Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-12-10

The notion of duty is in itself already the notion of a constraint of the free elective will by the law; whether this constraint be an external one or be self-constraint. The moral imperative, by its categorical (the unconditional ought) announces this constraint, which therefore does not apply to all rational beings (for there may also be holy beings), but applies to men as rational physical beings who are unholy enough to be seduced by pleasure to the transgression of the moral law, although they themselves recognize its authority; and when they do obey it, to obey it unwillingly (with resistance of their inclination); and it is in this that the constraint properly consists.* Now, as man is a free (moral) being, the notion of duty can contain only self-constraint (by the idea of the law itself), when we look to the internal determination of the will (the spring), for thus only is it possible to combine that constraint (even if it were external) with the freedom of the elective will. The notion of duty then must be an ethical one.

*Man, however, as at the same time a moral being, when he considers himself objectively, which he is qualified to do by his pure practical reason, (i.e. according to humanity in his own person), finds himself holy enough to transgress the law only unwillingly; for there is no man so depraved who in this transgression would not feel a resistance and an abhorrence of himself, so that he must put a force on himself. It is impossible to explain the phenomenon that at this parting of the ways (where the beautiful fable places Hercules between virtue and sensuality) man shows more propensity to obey inclination than the law. For, we can only explain what happens by tracing it to a cause according to physical laws; but then we should not be able to conceive the elective will as free. Now this mutually opposed self-constraint and the inevitability of it makes us recognize the incomprehensible property of freedom.

Exposition of the Conception of Ethics, The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics, by Immanuel Kant

Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

When you are trying to create a universally applied doctrine, there seems to be no defect that is both more fatal to the task and more overlooked in the pursuit than a lack of understanding regarding the parts of the world that you don't inhabit, and the people in the world. People go on long discourses about the nature of other people, in the process describing what they see in their own nature.

Here, Kant denies the existence of men "so depraved who in this transgression would not feel a resistance and an abhorrence of himself". Such men certainly do exist; they feel no abhorrence for shirking any duties that other men impose at themselves, they laugh at those of us that take on such duties. Further, even for those that do feel the call of these duties, so many people are masters at lying to themselves. They tell themself that they are serving a noble cause, and commit atrocities in its name. People are not naturally rational, they are naturally rationalizers.

Free will seems to be cast here as ability to decide between following a duty, or to put that duty aside. However, much of what is considered sin by an observer is likely the result of changing what the transgressor considers to be sinful.

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