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Kants "Kritik der Praktischen Vernunft": Ein Kommentar.

KANTS "KRITIK DER PRAKTISCHEN VERNUNFT": EIN KOMMENTAR. Giovanni B. Sala, S.J. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2004. Pp. 379. 49.90 [euro].

Giovanni Sala, a disciple of Bernard Lonergan and professor of philosophy at the Jesuit Hochschule fur Philosophie in Munich, has published the first thorough German-language commentary on Kant's Critique of Practical Reason. It differs in format from its English-language predecessor, Lewis White Beck's A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (1960) in that S.'s work is a running commentary, whereas Beck's is organized around themes. The introductory chapter gives a very useful tour of the theoretical antecedents of Kant's third critique both in Christian Wolff's doctrine and in Kant's earlier writings. The remainder of the work follows the general outline of a running commentary, which pinpoints the steps of Kant's overall argumentation and gives background information helpful for understanding Kant's reasoning.

S. does not shy away from pointing out what he considers untenable, contradictory, or unintelligible claims made by Kant. Noteworthy in S.'s presentation are his discussion of the formalism of Kant's ethics and his treatment of the concepts of autonomy, freedom, and happiness (the last of these concepts understood as a component of the "highest good" and therefore in conjunction with the "practical" postulates of the immortality of the soul and especially--for S.--of the existence of God).

S.'s procedure is to provide a text-immanent discussion of Kant's work and then to offer his own solution to whatever problem is in question. The reader discovers early on that S.'s numerous "digressions" (Exkurse) for the most part touch only tangentially on Kant's text. In the main they are devoted to the development of an alternative understanding of the ground of moral obligation, which has its roots in Aquinas's and Lonergan's thought, and which is frequently presented as though it were self-evidently correct. But the commentary itself (even apart from the Exkurse) is also shot through with objections and reflections that have the same non-Kantian origin and intention. The reader is thus forced, in order to follow the commentary proper, to bracket S.'s own doctrine. S. would have been well advised to do the same in composing his work.

The fundamental problem for S. is the "formalism" of Kant's ethics; most of his other main objections seem to be rooted here. According to S., it is not possible for the human being to will a mere form, and therefore the apprehension of the matter or object of volition (the Good) must precede volition. In this context, S. asserts, among other things: that the goodness of the object can be rationally and objectively apprehended; that this goodness is reducible to its fitness to the humanness of the human understood as bodily-spiritual unity; that the fulfillment of this humanness is happiness; hence that morality is, in its full form, identical to happiness (253); and consequently that the problem of the correspondence of morality and happiness (Kant's "highest good") is not a real problem.

These theses not only contradict Kantian doctrine (as they are meant to); they are also advanced without consideration of the dominant historical positions under which and against which Kant developed his moral theory. These positions are two: (1) the good is not objectively ascertainable (no "ought" can be derived from an "is") and (2) the obvious, and the only rational, end of human activity is the happiness (earthly pleasantness and comfort) of the individual. These positions are ultimately based on the assumption, preponderant up to our own day, that only the empirically ascertainable world is intelligible and real. Kant sees correctly that this doctrine must be demolished if morality and thus the true essence of humanity are to be preserved, but also that this demolition/preservation cannot be done simply by asserting the opposite, as though the modern age (Hume and consorts) had not happened.

The Critique of Pure Reason represents a gigantic struggle against the typically modern scientism that reduces human existence to pure matter and pure animality, with the aim of making room for an apprehension of--or at least a practical relation to--the supersensible in the human being. If one reads the Critique of Practical Reason against this background, one can also see that the core of Kant's moral philosophy consists not in its purported "formalism" but rather in its providing the "glorious disclosure" of an "intelligible world" (S., 203). S.'s "fundamental thesis," on the other hand, is that "Kant's 'Critique of Practical Reason' is, at its core, independent of transcendental idealism, as he developed it in the 'Critique of Pure Reason' " (13).


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Author:Ibanez-Noe, Javier A.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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