Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kant's Categorical Imperative

So, I used to hate Kant.

Somewhere in my Intro to Philosophy textbook, is scribbled "Kant is a cunt" (those days I didn't know what 'cunt' meant, only that it's a bad word. Well, it still is for me, but bad in a good way) and "KANT U SUCK" and "YOU IDIOT!" and various other sputtered criticisms of his text.

I have my textbook in front of me now, reading my reactions to some of his words:

"... when a wretched man, strong in soul and more angered at his fate than faint-hearted or cast down, longs for death and still preserves his life without loving it- not fron inclination or fear but from duty; then indeed his maxim has a moral content."

I thought it was bullshit then, and it's still bullshit now. A choice to live or die is not in itself a question of morality - it's a question of personal liberty. Certainly, if a person's choice to die affects others deeply, causing grief and mourning, the action takes on a certain light, but I'm one for choosing how we die as to how we live, so I'm still not buying this.

"Rational beings, on the other hand, are called persons because their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves - that is, as something which ought not to be used merely as a means..."

I have trouble with this. Firstly, it doesn't include the mentally unstable. Secondly, he offers no real working definition of what being "rational" means. Thirdly, it kinda says, being rational by nature entitles one to be a person, to not be used as a means. As opposed to, being a person entitles one the right to not be used as a means, whether or not they are rational. Children are often irrational - we still call them persons and accord to them the rights accorded to all human beings.

And then he started talking about kingdoms. Now, this talk would all have made more sense if I'd known from the beginning that Kant was writing this as a way to justify his religion without the necessary theology. He writes:

"A rational being belongs to the kingdom of ends as a member ... A rational being must always regard himself as making laws in a kingdom of ends which is possible through freedo of the will - whether it be as member or as head. The position of the latter he can aintain, not in virtue of the maxim of his will alone, but only if he is a completely independent being, without needs and with an unlimited power adequate to his will. ... ... Duty does not apply to the head in a kingdom of ends, but it does apply to every member and to all members in equal measure."

This made me mad, because to me, the head of a kingdom is every bit a member of the kingdom. To no one else does duty apply more, and more harshly, more heavily, than upon the head. Spider-man didn't exist during Kant's time, or else Kant would have been aware that with power comes responsibility. It is precisely because of jelly-spined statements like this that kings and heads of state have run roughshed over peoples, and people who have actual power feel they are entitled to rule over others without any attendant sacrifices.

So, back to Kant's Imperatives.

A hypothetical imperative is this: it should be done, because it's good for something else.

A categorical imperative is this: it should be done, because it's a good thing in itself.

Look. Just. *sigh*

OK, I guess I still hate him.

Anyways. Lately I find myself saying stuff in the vein of, "this consequence is a categorical good." Particularly in relation to stuff like this: Don't say sexist things, because it encourages a sexist world, and by not indulging in sexist bullshit, we cut out more sexist bullshit in the world, and the world becomes a little less sexist, and that's a categorical good. That's a consequence that in itself, is a good thing, because, well, the world sucks a little less.

So, I was under the impression that I got this idea from Kant, but I guess I didn't, because for Kant, this would be a hypothetical imperative.

Anyways, my point is that I've been using "categorical good" as a phrase in my every-other-day lexicon for a while now, and wanted to talk about where I got the idea and what it means.

There are a lot of categorical goods in the world worth using the hypothetical imperative for.

Sorry, DWM.

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