Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Me-ism": Blame Kant

Now and then it's worth taking a look at cause and effect.

...Kant himself was, of course, a very austere man; he would have been absolutely horrified at what liberals and libertarians now defend in the name of “autonomy.” Accordingly, the original sin of Kantianism is not abortion, fornication, dope smoking or the like. It is, rather, the codification of modern man’s blasphemous self-obsession, the raising of “It’s all about me” to a moral first principle. And the blasphemy is only heightened, not lessened, if the only reason the blasphemer refrains from the sins in question is that he thinks them incompatible with his pathological self-regard.

I went there because of this interesting statement:

...Tollefsen and I do indeed deeply disagree over matters of general political philosophy.  I regard the state as a natural institution rather than as something “constituted” by “the wills of the community’s members.” (Tollefsen here makes what many of us traditional natural law moralists regard as an unnecessary and unwise accommodation to Kantian liberal orthodoxy.

That 'wills of the community's members.....' claptrap is usually iterated by the wannabee dictator of such a State.


Grim said...

Though I am certainly no Kantian, I don't think this reading is at all fair to Kant. For one thing, what Kant means by 'autonomy' and 'heteronomy' is just this:

A thing is caused heteronomously if it is being acted on by something else. Thus, the ice melts (or sublimates) because the sun shines on it. It is not that the ice wants or intends to melt, but that an outside cause is forcing it to melt.

A thing is caused autonomously if it is acting from an internal principle. Thus, you decide to give to charity not because anything or anyone makes you do so, but because you have a concept in your mind that charity is good. This is autonomy.

So the idea isn't that we don't respond to God, but that if we do so it is because we are free to do so. We have a concept of God that inspires us to freely choose actions.

There's nothing in that understanding that should be seen as threatening to orthodox Christianity.

Secondly, for Kant "self love" is the original sin, but in a different sense than the author implies. Whenever we put our self love ahead of our duty, for Kant, we are guilty of what he calls "radical evil."

If Kant poses a challenge to Christianity, it is that Kant's model declares that we can't know anything outside ourselves. This is the real break between Kant and the older model based on Aristotle. Kant argues that all we can have access to of the world is our sense impressions of it, which we organize into phenomena in our minds. The things themselves, though, will be different from the phenomena we have -- and we can't know just how they differ. Thus, for example, a table appears to us as a quite solid phenomena; but with a microscope, we learn it is actually mostly empty space.

That proves to be the real threat, because under the Scholastic model it was assumed that we could know the world we were in, and therefore we could come to know God. If we can't truly even know the table, which we can see and touch, how can we know God?

That said, Kant seems to have believed that we could know God even if we couldn't know the table: we could recognize His Reason precisely in the fact of the moral law we found in ourselves. That law is found through reason, and in obeying a law we have reasoned out for ourselves, we are autonomous -- for it is our concept of the law we are obeying -- and yet also dutiful to a Reason Kant clearly thought was divine.

Dad29 said...

The author of the piece(s) specifically remarked that Kant, himself, would be shocked to find the (mis)-use of his epistemology as it has devolved today.

And of course, "knowing" also means 'knowing the law'--which was handed to us in both the OT and NT (which had the condensed version: love God first, love neighbor.)

So we do not discover that law: it is given.

Grim said...

Well, an interesting challenge that Kant raises is that the gift is double -- not only do you have the OT and NT (he proposes), you also find that you have reason inside you. Since the Order of Reason is one thing in which we all participate, it is the same for everyone. (And this far he is quite right -- you've read through some arguments for the unity of the Order of Reason at my place, from time to time. A simple one he proposes is: if it weren't the same, we wouldn't be able to understand the rules of someone else's game. Because we can observe a game and work out the rules, we must be able to reason in the same way as the alien culture that made the rules. Sebastian Rödl did quite a lot with this concept in his recent book on self-consciousness).

So, we can work out the law for ourselves -- and in that sense, because it is our concept of the law, we are autonomous in obeying it. Nevertheless, it is clearly God's law he is aiming at here -- but for all people, he claims, not only those who are believing Christians.

The two proofs for this are:

1) Since Reason is the same for all, and Reason is also God's nature, naturally it will be the same for all humanity.

2) If you take a look at Kant's "Doctrine of Virtue" in the Metaphysics of Morals, he demonstrates what he believes to be proofs for all the Christian ethical norms. It sounds like the author has read the Groundwork for a Metaphysics of Morals, but perhaps not the Metaphysics itself. If he had, he would know that Kant very plainly endorses the idea that all the usual sins are sins -- and gives an account of just why they violate the Reason he believes is divine.

Dad29 said...

The notion that we are the cause of our own good, so that no one else can tell us anything about the important things, has a shadow of a truth, as all error does. We are indeed the architects of what we shall be, of how we present ourselves to God and the world. The primary source of energy in the world is the soul of the individual human person. His life is an arena in which he decides how he, who already exists, will define himself to be. He will define himself in his actions and his thoughts.

---from an essay by J. Schall, SJ, found here: