Kant and Nietzsche Essay
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Essay on Kant and Nietzsche – Two sides of the coin
The question of moral choice and moral responsibility didn’t lose its actuality through the centuries and philosophers of different schools tried to find the answer to it century after century. Who should define moral norms and regulations? Should they be universal and common for everybody or are there possible exceptions? Is moral a part of our inner self or something brought from outside by force? These and many other questions were answered by many philosophers but still require answers. We will try to see two basically different points of view on this subject to have the ability to compare and chose.
Kant’s moral theory
Immanuil Kant is a very influential western philosopher whose studies and researches had a great impact on the development of western philosophical thought. It’s hard to meet a person who wouldn’t know the expression Categorical Imperatives which make the basis of the Kant’s teaching. Kant has developed an ethical system of his own mostly presented in his two works – The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and The Critique of Practical Reason. Search for universal and supreme principle of morality was on the focus of his attention. Finally, the universal moral law (Categorical Imperative) was found as a basic law that can apply to complex and changing situations. Kant defined animal consciousness as purely sensuous and casually determined. This animal consciousness he saw as a part of the empirical world but stated that it differed for humans. That is why human notions of write and wrong couldn’t be applied to this type of consciousness. For example, we don’t judge animals, when they kill other animals for food. The actions of rational beings are defined my moral norms and regulations. These rational being are humans. So, animals belong to the sensible world and don’t undergo to the set of moral regulations. But the situation with the humans are not this simple. We are rational creatures but being part of the live nature we are also sensible creatures at the same time. This situation discovers the dual nature of our inner regulations as they are shared between two worlds – sensible world and rational one. Are actions are neither mere natural impulse resulting our senses and instincts not the product of our rational thinking and analyzing. They are a combination of both and the extend to with this both influence our motivations is hard to defined and puts us in front of moral choose any time we make the decision to act. So, Kant declared the necessity of the set of rules of conduct and regulations which would give us the opportunity to make the right choice. This ability to choose which looks like freedom from the first site turns to be a hard burden on the shoulder of the mankind as freedom means responsibility and all the animals, who don’t have this choice are “acted by upon by the world” and can’t be responsible for their actions this way. This does not happen to the human and freedom to choose changes passive role to active and implies responsibilities for the choices. We must investigate our will and reasons to act. Kant states, “Will is the capacity to act according to the principles provided by reason”. But here is the problem of human duality appears. We are not fully rational beings and though partially, but our actions are also defined by the non-rational impulses produced by our sensible (animal) part. But even in the case when the proper analyses is made and will and reasons to act are defined another problem arises. Now we must decided on the way to achieve the result we wish. Kant states that better or worse, actions can be performed to achieve the worse or better result and this puts us in the position of moral dilemma where choosing good for yourself, one can hurt others and vise versa. And the actions we perform after these reflections and considerations are defied as moral actions by Kant. Moral actions for him are the actions, where reasons stay earlier than follows and where we take others into account. It means that we think about the follows of our action for ourselves and others before we perform it. That is the basic feature which distinct us from animals whose actions are built as action – follow chain where the action is taken and any result is taken for granted without doubts and hesitations. Kant divides everything into two classes of ends-in-themselves and means-to-ends. And if the first class consists of autonomous beings with their own plans of action possessing the free will of choice the second one – the class of means-to-ends doesn’t have this freedom. We, humans, belong to the ends-in-themselves and another class is made of things without souls. While taking our decisions and defining our goals and means of actions we should take into account the impact our actions can have on the reasoning agents like ourselves (ends-in-themselves) but can neglect the impact on the means-to-ends.
In his work called “Critique of Practical Reason” tries to investigate the problem of free will and the criteria, which make our actions morally good or bad. Kant finds the solution in using the Categorical Imperative for finding the answer to the question. Categorical Imperative is a notion, which stands beyond the good and evil and possesses the force of duty. The categorical imperative serves to the principles of Universality and Necessity only and it’s a priory form of will. “A priori” is a form, which exists in our consciousness from birth and can not be changed. The intellect operates twelve a priori forms, called categories. Kant stated that a priory forms are empty by their nature and need to be filled in by the empirical elements to become effective. Same as glass itself is a very useful device but can help us to get rid of the thirst only filled in with the water.
But at the same time Categorical imperative is already defined by itself and empirical elements are defined by it. It’s the Will which helps human to choose good actions but not vice versa. The notion of Categorical Imperatives stands behind the abilities of our comprehension and Kant states that it’s hard to be defined. He names three basic notions through with Categorical Imperatives could be defined. They are namely, liberty and immortality of God and soul. Kant did not deny the existence of God and soul. He only stated that they belonged to the sphere of transcendental and couldn’t be studies or even seen by the organs of perception and mechanisms of thinking peculiar to humans.
Kant and Plato: confederates or opponents
Kant argues some points of Plato’s teaching but they had a lot in common at the same time. Both were Rationalists or Absolutists in their philosophical preferences, both counted on the transcendental and absolute truths, categorical truths of morality and a priori knowledge or eternal ideas which can not be perceive by our minds. “Plato had an important indirect influence on Kant’s thinking about the reflecting power of judgment.” – Wrote Mihaela Fistioc in her book called “The Beautiful Shape of the Good: Platonic and Pythagorean Themes in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment” where she focused on the connection between the philosophical credos of the genius philosophers. She also states that Kant might have possessed the ideas of a priori intuition and form, and moral education from the Plato’s “Critique”. Plato uses the term “a priori” to explain the knowledge we have from the times we existed in the Ideal world of forms. For him a priori means from the previous life. And since we came here from the ideal world of images, we have the memories of all these ideal things inside of us and these are eternal truth which will never be changed. Thirteen hundred years later, Immanuel Kant tried to say the same thing. He held that man’s knowledge of eternal truths were a product of what he called “the categories of the mind”. But despite the seeming alikeness of their theories, Kant and Plato wouldn’t agree on the origin of a priori truth of Imperative categories as Kant would call them. Kant accuses Plato in the attempt to explain the existence of Universal good not through the human understanding but through some fundamental notions from the word of Ideas. Thus our “humanness” is lost according to Kant’s opinion because the attempt to deprive the universal good the right to be the part of human understanding and giving it to higher powers rejects the uniqueness of human rational nature. Kant blames Plato for making some thing spheres the source of a priori perceptions, which leads to extreme subjectivisms and neglects the meaning of the philosophy as a science. Kant calls Plato’s effort to give the explanations through unexplainable and unperceivable things “a mystical illumination of visionary charlatans”.
Nietzsche’s “slave morality”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher known for his radical ideas and brusque critics of the classical philosophical thought. “God is dead” is a phrase from his writing which reflects his radical attitude to religion and ethics. Nietzsche stated that religion, philosophy and what is most important – humanity – were killed by the traditional values of society. The way of life and social organization have lead to the destruction and depreciation of moral values and basic human qualities. That was out he saw in the transvaluation of values – reviewing all the system of moral norms and regulations in order to set up new guiding lines. This is the idea around which all other ideas of his are concentrated. Transvaluation was an attempt to break through the traditional set of norms and limitation of our moral and intellectual life and to replace them with the new set of rules which would show the people way out of the dark labyrinth they were put inside by the traditional philosophy and religion. Nietzsche attacks morality for both – for its commitment to descriptive claims about human agency and for its destructive impact on the highest types of human beings.
He wanted to create a generation on new human beings – supermen or Overman – free from the false morality. “Our moral judgments and evaluations…are only images and fantasies based on a physiological process unknown to us” – he states to prove the relativity of the moral norms and principles. Nietzsche believed that the society’s traditional way of thinking and morals were life-denying and destructive. Traditional morals gave a rice to “slave morality” which suppresses all impulses to creatively and free will of the humans and makes them to adopt a “herd mentality” believing that thing which is good for the majority is good for everyone, putting themselves into the strict limitations and boundaries of the predefined good and evil. “Slave morality encourages conformity; national, racial, gender, and religious bigotry; and unthinking patriotism” (On Friedrick Nietzsche: “The Anti-Philosopher” Archetypes of Wisdom; Douglas J. Soccio). The world was defined by Nietzsche to be dead and he put all the burden of responsibility for this to the traditional Christian morals accepted by the vast majority of the western world and defended in Kant’s philosophy. Traditional moral values, such as self-sacrifices, humanity, love, compassion have killed everything natural and real in Man and our effort to become more humans played a bad joke to us. The only way out Nietzsche saw in crossing the line, getting out of the moral limitations and restrictions of good and evil and following only “the will to power”. That would place the humans on the other, higher plane of existence. Nietzsche’s ideal of ethical person in embodied in Overman. This is a person new, creative, able to adjust to the changes and he is a harsh critic and judge of his own intentions and actions.
Kant’s major problem of distinction between nature and freedom was radically resolved by Nietzsche. He saw the will to power as only possible form of freedom “we must … posit hypothetically the causality of the will as the only causality”. Freedom for Kant was is a deliberate necessity. Nietzsche didn’t want to recognize any necessity. For him freedom with limitations was not the freedom any more.
Nietzsche criticized rational philosophers like Plato and Kant for their objectivism. He was a relativist and stated that nothing could be known with certainty. He didn’t believe that absolute truth, a priori knowledge, eternal ideas or ultimate reality which was central notions for the Kant’s and Plato’s teachings have ever existed. Nietzsche didn’t believe in Plato’s moral principles and Kant’s Categorical Imperative (Foundation of Morals) considering them mere abstractions. Nietzsche called traditional philosophy too abstract and removed from real people and their needs. Nietzsche argued Plato’s theory of Eternal Forms. He considered the time spend on seeking for the eternal truth a mere waste of time as it lead people away from the most important thing – Reality. Discovering reality, he considered the only possible way to attain to an ideal happiness, an ideal man or ideal morality.
Nietzsche wasn’t more tolerant to Kant’s teaching either. He didn’t believe that Kant’s Universal Moral Law of Categorical Imperative could apply to any situation and help to make the right choice to an individual. Nietzsche stated that individuals could study how to adjust the changing surrounding resolving moral and ethical problems counting on their intellects and Will to power rather than hoping to the providential answers provided by the Categorical Imperative. Separation between reason and emotions caused by the use of the concept of Good Will was an essential demerit in Nietzsche’s eyes. Nietzsche didn’t like the fact that this separation didn’t simplify the moral choice but lead to separation between soul and body, instincts and intellect. He considers Kantian ethics (same as Plato’) to be too remote from life experience. We live in the changeable world where everything flies and changes and the ability to change with the world is the only way to survive.
As we can see Kant and Nietzsche were irreconcilable opponents in their view on Moral responsibility. Kant counted on the Universal Moral Law (Categorical Imperative) everybody should have followed it by any conditions. So, Kant gives us ready and prepared Law which would help us taking all the decisions.
Nietzsche didn’t admit any laws and regulations including Moral laws. Pre-defined moral or the absence of the latest… Thought Kant speaks a lot about the free will and choice, I think that his theory in reality limits it. Let’s only look at the name “categorical” when speaking about his Imperative. It assumes no objections and leaves little space for creativity. If to think that everything is predefined and to follow your destiny in the blind hope to achieve the highest pleasure and liberation the stimulus to actions and reflections will disappear gradually. These are the reasons I prefer Nietzsche’s „slavish revolt in morality”. And thought his ideas of complete freedom can be dangerous if misinterpreted (remember the conclusions Hitler has made out of his teaching), they assume the complete responsibility also. I think it is logically – the freedom of moral choice requires responsibility and vice versa. Nietzsche doesn’t call to abort all moral norms and regulations to my mind. He just wants people to pass on the higher level where the Moral norms are the part of inner nature (Overman) but not are dictated by the higher powers.