But Can Kant Can Can?

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
“‘Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths.  I am the Lord your God.
“‘Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves.  I am the Lord your God.
“‘When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf.  It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up.  If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted.  Whoever eats it will be held responsible because they have desecrated what is holy to the Lord; they must be cut off from their people.
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.  Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.  I am the Lord your God.
“‘Do not steal.
“‘Do not lie.
“‘Do not deceive one another.
“‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.  I am the Lord. …”

  • Leviticus 19:1-12

Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

  • Psalm 149:3

“It would be fair to say that the history of philosophy should have ended with Hume if his views had prevailed.  To survive Hume’s attack, philosophy would need a powerful, subtle, and original mind to come to its defense.  It found such a protector in the German IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804). …
”Being a rule-guided activity, reasoning itself is based on a respect for rules and laws.  From such respect, Kant deduced a moral command, which he called the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE: ‘So act that the maxim of your action could be willed as a universal law.’  All moral acts can be derived from principles that may be universalized without contradiction.  Kant thought that, as creatures of reason, we are duty-bound to obey such principles.  Here, we will oversimplify this idea a bit to see what Kant was talking about.
“Let’s propose that you owe a friend five dollars, and to your annoyance, he pressures you to repay.  So you say to yourself, ‘If I kill him, I won’t have to repay the debt.’  But as a true Kantian, you first check to see if you could universalize the principle governing the proposed action.  You ask yourself, what if everyone accomplished his or her goals by killing someone?  Could there exist a universal law ‘EVERYONE OUGHT TO KILL SOMEONE’?  This would be an impossible law because if everyone complied with it, there would be no one left to comply with it.  Therefore, we are duty-bound not to kill as a way of solving problems. …
“Kant’s ethical conclusions, like his metaphysics conclusions, were essentially conservative in nature.  Hie theory rationalized all the virtues that his Lutheran upbringing had extolled. … Nevertheless, it is striking that Kant derived his principles from reason and not from divine commandment.”

  • Donald Palmer, Looking at Philosophy, The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter

“Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that… The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see.”

  • C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Last week, we discussed Hume and got side-tracked by his statement that all knowledge that was neither analytical or synthetic was nonsense, and as such should be relegated to the fire.

With a concept like that prevailing, anything that you decide needs to be burned gets burned, and eventually there is no longer any “knowledge.”  Thus, the author’s conclusions may have been correct in that they needed a hero to come along and save philosophy from itself.  Kant was a student of rationalistic metaphysics – the line of philosophy that Locke, Berkeley, and Hume were arguing against with their empiricism.  Hume tried to stretch his theories outside simple experience and the senses, but everything got muddled.  Kant read Hume’s work and with his background in rationalism, he saw the problems and how to correct for many of Hume’s issues.  I could have summarized those pages here, but the “Categorical Imperative” concept was simply too rich to pass up.

Palmer discusses three such Kantian arguments.  “Not killing” is quoted above.  The argument regarding lying led the author to draw a cartoon – the book is filled with such cartoons.  In the cartoon, a man is asked what the law of the land is.  The man replies, “Always lie… uh, I mean never lie, … er.”  Then a policeman approaches and says, “All right buddy, you’re under arrest for breaking the law. … er, I mean you’re not under arrest.  Uh, er.”  As Palmer concluded that it was an impossible law to always lie, “because it would be impossible even to state the law without breaking it.”  Thus, we must not lie.  Furthermore, a law to always steal completely eliminates the concept of “property” as everyone would be stealing from everyone else, continuously.  Thus, we can add a rule for not stealing.

You may see this opposite reasoning – starting with killing and ending with not killing – as being a silly exercise, but what Kant was doing was to take the most absurd case – the opposite – to see if there was a contradiction in his reasoning, and thus not finding the contradiction to be valid, he had found a categorical imperative, a principle that all should follow.

My reason to mention these three categorical imperatives is that Kant, in spite of trying to dream up new moral laws, basically confirmed the divine commandments, but from a rational, systematic point of view.

In other words, God knew what He was doing when He passed the laws down to Moses.  The laws just make sense, even when you apply extreme scrutiny.  But there is a reason why they make sense.  We are created in God’s image.

The Leviticus Scripture above starts restating the Ten Commandments and includes a multitude of other laws here, thus the ellipsis – the list continues.  But most of those laws could withstand Kantian scrutiny in that day and age, and to a great extent even now.  All could withstand scrutiny from a spiritual sense.

For example, one of the rules in Leviticus 19:28 is to not get tattoos.  In the time of Moses, this was done by pagans and thus marking yourself like a pagan identified you with pagans.  That leads to the slippery slope issue of eventually acting like a pagan – thus not godly or holy.  Also, sanitary needles may not have been used and infection could set in.  In the modern age, infections from tattoos are rare, probably less than allergic reactions.  It is commonplace for people to have tattoos, even church-going people.  Some specific tattoos could relate to pagan worship or Satan, but there are always things like a cross tattoo.  The only heartburn that I have with ignoring this rule, for me personally, is that God made me the way that I am, so who am I to think that I can improve on what God created me to be?  That reason for not tattooing will always be there.

So, we can find a logical reason for the rules, a rigorous rational reason, and a spiritual reason.  Most are not just a set of rules to see if we can follow rules, but to bring us closer to God.

In all the misinterpretation about the separation of church and state in the past fifty years or so, we might interpret what the Supreme Court said by tearing down the Ten Commandments from the courthouse.  We should not do so, but we might.  Yet, there is no way to separate the law that God ordained through Moses, due to the sound reasoning within the law.  Whether Kant could do the Can Can or not, he could not separate himself from his Lutheran roots.  Those Lutheran roots were buried deep in sound Biblical doctrine by our Creator who created us in His image.  Thus, His law was buried deep within us at that point of Creation.

Atheists can say that they dreamed up their moral code on their own, and they are correct on the points where their code and the Biblical code are the same.  They know that the moral concept of right and wrong that God imprinted within us makes sense and it simply is the right thing to do.  But, they deny the source of that imprinting within them.

But to address the title of this essay, Kant has been dead for over two hundred years, so he is not dancing the Can Can here and now, but would he?  Kant would have been fit enough to do so, probably.  It is said that his neighbors set their clocks to his ritualistic walks in the afternoon, always at the same time and at the same pace – a strong German trait, a predictable routine that is never violated (thinking of rule following – one not spelled out in the Bible).

Since Kant was German, in an area that is now Russia, but he was Prussian, let’s look at a German ballet troupe doing the Can Can.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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