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The Categorical Imperative 
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Post The Categorical Imperative
Our resident Kantian, RT, will be able to help me out with this. But anyone’s help is appreciated. Immanuel Kant stated his Categorical Imperative as follows: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction." This is Kant’s first formulation; there were two that followed as refinements on the first. I know this principle is deep and complicated philosophically. But it also appears to have an immediate appeal, and some of that has seemed to me due to its relation to the Golden Rule (do to others as you have them do to you). Is this too naïve a view? I ask because Jonathan Haidt tells us that in formulating this mandate, Kant was showing that above all he was a systematizer, which Haidt says has to mean that he was low on empathizing (it’s like a see-saw, supposedly). But I see his Imperative as being built on the Golden Rule, which is all about empathy. Some would say the Imperative is about justice, but it seems more broadly concerned with always treating others humanely.

The next formulation of the imperative brings empathy more into play:

“At in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”

And the third is:

“Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.”

Well, in any case, it's beautiful philosophy. I think Haidt misfires here.



Fri Jul 20, 2012 9:35 pm
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Post Re: The Categorical Imperative
I hope this makes more sense than the dialectic of can and must. :)

Kant based his philosophy on two necessary truths, the starry heavens above and the moral law within. His theory of morality, the Categorical Imperative, says it is necessary to do our duty, as a single ultimate commandment of moral reason. Kant said the categorical imperative is that the highest principle of moral duty is that we should treat people as ends not means, meaning we should engage with people for their own intrinsic value rather than to exploit them. As DWill pointed out, this is the golden rule of Christianity and other traditions, treat others how you would like them to treat you, dressed up in philosophical jargon.

Kant explained that his reasoning was based on the need to respond to the erroneous skepticism of David Hume, primarily around causality. In morality, Kant aims to show the error of Hume's arguments that reason is slave of passion and that morality is based on intuition rather than logic.

Haidt's presentation of logic versus empathy as a zero sum game (per DWill's summary above) on face value illustrates a major failure of ethical understanding on his part. Systematic logic is actually at the basis of genuine empathy, because logic looks past the immediate moment to set the situation in the framework of subsequent consequences, and empathises more deeply than immediate sentiment.

The argument that logic and empathy are in conflict is readily refuted by any situation where we have to do something unpleasant in order to achieve a higher good, as in the maxim no pain no gain. Discipline and vision are the basis of achievement, as a matter of logic. If a coach empathises with the desire of an athlete not to train, the coach is actually failing to support the deeper interests of the athlete, and putting passion before reason. Similarly when a teacher empathises with a student who does not want to work to their potential, they commit a failure of logic, a failure to follow through on the rational knowledge that the consequence of empathising with laziness is to produce poor results.

Kant's way of thinking bears some resemblance to the scientific method of the anthropic principle, which starts from the observation that we exist and asks what the universe must be like in order that our existence occurs and makes sense. For example, logic tells us that for our lives to make sense the universe is self-consistent, that two contradictory statements cannot both be true, and this is a necessary truth of reason and experience. So Kant seeks to systematically deduce the necessary conditions of experience to define the foundational axioms of true philosophy, as an exercise in transcendental imagination. Kant argued for what he called synthetic a priori judgments, or necessary truths. For example, time, space and causation must exist, because without them our experience would not be possible.

I have always wondered about the logical basis of Kant's categorical imperative. Why is it necessary to treat people as ends? It is a very metaphysical idea, and quite obscure. Adam Smith argued that we routinely treat people as means in economic relations, and that the invisible hand of the market means that this optimises well being. As a synthetic a priori morality, I prefer Heidegger's axiom that care is the meaning of being. This is based on Kant, but it seems to me it more rigorously starts from real experience, pointing out that without care there is no meaning in life, and that the network of relations built upon care provides a foundation for moral understanding. Heidegger undermined his moral philosophy with his unwise political commitments, but care still stands as a simpler and clearer framework than Kant's kingdom of ends.

Heidegger also opened up some of the intuitive domain of philosophy, but in a way that was clearer than the little of Haidt I have read. For example Heidegger criticised the Kantian theory of reason for failing to incorporate moods such as angst (anxiety or dread), and argued that such existential phenomena as angst are in fact at the basis of care.


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Post Re: The Categorical Imperative
Robert Tulip wrote:
Kant explained that his reasoning was based on the need to respond to the erroneous skepticism of David Hume, primarily around causality. In morality, Kant aims to show the error of Hume's arguments that reason is slave of passion and that morality is based on intuition rather than logic.

Haidt's presentation of logic versus empathy as a zero sum game (per DWill's summary above) on face value illustrates a major failure of ethical understanding on his part. Systematic logic is actually at the basis of genuine empathy, because logic looks past the immediate moment to set the situation in the framework of subsequent consequences, and empathises more deeply than immediate sentiment.

Is Hume's skepticism about causality really erroneous, or is it something that could be true but that would be bad to believe? That there are these limits to our knowledge seems true to me, but it doesn't need to cripple us, as in most cases we proceed on a bit of faith. My view of what Hume might have thought of Kant's moral law is that it still proceeded from intuition; indeed it must have if it was based on something as ancient as the Golden rule (though I guess Kant denied that the two were the same). What I think is a possibility is a feedback loop between intuition and reason, whereby our reasoning power gives a stronger voice to our intuitions and makes us more deliberate and more consistent in our moral actions. There are also intuitions that can directly compete with empathic ones, so it seems we need these rules, whether the Bible's or Kant's, to keep us focused on the good.

Systematizing and empathy don't seem to be natural opposites at all, though of course Haidt has sources to back up this generalization. He also has said that the reason/emotion split is false, so he seems inconsistent when he presents them here as basically separate.
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The argument that logic and empathy are in conflict is readily refuted by any situation where we have to do something unpleasant in order to achieve a higher good, as in the maxim no pain no gain. Discipline and vision are the basis of achievement, as a matter of logic. If a coach empathises with the desire of an athlete not to train, the coach is actually failing to support the deeper interests of the athlete, and putting passion before reason. Similarly when a teacher empathises with a student who does not want to work to their potential, they commit a failure of logic, a failure to follow through on the rational knowledge that the consequence of empathising with laziness is to produce poor results.

I would consider this to be "tough love," not a real application of empathy. It's benevolent and enlightened, but to me not the same emotionally.
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I have always wondered about the logical basis of Kant's categorical imperative. Why is it necessary to treat people as ends? It is a very metaphysical idea, and quite obscure. Adam Smith argued that we routinely treat people as means in economic relations, and that the invisible hand of the market means that this optimises well being. As a synthetic a priori morality, I prefer Heidegger's axiom that care is the meaning of being. This is based on Kant, but it seems to me it more rigorously starts from real experience, pointing out that without care there is no meaning in life, and that the network of relations built upon care provides a foundation for moral understanding. Heidegger undermined his moral philosophy with his unwise political commitments, but care still stands as a simpler and clearer framework than Kant's kingdom of ends.

Maybe it is obscure--possibly an artifact of translation? How would we even always distinguish between treating as means and as ends? I thought that I understood the sentiment behind the statement, but the logic I can't explain. When you switch to Heidegger, you come right into Haidt's territory, as any principle of care is so evidently derived from our evolutionary past and is emotional in nature. "Care/harm" is the first of the moral foundations that Haidt lays out in Chapter 6.
Quote:
Heidegger also opened up some of the intuitive domain of philosophy, but in a way that was clearer than the little of Haidt I have read. For example Heidegger criticised the Kantian theory of reason for failing to incorporate moods such as angst (anxiety or dread), and argued that such existential phenomena as angst are in fact at the basis of care.

The concerns we have around care/harm certainly would manifest as angst or anxiety, so Haidt I think would certainly agree.



Last edited by DWill on Sat Jul 21, 2012 9:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Sat Jul 21, 2012 12:41 pm
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Post Re: The Categorical Imperative
Memo: What is the difference between 'only do things that accord with universalisable principles' and 'treat people always as ends'?


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