Philosophy Forum — Part 5
Here we go again. The subject is ethics this time.
I don’t particularly like how this first question is phrased, because it doesn’t make the problem plain. Nevertheless, I won’t write an article on the bad phrasing. I’ll just tackle the problem at hand.
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‘According to Hume, reason alone does not move us to act, though our moral opinions do, and he rightly infers from this that reason cannot be the source of our moral opinions.’ Discuss.
Hume rightly points out that the human capacity for reason is a powerful faculty. We can compare and contrast ideas from things that are similar, to things that do not seem so at first glance. The term relational frame theory wouldn’t come about in psychology until hundreds of years after Hume, but it points out the power of this human ability. For instance, how are a pig and a chair related? Most people’s first reaction is that they aren’t, but then if they think about it for two seconds they come up with something. Such as, both of them have four legs. As the mind starts to turn the possibilities become immense, and you begin to realize that the chair manufacturer probably eats pork, the pork company’s accountant sits in a chair, a wooden chair had a life as a tree that ended and so will the pig’s, etc.
In addition to being able to compare and contrast ideas the human reasoning faculty can find links between ideas, such as causal links. Why did a specific thing occur? Does this cause and effect relationship exist consistently? Can you thus know the future from the past and present situation? Can you manipulate the current circumstances to thus create a certain effect in the future? This ability to find causal links often results in errors of immense proportions, and yet it is key to the unique abilities that humans have among living creatures.
And yet, comparing ideas and finding causal links between them does not lead to doing anything. There is not contained within the reasoning faculty itself an impetus to action. Knowing what is and knowing what could be does not mean do. And we do do things. We do not lay still waiting for dehydration to carry us into the afterlife, knowing what is happening and what will happen. We take action, and we take immense action. Thus, there must be something other than reason that drives us to such action.
Hume posits that the thing that drives us to action is sentiment, or feeling. The different types of feelings of satisfaction and discomfort that result from innate mechanisms, plus the socialization process that occurs to both adjust those innate mechanisms and to instill more, the tension between self-interest and sympathy, and other such complexities offer a lifetime of experience and contemplation.
Our advanced notions of ethics grow out of this interaction of sentiment as the driving force, and reason as a guiding force.
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Next I’ll work on Kant. I don’t like Kant. I think he’s a smart guy that worked really hard and ended up building a system of philosophy that doesn’t work and is immensely complex and difficult to understand, not because it’s so great, but because it’s so bad.
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‘Critically discuss the connection that Kant makes between morality and freedom.’
Kant’s views on morality and freedom are complex and difficult to understand. One of the primary distinctions that he makes in morality is between hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives. A hypothetical imperative has an end connected with a causal means. Essentially it’s an if/then statement. For instance, if you want to get stronger then exercise.
A categorical imperative is a moral law with no end. For instance, exercise. Given such a moral command you may ask, “Why?” Kant says that there is no answer to that. All rational beings in the universe have universal intuitions about a grand moral law. True freedom is making decisions according to this moral law. If you choose to go against this law then it’s neither moral nor is it a free decision. This law is made by rational moral agents freely choosing moral actions that write the law that you must intuitively follow to be both moral and free. If you do this then there might be a kingdom of ends of some type, even though there are no ends or reasons for categorical imperatives, other than that rational beings intuitively know the universal law that they must follow to be moral and free that they also make by making their free and moral choices.
People have spent their entire lives trying to untangle such Kantian notions.
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In academic philosophy people love Kant. I hate him, as you might have noticed. He seems to be spinning webs of complexity with no end in mind, and to him that would be the correct thing to do. I have gone down similar rabbit holes of complexity. For instance, working on using the ideas of discourse ethics to build a system of thought that would be socially applicable to defeat Marxian concepts. Unfortunately it didn’t work. After years of work it ended up a mess, like Kant’s work. So I scrapped it. I have no problem with trying and failing, and I have no problem with doing that for an entire lifetime, and I have no problem with people studying that. It’s just the lack of recognition of Kant’s failure that astounds me. He seems to have ended up with something like a very limited and odd religion that will never be classified as such.
These are important problems to confront. But you can easily see why most people do not do so in this way.