Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): Reconsidering Kant.

"The doctrine of Christianity, even if we do not yet consider it as a religious doctrine, gives, touching this point, a conception of the summum bonum (the kingdom of God), which alone satisfies the strictest demand of practical reason." - The Critique of Practical Reason

What more could I hope for?  Kant's reasoning that begins with the moral law - the knowledge of good and evil - leads him straight into Christianity.  Well, not quite.  Although Kant asserts the immortality of the soul, the existence of God, and a universal moral law that we have a duty to obey, and acknowledges Christianity alone as having already realized this, it is still a long ways from Christianity.  The reason being that Christianity takes all that as givens that everyone is supposed to know by instinct before Christianity is introduced to them.  Back to this later.

Kant reiterates the fact that the classical philosophers had all viewed happiness as the end moral goal, although they argued that this was best attained through virtue.  Martyrdom to achieve happiness?  Augustine provided the best refutation to this in one book of City of God using empirical arguments, but Kant prefers a priori reasoning, should this be possible.  For this, Kant has earned some respect from me.

I am not sure precisely what the following means, but I take it to mean that Kant does not believe that a science of ethics is possible:

"By the methodology of pure practical reason we are not to understand the mode of proceeding with pure practical principles (whether in study or in exposition), with a view to a scientific knowledge of them, ..."

There are a great number of items that Kant hasn't dealt with that would seem to fall under his notion of Pure Practical Reason.  Sin and guilt are at the top of the list.  Elsewhere Kant asserts that a deity that would punish us for not obeying the moral law that he gave us would be an evil deity.  No derivation of this is to be found here.  To be fair, Kant noted that his work was "preliminary" and there were a great number of topics that he had to pass over.

One bothersome point in all this is Kant's notion that there is a Pure Reason involving logic, math and physics leading to the empirical that is totally disjoint from Practical Reason that involves the morals.  As such, it almost seems like he is opening the door to the bipolar views of modernists who want to embrace a Christian world view for their internal moral consumption and something contrary for everything else.  That could be a bit unfair to Kant.

Kant finishes with this simplistic shot at the history of mankind:

"The contemplation of the world began from the noblest spectacle that the human senses present to us, and that our understanding can bear to follow in their vast reach; and it ended- in astrology. Morality began with the noblest attribute of human nature, the development and cultivation of which give a prospect of infinite utility; and ended- in fanaticism or superstition."

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