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Lecture Notes - Kant I: Moral Theory

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Political Science
POLS 3040
Michelle Mawhinney

September 25, 2013 - Lecture Notes: Immanuel Kant 1724-1804, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals  Presupposing knowledge from his other writings  Leading into critique of practical reason and his previous work  Assuming his readers have some familiarity with his theories  Most important part of his theory is moral in part because he's responding to dilemmas mentioned in last class  Responding to this in terms of a correct philosophy, so that's important because there seemed to be a threat of ethical relativism in philosophical terms and also of skepticism in theories of knowledge  This theory had real practical implications  Not just an abstract set of doctrines, was theory supposed to be applied and would have real material effect  In critique of practical reason, faculty of reasoning in practical terms that is pure, in this faculty itself, at this level of pure universal reason there is a kind of desire for that reason to actualize itself in the empirical world even though for reason to be pure it cannot be determined by anything empirical  Nevertheless there's something in reason that always strives to go beyond itself  Leads to critical philosophy  Leads to dogmatism, from that a critique of dogmatism, bursts metaphysical bubbles, then you get skepticism  Spent so much time developing theory of cognition, in a sense it's merely setting the stage for his moral theory, nevertheless it's crucial 1. Overview/Context a. Enlightenment dilemmas  17th an 18th century  Enlightenment commonly associated with and thought of itself as the age of reason and this is because there is a sense that Europe, particular western Europe had broken away, or was in process of breaking from things like superstition, mystical religious practices, from social and political organizations, hierarchical organisations based on rational traditions  Generally there was a sense that in Europe, group of countries in process of coming enlightened, breaking away from older traditional system, increasingly comes associated with passive and childish acceptance of customs and traditions and so on  Leaving this passive childish almost way of being in the world behind, European thinkers of the age of reason see themselves as taking a more mature, bold rigorous approach to things like knowledge, truth, morality, the organization of human society  Who was the break from? The break was seen from older traditions in Europe itself  Idea was these thinkers of age of reason had broken from Europe’s own medieval past, now characterized as the dark ages - characteristic has come down to us today Dark ages refers not just to loss of classical learning, power of empire, but also catholic church   Europeans of new age meeting in salons really distancing themselves from their own indigenous traditions - magic, alchemy, fertility based rituals and cults especially associated with agrarian communities, practices of urban medicine - thought of as folk, childish, superstitious, etc.  Roots of much enlightenment thinking had its place in some of these practices - i.e. can't imagine chemistry without alchemy  But there is a sense that that belonged in the past, now associated with superstitious  These are the other cultures around the world: populations of newly colonized so called new world  These people characterized of savage, either noble savage or vicious savage  Similarly, pole of more inland and central parts of Africa were considered to be very backwards, barbarian, beastly, and so on  In addition, people in oriental world Asia, India, what is now the middle east, all of these old rich cultures, very scientifically advanced were characterized in contradictory terms as stagnant, decayed, passive, but also at the same time, savage and dangerous  Philosophers in Europe emerging during this periods show they're at the cutting edge, they’re enlightened  General optimism about potential in human reason and technological innovation to understand world around them and use knowledge to move forward as a species o These ideas have roots in earlier renaissance in Europe o Shift to this worldly focus, values of human excellence - see reflected in ideas about politics, art, culture, and so on o Workings of natural world for themselves, proper to this, this would have been manifestation of god’s will o Unquestioned authority of catholic church o Significantly for our purposes here, the 16th and 17th centuries also saw a major scientific innovations in Europe particularly in astronomy, math, etc. i.e. Copernicus, Galileo, newton, etc.  Self-identity of European culture becomes associated with enlightenment and so on  Sciences important because their understanding of physical world...  Science that emerges during this period gave philosophy a new framework through which they could link all the things they were concerned with o Nature of human mind - how does it work - Descartes and john Locke  People were concerned with how it works and its mechanisms, how is knowledge acquired, what is basis of human associations - why live together in societies, why get together and form political associations?  Not issues in medieval period  New scientific worldview understood universe in much more mechanistic terms compared to preceding medieval world view  Newton ties all this together with his materialist view, with mathematical understanding of how all these difference elements an particles fit together, how they act according to certain uniform laws of motion this was a huge shift from medieval view of cosmos  Prior to this in medieval period, cosmos was understood as a purposeful system, every entity, institution, human association had its meaning and its place according to some purpose - to the great mysterious chain of being and what's at the center or the top which gives it meaning, great mysterious purpose of god To see universe in mechanistic terms is a shift away from this   Mic  Older principals of quality essence and purpose are put aside, considered to be mystifications and distortions of reality  Mic  This is increasingly undercut even though none of these thinkers actually want to question the existence of god or the immortal soul, the basis of these ideas is being undercut by a new approach  Idea that there are truths that human beings cannot understand because they’re part of a larger plan, in Christianity, if you think reason can know all, you're sinning, there's always a place for faith and revelation  Mic  No reason that all things could not be observed or known, quantified, by human mind  Not just physical world, potentially, manipulated, with new methods and instruments of science  In the same way, it was thought that human beings and human societies could be known, quantified, broken down experimentally, measured, observed, down to their most basic motivations - Hobbes called appetites and aversions, basic mental operations  Idea was that using this knowledge, letting go of distortions of irrational ways of thinking, humans can be organized and planned to be more rational, enlightened  We see this optimism in the early enlightenment - those associated with radical enlightenment  New philosophies that embrace this mechanistic view of universe, leave moral deficit in their wake  If humans can be understood according to laws of physics, then where does this leave the immortal should, where does it leave free will, transcendent and creator god  Mic  Mic  Mic  How could you have a system of ethics because all this was tied in with your religion  Most people in Europe not disturbed by theories of Galileo and newton, wouldn't have read them - reading material for those common people who could read would have been quite different  In addition, majority of people weren't schooled in geometry and Latin  Nevertheless, European society as a whole still experienced great deal of upheaval and violence during this period  Period of great deal of change often very violently experienced and imposed  There is a huge degree of economic and cultural displacement that was associated with what Marx associated with pangs of capitalism  Dissociation of peasant farmers, dislocated, impoverished  Great deal of communal, village life  Intense imperial aggression between European states  Within Europe there were religious wars, reformation, counter reformation  Various kings consolidating their power with whatever particular sect of Christianity, then would punish  Crusades, looting and land grab sprees  Inquisitions, 15th century  Persecution and murder of thousands of women as witches 17th century  All renaissance, age of reason, has a very dark side to it  Rampant and undisguised power politics  Captured in theories of Machiavelli  All systems of ethics, religious practices, cosmology and community were destabilized  Types of science, moral code, religious practices and ,,, underlying networks of community relations were breaking down not just in terms of innovations in philosophy and science but also in terms of practical reality  Related to this series of breakdown notion of free floating individual  Individual  Mic  Begin with individual as building block of human society  You can understand how a political association works by beginning with the individual  Political authority only comes from rational consent from individuals who participate in,,,  Radical at the time, inspired of more grassroots and radical movements in civil war  Reflected reality, experienced by people who wouldn’t have read Locke or Hobbes  People being disconnected from older social and economic ties that bound them together  Disconnection would have been experienced and manifest as well in types of violence and generalized anxieties during this period  Also at level of  Mic b. Kant's response Individual Basis for ethical life seem to have disappeared   No longer could your moral significance be determined by simply your place within the social whole  This would have applied in medieval period from highest to lowest - bound by authority of the system itself, underpinned by authority and goodness of god  Now there's new category - individual in itself  For first time individuals do not seem to be securely located in ethical life  Creates kind of deficit as old system of authority is lost  One way to approach Kant or situate him is presenting solution to this deficit  Filling ethical void left in wake of early modern period and in wake of more radical materialist enlightenment philosophers  How is he filling this void? What is his solution? Not providing alternative substantive basis for morality, not giving us a new external system as a source of moral authority  He seems to embrace this deficit  For Kant, external authority, whether from priest or teacher or most excellent religious code o Any external authority cannot be basis of truly moral action o Motto of enlightenment: having courage to use your own reason, dare to think for yourself, release yourself from your self-incurred tutelage o This is key to Kant’s moral theory  Truly moral action for Kant based on autonomous will of individual, never based on subjection to external influences o Does this mean moral action comes down to doing whatever you want? Given that an action is moral when … o No, not at all o For us human beings, our very inclinations , our passions, our desires, not just lower passions and desires, even most genial, best of inclinations (kindness, generosity, benevolence, etc.) are most likely to be at odds with true moral action o True moral action can only be motivated by duty o How can it be based in the self in the will? o Doesn't make a lot of sense - duty can be to government, particular religious codes, community you're a part of, etc. and be free? o Kant's answer signifies shift of ethical theory - away from ethical theory based on doctrine of the good to a doctrine of right o Doctrine of the good would be very clear in the case of a medieval society, governed by idea of great chain of being - there's an idea of the good - ideal good is salvation, god is ultimate good. You can become an ethical person, living in right kind of way in your community fits into larger, greater purpose o Christen world view not only world view, doesn’t even have to be religious good o Later on, you have another direction in liberal theory: utilitarian theory, another theory of the good, happiness MIC  You can see how an approach about procedure, rights, etc. would presupposed individualistic society rather than organical society, traditional would have much room for good but little room for right in terms of universally fair rules  Doctrine of authomous individual, subject not fully determined by their place in the whole  Practical and instrumental approach, looks for rules rather than for concrete or substantial notion of the good What's Kant’s answer to how moral action can be based in will  o He argues basis of moral action must be moral law o Moral law is not so much a thing, it's determined practically, it's not tis or that particular law, not body of laws or doctrine of religious commands, instead moral law is determined procedurally, determined when we apply a certain test of formula to see whether any given action is moral, need a test to determine whether an action is motivated by duty or something else o This is a general procedure that Kant believes can be applied to test any action, anywhere by anyone, universal o It's Kant’s famous categorical imperative, grounding is text where Kant makes philosophical argument at through his test it's possible to show that a moral law does exist o It's a Kantian way to frame the question  Kant's own particular solution to these dilemmas, challenge to dogmatism that resulted in skepticism  Makes argument in metaphysics of morals  In process he reveals, develops other ideas mic  Positive freedom comes out in end based on moral autonomy  Rousseau conceived moral liberty on social contract - general will - freedom  Articulates source of human dignity : answer to what is human meaning and worth in a world where human beings are no longer embedded in a substantive life o Answer is moral responsibility, moral autonomy o Discusses nature of will so that his argument isn't completely circular  Kant's arguments have been criticized by liberal and conservatives, as circular, resting on tautology  Argument is richer and more complicated than this  Frequently refers to his own critical philosophy  Presupposed some familiarity with these other theories Theory of Knowledge:  Life of Kant: o Born in Prussia, pietism community, sect of Christianity, similar to Methodists of 18th century England - evangelical, protestant sect, influenced by Luther - every believer is a priest, must purify his heart, conduct in pure way to establish own relations with Jesus as way of serving god o Kant influenced by pietism and negatively by this experience as well because schools of pietism were very much about rituals of religion rather than
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