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Universalizing Morals, Depersonalizing Man Kant’s Moral Education of the Subject

Universalizing Morals, Depersonalizing Man Kant’s Moral Education of the Subject. Peter Bornedal, General Lecture, 203. Immanuel Kant.

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Universalizing Morals, Depersonalizing Man Kant’s Moral Education of the Subject

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  1. Universalizing Morals, Depersonalizing Man Kant’s Moral Education of the Subject Peter Bornedal, General Lecture, 203

  2. Immanuel Kant • Kant lived in the Prussian city Königsberg his entire life. He never traveled, and is famous for his methodic and rigorous lifestyle and high work ethics. He would begin his lecture-schedule seven o’clock in the morning (and was so popular with students that they had to arrive an hour early to secure themselves a seat). As he raised to fame, scholars from all over Europe would travel to Königsberg to see him lecturing. It is said that the lectures that preceded the work we are reading, Grounding of a Metaphysics of Morals, were so gripping to the audience that they felt they were listening to a revelation. • After work, Kant would have his famous afternoon walk, being so punctual about this exercise that the German writer Heinrich Heine once quipped that the wives of Königsberg adjusted their clocks after him passing by. • Kant was never married; nor did he have – as far as we know – any kind of romantic relationship. This methodic, monotonous, and rigorous life might indicate a rather dry personality, but apparently he was not. Anecdote has is that Kant was an entertaining, engaging, and witty conversationalist. He seems to have been popular as a guest in the better society, and seems to have had a good sense of humor – although we admittedly do not find much humor in his philosophical work. • Kant is undoubtedly regarded as one, if not the greatest, of Germany’s philosophers. He has dealt with almost all aspects of philosophy and even science. His three so-called “Critiques” – Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Practical Reason, and Critique of Judgment – deal respectively with the three most important branches of philosophy: Knowledge/Mind, Ethics/Morals, and Aesthetics. Besides these works, he wrote important treatises about physics, astronomy, logic, religion, anthropology, politics, and education. Kant Kant Lecturing

  3. Kant’s Regulatory Idea Quotations: Even if there never have been action springing from such pure sources, the question at issue here is not whether this or that has happened but that reason of itself and independently of all experience commands what ought to happen. (Kant, ibid., p. 19) They [philosophers advocating self-interest and self-love as basic human motives] have spoken with sincere regret as to the frailty and impurity of human nature, which they think is noble enough to take as its precept an idea so worthy of respect but yet is too weak to follow his ideal reason, which should legislate for human nature. (Kant, ibid., p. 19) • Kant wrote on Ethics and Morals in four different works. His first preliminary study is the Grounding of a Metaphysics of Morals (1785), which we read. Thereupon follows his Critique of Practical Reason (1788). About ten years later he publishes his Metaphysics of Morals (1797), and finally one year later his Anthropology from a Pragmatic point of view (1798). • In the three first works, moral behavior has a strictly ideal formulation. Kant wants to set up moral principles that are ideal, meaning they are not meant to describe actual human behavior. In the last work, ethical behavior is studied from a practical perspective, meaning that he studies actual human behavior – not ideal principles that ought toregulate human behavior. The first three works deal with ethics from a metaphysical point of view, while the last work deals with ethics from an anthropological. • When one studies metaphysics of moral, one sets out to determine the general and universal principles that have to guide moral action, whether or not people actually follow these principles. • We can illustrate the idea with a couple of examples taken from Kant himself. Kant says: “even if there has never existed a sincere friend, sincerity in friendship is an idea that is still required of every man.” Or “even if an unselfish act has never been performed, unselfishness is still the ideal for moral action.” • So, even if the motives for our actions are impure and selfish, Kant’s moral theory prevails, because it deals with what ought to be the case. Moral law does not depend on experience, but on reason. Moral principles must be grounded in pure a priori concepts, not mixed with anything empirical. • Kant claims that even if ideal moral principles are rarely or never carried out, we always presuppose these principles. For example, 1) when we lament how corruptible and dishonest the human being is, we spontaneously presuppose integrity and honesty as ideal regulatory principles – principles that ought to regulate human behavior; 2) in the image we form of God as all-benevolent, we presuppose ideal moral principles. God is in his essence, what we can only strive to be in our existence. We cannot be all-benevolent like God, but we can set up benevolence as an ideal, and we do so in the image we form of God. • The upshot is, we may not believe in the actual execution of ideal moral principles; still, Kant insists, we always presuppose that they ought to exist.

  4. A Free will to Obey Principles and Idealities According to Kant, we are endowed with two essentially different kinds of knowledge: scientific knowledge and moral knowledge. Scientific knowledge studies the laws of nature of the external world; moral knowledge studies the laws of freedom of the internal world. In Scientific knowledge one studies causes. In Moral knowledge one studies motives. Both kinds of knowledge have their own kinds of a priori laws. In his work, Critique of Practical Reason, Kant states. “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and more steadily one reflects one them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not need to search for them and merely conjecture them as though they were veiled in obscurity or in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence. The first begins from the place I occupy in the external world of sense { . . . ] the second begins from my invisible self, my personality, and presents me in a world with has true infinity but which can be discovered only by the understanding, and I cognize that my connection with that world [ . . . ] is not merely contingent, as in the first case, but universal and necessary. The first view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates, as it were, my importance as an animal creature, which must give back to the planet (a mere speck in the universe) the matter from which it came. The second, on the contrary, infinitely raises my worth as an intelligence by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of the whole sensible world.” (Kant: Critique of Practical Reason, Cambridge University Press; p. 133-34.) • The reason why we so often do not follow ideal regulatory principles, which we ought to follow, is that we as humans have a free will. If we were objects, we would not have a choice. A stone cannot decide whether or not it wants to follow the laws of nature, but as subjects we can choose not the follow the laws of morals. Because of our freedom of the will, the metaphysical ethical laws Kant deduces as applying specifically to human beings are not laws of nature, but laws of freedom. • In his work, Critique of Pure Reason, Kant had been studying the ‘laws of nature.’ These he would separate in an empirical part and a rational part. The empirical part would consist of sensations, and the rational part of the so-called categories of understanding. The categories were in themselves abstract or pure, and they acquired an empirical content before they could be applied to and make sense of the world of appearances. • Without getting into Kant’s epistemological work, we notice that when Kant in his ethical work studies so-called ‘laws of freedom,’ also these laws have an empirical and rational part. Addressing the empirical part, one studies how people actually behave (like in Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, or History). Addressing the rational part, one studies how people ideally ought to behave (like in Metaphysics of Morals). • We can set up the Kantian distinctions in this table: Empirical part (Sensations) Laws of nature -- Physics Rational part (Categories) Empirical part (How people actually do behave) Laws of freedom -- Ethics Rational part (How people ideally ought to behave)

  5. • That a moral imperative is a priori implies that it applies to all peoples in all histories, and under all circumstances, whether or not they live by it or obey it. It is a priori because it is already part of our rational constitution; Kant therefore only “deduces” (i.e., he articulates and makes explicit) what is already there as implicitly known. The result of the ‘deduction,’ the abstract moral law, can therefore also not be an object for discussion or negotiation. Universal moral law is part of our implicit rational knowledge, which we as such ‘know’ is true as rational beings. • Kant starts his deduction of pure morals by asserting such an unconditional moral law (something we all ‘know’ is true when it is made explicit to us): “There is no possibility of thinking of anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be regarded as good without qualification, expect a good will.” (Kant, Grounding of a Metaphysics of Moral, p. 7.) • This is Kant’s first example of an unconditional moral law: the good will. Notice here that Kant does not suggest any specific quality as moral, as numerous other moral philosophers have done, such as honor, generosity, self-control, intelligence, courage, perseverance, fortune, wealth, etc. Only the good will can qualify as moral law, because without the background-motivation of a ‘good will’ all the qualities mentioned above – generosity, self-control, intelligence, etc. – can be abused, or may have been executed for selfish purposes. • Two examples: A) If a man is generous because he expects something in return, he is generous for selfish purposes, not out of a purely good will. B) A villain in perfect self-control is not a virtuous man acting with ‘good will,’ but rather a more dangerous villain. The same applies if he is courageous, intelligent, etc. • Therefore Kant continues that a good will is good not because it effects some end, or achieves some personal benefit or profit. It must be “good in itself”: “A good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing, i.e., it is good in itself.” [ . . . ] “[The will] is not merely good as a means to some further end, but is good in itself.” (Kant, ibid., p. 7 & 9.) • Because we have a “freedom of the will” we can influence and direct our will; we can choose between willing an action that is a means to some further end, or willing an action that is good in itself. Kant “Deduces” a Moral Principle Implicitly Known, the “Good Will” being the First Step in such a ‘Deduction’

  6. It is Reason, not Emotion that Executes the Moral Principle • If we act with an unconditional good will, even if our action achieves nothing, or perhaps achieves the opposite of what we intended, our action has a moral content. The ‘good will’ shall “shine by its own light as something which has its full power in itself.” (Kant, ibid., p. 8.) • It seems that intention has become the quintessential criteria for the morality of an action; it seems as if, insofar as we act with the intention to do good, our action has moral content. • Is now a ‘good will’ identical to ‘good intentions’? – Well, not quite! And why not? – Because the definition would be redundant and meaningless! One cannot explain a good will with good intentions, because it is the same thing. Kant wants to deduce universal moral principles, he wants to know what is inherent in exhibiting ‘good will.’ If a ‘good will’ simply were to have ‘good intentions,’ he would still need to explain what is inherent is exhibiting ‘good intentions.’ His problem would not have been solved; it would not have gone away. • Furthermore, if a ‘good will’ were reducible to ‘good intentions,’ we would be referring to a psychologically determined ‘good will’ rooted in a compassionate subject. But the moral principle cannot be determined from neither individual psychology, nor from compassion. The moral principle is formal and universal, never concrete and individual; and it is rooted in reason, never passions. • The upshot is, forget the compassionate subject – the ‘warm heart,’ as Nietzsche often puts it in his somewhat misunderstood mockery of Kantian positions. • Forget the following equation: The ‘Warm Heart’/the Compassionate Subject = Good Intentions = Good Will → Moral Action • Apply instead the following deduction: Freedom of the Will ↔ Respect for Universal Law ↔ Duty toward Maxims Prescribed by Law ↔ Good Will ↔ Moral Action

  7. The ‘good will’ is, a) an act performed from duty, b) it is free of self-interest, and c) it obeys a maxim prescribed by Law. • Let us first explain what is meant by the statement above • What is it to ‘act from duty’? – It is 1) to act, not just according to a law, but also for the sake of a law that transcends the individual (that is, for the sake of a formal principle, not a psychological principle, like the ‘warm heart’). 2) it is to act contrary to inclinations (desires, self-interests, personal benefits, profit, etc.). 3) It is to adopt an action because reason commands of us this course of action (not because passions or compassions urge us on). • What is a maxim? – A maxim is a brief articulation of an instruction that the individual follows in his action. • What is Law? – Law is the set of imperatives prescribing moral actions. Moral Laws are always categorical, meaning that they are not up for discussion or negotiation. Metaphorically speaking, moral laws are as if carved in stone, like the Ten Commandments Moses brings down from Mount Sinai. However, the Ten Commandments are divine rules of conduct, while Kant’s categorical imperatives are rational rules of conduct. • In order to illustrate his principle, ‘acting from duty,’ Kant gives us four different examples of action, where only the last has moral content. One is contrary to duty; two are in accordance with duty but are still performed because of self-interests; only the last is performed ‘from duty’ and ‘contrary to inclination.’ Only the last qualifies as truly moral. The four examples are the following:  1) Some actions are contrary to duty, and performed out of self-interest and inclination, like stealing, cheating, lying, etc. Obviously, they are not moral. 2) Other actions are performed according to duty, but because of some mediate self-interest. A person pays his taxes on time according to duty, but he knows that he thus avoid fines, and society gives him back various social benefits. He acts according toduty, but not from a duty free of self-interest, and is thus not a true moral subject. 3) Other actions are performed according to duty, but because of some immediate self-interest. If a man does not commit suicide, he acts according to duty, but if he loves his live, he also acts according to inclination. He never contemplated suicide since he is happy and everything is going well. Thus, he preserves his life according toduty, but not from a duty free of self-interest, and is thus not a true moral subject. 4) Finally, there are actions, which are in accordance with duty, and moreover, are performed from dutycontrary to inclination. These are true moral actions, whose maxims constitute the subject as moral.

  8. Respect for Law, Ladies and Gentlemen, Respect . . . • Whether one acts ‘according to’ or ‘from’ duty, one acts out of respect for Law. But only actions done ‘from duty’ have moral content, because they are done ‘for the sake of’ duty, without considerations of inclinations or personal benefits. • They are done out of nothing but pure respect for Law. • Notice that a so-called ‘good will’ is a rational will to respect Law, with no other motives than respect for Law. “Duty is the necessity of an action done out of respect for the law. [ . . . ] Hence there is nothing left which can determine the will except objectively the law and subjectively pure respect for this practical law, i.e. the will can be subjectively determined by the maxim that I should follow such a law even if all my inclinations are thereby thwarted. [ . . . ] The pre-eminent good which is called moral can consist in nothing but the representation of the law in itself.” (Kant, ibid., p. 12-13). • In this Kantian definition, there is no room for the ‘warm heart.’ If a ‘warmhearted’ man enjoys spreading joy and happiness around, he is acting according to duty (and certainly, nobody blames him), but his action has the characteristics of the third case above: he acts according to duty, but also according to immediate inclination. Therefore, his action has no true moral content. • If on the contrary, this man, in his personal life carries great sorrows, but nonetheless still has the power to benefit and spread joy among others, then his action is performed from dutycontrary to inclination, and it has a true moral content. “If adversity and hopeless sorrow have completely taken away the taste for life, if an unfortunate man, strong in soul and more indignant at his fate than despondent or dejected, wishes for death and yet preserves his life without loving it – not from inclination or fear, but from duty – then his maxim indeed has a moral content.” [ . . . ] “Even though no inclination moves him any longer, he nevertheless tears himself from this deadly insensibility and performs the action without any inclination at all, but solely from duty – then for the first time his action has genuine moral worth.” (Kant, ibid., p. 10 & 11)

  9. The Categorical Imperative, 1 • We have learnt that to act with a ‘good will’ is to act from, ‘for the sake of,’ duty in respect for Law and nothing but Law. From this deduction, Kant formulates his famous categorical imperative. In its first formulation, it reads: “Since I have deprived the will of every impulse that might arise for it from obeying any particular law, there is nothing left to serve the will as principle except the universal conformity of its actions to law as such, i.e., I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” (Kant, ibid., p. 14.) • Kant’s example: “when I am in distress, may I make a promise with the intention of not keeping it.” In other words, is it okay under some circumstances to lie? – Now, one might argue that a person should avoid lying, because it would be detrimental to him in the long run. A lying shopkeeper would eventually be exposed, and thus loose customers. The argument presupposes that one should be truthful because of some ends or consequences; it presupposes a so-called ‘hypothetical imperative,’ an if-then relation: if I don’t lie, then my business will thrive, and I will prosper: if I do so and so, then I will achieve this or that. • Therefore, a hypothetical imperative is not ‘categorical.’ it is not unconditional, universal, and absolute. A ‘categorical imperative’ is asserted out of respect for Law, without other concerns. A hypothetical imperative is asserted out of concerns for benefits or profits. It does not determine the moral content of an act. • So, now we ask again, but from the perspective of the categorical imperative, is it okay under some circumstances to lie? – The answer is still ‘no,’ but with a different explanation. Observing the categorical imperative, I avoid lying because of respect for universal Law. My reason tells me that lying cannot be accepted as universal Law; it tells me that if I will lying as universal Law, then I will everybody to lie, and then it is no longer possible to make promises at all. Under the obligation of a universal law to lie, every promise is a contradiction in terms. “I immediately become aware that I can indeed will the lie but can not at all will a universal law to lie. For by such a law there would really be no promises at all, since in vain would my willing future actions be professed to other people who would not believe what I professed, or if they overhastily did believe, then they would pay me back in like coin.” (Kant, ibid., p. 15). • If now I do not will a universal law to lie, then I must admit that neither do I will my first proposal: may I make a promise with the intention not to keep it. I must reject this proposal. Therefore, when one ‘respects law,’ one does not respect a particular law, but a law requesting universal validity in an action.

  10. The Categorical Imperative, 2 Imperatives says that something would be good to do or to refrain from doing, but they say it to a will that does not always therefore do something simply because it has been represented to the will as something good to do. That is practically good which determines the will by means of representations or reason and hence not by subjective causes, but objectively, i.e.. on grounds valid for every rational being as such. (Kant , ibid., p. 24). • What is here established is that we have wills, meaning that we have the choice to follow a rational decision or not. If purely subjective interests determine this choice, it is not a moral choice, but if our will be governed by objective moral laws, then we are following, not personal interests, but an imperative. • We can only rationallychoose moral imperatives, because our wills in themselves are not moral, rational, or objective. We are not gods, and we have no holy wills, we have only human wills. If we were gods, we would not need moral imperatives. • In the categorical imperative, the so-called maxim of the action (i.e., the instruction as articulated to the subject describing the action) should conform to universal law. In this conformity the maxim makes itself into a universal law. This correspondence or conformity is alone what is necessary by the imperative, therefore there is only one imperative and it reads (in two different versions): Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. [ . . . ] Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature. ( Kant, ibid., p. 30) • An example of Kant’s: A suicidal man! – Is he allowed or not to take his own life according to the categorical imperative? His duty to himself is to preserve his life. If he decides to commit suicide he does so because it is an easy way out of a life of suffering. Thus he commits suicide out of self-love. “I end my life out of self-love’” becomes the maxim of his action. Now he must ask himself whether this maxim could become “a universal law of nature.” Here he realizes that ‘suicide from self-love’ could never be a universal law of nature, because it would imply a contradiction. If his maxim is universalized, self-love, which normally is to preserve life, is determined as destruction of life, and we are under a universal obligation to destroy our lives – which is absurd.

  11. Human Autonomy as Moral Imperative • Even if I tell a lie, I presuppose that one has an universal moral obligation to tell the truth, because I calculate and expect that the one I lie to believes I tell the truth. I tell the lie believing in universal law; I just don’t apply this universal law to myself. • In that case, I am using my fellow human being as a means to further my personal ends. While lying I recognize that I am using the other person merely as a means. • This cannot be permitted, because in all cases where I use another rational being for my own ends, the maxims of the actions cannot be universalized. The maxim, ‘I shall use another rational being in order to further my own end,’ cannot become an “universal law of nature,” because we would then place ourselves under a universal obligation to deprive ourselves of our rationality; that is, our free will to rationally choose different courses of action – and again, that is absurd. A rational being is characterized by its ability to make choices, according to the “practical law of freedom.” If I deprive a person of this ability, I deprive him of the “freedom of his will.” • The categorical imperative therefore has another famous formulation, namely that one must always use another rational being as an end in himself, never as a means (it Is often referred to as Kant’s “Principle of Humanity”): “Rational nature exists as an end in itself. [ . . . ] The practical imperative will thus be as follows: so act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means.” . . . “Persons must exist as ends in themselves. [ . . . ] Such an end is one for which there can be substituted no other end to which such beings should serve merely as means, for otherwise nothing at all of absolute value would be found anywhere.” (Kant, ibid., p. 36). • According to this formulation of the categorical imperative, one always has a duty to use both oneself and another person as ends in themselves, never as means. Kant’s suicidal man is for example using himself as a ‘means’ – which is not permitted:  “If he destroys himself in order to escape from a difficult situation, then he is making use of his person merely as a means so as to maintain a tolerable condition till the end of his life. Man, however, is not a thing and hence is not something to be used merely as a means; he must in all his actions always be regarded as an end in himself.” (Kant, ibid., p. 36).  

  12. • In his ‘deductions’ of the moral imperative, Kant presupposes that Man is capable of self-legislation – that is, we are able to give laws to ourselves, which we are able thereupon to follow. • We are able to make laws and choose to follow them thanks to our free will. We are not subjected to natural laws (in which case we are without choice in moral matters), but to ‘practical laws of freedom.’ • This freedom from natural laws in the human being must be preserved. Humans can only be subjected to ‘practical laws,’ and these laws are always of their own making. They are self-legislative and are thus testimonies of our free will. • If therefore ‘practical laws’ are fashioned as ‘natural laws’ it indicates a perversion of reason, and a violation of human freedom. • If a dictator dictates laws as if they were laws of nature, his maxim cannot be universalized, because it contradicts human freedom as such. The human being is a priori free or autonomous. This freedom cannot be violated. • Because of this fundamental autonomy, humans must never be deprived of their freedom to make rational decisions. They must always be treated as ends, and we must legislate as if we all belonged to a “Kingdom of Ends,” a society where we are free and have equal rights. • There can be no ‘scientific proof’ of this deduction, because it transcends the bounds of possible experience. It belongs to the noumenal, not to the phenomenal, world. It transcends the apparent world. Still, it nevertheless takes existence as “regulative idea.” The Kingdom of Ends: Kant as the First Human Rights Philosopher

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