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Kantian Morality

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Jul. 5th, 2008 | 11:06 am

In the light of all the dumb things that are happening in the Malaysian political scene right now, from murder, to black mail, to sodomy, one wonders whether there is still any sense of morality around these days. Perhaps as the world advance, the sense of morality becomes more and more lax, as we can see around us but this is probably also a sign of human progress, where rules cast on stones in old times is no longer relevant to the enlightened individual, whose personal freedom and choices come as priority against everything else. Perhaps, after all, Nietzsche is not too far wrong to say that God is dead.

But one sometimes wonder if this is really true, if this should be the way of life of our so-called "enlightened" human beings. Is religion still relevant? For a lot of people, it does. Perhaps it is not really because one really believes that one can go to Heaven after one is dead and enjoy eternal life there or one can have access to 72 virgins or such but the religion provides a system where a moral society can work, where mankind treats mankind morally according to the laws of the Creator. These laws are absolute and unchanging, and is universally applicable, what Kant called the categorical imperative.

Kant is very interesting, in many aspects. His categorical imperative is just this: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law". For example, Do not kill, is such a maxim because it should become a universal law. If you kill, and everyone else follows you and start to kill, this cannot be good. Do you like to be killed?

Kant's moral philosophy is akin to the religious view of morality, that is there are absolute things that mankind should and should not do. It is absolute inasmuch as it cannot be changed according to mankind's whims and desire to "suit" the situation, which is really an excuse to escape from the moral laws and from one's duty, whether duty as a Man, or as a father, or as a husband, or as a Prime Minister. When the principles of morality are derived from such sense of desire instead of absolute moral laws, the society can easily plunge into a mode of self destruction.

The difference, however, between Kant and the religious people is this, as is very significant. Kant's morality is derived solely from reason, practical reason, and not blindly from what God tells us to do and not to do. Although the final outcome of some of the maxims could be the same, this distinction is significant as Kant rest the responsibility on us humans as rational and intelligent being, to ask us to verify the maxims ourselves and not to just follow maxims blindly. This reminds me of the Buddha as he said in the Dhammapada, that we should verify what he said based on our own experience and reasoning, and we should not just believe what he said just because he said it. This is also important because as we have now experienced, religion can be badly exploited by irresponsible people and masses of people die or live a terrible life just because of this, whether it is a real mistake in interpretation of what God said or purposeful misinterpretation of what God said to suit their own selfish agenda.

It is important that one uses his or her intelligence, common sense and reason to derive at his or her own conclusion of events and actions instead of just follow blindly what other people said. Only then could a person be really free and be really moral.

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Comments {1}

Morality

from: anonymous
date: Jul. 6th, 2008 09:19 am (UTC)
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Hi Ho --

"In the light of all the dumb things that are happening in the Malaysian political scene right now, from murder, to black mail, to sodomy, one wonders whether there is still any sense of morality around these days."

FWIW, I believe that morality exists but that: a) power corrupts; and b) a perspective I've found to be especially prevalent in Malaysia is "if everyone's doing it (i.e., cheating, being corrupt, back-stabbing colleagues, etc.), then why shouldn't I? Especially if to not do so means that I'll essentially be trying to compete against one others with one arm tied behind my back". If only people would look at themselves in the mirror and think: The buck stops here... Except, sadly, that is a viewpoint that risks getting one accused of being naive or plain stupid, it seems. :(

"Perhaps as the world advance, the sense of morality becomes more and more lax,"

Really? Sounds like devolution rather than advancement or progress to me.

"Is religion still relevant?"

Maybe not but what one has to realize is that religion and morality are NOT synonymous. Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" is recommended reading, BTW. And rather than being boring, it's actually a lot of fun -- really, I laughed out loud a lot when reading it! :)

"It is important that one uses his or her intelligence, common sense and reason to derive at his or her own conclusion of events and actions instead of just follow blindly what other people said."

Well and true but what if people lack those attributes? How does one instill them? (Definitely not through Malaysia's educational system, one that seems to have worsened since colonial days when the aim was for it to produce not much more than clerks for the colonial civil service -- that's for sure.) :S

As a follow up: Another sage (Descartes?) one wrote that "I think, therefore I am." Do you? (Actually, I think this blog's author does but I worry about so many others of my fellow Malaysians...)

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