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Well that was a pretty dizzying but refreshing summary of Kant, whom I haven't read since college (if really ever, consciously :). Not much to comment on other than to underscore just how critical such a flexible framework continues to be in a modern context, as you rightfully point out.
Other than that, I must confess that whenever I read philosophical style "laws" or "maxims", my mind float backs to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. (Though the true believers know there's really four.) Asimov had a great analytical mind, which I know helped him write such stimulating work... and hey, speaking of big thinkers and the novels they write, where the heck can I get a hold of that novel -you- wrote that you nonchalantly mentioned a long while back?

[Email contact details deleted for privacy - thanks Jack! - Chris].


Jack: I'm debating whether or not I need to post an abridgment of this abridgment to Kant's Groundwork... :) I'm going to refer to this a lot from now on, so it's worth considering whether or not a "short version" would be useful. What do you think?

And thanks for the email address!

I think this version is great. Yeah it's a lot to chew on, but with your gift for this sort of thing, I don't really know if it can be condensed any further without losing either some clarity or the progression of Kant's thought, both of which are important. And ethics campaign players didn't sign on for rookie level missions after all! :)

I have a (rather foggy, granted) impression that it is in fact the issue of "Kantian autonomy" that is a bit tricky here. I wonder how Confucianist and Buddhist ethics (which both emphasize rationality!) with their rather different positions on individual autonomy compare to Kant?

(As an aside, since the "general inability of individuals to assert their will over their desires" plays such an important role it becomes clear how much the idea of an virtue-based ethics can actually do to complement the rights-based apporach - here the question of self-discipline enters the scene.)


Well you "old hands" might be up to the challenge, but I don't want to scare away the newbs. :D


Schopenhauer comes at Kant from a Hindu/Buddhist perspective, and basically strips away everything except the second formula, which is then interpreted as The Golden Rule, i.e., as a call for compassion. I don't know how viable this interpretation might be.

But Buddhist metaphysics are actually very close to Kant's; the point has been raised that Kant's noumena (which I skipped over in this piece for clarity) compares to Buddhist shunyata. I'm not sure how much this holds in practice, however.

As for Kant for Confucians; well someone at Stanford claims that Kant was unknowingly influenced by Taoist and Confucian philosophy which had filtered into the West via various Jesuit writers!

There is in fact lively discussion on the relationship of the Western meta-ethical tradition - of which Kant is the chief figure - and Eastern meta-ethical traditions. I'm no expert on this, but Mou Sung San, the leading Hong Kong scholar of Kant, claims that the Neo-Confucian tradition can plug the gaps in Kant's metaphysics by providing an alternative view of moral intuition, based on the Chinese concept of liang-chi (conscience).

I found an essay on the subject. Apparently, Kant ties in quite strongly with the Confucian tradition.

It's an issue I'd like to look into further, but it's difficult to know where to start!

As for self-discipline, this is one of the areas where I assert that religion serves a valuable social purpose. To blindly presume that every individual can successfully assert will over desire is probably to condemn societies to a practical failure of ethics. But communities of individuals with common values support each other in a shared ethical framework, making this task infinitely easier. That is one of the key social roles of religion.

Or to put it another way, while it is true that we don't *need* religion to be good people, that doesn't mean that religion doesn't make the task considerably easier! :)

Best wishes!

Amazing post. I help out with Sinistre and Destre's blog and finally you have a post we can admire.

Kant is an interesting ethicist. I'm in not real position to have a position on Kant (I'm still reading his ethics and commentators), what I have found, however, is that Kant's writings are not as good as the 'Kantianism' he proposes.

Chris: thanks for the additional pointers. I almost forgot that Kant's unknowable "Ding-an-sich" (thing-in-itself) forms the starting point of this. The comparison to shunyata is just too tempting for any westerner interested in navigating between western and eastern teachings - regardles whether it "holds" or not :)

Michael: thanks for the kind words! I've been working up to this post in "The Ethics Campaign"; until now, I've just been warming up. :)

Like you, I find that the nature of what Kant's is proposing far exceeds the quality of his writings - although one must allow for the difference in time and language, I suppose - I will never read Kant in his native German, I expect, so I may miss out on the poetry of his phrasing.

I very much enjoy the Noumenal Realm, and admire its ability to produce short posts, which is something I find terribly difficult. :)

Best wishes!

I feel terrible doing this, Chris, but I have to tell you that Kant's writing in German is pretty much unreadable - no poetry there :(

Ah, the illusion is shattered. :o Perhaps a mind capable of such great ideas is alas incapable of rendering them elegantly. ;)

Kant's writings are amazing. I think he is a brilliant philosophical writer. If he were lucid and clear his writing would be MUCH longer.

It takes a certain reader to read Kant. My lecturer told us 'if you understood this, there is something wrong with you!'

Michael: like you I am greatly impressed by Kant's writings and insight, and I'm looking forward to reading more in the future. Perhaps you and I are the "certain readers" to whom your lecturer refers - if enjoying Kant means there is something wrong with me, then I shall celebrate my defectiveness! :D

Take care!

You say re: Kant's SeconFormulation: "If we are to see ethics as universalisable principles, we cannot allow for people to be used solely as a means to an end without taking into account what they want (their ends)."

I believe what Kant intended by "end" is that a human being is to be regarded as an end in itself, not as a means to an end. I am pretty sure "end" has nothing to do with "taking into account what they want" but rather the intrinsic value of a human being. The value of someone *being* which is quite separate from "wanting."

Swiss: interesting point you raise here...

While I can see where your reading comes from, and it certainly has some validity, when Kant talks in his third formula of a "Realm of Ends" it seems to me that he is not referring to a "Realm of people with intrinsic value" (as would follow on your reading) but rather a "Realm where all our desired outcomes can be aligned".

Since Kant insists that all his formulas are really restatements of the same idea (although to the bystander this is far from obvious!) it follows that my reading of the second formula is justified by my interpretation of the third formula.

It's certainly not the only way to read Kant, but nonetheless I stand by my interpretation as valid without wishing to claim sole validity, if you see what I mean. :)

Thanks for commenting!

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