Kant and the problem of Lying
by Dr. Parviz Dehghani
Why was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), this 18th century Prussian, German Philosopher, interested in the ethical and moral phenomenon of lying? Lying can both save lives and also destroy them. It is a double- edged sword.
With limited pure reason, he couldn’t know God, his true Self, and thing in itself, namely, the Reality beyond what appears to us or the phenomenal world.
So, in his theoretical science or wisdom he is unable to penetrate the wall standing between this world and the hidden one.
Of course, unless he knew the unlimited Reason, there was no way he could have known about the limited one. But did he know it? Nevertheless, given his assessment, he opened the door to the practical science or wisdom for faith. Was he trying to tell us that through ethics and morality we can get to know God? If this is what he thought would be the path to the knowledge of God, true self, and thing in itself, I’m afraid, he must have been very naïve. He said, however, by showing the limitation of pure reason, he was trying to create room for faith. But faith in what or who, in a God who can’t be known or whose existence does not add anything to it? What is the use of faith without knowledge? “Father, forgive them, for they know what they do”. (Christ on the cross) Now I have my faith in a God who is nothing but a postulate or assumption. What was Kant thinking about? All he had to do was to intelligently deal with the name God, which in some sense is nothing but a title. This is a term that changes from one culture to another when it comes to language. We also know that names and definitions limit this Ultimate Reality in our mind. So, by considering the statement, “God exists” analytic, we’re removing ‘existence’ from the equation, because it is already in the subject, which is God Himself. This is just fine because being non-dualistic; the Ultimate Reality is already beyond being and non-being. Therefore, logically, grammatically, and technically it doesn’t exist. Etymologically this word means ‘outstanding’ or ‘standing out’. Perhaps it means it is standing outside of the realm of the world of becoming. In other word, it belongs to the abode of transcendence. Thus, when I say, ‘God exists’, do we mean God is transcendent? By comparison, however, ‘existence’ can’t be in the heart of the Ultimate Reality due to the fact that it would bring its own opposite, which means duality. The problem with the analytic statement of Kant is that this God carries ‘existence’ within itself, which is a dual reality. Perhaps Lao Tzu, the Chinese sage and one of the founders of Taoism, was right when he said: “It is hidden but always present. I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than God”. “Since before time and space were, the Tao is. It is beyond is and is not. How do I know this is true? I look inside myself and see.” (Tao Te Ching, chapter 4 and 21). This Ultimate Reality is beyond the verbs, to be and not to be. It is beyond being and non-being. Therefore, this God, the one you and I have a concept of, is referring to the Ultimate Reality but it is not that Reality. However, we use this term ‘existence’ for almost everything else. Perhaps it just doesn’t work for a reality like God, which is unknown. So, something is not working here.
By regarding this statement analytic, we’re taking away the term ‘Existence’ from it. If we do that, then does this mean God is transcendent like the Ultimate Reality? I believe we’re saying the word ‘existence’ is totally unnecessary here, because by mentioning the term ‘God’ we’re implicitly accepting its existence without being forced to use the word ‘existence’ at the end. By just uttering this name we’re aware that it exists. But where it is? The answer is perhaps its concept exists in our mind while it is referring to the Ultimate Reality, which is beyond all names, including the word ‘Ultimate Reality’ itself. The concept of God is referring to the tetrahedron of reality, the sign of the CITGO gas station. I can also see it when I look at the corners of my ceiling where spiders like to check into and wait for their next meals. But this doesn’t happen in every room in the house, simply because those corners are blocked by certain carved pieces of wood. This is perhaps to stop the spiders from creating their nets for fishing. All names and titles refer to that Reality, that very corner, which is nameless, because names limit. One whole chapter in the holy Qur’an is named ‘Spider’. The Ultimate Reality can’t be named. It just doesn’t make any sense to name it. Do you see the complication here? If we don’t interpret the word as pointing to transcendence, then we consider God as any reality that exists in the universe, because I as well as many things exist. Am I on the same level as God? In spite of the fact that there were objections in putting Christ on the same level as God the father and the holy spirit in Nicene Creed, 325 A.D., perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea. The reason being, all three are referring to the same ultimate Reality. The point of reference here is the Ultimate Reality for all three of them. They’re all on the same level at the bottom of the pyramid of the tetrahedron. They’re on a disk. Some argue that all three are but names for referring to the same Reality. They’re very much like three masks of Brahman in Hinduism. Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva are these masks. In the realm of spirit, the Avatar Krishna could be fully man and fully God. Jesus could also be fully man and fully God in the spiritual world, not in the physical form. Buddha was not ubiquitous in his physical body. It is in the realm of spirit where we’re dealing with the super- logical reality. It is in this realm that finally and at the moment of death he reached Pari-Nibbana in which he was fully man and fully the Ultimate Reality. Let us remember, we’re witnessing how the One manifests itself in many in case of Christ. One and many are finally One, even though makes no logical sense, because One is One and many is many. Then how can One be many, and many be One? Water is one, but we see it in different forms, namely, ice, snow, and steam or vapor. The sun or white light penetrates a prism, and then we can see the spectrum on the wall. The sun reaches the ocean, and then we observe a golden vibrating mass of water before our eyes. The same thing is true of the moon. Imagine, if we were to count those particles of broken lights, how many would they be? Perhaps this was the reason Thales, the first pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, chose water as the most fundamental element the world was made of. The essence is water but later it turns into different forms. What is going on? I wish I knew the truth.
We read in the holy Qur’an, chapter, ‘The Unity’ that God is One. This God has a name. We have to call the Ultimate Reality by some name. The name of this God is ‘Allah’. Being named, it is limited in our mind, because it is now on the same level as anything else that have names. However, God or Allah isn’t an object to have a name. Therefore, using name for such a Reality is superfluous or unnecessary. Now Allah is One. Allah is Samad. What is Samad? This is 64000 dollars question. There is not a word in English language, which can explain what this term is. However, it has been translated as, “God, the Eternally sufficient unto Himself.” (The study Qur’an, trans by S.H. Nasr). This chapter is so important in the holy Qur’an that is recited and repeated in canonical prayers by the Muslims many times during the day. But nonetheless, it is explained in the next verse. “He begets not; nor was He begotten. And none is like unto Him (S.H. Nasr). Samad in Arabic is that to which nothing can be added and from which nothing can be subtracted. It is that to which nothing can be inserted and from which nothing can be extracted. We can’t know its essence. We don’t know what it is. Its very existence and essence are one. I exist, and my essence is that I’m a male human being. My existence and essence are separate from each other. This Reality can’t accept duality. It is One and it is unique. This is where the definition of Samad comes in, in that, He doesn’t give birth; nor was He given birth. Nothing comes out of Him; He didn’t come from anything. A woman is born from her mother and she can give birth. A man is born from his mother and he can impregnate a woman through his sperms. The analogy of woman’s anatomy here is astonishing. It is a solid whole. If something is added to Him, then it would create a duality. On the other hand, if something is subtracted from Him, then it is also an indication that there is a duality in Him. Here by ‘Him’ we mean the Ultimate Reality. This can’t be called an Ultimate Being, unless ‘Being’ would be interpreted as Platonic Form, just like, humanity, beauty, goodness, and generosity. These Platonic Forms are perfect and transcendent. At the level of the world of becoming, which is where we are, we participate in those Forms, though we’re not perfect. For example, if I’m good as well as my students, we all take part in the Form of goodness. The world reflects the transcendent realm. The problem with Plato’s Form of Being is that it is not the Ultimate Reality. Plato needed a fixed reality as Parmenides, so he could define the world of becoming of Heraclitus. His Forms don’t change. His highest Form was the Form of Goodness. But if he were to go for the Ultimate Reality, he wouldn’t be able to explain why there was change and becoming at our level, because the Ultimate Reality is beyond rest and motion and being and non-being. Therefore, it doesn’t even exist. So, he had no choice but to come up with a transcendent realm in which there is no change. Plato, to my humble opinion, couldn’t hold his position in bridging the gap between Heraclitus’ claim that everything changes except change itself and nothing changes, according to Parmenides. In reality, if this is the case about the former, and if he meant by ‘change itself’ what Plato argued later on to be the Form of change, then there’s no need for the latter figure, that is, Parmenides. However, did Heraclitus have Plato’s Form in mind, if he had said ‘change itself’, though he was a pre-Socrates thinker? Had he, in other word, anticipated Plato’s Forms way ahead of time? Perhaps he did, but we’re not 100% sure. Given the lack of information, we’re not even certain Heraclitus himself ever came up with this idea. It is possible that Parmenides being older than him, he criticized his philosophy of motion and change as a result of which Heraclitus reformed his thought and appealed to the concept of ‘change’ itself. He then realized that ‘concept’ was not going to do it, because it is formed in the mind. He needed to approach it through transcendence. Consequently, he argued that everything is in motion except motion itself or everything is changing but ‘change’ itself. This was the only way he could prove his argument for ‘becoming’. If the Form of ‘change’ were beyond rest and motion, then the world of becoming wouldn’t make any logical sense. Things are constantly changing, which gives us the word ‘constant’. So perhaps ‘change’ is only constant, not Plato’s Form. Let us think about the following: Either something is or is not. If it is, then it is and if it is not, then it is becoming. If it is becoming, then it is not. Look at ‘is not’ that repeats twice. We can never step into the same river twice. Cratylus, the teacher of Plato and student of Heraclitus responded by saying that there’s no river to step into. Nagarjuna, the Mahayana Buddhist philosopher of the second century A.D came to almost the same conclusion in response to Buddha who had said there’s nothing in the universe that is not subject to change. After all, Parmenides held that motion is an illusion. Hindus believed the whole world of reality is ‘Maya’, namely, an illusion. As we can see, it sounds like Parmenides has the last word here. Then what happens to Plato’s philosophy here? Apparently, he had no option but to choose Heraclitus over Parmenides.
Thus, we prefer to use the word ‘Ultimate Reality’ rather than ‘Ultimate Being’. This is where the holy Qur’an rejects the anthropomorphic view of the Ultimate Reality. The ‘Shahadah’ in Arabic or ‘Shahadat’ in Persian starts with attesting that there is no deity but Allah. It negates in order to assert that Allah is the Ultimate Reality, which means anything else is imperfect, namely, everything is in the process of change and becoming, except the Ultimate Reality that is beyond being and non-being, rest and motion, existence and non-existence, and any binary reality. This is where a Semitic Religion like Islam meets a non-Semitic one like Hinduism, when it comes to Brahman. Ali al Hamadani, the great Persian Sufi or Muslim mystic and La La Yogish Venaara, this saintly woman, used to meet in Kashmir, which is in the northern part of India. This is symbolically of great importance. Although Plato believed in reincarnation, which perhaps was an influence of Hinduism on him, but when it came to explain why there were change and motion, I’m afraid, he failed. If he had just focused on the reality of Brahman, I believe, he would have reached a different conclusion. With Plato, our concepts of those Forms correspond to their realities, which are transcendent. For Aristotle, who didn’t believe in Plato’s Forms, those concepts correspond to the realities of Plato’s Forms in the world.
We went through all of these logical and philosophical speculations concerning the reality of God and the Ultimate Reality in order to clarify Kant’s position here. We went all the way to ancient India, Greece, and Islam world to search for what the Ultimate Reality was for them.
Having refuted all the proofs for the existence of God, Immanuel Kant began using his philosophical arguments against the existence of God in a different way. He said, an analytic statement basically means the predicate is already present in the subject. For instance, “All bachelors are unmarried people” or “All triangles have three angles” are examples of analytic statements. They’re redundant as you can see. So, if the statement “God exists” is an analytic one, then the predicate ‘existence’ is already in the subject God. As we can see, ‘God’ is only a title for all of the Abrahamic Religions. By no means ‘existence’ of this term indicates transcendence of God. Thus, being analytic, God as it is, is not transcendent. This title is at most referring to the Ultimate Reality. Even this very name itself is referring to the Reality. Being named, cannot be transcendent. Perhaps we can conclude that just because something simply exists, it does not mean it is transcendent. This would mean we should not use the word ‘existence’ for the Ultimate Reality. When I see the sun, I don’t need any proof that there is one. The very fact that it is there is the proof of its existence. However, we can’t say the same thing for God. Experience is what Kant missed. The esoteric and mystics believe in experiencing the Ultimate Reality rather than reading about it. I can read about a famous perfume. However, unless I smell it, I can’t know it. If I can’t know God, given Kant’s language, with limited pure reason, this would only mean I have no access to the unlimited one. Once I don’t know the reality of the Ultimate, then I begin formulating my moral theory in the absence the truth and with the postulate of God. Now you know how related the Ultimate Reality is to true ethics. According to Kant, predicate ‘existence’ is already in the subject God. But I’m unable to see God while I can see the sun, because even God’s reference point is the sun or the Ultimate Reality. Otherwise God becomes only a concept in my mind, which doesn’t correspond to anything, not even the Ultimate Reality. This God becomes like Plato’s Forms, which are only in our mind, for Aristotle, which correspond to their realities in the world. By the time we get to the Nominalists, they don’t even do that either. Then what are they? They’re only names. Therefore, the term God is only a name and it exists only as a name. Finally, we come to the conclusion that if there’s an Ultimate Reality, it can’t be named or else it is limited, because has now dropped into the realm of names and definitions just like anything else.
Now, where are my ethics and morality based on according to Kant? Is the God of Immanuel Kant responsible as to whether I’m moral or not? How can a postulate or assumption be a strong foundation for ethics?
What happens to the God who has revealed the sacred scriptures of the Abrahamic Religions, that is, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam? By faith we read them and obey their moral instructions. Then we find contradictions in our following them. They may not be inconsistent, but since we’re not ready to let them reveal their hidden messages, they don’t seem transparent. We read into them. We interpret them anthropomorphically. Perhaps we should have raised the bar rather than the easy access to this God. God may have created us in His image, but we ought not return the favor and create Him in ours. We think God is like us who can come to us as Avatars like Krishna. Christ, to the Hindus, was an Avatar. However, we forget the transcendent aspects of these Avatars. This way of imagining god is written in our languages. Nevertheless, we forget that in Hinduism, the Ultimate Reality, in its Nirguna nature, is devoid of human qualities.
When we were children, it was much easier to hold on to our faiths. But as we grow up, we try to understand them. We now have left our childlike faiths and are moving on to the level of questioning what we have been dearly cherishing for a long time and in our youth.
According to a great scholar, there was a period called ‘Axial age’. This was roughly between 200 to 600 B.C.E, when an intellectual movement emerged in the history of mankind, in which great minds, all the way from philosophers and religious luminaries began questioning what they had previously been believing as the truth concerning why we’re here and what is the purpose of life and being and what we ought to do to safely free ourselves from this world of imperfection and suffering. These great thinkers dared to challenge the authority of the past wisdom traditions. Job was one of them in the Bible who questioned God regarding his predicaments. Why, for example, bad things happen to good people and vice versa? In the absence of the belief in ‘Karma’ by the Hindus, we really have a challenge ahead of us. Why did Jacob have to thrive while Esau had to suffer? This was so clear when God says that He loved Jacob and hated Esau. Why those who are struggling to be good have to be harassed by those who’re evil? Is there justice in the world? Where is fairness in the universe? Aren’t we living in a moral universe? Aren’t the vertical and horizontal threads of this loom meeting each other in righteousness of the cross? This spinning samsaric cross, though the place of suffering, it is also where our souls encounter their resurrections into other forms. This Ferris wheel of death and rebirth has been revolving clock wise forever. With all four points of the cross burning and spinning clock wise, it creates what is called swastika. Once the smoke follows each point they give you true sign of well-being, which is literal definition of this term. Counter clock wise produces Nazi emblem. We keep going around till one day we’ll be shooting out of this cycle like Buddha. This is best demonstrated in the symbol of a car named ‘Volvo’, in which an arrow is exiting out of the circle. You might be asking: why are we going through this much length to explain the moral fabric of the universe? After all, what does Kant’s categorical imperative have to do with all this when it comes to lying? This is a very good question, if you were asking or you were intending to ask. However, I have been trying to set the stage metaphysically to show
morality is not necessarily a logical and rational enterprise, which seems to have been Kant’s position right from very beginning. For him ‘lying’, in and of itself, is contradictory. When I lie, I know the truth. How can something be true and not be true at the same time and in the same relationship? Son, where are you right now? I’m in the library mama studying for my tomorrow exam. I know I’m lying to my mother, because I’m at a restaurant with my girl friend. How can I be in two places at once, unless I’m ubiquitous? If there is a café at the library or bookstore like Barns & Noble, I could get away by saying that I’m at a bookstore while I’m in the cafeteria having a conversation with my girl friend. There’re ways we can maneuver in order not to technically tell a lie. Nonetheless, I know something can’t be true and not true at the same time and in the same relationship. As we can see, there’s a contradiction imbedded in lying. To Kant moral is rational and vice versa. For him, unlike Aristotle, rationality of either/or logic becomes the foundation of ethics. There is no non-geometrical middle way between either p or q. In other words, there’s no gray area between black or white. We, however, see that happening in Aristotle’s ethics when it comes to the idea of courage. We should neither be rash, nor coward. We ought to be brave. There must be a balance between the two extremes. In a word, while Aristotle uses neither/nor logic for ethics, Kant makes use of the theoretical science of either/or logic. Either you lie, or you don’t, is what defines Kant’s morality. This leads Kant to his so called, ‘Absolutism’.
If you had a very strict boss, you would be more inclined to lie, when you’re asked why you were absent. Who is the cause of your lying here? You would say that you didn’t want to lie but he made me. You became determined to lie; thus, it isn’t your fault that you committed such an act. The question is: What is your moral responsibility here? By no means, would Kant accept this from you. First of all, you would fall into the hypothetical imperative camp of ‘if/then’, which isn’t Kant’s position. His philosophy is what he named it as ‘Categorical imperative’, which is very much like the Decalogue or Ten Commandments, namely, just don’t lie regardless. There’s no condition here, because with it comes ‘if/then’, which is based on results and consequences. Immanuel Kant is a non-consequentialist moral thinker. Results and consequences are not significant factors in his ethics.
The truth Jesus talks about in the New Testament is not the logical truth. This truth is that very Atman the Hindus believed in for thousands of years. Atman is the Reality, which is uncreated, eternal, and infinite. This Reality exists within us. It is a ray from the sun, the Ultimate Reality, which is Atman. This is the truth that shall free us from bondage and slavery. This truth has nothing to do with the rational truth Kant is talking about.
Natural law is a non-consequentialist reality. It is about the morality which is beyond results and consequences. It is about what is right. It is about what is objective and not subjective. It is not mind-dependent reality. Undisciplined mind is not pure, according to Buddha. For Kant, it divides and constantly asks questions it is unable to answer.
It projects its categories on the outside world, very much like when we’re in the Movie Theater waiting to watch the movie, which is yet to start. The screen is white with nothing on it. However, when a few guys get off their seats to go out for some reasons, we can see their shadows across the screen. Even though the movie is yet to start, the moving images are shown on the screen that is in front of us. This reminds us of Plato’s allegory of the cave. Here the shadows of the people in the balcony are on the wall before the chained individuals sitting below. These images are created by those who walk or run in front of a bonfire that is located in the upper area or balcony.
To put it in another way, imagine, the screen is a wide mirror reflecting the viewers rather than showing the movie. As much as we can see ourselves and our movements in the mirror, those, in Plato’s cave, who’re moving in front of the bonfire in the upper location as well as those who’re chained on the lower section are able to look at those shadows on the wall, which are created by the former.
In Kant’s philosophy, our mind paints over the objective reality by printing its own structures. Our mind, in other words, creates an artificial environment for us, which is not the objective reality. Therefore, the world reflects the categories of man’s mind. Now the world adopts the same color as the pair of glasses I’m wearing. The world is my construct. This is Immanuel Kant’s subjectivism. This is my world, according to him. Now the question remains as to whether Kant’s world is identical with that of Aristotle’s. The answer is relatively easy. As long as Kant is working within the realm of the mind, objective reality doesn’t exist for him as we know it, or it is what he called it noumenonal world. Aristotle’s attitude towards the natural law was one of objectivity. Natural law was non-consequentialist for him. Kant is also a non-consequentialist in his ethics. However, there’s no flexibility in Kant’s categorical imperative, namely, either/or logic of the theoretical science is the law of the ethics here. In contrast, Aristotle doesn’t make use of the either/or logic in his ethics. He rather uses the neither/nor logic in his morality. You should neither be rash, nor coward. You ought to be brave and courageous. Immanuel Kant claims to be a non-consequentialist thinker. He avoids hypothetical imperative because it deals with results and consequences and operates with If/then or conditional language. His position is categorical imperative, which reminds us of the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments, except the fact that Mosaic laws are divine. Positive laws should correspond to the natural law, which in turn it corresponds to the Divine laws. In the absence of the God he doesn’t know, he had to create his own laws that are not hypothetically imperative. When God asked Adam and eve not to touch the tree, nor eat from its fruits, He commanded like He did in the Decalogue, which reminds us of Kant’s categorical imperative. But once God explains as to why He didn’t want them to get near that particular tree, He appealed to what Kant called ‘Hypothetical imperative’ statements. God said: If you do, then you’ll die or be punished. Of course, they didn’t die a biological death. It is possible they died from within or of a spiritual death. However, once results and consequences were involved, it would be very difficult to predict the future. Of course, they were punished but not by death. We know that past, future, and present have no meaning for God. But let us not forget that the Bible was written for us. Perhaps Kant took the story of Genesis very seriously and stayed away from the hypothetical imperative statements. Even God didn’t use them any longer as if He was conveying a message here. It is better to stay with a direct command, like ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’, not for this reason or that reason. In the Ten Commandments, God avoids ‘whys’. He didn’t have to explain why He did what he did.
In ‘Bhagavad-Gita’ Krishna, the avatar or incarnation of Vishnu, asks Arjuna not to expect anything in return once he gives. This is the stage way above Karma, which means action and its consequences. This is called ‘Karma yoga’, that is, once we discipline our actions, we can then reach the Ultimate Reality. We ought to become selfless in our actions here. In contrast, with Karma, we’ll get the results of our actions automatically. It is more like a business affair, which was what the ancient Hindus believed in. For example, in ancient times, the Hindus would make sacrifices for the gods by killing animals. These burnt offerings were done in the spirit of receiving rain for their farms in return. However, by the time we reach the Upanishad period, we see actions were interpreted in a more mystical, philosophical, metaphorical, allegorical, and symbolical ways. For instance, sacrificing an animal meant controlling and disciplining your ego. This is called ‘Karma yoga’. Kant’s categorical imperative resembles this particular teaching of Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita. In a dialogue between Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu, and Arjuna, we understand that the highest form of action is when you act without any expectation. You don’t give because there’s something in it for you. Thus, it is a non-consequential action. If Karma was a consequential act, Karma yoga is the opposite. The natural law is a non-consequential reality. Things are the way they ought to be. There’s no gap between ‘is’ and ‘ought’, in other words. The gap exists for David Hume (1711-76), the 18th century Scottish philosopher. This division comes to existence when mind is the only reality we know of. Kant was influenced by Hume. However, at first it doesn’t seem to be the case that there was a gap between the two for Kant. Let us not forget, however, that Kant’s subjectivism doesn’t allow him to know beyond the scope of the mind. Thus, the gap exists for Kant too as well as for Hume. Natural law perhaps has no meaning for him, and yet he calls himself a non-consequentialist thinker when it comes to ethics. Kant, following Hume believed there was a gap between ‘is’ and ‘ought’. In other words, we can’t infer ‘ought’ from ‘is’. Nature or the world is in the territory of ‘is’ reflecting my categories. If this is the case, then I have no access to the objective reality because my limited pure reason is unable to go beyond my mind. Therefore, I’m locked up in my own mind. Is this solipsism Descartes was afraid of? This means “The theory that the self can be aware of nothing but its own experiences and states” (New World Dictionary). Descartes knew he had to prove the existence of God first in order to be able to refer to the world outside of our mind. But for Kant ‘God exists’ is an analytic statement. He rejected all of Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God. He argued that the only way to know God is through practical science, namely, ethics. Arjuna didn’t have to do that because Krishna was an incarnation of god Vishnu. Krishna was like Christ to Christians, by and large. We need more than morality to reach the Ultimate Reality. We need knowledge, love, and Karma yoga plus psycho-physical practices, that is, Patanjali yoga to reach the Ultimate Reality, according to Hinduism. Here we go beyond the personal gods, goddesses, and God. If God of Moses asks me not to lie, I tend to accept its authority. When Krishna asked Arjuna to do his duty, he acknowledged the reality of this avatar. However, when there is no God, then by what authority am I to avoid lying? In other words, what is going to stop me from what is wrong, provided lying is not a right thing to do at all no matter what occasion? The Ultimate Reality also doesn’t exist because it’s beyond being and non-being. So, calling it, ‘Ultimate Being’, I’m afraid, it is not a right thing to do. Nevertheless, its representative has come to Arjuna. How come Jesus, the avatar of God head didn’t reveal itself to Kant? By logically analyzing the word, ’Lying’ to see whether it’s contradictory by nature or not we can’t create an authority. People lie left and right without any fear all the time. Rationality can’t stop me from lying. We need more than that to stay away from lying. There’re times we have no choice but to lie. If the natural law doesn’t approve my wrong doing, I still tend to go along with it. However, Kant’s rationalism is not able to stop me from lying, whether or not it is his first principle or second or third, they still can’t convince me not to lie. According to Kant moral is rational, and rational is moral. Nonetheless, what works is right for many individuals, so if lying works, why should I abstain from it? Lying can save lives and it can turn a war into peace. There have been studies done to figure out how many lies our president, Donald Trump, his immediate family, and those around him have told people in the past year since his inauguration. The number is so staggering that would make one cringe. Other presidents and many people lie on a regular basis, but this doesn’t make right. If lying is wrong, then two wrongs don’t make it right. This is a logical fallacy.
Pure reason is neutral. It can help me to feed the poor and it can also show me how to rob a bank. How can I trust this reason to help me not to lie? I would have confidence in the Intellect or Atman but not this, so-called, limited reason. Only a limited reason can project limited world, which is my construct and is mistakenly named ‘Natural law’. This world has nothing to do with the Natural law Aristotle and his predecessors believed in. What they appealed to for their moral conducts was not mind –dependent reality. Immanuel Kant’s natural law is his own mind. He doesn’t speak of the unlimited reason based on which he could then tell us about the imperfection of the pure reason. How can he even talk about the Natural law when the only world he knows is the extension of his mind and his categories? How can he argue that his moral position involves non-consequentiality? How can he say, don’t lie regardless of the results and consequences, lest we might fall into the abyss of the hypothetical imperative? He can’t hold his position regarding the categorical imperative. Therefore, he has no choice but resort to the hypothetical imperative. Hypothetical imperative deals with real and common-sense world. Ideal non-conditional reality belongs only to the objective world of the Natural law, which is the source of morality for those who believe in the Natural law. Kant’s so called natural law is subjective, which to put it mildly absurd. Kant’s absolutism is doomed to fail. No wonder many modern ethicists are turning back to Aristotle’s virtue ethics. Aristotle’s ethics enjoys from the flexibility, which is absent in Kant’s action ethics when it comes to either/or logic. Aristotle’s virtue ethics is about one’s being and character while Kant’s action ethics concerns what is right or duty for duty’s sake. One might say Kant’s position here could easily be the result of Aristotle’s virtue ethics with the exception that a man or woman of character and virtue is a person who doesn’t see everything in either black or white but takes the shade of gray into consideration too. While Kant is stock with his God as postulate, Aristotle believes in the pure Form or the unmoved mover and uncaused cause or God. Aristotle has hands on the objectivity of the Natural law while Kant is lost in the maze of his mind and subjectivism. One Kant’s biggest mistake was the fact that he used either/or logic of Aristotle’s theoretical science or wisdom for his ethics, something that even Aristotle himself avoided. Real life is so different from the life of the mind. As long as our mind is not pure, according to Buddha, we can’t penetrate the objective world. The world out there is not about black or white, but it is a world in which there’s a room for gray color. If Kant speaks from his imperfect and limited pure reason, then his teaching can’t be coming from the source of perfection. How can I trust his maxim and advices? Kant’s position on lying appears at first to be convincing. However, his rationalism and subjectivism don’t help us here.
What really was the source morality among the early Greeks was the Natural law. Antigone takes issue with her step father on exactly the same topic. Between the two brothers, one was for his step father in the war and the other against him. Both got killed in the battle. Favoring the step son, who was for him, he had him buried with respect, while the other brother’s body was to be thrown in front of the dogs. Antigone interfered and told her step father she ought to bury her brother. Antigone argued that she should follow the Natural law, which is model for her ethics. Step father objected to this act. This argument between the two should explain the difference between the objectivity of the Natural law and subjectivity of the mind of her step father. Yours is a matter of black or white. But mine is the gray aspect of life, which is consistent with the nature of the Natural law and its objectivity. Just as Antigone defied her step father’s order, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas also rejected the authority of the mind by following the Natural law. The natural law, for Thomas, ought to correspond to the Divine law.
Buddha encouraged his followers to purify their minds, so they can become one with the reality of the outside world. Once our mind is purified, it can then correspond with the Natural law. An unpurified mind is like the water of Hudson River. It looks beautiful from the outside, but it is contaminated from the inside. In other words, the unpurified mind is not worth having, just like what Socrates said about the unexamined life.
Having read a translation of Hume’s works from English into German, Kant tried to move a bit away from his dogmatic slumber concerning Rationalism. By showing the limitation of pure reason, he tried to somewhat down grade the importance of the age of enlightenment’s glorification of reason. He made an attempt to bridge the gap between Empiricism and Rationalism, experience and reason. He said that not all knowledge comes from experience, which sounds like he is saying that some do. Perhaps he wanted to convey that not all knowledge comes from reason or mind. Knowledge begins with experience but doesn’t come from it. Thomas Aquinas once said: There’re is nothing in the Intellect that has not been in the senses before or there is nothing in the Intellect which is not already in the senses. It seems as if Kant was returning to what Thomas had argued centuries ago but in a different way. We’re only induced by experiencing the world to deliver knowledge, and our reason, like a coffee brewer, will organize everything through the categories. I guess he didn’t want to be completely cut off from the world of reality. Kant seems to be saying that though I have the innate categories in my mind, they are still to become activated by the outside world. When Hume argues that we learn about causality by observation, Kant, in contrast, would believe that we already are innately equipped with the category of causality and that is why we can see this in the world. The emphasis is shifted back to the mind and its categories. The realm of experience is the territory of hypothetical imperative. It is where everything is conditional. It is where if/then, results, and predictions are the world of uncertainty. He seems to have been frightened by the natural law and the world out there. Hume, though, an empiricist, he was not too happy with the world either. On the one hand, Hume was attacking the rationalists; on the other hand, he was suspicions of the empiricist’s agenda. He argued that we can never have a direct or an immediate perception of the connection between cause and effect. This is where he criticizes Rationalism. For Rationalists there’s a relation between cause and effect. Just because one thing follows another, to Hume, it doesn’t mean a cause has produced an effect. We understand that effects don’t necessarily have to be of the same nature as their causes. A fake snake can create the same effect as a real one for the one who fears this animal. Therefore, he felt that there was disconnect between the two. Being an empiricist, he had to see it to believe it. Since he couldn’t observe such a connection, he concluded that it didn’t exist. Al-Ghazali (c. 1056-1111), the Persian philosopher, also realized disconnect between cause and effect. However, he believed that God is interfering between the two at every moment. In fact, this is the only reason why there’s no connection between cause and effect. In other words, things just happen by themselves. Saying my book is sitting on the table wouldn’t make any sense for Al-Ghazali. Whatever exists, it does so because the Ultimate Reality gives them existence at every moment. Everything exists even if they’re dead to us. We’re in the ocean of existence.
David Hume was perhaps influenced by Al-Ghazali or Occasionalism or even both. The latter emerged after Descartes and was a reaction to Cartesian dualism of mind and body. There’s a similarity between the former and the latter, when it comes to the interference of God, as a vertical causality between cause and effect. Al-Ghazali’s idea of causality and its possible resurrection in the mind and body of Occasionalism was an interesting phenomenon in the Western intellectual history. The only difference is that for the latter neither mind, nor body are cause or effect.
Hume is said to have taken the British empiricism to the grave yard of skepticism.
Kant knows he is cornered here when it comes to the power and capability of rationalism, on the one hand. He also realizes that Hume didn’t have much hope as to whether we could have access to knowledge through empiricism either. Even if Hume believed we could learn about causality by observation, at the end he doubted if we were able to approach knowledge this way. Do I really know the reason or reasons why my front yard pear tree has stopped producing fruits for the past two years? There could be several causes, which have led to this effect. Nonetheless, I am still not cognizant of the real cause of what happened to this tree, which had been so fruitful for so many years. Granted that we know all the causes, but we’re unable to know the truth at the end of the day. Of course, the early empiricist Hume would come up and say this is the way we learn about cause and effect. A tree, for example, gets old and eventually dies. Kant would rather respond by saying that, unless I’m equipped with the category of causality, I will not be able to have such an experience to begin with. Kant thinks he found the solution to Hume’s skepticism by arguing that our categories are innate in us. We come into this world with them. Only through the windows of these categories can I experience the world. By the fact that my reason is limited I’m unable to know beyond this limitation. However, it seems Kant is thrown back to what George Berkeley criticized John Lock for. Bishop Berkeley argued that we’re not capable of knowing beyond our mind. Once Hume fell into skepticism, Kant realized that he was perhaps right up to certain point. Through his Copernican revolution he let the world reflect our categories. Our mind reflected the world passively before. But now the world is my construct. Berkeley also began as an empiricist who turned out to be an idealist. But Kant was not an idealist. Since Descartes’ mind/body problem, we either had to be an idealist or a materialist. On the other hand, we have Rationalism and Empiricism to deal with, which they run parallel with Idealism and Materialism. Let us consolidate them all and see what we can come up with. Once we put mind, Idealism, and Rationalism together, we’ll get Rationalism. When we bring body, Materialism, and Empiricism we’ll end up with Empiricism. The first round is the territory of the mind and the second is the realm of the body. Thanks to Descartes, the gap still exists. Kant decided to find out if he could bridge the gap. Do we know based on our experience or our rational inquiry? Since I was born with sets of innate categories, I see the world accordingly. If my pair of glasses could change color, then I would be able to experience the world in terms of causality, say, in green. Because of time and space, I see everything in red. I create my own world. I’m wearing the same pair of glasses, but I have the option to switch lenses and observe the world with different colored category lens. I can’t experience, for instance, what causality is, unless I see the world through my cause and effect lens.
There’s no blank tablet on which my experiences get printed. My mind is not like a clear copper sheet upon which whatever I experience are engraved. This is where Kant seems to be indirectly talking about Plato’s ideas of Forms, which were rejected by Aristotle or we think he did.
John Lock, the British empiricist, was the one who came up with the idea of blank tablet. He was, by and large, an Aristotelian on many issues. Kant, on the other hand, was still a rationalist. For him the categories of mind were innate. The knowledge of Forms in Plato was innate in us too because we were reborn and have forgotten it. However, with the help of the Intellect or Atman we can remember those Forms. The job of a wise teacher is to assist his students to deliver this knowledge. For Kant there seems to be no difference between the Intellect and pure reason. He believed reason is limited in its scope. Naturally it is limited compared with the Intellect. Rumi, the great Persian Dervish, or Sufi (Muslim mystic), poet, and intellectual of the 13th century also believed reason is limited. Here we’re using Kant’s language. However, he was not denying and ignoring the existence of the Intellect or the ray of the Sun or the Ultimate Reality within him. To safe guard the integrity of Rationalism, Kant, didn’t mind to get rid of God in his theoretical science to be resurrected later on in his ethics as postulate. I wonder on what he built his morality? For Hume, it was on universal sentiments. Kant, would want us to rise above our nature whose feelings are not universally true. How can we base our ethics on feelings, which are in constant change? We may have the same kind of sentiments among everybody in the world. Nevertheless, they’re subject to change and becoming. Kant argued that we’re morally autonomous beings. But in what am I anchoring my ship of morality? Where is my ethical anchorage? I rise above my nature in which my feelings and passions are situated. Hume once said that reason is the slave of passion. Of course, reason being indifferent could go either way like a pendulum.
In one of the states of the United States of America a 17 years old boy is now spending time behind bars for up to 40 years due to having sex with a minor, a 14 years old girl. Kant admits that pure reason is limited in its capacity. Then how could a 17 years old boy rise above his nature and be an autonomous human being? With the power of the Intellect, which is infinite and eternal, he could have perhaps risen above his nature but not the pure reason Emmanuel Kant is talking about? Just having faith in God is not enough to stop Joseph from what he could have done. The knowledge of God matters a lot in our ethics and morality. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Christ on the cross). Ignorance is the mother of great mistakes in our lives. It seems Kant’s foundation for morality is Rationalism. Our knowledge begins with experience but doesn’t come from it. Experience only induces the process of delivering but reason is the main factor in bringing the baby of knowledge into this world. Kant knows he can’t trust our experience of the world. I see a man from my window entering a barn with a bucket. Shortly after the man leaves and the barn is on fire. I conclude that he had something to do with what had happened. However, once the cause of fire was investigated, it was found out that a teenage couple had been smoking in the back of the barn and being negligent, they became the cause of the destruction of the barn. Life is full of these kinds of misconceptions. A popular comedy show on television has been ‘Three’s company’, which began many years ago. The entire show, without any exaggeration, is based on these kinds of misunderstandings. Our five senses don’t allow us to have the facts straight. So, it is not that difficult to figure why Hume had hard time trusting the reality of the connection between cause and effect. In fact, Hume’s skeptical view on causality helped Kant to pull back from getting close to empiricism. Perhaps this was the reason he said Hume woke him up from his dogmatic slumbers. Otherwise, why would he want to learn about empiricism from Hume? Of course, we might say he was warning Kant about his solid faith in Rationalism. However, he also warned Kant regarding the danger of Empiricism. As we know, there was no connection between the two except the translated work of Hume. Just as Kant was to wed Rationalism and Empiricism, he must have become familiar with Hume’s works in this German translation. Therefore, Kant felt it was safer to make the world his own construct and let it reflect his categories of his mind. He in fact recoiled back to his mind.
In the Ten Commandments of Moses God commands us not to lie. In Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna teaches Arjuna to give selflessly and without any expectation. Let us say, Kant was trying to get away from all these authorities and come up with an ethics, which is not based on God. There was no personal God or gods in Buddha’s teachings. However, there was still the element of karma present. In other words, what goes around shall come around. If I keep lying, I’ll pay a great price, either in this world or hereafter. When I’m reborn, I’ll be harvesting what I have put out in the ground. As we can see, the principle of causality exists in the universe, so when I lie, I shall experience its results in my life and the life others. But Kant didn’t believe in karma as far as we know. After all, he was a non-consequentialist thinker, who wouldn’t care for the consequences. Whether it is the God of Moses or Krishna, the Avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu or Karma, they all fall under the category of hypothetical imperative, which involves if/then and eventually results and consequences. For example, if I lie, then God will punish me. If I lie, then I’m turning my back to Krishna. And finally, if I lie, then I get caught in the net of the causal laws and web of Karma. For Kant none of these matters fit his categorical imperative. They all fall into the hypothetical imperative camp. Categorical imperative is about doing the right thing, that is, doing one’s duty for duty’s sake. You don’t lie because of this or that reason. Any ‘why’ in this equation would make you a hypothetical imperative customer. We don’t lie because there’s something inherently wrong about it. We don’t lie because lying involves contradiction. We don’t lie because it is not rational. Did you cheat on your taxes? No, I didn’t. Either you did, or you didn’t. If you did and are saying you didn’t, then how can something be the case and not be the case? How can you lie and not lie at the same time and in the same relationship? A thing can’t be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship. I’m contradicting myself every time I lie. Once we split lying, there’s a contradiction in it. Lying, therefore, is contradictory in and of itself. By its very nature lying is inconsistent with the facts. Only in ethics or practical science can he speak of ‘in itself’ and not theoretical science. This is not possible in the latter, because pure reason happens to be limited. But are not we using the same crippled reason in ethics? There is no mention of unlimited reason in ethics.
Remember, to Kant, moral is rational and rational is moral. What is the role of God in his ethics? After all, He is only a postulate or an assumption. Perhaps God only has a ceremonial role to play in morality. He can reign, but He can’t rule like the kings of England after the bloodless revolution in 17th century. You ought not to lie because it is not a right thing to do, according to Kant. You should always do the right thing regardless. That is Kant’s categorical imperative, which is the cornerstone of his practical science.
But what is the role the God who doesn’t have to exist because ‘God exists’ is an analytic statement? We can’t prove God’s existence, it seems. He refuted all of Aquinas’ proofs one by one. He also rejected St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God. Although he felt it was a nice try by this great Saint (1033-1109). Well, he showed the limitation of pure reason in order to create room for faith. But faith in a God whom I don’t know, or I can’t know? My limited reason is unable to know the realm of noumenon, which is beyond the world of phenomenon. Now I bring God in from the back door as an assumption, so I can have faith in and know through ethics or morality. This God who is a postulate knows the realm of noumenon. Once I know this God ethically, then it is perhaps possible for me to know the noumenon. But those who didn’t know God, their true Selves, and the reality beyond the appearances, sent god or the son of God, the son of Mary or the son of man to the cross.
Through his categorical imperative I get to know God morally and having done that, then I’ll be aware of the realm of noumenon hidden behind the appearances. It sounds as if we’re dealing with Descartes’ project, namely, the only way we can know about the world out there, which is beyond our minds, is to prove the existence of God first because after all He is the one who knows this world, which is independent of my mind. Otherwise Descartes would have been known to be a Solipsist. He would have remained in the bottle of his mind without having any access to the world beyond his mind. Kant, on the other hand, having no proof of the existence of God tries to bring us closer to Him. He, just like his protestant predecessors, emphasized ethics and science. Therefore, he thought by being moral and ethical we could achieve what we were not able to reach with pure reason. You don’t have to know God, logically and rationally, that in the final analysis is only a title. It is a name and names limit the Ultimate Reality in our mind. Who is this God that you want to know at any cost? The Ultimate Reality is beyond any duality. Dualism has no meaning in this Reality. It is beyond any binary system. It is One. It is the sign of perfection that the world of many emerges from it. This realm of imperfection is one of its possibilities, which is very much like 0+1=1. Though this imperfect world is at the end nothing, it is one of its possibilities without which it wouldn’t be perfect. You can’t know that Reality as Kant or as who you’re. It is the true Self within me that finally is one with the Ultimate Reality. Otherwise, I as I am at most ‘0’. How in the world can you know this Reality by not lying all your life? Even Moses didn’t tell his followers that by following the Ten Commandments you’ll get to know God. Categorical imperative of Kant is not the key to the sacred knowledge of the Ultimate Reality. At one-point Kant had apparently said that even if we didn’t become perfect moral beings, there is or must be another life time in which we could achieve this goal. This is the only point where he becomes very close to Plato who believed in reincarnation.
It is possible that he borrowed his non-consequentiality from the natural law without being qualified to do so, because the world out there is but his own construct. Natural law doesn’t depend on the mind. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t use the Aristotelian logic of either/or in your ethics and also believe in the non-consequentiality of the natural law. You can’t use Aristotle’s logic, on the one hand, and use his idea of the natural law, on the other in your ethics. You’re bringing the logic of either/or, or black or white into the realm of morality, which was avoided by Aristotle himself. How can I know this God, who has fallen into the trap of being only a postulate through this kind of ethics? His obsession with lying is understandable. However, when it comes to common sense, it fails the real test. Perhaps this was the reason why Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) didn’t care about being contradictory in some of his ideas, such as his belief in Darwinism. Perhaps he was defying the Aristotelian logic in his own way.
Kant seems to have adopted the non-consequentiality from the natural law in spite of the fact that his world in nothing but the projection of his own mind. This theater is based on the categories of his mind. The actors and actresses on the stage are his categories, which are in his mind and now his world operates accordingly. This show is not the Natural law Aristotle and the ancient Greeks believed in. The real Natural law, not the man made one, perhaps is the one the writer of the Bhagavad-Gita believed in. It is the one the writer of Tao Te Ch’ing, Lao Tzu believed in. It is the one Thomas Aquinas believed in. From what we know of him, he, namely, Kant was not familiar with the Hindu/Buddhist cultures and philosophies. Nevertheless, he was a well-read individual. I’m sure he had access to the library or perhaps libraries. Whether there were translations of these Eastern ideas available at the time he was actively writing, we don’t know. We know this much for sure that Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was aware of them during his life time. Nonetheless, he was cognizant of the existence of the Natural law. When I don’t lie, it is because of my respect and reverence for the Natural law. This is not the case for Immanuel Kant. We don’t lie, because it is the right thing to do for him. Even though there was bifurcation between natural and super-natural for the early Christians, nature still had its respect by Thomas Aquinas. God has revealed himself both in the Bible and the nature. But gradually nature was looked at only as ‘It’ or dead matter. Some scholars believe that early Christians fearing Greek naturalism, they elevated the status of Jesus to the level of supernatural, that is, God. As a result, nature and natural law were neglected till in the 13th century St. Thomas Aquinas being Aristotelian, claimed God had revealed His message both in the Bible and nature equally, as we mentioned before.
Although the influence of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church was tremendous on the history of European civilization, nature was used but without being respected and revered as a dynamic and living organism. Natural world, for Plato, was a living animal like a bull. Nature is breathing and moving and is animated. Some scholars believed the negative view of nature somehow led to the modern environmental problems, which could eventually become the cause of the death of this planet. Mother Nature being abused by man has been showing her reactions by threatening the very existence of our world. The trees of the Black forest in Germany, where Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), this 20th century German existentialist, used to find a place of refuge to contemplate, have been already diseased as a result of pollution.
When Immanuel Kant looked at the world through his mind’s categories, he didn’t experience the noumenon. All he observed was what the world offered him based on his mind. The world reflected the categories of his mind. The images on the screen of the movie theater were what his mind projected. He could never perceive the realm of the noumenon, which was in the real world, located behind the screen. You think you’re in touch with the natural realm while all you’re getting is the byproduct of your own mind. This computer only gives you what you have put in it. This universe, once only scientifically observed, gives you what we have given it. This cosmos, to put it mildly, is anthropomorphic by nature. It is nothing but an extension of man’s mind. So, I’m sitting in this movie theater and this is my world. I write the novel and this fiction is my world. This is my escape as, one former once said about the novels we read. They’re not facts but they’re fictions. Reading them is my escaping from the real world. This very much reminds us of Kant’s ethics. The real world is abode of common sense, gray area between black or white, compassion, humanity, humaneness, and right motive and intention. It is not like absolutism of Kant. The world just doesn’t work that way. Kant’s claim of non-consequentiality doesn’t function in the real world. He has no foundation for his categorical imperative. His natural law depends on his mind. This is not Natural law. This is not it. He probably knew about it, and yet he felt the logic of either p or q could also work for ethics. This led him to his absolutism. We may dissect lying and find out that it is pregnant with the baby of contradiction. However, this Rationalism doesn’t exist in the natural world, unless we’re searching within the confinement of the categories of our mind. We’re then imposing our categories on the world and claim that the natural law involves either/or logic of Aristotle. We just can’t have our cake and eat it too at the same time and in the same relationship. With all due respect for Immanuel Kant’s effort to come up with his categorical imperative, I believe he had hard time to hold his position. Lying is, by far, the best example to reckon with in his ethics. With my humble opinion, by comparison with the dialogue between god Krishna and student Arjuna, under ‘Karma yoga’ in Bhagavad-Gita, Kant’s moral philosophy lacks credibility and I sincerely feel that even Kantian scholar are aware of his shortcoming here.