Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART I.: DIDACTIC OF ETHICS. - The Metaphysics of Ethics
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PART I.: DIDACTIC 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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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.
[* ]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.