I’ve come to enjoy the program Justice with Harvard University professor Michael Sandel. I recommend you watch it some time! In episode 6b he discusses Immanuel Kant’s assertion that a deed is moral only when the motive is pure. For example, if a shop owner could give a customer the wrong change but doesn’t because he fears being caught (something that would harm the business) this action is not “moral” because his motive was not pure. If he gives correct change because it is the right thing to do then it is moral. Another example would be a man remains faithful to his marriage because he fears if he cheats he would be caught (i.e. the consequence is the motivation) is not the same as the man who remains faithful because he believes it is the right thing to do.
What do you say? Is the morality of an action determined by the action or by the motivation for the action?
A few days ago I asked how Descartes went from “Cogito ergo sum” to proving the existence of God in his Meditations on First Philosophy (see here). I was skeptical of his argument and the more I thought about it the more I became skeptical of his first couple meditations as well.
Here is why:
(1) Descartes sought to find the one thing he could not doubt by doubting everything. The one thing he found was that he realized he was thinking and therefore he was a thinking thing. I think this can be doubted as well. It could be that there is a great being whose thoughts are so complex that when it imagines characters it also imagines the though life of characters. It would be like a 3-D version of John Grisham sitting down to write a novel. Another thing to consider would be a super computer that created a program where it simulated an artificial world that includes thinking beings as well as those being’s thoughts. Could we doubt these being exist in any “real” way? I think so.
(2) As Eric O. Springsted wrote (commenting on the arguments of Alasdair MacIntyre) we should note that Descartes never abandoned his language game, i.e. he never was able to think outside of French and/or Latin which provided him with a way of thinking and discussing concepts like thinking and doubting (see Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 2nd Ed. p. 235).
(3) Some confuse the probability that we exist, and the assurance that we exist, that we find in thinking and doubting with the absolute knowledge that we exist. In some Eastern religious schemes there is a teaching that we are part of a greater One and that “salvation” consist of escaping the misleading concept of our own autonomy. There are plenty of people throughout history that seem to have doubted that we are (in any serious way) existent. If we are part of a greater One or we are the imagination of a higher being we may be said to “exist” but not like Descartes was trying to prove.
Yesterday I was reading Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted’s Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 2nd Ed. when I came to the place where the authors discuss Rene Descartes. When Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy was mentioned I pulled the English translation that I own off of my book shelf to see if I could understand it. While I was able to follow him through his first two meditations the third completely lost me.
Descartes argued that he was able to discover that he was a “thinking being” because he could not doubt his own thinking. While I don’t think this is as sure as Descartes thinks it was even less sensible that the next thing he could verify was that God exist and he uses some form of the ontological argument. I was totally lost. I couldn’t see how he connected A to B.
Is there anyone out there who can explain this to me? Even if you don’t agree with Descartes can you explain his path of logic?
For you philosophical types you may be interested in a conversation brewing amongst some of my fellow Th.M. students on the subject of “knowledge” especially as it relates to Immanuel Kant. Danielle Kahut began by writing the primary post and now comments are coming. It is open to all so join in here.