Thursday, September 19, 2013

The categorical imperative

Now THIS is a story to love.  Apparently two young men waiting in line to buy beer got into a shoving match that eventually disintegrated into freaking gunfire.  Fortunately, the gun was equipped to fire rubber bullets so the victim is going to survive. Now young men getting into fights is hardly novel—especially if there is alcohol nearby. But this argument was over the philosophy of Kant.

Obviously, this did not happen in USA.  I am 64 and have never been in a room where there were two people who even had an opinion on Kant—much less an opinion worth debating.  And gunfire?

I came to Kant rather late in life—mostly because I found subjects like aerodynamics more interesting than philosophy when I was young.  My Lutheran preacher father had clearly slept through his Kant class in seminary and I assume he had one because Kant and Kierkegaard lead the official list of approved Lutheran philosophers.  If you asked my dad about Kant, he would get the look of the guy who sat in the back of the classroom hoping he was never called on.  Of course, my mother who had far less formal education probably never heard of him.

Even so, my parents had a damn fine grip on the main maxims of the categorical imperative.  I must have heard my mother ask a couple thousand times, "And what would it be like if everyone misbehaved as you just did?"  (Maxim one-universality.)  There was the constant emphasis on leading a truthful life (Maxim two—one must never lie because people should never be treated as a means to an end.)  Then there was the constant reminders that you were always responsible for your own actions (Maxim three—everyone is his own moral agent.)

There are two possibly good explanations for why my parents could have lived the maxims of Kant's categorical imperative without ever studying his philosophy.  1) Kant was merely codifying the ideas he absorbed from his childhood surroundings which were pietist / Lutheran / artisan; or 2) Kant's teachings were so influential that by the time my parents came along, these ideas were considered unremarkable—something just everyone agreed on.

Impure reason: Russian man shot in heated Kant philosophy debate

September 17, 2013

A heated argument in southern Russia over philosopher Immanuel Kant’s ideas erupted in violence when one debater pulled out a gun and shot the other. The attacker could face up to 15 years in jail.

The two men in their twenties stood in line to buy beer at a local store on Sunday in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don after the city’s anniversary celebration. They were discussing Kant’s philosophical ideas.

The discussion turned into a heated debate, which was followed by a fistfight and then one of the debaters pulled out a nonlethal pistol and fired at the other’s head.

“After firing repeatedly at his opponent, the shooter fled the scene”, local authorities said in a statement. Later, the police were able to locate the shooter and seize the weapon.

The victim was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

Police have opened up a criminal investigation into the incident and if the suspect is found guilty, he could face up to 15 years in jail for the “intentional infliction of serious bodily harm.”

German philosopher Kant is known for his masterwork "The Critique of Pure Reason" and ideas that reason is the source of morality. more
In case you need a refresher course on the categorical imperative, the following YouTube clip will do it in three minutes.  Good Stuff!

Interestingly enough, there are real-economic implications to the categorical imperative.  Thorstein Veblen thought so—his Ph. D. thesis at Yale was on Kant and he would go on to become perhaps the greatest political economist in history.  And I am of the belief that only honest people can possibly become technologically sophisticated.  And because green technologies are the MOST sophisticated technologies, honesty is the key to a sustainable future.

There are even studies to back up this assertion. This is a list of the 13 least corrupt countries on earth. Not surprisingly, they are also the most prosperous. The countries in boldface have historically been Lutheran for centuries and so have been extensively exposed to the cultural forces that produced the categorical imperative.  (The rest are culturally Protestant with only the two exceptions—Singapore and Luxembourg. Since corruption is a serious problem in Asia, the triumph of the great anti-corruption efforts in Singapore are especially significant. Luxembourg has been tradtionally Catholic but is tiny and culturally overwhelmed by Germany and France.)
Transparency International's 2012 corruption index ratings.

Denmark 90

Finland 90

New Zealand 90

Sweden 88

Singapore 87

Switzerland 86

Australia 85

Norway  85

Canada  84

Netherlands  84

Iceland  82

Luxembourg  80

Germany 79

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