Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hayley Mengaziol's Final Paper on Kant! Section 10 Group 2

Hey all, here is my final paper over Kant's life and philosophy. I am posting this under Val's account because I am not an author. Thanks and sorry if this takes up a lot of space! 

-Hayley Mengaziol
Section 10, Group 2 Kant Touch This  

Hayley Mengaziol
Phil Oliver
November 16, 2014
Immanuel Kant: His Life and Philosophy
            Throughout the history of the world, people of all ages, all genders, all cultures, and all lifestyles have questioned the way humans think and what humans actually know. Humans are naturally inquisitive creatures; we are filled with the desire to learn, create, and grow as individuals. Immanuel Kant was no exception. One of the most influential philosophers of his time, Kant contributed to the fields of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics still live on today. Kant wanted to transcend the divide between Empiricism and Rationalism. He called this metaphysics, which was basically the attempt to make sense of life. He also made strides in the idea of morals; believing that doing a moral action just because it makes people feel better, or less guilty, negates the action entirely. Kant, like any other historical figure, was shaped by the ideals and events around him; and this is reflected in his work, studies and beliefs.
            Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who lived from 1724 to 1804. His father was an immigrant from Scotland and his mother was uneducated. Kant was the fourth of nine children. Therefore, it was only through the influence of their local pastor that Kant received an education at a Latin, or Pietist school, then furthered his education at the University of Konigsberg, attending courses in theology, mathematics, and physics. These interests would lead him to create some of his most important ideas in philosophy. In 1744 he began his first book, Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces, which was mainly concerned with kinetic forces. After the death of his father, Kant became a tutor for nine years. Through his employment he was able to make connections within the most influential members of society. After many years of schmoozing, he was finally able to finish his degree through the help of a benevolent friend.[1]
            Kant continued to acquire information with a boundless thirst for knowledge. He familiarized himself with the great philosophers of the time, including Newt, Leibniz, and Baumgarten. The more he studied, the more he taught, and the more his renown grew. In 1770, Kant was appointed to the chair of logic and metaphysics, a great honor. He remained on the chair until only a few years before his demise. Kant spent his time writing many critiques, his most famous being the Critique of Pure Reason (Other works include the Critique of Practical Reasoning and the Critique of Judgment). Kant struggled with poor health his entire life, but still managed to keep his life in a strict schedule, making sure to take his walk at the same time every day, a time when he could remain pensive and reflect on various theories and ideas. The street he used to walk down is now named for him; it is called “The Philosopher’s Walk”. [2]
During Kant’s lifetime, there were two major theories that had a great influence on him: Empiricism and Rationalism. He felt each of these had some serious flaws. The Rationalists felt that the use of logic could answer all questions about reality. On the other side of the spectrum, the Empiricists thought reason was too limited and that to truly arrive at conclusions was to experience things for themselves, similar to the scientific method. This disagreement of this one fundamental theory fascinated Kant, and he tried to act as a referee between the two sides.[3]
            To combine the two ideals of Rationalism and Empiricism, Kant created the idea of the synthetic a priori. He believed it was possible to use both logic and life experience to arrive at conclusions. Thus, synthetic a priori is a compromise between the two. The use of the word synthetic is used to show it is different from analytic knowledge, its opposite. Analytic truths are true by definition alone, while synthetic truths require research to find. The second part of Kant’s idea, a priori, separates it from the a posteriori. A priori is knowledge available without experience. Therefore, Kant combines both Empiricism through the word synthetic and Rationalism through a priori to create synthetic a priori, a hybrid that revered both movements.[4]
            This idea of synthetic a priori seems to contradict Kant’s philosophy of discovering the world without leaving his metaphorical armchair. Without having gained the experience, or the synthetic part of finding knowledge, one cannot completely use synthetic a priori. However, Kant gets around this by saying that while it is impossible to know what is independent of the philosopher without experiencing it for oneself, it is possible to find knowledge that is inside us. And thus Kant tells us that we are not reflecting on the actual world, but on the world as we see it. Space and time, Kant argues, are only an aspect of how we view reality, and not reality itself. According to Kant, perhaps we will never know true reality, as we are inhibited by our vastly limited human bodies and minds.[5]
            This theme is the central basis for Kant’s most famous work, the Critique of Pure Reason. Basically, he is setting the limit of what we can know as humans, recognizing the possibility of metaphysics in a specific way. Kant’s definition of metaphysics is “the cognitions after which reason might strive independently of all experience,” with the final goal of his book being to reach a “decision about the possibility or impossibility of a metaphysics in general, and the determination of its sources, vas well as its extent and boundaries, all, however, from principles.” Basically, Kant wanted to discern whether or not knowledge without reason, or the aforementioned a priori, is truly possible. [6] He categorizes many of the great questions as simply unanswerable, such as whether or not there is a god, or if we really have free will. In Kant’s opinion, what is most important is how we are perceived in ourselves. He is preoccupied with the limits that have been set for us, and what lies beyond the limits. However, it is wrong to assume that Kant believes that these questions don’t matter, quite the opposite; though we are blinded by our view of the world, that doesn’t mean the answers to these questions to these questions aren’t out there. Maybe they are, but then again, maybe they are not.[7]
In Kant’s lifetime, science had made leaps and bounds with the help of Isaac Newton. New scientific explanations for seemingly almost everything threatened the religious ideas, which to Kant meant a threat to our owl personal ideas of freedom. Kant addresses the issue of a god in an unusual way; he states: ‘I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith’. Perhaps he wanted to protect religion, or perhaps he did not want to offend others; remember that in this time in history, religion was a big deal, swallowing almost every aspect of society, controlling both church and state. Perhaps he wanted to protect traditional Christian morality, because morality does not exist without free will. Overall, Kant wanted to accept both science and freedom. He felt that by understanding the difference between what is real and what we can perceive, we are able to protect those great questions while simultaneously accepting ourselves and the universe around us.[8]
Kant was not only interested in the human perception of reality, but also in the inner workings of morality. Kant had immaculately strict moral guidelines. According to him, it is not enough to simply do the right thing, you must do it for the right reasons as well. Feelings such as sympathy, guilt, or benevolence are irrelevant; people must do the right thing simply because it is their duty to do the right thing. In Kant’s view, emotions are a matter of luck and chance. Some people have more emotions than others, Kant argues. Being good is a choice, not a question of morals. In fact, the person who does not want to help anyone at all, but does so out of a sense of duty, is actually, according to Kant, more moral than someone who helps people out of good will. Emotions only violate the thought process and the distinction Kant sees between right and wrong. The idea is to overcome all emotion and carry out your actions regardless, not because, of them.[9]
This also applies to negative deeds. Most people take into account the intentions of someone when judging their mistakes. Kant, however, believes only that the outcome matters, because what if everyone did that? Each individual situation cannot be accounted for, because in Kant’s theory, every action needs to be viewed as a blanket term. In every case, the question “can this be applied to everyone?” needs to be asked. The reasoning behind this is that everyone should be treated equally and with respect. Therefore the same rules need to apply to everyone, no matter the circumstance. Additionally, the idea of doing certain things only to get what you want is morally wrong. One must think of right and wrong based on reasoning, not emotion; feelings are once again irrelevant to the outcome. In Kant’s opinion, morality should be available to everyone. This idea is quite different than the views of many other famous philosophers, such as Aristotle, who believed a moral person should have the right moral, compassionate feelings already, and these feelings would then cause that person to act in the correct way, which is of course very different from what Kant believed.[10]
Kant’s philosophy of morals can be applied directly to many situations in life. For example, someone who is cruel to animals is obviously not somebody of good moral character. However, according to Kant, the pain of the animal being abused is not important in the moral sense. The reason the cruelty of animals is immoral, to Kant, is because if someone is cruel to beings lesser than him or herself, that person is more likely to harm fellow human beings. This violates the duty we have toward other human beings.[11]
            However, there are some flaws in Kantian ethics, the main one being that it is empty. It gives no help to people who are torn between two decisions. For example, the decision to lie to protect somebody would go against Kant’s belief that lying for any reason is still wrong. However, if the person told the truth, they would also be violating Kant, because they would be putting another person in danger, and therefore breaking the duty that everyone has to one another. The idea of Kantian ethics is solely a linear function, with no room for improvisation or addition. Therefore, while Kantian ethics may apply very well to a basic situation, such as a young boy lying to his mother about doing his chores, it does not stand up well in more complex situations. A differing view that may be more applicable to complicated situations is consequentialism, which focuses on the intentions of the liar, and the expected consequences of one’s actions.[12] In both Kantian ethics and consequentialism, the young boy would still be wrong. However, the person who lies to protect a friend would be immoral according to Kant, but according to consequentialism, they would be of good moral character because their desired outcome would be a morally correct one. Therefore, it is left to each and every one of us to decide whether or not we should take Kant’s stance on morals to heart.
Today, the more popular view in social situations is consequentialism. The criminal justice system, however, takes the opposite side of the spectrum, judging people’s actions on the end result alone, with only a few exceptions (for example, murder as opposed to involuntary manslaughter), and these exceptions tend to only apply to large-scale charges. Some would criticize this as being too harsh, while others could call the idea of consequentialism too soft. The lingering question remains: does the end justify the means?
            Overall, Immanuel Kant was a man who overcame humble beginnings to become one of the most influential philosophers of his time period. He began by reading the theories and implications others had to offer, than escalated to writing his own publications of his theories, thus becoming a role model for those who would follow in his footsteps. Kant’s philosophies live on today, asking us grand, vast questions that challenge our ideas of faith, reality, and the notion of right and wrong. We are all, each of us, philosophers, and it is our own personal responsibility to decide whether to accept or eschew the ideals presented by Kant. Regardless, Immanuel Kant was an important element of our history, and his ideas should be respected and ruminated upon even in this modern age, because even as our society evolves, human nature remains the same.

Works Cited

Bird, Otto Allen. "Immanuel Kant." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.

Edmonds, David, and Nigel Warburton. Philosophy Bites Back. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Rohlf, Michael. "Immanuel Kant." Stanford University. May 20, 2010. Accessed November 17, 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant/#KanProThePurRea

Warburton, Nigel. A Little History of Philosophy. London: Yale University Press, 2012.

Warburton, Nigel. Philosophy: The Basics. London: Routledge, 1992.

[1] Otto Allen Bird. "Immanuel Kant." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.
[2]Immanuel Kant”
[3]  David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton. Philosophy Bites Back. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2012. 133-134
[4] Philosophy Bites Back 134-135
[5]  Philosophy Bites Back 137-138
[6] Michael Rolf. "Immanuel Kant." Stanford University. May 20, 2010. Accessed November 17, 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant/#KanProThePurRea
[7] Philosophy Bites Back 138-140
[8] Philosophy Bites Back 141-142
[9] Warburton, Nigel. A Little History of Philosophy. London: Yale University Press, 2012. 115-116
[10] A Little History of Philosophy 117-120
[11] Nigel Warburton. Philosophy: The Basics. London: Routledge, 1992.73-74
[12] Philosophy: The Basics. 1992.

1 comment:

  1. Good job!

    "Emotions only violate the thought process and the distinction Kant sees between right and wrong. The idea is to overcome all emotion and carry out your actions regardless, not because, of them" - Kant would have made a good Vulcan, or Stoic. For a very different view, check out Robert Solomon's books on the relevance of emotion for human (and humane) thinking. And, Daniel Goleman's concept of "emotional intelligence."