[lit-ideas] Re: Malt, Coffee & Chuck Taylor

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 18 Jun 2006 14:40:03 -0700

Walter wrote:

The intention to universalize a maxim is not equivalent to a maxim being
universalizable. Whether a case of the former is a case of the latter is a
moral (philosophical) question. Why, or how it is that, some people who intend
their maxims or doctrines to also hold as moral laws manage to inspire social
and historical movements is an empirical question. I would ask a historian,
sociologist or a psychologist.

I'm not sure what's being denied in the first sentence. The intention to ø an x is never the same, I'd have thought, as an x's being ø-able. (The intention to climb a tree isn't the same as—or 'equivalent to'—a tree's being climbable.) So I'm puzzled as to how 'a case of the former [could be] a case of the latter' in any sense, 'moral,' or 'philosophical.'

This paragraph was in response to John McCreery's question about the 'intention' to make universal (not to 'universalize') certain purported moral 'statements.' Let the word 'statements' here be a place-holder for any term or expression that could sensibly follow 'moral' in this context ('judgment,' 'rule,' 'injunction,' etc.). Certainly most who have claimed to tell us the truth about morality believe that they are telling us something that is universally true, i.e., they want to urge that certain 'moral' statements (propositions, injunctions, judgments) are true always and everywhere. Some claim that this is part of what it means to calling something a _moral_ statement.

I do not find this in Kant, and have said why in response to what I took to be Lawrence's misreading of R. M. Hare (sc. that Hare was in the business of setting forth universal moral claims). Kant gives no list of moral truths; the Categorical Imperative is, as has been pointed out before, a test, not itself a putative moral judgment, statement, or assertion. It proposes that before acting we engage in a thought experiment to see if our proposed maxims (e.g. 'drink Scotch') could be consistently fitted into a 'universal law' binding on all rational creatures: in short, could one with consistency will that everybody drank Scotch? Clearly, yes. But what about 'make a lying promise'? Here, the notion of consistency becomes clearer: if one willed that everyone make lying promises (that this practice should become a 'universal law') the institution of promising would become not just useless, but conceptually incoherent, as incoherent as the practice of giving directions by always pointing away from the thing sought.

Yet in all of this, Kant assumes that the reason why certain things fail the test of the Categorical Imperative is that their being made into a universal law would result in something so untoward that their failure to meet it only reveals but does not bring about their wrongness.

Robert Paul
Reed College
To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: