[lit-ideas] Re: Ye Modern Dialectic

  • From: Robert Paul <robert.paul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 07 Sep 2005 14:57:27 -0700

Walter wrote:

The claim that giving to charity is morally permissible - i.,e., passes on the
CI procedure - isn't quite right. It's a poorly defined maxim to begin with. To
give to charity to the point at which one cannot oneself pursue a life of
dignity contradicts the CI. Beneficence towards others comprises a broad,
non-strict duty, admitting of latitude and scalar or qualitative judgment. In
giving too much, or too little, one surpasses the limits of moral worth. Just a
minor quibble of course.

Walter is right: this is a poorly defined (or expressed) maxim: but such vagueness and generality in the formulation of maxims never seems to have given Kant much pause. He seems not to have realized that the specificity of maxims can change the outcome of their tests against the Procrustean illusion of the CI: given the maxim schema 'do x,' the generality or specificity of the substitution instances of x obviously matter. But Kant never distinguishes between the maxim 'tell a lie,' and the maxim 'tell a lie in order to save the life of an innocent person,'
except to deny that the latter is a different action from the former, as if 'lying' were all one thing and instances of it all the same 'action.'
What one might propose to do is seldom fine-grained enough in Kant's own account to allow for such distinctions. It as if he were blind to the distinction between 'feed a child' and 'feed a starving child.'

Robert Paul
The Reed Institute
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