The discussion of Marxism cannot leave the tradition of “criticism” (G. Therborn, 1996: p. 59), so we should pay more attention to Marx’s criticism and inheritance of the German philosophy of idealism like Kant. Practice and freedom are never two categories that can be separately discussed. Freedom is always the answer of practice, while practice is the process of freedom. Kant’s philosophy was mainly to find the source of human knowledge, which is obtained through his criticism of God. After the criticism we shall see, human reason was the source of human knowledge, and it was also the cause of breaking away from the natural law of causality. Kant’s freedom and reason were two inseparable ideas, Kant’s path to freedom was actually the path of self regression of reason. However, Kant’s idea of freedom rejected the cause and effect of the natural law, it internally excluded the perceptual world and could be a kind of pure rational freedom. Rational freedom was presented by a given form of moral law, so Kant’s path to freedom derived from moral practice. But the idea of freedom could not be convinced in confronting the complex situation of reality. Kant then proposed three suspensions outside the system as a supplement: “Immortality of soul” and “Existence of God” in the suspensions had exposed the embarrassing situation of the perceptual beings in Kant’s view of freedom to realize freedom. The concept of practice in Marx’s philosophy had always been a prevalent issue in academic. However, few scholars discuss the relationship between Marx’s concept of practice and Kant’s dilemma of freedom caused by moral practice, which did not reveal that Marx’s concept of freedom overcomes Kant’s dilemma of freedom based on the enrichment of the content of the concept of practice, Marx pointed out that the field of realizing freedom was the real perceptual world, the subject of freedom was the man in reality. The realization of Marx’s view of freedom depended on the remolding of the connotation of practice, which successfully overcame the realistic problems encountered by Kant’s view of freedom in confront of complex reality.
2. From Transcendental Freedom to Practical Freedom: Why Is Kant’s Freedom Possible
Where should freedom perch? It’s classic topic that had been lingered in the history of philosophy, the topic exposed the internal contradiction in reason, which had torn the inevitability of knowledge, and caused Kant found out the path of neutralizing the dispute between rationalism and empiricism. Kant not only supported empiricists that “knowledge comes from experience”, but also agreed with rationalists “knowledge has universal inevitability”. So the question came: how can a congenital form of cognition be possible? Kant believed that experience is the content of knowledge, while the subject is the innate form of knowledge procedurally. As a result, things were separated into phenomena that we can experience, and transcendental and inexperienced “thing-in-itself”. The phenomenon constituted our cognition, and the thing-in-itself constitutes the thing itself. There must be no originate cause of perceptual experience in the phenomenal world, for the existence of phenomenal world can be traced back infinitely, which obviously violates the law of sufficient reason. So the originate cause may only exist in thing-in-itself, which is separated from the chain of natural cause and effect. The thing-in-itself is the initial cause, so the originate cause should be the cause of freedom.
In the positive and negative debate of the third conflict of the transcendental theory in The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant pointed out that the law of causality obviously may not explain all phenomena in the world. According to Kant “A causality of freedom is also necessary to account fully for these phenomena” (Kant & Meiklejohn, 2011: p. 211), and in order to explain these phenomena, it was necessary to assume a kind of causality derived from freedom, i.e. the freedom made the sequence of phenomena in accordance with the causality start from itself, so “… it follows that a causality must be admitted, by means of which somethings happens, without its cause being determined according to necessary laws by some other cause preceding” (Kant & Meiklejohn, 2011: p. 211). Rational endowed the subject with freedom, that is, human rational was the initial cause. However, Kant deemed that there is no way to answer the question of how reason gives us the phenomenon and category of things. Freedom did not exist in the world of sensibility and experience, though it could be perceived. Freedom was activity at the same time, it must “communicate” the phenomenal world and the ontological world in a certain way, which is called the freedom of moral practice that we will discuss next.
As the subject of behavior, only when people completely dominated their own behavior could they be responsible for their behavior. In other words, the subject must had freedom in order to be judged. General practical reason might obtain freedom only when it could break away from the perceptual condition and completely obey the control of pure reason.
The existence of moral law was present to us in a given way. The principle of pure rational was firstly universal, and to achieve its completely universality, it should adapt in pure formal, which naturally need to be separated from perceptual phenomenal world and empirical materials. In other words, the principle of human rational must be separated from perceptual content. Kant cited two counter examples as reference: the pathological principle and the happiness principle, both of which are unable to escape from the law of causality, which conflicts with reason as the initial cause. Moral law had become a rational principle that the ontological world “gives” us. For example, the universality of moral law lies in the situation when we face the realistic moral choice, then we can only touch the problem of “yes or no in moral”, but the problem did not have the content of emotion or experience. For the perceptual beings who have never comprehended the moral law, the moral law was expressed by some respect emotion in people’s inner sense. This kind of respect was actually produced from the moment our general reason faces the moral law, and it might be a strong humble in essence. In other words, Kant found the real habitat through the dichotomy of human reason and sensibility into freedom.
But the dichotomy of reason and sensibility caused a bigger problem: firstly, people in reality couldn’t get rid of perceptual constraints, so normal people like us might not reach transcendental freedom, which may leads Kant’s freedom of practice out from reality, i.e. we might lose the ability to realize freedom in reality. In Critique of judgment, Kant insisted judgment as a bridge to make up for the gap between practical freedom and transcendental freedom. Kant’s criticism of judgment points out that there is a reflective judgment, which possesses both the experience and the principle of transcendental reason, and embodies the purposive principle. In this purposive form, Kant keenly grasped the possibility of realizing freedom subjectively: this judgment involves aesthetics, not based on content, so it would not be limited with the content of the object. In other words, aesthetics was the form almost divorced from the perceptual content, which satisfied the pleasure of the subject. Subjectively, Kant complemented the separation of two kinds of freedom with the same root but different images through judgment. But objectively, or from a more grand perspective, what efforts did he make?
Freedom of will, immortality of soul and existence of God were the suspension of practical reason constructed by Kant to complete the dilemma of reason. Freedom of will meant that human beings can get rid of the constraints of perceptual conditions and esteem rational rules. The immortal suspension of soul pointed out that we must undergo an “infinite progress” (I. Kant & X. M. Deng, 2003: p. 153) to fully match the moral law in order to realize freedom. The existence of God ensured that there is an independent arbiter in the world solving the problem of the inconsistency between virtue and happiness in reality. Yet Kant’s view of freedom seemed to fall into the pattern of reality, which leads Kant to cite other transcendental suspensions as a supplement. Especially in the problem of God, Kant seemed to show a deviation: He criticized God in the Critique of pure reason and postulated God again in the Critique of practical reason. It seemed that such deviation can be simply explained as the change of Kant’s view, but as Heidegger once said in his explanation of Kant’s view of freedom “… By contrast, a gene and substantially necessary overturning is always a sign of inner continuity and thus can be migrated only from the whole problem” (M. Heidegger & S. Ted, 2005: p. 183), There seemed to be more room for further discussion.
3. From Criticizing God to Suspending God: Why Is Kant’s Freedom Limited
Kant thought that there are only three ways to prove the existence of God: ontology, cosmology and natural theology. The demonstrations originated from natural theology, cosmology must be established in the way that should be completely withdrawing from experience, which entered into pure conceptual reasoning. Then Kant criticized ontology from three perspectives: 1) Inevitably judging is not equal to the inevitability of things; 2) Should God’s existence be an analytical proposition or a comprehensive proposition; 3) Is existence a real predicate. The criticism of ontology took God and its attribute back to the present world from the state of self reasoning, which meant the inference of God as the source of knowledge was still not stable.
Cosmological criticism separated God from initial cause. Kant pointed out that it is impossible for cosmologists to deduce the concept of reason from the concept of experience. Accidental existence or conditional existence belonged to the world of experience, then inevitable or absolute existence was never something that can be explored in experience world, so it could not be the object of knowledge. The reasoning of cosmology only inferred that once exists an “absolute necessity”, but still could not prove whether this necessity was the “God” of the highest reality. The existence of finite reality might be regarded as an absolutely existence, but it could not explain why the world is formed, then could not completely define the world. On this basis, cosmology can only settle back into the way of Ontology: God is omnipotent, therefore omnipotent. From above, Kant found that the transcendental world cannot be obtained from the conditional phenomenal world through the law of causality, and there would be no unconditional can be discovered from the phenomenal world.
The mistake of natural theology was the same as cosmology. Natural theology held that clear signs of “being arranged” could be found everywhere in the world, and all kinds of phenomena in the world were full of inevitability. Although natural theology did not pay attention to the derivation of transcendental concept, their method of reasoning was to discuss the existence of God from conditional result to unconditional premise, which did the same thing as the cosmology.
Kant obviously left adequate leeway in cosmology and natural theology, which could be seen in Kant’s cosmological Amendment: cosmological inference could be traced back to a unconditional existence, the pure reason as “moderation”. Avoided from the phenomenal, Kant set pure reason in the ontological world and admitted that it can’t be questioned any more. This construction leaded “pure reason” as a conditional absolutist, assumed the “initial cause” as the attribute of God temporarily. Kant completed the sway of God’s moral theology and took it an absolute, fair and objective “moral arbiter” in the sense of natural theology.
But the problematic of philosophy often did not lie in the deduction of category, but in the complicated reality, as irrational beings, if we could only revert to freedom in the way of “soul”, it was undoubtedly a kind of psychological comfort. This problem originated from the dichotomy of phenomenal world and ontology, and took the dichotomy of rational and sensibility as the grand zero, eventually completely exposed in realizing freedom. God was not reason or a kind of “given” as reason, only a suspension outside from the system. As Kant mentioned once an argument need to seek solutions from outsider from the system, the system would take some endogenous problems in itself. Hegel keenly grasped Kant’s God being was the need of a system. Hegel thought that the way to solve is to reconstruct Spinoza’s concept of substance and endow the concept with Kant’s self-consciousness in order to make it fully active. This transformation made the integration of self-consciousness and entity dialectics for absolute mind. Absolute mind gave a unity of phenomenon and essence in theory of idealism.
4. From Conceptual Practice to Actual Practice: How Marx Overcame Kant’s Dilemma
Marx, who had inherited the essence of Hagel’s dialectics, insisted that phenomena and essence could not be divided into two parts. However, the field of dialectics did not lie in the absolute mind of “inversion of the head and feet” but in the reality. Marx’s view of freedom had undergone a complex transformation: from the speculative field of self-consciousness to the realistic social relations; From abstract essence of human class to material practice in production. In the first period, Marx’s concept of freedom discussed realizing freedom in theory. In the second period, Marx discussed realizing freedom in reality based on the transformation and supplement of practical connotation.
4.1. Speculation and Deduction: The Period of the Thesis for the Doctorate—The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts in 1844
During the The Thesis for the Doctorate period, Marx was deeply influenced by Powell and other members of The Doctoral Club, heightened self-consciousness. However, young Marx’s understanding of self-consciousness was slightly different from that of the Young Hegelian: Marx did not agree that young Hegelian school only regarded self-consciousness as a pure subjective spirit, thus completely limited their own philosophy. He emphasized the connection between self-consciousness and reality, which leaded to Marx’s completely different views on free discussion in his The Thesis for the Doctorate, where Marx discussed the similarities and differences between Democritus and Epicurus as atomists, thus pointed out that Epicurus’s “atomic deviation theory” transformed Democritus’ rigid mechanical atomism, turning the objective form of atoms into subjective and active atoms. In this sense, atoms did have freedom, so the atom in the “atomic deviation theory” was the symbol of individual self-consciousness, and the deviated movement was the absoluteness and freedom of self-consciousness. Just like the atom, only when the relationship between man and nature occurred, could break away from the regulation of natural result and truly became the synthesis of sociality and naturalness. Therefore, a person was “no longer a result of nature” (K. Marx & F. Engels, 1982: p. 216) only when the other person with whom he had a relationship is not an existence different from him, but also an individual person, even if he was still spiritless. At this time, Marx emphasized freedom, not arbitrary, but in social interaction, thus Marx’s freedom was still only the concept of self-consciousness from philosophy.
Marx criticized religion in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right which pointed out that it was man who created religion, not religion created man. It was insightly that man tended to seek solace in the secular sense of “heaven” because of the unsolvable sufferings and contradictions in reality. After Feuerbach, a anthropological materialist, revealed that the essence of God is the essence of human beings, this concept promoted Marx’s criticism of this world.
At the beginning of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts in 1844, he praised Feuerbach’s humanism, Marx accepted the baptism of humanism then put forward a path to eliminate the alienation of labor and return to the essence of human beings. Labor, as an activity in human beings took the initiative to transform the perceptual world, embodied the ability of human beings to get rid of the astrict from perceptual world. However, Marx found that workers actively transformed more nature, they lost more external objects in capitalist society. Moreover, the labor commodities produced by workers did not rely on the power of producers, while were opposed to labor. Capitalist production relations revealed such a rule: the relationship between workers and their own laboring products was the relationship “between the same alien object” (K. Marx & F. Engels, 2012: p. 51), which meant that laboring products and workers form the first alienation. Laboring products were only the result of workers’ labor, so the alienation between labor products and workers was actually the alienation of workers and their own labor forms, that is to say, in the alienation of labor objects, it only summarized the alienation and externalization of labor activities themselves. Marx also analyzed that human beings treated themselves as universal and therefore free beings, and human’s class characteristics were just “freely conscious activities” (K. Marx & F. Engels, 2012: p. 55), and that human labor was the way to realize freedom. The vision conveyed by communism is the “positive sublation” (K. Marx & F. Engels, 2002: p. 297) of human alienation, so it was the real possession of human nature through human beings and for the sake of human beings. This “possession”, as a return to human essence, was the ultimate vision of human freedom.
Although it was not separated from the abstract theory to discuss the related content of freedom yet, Marx at this period at least completed the transformation of freedom’s field. The freedom of communication in The Thesis for the Doctorate transformed Kant’s subjective freedom into a freedom between subjects, while the freedom of labor in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts in 1844 transformed this freedom between subjects into a freedom of materialism. The realized field of Kant’s system freedom was extended from the unknowable ontology to the knowable human society by Marx. However, for the ultimate wish of freedom, the change of field was still unconvincing.
4.2. Practical Turning: The Period of Theses on Feuerbach— German Ideology
In the Theses On Feuerbach, Marx pointed out that “The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question” (K. Marx & C. Smith, 2002, Part two).Marx had clearly realized that the establishment of the concept of freedom does not depend on whether the logic self-consistency, it must be obtained in the way of practical practice. Marx’s view of practice was embodied in the criticism of metaphysical materialism and idealism. He thought that metaphysical materialism couldn’t correctly understand the communication function of practice to the perceptual world and the rational world, so he could not see the human reality in human practical activities; Idealism paid attention to this point, but completely excluded the perceptual activity itself. The emphasis on practice was also reflected in Marx’s incorporation in epistemology. In other words, how could human knowledge be a practical problem? Knowledge came from practice and develops in practice. If our judgment or knowledge of something was in line with the development of the thing, it proved that our knowledge was correct and it must have objective truth. Without practice, our reasoning could only be carried out in a form from a concept to another concept, or attain the logic self-consistency above. Such reasoning was actually “purely scholastic question” (K. Marx & C. Smith, 2002, Part two). Cognition must also be tested in practice. Without practice, cognition could only achieve the intuitive understanding of things and the kind of reflection was passive. It can only see the reflecting and being reflected relationship between the subject and the object, but could not see the relationship conveys transformation and being transformed, which would completely separate cognition and practice. Marx had realized that all social life is essentially an extension of practice, which possessed more space in German Ideology.
In German Ideology, the practice of Max was neither the concept of Young Hegelians nor Feuerbach’s understanding of the world without transforming, but was to transform the material world through practice in reality. The initial criterion of human being must be its naturalness, only when human beings had vitality and could exist in history, so they could undertake the subject of practice. If people wanted to maintain their own life, they must transform the natural world though practice. Therefore, the first historical activity of human beings was to produce their material life. And the second activity included the first need that had been satisfied, the activities need to be met and the tools that had been obtained to meet the needs cause by the tools. The third activity was the need for continuity, that is, proliferation. It was from these two activities that generalized practice returns to the natural history in the form of natural transformation. The relationship of communication (i.e., the later relationship of production) began to form in the history of human beings. In other words, when there was a relationship between people, the relationship of communication began to operate. Marx further pointed out that “all historical conflicts are rooted in the contradiction between the productive forces and the forms of communication” (K. Marx & F. Engels, 2012: p. 196). The productive relations under the division of labor in capitalist society oppressed the workers as producers, through the domination of labor commodities over the workers, they achieved the second squeezing of the workers’ life. Under the capitalist productive relations, human almost lost the ownership of the material production of labor products, which meant that human practice is completely separated from the path to freedom. Marx pointed out that human freedom must be realized in human liberation, and human liberation must go through the proletarian revolution. The ultimate goal of the proletarian revolution was to reform the production relations with private ownership as the core and to establish a communist society. Under the Communist society, the productivity would be highly developed, and the productivity would not be restricted by the relations of production, which meant human practice would truly move towards freedom. The proletarian revolutionary path represented that the realizing of Marx’s view of freedom is mature and completely out of the abstract field, and practice was also away from the abstract concept to the actual human activities. The practical freedom’s framework of Marx in German Ideology was gradually completed, and it had been completely and systematically elaborated in the Communist Manifesto, which had brought the practical freedom to an unprecedented height, so the tendency to practical theology had emerged.
5. The Transcendence of “Practical Theology” over Moral Theology
There had always been a view of Marx’s practice in the academic, which was similar to Kant’s moral theology and Spinoza’s natural theology. The deification of practice might be controversial, while from the insight of the word “practical theology”, there may stands a viewpoint that Marx’s view of freedom really faced the problematic encountered by Kant. Marx’s view of freedom on Kant’s problem could be concluded as three major overcomes and one transcendence. The first was to overcome the source of knowledge; The second was to overcome the deviation of moral practice from reality; The third was to overcome the problem of freedom realization; These three overcomes all originated from the realistic turn of practice, that is, the transcendence of the field of realizing freedom.
5.1. How Is Practice Possible as the Source of Knowledge
The first overcome was to the source of knowledge. Kant’s criticism of God made the source of knowledge return from God to human’s reason, but the origin of human’s reason and how it appeared was still the problem that couldn’t be explored. This was because Kant had thought about where reason came from the conceptual deduction, ignored the problem of realistic naturalness as an existential. As a methodology, logical deduction essentially need a realistic “perceptual being” as a carrier. In other words, if we entirely lost the naturalness of vitality, how could we think about where rationality comes from. Kant’s thinking of reason had never stepped out of the abstract field. On the one hand, it was illogical that there was no source of knowledge in nature as a phenomenon. On the other hand, it was not stable phenomenon acts as a source of knowledge. Knowledge was made up of the subject as the form and the experiential phenomenon as the content. In essence, the form of subject processing is a question of how cognition is possible, while the content of experience, as an external objective question, is essentially a question of whether thinking correctly reflects phenomena. Therefore, the source of knowledge is how to reflect the phenomenon in human epistemological system. In Marx’s view, practice was not only the source of cognition, but also the standard of testing cognition. The extensive connotation of practice came from its intermediary essence, which was based on human essence and subjectivity of practical activities on the one hand, and objectivity of practical activities on the other. That is to say, it was the intermediary essence of practice that endowed it with the status of knowledge source. Practice belonged to both the objective and the subjectivity. It existed both the shore and the other shore, so it belonged to both the phenomenal and the ontological world. Marx’s dialectical treatment and dynamic transformation of practice rose the practice to the level matched with the source of knowledge.
5.2. How Can Marx’s View of Practice Overcome the Deviation between Kant’s Practice and Reality
The second overcome was to the content of practice. Kant’s content of practice had two initial points: moral law had the attribute of “being given” and the realization of freedom must be active. Through this kind of “being given”, we could perceive the rational source of human essence. Moral law, as the content of freedom, had been deduced from two aspects: human existence and universal formality. As for the existence of human beings, Kant assumed that reason would not disappear because of the departure of naturalness, so the existence of human beings should be an ethical problem. Yet the initial point ignored the premise that man, as a natural life, would be impacted by nature, which leaded the suspension that freedom of will and the immortal of soul out of the system must be set. The form of practice included the material production and the transformation of social relations, touched the contradiction between human and nature, the ethical contradiction between human and other human. Marx’s practice also obtained the attribute “being given”, but this “being given” did not come from the concept and logic, but from the existence contradiction between the subject and the object and the social contradiction between the subjects. Only when we faced the first contradiction, could we really think about practice from the perspective of human existence. The universal premise of formality lied in the establishment of communication tools between subjects, such as symbols, language and logic. This communication tool, in essence, firstly was a kind of “realistic consciousness” which was necessary to transform the object between people and was a kind of human social existence; Secondly was existence, which must be based on naturalness and linked by sociality.
Kant’s practical activity was a theoretical activity, which was a model of “Moral law (rational/freedom)-Moral practice-Respect (inner sense emotion)-Moral law”. However, respective emotion can only made us realize that moral law really existed, while could not force us to fulfill moral judgment and achieve moral practice. In other words, Marx’s model was a process of “Need-Practice-Cogni- tion-Need”. In this process, it was pure form and did not involve content. In other words, Marx’s active model, on the one hand, was the combination of subjective and objective; on the other hand, it was the result of the dialectical mixture of phenomenon and essence, Marx did not pursue pure formality to achieve a thorough subjective abstract universality, but from the perspective of real human to explored the unity of subjective universality and objective changeable content. Marx’s view of practice was not active for the sake of abstract content (morality), but for the sake of conforming to the judgment of practice. In other words, if it should be defined from the most common form, practice itself was the most common form of “being given”, and it did not need to be endorsed as other abstract “rules”. Its function was to serve as the intermediary between existence (phenomenal world) and thinking (ontological world).
5.3. How to Overcome Kant’s Dilemma in Marx’s View of Practice
Kant’s dilemma was a difficult problem that perceptual beings must face when they moved towards freedom. This problem could only be explained through three suspensions, but these three were not given, but based on the necessity of a system. Kant defined freedom in the ontological world due to its reason, or it is an inevitable result from the perspective of syllogism. But Kant didn’t have enough space to realize freedom without irrational existence. In a word, his freedom was an abstract freedom derived from universal principles and unique emotions derived from them i.e. it was “formally universal validity” (C. W. Li, 2013: p. 130). The abstract essence inevitably required the separation of rationality and sensibility. That is to say, the perceptual “dross” as the residue of phenomenology would affect the purity of rational which was the cause of freedom. The dilemma of freedom was not the dilemma of morality, but of the dichotomy of rational and sensibility. Marx thinks that freedom could be realized in the perceptual world, and it must also be realized in the perceptual world. Consistent with Kant, freedom must be realized through practice, but Marx’s path was completely different in defining the target of practice: Marx’s practice was that man used his subjectivity to transform the relationship between nature and society, and the object of practice was the objective material and realistic social relationship. In other words, Kant’s practice was submit to the moral law reflecting rational, while Marx’s practice was a universal form in which the subject could transform the object and the object could limit the subject, then the dialectical relationship between the subject and the object could be established. It was precisely because practice exercise controlled over other essential part in Marxist philosophy, which completely changed the premise of the establishment involve the freedom concept: freedom was the freedom of perceptual beings, and practice was the freedom cause of perceptual beings. The reason was correctly grasped by Marx as the highest form of cognitive form, it was no longer used as the guidance and content of practice. Practice was not a special ability possessed by one subject. When it was endowed to human beings in a common form of socialization, the practical labor in organic unit appeared. Labor not only had the intermediary relationship between subject and object, but also was a second-order form of social-natural practice. It was on this basis that it was possible to put forward the path of realizing communism to eliminate alienated labor, the real core symbol of Marx’s view of freedom, which meant that the path of realizing freedom has been completely realized.
Freedom and practice are never two categories far away from each other. On the contrary, only when they are really combined can we see the path of freedom. In a sense, Kant’s freedom realization is a retrospective freedom, while Marx’s freedom realization is a progressive freedom, but it is undeniable that their thoughts still have insight guidance for us today. It is still of great significance to study how Marx’s view of practice transcends Kant’s dilemma of freedom.