October 18, 2012

Reason Kant Be the Ultimate Reason for Morality

Deontological Ethics or ethics that put duty over the end result. These are ethics that the majority of Bible believing people follow. The Bible from God outlines proscribed behavior to produce a known (to God) outcome based on His sovereign will. We obey his commands we are inevitably blessed. If we disobey--cursed. This is the basis for our post today. Follow the rules and commands laid down by an omniscient and omnipotent God and one is better off.

Enter mankind and his so-called ability to "know better" in the form or rationalizing and reasoning modern philosophers and we begin to enter an intellectual quagmire that becomes more confusing the deeper we get into it.

One of the statements that immediately jumped from the page on Deontological Ethics from  Immanuel Kant is his conclusion that:

Nothing in the world—indeed nothing even beyond the world—can possibly be conceived which could be called good without qualification except a good will”

Kant continues along the same path of thought by stating something to the nature…

“…that the consequences of an act of willing cannot be used to determine that the person has a good will; good consequences could arise by accident from an action that was motivated by a desire to cause harm to an innocent person, and bad consequences could arise from an action that was well-motivated.”

Kant then states that a person needs to act out of respect to a moral law or duty to do so. Therefore, only thing that is truly good in itself is a good will, and a good will is only good when the one who wills chooses to do something because it is their duty.

The very thing that unsettles me about this dense prose is this…Kant manages to make all these statements about “good” and “will” and then narrowly defines the only good thing in itself is the will to do good based on a duty to do so….but never once mentions God directly. Although Kant is deontological in his approach he does not subscribe to the theory of Divine Command that demands that morality requires faith in God (or by default God’s existence). Although Kant will involve the idea of absolutes and God elsewhere in his writings, they do not appear to be contained here. Instead of placing the categorical imperative (a way of evaluating motivations for action) firmly in God’s lap where it belongs, he places it in man’s lap through acts of reason. According to Kant, a categorical imperative denotes an absolute requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself...therefore it needs to be universal.

Kant devised a principle-based ethic, based not on a religious system but directly on or in reason itself (Rae 71). In other words, an axiom, a universal law or absolute universal moral basis needs to exist for this to be true yet Kant does not claim an absolute Source of morality (Moral Law Giver) and claim we cannot even know if God exists through reason yet this is exactly what he used to make these claims. He then disingenuously places a basis for morality on an abstraction like pure practical reason that can be separate from all empirical experience. If reason can exist free of all empirical experiences/sources, reason can then find its origin in a non-empirical source or a transcendent source. Yet by Kant tells us that we with human minds can’t truly know God or something beyond the senses without faith or fideism.

In the end, Kant’s convoluted reasoning argues for an a priori source of absolute morality although he never mentions God to be this unmentioned source. So where does it come from? He therefore inadvertently asks people (that will potentially accept his theory) to accept the idea of a transcendent a priori idea or morality based on a non-transcendent source of reasoning: Human Reasoning. This is either paradoxical or contradictory. I’m not sure which but I suggest it may be the latter of the two.

What we see from Immanuel Kant is a transcendent idea without a transcendent source or anchor. It is like having a fish exist without water. He is making statements defending ontological distinctness between God and reason but his logic doesn’t seem to remain ontologically distinct. He’s making ontological distinctions through human reason. He is also trying to find God in humanity, not humanity in God. To me this seems impossible as all things have their very being in God including humanity, reason, morality, ethics and values.

Kant is also asking us to see an abstraction like morals to exist without an ontological support for it which I personally find untenable. Morals exist but they are being separated from the very thing that allows them to exist (at least from this Christian’s viewpoint-Hebrews 1). Morality is separated from God in his theory. Kant’s reasoning tells us the source for his idea for morality is in his reason, therefore centers on a man. The Bible tells me that the source of morality and reason is God as God himself is morality and reason itself and without him none of this would exist. Morality and ethics can exist without human beings but they ontologically can’t exist without a fundamental/foundational ontological source (God, Super-mundane being) which Kant seems to have conveniently ignored. It seems to me this line of reasoning figuratively puts the cart before the horse, or more accurately: Is a cart without a horse.

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