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.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ecstasis and Telos: Immanuel Kant and Selflaw

FOR A MAN THAT NEVER TRAVELED more than 100 miles from his home town of Köningsberg, the philosopher Immanuel Kant's (1724-1804) effect on the world of ideas was massive. With his publication of his Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, he effected what has been called the "Copernican Revolution" of philosophy. His contributions in the field of moral philosophy and law have likewise been immense. As Rommen puts it in his book The Natural Law, Kant was "the watershed from which flow so many and such varied streams of modern thought." Rommen, 83. If Kant's moral and legal philosophy found in such complex texts such as The Philosophy of Law, the Introduction to the Metaphysic of Morals, and his Critique of Practical Reason could be boiled down to a small kernel without serious injustice to the thought, it would be "autonomy," selflaw. Kant "exhibits in his philosophy the individualist natural law in its final, highest form,"Rommen, 88, but this law is so distilled of any notion of ecstasis and telos that it is no longer recognizable as law. It is the law one gives to oneself. It is absolutely autonomous, nay, more, it is anti-heteronomous, as it positively excludes any outside source of the law--even to the point of excluding Nature and Nature's God. Kant's morality is, in a way, the complete antithesis of Natural Law.

To understand Kant, one must recall Descartes's mechanistic view of nature and the Baconian rejection of a final and formal cause in nature. This is because, as Levering says, "Kant returns firmly to Descartes's project, which he advances." Levering, 117. Informed by philosophical nominalism, Bacon insisted that the notion of a final cause (or telos) in nature was a muzzle on true science that had to be discarded "The final cause rather corrupts than advances the sciences." Bacon, Novum Organon, aph. 3. Similarly, the notion of a formal cause, or an understanding of the "form" or "nature" of a thing, was useless. To exercise power over nature, man had to limit his analysis of nature to material causes only. "Matter rather than forms should be the object of our attention . . . ." Nature, as it were, had to be put to torture and put on the rack. Similarly, Descartes rejected the notion of a final cause. "The entire class of causes which people customarily derive from a thing's 'end,' I judge to be utterly useless in Physics." Descartes, Meditation 4. Matter was "dead," it had no principle of life outside mechanics that could be perfectly transcribed into mathematical equations. Coupled with this mechanistic view of nature was Descartes's extreme dualistic view of man, where man was a detached spiritual mind almost jailed in his material body. As a result of this deprecation of the body and the body/soul union, Descartes viewed the will and not reason as the preeminent human good. As he stated in a letter to Christina of Sweden:"Now freewill is in itself the noblest thing we can have because it makes us in a certain manner equal to God . . ." It was an apotheosis of will that proved regnant in Cartesian philosophy. So on the one side was a mechanical cosmos with no purpose, the res extensae, the extended order of things. On the other was the human mind or soul, the thinking thing or res cogitans.

Kant then stood on the shoulders of Bacon and Descartes. And there he was confronted with Hume's skepticism. It was Hume and his skepticism which "interrupted" Kant's "dogmatic slumbers." (Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics) Kant sought a means around the Humean skeptic fence that barred reason from knowing the good, and made reason slave to his passions. Kant's efforts at preserving the Cartesian mechanistic view of nature while yet overcoming Hume's radical skepticism required a severe restraint on reason, both theoretical and practical. Reason could not know the things in themselves (ding an sich), it only knew the appearances of the things in the mind as informed by sense data. "I had to do away with knowledge," Kant said in his Critique of Pure Reason, "to make room for faith." Kant may have better said "emasculate" or "amputate" Reason. And what kind of faith did he allow for?

In the area of morality, three notions were placed outside of pure reason's grasp by Kant: freedom, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of God who will reward the good and punish the evil. Kant maintained that none of these could be proved by reason (as they could also be disproved), and in his famous antinomies, Kant both proves and disproves the existence and non-existence of these three truths. So Kant shows with equal rigor that the world had a beginning in time, and no beginning in time. Through reason, Kant shows that it can be argued that the world is both made of composite substances made of simple substances, and that no composite substance is made of simple substances. He shows that there is free will, and that there is not free will, but all things are fastly determined. Kant argues that there must be a necessary Being, and then again that no such Being exists. Kant's point in his antinomies is not that these things don't exist, but that they are beyond the pale of reason. To accept them required faith. We had to act "as if" the soul was free and immortal, and there was a God who rewarded good and punished evil (als ob ein Gott sei), as if there were a reason or an end though, in fact, we must disabuse ourselves of the belief that these can be gleaned by reason. The God of Kant's faith was safely insulated from Reason's and the World's assault, and from Hume's skepticism, but that meant that God had only a presence in human consciousness and not in the worlds of Nature and Reason. For Kant, the cosmos is without God, and God is without being, an emasculated God. God is only in our minds. This is not the God to which we pray, "I believe, help Thou my unbelief!" It is a God that is marginalized, compartamentalized, housed in a Ghetto. (Unfortunately, once confined to our minds, this God in our minds becomes very pliable, as we shall see.)

So God deftly out of the way: "What is to be done, if the will is free, if there is a God, and if there is a future world?" asks Kant. (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason). The answer is given in Kant's moral philosophy, and Kant here applies as radical a critique as he did in regards to theoretical reason. First, Kant rejected any role of human nature in determining good and evil. Kant rejected the role of natural inclinations or desire for happiness as containing anything of importance to the question of the good. In fact, these inclinations and desires worked against the preeminent determinant of good: a good will informed by duty alone. In an effort to overcome Hume's guillotine (his "is"-"ought" argument), Kant jettisoned Nature like he did Reason. For Kant, a good will is most pure when it goes against inclinations or desires. It is most pure when it follows a categorical imperative: "Do this!" and not a conditional imperative, "If you want to be good or be happy, do this!" (Kant, Groundwork of Morals)

For Kant, therefore, (and like any good Cartesian) morality is solely within, in the will. In Kant's view, the human will has two main components. First, it is a self-caused movement. Second, it is a rational power that uses universal concepts. Accordingly, the purity with which the will moves itself (outside of any inclination or desire) and the universality of the rational imperative is what makes the will good. For Kant, the chiefest universal law is what he called the "categorical imperative." "Act only according to the maxim by which you can will at the same time that it becomes a universal law." (Kant, Groundwork of Morals) The categorical imperative is the highest law because it is pure command and most universal. It references no matter, no nature, no happiness, not even God; it is pure and uncorrupted.

When the will acts in accordance with the categorical imperative, the human will will reject any other law outside of the imperative. Duty is solipsistic. It looks towards itself, it never looks outside itself, it judges for itself. Therefore, the will legislates for itself. We have the law of one. The will, to be free and good, must become autonomous. "The will is not simply subject to the law, but subject in such a way that it must also be considered as self-legislative and for this reason, at the very first, subject to the law whose author it can consider itself to be." (Kant, Groundwork of Morals) Therefore the person is autonomous, not heteronomous. A person must be like a greek city--a polis--that issues its own laws out of its own sovereignty (auto-nomos), and not a city that relies on another city with jurisdiction to issue laws (hetero-nomos). The person must act in accordance with the imperative (autonomy) unmoved, uninfluenced by any desire or inclination for good or evil encountered in external experience (heteronomy). As Michael Waldstein summarizes it:
I am autonomous when I will what I will without being motivated by any good or evil, that is, when I move myself according to the categorical imperative. I fall into heteronomy when I will something because it is good. In heteronomy, I degrade my will and make it a servant of my internal desires. I reach autonomy and freedom only when my will is completely independent from the whole sphere of appearances based on received sense-data, 'for, independence of the determining causes of the world of sens (and independence which reason must always claim for itself) is freedom.'
Waldstein, 50 (quoting Kant, Groundwork of Morals).

Well that certainly takes care of Hume. But at what expense?

As Pierre Manent summarizes it: "At last [man] can think what until that time he could only will: he can now think that he is neither a creature of God nor a part of Nature, that he is in short born of himself, the child of his own liberty." (Manent, The City of Man (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 189 (quoted in Levering, 119 n. 178). According to Kant, a rational being achieves greatest dignity when it "obeys no law except the law which it simultaneously gives to itself." Kant, Groundwork of Morals. Autonomy and freedom are the highest goods, not obedience to a law that is wise or good or that may lead us to happiness or union with God. Thus in a masterful sophistry, Kant baptizes as the good autonomy and its necessary concomitant: disobedience to any externally-imposed law. More, because each person is completely autonomous, each deserves dignity, and each becomes his own law, and his own end:
For what end (quem in finem) does [man] exist? His existence has the highest purpose in itself . . . It is only in man, and in man only as the subject of morality, that an unconditioned legislation concerning purposes can be found, which thus enables him alone to be a final purpose to which the whole of nature is teleologically subordinated.
(Kant, Critique of Judgment) Waldstein summarizes what Kant has proposed: "Each and every person is the final end of the whole of nature. There are as many final ends as there are persons." Waldstein, 51-52. This principle of autonomy is also reflected in Kant's political philosophy, which views government's task not as promoting any good, but as protecting autonomous individual's rights. Government's role is not to promote the happiness of its citizens, but to promote the rights of its citizens. Government is no-wise to be paternal (imperium paternale); rather, it is to be patriotic (imperium non paternale, sed patrioticum). Pace George F. Will, Statecraft is not Soulcraft. Indeed, counterintuitively, the "greatest despotism imaginable" is a government that desires and promotes the good of its citizens, more despotic, presumably, that a government which does not intend the good of its citizens, but rules them for its own ends. Waldstein, 52-53.

The distance of Kant's moral philosophy from that of Natural Law and Scripture is at once apparent. Indeed, as Waldstein notes, Kant's notions of autonomism and disdain of any dependence contradict the very heart of The Lord's Prayer: Pater noster, qui est in caelis, . . . fiat voluntas tua . . . panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie . . . Our Father, who art in heaven . . . thy will be done . . . give us this day our daily bread . . . . The Lord's Prayer implies a heteronomous relationship with God in which we find freedom; we are not our own, but both our beginning and our in are in God. One wonders how sincerely Kant prayed the Vater Unser, one wonders if he could without wincing.

It is Kant to whom credit is given for separating law and morals, ethics and law, by separating law and its external compulsion from notions of the inner freedom or moral autonomy of the individual person. Rommen, 88-89. This separation was so severe, that for Kant "[t]he legal order is devoid of moral character." Rommen, 90. As Pierre Manent puts it:
[Man] flees the law that is given to him and seeks the law he gives himself. He flees the law given to him by nature, by God, or that he gave himself yesterday and that today weights on him like the law of another. He seeks the law he gives himself and without which he would be but the plaything of nature, of God, or of his own past. The law he seeks ceaselessly and continuously becomes the law he flees. In flight and in pursuit, with the difference of these two laws always before him, modern man proceeds in this way to the continual creation of what he calls History. In this enterprise, the nature of man is his principal enemy.
Manent, 204 quoted in Levering, 120, n. 178.

We could perhaps adapt Kipling's famous words in his "Ballad of East and West": Oh law is law, and morals is morals, and never the twain shall meet. The excessive separation between law and morals has led more than one person, even such redoubtable and diverse thinkers such as Ayn Rand and Hannah Arendt, to link Kant's ideas to Hitler and Eichmann. Whatever the link in factum esse, it is true that neither the evil and original Hitler or the evil and banal Eichmann would have been possible had German society held fast to a Natural Law jurisprudence. Ideas have consequences; and bad ideas have bad consequences.

We will close by quoting Kant. "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them," said Kant, "the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." Zwei Dinge erfüllen das Gemüt mit immer neuer und zunehmender Bewunderung und Ehrfurcht, je öfter und anhaltender sich das Nachdenken damit beschäftigt: der bestirnte Himmel über mir und das moralische Gesetz in mir.

Stars and duty, not God above or God within. John Paul II is supposed to have remarked about Kant in the context of his wrestling with Kant's thought: Kant! Mein Gott! Kant! Kant! My God! Kant! (Weigel, Witness to Hope (New York: Harper Collins, 1999), 128). It was as if John Paul II, in an unguarded moment, were challenging Kant from his very grave to turn his gaze from the lesser deities of stars and of duty to his God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God that became Man in Christ Jesus and taught us to pray . . . .

Note: These reflections rely heavily on Michael Waldstein's masterful summary of Kant's moral philosophy in John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body (Boston: Pauline Books, 2006), 34-54.

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