One of the reasons I love Kant is that I live my life thinking about him constantly. No better candidate of his philosophy than his ethics demonstrates this. Throughout daily life, I think of the instructions of Kant’s moral theory (not so much his applied ethics!) and his particularly his concepts of duty; imperatives; rational autonomy and the sentiments. Let me give some common examples:
- The other day I was very angry; and performed an act of defending someone who could not defend themself. This act of protecting them was motivated greatly by my anger.
- The other day I was very helpful to a person; but this was because I found them somewhat sexually attractive; this act of helpfulness was motivated wholly in virtue of intention to flirt.
“But how can we deny our emotions?”
One thing I get when I tell people that I like Kant’s ethics is that they usually somehow tell me that I am inconsistent. How? Well; by embracing the passions through my normal conduct, and maintaining some ‘anti-emotion’ sentiment through ethical conduct. Two things must be said here: firstly, the prevalence of the passions is a very deep problem, and I don’t think I can fully acknolwedge this in my post; secondly, being ‘anti-emotion’ isn’t really what Kant’s ethics are about!
Many people misconstrue Kant as being totally insensitive to the plethora and impact of the emotions we have. THIS VIEW IS FALSE! Kant deals very much with the nature of the passions in as much a way as Hume does (that’s a big claim!). The passions can make us seem to behave well, and they are very much beneficial at times; but at the end of the day, we must acknowledge the fact (something that I too have recently re-learned, or learned, as the case may be); that our passions, like our “natural belief” in Humean vocabulary, is involuntary, or at least, first order involuntary.
Trying to understand our passions is very important; and insofar as we are rational and autonomous, we must capture the nuances and thralls of our ruling passions. If we construe Kant’s point as a normative one; it shall be as this: the passions, when used in our calculus of action, should NOT be genuinely moral.
Lets ask an open question now: Can we avoid the ruling passions that seem to direct us like tracks lead a train?
This is, where I think a Spinozist psychology is most helpful….
Michael and Sinistre