Immanuel Kant, A Perspective, A New Look
by Dr. Parviz Dehghani
Immanuel Kant, A Perspective, A New Look
Who was he? He was without doubt, the most spectacular and influential philosopher not only in the 18th century but since Aristotle. He was born and raised in Konigsberg, which is now part of Russia.
Kant thought he had discovered the universal principles of thought, which are useful to the totality of human beings and for all time. From the first two of his three Critiques- the mammoth and cryptic Critique of Pure Reason (1781), where he tries to explore and justify the principles underneath objective judgments of reality. The shorter and more lucent Critique of Practical Reason (1788) is where he made an effort to give a rational justification for ethical judgments.
In the first Critique he focuses on justifying metaphysics as a legitimate subject of investigation. The rationalists like Leibniz maintained that metaphysical judgment or the basic principles on which all knowledge is based are known and justified merely by the Intellect.
Empiricist like Locke argued that the human mind is like a blank tablet or tabula rasa to be written on by the world of experience.
Kant tried to wed these two opposing views. How did he do that? He simply asked: “What are the necessary preconditions to have any experience at all?” What do we need to experience what we see around us? For us to interpret the world our mind has to lay some structures upon the flow of incoming sense-data.
Let us not forget that though he was a Shiva figure, who destroyed a lot of expectations of the reason glorified in the age of enlightenment, he was still a rationalist. All what he did was to prune the tree of reason as much as he could. This tree, which grew during the age of enlightenment, was not located in the Garden of Eden. In other words, this tree was not what Socrates and Plato called the Intellect. The Intellect, you might say, was what the Hindus named ‘Atman’ or the ray of the sun within us, the uncreated Reality, which is one with the Ultimate Reality.
These structures which are basic judgments are called the Categories. What are the Categories? These are substance, cause/effect, reciprocity, necessity, possibility, existence, totality, unity, plurality, limitation, reality, and negation. They are the windows through which we experience the world, which can be used within a spatial and temporal setting. Kant argued that both the Categories and space and time called ‘form of intuition’ were placed on phenomenal experience through the mind to make sense of it. Our mind is structured to see the world through them. He named this idea his ‘Copernican revolution’. It was Copernicus, who discovered it was not the sun that revolved around the earth but it was vice versa. The earth revolved around itself while it was also revolving around the sun. As you can see, the centrality of human being like the earth changed. However, one can interpret this in a mystical way. Thanks to Copernicus’ discovery we’re now revolving around the sun of the Ultimate Reality, which is the sun analogically. This is like circumambulating the Kabah shrine in Mecca, which is located in today’s Saudi Arabia. Did Kant think about this symbolism at all? I may be biased, but I don’t think he was religious enough to even be concerned about the mystical aspects of world Religions.
The centrality of the planet of earth and human changed with Copernicus’ astronomical calculations, which led to his remarkable discovery. Kant, I believe, tried to reverse this by putting human back in the center intellectually. How did he do that? He simply came up with his idea of 12 categories. He called this ‘Copernican revolution’. In the past we were the mirror in which the world was reflected. But now we’re reflected in the mirror of the world. The world is reflecting our categories. With Plato the whole world was reflecting the Forms of perfections. The lake was reflecting the moon and the sea was reflecting the sun. The moon and the sun never entered the water of the two. For Kant, unlike Plato, the whole world is reflecting the categories of our mind. By so doing he made an attempt to put human in the center. We observe the world through the widows of our categories. These categories are part of the structures of our mind. In other words, they’re born with us. Did we know them before we came into this world? The answer to Plato is, ‘NO’. Are they innate? The word ‘innate’ in Latin means ‘in nasci’, which is inborn or natural (Webster) If David Hume argued that we learn causality by witnessing a tree falling as a result of the wind or fire. Kant, in response would say we cannot experience this fact unless we do it through the category of cause and effect. Our knowledge begins with experience but it doesn’t come from it. After we experience the world our mind structures reality so that we understand what it. Just as Copernicus, who turned around what people had believed for centuries, namely, it was the sun orbiting the earth, Kant made an effort to solve the problem as to how our mind gains knowledge from experience by maintaining that in deed the mind imposes principles on experience in order to produce knowledge. Kant’s discovery later influenced the Phenomenologists and gestalt psychologists of the 20th century.
This can, however, be regarded as Kant’s subjectivism. We see the world through our own pair of glasses. Are we experiencing the world objectively or subjectively? Before Copernicus people looked at the sun and saw the sun was rising and setting. They used to say, the sun never sets on the British Empire. Perhaps this was a subjective viewing of the world. However, after the discovery we realized the reality was the other way around. We now experience the world objectively. Kant brought us back to the world of subjectivity by introducing his categories of the mind. We see the world a lot brighter after cataract operations on our eyes. Nevertheless, the question remains, which of my observations is the objective world? Kant argued that we’re born with these categories. Nature has already operated on our mind so that we experience the world the way we do. Nonetheless, we still ask this question, how do we know what reality really is minus the camera of our mind? For a blind person the whole world is dark. But is the world dark? For Kant, unless I experience the world through the category of causality, I’m not able to gain any knowledge of cause and effect. But how do we know what we experience here is the objective reality?
When the world is but a projection of my categories, then what I’m experiencing is also nothing but my own mind. In other words, I have no way of knowing what is going on behind the screen of the movie theater in front of me. He said with pure reason we’re not able to know God, our true Self, and the world beyond its appearances. It sounds like we’re back to what Descartes was struggling to find out.
When it comes to the natural law, he only knows reflections of his own mind. This is not the natural law, which was perhaps the objective world his mother was referring to. The starry, starry above and the moral law within was a segment of what his mother told him before her departure from this world.
He taught us about a priori and a posteriori statements. The former is located on my left shoulder and the latter on my right. The former tells us about the knowledge prior to experience and the latter after experience. He also referred to analytic and synthetic statements. The former is on my left lap and the latter on my right lap. The former statements are about having the predicate in the subject already. For example, when I say all bachelors are unmarried persons, you can see the predicate ‘unmarried’ is in the subject all bachelors. So this statement is redundant. When I say all triangles have three angels, the predicate ‘three angels’ is already in the subject. As to the latter, namely, synthetic statement, it is a whole consisting of informative elements. For instance, when you say you just bought a house, I could ask you how many bed rooms? Here predicate is giving us information I had no idea of. Therefore, my left shoulder and my left lap once consolidated represent rationalism and my right shoulder and lap once consolidated represent empiricism. To create a bridge between these two schools of thoughts Kant argued that there’re statements, which are synthetic a priori. This bridge connected my right lap to my left shoulder, which gives us ‘synthetic a priori’ statement. Kant believed there’re statements, which can connect rationalism and empiricism. Causality is one of them. I see through the window of my class a tree falling. What was the cause of it? I had no idea till one of my students told me it was cut down to make room for the new library so we could have access to the books written concerning trees. Wow! However, my knowledge began with that experience but didn’t come from it. I had a snap shot of a falling tree, which eventually fell on the ground. Nonetheless, my mind is the one that puts this event through the category of causality to make sense of what really had happened. This is the way Kant responded to Hume although he had no physical contact with him and had only read a short translation of his work in German. If I was not equipped with this category, I wouldn’t be able to even experience the world. This was Immanuel Kant’s answer for those who believed in empiricism.
In his second ‘Critique’ he asserted that he had discovered a universal moral law named ‘the categorical imperative’. He argued that there’re two imperatives: categorical and hypothetical ones. The key formula to the latter is ‘If and then’. If you had a brother, would he be interested in studying philosophy? Why are you asking hypothetical question? I have no idea what he would have been interested in, if I had a brother, which I don’t. These imperatives are not based on solid ground. We cannot predict the future based on the present and the past, Hume maintained. Can we ever predict the future based on hypothetical imperative? If you keep lying, then people no longer trust you, which is bad for business. This prediction could be true, however, could also not be true. There’re persons around us who lie on a regular basis and they never get caught and get away with murder. Napoleon thought he could invade Russia but by the time he reached Moscow there was no food to feed his soldiers. His soldiers froze to death in the Russian winter and eventually he lost the war. Did Hitler learn a lesson from this event? Did he know what Hume had said in the 18th century? Without knowing what Hume had taught he stopped bombing England and instead attacked Russia. He didn’t predict the future based on what Napoleon had experienced. Hume’s position was based on hypothetical imperative. Hitler figured he couldn’t predict the future based on the past, like what Hume taught. Therefore, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t win the war and consequently he invaded Russia and experienced what Napoleon had gone through. George Santayana (1863-1952), an American writer and philosopher, born in Spain once said those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it again. (Not exact quotation) Hume himself was a historian and wrote books on history. Nevertheless, he didn’t think we could predict the future based on the past. Although Hitler was trying to destroy England or invade it, Hume, not Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the prime of England, made him change his mind. How? They were not contemporaries, of course, but what Hume wrote somewhat proved his point. Hume argued that history is based on hypothetical imperative. Where he went wrong was that sometimes we can predict the future based on the past and sometimes not. Just because Napoleon was unable to invade Russia and keep it doesn’t mean Hitler could not. However it happened that Hitler suffered almost the same consequences as Napoleon. From what we know Hitler was not interested in philosophy to even know about Hume. Hume was from Scotland and would have fallen in the hand of Hitler very easily. Who knows, perhaps some of his educated advisors encouraged him to stop the war with England and attack Russia in spite of what had happened to Napoleon.
Hypothetical imperatives, being based on ‘If/then’ statements, work and are useful. Nevertheless, they’re not reliable, especially when it comes to predictions. Karl Marx predicted the first revolution was to take place in England. However, not only it didn’t occur in England but it took place in Russia. The only predictions that are bound to come true are the prophetic ones like what Christ did while holding on to the gate of the Temple in Jerusalem. Prophetic predictions are vertical while non-prophetic ones are horizontal.
Kant unlike Aristotle used the latter’s either/or logic for the ethical part of his philosophy in his second Critique. Aristotle argued that either/or logic is used in the theoretical science not in practical knowledge. Kant, however, insisted that it can also be applied to our moral decisions. You either lie or you don’t. There’s no gray area between the two. This falls into his universal law, which he called it, ‘the categorical imperative’. The first formulation of this law is ‘act by that maxim which you can at the same time will as a universal law’. In fact, we often hear this moral objection: ‘what if all people did what you did?’ For Kant moral is rational and vice versa. So some ethical rules cannot be rationally broken. To his surprise they did and still do. When a person has no value for his or her promises, he has violated the institution of promise making. In other words, Knowing full well that he was unable to keep his promise, he has in reality lied. When someone who is about not do good on his promise and would take time to regard Kant’s categorical imperative: ‘could I will that the violation of promise making become a universal law? Kant would say no, because it is only against the background of those who value their words and deliver what they promise that the act of promise making makes any sense. It is against a ‘constant’ reality that ‘motion’ makes any sense. It is against the background of the train station that the passing of a train makes sense. Thus, this person cannot assert that everybody should violate their promises. Let us not forget that we have a duty as rational beings to keep our promises. Do you agree with Kant that this first principle of the categorical imperative should stop the violators of promise making? One of these people, who have the habit of breaking his promises tried to solve the problem by saying, ‘may be’, because once you say, I will, then you’re obligated to commit yourself to your words. However, when you tell your friend may be, at least it would not make him wait and waste his precious time. This is not what Kant would advocate, because he wants you to commit yourself to your words.
As we know, Kant’s first principle doesn’t do very well to stop me from my wrong behavior. According to Kant this kind of rationality could be used in categorical imperatives and would make any rational being obey it. Different versions of Kant’s theory are named deontological theories. Nevertheless, he came up with the kingdom of end, which he thought would solve the problem once for all. We know what some people do to each other on a regular basis. As a singer’s lyrics tell us, some use others and let others use them. Some abuse and let others abuse them. Here Kant is reminded of David Hume who said don’t infer ought from is. Therefore, Kant tells us that we ought not use one another and let others use and abuse us. But honestly, are these principles going to stop us from committing immorality? I guess the lyrics of the song make more sense after Kant’s principles. It sounds like Kant still had a great faith in the impoverished rationalism he had created himself.
He showed us the limitations of the pure reason as a result we cannot know God, our true Self and the reality beyond the appearances. He also tells us that pure reason divides things into opposites: limited reason/ unlimited Reason. It also asks questions it cannot answer. What happened to the unlimited Reason or the Intellect? What did he do with the statement ‘God exists’? He called it an analytic one, because the predicate existence is already in the subject God. Does this mean God doesn’t exist? Well, what do you think? Whether he knew this or not he paved the way for understanding what the Ultimate Reality is. But he turned God into an assumption or postulate. Nonetheless, from our point of view he did something interesting by regarding ‘God exists’ an analytic statement. What is that? You see, the Ultimate Reality is beyond being and non-being. It is beyond existence and non-existence. It is beyond rest and motion. In fact it is beyond any duality you could possibly imagine. Even the name ‘Ultimate Reality’ would limit it in our mind. It cannot be defined, because we would again limit it in our mind. Let us think for a moment about the God and gods we have created for ourselves. May be He or She created us in His or Her image. But we have no right to do the same thing when it comes to God. We need to go beyond this anthropomorphic understanding of God. We try to morph God in our own way. We’re content to shape God in the way we’re as if we’re looking at a mirror. There’re those among us who claim they have spoken with God. There’re also those who tell us when we do something for God, we shall receive in abundance. Of course, it is possible when we help others. We may not do so in order to get something from God. However, when we know we’re doing something right, like helping the Ukrainian people who’re fleeing their home land for fear of being killed. Do I assist them in order to receive some favor from God? If I did, I would be doing business with God. However, if I’m compensated by God, I may expect and be encouraged to do more good. But is this the right morally? Given the categorical imperative of Kant, we ought to give without any expectation otherwise we would fall into the hypothetical imperative of ‘If/then’, which is not where Kant wants us to go. We ought to give whether we receive any from God or Karma. Do we need a postulate God to perform our moral duties? I think Kant believed we should have a Santa figure in the background so our ethics of either/or logic of Aristotle would make some sense. We can shape and form our God and gods based on our opinions. This is exactly what Plato stood against.
The elephant in the room is the world we live in. God is in the room and nowhere. All we must do is ascend on the vertical ladder of Jacob to reach God. Unless we understand the Ultimate Reality even at the abstract level, we’re not going to be able to figure out what Kant had in mind. The opposite of limit is limitless. Although Kant spoke of pure reason being limited, he must have known that there was an unlimited Reason. He must have known that with the help of the unlimited Reason within us we can know the Ultimate Reality but not as we’re. It is through the ray of the sun that we understand the sun. He should have known the only way to Brahman is by Atman in Hinduism. Then why wrestle with the belief in God? It was perhaps because he came from a religious family and had a strong feeling in considering the existence of God.
But what is God? Is it a thing or an entity? If the answer is no, then what is it except no-thing, which is nothing. The Ultimate Reality is even beyond something and nothing. As we mentioned before, our reason divides everything into two. It is a divider and the symbol of many. The Intellect or unlimited Reason is the symbol of oneness, which unites everything. I would know who I’m truly through the unlimited Reason. By talking about the pure reason Kant must have acknowledged the existence of the unlimited Reason. It is sad to hear that he was not interested in music while he and the greatest figure in classical music in the world that is Beethoven were contemporaries. After all he himself was the Beethoven of philosophical thoughts.
Threre’s no doubt Immanuel Kant paved the way for those who followed him such as Schopenhauer, who began seeking the ancient wisdom of Hinduism and Buddhism though he was a follower of Kant and studied him very closely.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), the Swedish scientist, philosopher and mystic (The Random House, Biographical Dictionary) was Kant’s contemporary. However, we hardly read anything about his influence on Kant because perhaps there’s none. Was Kant locked up in his Konigsberg’s bobble separated from the rest of the world? Was he imprisoned in his subjectivism? Perhaps his Copernican revolution was not a revolution after all. Did he put human in the center of the universe intellectually? If this were the case, then why his view of the natural law limited to where ever his mind took him? Let us not forget that his own limited pure reason couldn’t have told us much regarding the natural law beyond his mind. He didn’t make an attempt to know the Ultimate Reality, his true Self and the reality behind and beyond the world of phenomena. But what happened to his religious upbringing? Both his father and mother were very devout pious Christians.
What was going on with this Caduceus, the winged rod around which one or two snakes are coiling, which has wrongly become the medical symbol? The vertical pole is what Plato was pointing in Raffaello Santi’s painting, called ‘The School of Athens’. It is the vertical aspect of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Christ replaces the snake or snakes on the tree of paradise. If the snake, which is the psyche or mind, is left on its own without the support of the staff or Jesus, then we end up with the pure reason of Kant. It seems he was Aristotelian after all at least in the painting. Aristotle walking with Plato is stretching forward with his right hand carrying his book on ethics with his left hand. Unlike Plato the book is not vertically held but is flatly carried, which is very odd way of holding a book referring to ‘the many’ and worldly aspects of life here on earth. Plato is raising his hand from the elbow up toward the ceiling of the Academy where the arcs appear, which they remind us of the term ‘archetype holding his book vertically with his left hand which is a proper way and safer way to carry a book. Aristotle, though hardly wrote is holding his book on ethics, which is a collection of his student’s notes. Here Plato represents philosophy whereas Aristotle stands for ethics.
According to Kant it is ethics that can help us know God not the pure reason of philosophers. Well, this was the direction of Protestantism after it challenged Catholicism. Did Kant himself achieve this goal? I believe he didn’t. His ethics was not Socratic. His ethics was not even Aristotelian either. Either/or logic is not to be used in ethics, according to Aristotle.
His synthetic a priori didn’t give us the knowledge of the experiential world plus the rational world. He said he showed the limitation of pure reason and by so doing he created room for faith. However, as science progressed by way of pure reason, faith descended like the other side of a scale. After all Kant was gifted with the limited reason or pure reason. He used pure reason in order to come up with this picture for the rest of the 19th and 20th centuries. But question remains, how an individual with limited reason or pure reason be able to measure the limitation of reason unless he or she is also gifted with unlimited Reason? We live in the world of relativity, namely, everything is relative to another thing. If I don’t have the knowledge of the whole, then how can I know about the part? Here we smell the perfume of Plato’s Forms, which are in the realm of perfection. This little analysis conveys a message for us that there’s an uncreated Reality within us. Meister Eckhart (c1260-1327?) the German Dominican theologian and mystic once said there’s an uncreated Reality in all of us. (Not exact quotation). The very fact that Kant spoke of pure reason and its limitations shows he was aware of the unlimited Reason or the Intellect.
When Lao-Tzu taught that values were relative, he must have had the Tao or the absolute in mind. Kant, I believe, very cleverly did away with the notion of the personal God by the analytic statement “God exists”. To give Kant the benefit of the doubt, I personally believe he was trying to deny the existence of a God, which was but the creation of the average people. If God created us in His image, the mass also morph God in the way they want. This is the story of the elephant in the dark room. Perhaps Kant was searching for a true God. By turning God into a postulate or assumption, he showed that we ought to look for Saint Nicholas, the bishop in 14th century, the protector of children not our Christmas Santa, the manufacturer of toys for children and the figure humiliated in the world of commercial reality of our time. At the end of the day he didn’t insult his religious parents. May be he had reached a point in his life that he knew the Ultimate Reality didn’t even exist, because it was beyond being and non-being, existence and non-existence, rest and motion. This is not a personal God. It is beyond name and definition, even the name Ultimate Reality has to go. Silence seems to be the only answer here, which cannot be divided. He said he showed the limitation of the pure reason to create a room for faith. However, faith in what? Having faith in the created God? How about having faith in the philosophy of Mr. Immanuel Kant whose limited reason has not helped us to know about death and after life? How about life itself? Where have I come from and where am I going are great philosophical issues with which we have been struggling for thousands of years and still we’re searching for answers. It is 4:25 am and it is cold outside while I’m typing. It is very quiet. Where am I going? There’re many who have lost their lives around me. There’re those who senselessly been killed in Ukraine. Why? Why innocent children have to suffer and get murdered? What crime have they committed to deserve this destiny? Does Kant have an answer for us? I for one have not seen it for the past 49 years studying him. Perhaps there’re some secret writings somewhere of which I have no knowledge. Is it possible he got rid of the personal God of the Bible in order to reset our views regarding our purpose here in this life? We seem to have been lost in Yonkers. When we’re lost we don’t exist and when we’re found we do exist. Reason asks questions it cannot answer, Kant said. But if we don’t ask, we’re like animals. However, how do we know they’re not asking the same questions? Is it just because they’re not rational? Kant becomes a utilitarian thinker when it comes to animals. They’re useful but are not rational. Thank God he didn’t call them automatons like Descartes. Kant, however, was against utilitarianism. But a working dog, the one who is not unemployed, is valuable because it is useful. A shepherd dog is useful because it can help him control his sheep’s. Are not we all living beings? We’re not to turn people into ends for our needs. In other words, we ought not to use or abuse people or let people do the same thing to us. Can’t we just enjoy animals without putting them to work? Some say we have dogs for our safety, because they’re the best security system in the word. Some dogs can also detect cancer and with their sense of smell find those who’re running away from police. However, dogs are also in danger helping the police and us. Their lives were in jeopardy sniffing bombs in Vietnam and especially when we left these beautiful trained canines behind.
In Taoism the Tao exists not only in all living beings but in all creatures in the universe. The Ultimate Reality is in the essence of everything, rational or non-rational. Was Kant aware of Eastern philosophy and Religions at all? Noah brought a pair of many or all animals on board of the ark. They are good companions but their very presence is more important than their usefulness in our lives. Kant didn’t want to bring them on the board of his closed system of subjectivism. His mind didn’t seem to have been open to non-rational animals.
Have we been hard on Kant? I don’t think so. I can’t expect more of a thinker who didn’t leave his town in order to experience the world. There have been philosophers who spent years in different cultures to get to know them.
At times he comes so close to even say that if we couldn’t reach God through ethics in our life time, we don’t have to worry, because we shall get there in our next life.
In his categorical imperative he almost spoke the language of Krishna, the Avatar of Vishnu when he had a dialogue with Arjuna in Bhagavad-Gita. Krishna tells Arjuna, give without expectation. The gladiator Maximus in the movie saved the life of the retired gladiator from Gaul while the Emperor signaled to kill him. He defied the order of the Emperor without expectation. He could have killed him but he didn’t. One of the observers shouted, Maximus, Maximus you’re so merciful. This is remarkable that intellectually Kant almost made it. Who knows, may be Schopenhauer picked up this sent from Kant’s works after he had studied Hinduism and Buddhism for a while. Perhaps these events triggered the search in Eastern philosophy for answers to many of our questions. Of course, we cannot by pass the Islamic philosophy of which Kant had no Idea except what he learned from the Muslim and Persian thinkers who had been a great influence on Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Muslim philosophers had their own thoughts regarding many of Kant’s intellectual struggles. Unfortunately there was no connection between them and Kant. Nonetheless, when we study the Islamic thinker’s thoughts we realize where Kant had gone wrong. At least Kant didn’t fall off the precipice as, I believe, Hegel did after him.
I believe Kant had reached a point in his life where Religion with its personal God had lost its value. This was very much detected by the great mind like Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) in the 18th century while he was in Paris before the French revolution.
Protestantism’s emphasis was on faith alone and ethics as it was leaving Catholicism behind. Kant was part of the Protestant movement. Reformation must have played a great role in the mind of Immanuel Kant. He wanted to show that Thomas Aquinas wrong in proving the existence of God. Well, the major problem Kant must have had was the personal God of the Bible. But Thomas also mentioned that you can find God even in nature, which David Hume was so adamantly against. Hume paved the way for Kant to attack Thomas. Once Kant refuted those proofs he then showed that the statement ‘God exists is analytic, that is, the predicate ‘existence’ is already in the belly of the subject ‘God’. So here we have existence removed from God. God is now only a postulate or assumption. Anecdotally or sarcastically we have Sana on our hand. Kant tells us that pure reason is limited in its functions. It is neutral so it can go either way like a pendulum in the grandpa clock. It is good for science or theoretical science. It cannot know God, true Self and the reality beyond the phenomenon realm. Kant says he showed the limitation of the pure reason so there would be room for faith, which is a protestant agenda. However, what would morality be without faith or Religion? When Kant brings science into metaphysics and ethics, he also brought either/or logic of Aristotle with it. Ethics is not science as Aristotle stressed. With Kant, however, you either lie or you don’t. There is not a gray area between the two. For Aristotle on the other hand courage is the middle way between being rash and being coward. This is what Kant was missing.
As much as we want to use Aristotle’s either/or logic in the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments, we find out that we’re unable to do so. The reason being, these commandments are not subject to our mind structure. They’re vertical in their nature. We cannot restrict them within the confinement of our rational framework. For example, when one of them says, thou shall not commit adultery, this doesn’t mean you either do or not. Here there seems to be a neither/nor logic involved. Don’t be a rash person and don’t be a coward one but be a courageous individual. Bravery is the middle path between the two. Is this a geometrical point between the two extremes the answer is no? This is like the non-digital scale, which used to be more visible in doctor’s offices or hospitals. Here we’re dealing with the balance between the two extremes. Courage is the balance between rashness and cowardice. Walking on a tight rope needs to a balance between moving to the right and left while holding a long stick. A steelyard acts almost the same way as the old fashion doctor’s scale does. In Kant’s categorical imperative he tries to turn ethics into a scientific project. He was looking for the exactness and precision used in Science. But morality is not in the realm of precision. It is not science. It belongs to metaphysics. We ought to separate the two fields. Even Hume warned us against inferring ‘ought’ from ‘is’. For some reason Friedrich Nietzsche had a feeling about this ethics that cannot become subject to scientific inquiry. Perspectivism has been attributed to Nietzsche. However, he had never come up with it. This has been used in moral relativism. This means we shouldn’t jump on the bandwagon and judge people. When we look at events from different perspectives, we will not hurry into judgments. Perhaps the crowd, who accused a woman called Mary Magdalene of adultery, did exactly that. They were quick in their judgment. They also tried to kill one commandment with another, that is, thou shall not commit adultery with thou shall not murder. We ought to separate physics from metaphysics and not mix up the two. I believe this was Kant’s biggest mistake in his philosophy. Whether or not this was the case, we shouldn’t forget the results of his thoughts in the history of philosophy.
Aristotle, on the other hand, believed in the natural law in which ‘is’ and ‘ought’ are very much together. Nature is what it ought to be. The ancient Greeks drew their values from the natural law. What is natural in us is an objective Reality. What is my true Self is an objective Reality. By way of analogy, it is the ray of the sun in me. It is that uncreated Reality within us. It corresponds to the objective reality outside of us. In this realm things are what they ought to be. However, once Aristotle organized logic, he separated the theoretical science from practical one. Either/or logic, he argued, belonged to the former not to the latter. In other words, he separated ‘is’ from ‘ought’. How could he do such a thing? Let us not forget the fact that in the objective world of nature whether in us or outside of us ‘is’ and ‘ought’ are not separated. Threre’s no duality in this realm. But in the logical space we divide and conquer. Aristotle, however, realized that ethics was not like science to work on either/or logic. Morality is about neither/nor reality like ‘don’t be rash and don’t be coward, be courageous’. There is no distinction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ in the natural. But here Aristotle argued that science and ethics are not to be one reality. This is perhaps where David Hume drew his conclusion from when he said we cannot infer ought from is. In other words, let us not mix up science with ethics. Kant, nevertheless, created a unity between the two by bringing in the logic of either/or into the realm of morality. In a word, he bridged the gap between mind and body of Descartes by some kind of reductionism. He made ethics to be part of the scientific reality. Therefore, even morality can be the subject matter of mind with all its restrictions, namely, either/or logic. In science we use both mind and body. But in ethics we have no right to interfere with the objective reality where we’re free of the bondage of mind. To his credit, Hume didn’t do what Kant did. Hume was following Aristotle in this matter. No wonder why some scholars of ethics have decided to return to Aristotle’s virtue ethics.
I hope I have been fair to Immanuel Kant and his philosophy.
(Philosophy, 100 essential thinkers by Philip Stokes)