Saturday, September 21, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Kant on Morality

Evaluate the following statement: "actions are morally good only if they are done because of good will" explain what Kant means by "good will".  Do you think the statement is correct or incorrect? Explain your position

Kant's conception of good will is very complicated. The best way to sum it up is that a person with good will is a person who acts from a sense of morality without consideration for their own personal benefit.  A person has good will if they are acting in a  sincere attempt to be moral and do the moral thing.

This sounds really nice, but what if a person means to do a moral thing, really sincerely believes they're doing a moral thing, but they do something horrible?

This is very hard to believe, in fact I've had people tell me know that can't be true, but the fact is, Adolf Hitler thought he was a very moral man who was doing God's own work on this earth.  When one of his comrades was killed right next him in World War I, Hitler believed then, and continued to repeat for the rest of his life, that God had saved him so that he could do the moral thing. And by the moral thing he meant exterminating every Jew on the planet.

I do not know exactly what Hitler meant by God. Many Nazis meant God as the force of history. That is to say, not a personal God but rather a necessary force that makes humanity continue to advance and improve. In any event, it is clear, that by Kant's definition of goodwill, Hitler had lots of good will.

He knew that he might die in his attempt to save the world. Yes, he got lots of benefits of becoming Der Fuerer, which means only the leader. But even as Germany was falling around him, he believed that he had done the right moral thing and that his sacrifice was worth making.

That meets Kant's definition. Regardless of what it meant to himself, even if it killed him, Hitler was trying to do what he sincerely thought was the moral thing to do.

Anyone care to suggest that therefore Hitler was a moral person? Other Nazis did everything they could to steal and grab to make themselves rich. They were just crooks. But Hitler was a true believer. He thought he was doing good.

So did the people who ran the Inquisition. So did the people who ran the Protestant Discipline, which actually managed to kill more people than the Spanish Inquisition did.  People of very good will who sincerely try to do the right moral thing even if it costs them a personal loss have been responsible for committing many of the the most horrible and despicable acts in the entire history of mankind. Kant needed to get out of his ivory tower, open his eyes, and look at the real world.

His ideas are very pretty. They're very nice to read about. But when they meet reality, they crumble into so much dust in the wind.

Now what about someone who commits an act which isn't done out of goodwill? Is such an act never moral?

If someone acts out of what's called enlightened self interest, meaning they do something which helps others because it also helps themselves, according to Kant, that is not moral.

So, if a politician votes to keep the food stamp program running because he knows that this will stimulate the economy and create jobs, increase the GDP, and help small businesses, does that mean his actions aren't moral?  According to Kant, that's exactly what it means.

You remember the biblical story about the Pharisee who only gave to the temple because it would make people praise him? Well, basically that's Kant's position.

The problem is that Kant is simply too absolutist. Once again he wants an on off switch. Good bad. Right wrong. Moral not moral.

So, here I go again, life ain't that simple. Life is messy. Lots of gray areas, lots of in between's. Where Kant makes his error is in trying to be absolutist.

That's gonna have to be it for tonight. I cooked tonight and frankly I'm getting pretty vertiginous. I need to take some meds and lie down. I'll do the rest of this tomorrow.

Oh, look at my recent post and you'll see the things I said about food stamps have been shown to be true, in a time of recession.

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