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.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Golden Rule in Immanuel Kant: The Golden Rule But a Trivial Footnote

IMMANUEL KANT WAS ROUSED, HE SAYS, from his "dogmatic slumber" (dogmatischen Schlummer) through the reading of Hume. Whatever a "dogmatic slumber" is to a Pietist (such as Kant) who deprecated dogma anyway, the great Kant fell from it into a "critical slumber," which seems like jumping from one fitful dream to another, or from the frying pan into the fire. It would had been better for Kant had Kant read St. Thomas and awakened from his slumbers to a "dogmatic vigil" and so have become a Thomist. But that was not to be.

Immanuel Kant

It seems that Hume not only awakened Kant from his "dogmatic slumber," but also helped Kant trivialize the Gospel, or at least the Golden Rule, into footnote status.

In his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten), where Kant stated his famous categorical imperative,* Kant made mention of the Golden Rule in a footnote where he called the Golden Rule "triviale," trivial:
Man denke ja nicht, daß hier das triviale: quod tibi non vis fieri etc. zur Richtschnur oder Prinzip dienen könne. Denn es ist, obzwar mit verschiedenen Einschränkungen, nur aus jenem abgeleitet; es kann kein allgemeines Gesetz sein, denn es enthält nicht den Grund der Pflichten gegen sich selbst, nicht der Liebespflichten gegen andere (denn mancher würde es gerne eingehen, daß andere ihm nicht wohltun sollen, wenn er es nur überhoben sein dürfte, ihnen Wohltat zu erzeigen), endlich nicht der schuldigen Pflichten gegen einander; denn der Verbrecher würde aus diesem Grunde gegen seine strafenden Richter argumentieren, u.s.w.

Let it not be thought that the trivial quod tibi non vis fieri, etc. [what you do not will to be done to you, etc.] can here serve as a standard or principle. For it is merely derived from our principle, although with several limitations. It cannot be a universal law, for it contains the ground neither of duties to oneself nor of duties of love toward others (for many a man would gladly consent that others should not benefit him, if only he might be excused from benefiting them). Nor, finally, does it contain the ground of strict duties toward others, for the criminal would on this ground be able to dispute with the judges who punish him; and so on.
It is to be supposed that Kant knew what he was saying in this footnote. Though, in passing, one may note some seeds of inconsistency in Kant's objections. Kant objects to the Golden Rule because it is " merely derived" from his Categorical Imperative. Yet he objects at the same time that "it cannot be a universal law." However, his Categorical Imperative requires that one act according to the manner that what you do could be universal law. Which brings the question to the fore: if the Golden Rule is derived from the Categorical Imperative, and the Categorical Imperative requires that any maxim be able to be universalized as "universal law," then how can the Golden Rule be criticized for both being derived from the Categorical Imperative, yet also criticized for not being "universal law"? One smells here a little bit of "Kettle logic," or logique du chaudron, not "Pure Reason," or reinen Vernunft.

Immanuel Kant: Detail from Werner Horvath's "Garden of Peace"

In any event, in Kant's deontological moral theory, where pure reason and duty held sway, there was little room for desire, for happiness, for the Aristotelian or Thomistic notion of eudaimonism. Thus there is little room for such a construct as the Golden Rule. It (the Kantian ethic) is therefore an ethic that, in the main, is to be avoided, rather than embraced. (We have previously treated of the problem it presents in terms of moral autonomy and its anti-teleological leanings. See Ectasis and Telos: Immanuel Kant and Self Law.) Perhaps the watershed distinction between the Categorical Imperative and the Golden Rule is that Kant's rule appeals to what can be willed for all, whereas the Golden Rule, which encompasses notions of desire, happiness, or consent of both ourselves and others, appeals to what actually is or what would be willed by all including ourselves. Looked at another way, the Categorical Imperative suggests we look at ourselves as a universal legislator with a grand view of the universal. It demands for us the vision of God. Whereas, more humbly, the Golden Rule asks us to look at the humanity in ourselves, something which, though difficult enough, is achievable. The Golden Rule, which asks us to look within, is therefore much more intimate and internal, than the formal and external Categorical Imperative, which asks us to look without. It is the distinction between "know yourself" (Scito te ipsum) [cf. Abelard's Ethics, Scito Teipsum treated elsewhere in this blog] and "I will the universal" (volo universalem). The distinction, though subtle, is of great moment. As Jeffrey Wattles succinctly summarizes it: "If Kant's ideas are correct both the golden rule (in its original formulation) and its religious foundation are obsolete." Wattles, 83-84. Indeed, given Kant's stature among the secular academia, one may accept the verdict of Hans Reiner that "Kant succeeded with his objections almost in invalidating the Golden Rule and in disqualifying it from future discussions in ethics. Among Continental European philosophers after Kant only Schopenhauer has attached a high value to it." Hans Reiner, Duty and Inclination (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishsers, 1983), 274-75.

Self Explanatory

As for me and my house, we shall serve the Golden Rule. That is to say, as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord. (cf. Joshua 24:15).

*Handle nur nach derjenigen Maxime, durch die du zugleich wollen kannst, dass sie ein allgemeines Gesetz werde. Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

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