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METHODOLOGY OF ETHICS. - Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Ethics 
The Metaphysics of Ethics by Immanuel Kant, trans. J.W. Semple, ed. with Iintroduction by Rev. Henry Calderwood (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1886) (3rd edition).
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METHODOLOGY OF ETHICS.
DIDACTIC OF ETHICS.
THAT virtue must be acquired, and is not innate, results from the very notion of it, and does not need that we should recur to what observation and experience teach in Anthropology; for the ethic strength were not virtue, unless it were brought forth by the firmness of man’s resolution when combating against such mighty withstanding appetites. It is the product of pure practical reason, so far forth as this last does, by the consciousness of her superiority in freedom, gain the mastery over those.
That Ethics therefore can, and needs must, be taught, is corollary only from the position, that it is not born with us. It is accordingly a Science (a doctrine, i.e., a demonstrated theory); but since, by the mere knowledge how we ought to behave, no power is gained of exerting that knowledge into act, the old Stoics were of opinion that virtue could not be taught hortatively by the naked representation Duty, but behoved to be cultivated by the ascetic exercise of encountering the inward enemy in man. For no man can straightway do anywhat he wills to do, unless he have first tried his powers, and practised them; to which, however, the determination must be taken all at once. And in the case of virtue, any intention to capitulate with vice, or parley as to the gradual evacuation of its territory, would be itself impure, and even vicious; and the product of such a sentiment could not be virtue, this last depending on one only principle.
Now, as to virtue’s scientific method,—and every scientific doctrine must be methodic if it is not to be tumultuary,—this method cannot be fragmentary, but must be systematic, if Ethics is to be represented as a science. But the treatment of it may be either acroamatic, or it may be erotematic. In the former case, those whom we address are auditors simply; in the latter, we interrogate the pupil. This erotematic method, again, is subdivided into the dialogical, where the science is questioned out of the pupil’s reason, and into the catechetic, where, out of his memory. When we intend to evolve anywhat out of the reason of another, it can be done only by the dialogue, the master and the disciple mutually interrogating and responding. The master conducts by his questions the pupil’s train of thinking, by merely laying before him certain select instances, adapted for starting the substratum of given notions. The disciple is thus aroused to the consciousness of his own ability to think, and even does, by his reinterrogation (called forth by the obscurity or the doubtfulness of his master’s tenets), teach the teacher how best to frame the dialogue: as the old proverb has it, docendo discimus.
The first and most necessary instrumental for conveying ethical information to the altogether untutored, would be an ethical catechism. It ought to go before the religious catechism, and to be taught separately, and quite independent of it, and not, as is too often done, taught along with it, and thrust into it, as it were, by parentheses; for it is singly on pure ethic principles that a transit can be made from virtue to religion; and when the case is otherwise, the confessions are insincere. Upon this account it is that our most celebrated theological dignitaries have hesitated to compose a catechism for the statutable faith (creed), and thereby to stand, as it were, surety for it; whereas, one might have thought that so scanty a service was the very least we were entitled to expect from the vast stores of their learning.
On the contrary, the composition of a pure moral catechism as a ground-sketch of the moral duties, does not lie open to the like scruple or to the same difficulty; the whole matter of it admitting of being evolved out of every person’s common sense, and its form only requiring adaptation to the didactic rules of an elementary instruction. The formal principle, however, of this kind of instruction does not admit of the dialogo-Socratic method, the pupil not yet knowing what he has to ask. The teacher, therefore, alone catechises; and the answers, which are to be methodically elicited from the reason of the pupil, should be drawn up in definite, unchanging terms, and then intrusted for conversation to his memory. In which latter point it is, that the catechetic method differs from the acroamatic, where the teacher alone speaks; as also from the dialogic, where the interrogatories are mutual.
The experimental mean, the technique of moral education, is the good example of the teacher himself, his own conduct being exemplary, and the warning one of others; for copying is what first starts the causality of the will of the unlearned, and induces him to project those maxims which, in the sequel, he adopts. Habit is the establishment of a continual and permanent appetite, apart from any maxim, and springs from abandonment to repeated gratification, and is merely a mechanism of the sensory, and not any principle of cogitation; and to wean one’s self from it, is usually more difficult than to bring it forth. But as to the power of examples (whether to good or to evil) offered to our propensity for copying, it is to be noted, that the conduct of no one can become the rule of ours, so as to found any maxims and principles of virtue; these consisting always just in the subjective autonomy of every man’s own practical reason, where no external behaviour but only the law is the standard whereon we regulate the determinations of our will. The instructor will, for this reason, never say to an ill-thriving pupil, Take an example from that good, orderly, studious boy; for the pupil can only take occasion to hate his model, from seeing himself placed by him in so disadvantageous a light. A good example ought not to be made a copy, but should be used to serve in showing the practicability of our duty. It is not a comparison with any other man “as he is,” but with the idea of humanity “as he ought to be,” i.e., with the law, that must supply the preceptor with an infallible standard of education.
FRAGMENT OF SUCH A MORAL CATECHISM.
The preceptor questions out of the reason of his scholar what he wishes to teach him; and if, by hazard, this last cannot answer, then the other dexterously suggests to him the responses.
Preceptor. What is thy chief desire in life?
Scholar remains silent.
P. That everything should succeed and prosper with thee, according to thy whole heart and wish,—how is such a situation called?
P. It is called happiness (welfare, comfort, entire felicity). Now, suppose that thou hadst confided to thee all the happiness which is at all possible,—wouldst thou keep it to thyself, or wouldst thou impart some of it to others?
S. I would share it with my fellows, that they also might be happy and contented.
P. Good: that says somewhat for thy heart. Let us now see how it stands with thy head. Wouldst thou give the sluggard cushions to while away his time in sloth? wouldst thou allow the drunkard wine, and the occasions of excess; or give the deceiver captivating form and manners, that he might entrap others? wouldst thou give the robber intrepidity and strength? These are some means, whereby each of the above hope to become happy after a manner.
S. Oh no; not at all.
P. So that if thou hadst at thy disposal all possible happiness, and hadst likewise the completely goodwill to bestow it, thou wouldst not unreflectingly confer it on the first comer, but wouldst previously inquire how far he might be worthy of such happiness as he aspired after? but as for thyself, thou wouldst probably, without hesitation, provide for thee whatever would conduce to thy welfare?
P. But would not then the question occur to thee, to inquire if thou thyself wert altogether worthy of such happiness?
S. Yes, it would.
P. That within thee which pants for happiness, is appetite; that, again, which limits and restricts this appetite for happiness to the prior condition of thy being worthy of it, is thy reason and that thou by force of thy reason canst contain and conquer thy appetites, that is the freedom of thy will.* And in order to know what is to be done to partake of happiness, and at the same time not to become unworthy of it, the rule and the instruction lie all alone in thy reason; that is to say, it is not needful for thee to learn the rule of thy conduct from observation and experience, nor from others in education. Thy own reason teaches and commands thee forthwith what thou hast to do: e.g., suppose the case were put, that by a dexterous lie thou couldst extricate thyself or thy friend from some near embarrassment, and that without prejudice to any other,—what would thy reason say to such a matter?
S. Reason says that I ought not to lie, be the advantages of falsehood ever so great. Lying is mean, and makes man unworthy to be happy. Here is an unconditionate injunction of reason to be obeyed, in the face of which all appetite and inclination must be silent.
P. How dost thou call this absolute necessity of acting conformably to a law of reason?
P. The observance, then, of a man’s duty is the only and the unchanging condition of his worthiness to be made happy; and these two are identic and the same. But admitting that thou wert conscious of such a good and effective will, whereby thou mightest deem thyself worthy, at least not unworthy, of felicity, canst thou ground upon that any certain hope of becoming one day happy?
S. No, not upon that alone; for it is neither in our own power to secure our welfare, nor is the course of nature so adjusted as to fall in with good desert; and the chances of life depend on events over which we have no control. Our happiness must remain a bare wish, and cannot even convert itself to hope, unless some foreign power undertake it for us.
P. Has reason any grounds for believing in, as real, any such supreme power, dealing out happiness and misery according to desert and guilt, having sway over the whole physical system, and governing the world with the extremest wisdom; i.e., to hold that god is?
S.Yes; for we discover in those works of nature we can judge of, manifested, the traces of a wisdom so vast and profound, that we can account for it only by ascribing it to the unsearchable skill of a Creator,* from whom we deem ourselves entitled to expect a no less admirable adjustment of the world’s moral order, which latter is indeed its highest harmony; that is to say, we may one day hope to become partakers of happiness, if we do not, by our forgetfulness of duty, make ourselves unworthy of it.†
In this catechism, which ought to go in detail over all the virtues and vices, it is of the most vital moment that the behests of duty be not based on any advantages or inconveniences springing from their observance, to the man who stands obliged by them, no, not even on the good results accruing to others; but that abstraction being made from all such, those behests be immediately grounded on the pure moral law itself, the others may indeed be mentioned, but only by-the-by and as superfluities. It is the shame and not the damage that goes hand in hand with vice, that is at all points to be insisted on. For when the dignity of virtue in action is not extolled beyond everything, then is the very idea Duty thawed down and resolved into a mere dictate of expediency. That which ennobles and gives state to man fades out of his consciousness, and he, despoiled of the enchantment that would have guided him unscathed through life, stands venal for any price his seductive appetites may bid for him.
When these instructions have been exactly and wisely evolved, from the reason of the pupil, according to the different stages of rank, age, or sex mankind may be presented in, then there remains yet somewhat which inly searches and shakes the soul to its foundation, and places man in a position where he can only behold himself, struck with unbounded admiration at the aspect of the originary substratum of his nature,—an impression no time can ever afterwards deface. When all his duties are briefly recapitulated to him in their order, and he is made observant at each one of them that no evils, nor tribulations, nor ills of life, no, not even imminent death, which may be threatened, if he adhere faithful to his duty, are able to lessen, or to take away his consciousness of being independent on all such, and their master: then the question lies very near him, What is that within thee that dare trust itself to go forth to encounter and to brave every vicissitude in the physical system, within thee and without thee; in the confident conviction that thou canst surmount the whole of them, if they come into collision with thy ethical resolves? When this question, which presents itself of its own accord, but which far transcends all ability of speculative reason to investigate or explore,—when this question, I say, is once laid properly to heart, then must even the incomprehensible of the might retected in this part of self-knowledge, fire the soul to unsheath a yet keener energy of reason, and prompt her to the more inly hallowing of her law, the more temptation solicits to forsake it.
In this ethic catechetical instruction, it would conduce not a little to facilitate the advancement of the pupil, to propose, at the analysis of each duty, a few questions in casuistry, and then let the whole scholars try their skill in disentangling themselves from the puzzle. Not alone because this manner of sharpening the judgment is the very best adapted to the capacity of beginners, but especially because it is man’s nature to acquire a liking and relish for studies he is at length well versant in, and has urged to the grade of science; and thus the pupil is unawares drawn over, by unsuspected steps, to the interests of morality.
But it is of the very last moment, in all education, not to mix up and amalgamate the religious with the moral catechism; and yet of higher, not to suffer that to precede this, but always to endeavour, with the greatest diligence and detail, to bring the understanding to the clearest insight in ethical topics; for, when the case is otherwise, religion slides imperceptibly, and in the sequel, into hypocrisy; and mankind is driven by fear, to lie in the face of his own conscience, an acknowledgment of duties in which his heart takes no share.
THE ASCETIC EXERCISE OF ETHICS.
The rules for the exercise of virtue are intended to bring about and establish these two moods or frames of mind, viz., to make it (1) hardy and (2) cheerful in the discharge of duty. Virtue has to combat obstacles, for the vanquishing of which she has to rally all her forces; and is also sometimes summoned to quit and yield up the joys of life, the loss of which may well sadden the soul, and might even make it dark and sulky. But he who does not do what he has to do with alacrity, but renders the servile services of bondage, finds no inward worth in the obeying of the law, but dislikes it; and will shun as much as possible all occasions of observing it.
The culture of virtue, i.e., the ethical ascetics, has, in regard of its first element, i.e., for the valiant, dauntless, indefatigable practice of virtue, no other than the old watchword of the Stoa (ἀνέχου και ἀπέχου, bear and forbear). Bear,endure the evils of life without complaint;forbear,abstain from its superfluous enjoyments. This is a kind of dietetics, enabling man to keep himself ethically in health. Health, however, is, after all, only a negative satisfaction, and is not itself capable of being made sensible. Something must be superadded (viz., the second element) to make us taste the sweet amenity of life, and which must still be only moral. This is the having a serene, gay, and ever-joyous heart, according to the sentiment of the virtuous Epicurus. And who indeed can have more reason to be contented with himself, and gay—nay, who so able, even to regard it as a duty owed by him to himself, to transplant himself into a serene and joyous frame of mind and to make it habitual—as he who is aware of no wilful transgression, and knows himself secured against a lapse (hic murus aheneus esto)? the antipart of all this, however, is the ascetic exercise of the monasteries,* which inspired by superstitious fear, and the hypocritical disesteem of a man’s own self, sets to work with self-reproaches, whimpering, compunction, and a torturing of the body, and is intended not to result in virtue, but to make expurgation for sins, where, by self-imposed punishment, the sinners expect to do penance, instead of ethically repenting of them (i.e., merely forsaking them by the undecaying energy of the representation of the law); but this custom of imposing and executing punishment upon a man’s own self (which encloses a contradiction—punishment demanding the sentence of another) cannot beget that hilarity which goes hand in hand with virtue, and would rather tend to engender a covert hatred of the behests of duty. All ethical gymnastic consists, therefore, singly in the subjugating the instincts and appetites of our physical system, in order that we remain their master in any and all circumstances hazardous to morality; a gymnastic exercise rendering the will hardy and robust, and which, by the consciousness of regained freedom, makes the heart glad. To feel compunction is inevitable on the remembrance of former sins,—it is even a duty not to suffer it to fade on such reminiscence; but this compunction, and the infliction of a penance, such as fasting, are totally distinct and disparate ethical operations, the latter whereof, understood not in a dietetical but pious sense, is cheerless, sad, and gloomy, makes virtue hateful, and scares away her supporters. The discipline exercised by man upon himself can only by its attendant hilarity and alacrity become welcome and exemplary.
CONCLUSION OF THE ETHICS.
Although the last result obtained in our inquiry into the reach and extent of the à priori operations of human understanding was, that speculative reason declared the existence of God problematical; yet the belief in God being here admitted, and it being further admitted that the doctrine of religion is an integral part of the general system of the offices,* the question now raised respects the determining the boundary of the science whereof it is part. Are we to regard it as belonging to morals (to law in no event, for the rights of man cannot comprehend it)? or is it to be considered as falling out of and beyond the domains of pure moral philosophy?
The formal of religion, explained to be “the aggregate of our duties,as if they weredivine commandments,” belongs to the philosophy of morals; since it expresses singly the relation obtaining betwixt reason and that idea of God itself evolves, and the duty to have religion is not thereby made any duty owed by us toward God, as a being existing out of and beyond our own ideas; for we expressly abstract from such existence.* That all human duties must be cogitated agreeably to this form (by referring them to a divine à priori Will), rests on a ground subjectively logical only. We cannot easily depicture to ourselves in thought, obligation (ethical necessitation), except by figuring to ourselves another and His will—God, whose vicegerent is our universally legislative reason;* but this duty in relation to the Divinity (strictly in relation to the idea we frame to ourselves of such a Being), is a duty owed by mankind to himself; i.e., is not an objective duty to perform certain services to another, but a subjective obligation only, to strengthen the ethic springs of our own legislative reason.
As for the matter of religion, as a whole of duties toward God, and of the worship to be rendered Him, such obligations would be particular, not emanating from universally legislative reason. They could not upon this account be cognisable à priori, but could be known by experience and observation singly, that is, they would be duties of revealed religion, rested on divine commandments in the proper sense of the words; and such duties would require to set forth, not the bare idea of the Godhead for our practical behoof, but the existence of this Being as given mediately or immediately in observation and experience. A religion of this kind, however, how well founded soever it may be, can never constitute a part of pure moral philosophy.
Religion, therefore, considered as the doctrine of the duties owed toward God, falls far beyond all limits of pure ethics; and these remarks are subjoined here in justification of the present treatise, where the author has not, with a view to its completeness, inserted, as is usual, any religious duties.
There may undoubtedly be a doctrine of “religion within the limits of pure reason,” where it is not affirmed that the positions were originated at first by reason (for this might be too much presumption, p. 8, Vorrede Streit d. Facultäten, T.), but rest in part on historical documents and the tenets of a revelation, and where we treat only of the harmony of this last with what is taught by pure practical reason. But neither is this kind of doctrine of religion pure, but is mixed and applied to the Critique of a given document; and for this, ethics, as pure practical philosophy, can afford no room.
Remark.—All the ethical relations obtaining betwixt Intelligents, and involving a principle of the mutual harmony of their wills with one another, may be reduced and classed along with the emotions of love and reverence; and where the principle is practical, the will’s determination upon the former points to the end of the other person, but upon the latter to his right. If now there be such a Person as to have rights only, and no duties, toward others (God), and the others, conversely, owe merely duties and have no rights, then is the principle of the ethic relation betwixt them transcendent; whereas that of man to man, whose wills reciprocally limit one another, is immanent.
The end of the Godhead in creating, and His providence of man, we can only depicture to ourselves as an end of love, i.e., that He wills their happiness; but the principle of His will in regard of the reverence (awe) we owe Him, which limits the operations of the principle pointing to the end willed, i.e., the principle of His divine rights, can be no more than that of justice; we might, speaking as we must do after the fashion of men, lay down this position, that God created His intelligent universe that He might have somewhat to love or be loved by in turn. But then, again, as extensive, nay, more so (for the principle is restrictive, and conditions the end), is the demand, which, even our own reason tells us, divine justice, as punitive, may challenge. A reward cannot be expected, on the score of justice, from the Supreme Being, by Intelligents who have no rights, but only duties: they can only hope for it from His benignity and Love; for wages there can be no claim; and a remunerative justice is a contradiction in the relation of God to man.
There is, however, in the idea of the judiciary function of a Being exalted beyond the possibility of any infraction of His ends, somewhat hard to be reconciled with the relation of man to God, viz., the idea of a lesion committed against the Sovereign Majesty of the Governor of the World, where the question is not of the violations of the rights of man, perpetrated by mankind upon one another, and which God might as Judge avenge; but of a lesion which, it would seem, affected the rights of God Himself; an idea altogether transcendent, i.e., which goes quite beyond the range of any punitive justice we as men can instance, and presents surd and impossible principles not capable of being brought to coincide with those employed in everyday life, and which, therefore, are for our reason blank and empty.
This idea of divine punitive justice has been personified. It is not a particular being who dispenses it, for then it would be found contrary to the principles of justice; but justice itself cogitated in substance (called eternal justice), which, like fate in the old poets, is even above Jupiter, announces her law with an iron indeflectible necessity, the grounds of which we are unable to explore.—Of this, examples. Punishment, according to Horace, never leaves out of her sight the culprit who stalks audaciously away before her, but limps unremittingly after him until she overtake him.—Innocent blood cries for vengeance.—Crime cannot remain unavenged; and if the transgressor suffer not, yet his iniquities are visited on his posterity; or if vengeance is not in this life inflicted, it must in another, after death, which is expressly postulated and believed in, that the demand of eternal justice may be satisfied.—I will tolerate no blood-guiltiness to come over my land, said once a well-thinking prince, by granting pardon to a malignant assassinating duellist, for whom ye entreat my grace.—The debt of sins must be discharged, even though an innocent were required for a sacrifice (in which event his sorrows could not be called punishment, he having transgressed no law): hence we see, that the justice to which we attribute such decrees, is not a person administering a judiciary function (for he could not speak thus without violating the rights of others), but that bare justice as a transcendent principle, and cogitated to an invisible subject, defines the right of this personified Being. All which is in harmony, no doubt, with the formal of the principle of creation, but is contrary to its matter, the end, which must still be the happiness of mankind; for, on account of the vast multitude of criminals who allow their catalogue of sins to run on increasing, this principle of punitive justice would come to put the end of creation, not in the love of the Creator (as we cannot but think it), but in the rigid maintenance of his right (i.e., would make his right itself the end of the creation, called—the glory of God); and yet, since this justice is only a negative principle limitary of the other (benevolence), to affirm this, is contrary to the principles of practical reason, or seems to be so; for in such event, practical reason would hold that there could have been no room for creation, leading to results so contrary to the design and intention of the Author, whose end we can only depicture to ourselves to have been that of love.
Ethics then can, as pure practical philosophy, based on man’s own inward legislation, treat singly of the relation obtaining betwixt man and man, and this is for us the alone comprehensible; but as for relations obtaining betwixt God and man, these far transcend all our powers of knowledge, and are absolutely incomprehensible: and this confirms what we advanced above, that Ethics could not extend itself beyond the boundary of the duties owed by mankind to one another.
morrison and gibb, edinburgh, printers to her majesty’s stationery office.
[* ]Ref. 6, from p. 57.—C.
[* ]This does not contradict what was said at p. 140. There the question was of à prioriknowledge. Here Kant only talks of belief.—(Tr.)
[† ]Ref. 8, from p. 147.—C.
[* ]A reply made by Kant to Schiller may belong to this place. The common objection in Germany to Kant’s Ethics is, that it is too rigoristical; and the poet, in his paper on grace and decorum, affirms that Kant’s ideas of duty and obligation are best fitted to produce monastic manners, being subversive of all physical grace, and proper only for slaves. Here is the answer of the philosopher. He distinguishes betwixt the idea Duty and the beneficial effects of virtue. The first admits of no grace, on account of the awe and sense of the sublime, which follow on its representation—the sublime disdaining charms and embellishment as only proper to the beautiful; but permanent effects of active virtue on him who has fulfilled his duty, may be, and often are, advantageous, and appear as graceful and decorous.
[* ]Ref. 8, from p. 147.—C.
[* ]Ref. 8, from p. 147.—C.
[* ]Ref. 8, from p. 147.—C.