Posts Tagged ‘ universal maxim ’

15. Kant’s ‘Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals’

For the critical thinker, they don’t come much more challenging than Kant, and in this excerpt from his “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals”, you will be faced with a series of challenges that test all that you learned in the Part I: Primer part of this book.

First of all, Kant uses the science of his day – foreshadowing the Darwinian idea of evolution – to ground his argument. Secondly, he attacks the then still fashionable premise of the Enlightenment – that reason is the ultimate guide to happiness – not in order to show that reason is faulty, but rather to show why man stands above nature and mere hedonism. If reason cannot guide us to happiness, Kant concludes, then it is happiness that we must reject, not reason. Aristotle, while searching for the aim of the human being, had – in short – got things the wrong way around.

Kant is a challenge not just because of his complex and often water-tight argumentation but also for his language. Written originally in German, early translations such as this retain a literary and prosaic beauty that require deliberate reading by the modern student. Kant’s texts are highly rewarding so long as each line is read diligently and given enough time to be assimilated.

Many years after Kant, the existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, famously asked ‘Why should I not commit suicide?’ After all, if life has no intrinsic purpose and is nothing more than a sequence of meaningless moments whose aim is the avoidance of pain, no other question could be more pressing. Camus had apparently not read Kant carefully enough, for in this excerpt the answer is clearly given. Unlike Camus, Kant professed a belief in God, but the nub of his answer relies less on religious devotion and more on an understanding of how the faculty of reason – whatever its origin – places a demand of responsibility upon those that possess it.

Go to excerpt or continue reading

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