Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Immanuel Kant

It's the birthday of philosopher Immanuel Kant, born in Königsberg, Germany, in 1724. He wrote hugely influential treatises, including Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and Critique of Judgment (1790). He never traveled more than 100 miles from his home city and held to a strict daily routine. It has been said that the people of Königsberg set their watches by his daily afternoon walks.

As I've gotten older, I find myself becoming less of an ethical relativist and more of a neo-Kantian. Like Kant, I think that we have certain "categorical imperatives," unconditional moral obligations that are not subject to negotiation. However, I believe that our moral obligations are towards each other, as opposed to Kant, who insisted on manufacturing these silly, content-free categorical imperatives (e.g., "do not lie").

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