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Is there any historical or biographical evidence to demonstrate that Kant actually intended the destructive consequences of his philosophy? Is it valid to deduce from the bad consequences of his philosophy that he was evil? How is this different from calling nuclear physicists evil for discovering fission to make nuclear bombs with?

asked Dec 17 '10 at 22:09

Andrew's gravatar image


Great question and a good research project for an Objectivist studying philosophy. I read a lot of Kant and some secondary materials in the 80s in grad school. He's not easy reading. He had a peculiar private life (allegedly taking a walk so punctually at the same time every day that people in the town sat their clocks by him, etc.) His self-report is that his work was a kind of Parmendian response to Hume's Heraclitean epistemology.

His political works are supposed to be fairly good classical liberal politics. So in a way he is the original libertarian boogeyman.

(Dec 18 '10 at 07:24) Bruce Majors Bruce%20Majors's gravatar image

Regarding the moral assessment of Kant, and whether he knew where his philosophy might lead, I would not consider myself qualified to answer but Dr. Peikoff addressed this in his podcast so you might look that up on his website, the podcasts are now searchable.

Regarding the comparison to nuclear physicists, it is altogether different. Inanimate objects and technology are neither good nor bad, inherently. A kitchen knife is very valuable when used responsibly and can kill when used maliciously. It is the person using the object that should be the subject of moral judgement - not the object's inventor or discoverer or the object itself. Kant, on the other hand, advocated a certain philosophy - and as a result is open to judgement based on one's assessment of his philosophy and his moral responsibility for understanding that which he preached. It's not as though his philosophy can lead to two different results, depending upon the practitioner.

answered Dec 17 '10 at 22:35

la_phil's gravatar image

la_phil ♦

Though I agree in general that technology is morally neutral, shouldn't you have to view technology (and almost anything for that matter, including advertising slogans, comedic spoofs, real estate deals, etc) in the context where you put them or create them. If you know that you live in a statist society and you invent something that is likely to be seized and misused, should you keep it under wraps?

(Dec 18 '10 at 07:28) Bruce Majors Bruce%20Majors's gravatar image

Without even being an expert on Kant I think we can ask some useful questions to get a better understanding of how to judge him.

Is it possible for a mind to conceive of and write The Critique of Pure Reason and not understand its meaning? Is it possible to grasp the meaning of a complex theory with no grasp of the practical consequences? Did Kant practice what he preached, and still not understand its consequences? Would it be possible for a Hugo to create thrilling plots and write Les Miserables but in the end claim ignorance of it? Or with something more familiar, would we ever consider the possibility that Ayn Rand did not understand the consequences of practicing Objectivism?

For me, before letting Kant off the moral hook, I want to see evidence that he did not understand his own philosophy and did not intend it to be practiced to its logical consequences. Otherwise I will take him at face value and assume he did. Perhaps he could not foresee the total impact he would have over the centuries, but am I any less guilty if I advocate something evil, and only one person follows my advice rather than millions?

In modern day we see people making excuses for Obama and his legislative wing men (Reid and Pelosi) and suggesting they have good intentions. I can imagine a nightmare scenario where centuries from now people ask if they really were evil for advocating the destruction of the United States as it once was. I would argue they intend for us to live in a society based on the Marxist principle, "from each according to ability, to each according to need", that they fully believe it is ok to forcibly take from some for the benefit of others, and as such, their intentions are anything but good. And they should be judged accordingly.

answered Dec 18 '10 at 12:22

la_phil's gravatar image

la_phil ♦

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Asked: Dec 17 '10 at 22:09

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Last updated: Dec 18 '10 at 12:22