Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Philosophical Aesthetics and Simms's Poetry and the Practical >> Page 65

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 65 THE SIMMS REVIEW

sons construed as moral agents interact with one another in such a way
as to carry out plans or designs. According to Kant, the very existence
of such a spiritual kingdom requires the assumption that persons may
be motivated by moral purposes and are capable of remaining steadfast
in their actions until their purposes have been achieved. When Kant
speaks of "practical reason," he is not talking about the discovery or the
manipulation of a means to an end; rather, he is talking about the ability
to conceive of that which is an end in itself. That is to say, he is talking
about how persons actually function as moral agents. As a mere thing or
as a physical being, a person is embedded in the world of space and time
and is subjected to all sorts of empirical influences. To be perfectly in
accord with these influences is to be "natural."
On the other hand, in order to be a moral agent, a human being
must also have purposes that are not determined or essentially altered by
contingent circumstances or by external influences. In Kant's view, the
moral realm the spiritual kingdom of persons is not identical with the
natural world, and it is not an effect of material circumstances or condi-
tions. The existence of the moral realm depends entirely on the capacity
or willingness of its members to postulate the reality of God, freedom,
and immortality. This postulate or assumption is that which makes moral
purpose possible. It is, according to Kant, the necessary precondition of
moral reasoning, without which such reasoning is unintelligible.
Kant knows very well that God, freedom, and immortality are
not physical realities, and for that reason, it is obvious that they can't be
investigated or even credited as existing by means of the knowledge he
describes in his first critique. On the other hand, if the reality of God,
freedom, and immortality is not assumed or postulated, our behavior
will become, according to Kant, a matter of pursuing pleasures and
avoiding pains in accordance with our purely natural inclinations. We
shall "naturally" be inclined to do that which is convenient or that which
spontaneously suggests itself rather than that which is required by moral
considerations not based on convenience and inclination. Since none of
us is capable of choosing his own particular bent or his own particular
set of circumstances, if we allow ourselves to be determined by bent or
circumstance, we cannot be construed as moral agents at all but only as
sub-moral beings going along with the flow of things, more or less pas-
sively.