Suffering and the categorical imperative

Should you think about your duty, or about the consequences of your actions? Or should you concentrate on becoming a good person?

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Arik-Alb
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Suffering and the categorical imperative

Post by Arik-Alb » Thu May 18, 2017 8:29 am

Kant's categorical imperative can seem a purely abstract principle, ungrounded in experience. If one said "I don't care whether the maxim's of my actions can be universalized", what could anyone say to him? Would such a person just be beyond morality, able to happily live their lives despite the habit of making exceptions for themselves?

In theory one could ignore his own exception-making choices, though in reality this leads to cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance leads to suffering. Thus, choices that involve making an exception for oneself lead to suffering. This grounds the categorical imperative in experience.

For example, say you are a European American, and you want illegal immigrants deported from the US on grounds that they are taking away jobs from people who rightfully live in the US. If someone points out that European Americans are here in the first place because their ancestors took away lands from those already occupying the US, you would likely experience pangs of dissonance. You would have trouble justifying that you are "right"; even if eventually you are able to, it's likely you'd go through a fit of defensive thought before becoming comfortable again.

Cognitive dissonance causes suffering in oneself, but also suffering to others. It can make one lash out against those who hold the contradictory view. The existence of people who can bring about dissonance poses a threat, and thus arises a motive to suppress/change/eliminate such people.

Possible challenges to this argument:
  • One can ignore facts leading to contradictory thoughts, and thus need not suffer dissonance. I'd argue that the existence of such facts is like a ticking time bomb -- they will eventually be considered, the mind will realize the contradiction, and there will be dissonance.
  • The categorical imperative is intended to be The moral principle, but there are other causes of suffering besides cognitive dissonance, especially in terms of harm caused to others. While I think cognitive dissonance is a significant cause of suffering, and fights amongst people, I certainly can't say it's The cause.

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PauloL
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Re: Suffering and the categorical imperative

Post by PauloL » Sun Jul 09, 2017 6:09 pm

Kant's categorical imperative is nothing but the saying "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you" put elegantly.

If someone disrespecting the categorical imperative can be happy? Psychopaths don't care much about categorical imperatives, but whether they're happy or not is beyond the scope of Philosophy.

I don't think that you need to consider historical foundations for your actions to be ethical, like the colonization of American when deciding immigration laws. All you have to do is to decide in each time so that you wish that the maxim of your action becomes a universal law. This is dynamic, and an ethical action today may become unethical tomorrow and need to be changed accordingly.

If you find a wallet you must return it to the owner, even if no one knows you found it. You do it because you wish that everybody would do it and thus you must do this. You yourself don't want to be the exception to the rule you believe you created.

But maybe you're talking about dilemmas. Well, these are unavoidable when you consider ethics, be it Kant or not.

This is my opinion.

Necromancer
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Re: Suffering and the categorical imperative

Post by Necromancer » Sun Jul 09, 2017 6:32 pm

For the World to become Utopia by ethical beings, there's a battle to be fought!

And until this battle is won, there's suffering to be undergone! As such, the colonization of USA is one mark in history to another. We're now in the 21st century CE/AD and we should see it from here, to amend where so can be done and act justly!

By and large, I think history has developed ethically in that more people are living good lives and with much improvement to be made in the World. Either way, Human Rights (UDHR) are quite young and we'll see where the World is going, with ourselves being activists, perhaps.

Human Rights (UDHR) are definitely true with the categorical imperative in how we should behave toward other people!

The future looks good? Better? :)

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PauloL
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Re: Suffering and the categorical imperative

Post by PauloL » Sun Jul 09, 2017 7:19 pm

Necromancer, Human Rights are far from a categorical imperative in my opinion, even if they must obey its command.

Human Rights are set forth politically and thus are far from such pure principles as it is the categorical imperative, however perfect those rights may seem.

Again, history might be invoked here, as Arik's thoughts on immigration.

German deportations and territorial seizures after WWII are illegal from a Human Right's point of view. However, the European Court decided that they can't judge that because the UN chart wasn't in order at the time (even though UN superseded the League of Nations and thus international law was in order at the time).

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