Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who Said It? Or: In What Does Personhood Consist?

"Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature's, have nevertheless, if they are irrational beings, only a relative value as means, and are therefore called things; rational beings on the contrary are called persons, because their very nature points them out as ends in themselves, that is as something which must not be used merely as means, and so far therefore restricts freedom of action (and is an object of respect). "

Who penned these words? Guess, if you can. A modern Harvard professor of ethics? An advocate of abortion and euthanasia? A forward thinking philosopher seeking to distribute the right to life based on sentience?

None of the above. If you can believe it, this incredible sentence came from an 18th century Christian philosopher whose ideas would affect all moral thought which followed him.

Meet Immanuel Kant.
Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Now I realize that what Kant herein stated may have meant something radically different to the author than how it struck me. The philosopher was probably simply referring to the traditional distinction between man and beasts on the basis of "a reasonable soul" or some such faculty. However, in light of current ethical philosophy, it is perturbing to consider this statement.


Moria said...

Don't get too excited about Kant. And I'd reserve the judgment of "Christian" too.

elizabeth said...

I agree. I would hesitate to think of Kant as a Christian philosopher. M. L'Engle read him to fall asleep... :)

I really only remember learning about his concept of God and that Kant thought that God could not exist if we had not thought of him. I know if is not as simple as I am stating, however, God is not at all God if He is dependant on anyone to exist.

From what I understand a lot of what is wrong wtih our culture today stems from the enlightement, which Kant is part of....