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DECISIONS OF PRINCIPLE

4.5.1 As Kant points out in the important passage on the Autonomy of the Will,
to which I referred earlier, we have to make our own decisions of principle.6
Other people cannot make them for us unless we have first decided to take their
advice or obey their orders. There is an interesting analogy here with the
position of the scientist, who also has to rely on his own observations. It might be
said that there is a difference here between decisions and observations, to the
detriment of the former, in that an observation, once made, is public property,
whereas decisions have to be made by the agent himself on each occasion. But
the difference is only apparent. A scientist would not have become a scientist
unless he had convinced himself that the observations of other scientists were in
general reliable. He did this by making some observations of his own. When we
learnt elementary chemistry at school, we had some theoretical periods and
some practical. In the theoretical periods we studied books; in the practical
periods we made experiments, and found, if we were lucky, that the results
tallied with what the books said. This showed us that what the books said was
not all nonsense; so that even if, by reason of disturbing factors ignored by us,
our experiments came out wrong, we were inclined to trust the books and
acknowledge that we had made a mistake. We were confirmed in this
assumption by the fact that we often discovered later what the mistake had been.
If our observations, however carefully we did them, were always at variance
with the textbooks, we should not be tempted to make science our profession.
Thus the confidence of the scientist in other people's observations is ultimately
based, among other things, on his own observations and his own judgements
about what is reliable. He has in the end to rely on himself.