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Immanuel Kant vs. Israel , reply to Peter Herz's reply

Reader comment on item: Immanuel Kant vs. Israel
in response to reader comment: Don't be too hard on Kant

Submitted by Morry Markovitz (United States), Dec 20, 2010 at 02:21

I don't recall ever coming across a statement by Kant about the relative pacificity of free republics, but I take your word for it and thank you for that information, as well as several other interesting parts of your comment. I am not a Kant scholar, but have merely read some of his work -- long ago -- and have read several excerpts and commentaries on his work, favorable and critical.

As for the route from "the empirical is to the ethical ought," that is one of the supposedly unresolved problems of philosophy. However, I believe it was resolved during the 20th century. I read a short paper once which was written by the modern philosopher Ayn Rand, titled I believe "Introduction to Objectivist Ethics." It was an eye-opener, a brilliant leap to an unbelievably simple solution to this problem. I do not have a copy of that little treatise, nor do I know where you might find one, but it is a gem if you can find it. I do remember clearly the insight to the root of the solution which no previous philosopher had ever had, or if one did, he never mentioned it or followed through its logic. I can give you my very short summary of the essence, or what I remember of it:

Ethics follows from one's moral code. Morality tries to answer the question "What is good or right, and what is evil or wrong?" Once a philosopher or an individual decides upon a moral code (regardless of his reason for so doing), the next logical question to ask is "Well, then, given the answer to the above question which my moral code supplies, what should I do about it?" In other words, "ethics" is the guide to ACTIONS or BEHAVIORS which are implied by a code of morality. Ethics tells you how to act, given your moral code -- translating its content into a basis for making decisions about your actions.

Well, according to the little treatise mentioned above, no philosopher in all history had ever asked the very first logical question one needs to ask in order to come up with a proper/correct moral code. The above question -- "What is the good or right, and what is the bad or wrong?" -- is indeed where virtually every philosopher has begun his investigation into morality (and hence ethics, which follows from morality). Thus, every philosopher in human history has begun in the middle, not at the root of the problem, which is why none ever was able to decisively derive a provably correct morality for man, the being who possesses a conceptual consciousness and the ability to reason. According to that little treatise, the correct starting point when pursuing the question of a proper moral code is: "Does man in fact NEED a moral code in the first place, and if so, then WHY does he need one????"

Beyond this point I think I do remember the logical progression with reasonable accuracy, but not perfect accuracy. So I think it would be best not to rely on my fallible memory, but to go to the source if you are interested to do so by the foregoing. The answer will be worth the effort, in my opinion, because I could find no flaw in the reasoning which then followed, once the reasoning was begun at the proper starting point. Since I've already made it obvious that the connection from "is" to "ought" is successfully made, it should be obvious that the answer to the first part of the "primary" question is "yes" -- ie, man does indeed require a moral code. As for the "why," in the briefest nutshell it's that man simply cannot survive absent a moral code. I am giving you only the conclusions here, not their logical derivations which you will find in the above-mentioned article/paper/mini-treatise, if you can locate a copy. In summary, the concept of "values" applies only to living things, and since the basic alternative in the universe for living things is to remain living or to revert to strictly the inanimate matter they are composed of. IE, life is the only thing that makes choices possible AND NECESSARY. Morality is what defines positive and negative values, and its standard then must be the continued life of the species for whom the morality is to apply. For a plant, sunlight and water are values and to seek them is the good. A plant is automatically "moral" then, by its very nature. It is unable to make a wrong choice, it is of such a nature that its actions are entirely pre-programmed with the intent of benefiting its survival and flourishing. An animal at the perceptual level has a somewhat different implicit moral code, because it is a different type of living entity with different requirements for its life to continue rather than revert to inanimate matter for which the very idea of a moral code is preposterous. Animals, however, have their "moral code" pretty much built in as well, via their reflexes and instinctual behavior. In both cases -- as in the next case too, man -- the answer to the "why" of the need for a moral code is "in order to remain what you are -- it is the thing you need to prevent yourself from reverting back to inanimate chemicals which obviously can have no interest in the relative value of certain actions to themselves. It is only once matter is arranged in a form that takes on life that the alternative of then remaining alive or reverting back to non-life arises, and it is only the arising of this alternative which gives rise to the concepts of "good" or "bad." These do not apply to inanimate, senseless, indestructible matter, which can be neither created nor destroyed. But life can cease to exist. Depending on the nature of the life form under discussion, certain specific requirements must be met in order for life to persist, and there are other events or actions or situations or behaviors which are inimical to the continued existence of its life, or which will directly cause its life to depart from the universe, ie to cease to exist, leaving only the inanimate matter. Whether you attribute the existence of life to religious sources or scientific ones, makes no difference to the validity of this statement. The fact is empirically obvious, ontologically provable, that life can exist, and it can cease to exist. In any event, from the foregoing, certain types of actions or behaviors are NECESSARY for all forms of life to engage in if they are to avoid the cessation of their life, the destruction or obliteration of it, the cessation of their existence. Plants are entirely programmed to take such actions -- whether by God or because the only plants which survived were the ones who were imbued with the "right" programming for action by their very nature (eg, extend roots, grow toward the sun, etc.). Animals are also programmed, but not as thoroughly. What is "right" and "wrong" for a living thing to do, depends on its nature and what its nature AS A LIVING ENTITY requires in order to stay living -- because the alternative makes no sense since as inanimate matter alone, there is no need for such a decision, and thus no need for a distinction between "good" and "bad" or between "right" and "wrong" behaviors. It is only the existence of LIFE that gives rise for a need to discriminate between "right" and "wrong" behaviors -- for non-life there is no right vs. wrong. What is "right" for a living being is thus the answer to "what need I do to avoid going out of existence?" and what is "wrong" would be the answer to "what actions would take me out of existence, ie end my life, or move me toward that state?" In short, the very need for a moral code arises from the existence of living beings, and is required IF THEY WISH TO REMAIN LIVING BEINGS. If your goal is not life, then you do not need a moral code. If your goal is to remain alive, then you DO need a moral code and an ethics.

So. . . morality consists in the furtherance of life, and ethics consists in defining the actions necessary to accomplish that goal. These required actions depend on the nature of the living being, what its needs and requirements are, in specific, in order to remain alive. I've mentioned plants and animals, using "animal" loosely. You might consider fish separately if you want to get very detailed, but the above would still apply. When we come to man, the same "first principle" of ethics applies: that the types of actions necessary for a living being of man's nature to survive, are those actions which he must observe if his goal is to persist alive as a man. Whatever actions will destroy his life, or reduce him to animal status or to vegetable status, or to mineral (complete death) status, are actions he SHOULD NOT take -- given that his choice is to live according to his nature as a member of homo sapiens.

In short, a living entity's NATURE determines what actions it must take to survive. Thus, what it IS, determines what it OUGHT to do -- unless its goal is death, a return to the inanimate state of simple chemicals which are no longer part of a living being.

Thus, a proper ethics -- a code of "right" behavior -- can be derived from the NATURE of the being for whom the ethics is being derived, and in fact MUST be derived from its nature IF that being chooses to remain alive. You and I are men, of the human species. As such we have certain common characteristics, basic ones, and as such there are certain basic choices which we can clearly deduce are fatal to us, and others which are beneficial to us, certain very broad general principles. Is it good to think before you act? Is it good to avoid thinking when you don't feel like it even if there is an emergency threatening? Is it good to produce food for your self? Is it good to just lie and wait for food to drop into your mouth by itself? Is it good to be productive? Etc etc. You can get an idea how this train of thought can progress from simple answers to more sophisticated ones.

I don't know how accurately the above portrays the essence of what it attempts to summarize. Furthermore, it's late and I'm tired as I write, and I apologize for being wordy and probably repetitive -- it's hours past my bedtime. So again I suggest you consult the original source which at minimum will be more rigorous than the above, and probably much more clearly written. I would like to relate one final personal observation:

As you know, many people dismiss philosophy as "words, just words," or as an exercise in sophistry, or in unprovable opinions, or as worthless verbiage. While I emphatically disagree with this view, I can understand why it is so common, and I think there are ample examples in philosophy of the type of thinking or writing or arguing which offer a pretext for this reaction or evaluation. However, when I read the above-mentioned piece, I felt as if I were reading the thoughts of a very mathematically precise mind. No assumptions were left implicit, but all were explicitly defined and the objections to them identified and refuted with a rigor usually not found outside scientific or mathematical journals. It induced me to read another by the same author which was titled "Introduction to the Objectivist Epistemology." As you also undoubtedly are aware, a complete philosophical system begins with a Metaphysics, and then adds an Epistemology, then come Morality & Ethics, and then further "specialized" sub-branches such as Esthetics, Politics, Economics, etc. But a consistent philosophical system must start with a Metaphysics and an Epistemology, as foundations upon which the rest depends. I was probably even more intrigued by the epistemological "introduction" than the ethics one. It also resolves certain unresolved problems in the history of philosophy. For one, it validates sensory data -- essentially refuting Kant's and others' conclusions that sensory data is unreliable. For another, it solves the problem of going from the general to the particular, ie of what the "essence" of a concept consists in, and shows why revisions in existing concepts are not necessarily refutations of them. (This entails the principle that ALL knowledge is contextual. Not "relative" but CONTEXTUAL. It's my own opinion that failure to identify this distinction is what has led to a great deal of erroneous relativism in areas of philosophy, especially modern philosophy.)

Again, thanks for imparting some knowledge to me. I hope the above is something you'll find worthwhile. From what you wrote, I think you will. Even if you end up disagreeing with much of it, in my opinion there are genuinely SIGNIFICANT contributions to philosophy, IMPORTANT ones, summarized in the two papers mentioned above. If you don't agree 100% that several of the "unsolvable" problems of philosophy are conclusively resolved in the above, for the first time in human history, then I think you will likely glimpse the possibility that there does very possibly exist a definitive resolution, a provable one, in each case, or at the very least that there is an interesting new perspective, or avenue of approach to solving them.


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