Freedom, Our Public and Private Interests, and Kant's Questions - Essay Example

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The essence of Kant’s theory of enlightenment is the proposition that “enlightenment is man’s emergence from incurred immaturity” and that the concept of immaturity stems from self-infliction due to lack of courage. This in turn correlates to Kant’s central theory…
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Freedom, Our Public and Private Interests, and Kants Questions
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The essence of Kant’s theory of enlightenment is the proposition that “enlightenment is man’s emergence from incurred immaturity” and that the concept of immaturity stems from self-infliction due to lack of courage. This in turn correlates to Kant’s central theory pertaining to the underlying rationale of being human. There are many similarities between Kant and the earlier arguments of Aquinas, which have both proved important in developing ethical theory and international relations theory.
However, whilst there are similarities, Kant and Aquinas’ definition of human character has fuelled academic debate as to the differences particularly in relation to the theories regarding freedom, public and private interests in light of Kant’s extrapolation of the Supreme Moral Principle of Good Will. The focus of this paper is to critically evaluate these differences with a contextual consideration of Kant’s Supreme Moral Principle of Good Will in practice. To this end, this paper will consider Kant and Aquinas’ central arguments and evaluate Kantian assumptions of innate morality in ethical theory and international relations.
It is firstly submitted that Kant’s theory of enlightenment arguably focused on an attempt to seek out a truth of knowledge and similarly Aquinas’s arguments suggests that the underlying nature of being human was explained through rationale thought, which he in turn related to God. Furthermore, Deligiorgi posits that Kant’s philosophy belongs to an intellectual context in terms of the limits of enlightenment and he “defines enlightenment not in terms of rational certitudes but rather in terms of the freedom to engage in public argument” (Deligiorgi, 1).
Accordingly, Kant’s philosophy is rooted in an innate moral propensity towards democracy as a result of human intellectual independence. Kant’s theory of the rationale for being human suggests that it is the interrelationship between intellectual independence and morality that is central to concepts of democracy. Similarly, Aquinas’ proposition of what constitutes being human also emphasises the independent voluntary exercise of will.
However, in contrast to Kant, Aquinas’ theory was heavily intertwined with Catholic hierarchy and interpretations of existence (Ardley 3). Moreover, Aquinas’ central focus was on the issue of humanity in context of its relationship to God and the natural world. Additionally, Ardley highlights that the central difference with Kant’s principle of humanity was that “Aquinas represents the metaphysician of the philosophia perennis. Kant on the other hand, as we understand him, in his basic contentions gets to the heart of the characteristic non-metaphysical pre-occupation of the modern world which seem alien to the philosophia perennis” (Ardley 3-4).
Nevertheless, both philosophers have similarities in terms of their ethical views and attach significance to the role of practical reason in ethical life. It is further submitted that a fundamental basis in particular relating to Kant’s enlightenment theory was the supreme moral principle of good will, which catalysed the deontological approach to ethics. Moreover, both philosophers clearly believed that there is a fundamental principle of practical reason and morality which in turn presses the importance of law in ethics (Ardley, 5).
Additionally, whilst there are clearly similarities between Kant and Aquinas in their understanding of being human, whilst Aquinas’ rationale was often intertwined with the relationship of humans to God in the Catholic Church; Kant’s theory goes further in referring to intellectual independence irrespective of religion or cultural beliefs. This proposition has heavily influenced contemporary deontological ethical theory, which in turn has become extremely pertinent to the concept of international relations and human rights protection in the current political global framework.
For example, beyond the intellectual intelligence paradigm is Kant’s assumption of the supreme moral Principle of good will. This suggests that humans are innately moral and is supported by contemporary deontologist Somerville who refers to the “secular sacred” concept of ethics, which is that there are basic human rights and values that are common to humans irrespective of religious or cultural beliefs.
However, Somerville goes further and argues that the crux of ethics with regard to human rights protection is whether it is “inherently wrong?”(Somerville xi). Furthermore, Somerville argues in considering human rights protection, often the legal issue of human rights protection is inherently linked to the issue of whether it is ethical and that to consider ethics, “we must first ask whether what we plan to do is inherently wrong”(Somerville xi).
Therefore, Somerville’s ethical imagination echoes Kant’s theoretical idealism of the supreme moral principle of good will that a true system of politics cannot… take a single step without first paying tribute to morality. For as soon as those two come into conflict, morality can cut through the knot which politics cannot unite” (Kant, translated by Nisbet, 1991; Quoted in Fiala, 2002: 27).
However in terms of the current international political framework and mechanism for human rights protection, it is submitted that Kant’s belief in the presence of shared innate human morality is flawed and not reflected by reality. This is further supported by reference to Hobbensian ethical theory, which asserts that nature is scarce and “I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death” (Hobbes, Leviathan, quoted in Morgan, 2001, p.523). Under Hobbes’ strand of realism, humans are only moral to the extent that they follow rules and regulations imposed by the state, which undermines any notion of innate “shared ethics”. Moreover, Kant’s belief in the prevalence of innate human morality is arguably flawed and not reflected by the reality of the current political approach to foreign policy in international relations.
Whilst Kant’s theory is rooted in the assumption of innate human morality, the realist perception is that human nature cannot be trusted. Indeed, Hobbes’ supporter Donelan argues that there is “senselessness for survival of being moral when you can have no confidence that the other will be also; when there is no common power over you” (Donelan, 1990).
Conversely, Kant argues the following principles of international relations under the enlightenment paradigm:
1) The Freedom of every member as human being;
2) The equality of each with all the others as a subject; and
3) The independence of each member of a commonwealth as a citizen (Kant, 74).
Kant’s theory regarding the moral development of the state weighs heavily on the presumption that the civil state will uphold these rights and claims “no-one can compel me to be happy in accordance with his conception of the welfare of others, for each may seek his happiness in whatever way he sees fit, so long as he does not infringe upon the freedom of everyone else within a workable general law…. he must accord others the same right as he enjoys himself” (Kant 74).
Kant extended his idealist theory to postulate the “original contract” between man and civil society (Kant, 79), which Kant argued was vital for man to maintain his freedom under the concept of supreme morality (Kant, 46). However, whilst Kant’s assertions may be realistic within the state’s internal framework, it is questionable how far this notion of an innate human need for mutuality extends beyond a state’s border in international relations vis-à-vis other states.
Kant put forward the argument that man would inherently be in favour of complying with this “implied contract” to prevent the anarchic state and that the sacrosanct status of the original contract extended to international relations with other states (Kant, 46). This idealism was rooted in Kant’s belief that an evolved moral state would become disgusted with war in the international system and that the idealism would result in an end to war (Kant, 125).
However, if we consider this in context of contemporary international relations theory, Weber highlights that the central basis of international relations is state self interest and is to prevent other states gaining advantage, which is considered key in shaping national foreign policy (Weber, 1946). Moreover, according to Donelan “Their efforts result in a stalemate in which they survive” (Donelan, 1990). Thus according to Hobbes’ theory of realism, every state works with self interest to be better than others with a rough balance of power resulting in stalemate, where foreign policy and international politics is locked in a repetitive cycle (Donelan, 1990).
However, as between states, there is no moral duty or extension of Kant’s “original contract” and therefore States can do anything to prevent the other gaining control (Jackson & Sorrenson, 1999). Jackson and Sorrenson further comment that “All states must be prepared to sacrifice their international obligations on the altar of their self-interest if the two come into conflict” (Jackson and Sorenson, 1999, p.69). This means therefore that progress in international relations cannot be made unless the international situation of each state is peaceful as if the state is suffering internal crisis then submit to self interest before international politics.
Accordingly, this clearly contrasts with Kant’s ideal, however Kant’s ideal is flawed by the presumption of the moral state in the supreme morality of goodwill. Therefore, whilst Kant’s original contract and cosmopolitan constitution concept is clearly an ideal approach in shaping foreign policy it is inherently flawed by relying on the morality of human nature.
Ardley, G. Aquinas and Kant. Read Books 2007
Deligiorgi, K. Kant and the Culture of Enlightenment. SUNY Press, 2005
Donelan, M. Elements of International Political Theory. Oxford University Press, 1990
Fiala, A. G The Philosopher’s Voice. Suny Press, 2002
Jackson, R and Sorenson, G. Introduction to International Relations University Press, 2001
Kant, I. Kant’s Political Writings, translated by H.B. Nisbet and edited by Hans Reiss. Cambridge University Press 1991.
Morgan, W. Questionable Charity: Gender, Humanitarianism, and Complicity in American Literary Realism. University Press of New England, 2001
Somerville, Margaret. A. The ethical imagination: journeys of the human spirit. Anansi, 2006 Read More
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