More Kant for Lent

Kant's approach to faith is rational rather than simply faithful, which causes him to disdain the idea that one can obtain (or ought to seek) justification by faith alone. To look to God when you aren't shifting the load yourself strikes him as a doomed project, as you are unworthy of the help you seek.

He also brings the Stoics in for some criticism in thinking the natural inclinations are the primary evil in the hearts of men. Not so, he says: the natural inclinations are good, as long as they are well-managed.

Even just the first couple of pages here ought to make for an interesting and worthy discussion.


MikeD said...

Grim said...

...or instead we could sing Python songs.

MikeD said...

I'm sorry. I am bad. But I couldn't help it. Every time I saw his name, the song started in my head.

MikeD said...

Gah! And then I just now saw this:

douglas said...

At the outset, I take issue not with his critique of the Stoics, but with the assertion that the natural inclinations are "good". He later refers to them as "innocent", which is a better term I think.
They simply are. They are a of part of our existence, and in fact necessary to our survival, but whether or not they are good (morally), does indeed depend solely on how I allow them to manifest themselves. With that I surely agree.

Grim said...


It's OK. If people would rather sing Python songs than do philosophy, I can understand. The problem with Python for me is that their cleverness is such that everyone falls in love with it, so that you end up not being able to do the serious thing they were mocking anymore. I love the Arthurian stories, for example, but good luck talking about them without people dropping into bad fake English accents and doing the "Brave Sir Robin" and "Bridge Keeper" bits.

Which is not to say that it wasn't a clever movie. It was. It's now all people can think of when the subject comes up, as you say.

Grim said...


The point about the natural inclinations being "good" didn't strike me, perhaps because they would be good also in the Aristotelian context. We say things are goods, Aristotle says, if they are ends that we pursue. And the best good is the thing that all things pursue insofar as they are free to do so: which is to say, existence. All people and animals and plants do their best to continue to exist, and to reproduce themselves, as the major end of all of their chosen actions.

In that context, then, natural inclinations aren't good per se, but they reliably point to the good -- if, and here Kant and Aristotle agree, they are properly managed. Too much food can lead to weakness and ill health, for example. But the inclination to eat is good, because it helps us attain the good of continued existence.

Texan99 said...

The idea that we don't deserve the help we seek doesn't trouble me unduly. We pretty much know that. But I'm on board with the idea that it's horribly unwise and corrupt not at least to try to do our best, instead of sitting around assuming God will make it all right in the end.

Grim said...

"For to require courage is halfway to instilling it" -- an interesting formulation, isn't it?

douglas said...

" We say things are goods, Aristotle says, if they are ends that we pursue."

Isn't it right to say that he says that they are goods if they are ends we pursue that will lead us to greater happiness? Many a man pursues things with a great deal of vigor and expense, yet does not find happiness. Which is why moderation is a virtue, no? Given that formulation, our drives cannot be in themselves good, as they just as easily encourage us to excess as to happiness.

Why is it in these conversations, I write something like this quite confidently, then immediately think 'what am I missing here?'...

But then, hopefully, you'll let me know!

douglas said...

And yes, I see this:
"In that context, then, natural inclinations aren't good per se, but they reliably point to the good -- if, and here Kant and Aristotle agree, they are properly managed. Too much food can lead to weakness and ill health, for example."

But it's this I have issue with:
"But the inclination to eat is good, because it helps us attain the good of continued existence."

Why? It just as easily leads to the bad of overindulgence and the bad effects of that. Therefore is can't be good, even though it offers a path to a good, as it also offers a path to a bad, right?

Ymar Sakar said...

Thinking of the Stoics, the first that comes to mind is Brutus in the assassination of Julius Caesar.

Instead of saving the Senate's Republic of corruption and wealth, it began the dissolution instead.

Late Republic, same as the late American experiment these days. Same cross roads. There are reformers, even populists, like Gaius Marius. When the status quo tyrants block them with force, the Republic is dissolved.

Grim said...

So, the possibility that bad things can happen from good drives is one Aristotle considers. What he says is that we have to judge from the probabilities, even for real virtues like courage:

"And goods also give rise to a similar fluctuation because they bring harm to many people; for before now men have been undone by reason of their wealth, and others by reason of their courage. We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premisses to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, and in speaking about things which are only for the most part true and with premisses of the same kind to reach conclusions that are no better."

If that's true for the virtues, like courage and moderation, it is even more true for the pleasures we seek (and the pains we wish to avoid). Nevertheless, the virtues exist to help us use our natural drives in the right way. Sometimes even the virtues go wrong and bring us to destruction, but they are virtues because they are probably the best course.

The best course towards what? Happiness, as you said. But it's happiness according to Aristotle's definition, which is a sort of flourishing: it's the use of your faculties according to rational virtue, so that you excel at the things of which you are capable.

But all of those things are natural drives, aren't they? You fashion great meals because you get hungry -- a being who did not have to eat would not. You write great poetry because you have a capacity for language and a drive to communicate with other people. We engage in politics (hopefully better usually than this year) in order to build a good life in which we can better excel in the ways we satisfy our natural drives.

And of course, for Aristotle, the most important natural drive is the drive to understand: "All men," he says at the beginning of the Metaphysics "by nature desire to know."

So yes, even the virtues can lead to harm -- that's the nature of the world, and there's no fixing it. But the virtues offer the most probable path to realizing the drives in a way that leads to a flourishing, happy existence.

Grim said...

Note, by the way, how different that is from Kant: the end is to live happily. There is no concept of duty being forwarded here. The right thing to do is right because it probably works. There's a good that is not selfish -- the greatest happiness occurs in a political order that is structured to support it, but in order to be structured to support yours it will need to support others'. In order to be stable, it will have to be fair to their interests.

Yet the reason to be courageous for Kant is to resist evil -- starting in the self. For Aristotle, viciousness is its own punishment: it almost reliably leads to unhappiness, just as virtue almost reliably leads to happiness. You don't need courage to resist evil, you need it to do the things that will make you happiest (because some of those things are scary and dangerous). What might cause you to do evil isn't some lurking wickedness, but a failure to understand -- a failure to know what will more reliably lead to good results.

Grim said...

I should add, also, that Aristotle ranks happiness as this level of end because it is not a means to a further end. Happiness is a state (he says it is an actuality) that has no end beyond itself. In that way, it is like the Unmoved Mover, which is an actuality with no ends beyond itself. So happiness in this sense of flourishing is the ultimate human end.

See this article by Ed Halper for more.