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Morality, Autonomy and Freedom

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introduction to Western Political Thought Professor Mithilesh Kumar Jha Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati Lecture No. 21 Kant – II: Morality, Autonomy & Freedom Hello and welcome everyone. This is the second lecture on Kant. Today, we are going to discuss his views on morality or the source of morality that would guide individual practical actions or activities. In Kant, there is a kind of combination of morality with individual freedom and autonomy. As we have discussed in the previous lecture, he considered human beings are capable of reasoning and rationality. It is only through reason and rationality that individual can become enlightened and overall enlightenment can be brought in the society or community. In the previous lecture, we have discussed his views on enlightenment, the use of reason and rationality as the source of valid knowledge that would ultimately bring about enlightenment within the self and in community. Today, we will see how Kant combined reason and rationality as the source of human action or human knowledge to a moral duty or a sense of morality that he combined with individual free will and autonomy. And thereby, individuals led a more harmonious or happy, permanent life. It is a kind of continuous and there are no contradictions or envyness or violence in the human interrelationships. So, overall, Kantian objective of combining the morality with freedom and autonomy is to create a society which would be a kind of peaceful or republican society, where every individual will treat other as an end in themselves. These are some of the things which we will discuss in the next or concluding lecture on Kant, while discussing his ideas on ‘kingdom of ends’ or perpetual peace. Then we will discuss in the second part of that lecture the critical assessment on Kantian thought. Today, we will begin with his views on morality, ethics, and why we should be moral or what is it to consider human being as a moral agent. Then what should be the basis of such moral laws or moral codes that would guide individual action. Before doing that, we will also discuss his views on ‘categorical imperative’. That is a kind of a priori maximum in Kant which enabled the individual to decide for themselves about what would be the moral code or moral laws that should be binding on their practical activities. So, in the first part of the lecture, today, we will discuss his views on ‘categorical imperative’ and its contrast with ‘hypothetical imperative’. In the second part, we will discuss how he combined his views on morality with freedom, autonomy, and rationality. (Refer Slide Time: 04:11) In Kant, we have a very distinct concept of morality which he combined with the freedom and autonomy of individuals. So, being moral is not something to be guided by a code of law which has set by others in the society. This kind of morality is something which individual as a moral, free and autonomous agent set for themselves. That is a very distinct conception of morality that we have in Kant. It is distinct from the ordinary sense of morality, that is the prevalent norms and codes in society. It would not lead to enlightenment as we have discussed in the previous lecture. The individual must be capable of deciding for themselves what should be the guiding force of their life or what should guide their practical action. The basis for such a decision is human reason and rationality. So, human beings (a) should be capable of reasoning or thinking for themselves and (b) this would have the courage to follow what they think is right, not what others think for themselves. That would be the condition of immaturity. It would be the condition of dependence and that would not lead to enlightenment either at the individual level or at the societal or community level. In Kant, we have a unique conception of morality and the notion of freedom and autonomy. So, individual as we have discussed is a rational or moral agent and the basis of such morality is not like ordinary sense of religion or established social norms that should guide human behaviour or human activities. But only human reason and rationality. So, it is a kind of beautiful, eloquent combination of reason and rationality with morality. And within the limits of morality then human beings realize or actualize his own self. That is the whole purpose of enlightenment tradition in Europe. Thus, the moral codes are based on free and autonomous goodwill of the individual. So, there is a kind of inherent assertion of goodwill in the human being and how human being lead his life, according to that goodwill. It would be a kind of transcendence from the actual particular circumstances of life to the universal being. So, individual through his goodwill or notion of morality can see in himself the universal men. That ‘kingdom of end’ or perpetual peace which we would discuss in the next lecture. It is based on a distinct sense of human being as a rational, moral agent endowed with goodwill. And it is acting, according to the goodwill that individual in the particular circumstances become the universal man or part of the universal community. So, reason and rationality, according to Kant is the only source of all knowledge. It allows individual to self-legislate. That is the another characteristic of Kantian morality or sense of duty that no external body either society or person or a group of body tells the individual what to do. It is the individual themselves by using their own reason and rationality who decide what they should do. In deciding that, this would guide their action on the basis of a priori maxim which he called the ‘categorical imperative’. The reason and rationality allows the individual to self legislate their duty towards their own self and others in the community. Thus, with the use of reason, we not only decide or think for our own self. But also, our obligation and duty towards others in the society. And the ‘kingdom of ends’ and the idea of the ‘kingdom of ends’ is that kind of society, where everyone would treat everyone else as an end in themselves. Thereby, acknowledging and respecting the dignity of all and that kind of society would be a society which would be a peaceful and harmonious society. This reason and rationality allows the individual to self-legislate their duty towards self and others, and this they will do when they are free and autonomous. The other condition of deciding for oneself is that individual is free not under any form of subjugation, to other men or society or any other authority. Individual is free and autonomous, and then using their own reason, they decide the codes of morality that govern their actions towards themselves and society. So, to explain this inter connection between the free and autonomous will of the individual with morality, Kant provided a priori maxim. We will discuss what is ‘a priori’ means. It is prior to any human experience or consideration of any empirical context. It is a kind of abstract idea - a priori, prior to everything else. So, the moral codes and morality requires that principle that would be free from isolation of any given practical empirical situation in which human beings act, behave, and lives. He explained this inter-connection between morality, freedom, and autonomy through a maxim, which is a priori maxim. He called it the ‘categorical imperative’. Henceforth, we will refer to it as CI. So, we discussed what this ‘categorical imperative’ is. This ‘categorical imperative’ is for human being or the individual who is rational, a kind of practical reasoning. So, in the given practical context, what course of action one should follow to decide that one needs to understand or guide one’s action, according to this ‘categorical imperative’ is the source of morality, virtue, and happiness for the human beings. According to Kant, an individual’s actions and practical reason be guided by this imperative alone. So, this is merely a maxim - an imperative through which human being legislate for themselves, what course of action this will follow. It does not really tell them do this or do that. It just gives them a framework. By using them, they decide for themselves what is the best possible action they should follow in a particular given circumstances. And to do that they have to apply reason and see themselves as part of the universal self, whether there is a kind of intelligibility by others. This would act upon those principles which they want others also to follow in the given context. That is the ‘categorical imperative’ that we will discuss. It is based on the practical reason or circumstances of human life and yet it is part of the universal. That is a kind of paradox. You develop your codes of morality in a particular context and yet you act on the principle which you want to be universal. That means, others should also be following the same course of action in the given context. So, this is kind of this paradox of being particular and at the same time, universal. He explained this position on morality, autonomy, and freedom in this work, The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals which we will refer to as Groundwork in this lecture, today. (Refer Slide Time: 13:16) Now, let us discuss, why do we need moral philosophy? What is it aims and objectives? So, if you look at the very objective of any philosophy whether it is the political philosophy or moral philosophy, they aim to provide a society or condition or set of norms that would enable the individual to lead a good life and definition of good life. It will vary. But all human beings want to live a good, dignified, and happy life. Now, how to lead that life? What kind of society that life is possible? What kind of state structures would be there? These are some of the reflections that we have seen from the classical Greek times in Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Kant, and many other thinkers that is there in the course. They are all engaged in answering this question that in which kind of society, individual life would be more dignified, equal, just and happy. So, the primary objective of philosophy is to provide us a set of moral laws or principle that will enable us to lead a good, happy, and dignified life. So, all human beings across the context universally want to lead a life that would be good, happy, and dignified. The search for those principles or norms to lead a life of ‘eudaimonia’, if you remember our first few lectures on the Greek philosopher. It was there in the Greek philosopher’s writings such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. And particularly, if you focus and recall our lecture on Aristotle and his views on judgment, you will note that how he was also searching for a code of law. So, did Plate and Socrates and other thinkers that we have discussed in this course so far. They all searched for those codes or the principles which would enable the human being to lead a life which would be the life of ‘eudaimonia’ or a happy dignified life. Particularly, if you look at Aristotle’s writings on ethics. He combined the general and universal concepts of ethics in contrast to Platonic. There is a kind of absolute knowledge or forms of ethics or morality in Plato. In contrast to that, in Aristotle, we find a kind of combination of the universal or abstract notion of ethics with the practical context of community. And it is the combination of the universal with particular that human beings developed as correct political judgment. So, in Aristotle, we have this combination of general and universal concept of ethics with the practical context of human life and community. According to Aristotle, human beings developed the ability to correct judgment. Judgment is something that guides our action. We subject our life to our judgment and then realize the potentialities or full potentialities of our life dependent on the correct judgment and the correct judgment requires, first, the understanding of the general or universal code of ethics. And the practical context of human life or community. According to Aristotle, human beings developed the ability to correct judgment by living among the free and equal members. So, life in the polis or city-states or public life is the best life that enabled the individuals to realize his true potentialities. That is why, living among others who are equal and free in the community. So, the correct judgment, according to Aristotle, is the outcome of associational life of individual with others who are free and equal in the community. Kant, in modern times, provided us a more comprehensive and thorough account of universal morality, and also that morality should be guided by the practical reason. So, the Kantian ‘categorical imperative’ guided the practical reason. How individuals should act in a practical given context? The moral law in Kant’s philosophy had transcendental characteristic and this transcendental characteristic in Kantian morality was dead. Even when they act in their particular context, the transcend need to act in the principle which they want at the same time to become universal. That means, the other person without any consideration to the context should act, according to the same principle. So, that particular person should follow the particular context. So, there are kinds of transcendental ethics or transcendental characteristic of Kantian morality. Now, let us discuss, this question why do we need morality and why moral codes applies to the human being or human species. So, the reason for that is that we are moral agent and what does it mean to be a moral agent. It means that we have a sense of justice or a sense of discretion which tells us what is good or bad, what is desirable or undesirable. So, there is a kind of intuitive innate sense in the social contract tradition thinkers as well. Even in the ‘state of nature’, where there is no society, no association, and yet human beings have a sense of morality or justness, and if you recall Aristotle, again, that human beings are neither God nor beast. Unlike God, they do not know everything or unlike beast, it is also not true that they do not know anything. So, we know something. But there are the domains of life, which we do not know. So, human beings have a peculiar situation of existence. Here, they have a sense, but they are also prone to making a lot of immoral acts or you know, undesirable behaviour. Whole moral philosophy tries to provide us a set of norms, which would make human life more perfect, enable it to lead a more virtuous life, happy life and to lead that human beings then have to learn or develop for themselves what is good, what is desirable, what is moral for them to do and the source of such morality or desire is not based on religion or any other things enlightenment thought. But on human reason itself. So, the codes of morality, therefore, applies only to the human being, not to the beast or other species on the earth. They are driven by their desire or passion alone. It is the human being who have the capacity to reason and this is the capacity to reason that tells them the distinction between actions or behaviours. That is morally justified. And actions and behaviour are morally unjustified. So, they have this intuitive sense of morality and ethics. Therefore, the moral laws and moral codes are applicable to the human being. Human being is then not just a rational being who constantly try to actualize himself in isolation of society or from the society or community. Individual as a rational agent or a rational being is a moral agent, having a sense of good and bad, desirable or undesirable, just an unjust. Therefore, human beings could not avoid the moral questions and dilemmas that we face in our practical everyday life. So, the question that we face every day is the moral dilemmas and moral philosophy that tells us how to overcome those dilemmas, how to perfect our action, according to the moral codes, and what should be the source of that moral code. The question is what should be the codes of morality that will guide our practical life. What should be its source? For a very long time, religion or religious treatises used to provide that set of codes through which human being perfect or correct their behaviour or actions in the society, towards themselves, family, society, and state. A lot of moral codes were enshrined in the religious text. But in the enlightenment, there was a new mode of thinking. We are human beings for themselves regarded as a rational agent who would decide for themselves, what is moral code or sense of duty towards which they have the obligation? As we have discussed in the theory of political obligation with the social contract traditions that human beings themselves consent to a particular form of authority and the moral obligation or the political obligation they have is based on the consent and not on any divine right theory or religious prescription. They obey certain commands or certain rules and forms of authority. So, the question with the moral philosophy is that what should be the code of morality that should guide the practical life. What should be its source and who should formulate it? It is the society, community, or the religious texts or preachers or individual themselves? In Kant, we see that he formulated a notion of morality. We are individual as a free and autonomous being who decide and legislate for themselves, what is the duty or their sense of morality to which they should subject their life, or perfect their life in a way. So in the Groundwork, Kant provided a kind of deontological and categorical account of our fundamental moral obligation or duty towards the self and others in the society. A moral philosophy seeks to identify and realize the ultimate end or highest good possible to accomplish by human beings. And human beings, in many other writings have the capability to behave like a beast and also to perfect his or her life, to lead a dignified or respected life by following certain codes of morality that they themselves legislate using their own reason. Then constantly, tries to perfect their lives. Let us think of it in this way. Human beings are also sensuous being. They have their desire and passion, and those desire and passion may not necessarily lead to moral behaviour or moral action. Yet human beings have in its search for something ultimate or permanent. That is the source of ultimate peace or satisfaction. In Kant, you have the response that human beings when he or she uses his own reason or rational faculty, only then he is capable to guide his life and relationship with others, according to moral laws that will give them a sense of obligation or duty to which they must perform their actions or subject the reaction to rationale basis which would enable human beings to realize his true or highest possible potentialities in life. So, it requires moral virtue with complete happiness. We will discuss it, when we will discuss the ‘categorical imperative’ and ‘hypothetical imperative’. That means, some actions may give us immediate satisfaction. But in the long term, it has devastating consequences. There are certain codes which leads us to behave and act in a manner which would have permanent peaceful consequences or enable the condition of life which would be everlasting happy or a kind of perpetual peace or constant happiness. It is possible when we try to lead a life of happiness by combining it with virtue. There is a combination of human reason and rationality, and reason and rationality in itself is not sufficient. It must subject itself to a set of codes or morality which individual themselves legislate or define. So, this moral philosophy, first, identify what is goodwill, obligation, and duty towards the self and others. (Refer Slide Time: 28:19) Now, we look at particularly, how Kant defined morality or what should be the source of morality in individual, everyday practical situation or circumstances by understanding his views on ‘categorical’ or ‘hypothetical imperative’. So, Kant’s conception of morality as we have discussed is a kind of a priori maxim which he called the ‘categorical imperative’. It is a priori in the sense; it is based on an abstract principle that does not take into account or consideration the actual context of human existence or human being. This imperative in Kant is based on abstract principle that does not take into account any consideration of the actual circumstances in which human being lives. It is imperative, in the sense, it is a command or a kind of order which is compulsory for the human being to follow. So, it obliges the rational and moral agent to behave and act in a particular manner. It is a priori. It is imperative that it fools or obliges the individual to act or behave in a particular manner, in a particular circumstance, and it is categorical in the sense that it must be compulsorily, universally, and unconditionally followed. That is the defining characteristic of ‘categorical imperative’, that is, it is binding. It is compulsory and it should be followed universally and unconditionally. There should not be any condition to follow the ‘categorical imperative’ or the rules based on ‘categorical imperative’. So as an imperative, it does not tell the individual exactly what to do in a given context. Unlike, any other commands or order which is very specific set the door open the window, close the window, switch on the light. So, these are the commands very specific and exactly tells the other individual what to do. In contrast to that, ‘categorical imperative’ is not something which is precise or exactly telling the individual what to do. It is basically, a maxim, a kind of framework, a kind of principle using which individual as a rational moral agent will arrive at a particular action, they want others to follow universally and unconditionally. That is a kind of complex argument there in the ‘categorical imperative’, that is also universal and unconditional. Instead, as an abstract maxim as I said, it does not take into account any particular, empirical circumstances of human living. It provides them with a formula to choose a particular course of action, in a particular given context, which they want others to follow in the same context without exception. Now, let us discuss this idea. Say, telling lies is not acceptable or morally acceptable at least and yet we tend to speak lies if it is beneficial to us. Now, how we will arrive at a moral code that would be applied universally without any exception to us and also to others, and that is the whole idea of ‘kingdom of ends’ in a way. It would be possible to argue that we speak lies, if it is beneficial to us. But then we do not want others to speak lies that leads to conflicts. So, to avoid those conflicts and contradictions, the moral code that individual as rational beings should arrive at is based on the maxim that he she wants others also to follow the same course of action, which he or she is following in a particular given circumstance, universally and unconditionally. That means, let us take the other example. So, in the exam, you want to cheat or copy from others to secure more marks. But at the same time, you do not want others to cheat or copy from others to get more marks. So, there is a kind of moral contradictions here. But ‘categorical imperative’ tells you to follow only those course of action, which you want others to follow in that same circumstances universally and unconditionally. That means, speaking truth is better, treating others as an end in themselves better, not cheating in the exam is better that applies to you and you want it to be applied universally to others as well. That is the whole basis of ‘categorical imperative’ in a sense. Thus, the characteristic of ‘categorical imperative’ is its abstractness. It is not specific to any particular circumstance yet it guides practical action. It is abstract, general, universal and unconditional. So, you subject your action, your practical activities to this reason without any condition. It wants the individual to act, according to those principles, through which you want others to guide their actions in a similar context universallyand unconditionally. So, that is the whole point of ‘categorical imperative’ that the moral code you arrive at is specific to a particular context and yet it has universal application. The legislation of moral code that is done by individual in a particular situation has its universal application at the same time. There is a kind of this transcending the particular context to the universal community of individual. Thus, ‘categorical imperative’, according to Kant is not a moral law in itself. The ‘categorical imperative’, as we have explained is not telling the individual what to do in a particular context. But how they ought to do as a moral rational agent that is acting, according to the principle which we want others to follow in the same context universally, across the context and unconditionally. That is the kind of formula. That is a kind of maxim. But in itself, it does not tell the individuals what to do and what not to do. Individuals themselves decide what they should do on the condition that they want others to follow it also, the moral conflicts in life. In economics, we use the term free rider, we should pay the tax. But what if out of millions or billions, 1 or 10 percent do not pay tax. It will not affect overall. But then if suppose in the millions, 90 percent or 50 percent of the people will start thinking that in the similar way, the free rider what if rest of them should be and I am not paying. So, I will be the beneficiary of not paying the tax. But that 50 60 percent will create a devastating influence on the revenue of the government. Similarly, in terms of voting, you should vote for electing new representatives. But many voters think, what if I do not vote would it make any large difference. But if say 45 or 30 percent of enlightened or rational citizens refrain from voting. Then you get the representative which you do not like most of the time. This is a guide to the practical condition by following this ‘categorical imperative’, which should not be contradictory within. It has to be morally consistent. That means, you subject your practical activities on the principle, which you want others to follow as well. You do not make exception for yourself or others, while subjecting your practical action to a set of moral codes or a sense of obligation. So, ‘categorical imperative’ in itself is not a moral law. It only provides the framework through which individual has a rational agent developed for themselves, what is their duty or obligation to self and others. It is a maxim that enables free and autonomous moral agent to use it as the basis to guide their practical actions. The ‘categorical imperative’ is not like utilitarianism as a philosophy that only those policies should be followed by the government which would be in the benefit of the maximum number of people. In that sense, the ‘categorical imperative’ is not a kind of consequence that released argument, or the success of a policy or a rule that is based on the consequences. The moral laws should be just in itself. It does not require any further justification or justification on the basis of the consequences. In the Kantian ethics, what you have is once you decide for yourself, what is your duty, you ought to perform it without any consideration of its consequences. That is the moral law. That is how you lead a dignified life and how it is possible to lead a happy life that would be peaceful, free from violence, conflicts, and enemies. One has to follow ‘categorical imperative’ regardless of the consequences, inclinations, and feelings. So, all the feelings, inclinations, and consequences should be subject to human reason and moral sense of duty. So, it helps the moral lesson to develop a sense of duty which she or he must perform. This sense of duty among the free moral agent is based on the moral laws within and not from outside. (Refer Slide Time: 39:29) Thus, Kant provided a kind of deontological a sense of morality, duty, or ethics foundation for the ‘categorical imperative’. So there is no consequentialist justification for this imperative. Human being as a moral and rational agent remain free and autonomous by following laws legislated by themself using this a priori maxim called the ‘categorical imperative’. These three makes the argument of freedom, similar to Rousseau. That is by following the ‘general will’, you will be free and if you do not want to follow the ‘general will’, you will be forced to follow it and thereby, individual can be forced to be free in a sense. Therefore, ‘categorical imperative’ is to be followed by everyone universally and unconditionally and we can better understand by contrasting it with the ‘hypothetical imperative’. So, ethics and morality are based on ‘categorical imperative’ that enables individuals to live a virtuous and happy life. Remember the Greek philosophers who explained what kind of life is called a happy life? That kind of life is happy which is virtuous. And what is virtue? Knowledge is virtue and how one pursue knowledge. It is through reason. So, this is kind of similar argument. But in a more complex manner, where one subject one’s reason to a set of codes or morality, which one decide for oneself. Thus, to lead a happy life, one has to be virtuous. Without virtue, happiness, or being happy, life is impossible to have or even if you have it, it would not be permanent. So, to lead a permanent happy life, one need to be virtuous, and to be virtuous, one has to be moral and that moral law then limits the reason and rationality which otherwise lea