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Such a theory will indeed deviate from practice, but this is because it is a bad theory (bad because of this very deviation) and not because it is somehow inherent in the idea of moral theory itself that it should be practically useless.This account of the necessary connection between moral theory and practical belief recalls, of course, the first two sections of the 1785 where Kant speaks of his method as involving the "transition from the common rational knowledge of morals to the philosophical" and of the "transition from the popular moral philosophy to the metaphysics of morals." If we do conceptualize moral theory as the best rational reconstruction of our shared moral beliefs, then one worry about a theory/practice gap can indeed be met: the possible gap between moral theory and ordinary moral consciousness.
This theory is, it could be argued, the best rational reconstruction of our considered moral judgments about punishment -- e.g., the common moral belief that the guilty deserve to suffer.
However, it is possible that this judgment itself presupposes a variety of false or self-deceptive views -- e.g., about the nature of crime and criminals, about the legal process, about what actually happens to people when they are punished, and about the nature of the societies in which people comfortably make the judgment that the guilty deserve to suffer.
Immanuel Kant's 1793 essay "Theory and Practice" is his attempt to defend his own moral and political theory against the charge that it is simply an idle academic exercise that cannot be brought to bear upon the real world in any useful way.
He is concerned, in particular, to answer two charges -- the charges that his theory is (1) motivationally unrealistic, involving an account of moral motivation that is at odds both with scientific psychology and with all plausible philosophical accounts of rational deliberation and (2) not usable in either the design or critique of actual social institutions. First, it might be instructive to find out what the greatest philosophical mind of the eighteenth century had to say about the topic of the present volume. There are few things more trendy these days than Kant-bashing, for he is often regarded as the patron saint of individualistic liberalism, Enlightenment rationalism, the idea of the "unsituated self" and a variety of other heresies that communitarians, virtue theorists, and feminists among others enjoy condemning.
Except for the odd -- and to me quite unjustified -- cynicism of the final sentence, Foot seems to be onto something very important here -- something that Kant, with his well-earned reputation for rigidity, often, if not always, misses.
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then Kant can maintain that moral rules never admit of exceptions only if he is willing to accommodate these exceptions into the specification of the rules themselves.
Such is Kant's objective in "Theory and Practice" -- an objective he pursues by attempting to demonstrate how bad theories (or misuses of good theories such as his own) can aid in the corruption of human life and human society., as long as these rules are thought of as principles possessing a certain generality and, consequently, as being abstracted from a multitude of conditions that nonetheless necessarily influence their application.
Conversely, not every undertaking Kant is here making the very clever suggestion that, at least in the domain of morality, the very distinction between theory and practice -- and thus the idea that there could be an important gap between them -- is incoherent.), claims Kant, only if it is viewed as the instantiation of some general principles (i.e., some theory); and a moral theory is adequate only to the degree that it provides a rational reconstruction -- in terms of general principles -- of those practical judgments that constitute our ordinary moral consciousness.
A second sense of the charge, however, involves a possible gap between our moral consciousness itself and the real world -- the world of empirical reality.
Consider, as an illustration, the retributive theory of punishment.