Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Disfigured Face: The Unholy Trinity: Immanuel Kant

IF JOHN LOCKE WAS THE "FATHER OF LIBERALISM," IMMANUEL KANT was the "Father of Deontological Ethics" or the "Father of Autonomy." In the Pantheon of the Modern Thought, Kant is the Doctor Deontologicus, the Deontological Doctor, or perhaps the Doctor Imperativi, the Doctor of the Imperative, since his ethics are both based upon duty and command. What this, of course, means is that he is opposed to an ontological ethic. Kant's ethics are based on duty, on command, and they are not based on being or existence. In the face of growing individualism in ethics, Kant tried to derive some universal rules that were based on reason alone, but not in any sense on nature. "[F]or Kant, right does not conform to an ontological order, but rather to a rational order." Cortest, 54. He rejected the virtues, as not sufficiently exact, for he strained for moral rules "with mathematical exactitude" (mit mathematischer Genauigkeit). Virtues were too messy. Nature was to messy. Things like the "Golden Rule" were too messy. (See The Golden Rule in Immanuel Kant: The Golden Rule But a Footnote.) Reality was too messy, and we couldn't be sure we understood it anyway. In Kant's view, this "mathematical exactitude" (mathematischer Genauigkeit) based on a pure reason distilled of nature or being, was "more important than any deeper principle of being or truth," or inherited tradition or revealed religion. Cortest, 54. This search for universal rules to govern ethics based upon pure reason alone ultimately lead to his absolute categorical imperatives.
Kant's philosophy begins with a critique of traditional metaphysical thought. This is the very reason why his doctrine of right (jus) is entirely deontological. The older Aristotelian-Thomistic moral philosophy is based on an ontological foundation. With Kant, the science of being is divorced from morality. The new foundation for morality becomes reason itself. Reason [alone] serves as the starting point and establishes the limits for moral reasoning. The participants in Kant's moral universe are guided by reason rather than by nature. Individual human beings act in accord with universal principles rather than through a sense of natural or intrinsic good.
Cortest, 55 (emphasis added). To his credit, Kant was a strong advocate of moral freedom, and his deontological ethic had some sense of nobility and beauty about it in its zeal for justice. There is something lovely, wistful in the saying: "For if justice goes, there is no longer any value in human beings living on the earth." Wenn die Gerechtigkeit untergeht, so hat es keinen Werth mehr, daß Menschen auf Erden leben. Yet there is a certain harshness about Kant, and he seems to exclude the role of mercy and of love. (The phenomenologist Max Scheler criticized Kantian imperative ethics because it excludes behaviors that someone in authority, whether it be God or man, cannot order but only woo, such as mercy and love and faith. He also criticized it for being overly pragmatic and finding moral value only in those areas where change can be accomplished by order or command. Wherever Kant has been one hears the plaint: Where, oh where has supererogation gone? Oh where oh where can it be?) That is why Kant shudders at the thought of anyone who dares compromise the "law of punishment," which for Kant is one of his "categorical imperative."
Woe to him who crawls through the windings of eudaimonism [Aristotelianism? Thomism?] in order to discover something [mercy? love?] that releases the criminal from punishment or even reduces its amount by the advantage it promises . . .
(Cortest, quoting Metaphysics of Morals [Wehe dem! welcher die Schlangenwindungen der Glückseligkeitslehre durchkriecht, um etwas aufzufinden, was durch den Vortheil,den es verspricht, ihn von der Strafe, oder auch nur einem Grade derselben entbinde . . . .] Similarly, before society disbands, it would have a duty to put all the criminals found guilty of capital offenses to death. "Clearly, Kant defends a hard-line position on this question; this is so because for Kant, matters of justice must have a universal application." Cortest, 57. This is done through the use of absolute, exceptionless imperatives. Command, command, command; duty, duty, duty. This is a dry, external ethic. Compared to the ontological ethic, it is like eating sand instead of steak. With this irrepressible impulse to enforce law at all costs, we ought to be very thankful that God is not Kant, and that Kant was not God.

Immanuel Kant

Cortest then addresses the interaction of Locke and Kant, and their particular contributions to the project of Modernity:
It is clear that what begins as the defense of personal freedom in Locke is transformed by Kant into a system of absolute imperatives, in which the personal becomes the universal. Perhaps the best way to understand this transformation is to imagine that while Locke "freed" the individual from tradition, Kant made the now autonomous individual, through a set of rational principles, the foundation of justice and right. More than any other innovation in his moral philosophy the feature the most characterizes Kant's thought is this emphasis on autonomy. . . . This notion of moral autonomy may well be one of the most important developments in the history of modern ethics. Indeed, this doctrine is one of the features that most characterizes the thinking we call "modern."
Cortest, 58. (We have treated the issue of Kant's notion of autonomy in our prior posting: Ecstasis and Telos: Immanuel Kant and Selflaw.)

In his For an Ontology of Morals: A Critique of Contemporary Ethical Theory (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1971), Henry Veatch criticizes Kant's anti-ontological ethical theory. Though the quote is rather long, it merits being posted:
So long as Kant is either unwilling or unable to recognize the possibility that a natural desire may nonetheless be a reasoned desire and thus determined by nothing less than a knowledge of the good, he must renounce altogether any and all attempts to provide an ontological basis for ethics in terms of a thing's nature, be it human nature or the nature of rational beings generally. But the question returns to plague the Kantians more persistently than ever: how can one possibly come to know the moral laws that are incumbent upon us as rational beings if appeal is not to be made to the nature of such beings by way of support? So far as we have been able to determine, the only way that a Kantian can answer this question is by attempting to appeal not to the nature of rational beings, bur rather to the purely formal requirements that presumably must attach to moral laws, insofar as these laws are held to be binding on all rational creatures.
Now, Locke the Liberal had made morality a matter of personal choice. The duty-above-all-else Kant had fitted this personal ethic into a system of static universal imperatives based upon reason alone. Hegel was to take these two and adds the component of development or evolution, as man, in his view was to find his increasing self-awareness by incorporation into the State. That will be the subject of our next posting.

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