Thursday, July 22, 2010

Moral philosophy quiz answers (7)

 7. UNIVERSAL LAW Should I act as if the maxim (principle) with which I act were to become the universal law for all rational people?
    a) Yes, and any deviation from this rule is wrong.
    b) Yes, but in a very loose manner, evaluating the unique specifics of the situation is essential.
    c) No, there is a consistent morality that applies to all, but their methods may differ greatly.
   d) No, one's own actions are not morally equivalent to the actions of others.
    e) Doesn't matter/Dislike all answer choices.
      What priority do you place on your selection above? High    Medium    Low
This one will make anyone who has studied philosophy chuckle because it applies to one and only one philosopher: Immanuel Kant.

Kant is the Enlightenment philosopher par excellence and that alone ought to give us pause because even though everything else he wrote was of unsurpassed brilliance, Kant is responsible for some of the most stupid moral arguments ever advanced. They are the arguments of a man who is lying to himself. A man who knows you cannot build morality on rational foundations alone but is scared to face the consequences of this.

He has lots of equally deluded descendants ranging from Jean Paul Sartre to Richard Dawkins.


  1. I think ad hominem attacks are really inappropriate in this type of discussion. Having said that, I chose b) with a Medium or High priority. I also could have chosen c), I think b) and c) are not that far apart. b) is if the principle were to become universal law, c) is that the principle is already universal law. For the b) person the principle is for all intents and purposes universal law.

  2. An ad hominem argument is one that suggests that someone is wrong because of some personal failing—e.g. because they are too stupid or because they are bitter or because they have a Calvinist upbringing—instead of dealing with their arguments directly. In this case, "deluded' is just a strong way of saying "wrong". (And I do have to note that I am considerably more generous with Dawkins than he is with people he disagrees with in this regard.)

    As to Kant lying to himself, that Kant's arguments in favour of the categorical imperative are extremely weak is not a contentious claim. Their weakness was immediately noted during his lifetime and I don't know anyone teaching moral philosophy who would argue that Kant's arguments can stand on their own. It strikes me as a quite reasonable question to wonder why the man who was unquestionably the most intelligent philosopher of the last five hundred years lost his grip when writing about morality.

  3. Ok, I stand corrected, but you came pretty close! And I don't know that the categorical imperative can't stand on its own, I think in the "real world" that's how most people make moral decisions (those who bother to make decisions based on some kind of morality) whether they know it or not. I think each individual brings his own perspective and experience to the moral arguments of any of the great thinkers, so none of them really stand on their own, they are all dependent on how the listener interprets them.

  4. I'm still not seeing how you came out a Thomist and I came out an Existentialist on the quiz. I think our philosophies are more similar than different.

  5. Thomism and existentialism are very close. A good argument can be made that Aquinas, in fact, originated it and that Heidegger picked it up from his Jesuit education.

  6. PS: Yes, I came very close. I often play rough in arguments with big names from the history of philosophy but try to be fair when dealing with people directly.

  7. I think your point about Thomism and Existentialism is well taken. And maybe that's the important thing here, the great philosophers, to one degree or another, all expanded or built upon on what came before, some even trying to discard or discredit it altogether. They were each products of their times, and as such were limited in their perception of reality. But they were all influenced by their intellectual forbears.