Kant's Moral PhilosophyMay 29, 2021
Immanuel Kant is arguably the most important figure in the
philosophyof the Enlightenment and, as Professor Stalloff has just shown you, his treatment of epistemological and ontological problems is profound and synthesizes many tendencies that have been present in the history of continental rationalism and also in empiricism and British empiricism. The rest of his
moralphilosophy and political philosophy, also deals with themes that had developed in the earlier history of
moralthought, in particular, Kant's moral philosophy is a reaction to the skeptical, reductionist and naturalistic type of approach of philosophy to morality to politics that was characteristic of david hume in professor stalloff's lecture yesterday on hume and morality. attached to this kind of view on one level is somewhat immediately attractive because it is common sense it is more or less consistent with our experience of the world but there is a deep problem with it because to some degree it tends to subjectivize ethics it makes ethics a matter of opinion or taste or feeling because ultimately the foundation of our moral judgments from Hume's point of view are our feelings of approval that come from the utility or pleasure we get from the behavior of ourselves or other people this greatly upset Emmanuel Kant Kant wrote that it was David Hume who brought him out of his dogmatic dreams that made him truly understand the strength and depth of English empiricism and the skeptical approach to morality and politics that characterized it Kant was a very religious thinker it's hard to immediately discern when you read his work because it's very dry and technical and sophisticated in terms of his We used logical procedures, but Khan came from a Pietist family, a family of German Protestants. estants who were extremely devoted to religion and religious values
kantis a strong religious believer in contrast to hume
kantis a very pious almost solemn thinker and when he saw hume's moral theory at first he tried to refute it and could not and spent 11 years reading hume trying to figure it out oneself gets involved in an 11 year reading project of the same philosopher if it bothers you too much and kant was very upset by the implications in hume which were essentially that morality is a matter of taste matter of feeling a matter of feeling now it is a simple empirical fact that people's feelings or sentiments are different, you go from one person to another and if you ask them what is their favorite color or what is their favorite food or what is their favorite piece of these opinions vary from person to person and this annoyed Kant greatly.
It seems to imply that God's justice is the ultimate divine moral law. an illusion or a myth does not apply to human beings humans suggests that morality is really a branch of anthropology and this greatly upset the earl he said i can't bear to see morality brought to the level of a shabby anthropology so let's go beyond wretched anthropology here to a universal system of moral judgment that is completely binding on all rational beings in all circumstances that is the kind of religious truth kant wants to formulate in the language of german idealism let me get to the conclusion from the beginning, so you understand what is the essence of kant, he is trying to create a rapprochement between Christian religious belief and the intellectual state of western culture once he has developed Newtonian mechanics and its social, political concomitants and morals, so kant is trying to reconcile his faith in the god of the bible his belief in heaven and ultimate justice morally and you're trying to do it in an intellectually serious and sophisticated way one that doesn't thump the desk and demand the abdication of your rationality, but rather is the culminating point of the perfection of rationality, so it's a hugely ambitious task that kant now embark on a book called the foundations of the metaphysics of morality that I think you should read if you are interested in learning about Kantian morality, it is the most accessible of Kant's books, which is not saying much, right? those of you who have read kant before can understand how banning his prose is one of the problems with german philosophy as a whole is that there is not much in the way of clarity or elegance of style easy and directly accessible philosophers they tend to write in english for better or worse the most difficult philosophy like kant's is found among the german right the german-speaking authors now khan's book the foundations of the metaphysics of morals establishes that kant wishes to be again the newton of the moral world i have returned again and again to the subject of physical science the advancement of newtonian mechanics which has fundamental implications for the rest of our thinking about politics about society about good and evil and about the individual psyche sukant wants to be the newton of the moral world a couple of things are built into that idea that aspiration first is a difference between the moral world and the everyday world of sense perception the newtonian world and indeed this is the case kant is a metaphysical thinker what i mean by a metaphysical thinker is a thinker who divides the cosmos divides the world into two parts this is somewhat analogous to the distinction that Plato makes the divided line between the world of the senses and the world of form something more like a world outside of space and time Kant believes that there is a similar distinction in ontology there is a number world and a phenomenal world the number world is the world of the perception of the senses the world or the phenomenal world is the world of the senses perception the world of space and time the world that Newtonian mechanics explains and that is completely connected by the principle of causality one thing causes another there is a fully determined relationship between all events in the physical world of space and time this is newton's great achievement in showing us that f equals m a for all bodies in everywhere or at least that's what was thought in the late 18th century now dividing the world and giving the devil his comeuppance giving physicists their comeuppance allowing newton to run the world of space and time has a separate kingdom in the one who hopes to do something analogous to what isaac newton did to formulate the rules of the numerical world of the moral world the last quasi-mathematical algorithm of moral justice of moral rectitude that applies to things that are numeral to human souls a rational agents to free entities so there is a distinction between the two halves of the world the newt the onian world is the world of space and time the world of causality uh each domino topples the other domino in the other world the numerical world that is the kingdom of freedom that is the kingdom of morality then there is a division in the world between the world of causality and the world of freedom and by rescuing the idea of freedom ad by allowing it to be intellectually serious by giving it a place in its ontology has made possible the autonomous judgment of free moral acts, that is to say if war if Newtonians and humans are right and the world is simply the set of spatio-temporal events there is no freedom freedom is an impossibility if isaac newton is right and every event in the world causes the next event that comes after it well first of all what does it do? they intend to praise or blame someone for what they did they are so determined that they are as mechanical as anything else in a completely mechanical Newtonian universe humans are essentially elaborate soft machines they are interested in actual clockworks that do what they do because they have to, since that is the nature of the universe as a whole once we adopt Newtonian mechanics as an architectural view of the world, this is what bothers Kant, he says, if we live in a completely determinate world of bodies and moving through good space, so what does it mean to say that this is a good action or that this is a bad action i just say i like this action or i don't like that action relativizes moral judgment subjectivizes moral judgment essentially says no there are moral facts, that there are only moral opinions, and that the aggregate of rough generalizations about most moral opinions is what we call good and bad, since these judgments, these aggregate judgments of good and evil change throughout the geography, perhaps the morality of people. the trials in china are different from those in england perhaps the events in england at the time of the roman conquest were different from those in the s.
What it does in the 19th century is to relativize and subjectivize ethics, to convert moral judgment into what Khan called a miserable anthropology, since Kant proposes to offer a universal law that allows us to establish the good or evil of all action by any free rational moral agent. under all circumstances independent of space and time this universal moral algorithm will be true in china and england true at the north pole true at the equator true today true tomorrow was true last year true a thousand years ago is true forever in other words kant he wants to wrap up moral truth in an armor of idealism and logic and present it in a way that he believes is impregnable to anyone who really understands his argument kant is going to formulate the law of ultimate moral duty and this is called the categorical imperative kant says at the beginning of the fundamentals from the metaphysics of morality that the only good thing is good will and that is a profound and important idea and essentially christianity is something that essentially comes certainly with augustine the intent of his action is the standard by which we are now going to judge him here is a major departure from hume those of you who have read hume's treatise those of you who have read the research de hume on the principles of morality you will find that he does not talk much about intention as a matter of fact intention is not a big concern hume the internal operations of people's psyches that is not the problem if you want to know if an action is good or bad, you don't go back to the agent's intent, although that might be a bit interesting and put you off influencing your feelings about his action, but the key for Hume in judging an agent's behavior good or bad is how you feel about it. of the consequences of what they did so it's your feeling for hume in kant's case it's not a matter of feeling it's a matter of finding out what the agent was up to wanted you if he meant something good if they didn't have malice a foresight then their behavior is blameless on the other hand if they had malice or bad intentions when they started an action even if they didn't carry out the action it's a bad thing let me give you a example. clarify this because it's not always immediately obvious imagine a construction worker working on the roof of a building he's standing there and notices a loose brick he sees someone on the ground he says i don't like that guy i've always hated that guy guy throws the brick and kills him now hume would say we don't like that because it makes us feel bad for the poor guy who got hit on the head with a brick kant would say the reason we disapprove of that behavior is because he had the intent to harm someone is the intent he had now let's go to an alternative situation we have the same worker on a roof and accidentally in the process of working accidentally drops a brick without looking down without knowing what is happening on t he crushed the brick, fell and killed someone in hume's opinion, since it wasn't in hume's opinion, it's more or less the same action, you may be inclined to say, well, if it wasn't intended, I didn't disapprove so much. as i would if the person was being malicious but i still dislike something because it makes me feel bad again i feel sympathy for the person who was hurt in kant's view man's action is morally blameless he did not intend to hurt anyone he did what we call an accident, that's the distinction between intentionality and accidental behavior and we have this idea built into our legal system, there is not just murder, but intent to commit murder, conspiracy to commit murder if a man was working on this roof. and he threw the brick intentionally we would put him in jail if he accidentally throws the brick we would say it was an accident we would not blame him we would not say he was morally guilty we could say he ow he should be more careful in the future that he should be more prominent but we would not say that that was a morally bad disposition that is the key distinction between kant and hume kant is primarily concerned with the intentions of people with the state of their soul essentially now khan's formulation his universal for determining the right or wrong of an action it's called a categorical imperative and to understand what a categorical imperative is you have to understand what a hypothetical imperative is and to understand what a hypothetical imperative is I have to briefly go over all of hume's moral theory so I'll do it real quick ok , Hume has a belief in reason that establishes that reason is a slave to the passions, he specifically states in the treatise What he means by that is, reason is an instrument that allows us to get the things we want and the desires we want.we have are not rationally determined, for example, we could say that I want a cup of coffee now I don't sit down to do some math problems and then I say aha so it is proven that I want coffee I don't have to consult any type of rational element in my mind to find out that I'm hungry that I'm thirsty that the lights are hot that any of my physical desires immediate desires um come directly to me through some kind of instinct through my feelings through my feelings my emotions wherever they come from don't They come from my ability to reason in Hume's view of reason.
Being a slave to the passions means that I am going to use my reason exclusively in an instrumental way. This is the instrumental conception of reason and what it means is that reason tells you how to satisfy your desires once you have them, so if you want a cup of coffee, reason can tell you that the right way to do it is to go outside. the living room and pour yourself a cup okay so reason tells you how to get what you want but it doesn't tell you what to want desires come from somewhere else so the ends of your actions come from your irrational arbitrary desires your feelings the means by which you achieve your actions are derived through reason what kant means by heteronomy is to act on the basis of your feelings your passions your emotions act in such a way that satisfies your desires instead of satisfying the ends that pure rationality gives you now Hume thinks that reason is exclusively instrumental, he thinks that a passion is needed to generate actions, a feeling, a desire, and that is why his entire moral theory is organized around the idea of heteronomy of satisfying your desires, and reason tells you exclusively the best means.
To achieve this, ends that come irrationally arbitrarily Kant wants to formulate a new conception of rationality and consequently a new conception of rationality. tion of the human psyche that corresponds to its new ethical ideas that makes the categorical imperative possible now the distinction between a categorical imperative and a hypothetical imperative that is of hume basis for morality is something like this a hypothetical imperative is an imperative that and you You want yourself simply because you are the person doing the things you are doing, for example, you are thirsty, you could say I want to go get a drink of water, I want to go get a cup of coffee, it is a hypothetical imperative if you want to have a drink of water go to the water fountain if you want a cup of coffee go to the coffee machine if you want a hamburger go to mcdonald's if you want an elephant go to africa if you want a volcano go to hawaii in other words it has the shape yes you want something then do the following it is a hypothetical imperative it all depends on the first part of the clause if you want x go do y what kant is trying to formulate is a categorical imperative that does not apply ca to you if you want something but only applies to you rather than if you want x go do y simply says go do y for everyone under all circumstances he wants to find some obligation that is rational agents have simply by being rat This is called the categorical imperative and what makes the imperative in this case categorical is the fact that it is not hypothetical and what we mean by being hypothetical is that if then the clause if you want a hamburger go to Burger King if you want an elephant going to africa is not an if-then clause it just says do this now how is he going to pull a rabbit out of his metaphysical hat and find something that everyone should do under all circumstances today tomorrow last year in china in india in the north pole on the moon everywhere what obligations do all moral agents have simply by virtue of being moral agents since the categorical imperative is formulated several times in the course of years foundations of the metaphysics of morality and what it says is this that rational agents have an obligation to act in such a way that the maxim that they could wish that the maxim of their action could become a universal law of nature now that is a very complicated formula ation is not easy or intuitive as is much of human morality, so let's analyze this idea kant says that we have an obligation to act in such a way that we want the maximum of our action, the general rule under which which we behave, can be universalized.
It could happen all the time and it could happen to us, as well as to other people. It is very difficult to realize at first. You will find it a very difficult book to read. Let's take some examples to make it a little easier. what is kant saying something like this, we all implicitly recognize the existence of moral rules that in one way or another we believe must be obeyed by everyone, particularly by other people, there is nothing easier to improve than other people's morals and when we approve or we disapprove of others the behavior of people we are doing it implicitly context based on whether it follows the categorical imperative now here is the problem and here is the origin of all evil among human beings and of course it is the only evil that exists or maybe among angels or something like that lucifer but almost all the evil in this world is restricted to things like us well it works something like that when we do something wrong lets say uh lets say a mafia hit man is going to murder someone for money this mob hitman is going to do something that he implicitly acknowledges as evil acknowledges that there is a universal moral rule that says he couldn't wish everyone commit murder whenever they want no i agree i dont want everyone to murder everyone else i couldnt wish for that to become a universal law of nature that people should be constantly murdering each other i want to live in a world where everyone the others are really good where they are all very nice to me and where none of them are going to murder me on the other hand although I recognize the universality of this moral law I want there to be an exception I am going to make an exception in this moral rule I am going to go out and do murder for hire get the money back and live a nice life have a good time at the same time on my way on my way back from this contract killing i dont want someone to murder me like a i actually dont want to live in a world where people are constantly killing each other.
I just want an exception to the moral rule on my part. Now think about it. acts that all of us and I mean all of us do when we know we're doing something wrong let's take example I mean I could take an example like stealing well but most of us don't turn out to be pickpockets let's take something as I don't know double parking or these are the little infractions we commit we recognize that we don't want everyone breaking these rules at the same time we think we should be the exception, right? Think about it all the pickpockets in the world want to be able to walk away with other people's wallets but they don't want their own wallet taken from them, do you get the idea that all the evils we do come from recognizing a certain universality and moral rules and then saying that I should be the only exception?
Kant's point is that this is irrational, this is literally heteronomous in the human sense when you make these arbitrary exceptions to the universal moral rule what you are really doing is succumbing to heteronomy succumbing to the lure of your passions succumbing to your desire from being an exception to the moral rules that really deep down know apply to everyone think about how many people in America cheat on their income taxes all these people want everyone to cheat on their income taxes because then the government won't it would work and we all recognize it we must pay our taxes and yet many people will play with the numbers thinking that everyone else should pay their full share, but I am going to play with it a bit, what they are doing there is op be heteronomous I don't know they are behaving freely and for kant free behavior and rational behavior are the same being free is the same So what does this mean to be rational in the tradition of German idealism? it means that when we behave heteronomously we are behaving passionately we are behaving irrationally and that means we are breaking the categorical imperative and we are doing what we know is wrong when we behave rationally that is the same as behaving freely when we behave freely and rationally that is the same as behaving autonomously when we behave autonomously freely rationally we are following the categorical imperative and that is the same as being virtuous means that we are complying with the moral rules that deep down we know apply to everyone we are not making exceptions for ourselves and this freedom this autonomy reminds autonomy comes from the Greek words autonomous make laws for oneself that is the kantian conception of freedom is an idea derived from rousseau freedom is not the arbitrary liberties of the savage in the state of nature for kant freedom Freedom is free, freedom is regulated under the law, freedom is the activity of making a moral law that oneself obeys, this is what the illustration comes to our maturity.
Realizing that there is a universal moral law that commands us to become virtuous, good, and free moral agents. Now what is this idea that there is a universal moral law that applies equally to me and you and that I shouldn't do? doing something I don't want you to do to me, well this is the golden rule dressed in its logical Sunday best, right? You clothe it in a kind of armor of logic and strict rationality and it comes with a huge apparatus, I mean, Professor Stalloff outlined for you the epistemological material that's connected to this, there's a huge ontological and epistemological system that connects to this, the essence of this is and in a way, the cornerstone of this system is the possibility of creating free and rational moral agents; in other words kant asks us to be more than animals something more than meat wants us to live up to the potentialities of having a soul there is something about us that makes us different from animals who are entirely heteronomous we are able to restrain our appetites we are capable of making rational choices and rational decisions we are responsible moral agents kant's law then it is the law of goodwill formulated in the language of continental rationalism the goal of his system is to create the possibility of moral knowledge moral facts regardless of subjective moral feelings or opinions makes freedom possible remember in the hume system conscious freedom is an impossibility is a correct absurdity in a completely deterministic world or since hume wants to get away from that a bit in a completely physical world he has no much sense to talk about ab outside of freedom it doesn't make much sense to talk of intentions it's just one damn thing after another in khan's system we are elevated above the rest of nature and share something in common with god and angels an interesting side light for kant's ethics the theory is that it is connected to the Kant's political theory Khan has a political philosophy that is a kind of appendix but it is also one of the highest points of the political theory of the Enlightenment and corresponds in some aspects to the differences between Kantian and Kantian. human system hume is essentially an empiricist and quite conservative about political philosophy he likes things pretty much the way they are and you can see how that would appeal to an empiricist empiricists are rational risk minimizers they know what happened in the past they know what can we anticipate if we don't make too many radical changes and they don't have utopian ideals about changing the world, there is no definitive moral law w that politics or ethics have to refer back to for kant that is not going to be the case for kant the imperative categorical is not only universal but it applies to every rational agent and that does not mean that it applies only to human beings to whom it applies example to nations it applies to angels they are supposed to be incorporeal but also free and rational beings no doubt the categorical imperative applies to them too maybe that's lucifer's greatest sin that's something like that because many of his writings try in a way that is more very bowed connects the mythology of christianity and the bible with these discoveries he has made in the realms in the realm of logic and pure ideas, well khan's political theory is an extrapolation of his moral theory and in some respects, It is a response to Hume's moral theory and Hume's. political theory his political theory holds something to the effect that, first of all, the categorical imperative demands that individual human beings leave the state of nature.
If there is such a thing and it forms what is called the social contract, you will find that most of the great political thinkers of the Enlightenment are social contractarians. They are interested in the state of nature, of course, because Newtonian mechanics has moved the focus of intellectual life from theology to the study of nature, so the state of nature comes up again and again in the Enlightenment political theory and what Khan says goes something like this: The state of nature can be seen metaphorically as the state of pureheteronomy of pure animality of pure passion pushing human beings when they have not discovered in some respects their own potential for rational free autonomous behavior this appears in an essay called the origins of what do you call this um the origins of human history or something so it is in a collection of political essays and historical essays that kant wrote just at the time of the french revolution and says in the origin of human history and here the emphasis on the word human as opposed to history in the sense of natural history the origin of human history is, in quotes, the garden of eden when people decide when people were kicked out of the garden adam and eve had sinned and decided to put the fig leaf on what that means metaphorically put the fig leaf is that human beings become human become rational when they decide to start restraining their desires and restraining their impulses sexual is what kind of um archetypically separates us from animals we are distant from our immediate passionate demands from the demands of heteronomy and that is what makes us free that is what makes us human that is what makes us rational that is the origin of human history the further development of human history progresses until we reach the enlightenment the enlightenment disappears it is a period in which free reason unfettered human reason finally ascends to its rightful place in human thought and life human and begins to dominate the old met aphoric mythical systems of religion and political legitimacy begins to revise and revise previous systems of ethical judgment and for kant the development of human rationality is what human history is all about you can see how in some senses is going to be a precursor of hegel is going to opt for an idea that is going to be very important for Hegel later on re the idea of collective subjects generally in an everyday and practical way when we think of a moral subject when we think of an individual we are talking about an individual person bodies and minds this person and this person and this person kant wants to allow for the possibility that the moral agency that moral personality and by implication the obligation to obey the categorical imperative the universal moral duty that this obligation adheres not only to individuals like this person and this person and this person adheres to god and angels and also to nations nations are moral agents for kant and this is v It is very important because this means that not only individuals have the obligation to get rid of the dubious and contingent liberties of the savage in the state of nature and form a legal freedom by creating a government from the state of nature. demanded by the categorical imperative and nations are moral subjects that are bound to obey the categorical imperative all nations of the world is one of khan's great discoveries and arguments are bound to eliminate the state of nature among nations in the same way and for the same reason that all individual human beings have that obligation what this means is that civil law the creation of civil law is an obligation for individual human beings and the creation of international law is an obligation for states national once governments have been created in other words universality and legality and legality legality are the two key ideas for kant and since universality is a key idea for him, it is a last one The impulse of his moral and political system does not it stops at the level of the nation-state in the way that Hume's political theory does.
Hume says his politics his moral theory only applies to individual human beings due to things like scarcity and the fact that beings are social animals kant says there is a moral rule for all agents so there really is no discrepancy there is a kind of continuous movement from the theory of law when it is applied to individuals and the theory of law when it is applied to nations or collective subjects and what it means is that this categorical imperative demands that the nations of the world renounce the doubtful and contingent freedom of the state of nature that renounce the war of all against all that renounce the right of fang and fang and that Kant is one of the first to formulate the idea that rationality than freedom than moral virtue calls for the creation of what he called the league of nations the ideas of the league of nations were formulated by woodrow wilson at the end of the first world war it is a con woodrow wilson before he became president was a professor of law and philosophy at princeton and he was very interested in kant, i was working on some of his papers recently and in fact wilson considers the idea of a league of nations to be a universal moral obligation and indeed had a practical influence on the development of politics in the 20th century. they are often inclined to suggest that the mere moral theory that the mere musings of philosophers two or three hundred years ago have little or no influence on everyday life; in fact that is not the case in some circumstances, there are some philosophers whose influence has been not only profound but pervasive they have influenced the patterns of our thought and the everyday words we use to formulate our thoughts and in the case of kant , his ideas about politics.
Political philosophy His ideas about the connection between morality and politics did indeed influence the highest levels of practical politics in this century Kant's ontology should be complete compared to Plato's Divide the world from the top of the divided line The kingdom of forms and the kingdom of the perception of the senses Kant makes a similar type of movement when he distinguishes between pneumonia and phenomena, in addition to the fact that what is integrated in this metaphysical perspective is a consistency between political theory and moral theory that We will find among the Germans, the metaphysicians and also the metaphysical elements in the Greeks and we do not find that in the only world naturalist philosophers like Hume and other skeptical thinkers people who deal with the problems of politics and ethics for Plato politics is the ethics is ethics to a large extent the main metaphor of the republic is that the city is like man and that the soul of the The city is like the soul of man that there is a rational, energetic and emotional part in the human soul in the human psyche and that human virtue is the organization of the parts of the soul so that rationality dominates the other elements because there is a consideration perfectly analogous when he builds the ideal city because for all metaphysicians, politics and ethics fit perfectly, so if the city is like man and the Platonic virtue is to ethically organize the individual soul, the political virtue for a good city will be to organize the strata of society the golden people the guardians the silver-spirited people and the craftsman the bronze class so that the golden class the rational class dominates in the same way that it dominates in the virtuous individual soul this is not only true for plato this too going to be true for kant's moral theory and kant's political theory and isomorphism here the connection between the structure is not accidental plato is one of Khan's favorite philosophers and there is considerable sympathy with not only their conclusions, but also the approach they take to create a kind of seamless web throughout philosophy.
Hume, who is something of an empiricist, skeptical, light-hearted, is willing to deal with the fact that there may be some disjunction between politics and politics. ethics that there may be some circumstances if you want to be stubborn and realistic about it where good moral behavior as Machiavelli tells us may not be politically astute may not be politically appropriate the Kantian the Platonic and probably also the Christian will say no that's not the case what is morally good what is fair for the individual is always collectively fair if we have real moral obligations that are universal that are not contingent that are not a matter of our feelings or our sentiments or our whims then it has to be carried out accordingly consistently and universally a rule for all otherwise we end up with a problem of duplicity and hypocrisy we pay homage to morals and virtues in our speeches but then when we go back and actually do public policy we do so on some other basis than not we are afraid to say, I think it was Machiavelli who developed this perspective of a world when he said it was appropriate it was better to look good and be bad than to be good all the time khan says that's always wrong it's better to be good because that's obligatory for all rational moral agents and not just necessary and morally appropriate to appear to be good but if you seem good it's fine if you don't seem good it's fine how you appear is completely irrelevant because the only thing that is good is good will if you are conscientiously following the one universal algorithm for moral judgment and for morally just behavior then how you look like it makes no difference how you do in this world makes no difference because there is only one root for moral bliss as it says in scripture the truth will set you free kant believes he has shown us the one universal moral truth that applies to everyone rational beings as rational beings kant holds the belief that once you understand the nature of his argument Now, you cannot but be persuaded if you are rational and if you understand what he is saying and because this rationality is the kind of Platonic ultimate rationality that does not change that does not undergo alteration that is independent of space and time that it is absolute knowledge much more true and fundamental than anything we can derive from physics or mathematics that has given the greatest benefit the greatest contribution a philosopher can make has told human beings for the first and perhaps even the last time that it will ever be necessary what they must do to be morally virtuous what they must do to fulfill their moral obligations and what will be the final standard today and tomorrow for correct moral behavior, this standard can be extrapolated to a theory of politics and from there to a theory of human nature to a philosophical psychology to a kind of philosophical sociology to a philosophy of history in which human beings s are judged and human cultures are judged for their contributions to the development of human rationality and self-control. consciousness, the amount of philosophical implications and the weight of philosophical implications to be found in khan's treatment of morality is extraordinary, and what is remarkable about this treatment of morality is the fact that it is extremely difficult to understand the first every time you look at this when i teach this to my college class i say read it again no one understands kant the first time it's not my fault i'm doing my best with you and then after they read it again i tell them now leave me give you the big scoop on this you are being taught here something that you already know and everyone already knows and we teach it to six year olds all the time, in other words this is not just a pr it is a deeply complex intellectual system and rich, but it's also the kind of thing any six-year-old can understand; in fact, we teach it in kindergarten every day.
Let's take the hypothetical case of Johnny and Janie, two six-year-old boys. johnny wants janie's toy. and johnny, being stronger than janie, takes the toy from janie janie starts crying and goes to the teacher the teacher walks in and says johnny you just took that toy from janie johnny what if everyone did that? Would you like people to take away your toys? you all the time and the answer oh and i always wondered when i was six what difference does it make everyone did it i'm stronger than her i want the toy that's the human response but every kindergarten teacher is implicitly a kantian when he says johnny what if everyone did that and johnny of course doesn't know what to say because he hasn't read kant so johnny gives you the toy back and then if you do that long enough johnny gets the impression there's some reason for hello? m believing that the moral judgments he makes apply to everyone, including himself, and that he is being evil and vicious when he makes exceptions to the universal moral rules that he wants for himself and that he wants everyone else to obey if he can teach this to others a six-year-old and actually we can't just teach it to six-year-olds, we teach six-year-olds every day of the week, there's something, there's just a simple nugget of truth here that I don't know how to handle. that actually if i had a six year old i would probably say things like johnny what if everyone did that thing about you don't want to take that toy away from janie and johnny being a six year old and human is saying yes ?
I want the toy, but if we explain to him the idea that moral rules apply to everyone, Johnny, not just you, and one day you'll meet seven-year-olds who are older than you and they'll take your toys away if you don't have them. a Kantian teacher, then all our universal moral rules, all our attempts to create a moral order anda moral knowledge that is independent of subjectivity that is independent of relativism that is independent of a kind of miserable anthropology is a tribute to kant whether we like it or not many times we find kant the type of extreme cases of kant's moral theory and there are many of them unacceptable, we don't like the immediate implications of them, and often it seems a little too rigorous, a little too bloodless, a little too lifeless for us, too rationalistic, but in practice almost all of us all days of our lives not only does it recognize kanti and moral theory, but we teach it to our children and I suspect the reason we teach it to them is that we want them to behave that way and I think we want them to behave that way because somehow one way or another believe it as woodrow wilson said in his philosophy of education we must believe what we say to children and i think we tell children essentially kantian moral theory because we believe and i think we believe it because the kantian conception of good and evil Mal is deeply integrated into our conception of rationality, freedom and virtue, and also because he is one of the greatest interpreters, one of the greatest Athenian interpreters, of the intellectual tradition that came out of Jerusalem and that in one way or another ours.
Culture is saturated in the moral judgments that come from the Judeo-Christian tradition and in that sense telling Johnny that he shouldn't do that makes Janie unhappy and what if everyone did it? weren't that's really our way of saying that our culture is saturated with these value judgments and we don't always remember them we're not always fully aware of them but they're there whether we recognize it or not and maybe becoming aware of it allows us to think about it to be sure what we're teaching the kids and i think even after doing it this is again my homage to kant that we're still going to tell him johnny you shouldn't do that to janie what if everyone did they do that?
So Khan's theory is a deep, provocative, brilliant, subtle and insightful moral epistemological ontological theory that we teach children every day in homage to Kant Al. Its simplicity and complexity is precisely what makes it probably the greatest contribution to the moral theory of the Enlightenment one of the high points of German idealism one of the great achievements of the human spirit
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