Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Quote of the Week, 2014-12-24

To virtue = + a is opposed as its logical contradictory (contradictorie oppositum) the negative lack of virtue (moral weakness) = 0; but vice = - a is its contrary (contrarie s. realiter oppositum); and it is not merely a needless question but an offensive one to ask whether great crimes do not perhaps demand more strength of mind than great virtues. For by strength of mind we understand the strength of purpose of a man, as a being endowed with freedom, and consequently so far as he is master of himself (in his senses) and therefore in a healthy condition of mind. But great crimes are paroxysms, the very sight of which makes the man of healthy mind shudder. The question would therefore be something like this: whether a man in a fit of madness can have more physical strength than if he is in his senses; and we may admit this without on that account ascribing to him more strength of mind, if by mind we understand the vital principle of man in the free use of his powers. For since those crimes have their ground merely in the power of the inclinations that weaken reason, which does not prove strength of mind, this question would be nearly the same as the question whether a man in a fit of illness can show more strength than in a healthy condition; and this may be directly denied, since the want of health, which consists in the proper balance of all the bodily forces of the man, is a weakness in the system of these forces, by which system alone we can estimate absolute health.

Remark following Exposition of the Notion of an End which is also a Duty, The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics, by Immanuel Kant

Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott

Retrieved from Project Gutenberg

I have seen three or four philosophers recommend this book as the best place to start a study of ethics. Than I read a passage like the one above and wonder why they speak so highly of it. Perhaps I am missing something. Actually, I'm sure I'm missing quite a bit, but in this case I meant some way of interpreting the passage that is not so contrary to the plain evidence of our knowledge. Even in Kant's time, there had been horrors committed by powerful men, men who clearly had a strong purpose, were as much endowed with the freedom to act as any other contemporary, and were masters of themselves in the pursuit of that purpose, fitting Kant's definition of having strength of mind. Yet, these men never shuddered when organizing, planning, and committing great crimes; they shrugged them off as unfortunate necessities or even delighted in their execution.

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