Friday, July 24, 2009

Culturist Take on Kant

Kant has been called the epitome of the Enlightenment. He wrote a famous work entitled, “What is the Enlightenment.” His ethics come at a time when religion is dying away. Socrates had faced this before Kant. He came up with the famous metaphysical forms of beauty to worship and not degrade for an ethical system. Kant rebelled against such metaphysics. He was a scientist. He created a rational ethical system to replace religion. His system is the basis of the concept of “universal human rights.” Since only the West believes in such systems, thinking they are universal corrodes our sovereignty. Understanding how we got committed to them can help free us from this Kantian trap.

Kant he created a very simple seeming set of ethics because it is logical. But those who study him recognize his nuance. In addition to ethics he wrote about academic freedom, aesthetics, politics, perception, astrophysics, and the philosophical literature in addition to ethics. He created the idea for the predecessor to the United Nations, the League of Nations. He coined the term “League of Nations.” He also invented the logic that underpins the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). I will argue that the UDHR is destructive because it does not recognize cultural diversity.

The ethical system of Kant’s, features the “Categorical Imperative.” (CI) This posits the ethical principle that we should figure out what the ethical assumption of your action is. Then you must make it a universal law of the precept and see if you still like it. If you are going to steal a car, the principle might be “would you like to live in a world where people steal other people’s cars?” Could you rationally, looking at your enlightened self-interest, will that to be a universal rule? The answer is no. “You should not steal cars” follows. Thus the CI makes ethical precepts.

Kant then gets into something he calls the kingdom of ends. For an action to be moral, it must be chosen. Things done out of compulsion or cannot be moral. For a choice to be morally decided upon you must have moral autonomy to make that choice. Kant says this gives you personhood, choice is what makes you a person. That means you cannot compel restrictions on a person’s activities and have a moral person. That means that you must treat people, not as means that you control, but of ends – autonomous free ends in and of themselves: respect their right to choose. Autonomous individuals forming society by using the categorical imperative to freely choose society’s rules sans compulsion is the ideal state.

Rationality is the lynch pin of this system. It assumes that everyone is rational. They make the rational choice. And, HERE IS THE FATAL MISSTEP, Kant holds that since all men are rational, as sure as logic is logical, his ethical system is universal. And since his system ultimately gives individual rights, he invents universal individual rights. This concept weakens the West as we are the only culture that believes in it. It undermines our sovereignty in the form of asylum rights. It undermines our borders in that enforcing them infringes upon universal individual rights. This is the flawed Kantian logic behind the U.N.’s vision of universals.

Culturists recognize that there is no universal autonomous rational person. Some people are irrational. And there are different standards of rationality. The Chinese look at the population and say, “WE hold this truth to be self-evident, all men are created UNEQUAL.” And what of Muslims who would still kill to implement theocratic systems Kant assumed dead? What of Islamic Jihad groups who would abuse our freedoms to undermine them? What of gangbangers that do not care about ethics and kills people for a living? Thought systems are divided upon national and cultural lines. For our “logical” rights-bearing system to survive, we must realize that it is rare, precious and fragile. It is not ubiquitous and common. Like other nations, we must be culturist. The West must protect, guide and domestically promote our specific language, culture and borders.

This does not violate our tradition; it is our tradition. From the Puritans to the Founding Fathers, from Abolitionists to progressives, to Prohibition to the 1924 Immigration Act, to the FCC, we have been a culturist nation. Crusades, such as the Civil War and the Great Awakenings fill our history. We must do this in accordance with our cultural traditions. Violating rights to save the system of rights makes no sense. HUAC’s censorship of the movies was wrong. But, America has traditionally regarded our vision as a fragile experiment. We need to recover the sense of individual and collective responsibility this requires. Herein lays the culturist system of ethics. It is grounded in our history. It provides ethics. It recognizes geo-politics and cultural diversity. It stops our destruction via buying into Kant’s universal rights principles.


Lexcen said...

Indeed, a rational culture versus irrational culture. Makes sense to me.

Z said...

There's just GOT to be something CULTURIST about the Obama/Gates/Crowley situation, John! I'd be eager to hear your take! z

Ducky's here said...

You are presenting the Puritans as an example of rationality?

Gonna have to move in pretty mysterious ways to make the Puritans children of the enlightenment.

Ducky's here said...

We need to recover the sense of individual and collective responsibility this requires.


And that is a universal problem. Finding a balance between the individual and the collective.

Nothing particularly Western about that struggle.

Empedocles said...

You seem to be claiming that gangbangers and jihadists are irrational. I disagree, they are very rational. Where Kant goes wrong is in thinking that pure reason can deduce universal moral truths a priori. On the contrary, moral beliefs are the lessons of history. People with different histories have learned different lessons and take on different values as a result. Take for example how before Pearl Harbor the US was strongly against a standing army. The Founding Fathers persistently warned against the dangers of standing armies, but the nation took as the lesson of Pearl Harbor that we needed a standing army so as not to be caught unprepared again. Our values changed.
The quick abandonment of traditional sexual mores is another example where new values quickly took hold and spread. The introduction of cheap and effective contraceptives worked like an invasive species introduced into a new environment and quickly drove the old sexual values to the brink of extinction. The old sexual mores of pre-marital abstinence and marital fidelity worked well in a world rampant with sexual disease and which lacked effective contraceptives and treatments. These were quickly abandoned once penicillin, “the pill,” and cheap and effective condoms arrived. In their place arose the new set of sexual values we have today.

In contrast to this is Kant's view that values are apprehended a priori, rather than learned through the bitter lessons of history. Western nations are one and all in the sway of this view. This results in the continuing inability of Westerners to understand cultures whose history has taught them very different lessons (or even the inability for one western nation to understand another). After all, if morality is a priori, and thus universal, all of humanity must concede to identical values. Much of our continuing conflict with Middle Eastern countries comes from this misunderstanding—we simply can not understand how they could fail to adapt Western values when they are so obvious. But of course, these values are anything but obvious and what we now think of as “Western values” had an extremely painful birth in the previous centuries where they were often conceived in conflict, born in bloodshed, and nursed through many devastating wars before emerging today where we assume they should be obvious to all.

This, of course, doesn't mean that we should allow the acceptance of practices we find immoral in Western countries.

Culturist John said...


THERE IS! I just haven't felt like writing for a while. If African - Americans commit more crimes than other groups, it is not irrational or racist to suspect them more often. This is especially true if the African-American in question dresses like a gangster and is a young male.

If this were solely based on race, it would be irrational. This has to do with culture. It is culturist profiling.

Racist explanations contain no room for growth. There is no crime gene within the African American community. The rates used to be much lower. They can be again.

When Obama and his ilk always scream 'racism' they draw away attention from the improvement their own community needs. Furthermore, it justifies the counterproductive wrath and anger of that community. It is a losing line of thought all around.

It is too bad that the President is now legitimizing it.


That is an interesting argument. Would you then deny that irrationality exists?

There is a functionalist type of anthropology led by Bronislaw Malinowsk which holds that all practices are rational for the performers. This school stretched to explain why practices made sense. The most famous example being the medical reasons for the hooves and shellfish laws of the Jews. Of course, this means that there is a rationality that the folks themselves are not even aware of. Personally, my vision of history, my research in anthropology, has led me to believe that irrationality can and does exist.

To further our discussion we would have to define 'rationality,' I am using it in a Kantian sense. That means that logical considerations WITH PROOF underly values. I just don't see Shamans as rational critics of their own traditions. I would call much of what they do irrational.

And, like you, I consider rationality historical. I see it, however, as something that has been created and refined over eons. You seem to believe that all are innately and always rational. I do not buy that. Witch burnings were done on a pittance of rationality. Other practices have even less.


The Puritans were early pre-rational. They were very superstitious. They performed rituals of expiation. And, as in the reply to Empedocles, they burned witches. I am glad that you, apparently agree, that irrationality exists.

If the balance between individuality and the group is a universal, you are stretching the ends of the debate. Mindless theocracy built the pyramids. I really take the Greeks to have added a feature to our collective mental abilities.

But if you want to say all societies battle with that issue, you must then admit that the West has its own range on the spectrum. You know we disagree about diversity. I think it is real and important. And, as evidenced by your answer to my post, you think all cultures are basically the same. I'm afraid we must just have a civil disagreement on that issue.

THanks LEX!!

Thanks all! John

PS I'm leaving for 10 days vacation. I'll hopefully be more into posting upon my return (Hawaii and LA).

Culturist John said...


BTW, Malinowski's thought underlies much of the multicultural ideal that underneath it all, all cultures are the same. They are all seen to be logical in their own way.

BTW Malinowski's diaries showed that he secretly detested the 'logical' folks he studied.

Ducky's here said...

Well culturist, I certainly do agree that irrationality exists and in abundance but that doesn't address the position that reason has to be the foundation of a just ethics.

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