Published Humanitas, Volume XV, No. 2, 2002

In the Critique of Practical Reason, Immanuel Kant expressed awe and admiration for “the starred heaven above me and the moral law within me”. With reference to the heavens, Kant was struck by human insignificance in “the incalculable vastness of worlds upon worlds, of systems within systems, over endless ages”. Within this sensible order of cosmic proportions, man appeared to be but an “animal-like being”, condemned to return to the dust of a planet which itself is “a mere speck in the universe”. At the same time, however, Kant believed that every human consciousness contains within itself the universality of the moral law. As intelligible beings, we live “a life independent of animality and even of the entire world of sense”. The moral law elevates human existence into “a world . . . which can be sensed only by the intellect”. Moral self-determination, said Kant, “radiates into the infinite”.

Lucien Goldmann’s interpretation of Kant emphasizes the need to overcome this division between the sensible and intelligible domains. Kant conceived moral autonomy as an attribute of rational individuals, but he also contemplated a universal community, integrated through the practical Idea of human freedom—an “ethical commonwealth” and a “kingdom of ends”. Goldmann argues that the absolute necessity of realizing this totality is “the centre of Kant’s thought”. For a solution, he looks to Kant’s philosophy of history. In The Contest of the Faculties, Kant claimed that it is possible to have “history a priori” if “the prophet himself occasions and produces the events he predicts”. In the French Revolution, Kant saw evidence that “man has the quality or power of being the cause and . . . author of his own improvement”. Goldmann interprets Kant’s view of history as opening the way to subsequent philosophies of totality in the work of Hegel, Marx and Lukács.

This is a preview. Read the full article here.