio. The difference in the two kinds of autonomy is that the second articulates the privileged immanent ratio of the first. It is in light of this second autonomy that the distance between the two thinkers is opened up. For Rhonheimer, the fact that man’s “personal autonomy” is his “functional autonomy” makes his “personal autonomy” a “conditioned autonomy, and rests upon that structure of determining conditions we call ‘nature.’”[17] In other words, he sees man’s “functional autonomy” as human nature itself, which establishes through that immanent ratio that self-determining power in man as practical reason (the Will). This is radically different from Kant, who would contend that the two realms of autonomy are one and the same. Not wanting morality to be subject to the “particular constitution of human nature” as mentioned above, Kant would want to see this “functional autonomy” as merely the flip side of a coin. It seems possible to say that the jurisdiction (“functional autonomy”) given as “personal autonomy” is for Kant that very practical reason which determines its own finality through its universal formulation.

The third is “constitutive autonomy,” which describes a relative or absolute indetermination of human action that is preestablished or super-ordained. In this sense, “constitutive autonomy” is the establishment of that “determining condition” otherwise known as human nature by another, i.e. God through the creation of man. This conception can also be called “competence autonomy” in which there is “a conditioned and guaranteed special competence (not independence) for the lawful governance of a definite area.”[18] In other words, man has been gifted with specific powers or faculties by which he can determine his own actions towards an end; man is competent or fitted for his end. Kant finds fault here in the very nature of this third realm of autonomy, which is a relative and preestablished area of governance. This conception places in the same way as the second (“functional autonomy”) the grounds for self-governance on something other than practical reason, on something outside of the individual.

If I may, again, at this point bring in the metaphor used earlier, the difference between these two thinkers will reveal itself with greater clarity. If “personal heteronomy” was that marshal law of the king over his subjects, then “personal autonomy” would most certainly be those same subjects with the capacity to determine their own actions. Or even better yet would be the king, who rules and makes edicts for his subjects at will. He need not appeal to something outside of himself to determine his actions, for he is the king. While I think Kant would intrinsically have to balk at this example because of its implicit convictions, I think it is enough to say that Kant would agree that man as a rational creature and legislator of universal law is the autonomous king of his own moral actions. In the second example, “functional heteronomy” was that lord, who had no intrinsic power or ratio of his own but merely in relation to the king. “Functional autonomy” would, then, be that same lord with his own dignity and power as lord. Although he is dependent on the king for the gift of his manor as will be seen in the next realm of autonomy, the lord as such has an immanent ratio or dignity by which he has the right to rule the manor. As mentioned above, Kant would object that such a manor would have to be given to the lord, since the ground for this dignity or power to legislate universal law would stand as determinate on something outside of the lord himself. Although the lord has his own dignity as a ruler, Kant would prefer the king, who exercises his power absolutely without relation to others. The third “constitutive autonomy,” as opposed to that “puppet ruler” who represented “constitutive heteronomy,” is that same lord, who having been granted his manor from the king exercises a relative power to the king. He stands as the dignified ruler on the foundation of the king’s authority and carries out that ultimate vision or providence of the king as the lord sees fit for his particular manor. It is quite clear at this point how or why Kant would object to this claim. Such universal apriori self-determinations cannot have any relation in authority to something outside of the individual. This is contrary to the very essence of autonomy as Kant sees it.

Having established a positive account of Kant’s view of autonomy and distinguished that from Rhonheimer’s threefold account, I can now show how Kant has reduced man in his ethics to merely the “spiritual.” It is already clear that for Kant no aspect of the body or sensible world should enter into such determinations of the Will as a legislator of universal law, leaving only the immaterial aspect of man (practical reason) as the determining factor of human action. This is the reduction to the “spiritual” aspect of man, yet the reduction goes further. Rhonheimer calls Kant’s conception of autonomy a “theonomous autonomy” in so far as he makes man the constitution of moral norms. Practical reason in this sense has been created by God as a “creative reason,” which molds and shapes the morally good through its exercise.[19] I might add here that man has become his own moral God. God in this account is little more than creator of the universe, who now sits back and watches it play itself out. This is properly speaking deism, leaving man as the autonomous creative self-determinate of good and bad. Man is king, morally speaking, of his own moral universe. Moreover, in this anthropological reduction, Kant has not only reduced the origin of that moralizing “ought” to the “spiritual” but he has also reduced the universe and God’s providence to man’s determination.[20]

Chapter 4: The Alternative—participated theonomy

At this point in the paper, Kant’s distinction between heteronomy and autonomy and the intrinsic reductions (“bodily” and “spiritual”) to which they lead is clear. Further, it is easy to see how both reductions ultimately converge on a project of anthropomorphism be it to the psyche or practical reason of the individual. In either case, man is the measure of morality. It remains to be seen, then, if there is an alternative and what that alternative would look like. Certainly, in light of the reductions the alternative needs to encompass both bodily and spiritual aspects of man, yet without reducing the entirety of moral determinacy to man, avoiding any kind of anthropomorphism. In many ways, such a solution has already been given in the very metaphor or feudal lordship, but as with the last two chapters a more positive and articulate account is needed.

Following Rhonheimer, the solution that is posited as the alternative is participated theonomy, a participation of man in the eternal law. The eternal law, following St. Thomas Aquinas, “is a ‘directive’ plan (ration directiva). According to it, all things have been created and possess an order toward their goal.”[21] In other words, God’s law is the eternal exemplar or blue print for creation, which His creation participates in by forming themselves according to this exemplar. In this way, creation participates both through their being which has been constituted by God’s eternal law (existential participation), and through their operations by which the creature continues to conform itself to that law (operative participation).[22] This is not to say that this participation is some kind of platonic conception with this eternal law existing in ‘formal heaven’ as ultimately other and separate from creation. In fact, man’s very being has been “‘stamped’ (impressio) with the various natural inclinations that all tend toward their own actions and goals…[and] ‘stamped’ by the light of the natural reason…on the basis of which we can decide between what is god and what is evil.”[23] In this way, the eternal law has been written on the hearts (inclinations) and minds (reason) of men.

Looking back to the prior reductions, one can already see how this alternative conception has assumed into itself the bodily and spiritual aspects of man. Rhonheimer claims that the importance of such an all-encompassing account is due to man’s nature as a composite being. God is simple and, therefore, exists only in the mode of knowing. This Divine knowing is at the same time a principle of motion, since God is both knowledge and motion, e.g. His knowledge is His motion. God’s knowledge is, then, immediately productive and creative.[24] But man is composite and, thus, has a twofold participation in the eternal law. Since the human reason cannot move anything in and of itself as God does, it is not immediately productive. This is to say that human reason is only capable of moving something through a moving principle, i.e. the body. Now, one could restrict such moral content to that of the practical reason as Kant has done, but this would mean that the body does not participate in the eternal law. Yet, if the body has stamped upon it natural inclinations and is by the very nature of human reason necessary for moral action, then why would someone exclude this aspect of man from the formulation of moral law? This would be to reduce man to a dualistic view, which could only receive favor in the Platonic tradition.[25]

To further understand participated theonomy on its own terms, I think it is helpful to recapitulate the account in terms of those three categories of autonomy. First (“personal autonomy”), man as embodied spirit is able to rationally determine himself and act from his own freedom. The moral “ought” in this case comes about from man’s practical reason in accord with his inclinations towards what is morally right through the twofold participation in the eternal law. Second (“functional autonomy”), man through his own immanent ratio as an embodied rational creature is able to determine his own actions. Since man has been created in the image of God, he has been stamped with his natural inclinations and with his rational powers to be such an autonomous creature. Thus, man’s “personal autonomy” is his “functional autonomy.” Third (“constitutive autonomy”), man’s relative determinacy due to the gift of his “functional autonomy” is from God, his creator. In this way, God has preestablished his nature through its creation for such autonomous action for participation in the eternal law. One could even say that God fitted man to this participation through this “constitutive autonomy.” Moreover, after this illustration one can see the harmonious interaction between the different levels of autonomy by man’s participation as an active or practical agent in the eternal law. Man receives from God a particular jurisdiction or relative power in which he as a rational creature determines his own actions in accord with the eternal law. Man as the secondary cause is a self-determining co-creator or co-author of the working out of the divine plan that is the eternal law.[26] In this sense, animals do not share such autonomy, only man does.

Before concluding this chapter and moving on to the final chapter of this paper, I might say a bit more about the content of those bodily inclinations and their participation in the eternal law. The inclinations as the stamp of God’s creation upon our embodied are existence the expressions of the divine plan of providence (the eternal law). They are the directive powers of the eternal law in the very structures of our being. In this way, the inclinations are the seeds or possible conditions of virtue. If followed rationally, they become the steady dispositions of moral virtue.[27]

Chapter 5: Christ the King

Thus far it has been shown how such a complete anthropological reduction of morality is accomplished both in Mill through the psychological reduction and in Kant through the “spiritual” reduction. Participated theonomy, has also been shown as that all inclusive alternative to these reduction by taking into account man’s full existence as an embodied spirit. I wish then in this closing chapter to recapitulate this final alternative in light of the standing metaphor, feudal lordship, and reveal why it is such a Catholic alternative. The first sense of autonomy was seen as that king, who sitting upon the thrown can determine his own laws through his own authority as king. Although not entirely wrong, participated theonomy does not see the individual as his own king, as did Kant, but rather as the lord of his own manor.[28] Indeed, man can and does rule through his own immanent ratio as a rational creature, determining his own actions as a dignified and noble ruler. Yet this is only because man has been created or preestablished as such by God. This makes man’s “personal autonomy” his “functional autonomy,” for his self-mastery is accomplished through a dignity or integrity of his own. In other words, man can point to himself as authoritative. He is after all the co-creator of the moral law, as that secondary cause, carrying out the divine plan. But man in his autonomy is also constituted as that competent ruler. Given his existence as autonomous by God, he has a “constitutive autonomy.” This is particularly Catholic in the sense that it reflects the idea of the soul as the form of the body. Man is a composite (embodied soul) and will be brought into the Godhead as such through the resurrection of the body. Thus, any account of man, whether ethical, epistemological, philosophical, or etc…must incorporate all that man is. Kant through his “spiritual” reduction has shown his protestant roots. The obsession of voiding human decision of influences of the body or the world of sense is only understandable in the context of such teachings as total depravity and the like. Philosophically speaking, this is inherently dualistic or Platonic worldview as was said. Again, the Catholic, particularly with the influence of Aristotle through Aquinas, need not have such convictions.

So is Kant’s assessment correct? I think one would have to say that his distinction between autonomy and heteronomy is not only useful, but also true in so far as it shows two extremes of what the truth could and must be. I would even go so far as to say that Kant’s tendency towards autonomy is more true than the alternative heteronomy, which Mill proposes, for at least in Kant’s view man cannot subjectively construe morality to be what he wishes. Yes, he is king of his own moral universe, however, he can rule this universe in no other way than the formulations of the categorical imperative. His rule of morality is thus objective and quite strong. Yet, it voids man of half his existence. The alternative, participated theonomy, allows man to be as he is and to abide in the eternal law as a co-creator, as a lord of his own manor in the kingdom of God. Ultimately, Christ, through whom all things were created, is that King who ordains man as lord over his own manor. And so it is that man rules as a lord in the kingdom of God, autonomous and free as the co-worker in the Lord’s vineyard, carrying out the divine plan through his participation in divine wisdom.



[1] This term is taken from Martin Rhonheimer’s Natural Law and Practical Reason in which he describes Kant’s reduction of morality to that of transcendent rationality as a dualistic anthropological reduction or a “spiritualistic character” (trans. Gerald Malsbary. New York: Fordham University Press, 2000: 213). I will be following Rhonheimer very closely throughout this paper in his evaluation of Kant’s concept of moral autonomy.

[2] Kant, Immanuel. The Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. trans. James W. Ellington. 2nd ed. of Ethical Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994: 53 (452). Page numbers in parenthesis are page numbers from the original edition of the Grounding Kant published in German (1785).

[3] See Rhonheimer, Natural law, 204. Rhonheimer does not explain the second “functional heteronomy” very well merely likening it to the “law of sin” that “other law” that St. Paul mentions is opposed to the “law of the spirit.” Although I feel the example above is enlightening, further explanation is necessary. It seems to me that this heteronomy is caught up with a dependence on the positive aspect of its inverse autonomy. “Functional autonomy,” as will be shown later, contains its own immanent ratio, creating its own integrity (dignity). This reciprocal heteronomy merely exists as a negation of this positive autonomy, as the negation of that immanent ratio. Such is sin, which is the privation of the good or grace present before. In this way, the heteronomy cannot stand on its own, for it is merely the lack of that substantial character that is its immanent ratio. Looking back to the example given above, the lord has no power due to his own position as lord, no immanent power, but merely his relation and allegiance to the king. Keep in mind this is not how most feudal lords would have seen themselves. Certainly, the lord has power in relation to the king, but the lord also has power over his manor because it is his own, and he is its lord. In other words, the position truly has a substantial character to it, an immanent ratio or dignity to which the lord can point and on account of which he can demand respect and power.

[4] Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2001: 39.

[5] See Mill, Utilitarianism, 37.

[6] Mill, Utilitarianism, 39.

[7] Mill, Utilitarianism, 33.

[8] Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983: 71.

[9] See Hume, Enquiry, 25-6.

[10] Kant, The Grounding, 41 (436).

[11] Kant, The Grounding, 53 (452).

[12] Kant, The Grounding, 38 (431).

[13] Kant, The Grounding, 45 (441).

[14] See Kant, The Grounding, 46-7 (442-43).

[15] Kant, The Grounding, 46 (442).

[16] For the bulk of the discussion about to follow see Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 195-204.

[17] Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 198. This has to do with the fact that the terms as Rhonheimer uses them are not coterminous. Although in man the two are the same, they are different coinciding realms of autonomy, the second standing as the grounds for the first.

[18] Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 200.

[19] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 217.

[20] It would be interesting to ask here in what way one could expect any different from Kant, since in his underlying epistemology the world must be subject to and fit into the categories of understanding that man imposes on reality. In this way, it seems that Kant begins his anthropological and “spiritual” reduction in his epistemology.

[21] Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 245.

[22] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 245.

[23] Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 244.

[24] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 248.

[25] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 248.

[26] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 246.

[27] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 250-51.

[28] As mentioned earlier, I think Kant would balk at this example due to the form of government. Although I am not entirely sure what Kant’s example would look like, I think it is necessarily opposed to such a worldview as feudal lordship. Rather, such forms of government as democracy would be more sympathetic to Kant’s view of autonomy, and this makes sense due to the American founding father’s love of Kant.