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ARISTOTLE AND KANT

This lecture is meant to provide you with


a little bac!round to better understand
the ethical theories o" Aristotle and Kant#
which turn out to be much closer to each
other than the di""erences in their
scienti"ic and philosophic views mi!ht
lead you to believe$
KANT
Everythin! in nature is determined$
The body is part o" nature$
There"ore# everythin! bodily is determined$
%I$e$ physical movements# emotions# and
desires$&
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Thus# Kant can say that our emotions and
desires don't have moral worth because they
are not "ree$
The will is NOT part o" nature$ It is the
ability o" our reason to "orm (ma)ims* or
principles o" action$
The will is "ree$ +ence# it ,AN have moral
worth precisely because it is "ree$
The will is not part o" nature# accordin! to
Kant# because it's part o" our rational
"aculties# which impose order upon the
perceptions o" the senses# and by (nature* he
means the world o" the senses# the physical
world$
This may sound weird# but Kant's way o"
thinin! is part o" a philosophical tradition
stemmin! "rom -lato# accordin! to which
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the physical world is NOT the ultimate
reality$
In the "orm in which it appeared in the
period in which modern science arose %i$e$
since the seventeenth century&# Kant's view
is more problematic than -lato's$ In this
view the physical world is a vast machine in
which everythin! that happens is determined
by the physical laws o" nature$ Our minds
e)ist# but we don't now how to connect
them with our bodies$ +ence# it is called
(the mind.body dualism$*
/es# it sounds weird# but is it any weirder
than biolo!y pro"essors re"usin! to say what
li"e is0 As Keeton# the author o" the biolo!y
te)t I cited mi!ht say# (+ey# lemme alone$
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I'm a biolo!ist# not a philosopher$ +ow
should I now what li"e is0 I'm only a poor
biolo!ist$*
-erhaps you can see "rom this e)ample that
the mind.body dualism isn't somethin! that
a "ew obscure philosophers thou!ht up$ It
pervades our thinin!$ It pervades our
science$
Another conse1uence o" this view is that#
strictly speain!# animals are 2ust machines$
So we can do with them what we want$
Now o" course# the avera!e person doesn't
believe that# but the avera!e person as well
as modern scientists still doesn't now how
to overcome this dualism# and this puts them
at a disadvanta!e when ar!uin! with people
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who don't have scruples about wipin! out
and otherwise messin! up the environment$
+ence# when biolo!y came to the "ore
amon! the sciences in the nineteenth century
with Darwin and others# it had a materialist
view o" the world that contradicted a more
(normal* view o" biolo!ical or!anisms in
which we tend to re!ard them as more than
2ust machines$
The conclusion you mi!ht draw "rom this is
that# despite the wonders o" modern science#
a lot o" modern thinin! is con"used and
sel".contradictory$ That is a correct
conclusion$ And "or the most part# the
(philosophers#* that is# the philosophy
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pro"essors# or (pro"essional philosophers* as
they o"ten call themselves# share this
con"usion$
ARISTOTLE
There is no mind.body dualism in Aristotle
and biolo!ical or!anisms are not machines$
To say they are (alive#* accordin! to him#
means that they have a principle o"
or!ani3ation and sel".movement called the
psych or (soul$* I put the En!lish word
(soul* in 1uotation mars because it has
reli!ious connotations# which Aristotle's
term does not# but it's the closest word we
have in En!lish to translate his term$ All
Aristotle meant was that the various
"unctions o" biolo!ical or!anisms are not
separate components o" a machine# but that
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to!ether they comprise an or!anic whole
that "unctions as a unity$ That unity is very
dependent on the di""erent or!ans o" the
body that comprise it# so that when the
or!anism dies# in Aristotle's view# this unity
doesn't survive$
The (soul* is the "unctional unity o" the
basic bodily "unctions# and the mind is its
hi!hest power$ The mind too "orms a unity
within the overall unity o" the soul$ A!ain I
emphasi3e that the mind is a power o" the
soul# so the two are very closely connected$
The mind is the power o" the soul by which
we thin$ The brain is the physical or!an
where the mind is located# but the brain is
obviously part o" the body and the mind is
part o" the soul$ +ence# to say that we have
("ree will* %to use the modern term& means
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that the mind has the power o" thinin! and
o" movin! the body$
In this brie" lecture I won't !o into the
details o" Aristotle's e)planation o" 2ust how
the mind thins# how it moves the body#
how Aristotle e)plains the nature o"
consciousness# how he avoids the mind.
body dualism that has pla!ued modern
philosophy AND modern science# and so on$
I trust you will be so ind as to tae my
word that whether or not his e)planation is
correct# he does have such an e)planation
and Kant and the other modern philosophers
do not$ +ence# Kant has to -OSIT "ree will
and the mind's ability to move the body# but
he has no way o" e)plainin! it$ O" course not
4he thins biolo!ical or!anisms are really
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machines5 6ut I don't want to belabor this
point$
Aristotle's Ethics and Kant's Ethics
The bottom line %"or our discussion o"
ethics& is that "or Aristotle# unlie Kant# it's
not 2ust the will that is !ood and moral$
Aristotle doesn't have to de"ine morality
strictly in terms o" moral laws lie the
cate!orical imperative$ 7e can have !ood
emotions and pleasures# and !ood "eelin!s
toward each other# somethin! lie the hi!her
pleasures o" 8ill and Epicurus$
Aristotle DOES have moral commands or
principles or laws# based on the overarchin!
virtue o" 2ustice# but they arise out o" our
nature as bein!s possessin! reason$ In other
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words# when we "ully reali3e our nature as
animals possessin! reason# our emotions and
desires and our reason TEND to be in
harmony with teach other$
The 6ottom Line
Despite these "undamental di""erences#
based on their underlyin! scienti"ic and
philosophical theories# their ethical theories
turn out to have more in common than they
are commonly understood to have$ 9or
e)ample# consider Kant's per"ect and
imper"ect duties# or to use his alternative
terms "or them# strict and meritorious duties$
Aristotle's virtue o" 2ustice rou!hly
corresponds to Kant's per"ect or strict
duties# and the list o" virtues that Aristotle
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provides rou!hly corresponds to Kant's
imper"ect or meritorious duties$
+ence4here is the shatterin! conclusion4
the behavior or li"estyle that each
recommends is "airly similar$
That statement immediately has to be
1uali"ied a little$ 9or one thin!# Kant did not
understand Aristotle's concept o" ethical
virtue4believe it or not# he never read
Aristotle# who was out o" "avor in the time
when Kant lived4but 7E can see the
similarity# even i" Kant himsel" didn't$ Even
brilliant minds lie Kant aren't per"ect$ On
the other hand# we can appreciate Kant's
brilliance more when we see how much he
did philosophically with the limited tools he
had to wor with$