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“Duty and Philosophy”

If philosophy itself is a method of understanding, then there must first be something present for it to understand, and Kant identifies this something as the moral law. It is this purity that Kant acknowledges to exist without first needing to be perceived (which would therefore rely on that perception to validate it), and rightly claims as the absolute. He further argues that since this true and pure is omnipresent, then it is humanity’s duty to hold itself to it, no matter how the inclination or desire to reason away from, or to ignore it, may tempt us. Kant then concludes that since it is this moral law that all beings are based, it is thusly imperative for the collective method, which we so direly depend upon to interpret and utilize the universe, should at its roots solely rely upon that knowledge given to us innately, and not upon empirical and anthropological grounds.

Kant identifies this moral law by recognizing the innate sense of duty bestowed upon every being. “That there must be such a [pure] philosophy is evident from the common idea of duty and of moral laws. Everyone must admit that if a law is to be morally valid, i.e., is to be valid as a ground of obligation, then it must carry with it absolute necessity.” If a being has this idea of duty, of the need to fulfill, it is obvious that it should and must live in accordance to that obligation at every moment and in every way. The concept of survival in the animal kingdom supports this idea well. If we examine an animal and its daily activities, such as hunting for food, protecting its territory, and mating among others, we observe a duty in that animal to stay alive, to see another day. Survival isn’t easy; survival is tough, pain-staking work, every day after day. If the animal didn’t feel an innate duty to remain alive, it would surely nestle itself in the shade beneath a tree, until death crept itself upon it. We all agree that our sense of duty far surpasses that of an animal’s, but Kant yet attempts to extrapolate on its substance, he is merely announcing its presence. His point being- that duty exists, is reason enough to morally obey it.

It is with this duty, and the empiricalism absent from its definition and derivative, that Kant distinguishes between his pure philosophy and ” that philosophy which mixes pure principles with empirical ones [which] does not deserve the name of philosophy.” It is not from the perception of our world that should describe us a manner by which to live, but by the guiding structure found inside (importantly not to be confused with destiny), is what Kant asserts here:

And he must concede that the ground of obligation here must therefore be sought a priori solely in the concepts of pure reason; he must grant that every other precept which is founded on principles of mere experience- even a precept that may in certain respects be universal- insofar as it rests in the least on empirical grounds- perhaps only in its motive- can indeed be called a practical rule, but never a moral law.

For example, how true and noble it is to say that one should be good, not to better himself in his place in the world or even to bring happiness to another, but because it is merely good to be good, because it is our purpose, our duty to be good. If one were then to assume that since our duty requires necessary obedience we would therefore automatically display the qualities of the, or only be, dutiful, than would surely expect to witness a dubious frown from Kant, who would likely respond with the following, “For man is affected by so many inclinations that, even though he is indeed capable of the idea of a pure practical reason, he is not so easily able to make that idea effective in concreto in the conduct of his life.” For as much as he recognizes the innate sense of duty, does he equally recognize the innate inclinations to deviate from it, and it is because humanity is faced with this moment to moment choice, that Kant stresses the importance of having an accurate method, one against which we can measure and identify those choices- aptly named philosophy.

Kant’s ultimate goal in this argument is to make a further distinction between such a method, one based upon our perceptions and another based upon what we know as true. “A metaphysics of morals is thus indispensably necessary, not merely because of motives of speculation regarding the source of practical principles which are present a priori in our reason, but because morals themselves are liable to all kinds of corruption as long as the guide and supreme norm for correctly estimating them are missing.” Hence, he logically concludes that if all of our practical utilitarian choices are made between two pulling forces, duty and its opposing inclinations, then the method with which we determine our decisions should solely rely on the former, and not the justifications found by observation, with which we assimilate and accept the latter.

“From the Ordinary Knowledge of Morality to the Philosophical.” Immanuel Kant. P.g. 2 and 3 of preface.


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