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Critique of Practical Reason

Immanuel Kant

Doctrine of Method–Conclusion

Dialectic: Chapter Two

Doctrine of Method–Conclusion, page 2

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In the Critique of Pure Reason, the Doctrine of Method plans out the scientific study of the principles of pure theoretical reason. Here, however, the Doctrine of Method will be instead a discussion of how the principles of practical reason can be brought to bear on real life. In other words, the Doctrine of Method concerns how we can make people moral.

We have seen that truly moral action requires not only an outward show of good behavior, but also the right mindset. A cynic might be doubtful as to whether acting out of duty is a real possibility for us. If so, even if we could produce a simulacrum of a moral society, it would all be hypocrisy, since everyone would secretly only pursue his or her own advantage. Furthermore, in this scenario, the outward show of morality itself would not be stable, but instead dependent on its continuing to be to the advantage of each individual. Fortunately, these doubts are misguided.

Whenever there is a social gathering, the conversation will include argumentation, as well as jokes and stories. One of the favorite forms of such argumentation crosses it with gossip, and concerns the moral quality of others' actions. Even people who normally do not enjoy intricate arguments will reason acutely and with great attention to detail when caught up with justification or condemnation of others.

Moral education can utilize this natural human tendency for moral evaluation by presenting the students with historical examples of good and bad actions. By debating the worth of these, the students will be given the opportunity to experience the admiration we feel for moral goodness and the disapproval we feel for moral badness.

We must select the right sorts of examples, though, to demonstrate moral goodness. We are liable to err in two ways. The first is to try to entice the students into being moral by examples where morality and self-love coincide. The second is to try to emotionally enthuse the students about morality with examples of exceptional heroism, above even what morality requires. Instead, our examples should stress sheer dutifulness.

The first of these methods is bound to fail because the students will not come to understand the unconditional nature of duty. Nor will the examples be very moving. When we see exceptional self-sacrifice for the sake of upholding a principle, we are inspired, amazed, and awed. When we see someone following a principle with little or no sacrifice, though, we are not impressed to nearly the same degree.

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