Wednesday, December 30, 2015

On Augustine, Kant and Reconciling Virtue and Happiness



Augustine and Kant share many similarities, the main of which are their ethics, their notion of retributive justice (from free will) and their sentiments that an afterlife must exist for either happiness and virtue to reconcile or for life to be meaningful.  Kant in a sense is the defender of faith in the Enlightenment.  While Voltaire and Hume criticize the legitimacy of the Christian God and salvation Kant defends it largely through his division of the phenomenal realm and the Noumenon and with his ludicrous rationalization of ‘ought’ and ‘can’ – we only ‘ought’ to do things can do; we ‘ought’ to be virtuous and happy but this is not possible on Earth so there’s reason to believe in a God that rectifies the two.  Kant is a philosopher who despite being secular in his politics (to my understanding) should be seen as someone who is actively defending faith from the encroachment of secular mentalities.
The most glaring similarity ‘tween Augustine and Kant is in their emphasis on will.  For both of them good and evil are defined by one’s ‘will’ or phenomenological state of being.  For Augustine, a good will and a good life is living in accordance with God’s Law.  This has to do far-more so with state-of-being than whether someone is actually following every dot or semi-colon of the Bible.  It’s essentially a form of submission and renunciation of the Ego that Augustine thinks in part divides the City of God from the City of Man.  For Kant what is only ethical in-and-of-itself (without exception or equivocation) is the good will.  Everything else, intellect, money, power, can be used for ill ends.  This is the example that Mill gives if memory serves to demonstrate that at Kant’s best moments he is a consequentialist.
Any who, they do differ in their conception of evil but it is largely similar.  For Augustine evil is a deficiency that turns away from the good for the sake of turning, or out of pride in rebelling against God, in some sense “becoming” one’s own God.  For Kant evil is simply the lack of the good will – so once again merely a deficiency but one motivated out of self-love (Egoism) rather than the desire to be bad or sinful.  Their similarities are more-alike than their differences, especially if we consider that Augustine would likely say that it is pleasurable for the sinful man to sin, so in some sense he sins out of self-love – only a particular form of self-love that gains psychological pleasure from the bad thing itself (and because it is bad) rather than “coincidentally” doing a misdeed (though once again Kant would claim that where there is no good will morality cannot exist) by getting drunk selfishly and not intentionally doing wrong – though they recognize they are not acting morally through their intentions.
Both Kant and Augustine believe that what they hold to be truths of reason surpass the senses.  This is seen in Kant’s argument for Free Will (it does not exist in the phenomenal realm because we are clearly causal beings, but in the Noumenal realm it must exist because otherwise morality as Kant understands it is impossible or incoherent) and Augustine’s reasoning which contradicts experience.  For Kant I refer to Ben Vilhauer’s essay on Kant’s views on free will:  http://www.benvilhauer.com/vilhauer,%20draft%20'ontological%20priority%20and%20incompatibilism%20in%20kant's%20theory%20of%20free%20will'.pdf  I very well written piece (from what I’ve read of it) that is informative as it is succinct. 
Kant and Augustine’s notions of free will play into their notions of punishment.  In City of God when discussing the evil will, Augustine says it is just to punish a man who of his own knowledge and volition does wrong; copying Aristotle’s sentiment from the Ethics.  Kant believes in retributive justice.  Punishment can never be done for the good of the prisoner or for society – it must be because it is “deserved.”  This is where the talk of good will and love ends and where the ugliness of non-consequential ethics rears its head.  Kant defends the death penalty for murderers because of this aspect of equivocal retributive justice.  Tell me, what is the proper punishment for any crime if the consequences are not to be weighed?  If I steal should someone steal from me as just compensation?  How can something even be considered a crime if we don’t look at the consequences of someone’s actions?  How can inflicting suffering on another human being ever be considered noble or if we were to believe in Consequentialist punishment(s) ever encourage him or others to truly walk a righteous path?  Wouldn’t it be that they would commit no crimes not out of goodness but out of fear?  Thus creating a near constant state of psychological pain to prevent from the psychological and physical pains of injustice?  And once again, how can suffering that prevents no suffering ever be justified or implored upon?  Kant in a Libertarian-esque fashion condemns the notion of another human being being condemned not for his own crimes but for the goodness his suffering will bring to himself or others, but what of the notion that we cannot freely choose who we are?  And what of the notion that the good will is simply another aspect to consider in an action’s or chain of actions’ consequences?  It is true that a pure state of being brings about a sense of serenity and ease of mind and conscience, but is this not another consequence that exists within the being who practices good will rather than the results of such a will in its social affect?  I am compelled to go into Kant’s generally Libertarian notion of the State but I may criticize that specifically later and I already wandered away from what I meant to focus on.
Both Kant and Augustine believe that the ends of morality will not or cannot be realized on this Earth.  For Augustine it is the City of God, a representation of a society where all act out of love (i.e. good will and consideration for the other rather than the self) rather than Egoism; and Kant’s “Kingdom of Ends” where all are treated as Ends in Themselves and assumingly out of good will – otherwise morality in this perfect kingdom would not exist.  Both Kant and Augustine criticize the Epicureans and Stoics (the Greeks generally speaking) for believing that the ends of morality are to be sought on this Earth and that virtue is sufficient for happiness.
Kant in the phenomenal realm of existence is a pessimist.  He believes that much of what is virtuous contradicts what we want or what will make us happy.  Augustine mentions the horrors of life in “The Supreme Good Not in this Life” and correctly criticizes the Stoics for both saying that all that is perceived to be bad in life is not truly bad but a product of a bad perception, and the consolation of the opportunity of suicide for those unable to accept life’s horrors and indignities.  However, saying that life is very bad is not proof a better one in the hereafter.  And once again, for I went over much of the same in my Tolstoy paper, even if there were an afterlife this would not ground our meaning or purpose in that eternal life.  Asides from it being never ending and devoid of pain what would separate a man who finds meaning in Heaven with one who instead sees his purpose and temporary meaning to be on Earth?  Does the existence of pain forever condemn the notion of pleasure or absence of suffering is Man’s proper priority in existence?  Whether it be focused on himself or with higher ethical weight when on others?  Does our temptation towards vice forever remove the concept of virtue and its insignificance?  Could it not be that our aim is to be good and helpful on this Earth despite (in fact, in some regards because­­) the fact that all roads end in death?  How is the fact of death destructive to the validity of Negative Utilitarianism (preached by the Epicureans and I would argue Cynics) which says that that which is good is merely that which is devoid of pain? 
Augustine quotes the Apostle Paul saying:  For we are saved by hope:  now hope which is seen is not hope; for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?  But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”  Hope for what?  A world with no pain that lasts forever?  I would claim the no pain is a good, yes, but a lack of pain can be found in the absence of life as well.  Why is eternal salvation fundamentally grounded in meaning when this world for Augustine is grounded in sinful matter?  He ends this portion of City of God by saying, “And this happiness these philosophers refuse to believe in, because they do not see it, and attempt to fabricate for themselves a happiness in this life, based upon a virtue which is as deceitful as it is proud.”  Aren’t you the one who believes in free will Augustine?  So you believe in humility but wouldn’t you hold that it’s your choice (with God’s help) that you are good while a Hard Determinist like myself would hold that I had no choice in doing good or ill?  Now both the Epicureans and Stoics believed in free will, though it takes part far-more in the Stoic philosophy than the Epicurean to my knowledge.  Also fabricate for themselves a happiness in this life?  This is very telling.  Just as Tolstoy could not be happy without faith in “the absolute” it seems Augustine (or Kierkegaard, though Kierkegaard was miserable even after he deluded himself with God) believes a life without God is one where happiness is an illusion or based on sinful pleasures of pride and lust.  This seems very irrational to me.  I would be tempted to ask Augustine what they spend the majority of their hours in luxury and enjoyment doing.  I would then ask why an Atheist (particularly an Atheist with Epicurean sentiments) is in deceit and pride for when a Christian is not?
Kant believes that only God can reconcile Virtue and Happiness.  I’m not well-read in Kant but here is a video where Kant’s notions of virtue and happiness are delved into:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6UQLiHB0k0  The same questions apply to Kant.  Even if doing the right thing is contrary to selfish happiness, can’t we be happy because we did the right thing – helping another being in not being in pain?  Also I would like to make the Cynics’ point that the pleasures that are contrary to a virtuous life were not to be followed anyway because they were largely based in our Egos, caused more pain than pleasure and deteriorate virtue rather than enhance it.  The Ego is to be removed not out of divine demand but because of the consequences of living an altruistic ascetic life for both the Man who practices these virtues and others who are the focus of the moral man. 
Kant and Augustine should be commended in-part for their focus on “the will” but criticized for their inability to accept the true ethical ends of the good will (or egoless will) as the end of pain in others and absolution of guilt from our past, for as pre-determined beings we realize that we, like others, cannot help but act as we do but should act ethically.  Instead Augustine grounds an ethical end in Salvation (a type of eternal Hedonism seemingly) and Kant the same and adds Libertarian constraints (including retributive punishments) on this Earth.  Very interesting that two philosophers who believed that nothing good can come ‘cept from a good will held that Man must (or at-least should) believe that he will be rewarded for his good works on this Earth; instead of being a good person to, y’know, just be a good person.  But I guess that’s just not good enough.

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