Immanuel Kant Major Works
Reconciling Kant’s Categorical Imperative with Critics
In Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals is a text that begs to be understood from some of the philosopher’s more well-known concepts including the categorical imperative, which is introduced in the book as a way of evaluating the motivations for individual action. For Kant, a proposition declaring a certain action as necessary includes ways of evaluating the motivations for one’s actions. This is in contrast to hypothetical imperatives that Kant suggests, outlines means to achieve ends: e.g. If I want to feel energized, I must eat something with sugar. On the other hand, a categorical imperative conveys a universal. This is described in Kant’s formulation of the categorical imperative as: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law” (Kant, 1993, p. 30). He suggests that through “pure practical reason” we can decide ethically what is right and what is not. Importantly, Kant contrasts this with “pure reason”, which is the capacity to know if something is true without ever having shown and “practical reason” that allows us to understand the world we live in. Thus, the ability to decide ethically what is right is based on the pure practical reason outlined in the Groundwork.
For Kant, the ability to use practical reason has an important role to play in morality because it moves even without dependent incentives. For Kant, this means that human reasoning is based on the pure practical reasoning of choosing actions at the base level because they are good, which Kant describes as the basis for the nature of good will. He argues that to be good and moral in and of itself requires acting with pure practical reason, that becomes part of a larger transcendental law that has an impact on how humans use reason pragmatically. Kant developed his moral philosophy after finding dissatisfaction with the moral philosophy of his day. He determined that reason, different then how one experiences the world empirically, could be used to examine moral events and circumstances as well. The concept of reason went on to prefigure significantly within Kant’s oeuvre and became a fundamental principle for moral reason.
For Kant, moral questions could be determined by examining them with respect to the pure practical reason independent of any other empirical factors. As such, morality is not defined by sense, but are reached a priori, through pure practical reason. The determining principle on whether or not moral questions can be examined, minus other sensuous factors is what makes morality, for Kant, universally applicable. Accordingly, moral universalism came to predominate Kant’s moral philosophy and became one of his most distinctive contributions to the field. As humans, Kant believed we all sought to exercise some measure of freedom and desire. However, for Kant, self-consciousness meant coming to terms with individual autonomy and the ability to exercise free will. According to Kant, “The faculty of desire in accordance with concepts, in-so-far as the ground determining it to action, lies within itself and not in its object, is called a faculty to “do or to refrain from doing as one pleases” (Kant, 1993, p. 213). Meaning that those who use free will have an interesting characteristic: they enable us to see empirically an object in action and with desire, are able to ground will in deterring choice of action. Strictly speaking, the will has no grounding in and of itself, yet can be determined by what Kant calls “inclination” that involves basically our human senses and the ability to see and judge situations empirically, which factor into what the autonomy of individual actions because this in effect relates to what it means to be “free”, or have free will, which Kant argued, one must be able to understand it relative to a causal power, but yet without causality to do so.
In Kant’s First Formulation on the Universality and the Law of Nature is an example of how Kant develops the moral proposition necessary for what he calls the “principle that is universalizing” (Kant, 1993, p. 92). For Kant, this is grounded in a law of nature formulation that can be reduced to what Kant calls “Act as if the maxims of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature” (Kant, 1993, p. 421). Accordingly, Kant believed that in delivering any sort of moral responsibility and/or moral autonomy, a property must contain a will of being a law in and of itself. Thus, there is a law of nature that has a universalizing force and that morality as such is fundamental to apprehending it. This allowed Kant to develop his idea of the categorical imperative as a universal. It follows that for Kant, the construction of moral law is based at its most fundamental level on the categorical imperative, which acts regardless of individual interests or desires. The pure practical reason that Kant outlines, is a way for evaluating the motivations for an individual’s action and as such, they determine what our duties are based on imperatives. In short, an imperative is basically a command that governs our actions. For example, being told to pay taxes is an imperative, as is being told not to eat or kill animals.
However, for Kant it is the categorical imperatives that command unconditional sublimation to what he calls the “principle that is universalizing” that connect morality to categorical imperatives. He argues that in order for morality to function as such, it must be based on a universalizing command that one cannot simply ignore. This is how Kant’s categorical imperative and pure practical reason, factor into morality. However, numerous philosophers over the years have attempted to debunk Kant’s moral philosophy. Some critics have posited a thought experiment in response to Kant’s moral philosophy, which argue that it can be seen in relation to the “Golden Rule” (citation).
One of the major challenges to Kant’s reasoning in the Grounding came during his lifetime by a French philosopher, named Benjamin Constant who, believing Kant’s categorical imperative to be flawed, offered a thought experiment that showed its inner incorrigibility. Constant said that according to Kant’s categorical imperative, it would be impossible to lie to a known murderer, therefore suggesting there to be a weakness and the core of Kant’s moral grounding. Constant suggested that there was an inherent weakness in Kant’s premises because if one could not lie to a murderer, that moral actions are not always derived from pure practical reason. This challenge treated the possibility of moral actions as a means to an end, which Kant denied in his response to this challenge, stating that this would in turn deny being free and rational actors in the first place. The claim that lying to a murderer undermines Kant’s premise of the categorical imperative rests on the simple assumption that all moral actions are not universal, and that some may have unintended means to an end goals. This reminds one of the school of classical realism and the morality of those like Machiavelli, who see the means to the end as the only possible way of developing a cohesive moral framework without any universals as such. In contrast, Kant’s categorical imperative model for determining morality, stands in stark contrast to these criticisms and other philosophies. While Kant’s premises that a moral duty would make it impossible to lie to a murderer, he nevertheless suggests that this does not weaken any of his premises because the imperative stands and that to deny it means to deny that the murderer possess any rationality him or herself.
As this essay has shown, Kant’s moral philosophy in the Grounding is based on the fundamental law of the categorical imperative. For the German philosopher, pure practical reason was able to provide grounding for a “principle that is universalizing” that made morality a universal law. This was an important development in the history of philosophy and morality because it allowed one to shift away from dogmatic reason into one involving categorical imperatives and universals, that could be inferred without transgressions. It follows that for Kant, the categorical imperative had a very important role to play in the development of his subsequent philosophical works, including the Critique of Pure Reason that came some years later. It is due in part to his work on morality—and in particular that of the categorical imperative—that Kant came to show how universal laws apply to man. Criticisms of his moral imperative—which some like Constant suggest were based on the Golden Rule—do not adequately assess the underlying imperatives that make morality universal for Kant. Though the critique posited by Constant offers some measure of reconciling morality with rational choice, it does not disprove Kant’s original categorical imperative. When determining as Kant suggests if an “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law,” the philosopher brought into the fold a way of looking at morality according to universals.
Kant, Immanuel (1993) . Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Ellington, James W. (3rd ed.). Hackett. p. 30 Rawls, J. (1980). Kantian constructivism in moral theory. The journal of philosophy, 77(9), 515-572.
Aesthetic Development in Kant and Hawthorne
Beauty is a part of the human condition; we are attracted to what we find appealing and repelled by what we find unappealing. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, scholars captured this concept and put into words what it means to experience beauty. Immanuel Kant, for one, had formed books on this experience, a state of perception that has opened doors to literary criticism consequentially. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, illusions of beauty and aesthetics have been crucial to character development, especially that of Clifford Pyncheon and Holgrave. By applying the concepts of beauty and judgement by Kant to Hawthorne’s characters Clifford and Holgrave, we can use character comparisons to investigate the existence of various levels of aesthetic development.
The Kantian principles regarding beauty and judgement outline an overall step-by-step process. Humans are innately attracted towards something they find beautiful and then cast judgement upon it. This judgement process is the lasting impression that a person would make in establishing, yes, that an object was a thing of beauty: “In order to decide whether or not something is beautiful, we do not relate the representation by means of understanding to the object for cognition, but rather relate it by means of the imagination (perhaps combined with the understanding) to the subject and its feeling of pleasure or displeasure” (Kant, 414). This precognition aspect in identifying beauty is important in the concept of aesthetic identification and appreciation. It solidifies the concept that beauty is instant and natural, universally created in all humans. Kant additionally states, “The judgement of taste therefore not a cognitive judgement, hence not a logical one, but is rather aesthetic, by which is understood one whose determining ground cannot be other than subjective” (414). From this statement, the aesthetic terminology takes its origins in referring towards the non-rationalized, logical moment in determining beauty. In the situation of Clifford Pyncheon and Hawthorne, it is vital to recall that both have the same human traits that can identify and process beauty. Beginning with Clifford, an examination of aesthetic development can be constructed.
Clifford Pyncheon, an older gentleman freshly released from prison, has the countenance of a child. It is not explained fully by Hawthorne what the technicalities of Clifford’s small mind are, but it is noted his nature is described to be one of a “sybarite,” one who is greatly impacted by beauty and chases after it diligently. This quality in his character becomes an important attribute towards the examination of his aesthetic development. The limits of Clifford’s aesthetic development can be factored in two reasons. The first is that Clifford was naturally born with a small mind. Clifford’s child-like mind simplifies his experience. This simplification, while limiting, creates room for aesthetic experience by his lack of knowledge and non-sublime encounters.
“But Clifford listened with rapturous delight. The sound, however disagreeable, had very brisk life in it, and together with the circle of curious children watching the revolutions of the wheel, appeared to give him a more vivid sense of active, bustling and sunshiny existence than he had attained in almost any other way.” This moment exerts a sneak peek into the childlike development Clifford has in aesthetic appreciation. The limits to his mind inhibits Clifford for its inability to stretch to larger conclusions, rationalize, and create proper functionalities in reaction towards aesthetic appreciation. The second reason hindering Clifford’s development is his time in prison most of his life. The seclusion and absence of beauty in the place took away from Clifford the ability to progress aesthetic appreciation in a way that is sustainable and slowly built. By being thrust into the free world, in nearly any situation Clifford experiences aesthetic appreciation he is overwhelmed by the stimuli.
These limiting factors function with Kant’s exertions on beauty and judgement further. “It is readily seen that to say that it is beautiful and to prove that I have taste what matters is what I make of this representation in myself, not how I depend on the existence of the object” (415). Clifford’s stunted development creates this polar existence of aesthetic admiration and lack there of aesthetics. This dynamic points towards a dependency for the aesthetic gratification. When the beauty is taken away from him, his existence is bleak. Kant says that there is a precognitive moment of beauty appreciation. Likewise, the moment after this appreciation, a similar minute moment happens in which the opposite of sublime occurs––anti sublime. This concept goes with scholar Isaac Newton’s law of “what goes up must come down.” In this context, the highest of high feelings results in an absolute drop. Clifford forms a dependency on this aesthetic high because without it, and without developed aesthetic skills and appreciation, there is no other medium to land to than absolute nothingness. When beauty is not present, Clifford is absent and empty. This emptiness comes from the absence of aesthetics and overall withdrawal reaction. This withdrawal concept can be seen throughout the scene in which Clifford reflects on the dangerous move he made in nearly jumping out the window:
“Possibly, in some sense, Clifford may have been right. He needed a shock; or perhaps he required to take a deep, deep plunge into the ocean of human life, and to sink down and be covered by its profoundness, and then to emerge, sobered, invigorated, restored to the world and himself. Perhaps, again, he required nothing less than the great final remedy––death!” (Hawthorne, 115).
This scene demonstrates the deep emptiness inside Clifford that only aesthetic involvement can fill. By needing “a shock” to get out of his tremulous spell of nothingness, Clifford acts in the most extreme and desperate way to rid himself out of the abyss. Therefore aesthetic obsession is not an overall positive experience. It is the highest form, meaning inherently there exists a lowest form. The experience of aesthetics and the immediate ceasing of it establishes a shock for a person in which they exists in that “nothing.” For a developed person, the existence of beauty in other entities, even their memories, fulfills this nothingness. This sets up the explanation of the obsession of beauty in search of aesthetics for the stunted life Clifford has lived.
Aesthetic appreciation is a heightened experience for Clifford because of the limited life he has lived so far. The examples by Hawthorne illuminating beauty are symbolic of the aesthetics Clifford sees. Additionally, the emotions triggered from the aesthetic appreciation overtake Clifford’s very being.
“So it proved with Clifford. He shuddered; he grew pale; he threw and appealing look at Hepizbah and Phoebe, who were with him at the window. They comprehended nothing of his emotions, and supposed him merely disturbed by the unaccustomed tumult. At last, with tremulous limbs, he started up, set his foot on the window sill, and in an instant more would have been in the unguarded balcony.” (115). The powerful window scene demonstrates how powerful aesthetics are and the appreciation of them. Another powerful moment within the novel is the train scene in which Clifford knows he is free from Judge Pyncheon and rambles emotionally to a stranger on everything he is feeling. This out of character moment is a direct result of the aesthetic appreciation experience. However, this moment is important in realizing aesthetic reaction comes in different forms. In this scene, Clifford succumbs to aesthetic experience from not means of sight, sound, or touch but rather an euphoric moment of complete enlightenment. According to Whitney Davis’s Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts : Queer Beauty : Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond, the existence of various forms of aesthetic appreciation coincide with Kant’s statements on beauty and judgement. “According to section 17 of Kant’s Third Critique, the judgement of ideal beauty (le beau ideal) cleaves individual expressions of interested pleasure, such as a pederastic appreciation of the youthful male body, from the increasingly disinterested accumulation of multiple judgments rendered on the same or similar objects by the same person or by other people” (Davis, 37). The different aspects in different ways that affect Clifford therefore cannot be limited to one set kind.
Clifford’s enticement with aesthetics becomes his life mission. “Beauty would be his life; his aspirations would all tend towards it; and, allowing his frame and physical organs to be in consonance, his own developments would likewise be beautiful” (Hawthorne, 74). This devotion to the chase of aesthetics secludes Clifford tremendously as a character and puts him in his own world. While the chase of aesthetics is not an uncommon attribute in human existence, the severity in which Clifford commits himself to it becomes stunting in no longer only aesthetic appreciation but in personal growth in a whole. Clifford no longer is apt to his surroundings if aesthetic admiration is found. He exists only as a being, not a functional expanding person.
The other character who expresses aesthetic development in Hawthorne’s novel is Holgrave. In his profession as as artist, he already has a formed relationship with beauty. This relationship include the ability to differentiate the different levels of beauty and what is “true” or not. The truth telling ability comes from his daguerreotypes reflecting what the true character of the subject. “While we give it credit only for depicting the merest surface, it actually brings out the secret character with a truth that no painter would ever venture upon, even could detect it” (Hawthorne, 63). The daguerreotypes truth is impactful in connection to Holgrave’s aesthetic development for they stand as representation of art and beauty. Davis’s work describing Kantian themes can be applied to Holgrave’s art: “In Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment and in the Kantian tradition, in fact, the erotic attractiveness of natural objects (or their figuration in works of art) had been defined as a kind of human interest that must be entirely superseded in order for a truly disinterested aesthetic judgment to emerge” (Davis, 3). Davis’s claim here describes is applied to Holgrave’s pictures and how as the artist behind the pictures, he recognizes the natural attractiveness of his subjects, being the reason why he photographs them. Holgrave’s character takes the form of an artist.
As an artist, Holgrave is inspired by the aesthetic beauty and finds means to preserve it through photographs. This formation in steps differs greatly from the aesthetic appreciation Clifford exhibits. Holgrave is able to rationalize the aesthetic experience and expresses his appreciation for it by daguerreotyping. Clifford’s occurrence with the aesthetic is to be swept up into it and is so involved in it, he no longer is present in reality. Hograve’s aesthetic development has matured enough where he appreciates the aesthetic while still being present in reality. Davis would argue that this concept of grounded judgement in the aesthetic does not go against the precognitive need that Kant emphasizes. “This process of accumulation and modification in aesthetic judgement, constituted and communicated socially, is neither mysterious nor sinister” (37). Holgrave’s profession therefore would fit under this ideal. As an artist, Holgrave has an established sense of what he finds aesthetically pleasing. For this rationalization to occur, Holgrave would have to have had a spectrum in what he considers beautiful and what he does not. Through many encounters with the aesthetically pleasing, Holgrave has been dulled to the numerous beautiful stimuli he has been exposed to. This dulling has not taken away his appreciation and awe for the aesthetic, but rather just has grown his development in aesthetic experience.
With the further development presented in Holgrave’s character, the process of aesthetic appreciation is advanced further. Davis states that “The psychic and social process must be a transitive one, whether or not Kant drew attention to the fact. Each order of judgement in the subjective consolidation and social transmission of an ideal, then, harbors possibilities not only of fulfilling the other order of judgement” (Davis, 38).” This means that Holgrave’s internal psychic process of aesthetic admiration coincides with his social portrayal of it. Through the physical portrayal in the daguerreotypes, Holgrave demonstrates the social aspect in his judgement of beauty. This takes an interesting turn in his sharing of the daguerreotypes with others. The spreading of what Holgrave finds socially aesthetic solidifies what his spectrum looks like in the development of aesthetic appreciation. Clifford by comparison is so enamored by aesthetics he does not have enough development to be able to share with others the same beauty in which he admires.
Holgrave’s manipulation of aesthetics is seen throughout the novel as well. With the storytelling of the older Pyncheon and Maule feud, Holgrave’s storytelling is so finely tuned and beautifully composed that it takes an overwhelming effect on Phoebe. “It was evident that, with but one wave of his hand and a corresponding effort of his will, he could complete his mastery over Phoebe’s yet free and virgin spirit; he could establish an influence over this good, pure, and simple child as dangerous, and perhaps as disastrous, as that which the carpenter of his legend had acquired and exercised over the ill-fated Alice” (Hawthorne, 147). Hawthorne illuminates what kind of aesthetic relationship Holgrave has by insisting “To a disposition like Holgrave’s, at once speculative and active, there is no temptation so great as the opportunity of acquiring empire over the human spirit; nor any idea more seductive to a young man than to become the arbiter of a young girl’s destiny” (148). This section builds up the concept that within aesthetic development, when such control and maturity arises, the next step is the control of one’s own aesthetic ability over that of another. To consider this idea, examine the functions of artistic professions. The expression and control in portraying the aesthetic vision that one achieves through proper build up of aesthetic development is meant to influence audiences in some way. Be it inspiration or mesmerization, art fulfills the aesthetic needs of other peoples through the hands of the aesthetic master. Further along in this scene Holgrave contemplates his effect over Phoebe and is crucial to recall he acts upon this in a certain way.
The aesthetic control that Holgrave acquires is demonstrated even more in his rationale of his control. By self awareness and aesthetic development, Holgrave is able to consciously realize that his control over Phoebe from his story telling could be detrimental to her. Phoebe’s exposure to the hypnotic powers of Holgrave’s aesthetic story telling reveals her own vulnerability in lesser aesthetic development. Within this same scene, Phoebe reacts confounded and out of sorts after being released from Holgrave’s power. “No, no! I consider myself as having been very attentive; and, though, I don’t remember the incident quite distinctly, yet I have an impression of a vast deal of trouble and calamity––so, no doubt, the story will prove exceedingly attractive” (148). Such a trance from which Phoebe arises from is similar to the out of reality experience Clifford exhibits when caught up in his aesthetic admiration. The sameness in being overtaken by the beauty of the aesthetic being performed and the consequences from that absence point to the concept that Phoebe additionally has lesser aesthetic development than Holgrave. The differences in levels of development from Phoebe and Clifford are quite apparent however. While Phoebe is overtaken by Holgrave’s abilities, she proves to have her own level of development. When first meeting Phoebe, it is said that “nothing, indeed, was absolutely plain to her…” (48). This small bit of information regarding Phoebe demonstrates that Phoebe is able to find beauty in everything. Differing from Clifford who chases beauty, Phoebe contains the discipline to apply aesthetics to objects.
Application becomes an active notion that gives Phoebe her own control of her aesthetic development. When overcome by aesthetic development higher than her own, Holgrave’s specifically, Phoebe becomes a by stander and can only passively absorb the aesthetic experience put upon her. This is comparable to Clifford’s entire relationship with aesthetics in the sense he has devoted his life to the chase of beauty only to become, in a sense, a slave to the experience. Phoebe’s additional contribution to aesthetics is that of her very being. Phoebe’s physical being radiates aesthetic admiration. Through multiple accounts throughout the book, Phoebe’s effect throughout the plot line is to influence the other characters. Clifford takes a special appreciation of Phoebe’s presence: “A beauty–not precisely real, even in its utmost manifestation, and which a painter would have watched long to seize and fix upon his canvas, and, after all, in vain––beauty, nevertheless, that was not a mere dream would sometimes play upon and illuminate his face” (95). This attraction to her aesthetic vibe constructs the concept that Phoebe in herself has aesthetic properties in the novel. Being that Phoebe cannot control these properties, just as a work of art cannot control what it has been created to be, this aesthetic presence does not give her more aesthetic development.
Throughout Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, Kantian principles of beauty and judgment create the essence of key characters. Readers are able to see how powerful aesthetics are in the overall human experience. In the case of Clifford, aesthetics can overtake a person’s life in the pursuit of an insatiable fill. In the situation of Holgrave, aesthetics becomes a mean of living as one is able to reach a level of aesthetic development that he is able to control the experience. In the case of Phoebe, aesthetics becomes the very core of oneself and influences the aesthetic development of others by merely existing. The concept of aesthetic development is applicable to everyday life in what humans find beautiful and overtaking. The pursuit of high levels of development in turn makes one better rounded as a person in being able to choose where beauty is found and how it can be in turn applied in a different medium. Kant’s philosophies ring deeply from our very being, since the effects of beauty and aesthetics shape who we are throughout life. Works Cited
Kant, Immanuel. Analytic of the Beautiful. Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2010, 414,415. Print. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables. New York: Dover Publications, 1999, 48,63,74,95,115,147,148. Print. Davis, Whitney. Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts : Queer Beauty : Sexuality and Aesthetics from Winckelmann to Freud and Beyond. New York, US: Columbia University Press, 2010, 3, 37, 38. Web.
Kant’s Deontological Ethical Theory: True Moral Enlightenment
Immanuel Kant’s deontological ethical theory, the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, can be viewed from many different perspectives. As it is based on duty operating as a final good, the theory of utilitarianism (a moral theory concerned with actions in themselves) disputes main concepts of Kant such as the moral law and the categorical imperative and how each relates to individuals’ moral and physical experiences. However, specific aspects of utilitarianism such as the consideration of circumstances can actually be argued as supporting evidence for the deontological view, showing that regardless of compelling counter-arguments, Kant’s theory should be considered the standard by which we base our moral decisions.
Understanding Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals is a crucial first step in comprehending the reasons behind its superiority as an ethical theory. First, breaking down the philosophy utilized to create this theory into separate, individual aspects, may help to follow how they eventually fit together. Kant used three specific areas of philosophy in the formation of this theory: physics, ethics, and logic. Physics refers to the physical world, in this case the actions taking place. Ethics are associated with morals, what Kant presents as maxim, the thought process or motivation for a particular action. Logic refers to logical principles, or the rationale used before acting to determine whether our maxim is morally permissible. Kant arrived at the first major condition of his moral theory, the idea of Moral Law, through a combination of two of these philosophical aspects, physics and ethics. The moral law states that actions (physics) are only moral (ethics), if taken to achieve moral ends. This implies that interests of the neither individual, circumstances, nor consequences cannot be considered. This view considers our motivation, as the only aspect that matters in determining morality. In other words, intention of the individual is everything, regardless of the outcomes.
An important concept in moral law is anti-consequentialism, meaning that the actual consequences of an action do not matter because they are out of a person’s direct control. Only the foreseen consequences need to be considered. Kant believes that good will is the only thing that is inherently good, and therefore good will has intrinsic worth. Because of this, Kant rejects the concept of moral luck, any circumstance in which luck has an influence on the outcome of a moral decision. For example, suppose a man shoots another man dead and is caught versus a man who attempts to shoot another man dead, but misses and is caught. Moral law suggests that punishing an attempted murderer less than the man who actually committed murder, as the legal system of society often does, makes no moral sense with consideration to the man’s mal-intent. Because moral law also refuses to recognize any personal gain in regards to the morality of an action, it tells you which hypothetical imperatives are permissible, and which are immoral, meaning that a hypothetical imperative is conditional. There is no singular hypothetical imperative. Therefore, moral law is categorical, not hypothetical.
The categorical imperative of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals introduces the third philosophical principle utilized in the creation of Kant’s deontological ethical theory: logic, or the reason behind determining the morality of our maxim. The categorical imperative states that we should act as if we would will our actions to become universal law. This is the opposite of the hypothetical imperative, which acts on instrumental rationality (determining the means by which an individual can achieve his or her own goal). The categorical imperative reduces morality to rationale that should be able to be applied in all circumstances to all individuals. For instance, imagine a scene in which you owe a large sum of money to a bookie due to gambling debt, and if you do not pay off this debt in a timely manner, your life has been threatened. However, you do not have the money to give to the bookie. You decide to borrow money from a wealthy friend whom you tell you will pay back what you borrow as soon as you are able to, but actually have no intent to repay. The maxim behind making a false promise is that it will get you out of serious trouble. This is the hypothetical imperative: your goal is to save your own life, and to achieve that goal you make a false promise. However, further examination might result in the formation of a categorical imperative, the reflection of how society would be affected if everyone were to act on this maxim. This example clearly shows the consideration of the formula of humanity as well, a critical aspect of the categorical imperative that states that we should always treat others as ends in themselves and not merely as means to our own purposes. When people violate the categorical imperative, they are applying a different standard to themselves than they would to everyone else. Essentially, they are making an exception of themselves, which may create contradictions. So in our bookie example, if making false promises was universalized, the institution of promising would be destroyed and in turn your plan would not work. Therefore, one should not will the universality of making false promises to get out of trouble.
A moral theory that clashes with Kant’s is utilitarianism. In contrast, utilitarianism is concerned with the actions themselves rather than the maxims behind them. As Mill said, “Motive has nothing to do with the morality of the action, but much with the worth of the agent” (Utilitarianism, 491). In a general sense, utilitarianism says that regardless of motivation, actions are moral if they produce happiness and are not moral when they produce the opposite of happiness. In defense of this, Kant relies on the logical principle of the categorical imperative that reduces morality to pure rationality. He argues that reason is not conducive to this definition of moral actions because only deserved happiness is good. Happiness cannot be unconditionally good because inclination is not sufficient for morality as actions that promote happiness done for the wrong reason pull you away from duty, the true final good.
Another aspect of utilitarianism that counters the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals is Bentham’s argument in favor of the consideration of circumstances in the determination of whether an action is or is not moral. He says that the measure of morality should be on an individual case-by-case basis because certain contextual factors may have an influence on the morality of the performed action. This explicitly goes against Kant’s moral law that interests, circumstances, and consequences cannot be considered. An obvious rebuttal to this alternate view would be that if circumstances are considered, a potential to convince ourselves to break rules without true justification exists. Whereas abiding by Kant’s moral law and maintaining indifference to circumstance by observing only intention will help us to preserve impartiality, a definitive aspect of utilitarianism. However, Kant needn’t even defend his deontological ethical theory against Bentham’s contextually based argument because the different dimensions of utilitarianism, act versus rule, collapse this counter argument in upon itself with no effort on Kant’s part. Bentham, an act utilitarian, believes in the consideration of circumstance, in comparison to Mill, a rule utilitarian, whose views virtually align with and support Kant’s concept of the categorical imperative, the ability to will the maxim of an action becoming universal law. Mill’s view shares a structural similarity to Kant. Rule utilitarianism is essentially based on the idea that if everyone followed the rule, that is, if it were universal, it would maximize utility. Although somewhat different in end goal, with Kant’s basis for morality grounded in good will and Mill’s in the interests of every individual in harmony to the whole, which has already been dismissed on the premises of moral law, both posses the aim of application to all circumstances. Therefore rule utilitarianism disbands act utilitarianism’s argument of contextual impact on the morality of actions.
Despite other theories of morality, Kant’s deontological view prevails because it is based in rationality in a way others are not. It embodies three separate areas of philosophy: physics, ethics, and logic, provides a pure analysis of these concepts, and allows them to be applied to our experiences. Kant’s view also does not advocate the consideration of actions themselves, but rather our thought processes and motivations for those actions. Instead of focusing on one’s behavior and the utility it does or does not produce and adjusting accordingly, the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals promotes introspection within an individual. This allows for the modification of one’s behavior based on the concept of freedom of will and the desire for that will to be intrinsically good. Kant’s deontological theory should be considered the standard by which we base all moral decisions because it permits the evolution of moral capacity within one’s self that is necessary in order to develop true righteousness.
Sources Cited Bentham, Jeremy. The Principle Of Utility. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. Mill, John S. Utilitarianism. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
The Practicality of Ethical Principles: Duty Before Fear
The Practicality of Ethical Principles: Duty Before Fear
In this paper I will demonstrate how Immanuel Kant’s ethical principles presented in the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (henceforth GMM) provide a more appropriate choice to resolve ethical dilemmas than the ethical principles presented by Thomas Hobbes in the Leviathan (henceforth Lev.). I believe that fear is not the only, nor the most effective way to advocate the use of morality and that there is sufficient supporting information to prove this belief. First, I will explain Hobbes’ and Kant’s ethical principles presented in their respected works, detailing their views on human nature and how it affects the actions and moralities of individuals. Second, I will present my argument for Kant’s theories being the more applicable choice to resolve ethical dilemmas, including exploring the theoretical applications of both Kant’s and Hobbes’ ethical principles to thought experiments. Next, I will provide objections to my beliefs, as well as Kant’s theories, generated from the ideas put forth in the Lev. as well as the GMM. Finally, I will respond with counterarguments to the specified objections in order to conclude that Kant’s theory of ethical principles is more applicable to ethical dilemmas than Hobbes’ theory of ethical principles.
In the Lev., Hobbes describes humans as beings who possess a “perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death” (Hobbes, 1.11). Humans, according to Hobbes, are constantly motivated by the acquisition of power, to the extent that some would even risk their lives to procure such power. These strived for powers can range from innate abilities such as strength, speed, and endurance to learned abilities such as resources and allies. Hobbes explains that due to this motivation, the natural state of humans is to be in a continuous state of war, for if two beings wished to possess the same resource they would attempt to overcome each other for that resource (Hobbes 1.13). This state of nature would exist continuously without the creation and enforcement of laws, for justice and injustice are not innately conceived within the body or the mind (Hobbes 1.13).
In order that humans may avoid the state of nature, Hobbes’ proposes three laws of nature: strive for peace and continue in peaceful directions, be willing to lay down your right to all things, and keep the covenants you agree to (Hobbes 1.14-1.15). These laws are designed to allow humans to avoid actions that could lead to their own destruction, through the consensus of all men to abide by these devised natural laws. Hobbes believed that each person has the right to all things, but in order to enjoy these things one needs to survive, and this survival could not be guaranteed unless the state of nature was avoided through the accordance of these three laws as well as a law enforcing coercive power, which he describes as the Commonwealth (Hobbes 1.13-1.15).
In the GMM, Kant describes humans as rational beings that possess a will, i.e. that humans possess the ability to act in accordance with principles and laws (Kant). The will, according to Kant, is “nothing but practical reason” (Kant), meaning that one’s will can possess the ability to use reason, in a manner in which it is free from inclination, in order to arrive at a choice which is objectively necessary and therefore good (Kant). Kant explains that although the will can allow humans to recognize what we ought to do, i.e. what is objectively necessary or good, the will of humans is also influenced by subjective surroundings, and therefore acting according to the “good will” is not necessarily required (Kant).
Kant’s main ethical principle, the Categorical Imperative (henceforth CI), addresses the reality that human will does not necessarily require one to act according to the objectively necessary good. The CI states, “act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will it should become a universal law” (Kant). The CI is an obligation of all humans to act only in a way in which one would wish all others to act in the same way. Kant describes the CI as an apriori, synthetical, practical proposition, meaning that it is a judgment made before an experience, which aims to produce action (Kant). The CI is not just a law; it is an imperative, calling people to act.
I believe that Kant’s CI is a more applicable ethical principle to resolve ethical dilemma’s than the natural laws proposed by Hobbes. Kant’s CI rests on the concept of obligation, the idea that humans have a duty to abide by the CI and act accordingly, and can accomplish compliance to this obligation through the acquisition of a good will (Kant). Hobbes’ laws of nature, contrarily, explain a human nature that dictates a need of an overarching coercive power in order to enforce morality and law accordance. Kant’s CI is universal and dictates that all humans be treated as ends rather than means and therefore is superior to Hobbes’ natural laws which require coercion to be followed and allow for authority to be the sole creator for the definition of justice.
Kant’s CI is more applicable to resolve ethical dilemmas because it is a singular, universal moral principle that calls for humans to be treated as ends rather than means. Any person can exact his or her will to abide by the CI, that is to say that anyone can use the CI to determine if one’s actions are morally sound. The CI can also be applied to any ethical dilemma one is facing, whether it is something as simple as whether or not one should lie to a friend, or big ethical debates such as abortion. Kant’s principle also calls for human beings to be treated as ends and not as means. Kant explains, “humanity and generally every rational nature is an end in itself” (Kant). That is to say that humans must not be used as a method to achieve a goal, but rather they must be the goal themselves.
In the Lev., Hobbes dictates a need for a coercive power to enforce the laws of nature through the provision of a punishment that is far worse than the benefit one could believe would come from violation of the laws (Hobbes 1.15). In other words, people need to fear the punishment of breaking the laws more than they want the benefit of breaking the laws. Hobbes believes that through the use of fear, all would comply with the laws. Fear, however, cannot be counted as a reliable motivator for all humans. Take for instance a missionary abroad, whose life is threatened unless he renounces his religion. He refuses, and is murdered. The fear of death is not enough to sway him from what he truly believes in. There are countless real life stories such as this, of people who willingly lay down their lives for their faith. If the ultimate punishment of death is not enough to motivate such people into action, how is a coercive power to develop a punishment that all people would fear absolutely?
Hobbes’ idea of justice is “the constant will of giving to every man his own” (Hobbes 1.15). Since Hobbes also believes that all humans have a right to all things, one must refer to his second law of nature which requires men to give up their right to all things and to be contented with the freedoms they possess. This would mean that justice would come form the coercive power, which allows for recognized ownership, and that there would be no injustice without such a power (Hobbes 1.15).
Justice and injustice are not concepts that exist solely because of a coercive power. Imagine for a moment, a southern plantation owner from Pre-Civil War Era America. According to the “coercive power” of that time period, he was entitled to do what he wished with his slaves, for he owned them. However, President Obama, America’s current “coercive power”, would say that the plantation owner had no right to own another human being. Two coercive powers of the same place but within different time periods have two entirely different ideas of justice. Furthermore, regardless of what any coercive power says today, most people would agree that slavery is inherently wrong. It is unjust, with or without the existence of a coercive power. Justice cannot be an ambiguous term that is defined only by the coercive power, for then with the change of coercive powers, so too would justice change, and there are certain things that are inherently just or unjust irrespective to the beliefs of the coercive power.
However, some may argue that if the state of nature were to come about, Hobbes’ description of human nature would be observed. That is to say that if we were to assume for a moment that an event, perhaps a zombie apocalypse, sent the world into a state of nature, how would people act? Many would argue that the human nature that Hobbes’ describes in the Lev. would be the most commonly observed, with people risking all to acquire resources such as food, weapons, and allies. Who in this desperate time would feel the need to reflect upon his or her actions in order to decide if he or she wanted said action to become a universal law? Some may argue that in such a situation humans would regress to their most primal instincts and the acquisition of power for survival would outweigh all other ethical obligations.
Furthermore, some may argue that there are some duties that conflict with the universality that is a key part to Kant’s CI. One such conflicting obligation is the duty to self-love that justifies suicide. If one is so depressed and miserable, one could argue that one has the duty out of self-love to take one’s own life due to the notion that living longer will bring about more suffering rather than contentment (Kant). However, one must ask how one can make suicide a universal law. A second opposing obligation is that of lying for one’s own advantage justified by the duty of self-love. One may argue that if one should need something, one has the responsibility out of self-love to borrow the needed resource from another with assured promises of a definitive time of reciprocation, even when one knows such reciprocation is not possible (Kant). One must again ask if such a condition would be good as a universal law.
In response to Hobbes’ proposed state of nature, Kant’s CI would be extremely beneficial in such a state and would likely keep such a state from occurring. Imagine that there were to be a zombie apocalypse, in which the last remaining group of humans was locked in a camp surrounded on all sides by zombies. Hobbes would argue that in such a state it would be every man for himself in a competition to the death for resources. However, if all individuals within the camp were to abide by Kant’s CI and ethical principles, the scene would play out quite differently. First, each individual would need to respect all other’s dignity as rational beings and therefore as ends and not means. Then for each action one performed, one would have to ask oneself if he or she wished for that action to become a universal law. A state of war could easily be avoided, for none would wish war to become a universal law. Furthermore, a state of pooled resources and synergy could be attained, for one could reasonably assume all would wish for others to help them and therefore for such actions to be a universal law.
As for the exceptions to Kant’s CI, Kant put’s forth the following replies. Kant explains that a man considering suicide to be an act justified through self-love is a contradiction of logic, for the nature of human life is to improve life, and therefore to end one’s life would contradict the nature of human life (Kant). To say that suicide is a form of self-love is simply an error in logic, and therefore could not be considered as a universal law. As for borrowing something one cannot repay and lying about it, Kant explains that such an act made into a universal law would end in a world with no trust, and therefore was an undesirable universal application (Kant). One would not wish to live in a world where men did not live up to their promises, therefore one should live up to one’s own promises for that is what one would wish to be a universal law.
The ethical principles presented by Kant in the GMM are more applicable to ethical dilemmas than the ethical principles presented in the Lev. by Thomas Hobbes. I have provided examples of how fear is not the only, nor the most effective way to advocate the use of morality and have given adequate responses to the counterarguments for my proposed reasons. Therefore, I conclude that in regards to applicability, Kant’s CI is far more useful then the laws of nature put forth by Hobbes.
Hobbes, Thomas. “The Leviathan.” Oregon State University. Oregon State University, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.
Kant, Immanuel. “Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785).” Justice With Michael Sandel. Harvard University, 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.
Critiquing Critics’ Emphasis on Personal Taste: A Comparison of Pope and Kant
The literary critics Alexander Pope and Immanuel Kant put critics to the test as they perform the task of critiquing critiques. In Pope’s Essay on Criticism, he provides the readers and critics with critique of critics in poetry form which in itself is a work of art. Similarly, Kant expresses’ his views on judgement in Critique of Judgement, in which Kant teaches one how to judge. Both authors demonstrate to the reader how to critique something through knowledge and example in that their lessons are actually critiques in themselves. Through their works, both Kant and Pope successfully prove that personal taste is not a way for someone to judge works of art when referring to the works quality but rather should be used to judge their own likes and dislikes.
Pope and Kant both want to emphasize that critics should not let personal taste get in the way of their judgements. In Essay on Criticism, Pope begins by critiquing false and bad critics. While doing so, he is teaching the reader what not to do while critiquing. He explains taste, telling the reader that each person will have personal taste in things and whatnot but something that a critic personally does not like does not necessarily make it bad. This is an important distinction he makes because, for example, if a food critic hates onions and tries something with onions, he cannot say that the dish is badly made based on the onions but rather only that he personally did not like that part. Likewise, if a critic does not like allegories, he cannot say that The Pilgrim’s Progress is badly written simply because he does not like the literary device. Pope is right in making this distinction and insulting such critics that do otherwise. He tells the reader that most of these false critics are being educated by these poets whom they seem to hate: Against the poets their own arms they turn’d, Sure to hate most the men from whom they have learn’d. So modern ‘pothecaries, taught the art By doctor’s’ bills to play the doctor’ part, Bold in the practice of mistaken rules, Prescribe, apply and call their masters fools. To help the critic, Pope tells the former to first know himself before he judges works of others; that way he is able to distinguish between his own personal taste and bad writing or other works of art.
Similarly, Kant begins his essay in an attempt to teach the critic how to judge by also going over the importance of taste. Kant tells the reader that the perfect judge is completely indifferent about the thing, as in the previous example: the food critic that hates onions would not be a proper critic of that chef’s dish. He writes, “Everyone has to admit that if a judgement about beauty is mingled with the least interest then it is very partial and not a pure judgement of taste. In order to play a judge in matters of taste, we must not be in the least biased in favor of the thing’s existence but must be wholly indifferent about it.” Kant is teaching the critic that he can never be biased if he is going to judge and like Pope he too emphasizes the problem with human’s natural response to having personal taste.
Though both Kant and Pope are working towards the same goal, one thing that Pope does that is superior then Kant is when he goes over nature. Pope says the second rule of the critic is to learn nature, while Kant instead teaches about the different types of likings. While both methods work in teaching, Pope’s writing on nature is superb in its clarity. While both authors arrive at the same goal in teaching the critic, Pope teaches more how the critic should go to learn about nature and what to focus on while Kant gives more of a list of definitions on different types of likings. While everyone learns differently, one may say that it helps more when Pope says: Of all the causes which conspire to blind Man’s erring judgement, and misguide the mind What the weak head and strongest bias rules, Is Pride, the never failing vice of fools. This method teaches far better than Kant’s constant definitions; Kant writes, “Interest is what we call the liking we connect with the presentation of an object’s forgiveness.” Furthermore, he says, “When [something determines the feeling of pleasure or displeasure and this] determination of that feeling is called sensation, this term means something quite different from what it means when I apply it to a presentation of a thing (through the senses, a receptivity that belongs to the cognitive power).” However, this is an unfair assessment of Kant because he does write examples and explanations of these definitions but the impression left by the reader upon reading Kant is the same as one gets after a dull class lecture. Dissimilarly, upon reading Pope, one is very engaged and interested because Pope successfully critiques as he tells one to critique.
Pope then begins to tell the reader what kind of character he needs to have in order to become a good critic and also he needs to know what an ideal person must be. He writes: Learn then what morals critics ought to show, For’ tis half a judge’s task to know. ‘Tis not enough taste, judgement, learning join; In all you speak let truth and candour shine; That not alone what in your sense is due All may allow, but seek your friendship too. These characteristics give a person something to pursue in order to be a critic. With these virtues in mind, a person is able to know if he is lacking in anything when judging the worth of someone’s work. While Kant seems to give the reader the rules, Pope gives the direction. Both of these are necessary and while Pope’s approach might be more helpful, knowing Kant is still important. When learning a skill like a sport for example, one must be in shape and also know the rules of the game so too does one need to know Pope as well as Kant in order to be a good critic. This is how one can learn to not use their own personal taste when judging the worth of something, by becoming the honest and courageous person in which Pope describes along with following the rules set by Kant.
Kant and Pope effectively prove that personal taste is not a way to judge works of art when referring to the works quality but rather should be used to judge their own likes and dislikes. Even though both have different styles, they both demonstrate from the start of their essays that one should never let personal taste affect their judgements. While Pope’s style appears to be superior to Kant’s in that Kant lacks in keeping the reader entertained, both successfully teach what it is to be a good critic. It is important to read both of them because upon hearing just one, one will find himself lacking in character without Pope or lacking in knowledge without Kant.
WORKS CITED Kant, Immanuel. “Critique of Judgement.” In Criticism: Major Statements, edited by Charles Kaplan and William Davis Anderson. New York: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2000. Pope, Alexander. “Essay on Criticism.” In Criticism: Major Statements, edited by Charles Kaplan and William Davis Anderson. New York: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2000. Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Criticism,” in Criticism: Major Statements, ed. Kaplan, Charles and William Davis Anderson (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000), 185. Immanuel Kant, “Critique of Judgement,” in Criticism: Major Statements, ed. Kaplan, Charles and William Davis Anderson (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000), 234. Pope, 187. Kant, 234. Ibid., 235. Pope, 195.