Thursday, April 2, 2009

Reconciling Immanuel Kant's Theory of Morals With Judaism

I would like to introduce this subject by just stating that I believe everything the Torah says is moral. However, I do find a value to explaining the morality found within the Torah from external sources as well. I do not believe the Torah's morals are limited to these external morals, since the morals found in the Torah are from G-D and therefore infallible, but these external morals do provide logical explanations for the choices of G-D's morals. It is probably the case that these reasons are not the real reasons, but giving reasons for the commandments are fallible in the same way, yet people have always tried to do that.

In order to introduce Kant's ideas, I would like to bring in a portion written by the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It says,

"Kant argued that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he dubbed the “Categorical Imperative” (CI). Immorality thus involves a violation of the CI and is thereby irrational. Other philosophers, such as Locke and Hobbes, had also argued that moral requirements are based on standards of rationality. However, these standards were either desire-based instrumental principles of rationality or based on sui generis rational intuitions. Kant agreed with many of his predecessors that an analysis of practical reason will reveal only the requirement that rational agents must conform to instrumental principles. Yet he argued that conformity to the CI (a non-instrumental principle) and hence to moral requirements themselves, can nevertheless be shown to be essential to rational agency. This argument was based on his striking doctrine that a rational will must be regarded as autonomous, or free in the sense of being the author of the law that binds it. The fundamental principle of morality — the CI — is none other than the law of an autonomous will. Thus, at the heart of Kant's moral philosophy is a conception of reason whose reach in practical affairs goes well beyond that of a Humean ‘slave’ to the passions. Moreover, it is the presence of this self-governing reason in each person that Kant thought offered decisive grounds for viewing each as possessed of equal worth and deserving of equal respect."

Kant's ideas here seem very rational and well developed. All people are equal, we are not to be 'slaves' to our desires and only rational thought is to be used when figuring out what is moral. I believe that the morals that are laid out in the Torah can be shown to be very congruent with these ideas, except the last. This, however, does not preclude the Torah from being similar to Kant's ideas since Kant is using rationality, whereas the Torah uses the morals that are laid out by G-D. Therefore, the important aspects to show that are congruent are that all people are equal and that we are not to base morality on our personal desires. The fact that Kant gets his morals from logic and the Torah receives its morals from G-D does not make these two approaches dissimilar.

Before continuing, I believe it is important to point out that Kant specifically says that Judaism's morality can not be congruent with his morality. However, the reasons he gives show a lack of understanding of Judaism. For example, he says that the laws contained within Judaism appear to only apply to the nation and political aspects of the jewish people. This is pointed out in the following paragraph that describes Kant's views written by Peter J. Leithart. He says,

"Judaism was only a collection of merely statutory laws supporting a political state; for whatever moral additions were appended to it, whether originally or only later, do not in any way belong to Judaism as such. Judaism was meant to be secular. Its commands are political, external; the consequences of disobedience are dispensed by human beings. Judaism contains no reference to the future life, and since this is a rational belief, it can only be that G-D deliberately excluded this from Judaism. Judaism did not aim at any universal church, but was exclusivist and hostile to the whole human race outside. G-D was not a moral G-D, but demanded obedience without any accompanying demand for moral progress."

It is interesting to note that most Jews that Kant associated with were non-religious philosopher types. It stands to reason that he did not really know the truth about Judaism. First of all, "The consequence of disobecidence" was not just dispensed by human beings. This is true because there are several laws in Judaism that say a man's soul is removed from the covenant. The fact that Kant can even entertain the idea that Judaism does not refer to the future life reveals that a non-believer must have taught him all he knew about Judaism. As we all know, Judaism is all about the future life. The next world, the spiritual world, is talked about so much throughout the Mishna, Talmud and so many other jewish sources. My final comment will be on Kant's idea that Judaism is exclusivist. First off, Judaism allows anyone to convert, which he says makes Christianity non-exclusive. Secondly, the belief in Judaism is that one need not convert and that person can still live a meaningful life as long as they follow the seven Noahide laws. The morality found within the Torah is not exclusive for Jews, rather it is meant for all humankind. The laws are exclusive for Jews, for them to fulfill the statutes, but the morals found inside the Torah are universal.

Kant's morality philosophy must first be stated before being able to compare it to the Torah. It states, "

An agent's maxim, according to Kant, is his "subjective principle of human actions": that is, what the agent believes is his reason to act. (Kant, Foundations, pp. 400, 429.) This idea has five steps:
1)Find the agent's maxim (i.e., an action paired with its motivation). Take for example the declaration "I will lie for personal benefit." Lying is the action; the motivation is to fulfill some sort of desire. Paired together, they form the maxim.
2)Imagine a possible world in which everyone in a similar position to the real-world agent followed that maxim.
3)Decide whether any contradictions or irrationalities arise in the possible world as a result of following the maxim.
4)If a contradiction or irrationality arises, acting on that maxim is not allowed in the real world.
5)If there is no contradiction, then acting on that maxim is permissible, and in some instances required.

I think this type of rationale can be applied to the morals in the Torah. (By the way if I am wrong that does not disprove anything other than my theory.) First, it must be stated that Kant believes that human beings, because of their ability to act on a law they give to themselves, their autonomy, possess a dignity that renders them as ends not means. To kill a human being then is always wrong in that it is the ultimate violation of their status as an end. On the other hand, in so far as we choose to kill another, justice requires, Kant believes, that we die also. The case of a war would be along the same lines. In a legitimate war of self-defense against an aggressor, killing the enemy is morally justifiable, since the latter has chosen to attack us without just cause.

These ideas found within Kant's ideology can answer up some questions of morality that have been bothering people about certain Biblical statements. For example, exterminate Amalek. How is it possible that a moral system would require the destruction of a nation? I believe that, if we say that the Torah is similar to Kant then we have our answer. The Torah reveals to us that the nation of Amalek will always try to kill the nation of the Jews. This was proven years later when Haman, in the story of Purim, tried to kill the Jews and it was made known that he was from Amalek. Therefore, since there will be a continuous struggle and the Amalekites will always try to kill the Jews, it is incumbent upon the Jewish people to survive. This survival is contingent upon the fact that we destroy Amalek since they will forever try to kill us. How could the Jewish people make sure they survive? By wiping out the very nation that is trying to wipe them out. I think that is the justice that Kant speaks of and it can be applied to this situation. Also, this does not violate the five steps that he lays out for individual thought because this is only a reactionary measure for what is just.

Similarly, this idea explains why a murderer should be put to death. If a person kills another then it is morally unacceptable to leave that person alive. For if you leave them alive, how is it just and fair that one who has killed another remain alive? It has to be that he is put to death in order that the justness of the world and its morality remain intact.

Kant and the Torah seem very congruent in their ideas of what is just, but like I mentioned before, I think they are also similar in how a person should morally behave in general. One should always be thinking, what would happen if the whole world acted like this. Similarly, in Judaism, the rules only allow one to act in a certain way that is not detrimental to society. Anything that is detrimental is not permissible. I think the main difference between them is that Kant uses his rational, whereas the Torah is morals straight from G-D.

Again, I am not an expert on this, but these were some ideas that I came up with. If proven wrong then maybe Kant and the Torah are not reconcilable, or maybe I am just not thinking in the proper way. Either way, this was just an idea I had that i wanted to share. I am open for anyones comments and corrections.

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