Friday, September 23, 2005


Kant's Evil Influence

"You should not be allowed to volunteer," said the pudgy woman. She sat across from me in a tiny conference room usually used for one-on-one interviews. Two other people sat with us, and we had been discussing how to raise money for an elderly man who needed a special diet. Every year, the office adopted people for Christmas, and that year we had an older couple.

"You really enjoy helping people. You seem to get a kick out of doing good. People like you shouldn't volunteer - you get too much out of it." She said all this with a serious, somewhat flat affect. I knew her well enough to know she'd never graduated high school, she attended church regularly and she had numerous children.

This woman never heard of Immanuel Kant, but she could apply his philosophy in everyday life.

Kant wrote about "the categorical imperative." One formulation of the idea was that moral action can spring solely from a sense of moral duty. Thus, though we are obliged to help others in need, we can only properly do so out of duty; it would be wrong to take pleasure in improving the lot of another person.

That is, of course, and over-simplified version of Kant. But the point stands; the formulation perverts doing good from being good. That is, it denys that helping others is intrinsically good; helping others becomes good only if done with the proper motives.

Consider the attitude of my coworker who refuses to volunteer for the annual charity workday sponsored by our top managers. He says his motives get all confused; would he be there to get face time with people who can promote him, or would he be doing good for the charity?

Of course, motive matters, but doing good is, unhhh, good. The refusal to participate because of confused motives sounds like a thin rationalization.

These examples demonstrate the evil influence of Immauel Kant.

Isn't it human nature to be self centered? So, I would say your co-worker had good intentions, though didn't want them to be confused... wouldn't you say?
Yes, but are our motives ever pure? How can we look beyond our self-centeredness through inaction?
I think that over-all it would depend on the person who's doing to decide for himself, since after all, all of us have different interpretations.
kant may be wrong at that point but still, he had contributed his share of knowledge to the world.
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