Wednesday, May 25, 2005
And another thing
Admitting this isn't, I think, at odds with saying that we sometimes conceive of ourselves as mere behavors when engaged in a project of "looking for reasons that we can acknowledge and endorse." But it is at odds with saying that such a project provides the only justification for thinking of ourselves in that way.
I'm not quite a Kantian, but the rational endorsement view is drawn from Kantian authors so it may be worth saying what all this has to do with that line of thinking. The moral vision underlying the Kantian project sees the basic moral power as the ability to conduct one's life according to one's rational judgments. A Kantian can admit, at a cost, that there are some cases where we aren't capable of bringing our behavior into line with our rational judgments, and still others where we aren't capable of judging rationally at all. The cost of this admission is that the Kantian will have difficulty explaining why we ought to strive to be Kantian saints when it is, apparently, something that we can't do.
For what it's worth, I think Epictetus can help the Kantian here. Like Kant, Epictetus offers practical advice which seems impossible to follow, as when Epictetus advises that we should not become upset at the death of a loved one. Such advice, Epictetus realizes, cannot be effective in the moment of grief. Rather, he advises that his readers "begin with the little things" and gradually teach themselves not to form attachments. If such a habit of thought can be thoroughly internalized, Epictetus thinks, then when life's big tragedies come the individual will not be vulnerable to unhappiness. Similarly, the Kantian could advise that we "begin with the little things" when seeking to bring the conduct of our lives into line with our rational judgments.
This still leaves a crucial question. Supposing that it's possible for this kind of Kantian therapy to bring it about that we are able to achieve something resembling ideal rationality, is this something we would want to do? For the Kantian the answer is obvious, but it is obvious only because the Kantian finds all that is essential to the individual in the individual's capacity for rational judgment.