07 August 2010
A Question About Kant
Of course, Abraham didn't sacrifice Isaac in the end. But presumably we can discuss his willingness to do so, and his binding of Isaac.
My first thought was this:
"I don't know if Kant ever commented on the story, but I would expect that he would have found the idea of it revolting.
"Kant's categorical imperative (in one of its formulations) says that we should treat every human being as an end in himself, never solely as a means to an end. Abraham's willingness to obey the Lord in this means that he was about to treat his son NOT as an end in himself, but as a means, as a game piece in the big game of obeying commands.
"That sounds pretty thoroughly anti-Kantian to me."
Here's a more amusing take on the story.
Anyway, another visitor to yahoo!answers informed me (and Fitzy) that Kant did specifically address this point, in a text available through the miracle ofGoogle Books.
Turns out Kant's reaction was roughly what I thought it would be, though with a twist. Kant thought that since we know (through Kantian reasoning) that a good God could not possibly have ordered Abraham to do such a thing, we must infer that the voice Abraham heard was that of a demon pretending to be God.
"If God should really speak to man, man could still never know that it was God speaking. It is quite impossible for man to apprehend the infinite by his senses, distinguish it from sensible beings, and recognize it as such. But in some cases man can be sure the voice he hears is not God’s. For if the voice commands him to do something contrary to moral law, then no matter how majestic the apparition may be, and no matter how it may seem to surpass the whole of nature, he must consider it an illusion."
[That's at p. 115 of the Google-accessible book.]
Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.