“But when morality has been completely expounded (which merely imposes duties instead of providing rules for selfish desires), then first, after the moral desire to promote the summum bonum (to bring the kingdom of God to us) has been awakened, a desire founded on a law, and which could not previously arise in any selfish mind, and when for the behoof of this desire the step to religion has been taken, then this ethical doctrine may be also called a doctrine of happiness because the hope of happiness first begins with religion only.”
Immanuel Kant, The Moral Argument, in The Philosophy of Religion,(3rd ed), ed – Robert Ferm, Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford, 1998. P – 188.
First of all, this must contend as one of the longest sentences ever written, philosophically or otherwise. Deciphering sense from this dense literary construction is like pointing a flash light down a well. Kant lives and breathes so essentially within an eighteenth century Christian cultural framework that it is impossible for him to ultimately move outside of its clutches. One cannot underestimate the danger to life and reputation from doing so, at this point in time.
I ask myself, what is the highest good and who determines it to be so? Why is the highest good and supreme happiness assumed by Kant to be “the kingdom of God” being brought to us? Kant is still operating within the cultural and ethical assumptions of his age and society. You cannot truly realise the levels of cultural conditioning and brain washing imposed upon by those brought up by strongly religious families, and in this instance, vehemently intolerant religious communities.
Kant Abide His Conception of Morality
Religions take an unsophisticated intelligence, that of a small child, and coerce and condition it to a narrative involving supernatural powers (miracles) and a supreme being (God), all of which are invisible to the human eye. Through repetition and the reinforcing and comforting belief of this child’s parents and grandparents in these self-same anomalies of nature, the child comes to accept them as truths. Church services, through the aid of chanting prayers and singing hymns, all shared processes which have hypnotic effects, build a strong subjective belief, within the being, in an alternative reality to that of secular beings.
Religion is extraordinary in its influence, especially when members of particular religions scoff at the ‘so called’ ridiculous beliefs of others of a different religious persuasion. Historically, early Christians pilloried those who held traditional polytheistic, or what we now term pagan, beliefs, making fun of their ‘crazy’ belief in a pantheon of gods residing on Mount Olympus. A belief in Jesus raising people from the dead does not strike some Christians, as either highly unlikely or more simply ludicrous, but the same Christian will find the beliefs of many others as the result of foolishness or of a primitive culture – Aboriginals, Native Americans and African tribal people come to mind and their interaction with Christian missionaries.
Kant seems to say, that only when the great Christian lie, eternal happiness in heaven, is posited into the equation does the possibility of happiness enter into the outcome of performing one’s moral duty. Therefore religion provides the hope for true happiness.
“That in the order of ends, man (and with him every rational being) is an end in himself, that is, that he can never be used merely as a means by any (not even by God) without being at the same time an end also to himself, that therefore humanity in our person must be holy to ourselves, this follows now of itself because he is the subject of the moral law, in other words, of that which is holy in itself, and on account of which and in agreement with which alone can anything be termed holy.”
Immanuel Kant, The Moral Argument, in The Philosophy of Religion,(3rd ed), ed – Robert Ferm, Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford, 1998. P – 189.
What is it with Kant, is he allergic to the full stop? Does the highest good find the period to be anathema to its description? Perhaps God could put his or her hand up to be his editor.
In this excerpt Kant is proposing the sanctity of humanity over that of the imaginary God, therefore he is refuting the need for religious belief or religious law to uphold humanities morality. I sense that Kant was moving away from a belief in a supreme being but that he still recognised the dangers of publishing work which was entirely of that argument; he retained a bet each way to protect himself.
The belief in free will always strikes me as somewhat ironic, at this time, due to the considerable coercion employed by the Christian powers and the heavy cultural conditioning imposed by these communities upon their individual members. What free will?