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KANT AND SPINOZA ON PRINCIPLES OF MORAL ACTION.
[IMMANUEL KANT was born at Königsberg, Prussia, educated at its University, and spent his life in the city, as tutor, librarian, and finally professor. He published a cosmic theory (1755), a treatise "On the Beautiful and the Sublime" (1764), and other works; but his first epoch-making work was the 66 Critique of Pure Reason" (1781), followed by the "Critique of Practical Reason" (1788), and the "Critique of the Power of Judgment" (1790). His Metaphysic of Ethics" appeared in 1785, and works on the metaphysics of religion in 1793 and of legal science in 1797.]
[BARUCH (in Latin, Benedictus) SPINOZA was born in Amsterdam, of Spanish Jew emigrants; excommunicated as a heretic by them in 1656, and narrowly escaping murder, he made his living thereafter by grinding lenses. He lived afterward near Leyden and at The Hague, where he died. He wrote in 1670 a "Theologico-Political Tractate," to demonstrate the necessity of free thought and speech in a community; but his chief work, perhaps the greatest metaphysical effort of the world, was the posthumously published "Ethics demonstrated in the Geometrical Order," based on the principles of Descartes, and setting forth the theory that mind and matter are only different manifestations of God.]
[Though these two, ranking among the world's few greatest metaphysicians, represent different metaphysical stages, — Spinoza, 1632-1677, preceding Leibnitz, and Kant, 1724-1804, following him, and both the latter greatly influenced by a desire to avoid Spinoza's pantheistic conclusions, we present their ethical principles together for comparison.]
FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF THE METAPHYSIC OF
WHAT is it that justifies virtue, or the morally good disposition, in making such lofty claims? It is nothing less than the privilege it secures to the rational being of participating in the giving of universal laws, by which it qualifies him to be a member of a possible kingdom of ends: a privilege to which he was already destined by his own nature as being an end in himself, and on that account legislating in the kingdom of ends; free as regards all laws of physical nature and obeying those only which he himself gives, and by which his maxims can belong to a system of universal law, to which at the same time he submits himself. For nothing has any worth except what the law assigns it. Now the legislation itself which assigns the worth of everything, must for that very reason possess dignity, that is, an unconditional, incomparable worth ; and the word respect alone supplies a becoming expression for
the esteem which a rational being must have for it. Autonomy then is the basis of the dignity in human and of every rational nature. . .
All maxims have
1. A form consisting in universality; and in this view the formula of the moral imperative is expressed thus, that the maxims must be so chosen as if they were to serve as universal laws of nature.
2. A matter, namely an end; and here the formula says that the rational being, as it is an end by its own nature and therefore an end in itself, must in every maxim serve as the condition limiting all merely relative and arbitrary ends.
3. A complete determination of all maxims by this formula; namely, that all maxims ought by their own legislation to harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends as with a kingdom of nature. There is a progress here in the order of the categories of unity of the form of the will (its universality), plurality of the matter (the objects, i.e. the ends), and totality of the system of these. In forming our moral judgment of actions it is better to proceed always on the strict method, and start from the general formula of the categorical imperative: Act according to a maxim which can at the same time make itself a universal law. If, however, we wish to gain an entrance for the moral law, it is very useful to bring one and the same action under the three specified conceptions, and thereby as far as possible to bring it nearer to intuition.
We can now end where we started at the beginning; namely, with the conception of a will unconditionally good. That will is absolutely good which cannot be evil; in other words, whose maxim, if made a universal law, could never contradict itself. This principle, then, is its supreme law: Act always on such a maxim as thou canst at the same time will to be a universal law; this is the sole condition under which a will can never contradict itself; and such an imperative is categorical. Since the validity of the will as a universal law for possible actions is analogous to the universal connection of the existence of things by general laws, which is the formal notion of nature in general, the categorical imperative can also be expressed thus: Act on maxims which can at the same time have for their object themselves as universal laws of nature. Such then is the formula of an absolutely good will.
Rational nature is distinguished from the rest of nature by
this, that it sets before itself an end. This end would be the matter of every good will. But since in the idea of a will that is absolutely good without being limited by any condition (of attaining this or that end), we must abstract wholly from every end to be effected (since this would make every will only relatively good), it follows that in this case the end must be conceived, not as an end to be effected, but as an independently existing end, consequently only negatively; i.e. as that which we must never act against, and which therefore must never be regarded merely as means, but must in every volition be esteemed as an end likewise. Now this end can be nothing but the subject of all possible ends, since this is also the subject of a possible absolutely good will; for such a will cannot without contradiction be postponed to any other object. The principle: So act in regard to every rational being (thyself and others), that he may always have place in thy maxim as an end in himself, is accordingly essentially identical with this other: Act upon a maxim which, at the same time, involves its own universal validity for every rational being. For that in using means for every end I should limit my maxim by the condition of its holding good as a law for every subject, this comes to the same thing as that the fundamental principle of all maxims of action must be that the subject of all ends-i.e. the rational being himself—be never employed merely as means, but as the supreme condition restricting the use of all means; that is, in every case as an end likewise.
It follows incontestably that, to whatever laws any rational being may be subject, he being an end in himself must be able to regard himself as also legislating universally in respect of these same laws, since it is just this fitness of his maxims for universal legislation that distinguishes him as an end in himself; also it follows that this implies his dignity (prerogative) above all mere physical beings, that he must always take his maxims from the point of view which regards himself, and likewise every other rational being, as lawgiving beings (on which account they are called persons). In this way a world of rational beings (mundus intelligibilis) is possible as a kingdom of ends, and this by virtue of the legislation proper to all persons as members. Therefore every rational being must so act as if he were by his maxims in every case a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends. The formal principle of these maxims is: So act as if thy maxim were to serve likewise
as the universal law (of all rational beings). A kingdom of ends is thus only possible on the analogy of a kingdom of nature; the former however only by maxims—that is, selfimposed rules-the latter only by the laws of efficient causes acting under necessitation from without. Nevertheless, although the system of nature is looked upon as a machine, yet so far as it has reference to rational beings as its ends, it is given on this account the name of a kingdom of nature. Now such a kingdom of ends would be actually realized by maxims conforming to the canon which the categorical imperative prescribes to all rational beings, if they were universally followed. But although a rational being, even if he punctually follows this maxim himself, cannot reckon upon all others being therefore true to the same, nor that the kingdom of nature and its orderly arrangements shall be in harmony with him as a fitting member, so as to form a kingdom of ends to which he himself contributes that is to say, that it shall favor his expectation of happiness-still that law: Act according to the maxims of a member of a merely possible kingdom of ends legislating in it universally remains in full force, since it commands categorically. And it is just in this that the paradox lies; that the mere dignity of man as a rational creature, without any other end or advantage to be attained thereby-in other words, respect for a mere idea should yet serve as an inflexible precept of the will, and that it is precisely in this independence of the maxim on all such springs of action that its sublimity consists and it is this that makes every rational subject worthy to be a legislative member in the kingdom of ends; for otherwise he would have to be conceived only as subject to the physical law of his wants. And although we should suppose the kingdom of nature and the kingdom of ends to be united under one sovereign, so that the latter thereby ceased to be a mere idea and acquired true reality, then it would no doubt gain the accession of a strong spring, but by no means any increase of its intrinsic worth. For this sole absolute lawgiver must, notwithstanding this, be always conceived as estimating the worth of rational beings only by their disinterested behavior, as prescribed to themselves from that idea (the dignity of man) alone. The essence of things is not altered by their external relations, and that which, abstracting from these, alone constitutes the absolute worth of man, is also that by which he must be judged, whoever the judge may be, and even
by the Supreme Being. Morality then is the relation of actions to the autonomy of the will; that is, to the potential universal legislation by its maxims. An action that is consistent with the autonomy of the will is permitted; one that does not agree therewith is forbidden. A will whose maxims necessarily coincide with the laws of autonomy is a holy will, good absolutely. The dependence of a will not absolutely good on the principle of autonomy (moral necessitation) is obligation. This, then, cannot be applied to a holy being. The objective necessity of actions from obligation is called duty.
PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN ACTION.
All our endeavors or desires so follow from the necessity of our nature, that they can be understood either through it alone, as their approximate cause, or by virtue of our being a part of nature, which cannot be adequately conceived through itself without other individuals.
Desires which follow from our nature, in such a manner that they can be understood through it alone, are those which are referred to the mind in so far as the latter is conceived to consist of adequate ideas: the remaining desires are only referred to the mind in so far as it conceives things inadequately, and their force and increase are generally defined, not by the power of man, but by the power of things external to us: wherefore the former are rightly called actions, the latter passions; for the former always indicate our power, the latter, on the other hand, show our infirmity and fragmentary knowledge. Our actions, that is, those desires which are defined by man's power or reason, are always good. The rest may be either good or bad.
Thus, in life it is before all things useful to perfect the understanding or reason, as far as we can, and in this alone man's highest happiness or blessedness consists, indeed blessedness is nothing else but the contentment of spirit which arises from the intuitive knowledge of God: now, to perfect the understanding is nothing else but to understand God, God's attributes, and the actions which follow from the necessity of his nature. Wherefore, of a man who is led by reason, the ultimate aim of our highest desire, whereby he seeks to govern all his fellows, is that whereby he is brought to the adequate concep