Monday, December 1, 2008

Matter and Sense - By Philip Kreyche

Philip Kreyche
Dr. R. Moses

Matter and Sense: Berkeley vs Rand

Perception is a tricky thing. All are born differently, their minds, brains, eyes, all their organs which sense, develop in different ways depending on environment, culture, upbringing. Many things are held to be "in the eye of the beholder," and this phrase tends to be in reference to tastes, like aesthetics. People's understandings of aesthetics and values lead them to develop whole worldviews which always differ from one another, and these worldviews get passed on to others and over time these worldviews become cultures. Cultures, in turn, influence other worldviews, and so it goes on and on. Many can agree that the perception of value is an entirely subjective thing. They can agree that their tastes are all in their mind, but think still that there are definitive qualities and things that objectively exist outside of their minds, and that it is those qualities which they perceive and judge.

However, in the 17th and 18th centuries, a philosophical movement began that challenged even this basic idea that one can know whether something exists outside of their own mind. This movement was called Empiricism, and from this movement came George Berkeley, who claimed that a man cannot truly know whether something exists outside of his own mind's perception of that thing via the senses. I shall outline his philosophy, and subsequently present the contrary position of Ayn Rand, whose Objectivism puts its foot definitively down regarding the existance of things outside the senses. I shall also call into question a dilemma of ethical importance, and assume the position of either philosopher and argue their perceived positions, followed by a summary of my own position and which philosopher I would be most inclined to agree with.

We shall consider here the construct which will serve as the primary subject of the arguments: Matter. Matter, as defined by Merriam-Webster's dictionary, is a "material substance that occupies space, has mass, ... that constitutes the observable universe, and is interconvertible with energy" (Merriam-Webster, "Matter"). What exists within the universe can be said to be matter: I am matter, you are matter, trees, water, planets, are all made of some sort of matter. And what is made of matter is, as the dictionary says, "observable," that is, able to be perceived via a sense of some sort.

Empiricism is founded on the position that "[w]e have no source of knowledge in S or for the concepts we use in S other than sense experience" (Markie). This means that one cannot know anything that they have not experienced through their senses. One cannot know what a leaf truly looks like unless they have seen it, cannot know what it smells like until they have smelled it, etc. This position is held in opposition to the position that one can gain knowledge from reason alone, which the Rationalists like Decartes and Spinoza held (Markie).

George Berkeley, however, took Empiricism and the concept of Sense as the ultimate authority on reality to the nth degree: his position was not only that the mind and senses are the only ways of knowing anything about matter, but that matter necessarily does not even exist outside of its being perceived (Pereboom). The formalization of this concept was in his phrase esse est percipi, that is, "to be is to be perceived."

In his "Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge," Berkeley outlines a number a things that men commonly assume to exist outside of the perception of them, namely "houses, mountains, rivers, and in a word, sensible objects" (Berkeley, pt 1; sec 4). By sensible objects, he refers to objects that can be sensed. He expresses a sort of confusion at the apparent "contradiction" that this claim brings about: namely, that although men claim these things to exist outside of the mind, that they are still "things we perceive by sense ... And what do we perceive besides our own ideas or sensations?" (Berkeley, pt 1; sec 4). Because so-called "external things" are experienced by sense, Berkeley claims it is absurd to consider that those things have any existance apart from Sense.

To support his claim regarding knowledge of the existance of external objects sans perception, he refers us to his arguments about "abstractions." An abstraction is the quality of an abstract, which according to Merriam-Webster is " ... a quality apart from an object" (Merriam-Webster, "Abstract"). So to have an abstraction of something is to conceive a quality of something apart from that something. Berkeley's opinion on abstraction is that he "will not deny that [he] can abstract," assuming that what he is abstracting are qualities of matter that can actually be perceived to be separate from the matter (Berkeley, ch 1; sec 5). And as such, he considers that since the sense of matter is really the same thing as matter's apparent existence, then to conceive of matter's existence apart from it being perceived is impossible, as they are "the same thing, and cannot therefore be abstracted from each other" (Berkeley, ch 1; sec 5).

In opposition to Berkeley's position, I offer the position of Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand's philosophy was what we know as Objectivism. The Wikipedia entry on it defines some of its characteristics, including that "reality exists independent from consciousness; that individual persons are in contact with this reality through sensory perception; that human beings can gain objective knowledge from preception through the process of concept formation" (Wikipedia). As we can see, Objectivism shares at least one precept with Empiricism, that of the importance of sensory perception as the only real mode of gaining knowledge. But at the same time, it disagrees significantly with Berkeley's skepticism in that it holds that there is a reality apart from the mind, a reality which does not depend on the mind.

In Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistomology, her response to Berkleyan skepticism resides in the section where she discusses axioms. Axioms, according to Rand, are "propositions identifying a fundamental, self-evident truth" (Rand 55). They are assumptions which ultimately are the building blocks for presenting a reasoned argument, and such arguments constitute philosophies. So in effect, axioms are the cells which make up the bodies of philosophies.

Rand presents three basic concepts: existence, identity, and consciousness (Rand 50). These she considers axiomatic concepts. Her reasoning for presenting these three concepts as axioms is because she considers them "irreducible primaries," that is, concepts that cannot be broken into smaller concepts; along with this, she reasons that since one cannot prove consciousness without resorting to consciousness, and similarly with existence, that consciousness and existence must be assumed (Rand 50). To clarify, since consciousness and existence have no opposites that exist (unconsciousness merely being the lack of consciousness and nonexistence being literally non-existant), there are "no alternatives," and must therefore exist (Rand 58). Rand actually formulates these concepts into axioms thus: "Existence exists - Consciousness is conscious" (Rand 59).

Since our present subject regards matter and existence, and since Berkeley would not disagree with the axiom "consciousness is conscious," we will focus on Rand's concept of existence. As existence exists, we can reasonably extrapolate the phrase "to be is to be," a statement contrary to Berkley's "to be is to be perceived." In Rand's system, existence exists in and of itself, being an axiom, and is dependent on no other fact other than its own existence. In Berkley's system, existence is dependent on its existence being sensed by a mind, and is therefore dependent on a mind. With Rand, matter must simply exist for it to exist, while with Berkeley matter must be perceived in order to exist.

We will now entertain a sort of ethical situation which might involved these differing philosophies regarding matter and its existence. Suppose, for a moment, that an eminent scientist is working on a project that he claims will revolutionize science as we know it. Let's say it's a medical breakthrough. The scientist in question applies for a grant from the National Science Foundation to help with this breakthrough's conception. The president of the NSF is now in a position to accept or deny the scientist's application for grant money. Should the president accept or reject the scientist's proposal, in light of the scientist's reputation, the practicalness of the research, and the myriad other reasons why the research would yield much?

If the president of the NSF were a Berkleyan skeptic, he might feel justified in rejecting the proposal. For Berkeley might reason that despite the scientist's reputation, that there is in fact no real way of knowing whether the scientist's previous accomplishments actually exist unless the president perceived them personally, and that therefore there might be no reason to trust him with all the grant money he's requesting. Berkeley might also reason that since the eventual existence of the medicine and its properties will, when they are developed, only been sensed and tested by the scientists themselves, that the president would have no reasonable way to explain why he should take the scientists' word for it. For surely, if the scientists observe the properties of the medicine they develop, they can be reasonably be assured that those properties exist. But from that, Berkeley could reason, one could not conclude that the medicine would have the same perceived effects for anyone else, and that the president could not be sure not only that the medicine in fact had those properties until he saw them himself, but he could not even be sure if the medicine itself existed. With such an unsure position on the existence of matter without the self perceiving it, the president would be justified in not wanting to spend what little grant money is allowed the NSF from the U.S. government on something that he personally cannot verify until the money is gone. Berkeley would, in short, say that the president would be justified in rejecting the proposal despite every assurance.

Rand, contrarily, would probably say that the president would not necessarily be justified in rejecting the scientist's proposal. The scientist, eminent, has obviously built up an impressive amount of standing in the scientific community, achieved results which can be verified, results that exist independently of them being perceived. These achievements, understood, would provide a foundation for assuming that the scientist could achieve the same level of quality results as he had previously. The properties of the medicine, she would say, would also exist outside of their perception, and so if they could be tested and verified, those qualities and effects would necessarily exist regardless of one's sensing of them. According to Rand, the scientist's past achievements, along with the assurance that the medicine and all its properties would exist regardless of their perception by the individual, the president should instead accept the proposal and entrust the scientist with the funds necessary to complete his project.

I would be inclined to side with Rand rather than Berkeley. While I do agree where they agree, that is, on the importance of sense-perception as a foundational element of dependable epistemology, I cannot agree with Berkeley's hyperskepticism regarding the existence of matter being dependent on the mind. To me, if there is something that is being sensed, that's just it: there is something being sensed. Surely our senses are the only ways we have of knowing about external matter, but to say that those things would not exist if they were not being perceived is, to me, absurd.

I agree with Rand where she accuses Berkeley of "negat[ing] existence" with his claims (Rand 80). For say something must be perceived in order to exist. That implies that if it is not perceived, it does not exist. If it does not exist, how can it then be perceived? Berkeley supposes that there is no trustworthy construct of reality, nothing can be depended upon unless it is being experienced in the now, and the universe becomes an infinite chaos where instead of matter there is simply the "possibility of matter." Rand, conversely, supposes that there is a definite reality with definite matter, that matter cannot be perceived unless it first exists, and that subsequently we must learn about the properties of different forms of matter so we can form a conclusion about those things. This I consider to be the more reasonable supposition, because it means that there is a structured reality which we inhabit, and when humans behave as if they accept that idea, then advances are made, humans prolong the existence of their species, and happiness and good things are achieved.


Berkeley, George. "A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge." Classics of Western Philosophy. 7th ed. Ed. Steven Cahn. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing House, 2006.

Markie, Peter, "Rationalism vs. Empiricism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

"Matter." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2008. Merriam-Webster Online. Oct 28 2008 URL =

Pereboom, Derk. "George Berkeley." Classics of Western Philosophy. 7th ed. Ed. Steven Cahn. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing House, 2006.

Rand, Ayn. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. 2nd ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.

"Objectivism (Ayn Rand)." Wikipedia, 2008. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Oct 28 2008 URL =

Kant’s Morality and the Categorical Imperative - By Eric Welch

Eric Welch

Dr. Moses

Philosophy 2306, section 24356

Second Formal Paper

Kant’s Morality and the Categorical Imperative

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant 998). Immanuel Kant’s theory of morality centers on this concept which he refers to as the categorical imperative. Kant was dissatisfied with much of the ethical philosophy of his time and sought to find a compromise between the ‘a posteriori’ philosophy of the empiricists and the ‘a priori’ philosophy of the rationalists. The empiricists believed knowledge was derived from experience (a posteriori) while the rationalists believed knowledge was derived from pure reason (a priori). He found both philosophical schools’ views on morality too limited and situational for his satisfaction. He believed they were based on what he referred to as hypothetical imperatives. Hypothetical imperatives compel action in a given circumstance. Kant wanted to create an objective view of morality as opposed to the subjective views held by other philosophers of his day, and he developed the categorical imperative as an alternative. A categorical imperative is a universal law that compels action in all circumstances. He believed we should focus our wills on an end instead of on particular actions. If an action could not be applied as a universal law in all situations, then it could not be a moral action.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Kant argued that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he dubbed the ‘Categorical Imperative’ (CI). Immorality thus involves a violation of the CI and is thereby irrational” (Johnson). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy goes on to say, “The fundamental principle of morality — the CI — is none other than the law of an autonomous will”

(Johnson). In order to make rational, moral decisions, Kant believed that a person’s will must be free, and by free, he meant “free in the sense of being the author of the law that binds it” (Johnson). Each person, according to Kant, contained within them “a self-governing reason” (Johnson), but this reason cannot be determined by either external or other “negative” influences if it is to be free in Kant’s sense of the word. A rational, autonomous will must operate not only in freedom from outside influences or ends but free from deterministic components such as psychology or biology as well. Kant’s idea of an autonomous will on which his system of morality is based “contains first and foremost the idea of laws made and laid down by oneself, and, in virtue of this, laws that have decisive authority over oneself.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy uses the notion of laws in a political state as an analogy to explain Kant’s notion of autonomy. Just as in a political state, where citizens are bound by laws that are “in some sense of their own making,” Kant’s individual human will is bound by laws of its own making, and just as these citizens are bound to obey these laws because they made them, so does an individual have an obligation to obey the laws he or she has seen fit to make (Johnson). “Hence,” as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes it, “the ‘moral legitimacy’ of the CI [categorical imperative] is grounded in its being an expression of each person's own rational will. It is because each person's own reason is the legislator and executor of the moral law that it is authoritative” (Johnson).

In Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant begins his argument with the claim that the only thing we can call “good” without any qualifications is a good will. He argues this by saying, “A good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing, i.e., it is in itself” (Kant 984). Kant is establishing his idea of an autonomous will in order to set the stage for his theory of morality and the categorical imperative. He then goes on to define a good will as a will whose decisions are entirely determined by moral law. He believed humans viewed this moral law as constraint on their actions, and a good will was motivated by a duty to this law. He goes on to say that “an action done from duty must altogether exclude the influence of inclination and therewith every object of the will. Hence there is nothing left which can determine the will except objectively the law and subjectively pure respect for this practical law” (988). He then qualifies this moral law by saying “the pre-eminent good which is called moral can consist in nothing but the representation of the law in itself, and such a representation can admittedly be found only in a rational being insofar as this representation, and not some expected effect, is the determining ground of the will” (988).

After explaining his premise, Kant then reaches a conclusion by asking the following:

    What sort of law can that be the thought of which must determine the will without reference to any expected effect, so that the will can be called absolutely good without qualification? Since I have deprived the will of every impulse that might arise for it from obeying any particular law, there is nothing left to serve the will as principle except the universal conformity of its actions to law as such, i.e., I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law. Here mere conformity to law as such (without having as its basis any law determining particular actions) serves the will as principle and must so serve it if duty is not to be a vain delusion and a chimerical concept. The ordinary reason of mankind in its practical judgments agrees completely with this, and always has in view the aforementioned principle” (989).

In accordance with this idea, Kant believes a moral person must then “act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature” (998), such action being what Kant has termed the categorical imperative.

For Kant, the very nature of the autonomous will impels it to follow the categorical imperative. Since the autonomous good will is free from all external and negative influences, it is thus a purely rational entity and, as such, can only follow courses of action free from the irrational inconsistencies inherent in choices which only apply in certain specific situations. If an individual truly follows Kant’s system of morality and believes in the categorical imperative, it is never right to do an action unless one would will the action to be right under all circumstances. For example, in Kant’s system, lying is never a moral thing to do unless one would want to say that it is universally acceptable to lie and would will that lying become a universal law of nature.

In contrast with Kant, the empiricist philosopher David Hume found the genesis of human action not in a rational, autonomous will but in the sentiments or emotions that drive human beings. As Hume put it in his book A Treatise of Human Nature, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them” (Hume 845). For Hume, how we act depends on what we desire, and what we desire depends on what we feel. Feelings provide the motivation for action rather than rational thinking. The reasoning faculties only serve the emotions and help them to achieve their ends. Hume recognizes the value of reason in assessing all the relevant facts related to a decision, but, as Hume says, “Reason, being cool and disengaged, is no motive to action, and directs only the impulse received from appetite or inclination, by showing us the means of attaining happiness or avoiding misery” (Hume, An Enquiry).

The opposition between Kant’s and Hume’s philosophies is easily seen in Europe during World War II. Most citizens in Nazi-occupied nations were opposed to what Hitler was doing but had little ability to stop the atrocities that were taking place all around them. Suppose there is a merchant who is hiding Jewish children in his store rooms, and the suspecting Nazi soldiers have come to search his property. The soldiers ask him if there are Jews on his property and proceed to tell him that if they find out he is lying they will kill him. On the one hand, the merchant can tell the truth and save his own skin. However, the truth will assuredly be the death of the Jewish children who are hiding in his store rooms. On the other hand, he can lie to save the children but almost assuredly be put to death by the Nazi soldiers if they discover the children while searching his store rooms.

If Kant’s morality is applied to the situation, unless the merchant would want to will lying as a universal law of nature, he would have to give up the children’s location to the Nazi soldiers. However, he would also be conflicted in this action because giving up the children is also an evil thing to do. It is likely that the merchant would feel just as uneasy about making it a universal law that the children’s lives are never under any circumstances worth committing the evil of lying in order to save them. If Hume’s morality is applied to the situation, the merchant would let his feelings guide his course of action. His choice of whether or not to lie would be dictated by whether his emotions pushed him towards telling the truth to save his own skin or towards lying and potentially sacrificing himself in the hopes that the soldiers will believe him and not discover the children.

Obviously, the merchant is in a very difficult situation whether or not he chooses to apply Kant’s or Hume’s morality to his predicament. I would argue that while both systems have a facet of truth in them, neither of them is adequate as a universal ethical system. While the spirit of Kant’s categorical imperative is in the right direction, I do not believe such an all-encompassing rule succeeds in our very subjective world. There are degrees of evil, and Kant’s system doesn’t take this into account. Sometimes, doing something we usually consider to be wrong-doing is actually the right choice when it prevents a much greater wrong-doing. While clearly the majority of people would not want to say that lying is a good thing or something they would want to make into a universal law, it does not mean that sometimes lying isn’t actually the moral thing to do. I would argue that lying is the right thing to do if it means saving a group of children from being tortured and executed by the Nazis. At the same time, while the thought behind Hume’s system is a good one, it is also inherently flawed. While Kant’s system is too broad and objective, Hume’s morality is too narrow and subjective. If the only morality a person follows is the whims of his or her own personal feelings, he or she will undoubtedly base many decisions on selfish feelings such as greed and lust. The merchant might choose to lie and save the children out of feelings of selflessness and compassion, or he might just as easily turn around and give up their location to save his own life out of feelings of selfishness and fear.

Though the ethical situation of the merchant and the Nazis is not an easy one to solve, I would suggest that no matter how you reach your conclusion, the only ethical choice to make is to lie in order to save the children’s lives, despite the fact that the Nazis may end up finding the children anyway, in which case you haven’t saved anyone’s life but, in fact, have sacrificed your own. Ultimately, I find it difficult to develop a universal ethical system that does not fall apart under certain situations. There are too many circumstances with variable conditions that can arise to logically be able to follow as universal a law as the categorical imperative. If Kant truly believed in the idea behind the categorical imperative and the duty to do what’s right, I believe he would agree that even if you have to lie and may end up being killed for it, what’s truly important is the end that your will is working towards. I believe the only choice an autonomous good will could make is to try and save the children’s lives whatever the outcome of the action.

Works Cited

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Classics of WesternPhilosophy. Ed. Steven M. Cahn. 7th ed. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2006. 829-855.

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Project Gutenberg Library Archives Foundation. 2003-2008. Oxford, MS. 22 October 2008 <>.

Johnson, Robert. “Kant’s Moral Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2008. Metaphysics Research Lab, CSLI, Stanford University. 22 October 2008 <>.

Kant, Immanuel. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Classics of Western Philosophy. Ed. Steven M. Cahn. 7th ed. Indianapolis/Cambridge: HackettPublishing Company, Inc., 2006. 981-1020.

On Justice - By Stephanie Ortiz

I. The issue of justice in relation to human nature is a topic that has been discussed for centuries within society. As a culture expands and evolves, an understanding must be reached to determine what is just, what the appropriate punishments for our governed laws should be, and how to redefine this as it is deemed appropriate. With this in mind, and with the obligation to society that justice has, how do we define what is just as it relates to human nature?

II. For a generalized definition of the concept of justice, we must include impartiality, the ‘right action’ and conformity. That is to say, justice is a quality or standard that is impartial, decides the right action, and conforms to a set standard, presumably by society. This is open ended enough to have modifications for what is just, depending on which generation interprets it to be.

III. Philosopher David Hume makes some headway in what he believed to be just, and what he believed to be our basis for comparison when it comes to human nature. In The Philosophy of David Hume, an adapted work by V.C Chappell, the complete works of Hume are translated with a forward from the editor. His main thesis is that human nature dictates that humans are ruled by passions, be them calm or violent, and that we then later reason why we do what we do. Hume argues pointedly that reason is a slave to the passions.

“Every rational creature, it is said, is obliged to regulate his actions by reason, and if any other motive or principle challenge the direction of his conduct he ought to oppose it, till it be entirely subdued or at least brought to a conformity with that superior principle (225).”

In his work, he continues on to say that it is irrational for us to believe otherwise that human nature must in some way control our passions, and that our system of what is just and unjust must take this into account. He states this quite eloquently by saying “reason alone can never be motive to any action of the will, and secondly that it can never oppose passion in direction of the will (225)” It is in this way that he establishes that reason is a slave to the passions, that humans must first desire something and then rationalize afterward why.

Hume also expounds upon human nature, in a somewhat simplistic but effective treatment of why humans function the way that they do, arguing “the mind by an original instinct tends to unite itself with the good and avoid the evil, though they be conceived merely in idea, and be considered as to exist in any future period of time (232).” It is here that Hume argues that humans seek good because we are wired to do so by the nature of our minds.

On the passions, he simply states the following:

“Beside good and evil, or in other words, pain and pleasure, the direct passions frequently arise from a natural impulse or instinct which is perfectly unaccountable. Of this kind is the desire of punishment to our enemies and happiness to our friends, hunger, lust, and a few other bodily appetites. (Hume 233).

Thus our passions are ‘natural’ impulses, and we desire good and evil naturally as such.

Coming full circle with his argument, Hume states his thesis “thus upon the whole, it is impossible that the distinction between moral good and evil can be made by reason, since that distinction has an influence upon our actions of which reason alone is incapable (241).” Which is to say, Hume believes that reason is inherently flawed because we are human, and we must discard this as a basis by which to dispense justice, and instead turn to a more rational explanation, that we act because we want to, not because its reasonable.

IV. Thus, if we are to be just in a society, how are we to take human nature into account in order to make sure we are impartial, have a universally applied law, and ensure others conform to it? In what way might we act in order to be just?

VI. After the philosophy of David Hume was published, Immanuel Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason as a direct response. In his later work, Critique of Practical Reason, he takes his knowledge of Hume and juxtaposes it with what he believes to be correct about human nature. He writes:

“The sole objects of a practical reason are thus those of the good and the evil. By the former, one understands a necessary object of the faculty of desire, and by the latter, a necessary object of aversion both according to a principle of reason (Kant 60).”

In this sense, Kant and Hume both agree that humans can be ruled by their own passions, and that we naturally gravitate to those actions which will seek out pleasure and avoid pain. However, Kant connotes pleasure with good, and pain with evil.

As his thesis, Kant argues that “any further motives that would make it possible for us to dispense with that of moral law must not be sought, for they would only produce hypocrisy without any substance (75).” Throughout the work, Kant comes back to this argument, that as humans with rational minds, we must use our reason to guide us, and suppress that which would violate our moral laws, because it would be unjust, and because God has equipped us with the tools to assess situations accordingly. This is discussed in the Critique of Pure Reason and is continued into Practical as a practical means to lead our lives with reason. Eloquently he states it as the following “pure practical reason merely checks selfishness, as natural and active in us even prior to the moral law, is restricted by moral law to agreement with the law; when this is done, selfishness is called rational self-love (Kant 76).”

In regards to justice, Kant says that with our rational minds, and with our reason, if we use our reason to seek justice, all will agree that there is a sense of fairness about things, so long as we follow the correct maxims.

“For even though he who punishes can do so with the benevolent intention of directing this punishment to this end, it must nevertheless be justified as punishment, i.e. as mere harm in itself, so that even the punished person, if it stopped there and he could see no glimpse of kindness behind the harshness, would yet have to admit that justice had been done and that his reward perfectly fitted his behavior (Kant 39).”

This is to say, that even from the outside, should one view the punishment, or infliction of justice on another person, even the person being punished would argue it was fair, and Kant even introduces the concept that the punishment must fit the crime – we cannot be overzealous in our actions or too lax either.

As a response to Hume, Kant rallies again that our senses are fallible, and we must use reason with an understanding that to leave judgment up to the individual’s sensation will not yield consistent results.

“Only rationalism of judgments is suitable to the use of moral laws, for rationalism takes no more from sensuous nature than which pure reason can also think of itself, i.e. lawfulness and conversely transfers into the supersensuous nothing more can be actually exhibited by actions in the world of sense according to a formal rule of natural law in general (73).”

It is in this sense that Kant explains that at least rationalism can be universally applied to moral situations, whereas the sensuous and violent nature of humans is neither consistent nor can be universally applied.

VI. With both Hume and Kant in mind, consider the following ethical situation. Two girls – Kathy, and Cindy, have been friends for eight years. Kathy was in a three year relationship with George until George decided he needed time and space to think about his relationship prospects and breaks up with Kathy. Kathy continues to live in George’s father’s house for another year sorting through the mess, and attempting to get her life back together. Cindy has similarly gone through an unfortunate breakup, and helps Kathy through the process. One day Cindy meets a young fellow named Will, and they are quite happy together for six months. Kathy is ready to move into a place of her own, and looks for roommates, Cindy offers her younger sister as a candidate, but unfortunately things fall through. Being an upstanding guy, Will volunteers to move in with Kathy, citing ‘it might be awkward, but you’ll just have to trust me.’ Two weeks later Will ends his relationship with Cindy, citing ‘I’m just not in love with you any longer.’ Cindy takes some space away from Kathy and Will, knowing that even friends from childhood will still have jealousy issues, and she does not want to displace this frustration on her friend. Cindy informs both her former flame and her friend that should any relationship follow from the two roommates, she cannot continue to be friends with them. Kathy reassures her long term friend that she has nothing to worry about, because she still has feelings for George. Eight weeks pass, and out of the blue George calls Cindy and leaves a suspicious message on her voicemail asking if she has heard the good news. Cindy contacts George the next day to find out what could be the matter, as they have not spoken in months. George reluctantly tells Cindy that he sat down with Kathy and was considering giving their relationship a second try when Kathy informed him that she couldn’t, citing her relationship with her roommate, and gives specific details indicating that Cindy would not be told about this, consented, or asked if this would make her uncomfortable. Cindy attempts to contact Kathy and Will but her calls mysteriously go to voicemail.

What should Cindy do in response to this action? Assuming that George’s information is correct, what is the most moral way to approach this situation?

VII. In treatment of this situation, Hume would argue “a virtuous motive is requisite to render an action virtuous (254).” Kathy has clearly not had any virtuous motives in initiating a relationship with her long term friend’s ex-boyfriend, and clearly the only response is to understand that human nature accounts for this, and if her friend was acting on her own behalf, there is nothing Cindy can do. Hume might also argue “no action can be virtuous, or morally good unless there be in human nature some motive to produce it, distinct from the sense of its morality (255).” Which is to say, perhaps it is in Kathy’s nature to act this way, and it is not that she is without morals, but she simply follows a different code, and justice cannot be rendered on this action. “After the same manner, when we require any action, or blame a person for not performing it, we always suppose that one in that situation should be influenced by the proper motive of that action, and we esteem it vicious in him to be regardless of it (Hume 254). Hume argues that we cannot assume we have the same moral code from one person to the next, and that each situation can only be judged by the individual within it. Based on this information one might argue that Hume would not necessarily condone Kathy’s actions, but could certainly understand them, and may even go so far as to say that she has not violated any moral laws.

Kant, on the other hand, would argue that Kathy has wronged Cindy, destroyed their friendship, and based on a natural law, and the system of a maxim in which all people can follow, she has in essence violated the Golden Rule. He writes “any further motives which would make it possible for us to dispense with that of moral law must not be sought, for they would only produce hypocrisy without any substance (Kant 75).” However, though Kathy may feel that since a moral law has been violated she is entitled to dispense justice, Kant would also argue that to be magnanimous in this situation would be the maxim of all possible situations, because on the whole society sees a person who is wronged and does not seek revenge as more ‘moral’ than one who does. Though this may be perceived as self righteousness, knowing that her positive behavior will inspire positive actions in others despite the negativity of the situation is a maxim that is better to live by because it is self-perpetuated. It is clear that Kathy has produced ‘hypocrisy’, but Kant would argue “the desire for happiness must be the motive to maxims of virtue, or the maxim of virtue must be the efficient cause of happiness (117).” That is to say, that though revenge may help Cindy through some process of catharsis in the short term, society would certainly frown upon this act and consider it lacking just as much virtue as the wrong itself. She should instead seek actions that will increase her own happiness, and not concern herself with what her friend may be doing.

The appropriate solution then, is to follow Kant’s advice – fight the motives to dispense justice without physical proof, and continue to follow maxims that she would want enacted as a universal law, if she seeks further action she could inform her friends of what she knows as objectively as possible, and let the chips fall as they may.

Works Cited:

Chappell., V.C., ed. The Philosophy of David Hume. New York: The Modern Library, 1963.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Practical Reason. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril Educational, 1981.