Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Kant, Metaphysics of Morals


But, it will be asked, why do I introduce a division of ethics into a Doctrine of Elements and a Doctrine of Method, when no such division was needed in the doctrine of right? - The reason is that the doctrine of right has to do only with narrow duties, whereas ethics has to do with wide duties. Hence the doctrine of right, which by its nature must determine duties strictly (precisely), has no more need of general directions (a method) as to how to proceed in judging than does pure mathematics; instead, it certifies its method by what it does. - But ethics, because of the latitude it allows in its imperfect duties, unavoidably leads to questions that call upon judgment to decide how a maxim is to be applied in particular cases, and indeed in such a way that judgment provides another (subordinate) maxim (and one can always ask for yet another principle for applying this maxim to cases that may arise). So ethics falls into a casuistry, which has no place in the doctrine of right.

Casuistry is, accordingly, neither a science nor a part of a science; for in that case it would be dogmatics, and casuistry is not so much a doctrine about how to find something as rather a practice in how to seek truth. So it is woven into ethics in a  fragmentary way, not systematically (as dogmatics would have to be), and is added to ethics only by way of scholia to the system.

On the other hand, the Doctrine of Method of morally practical reason, which deals not so much with judgment as with reason and its exercise in both the theory and the practice of its duties, belongs to ethics in particular. The first exercise of it consists in questioning the pupil about what he already knows of concepts of duty, and may be called the erotetic method. If he knows this because he has previously been told it, so that now it is drawn merely from his memory, the method is called the catechistic method proper; but if it is assumed that this is already present naturally in the pupil's reason and needs only to be developed' from it, the method is called that of dialogue (Socratic method). Catechizing, as exercise in theory, has ascetics for its practical counterpart. Ascetics is that part of the doctrine of method in which is taught not only the concept of virtue but also how to put into practice and cultivate the capacity for as well as the will to virtue. 

neo-Kantianism in the German humanists. Kant's separation of justice and virtue: the individual burden of choice. Arendt: the social and the political; the private and the public. Kant's murderer at the door: if the categorical imperative becomes justice but not virtue, we choose the latter.  Kant writes openly from within the community of human beings, not claiming to be above it. They all share the acceptance of the prior: the human. For all the pedantry that philosophers share, he goes to a point and stops.

Is all that is just pious?  

"TO TALK ABOUT and inquire into Kant's political philosophy has its difficulties. Unlike so many other philosophers—Plato, Aris­totle, Augustine, Thomas, Spinoza, Hegel, and others—he never wrote a political philosophy."

Arendt, Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy 

...At this point, however, we are bound to mention at least the curiously difficult problem of the relationship between politics and philosophy or, rather, the attitude philosophers are likely to have toward the whole political realm. To be sure, other philos­ophers did what Kant did not do: they wrote political philosophies; but this does not mean that they therefore had a higher opinion of it or that political concerns were more central to their philosophy. The examples are too numerous even to begin to quote. But Plato clearly wrote the Republic to justify the notion that philosophers should become kings, not because they would enjoy politics, but because, first, this would mean that they would not be ruled by people worse than they were themselves and, second, it would bring about in the commonwealth that com­ plete quiet, that absolute peace, that certainly constitutes the best condition for the life of the philosopher. Aristotle did not follow Plato, but even he held that the bios politikos in the last analysis was there for the sake of the bios theōrētikos; and, as far as the philosopher himself was concerned, he said explicitly, even in the Politics, that only philosophy permits men di' hauton chairein, to enjoy themselves independently, without the help or presence of others,42 whereby it was self-understood that such indepen­dence, or rather self-sufficiency, was among the greatest goods. (To be sure, according to Aristotle, only an active life can assure happiness; but such "action" "need not be . . . a life which in­ volves relations to others" if it consists in "thoughts and trains of reflections" that are independent and complete in themselves.)43 Spinoza said in the very title of one of his political treatises that his ultimate aim in it was not political but the libertas philosophandi; and even Hobbes, who certainly was closer to political concerns than any other author of a political philosophy (and neither Machiavelli nor Bodin nor Montesquieu can be said to have been concerned with philosophy), wrote his Leviathan in order to ward off the dangers of politics and to assure as much peace and tranquillity as was humanly possible. All of them, with the possible exception of Hobbes, would have agreed with Plato: Do not take this whole realm of human affairs too seriously. And Pascal's words on these matters, written in the vein of French moralists, hence irreverent, fresh in both meanings of the word, and sarcastic, may have exaggerated the matter a bit but did not miss the mark: 

We can only think of Plato and Aristotle in grand academic robes. They were honest men, like others, laughing with their friends, and when they wanted to divert themselves, they wrote the Laws or the Politics, to amuse themselves. That part of their life was the least philosophic and the least serious. The most philosophic [thing] was to live simply and quietly. If they wrote on politics, it was as if laying down rules for a lunatic asylum; if they presented the appearance of speaking of great matters, it was because they knew that the madmen, to whom they spoke, thought they were kings and emperors. They entered into their principles in order to make their madness as little harmful as possible.44 

Fourth Session 

I READ TO YOU a "thought" of Pascal in order to draw your atten­ tion to the relation between philosophy and politics or, rather, to the attitude nearly all philosophers have had toward the realm of human affairs (ta tōn anthrōpōn pragmata). Robert Cumming recently wrote: "The subject-matter of modern political philoso­phy . . . is not the polis or its politics, but the relation between philosophy and politics."45 This remark actually applies to all political philosophy and, most of all, to its beginnings in Athens. 

If we consider Kant's relation to politics from this general perspective–that is, not attributing to him alone what is a general characteristic, a déformation professionnelle–we shall find certain agreements and certain very important divergences. The main and most striking agreement is in the attitude toward life and death. You will remember that Plato said that only his body still inhabited the City and, in the Phaedo, also explained how right ordinary people are when they say that a philosopher's life is like dying.46 Death, being the separation of body and soul, is welcome to him; he is somehow in love with death, because the body, with all its demands, constantly interrupts the soul's pursuits. 47 In other words, the true philosopher does not accept the conditions under which life has been given to man. This is not just a whim of Plato, and not just his hostility to the body. It is implicit in Parmenides' trip to the heavens to escape "the opin­ions of mortals" and the delusions of sense experience, and it is implicit in Heraclitus' withdrawal from his fellow citizens and in those who, asked about their true home, pointed toward the skies; that is, it is implicit in the beginnings of philosophy in Ionia. And if, with the Romans, we understand being alive as synonymous with inter homines esse (and sinere inter homines esse as being dead), then we have the first important clue to the sectar­ian tendencies in philosophy since the time of Pythagoras: withdrawal into a sect is the second-best cure for being alive at all and having to live among men. Most surprisingly, we find a similar position in Socrates, who, after all, brought philosophy down from the heavens to earth; in the Apology, likening death to a dreamless sleep, he states that even the great king of Persia would find it difficult to remember many days or nights he had spent better or more pleasantly than a single night in which his sleep was undisturbed by dreams.48

42. Aristotle, Politics 1267a10 ff.
43. Ibid., 1325b15 ff.
44. Blaise Pascal, Pensees, no. 331 , trans. W. F. Trotter (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958)
45. Robert D. Cumming, Human Nature and History: A Study of the Development of Liberal Political Thought (Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1969), vol. 2, p. 16.
46. Phaedo 64.
47. Ibid. 67. 
48. Apology 40.
Death, the body, the material, sex, money, and meatspace 

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