The Arch of Justice

The Arch of Justice

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. day. He was oft quoted as saying, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I only know this because Barack Obama loved to quote it and credit King. But he credited him with uttering the aphorism. Evidently, the originator was Theodore Parker in 1848 who offered it as a brief ode to hope and a belief in ethical progress. As Obama and others have recognized, however – this became a major theme of his final presidential address to the nation – the arc only bends if the people stand up and make it swing down and touch the earth. Without that effort, justice shoots off to the heavens to become an icon of aspiration instead of a practical reality here on earth.

Given the recent American election, can people still believe this is true? Can it be true of the Middle East? Of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And what is the nature of that justice? And justice for whom?

Parker was a Unitarian, an abolitionist and, along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, a Transcendentalist. Parker, like many before and after him, was especially influenced by the new Higher Biblical Criticism as those who followed were influenced by Source Criticism. He became convinced that the tales of dreams and prophecies of the Torah and of miracles and miraculous births of the New Testament lacked any truth value. He emerged from his spiritual quest as a naturalist, convinced that the divine was an intimate part of all of nature. What remained true in Christianity was its moral essence, the ethical teachings of Jesus.

Hence, he became a modernist. Religion required obedience to a higher Being. It required constructing a dependence on God and the institutions on earth responsible for conveying that message of obedience and even conformity with its rules. Morality, as Immanuel Kant had argued, was another matter and could not be reduced to religion. For moral principles were the sine qua non of behaviour without which there could be neither good nor bad. The basic principles of morality were a priori, as fundamental to the laws of human behaviour as gravity was to the laws of nature. They were transcendental preconditions of moral behaviour altogether and could not be distilled into religious directives. Morality requires right action and obedience to the conscience of the individual. Religion required obedience to an Other – God, the Church or an Authoritarian regime in a political system built on the same principles as religion while dispensing with God.

The attraction to authoritarian rule was almost as innate as conscience, but it was a propensity, not an a priori transcendental principle. “No feeling is more deeply planted in human nature than the tendency to adore a superior being, to reverence him, to bow before him, to feel his presence, to pray to him for aid in times of need.” But it was a planted feeling, one inculcated in both slave owners and their slaves, in religious leaders as well as their followers, in politicians who sought dominion and in citizens who sought an escape from the burdens and responsibility of freedom. When the heart is full of hope, divorced from personal effort, joy fills the air and a leader may be blessed. When that hope comes crashing down to earth, rejoicing turns to despair and the followers will seek to burn their fallen leader as an effigy. However, if one accepts that the whole world is divine, if one accepts that God lives within oneself, if one accepts that it is one’s responsibility and one’s responsibility alone to create the world as a living and vibrant moral universe, if one becomes convinced that this responsibility cannot be displaced onto another, then you have the premise for being both a moral and a responsible individual, two sides of the same coin.

It would be a theology that would be the counterpoint to authoritarianism so that even a religion as communitarian as Judaism would fall under its spell as liberal Jewish theologians became enamoured with the “autonomous self” as the only alternative to the authoritarianism of politicians and rabbis alike. The conviction of Theodore Parker became so pure that it even initially pushed him outside of even the pale of the Unitarian Church for a time before that church “canonized” him. Martin Luther King Jr. never went nearly that far. He was a communitarian in his heart and soul and believed in the power of his people, as Black Americans and as Americans of any colour or ethnicity. Individual conscience was never enough. One needed the power of the people to sustain oneself in battle and to provide the foot soldiers for that battle.

The issue was whether the people were to be lead by men of conscience or by reprobates, by liars, by those who were at base misanthropes, by men (perhaps even sometimes women) of no conscience, by men who fed off but showed utter disdain for the power of the people that they exploited in the name of attacking the institutional powers in place. Secular Protestantism was susceptible to seduction by the charms of a charlatan. And there were plenty around who offered to lead the people to greatness rather than to live under a brighter light, offered “our” power rather “theirs,” offered power at all rather than movement towards self-empowerment.

If the arc of justice is to be your guide, if it requires your effort to bend that arc towards the earth for the benefit of humanity, how does that help you in dealing with major international political problems like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? It is one thing to rely upon the metaphor as a guide for domestic politics and social organizing. It is quite another to use it in service of international negotiations. But it is very far from impossible.

First, it requires each party to recognize the Other, however inferior that Other may be in the power it holds, in fact, in spite of the weak position of the Other. It requires recognizing the Other as worthy of equal respect and dignity as humans. This applies as well to the recognition required by the weak party as well. They too must see the Other, not as an overbearing demon, but as a group driven by demons of insecurity and fears. But also driven by its own dreams and aspirations. Respect of each party of the other becomes a primary condition for reconciliation and peace.

Second, it requires not relying on outsiders to bring pressure and force to bear on settling the matter. Influence, certainly. But not external authority or power. The mantra that the Palestinians and the Jewish Israelis are the only ones who can make peace must be a fundamental building block.

Third, it requires realism. If the arc of justice is to bend towards the earth, then the justice required is the justice on the ground, the justice that takes into account the needs and desires and aspirations of all of those wherever they live in the territory of the conflict. The mistake in Gaza was not the military withdrawal of the Israelis, but moral withdrawal of the Israelis, the decision to abandon not just leave Gaza and, thus, also to surrender to an evil principle of Judenrein. Because the Palestinians made a contractual deal virtually impossible and told the Israelis, in effect, to get out without any arrangements, this does not excuse the moral lapse. I myself participated in that lapse in supporting the total withdrawal. In retrospect, it was wrong to say, “To hell with you, we’re leaving.” At the same time, the political practices that are moral must be as realistic as they are idealistic. Escape from responsibility will not allow a party to achieve freedom. It is a very tough balancing act.

How does one retain responsibility while surrendering authority to the Other and granting the Other the right to empower itself? That is the task, not a premise. That is the goal of a peace agreement, not the foundation for one. How does one create and continue to engage in a positive sum game wherein there is both true mutual recognition and where the power of the Other is allowed to grow as a release and expression of the energy of a people while ensuring that this energy is not a threat but a partner, a complement rather than an antagonist. Much easier said that done. That is why the task of peace is so difficult. But it will never be made easier with the intervention of external superegos which remove the ethical and political responsibilities from the parties themselves to forge a peace. And each party must recognize its own shortcomings in such a quest.

That is what is fundamentally wrong with Resolution 2334. It attempts to pre-empt that discussion. It raises the status of the Palestinians quite justly, but only by demonizing and derogating Jewish Israelis and their position. Not only are realities ignored, not only are established principles torturously arrived at set aside, but the supporters of the Resolution – quite aside from the myriad of deficiencies – have surrendered to the belief that external parties must not only be helpful to the parties, but weigh in on the debate so that in terms of power, the weight clearly still remains with the Jewish Israelis that cannot be offset by all the abstract moral weight and economic clout put on the other side of the scale.

When that is done in bad faith, when that is done without loving-kindness, when that is done in the name of helping the so-called underdog, it is done without respect of the power and recognition the Palestinians truly deserve as a self-governing people responsible for who they are and what they want to become. It is done by ignoring the authoritarian institutions and corruption which impede their self-development. It is done by ignoring the long strides Palestinians have made in managing their own security. And it is certainly done by ignoring the realities of Jewish Israel and denigrating its motives and its position.

Given these parameters, it is why the conclusions of the Paris Peace Conference are so superior to those of Resolution 2334. All states, including that of Israel, should recognize Palestine as an aspiring state. That is what Palestinians want. That is what they should have. That is what only a minority of Jewish Israelis let alone a minority of all Israelis want to prevent. The majority of Jewish Israelis accept the goal of creating a Palestinian state side-by-side Israel.

Let me offer a concrete example. If an outsider determines in advance that Jerusalem is Palestinian territory, a determination that was never previously made in either an agreement between the parties or even by an authoritative international body, that is an illegitimate move. If a country wishes to do so in recognition of realities that do not pre-empt the discussion – such a moving an embassy to West Jerusalem – that may be an imprudent act given the timing, but it is not an undercutting action. One can even argue such an act is needed to make a statement about reality.

That is why the Paris Peace Conference was far superior to the UNSC Resolution 2334 even as it endorsed that Resolution, but did so in a way that offered some re-balancing. It was an influence conference, not a peace conference. Neither of the disputants were represented or there. The participants reaffirmed their support “for a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The conference endorsed negotiations between the parties as “the only way” to achieve enduring peace while recognizing that current trends (on both sides) on the ground, not only the expansion of settlements but “continued acts of violence,” impede progress towards peace. The conference endorsed “meaningful, direct negotiations.”

Resolution 242 was not superseded by another UN resolution, though all UN resolutions were acknowledged. Instead, the conference endorsed a negotiated two-State solution that would meet the legitimate aspirations of both parties for both sovereignty and security “and resolve all permanent status issues on the basis of UNSC Res. 242 and 338.” If a framework was helpful in such negotiations, the Conference tipped its hat to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Palestinians as well as Israelis were urged to be governed by international humanitarian and human rights law. Instead of using international humanitarian law as a club, let alone the threat of economic coercion, the participants expressed a readiness to offer its support where needed, including economic aid and economic incentives as positive inducements.

One item emphasized was an offer to facilitate civil society dialogue between the two parties in contention. The focus was not on external pressures, but on strengthening civil society and direct dialogue between and among citizens from both sides. The conference was clear in its strictures against steps that would prejudge the outcome of negotiations on final status issues – borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees. Though Netanyahu could wave away the results of the Paris Peace Conference as irrelevant and futile, and the Palestinians could welcome the conclusion by ignoring the strictures against their own positions and practices, reassurance came for me from a surprising quarter. Though he did not express any regret for not vetoing Res. 2334, John Kerry reassured Netanyahu that there would be no further UN Resolutions before Trump took over and no international action following from the Peace Conference. The timing of the conference and the results seem more intended to send a message to Donald Trump rather than to either Abbas or Netanyahu.

As I interpreted the Peace Conference, it went some way to offset the destructive elements of UNSC 2334, but the concluding statement lacked the legal authority of the UN. There were also other efforts on the ground that proved to be more promising and could serve as a precedent for partial deals rather than a comprehensive one. After six years of negotiations, a concrete deal was made on sharing water resources between Israel and the West Bank, including of a Joint Water Committee to work out the details of implementation.

However, on the international stage, the fallout from Resolution 2334 inviting unilateral actions on the international stage can be very destructive of efforts to implement a peace deal. I will deal with those consequences in my next blog.

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My Promised Land. XV. By the Sea

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

by

Ari Shavit

XV By the Sea – The New Zionism

The book ends where it begins, with Ari’s own nuclear family returning to England for a vacation. Ari contrasts Israel with England, the frenzy and constant disruption of the former and the tranquility and continuity of the latter. In doing so, he repeats his love of dichotomous polar oppositions which contribute so much to the book’s hyperbolic quality. Yes, we know what you mean, Ari, but what Brit would agree today that the UK is a place of “deep calm and solid identity”? Even if there is some relative truth to the depiction, one doesn’t have to go very far back in history to find a very different portrait of that stormy isle. As the historian G.M. Trevelyan wrote, the reason King Louis XIV of France permitted William of Orange to invade the British Isles and attack his cousin and ally James II was not simply because James was not sufficiently obsequious to him, but for political goals. Britain had the reputation as the most tendentious place in Europe, ridden with internal conflicts. Louis expected William of Orange to get bogged down in eternal wars and allow he, King Louis, to conquer Europe at leisure. As it turned out, in the Great Revolution, William of Orange tamed that land of eternal turmoil, but beneath its placid surface one need scratch very little to find tumultuous conflicts beneath.

However, if you are vacationing in Dorset or in the lake District, repose is the order of the day and Britain serves well as a foil for Israel and possibly Ari’s thesis that the constant turmoil explains the vitality, energy and creativity of Israelis who live on the edge. On all counts, Israel is certainly an exciting country with more than its share of exciting and excitable people. So why did Ari’s ancestors who were prosperous and well established and who enjoyed the fruits of British economic success and its strong tradition of freedom and liberty leave to resettle in a backward place like Palestine? It took a whole book to tell us why. Whatever the challenges, the effort at resettlement was worth the sacrifice. Ari sums up the reasons.

The primary one is assimilation. If the family had stayed in Britain, by the time of his children’s generation, they would most probably no longer identify as Jewish. The Anglo-Jews of his great-grandfather’s generation are a dying breed with reduced numbers of children and most of them increasingly intermarrying and integrating into the dominant culture. “I know that if my great-grandfather had not removed me from this coast, I myself would probably have been today only half-Jewish. Tamara, Michael, and Daniel [Ari’s children] might not consider themselves Jewish at all.” (385) The collective Jewish “we” would be on its last legs. He would have been a witness to the withering away, not of the state, but of Jewish identity. The diaspora is a lost cause for Jews. “With no Holocaust and no pogroms and no overt anti-Semitism, these islands kill us softly. Enlightened Europe also kills us softly, as does democratic America. Benign Western civilization destroys non-Orthodox Judaism.” (386)
Between the Scylla of rampant persecuting antisemitism and the Charybdis of benign enlightenment, and without the captivating hold of the Jewish religion that could sail the ark of Jewish survival through those treacherous shoals, Jews as Jews would disappear.

What if they did? My first published article was entitled, “Is Jewish Survival Necessary?” A provocative question, but one Ari does not ask let alone try to answer. He just assumes it is a fundamental value. Nor does he ask whether one’s identity as a Jew is safe in Israel. Netanyahu’s son is dating a beautiful non-Jewish Norwegian, a story that made headlines in the Israeli and diaspora press. Is the answer collecting Jews together in sufficient numbers to form a critical mass? Or is the resurrection of religious Judaism the only answer? Ari does not ask nor try to answer that question either. He presumes the project of safeguarding secular Jewish life is identical with Zionism, was accomplished and not just stretched out by Zionism, and is sufficient in itself to have justified all that effort. It is a basic premise of Zionism, not an hypothesis to be subjected to interrogation. It is a categorical and not a hypothetical imperative. Further, for Jews as Jews, as a nation of Jews and not just a religion, “Jaffa was inevitable.” (387)

Israel has 6 million Jews of all ages. According to a recent Pew survey, America has 9 million adult Jews, but only if we include all four categories – not only the 4.2 million who identify themselves as Jewish by religion, the 1.1 million overtly secular non-religious Jews (including many Israelis), but also the 2.4 million who are Jewish only because they had one Jewish parent but do not identify as Jewish and the 1.2 of the Jewish affinity category, who, though not raised as Jewish, for one reason or another identify as Jewish. Zionism, therefore, has created the second greatest concentration of Jews in the world and the concentration with the greatest strength and determination to survive as Jews. Further, they are a young population. By 2025, the majority of Jews in the world will be Israeli. And this is Zionism’s greatest triumph.

To sum up this tale of triumph, Ari takes us on a trip around Israel retracing the path of his great grandfather who abandoned Britain to participate in a dream and make it a reality. He travels first through Rishon LeZion in whose orchestra one of my sons once played the classical trumpet. That son is now certainly an example of a totally assimilated Jew. If he had stayed in Israel and married an Israeli, he and his children (he has four) would still be totally assimilated, but to a dominant Israeli secular culture. And if he lived in West Rishon, it would be like living in the suburbs of any large city in North America with its malls and its multiplex cinemas.

Ramleh is different again. Rishon LeZion preserved its original character. West Rishon had no character to be preserved. Ramleh inherited a core Arab heritage and character but demolished the indigenous culture and left nothing with vitality in its place when it was resettled by Oriental Jews. Having traveled and been in the various different places he describes, I recognize what he is describing. In particular, I remember a TV show we did on a mixed Jewish/Arab boys’ football club and my wish that the place had been as uplifting as the enthusiasm of the sports organizers.

But Ari’s visual and descriptive acuity is then followed by what can only be described as silly generalizations. “We Jews need to crowd together. We need to be with one another, even to fight with one another. It is as if we cannot live by ourselves as individuals, as if we were afraid that on our own we’ll vanish. So we do not acknowledge the private domain.” (371)

It is certainly true that I never have had the experience anywhere else but in Israel of standing in a line in a bank and the person behind asking, as I filled out a form, “How much do you have in your account?” He had obviously peeked and saw that I had a positive balance. It was a time of high inflation in Israel. No one but myself, that I knew of anyway, ran a positive balance. If I had not been so startled and so gruff in putting the inquirer off, he would probably only have advised me on the advantages of running a negative balance. But this behaviour of intrusion into privacy was a character of a certain culture. And Ari knows that it was not the character of his great-grandfather’s British generation. So why write, “We Jews….”?

Ari rants. Ari cheers. Ari thinks Israel needs a new Zionism, not a post-Zionism and certainly not an anti-Zionism, a Zionism that will be as innovative and inspiring in responding to the new challenges as the various versions of Zionism in the past responded to the old challenges. For the inherited Zionism of the last few decades has got almost everything wrong as if to balance out the greatness of the achievements of the early years. He is eager to be part of Zionism’s re-invention. And he does so by telling the stories of various people and their various places. As he writes the Israeli bible for the coming generation!

Beit Shemesh where my daughter and her family lived for almost eight years. Yad Vashem where we made one of our best TV shows focusing, incidentally, mostly on the righteous gentiles. The Western Wall where we all ran on the last day of my family’s first visit to Jerusalem in 1973 before the Yom Kippur War to dance and play in 12″ of snow, the only competition Yom Kippur ever had for bringing the city to a standstill. I recall visiting the military cemetery on Mount Herzl and making a TV show beside Rabin’s grave and recognizing the egalitarianism Ari describes. Though I have been to many Palestinian towns and refugee camps, I have never visited what is left of Deir Yassin, though I too envision Israel’s future as a democratic state side by side a self-governing Palestinian state and not an apartheid state, a bi-national state, or, worst of all, a conquering and ethnic cleansing militarist state.

Ari raises the two themes I heard him raise in a PBS television interview. “In the twenty-first century there is no other nation that is occupying another people as we do, and there is no other nation that is as intimidated as we are.” (399) There are seven circles of intimidation: the outer circle of threatening Islam, the next circle of antitheticial Arabs going through the turmoil of the Arab Spring with the outcome uncertain, the next circle of a virulently angry and radicalizing Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza, and an even closer circle of Arab Israelis, members of a democratic polis but without equal rights. Then comes the fifth circle that wraps around Jewish Israelis and squeezes the breath out of their lungs as Israelis ask the unanswerable question: Do with have the strength, the fortitude, the discipline, the courage, the mental strength and resolve to stand up to Israel’s enemies. “Within the Islamic-threat circle and Arab-threat circle and the Palestinian challenge circle and the internal-threat circle, lies the fifth threat of the mental challenge. (403)

But there are two other threats even closer to the Israeli soul – the moral threat to Israel as a democratic state that is being eroded by the occupation, and even more central still, the identity-threat, the erosion of that revolutionary Hebrew identity that displaced the Jewish galut identity, that like a Nietzschean Dionysian force transvalued the mores of the Jewish people and created a renewed Hebrew tribe with its own language and culture and vibrant way of living to the full.

That identity has been dulled and eroded, is crumbling and disintegrating before our very eyes by a rampant pluralism that increasingly forgets what it takes to make a unified people. The Jews of the diaspora are in decline. Only the Israeli people can save the Jews and they must do so in a New Middle East in turmoil and regressing to tribalism. They must do so through a New Politics that was the dramatic outcome of the Israeli 2013 elections brought about by a renewed galvanized secular Zionist majority that rejects the old left-right divide, but also ignores the Palestinian issue, that wears blinkers when confronting Iran and, instead of facing the external threats boldly, becomes obsessed with costs to consumers, and the difficulty in finding reasonably priced housing, the rejection of special-interest groups and privileged minorities. Ari celebrates the rise of a pragmatic, practical, middle class Israeli identity with all its strengths and shortcomings.

What makes Israel great is its people. and the can-do creative enterprise they bring to whatever they take on. Israel is not just a start-up nation. The start-up nation is because Israel consists of a variety of start-up individuals, yet individuals who insist that they share both a common identity and a common fate. “We Israelis face a Herculean mission. To live here we will have to redefine a nation and divide a land and come up with a new Jewish Israeli narrative. We will have to restore a rundown state and unify a shredded society and groom a trustworthy civilian leadership. After ending occupation, we’ll have to establish a new, firm, and legitimate iron wall on our post-occupation borders. Facing the regional tide of radical Islam, Israel will have to be an island of enlightenment. Facing seven circles of threat, Israel will have to be moral, progressive, cohesive, creative, and strong.” (417)

For a Jew with a trace of a Jewish soul remaining, there is no resistance to such an appeal. My critical intellect gets bracketed as my tears well up and I stand to salute the renewed Jewish nation that shall once again be a light unto the world.

Kant and Morality

Kant and Morality – Howard Adelman 26.01.2013

1. Is Block’s interpretation of Kant’s categorical imperative correct, namely that there are propositions universal in their application to all humans absolutely?

Kant’s categorical imperatives are universal a priori propositions. That means they are not drawn from experience and are universal whether or not they apply in experience. Further, for Kant, they are a priori necessary conditions for having any moral sense whatsoever and that is what makes them universal moral propositions. If the first formulation of the categorical imperative is that one must act according to the maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will (my italics) that the imperative become a universal law, how can you will what is already a given universal moral law in nature? Categorical moral propositions are imperatives of reason, in the case of morality, of pure practical reason, that is, of a reason which legislates and prescribes rather than describes what is. That is why, for Kant, freedom and a self-conscious willing autonomous individual are transcendental a priori conditions inherent to having categorical imperatives and, hence, morality. If that is the case, then morality logically demands that every other human must be treated as a free self-conscious individual, in his formulation, as an end in itself and never as a means only. Further, given that each individual is an autonomous free and rational agent and given that each rational agent must treat every other human as a free and rational agent, then everyone must treat every other one according to a universal law as an end and never merely a means.

My depiction of Kant’s categorical imperative differs from Block’s in the following ways:

a) Though the categorical imperative inheres in all humans, all humans are not necessarily expressions of the categorical imperative even in a minimal sense. If humans are to be considered moral, they must treat every other human as an end, but if another human does not act on the basis of being a self-legislating being, but is a sociopath or a psychopath with absolutely no empathy for the other but just uses people, must that person who “appears” human be treated as a human? (I will have to answer this last query in a subsequent blog.)

b) Kant avoids linking the moral sense to natural proclivities versus Block who depicts the moral senses as akin to innate abilities and instincts, that is, empirical (and, hence, a posteriori) characteristics, for, in Block, respect for one another and a sense of justice” were imparted to humankind to enable “man to form societies and live together”. Quite aside from contradiction of introducing a consequentialist argument into a deontological account, this is an empirical account of moral sensibility as “basic emotions in man” that are innate rather than an a priori account that results from pure reasoning. Block writes: “I believe there is something innate about these feelings, such that we find it quite natural (my italics) to have them.”

c) For Kant, the good will which is the only thing good without qualification is a pure will, that is a will independent of and logically prior to any actual act of willing. Block writes that what, “one means by a good person is at least a person about whom one would say that it is unthinkable that this person could act unjustly or cruelly.” Not according to Kant. What one means by a good person is what he writes: a good person is one who can will that his actions be governed by universal moral principles and that that person treats every other human on the same basis. The judgement whether an actual individual is good is an empirical question about observing how the imperatives are made operational and not about the meta-ethics of imperatives themselves.

d) Block says that “there are no excuses for lying” for prudentially it would mean that no one would have anything to do with a liar. Quite aside from the contradiction of introducing yet another consequentialist argument in an anti-consequentialist deontological theory, and whether it is empirically valid to say that no one would have anything to do with a known liar – a proposition I believe could be easily falsified – let us simply look at Kant’s reasoning. The imperative not to lie is a perfect duty that follows from the categorical imperative because if lying were permissible, then anything anyone said could not be trusted and this would undercut the possibility of morality altogether. But what if Eichmann asked a woman whether she had a child hidden under her dress as he was ordering children onto a cattle car headed for Auschwitz, would she be permitted to lie i) to save her own life for if she told the truth she would be treating herself as a means only and not an end, a means to fulfill Nazi fantasies of extermination of the Jews; ii) to save the life of her child for if she revealed the location of the child, that child would be shipped to a death camp and exterminated? Block says that lying is never permitted. I say that what appears to be a lie is permitted in this case, possibly even for a Kantian because, as an imperative consistent with the categorical imperative, there is not only permission to tell what appears as a lie but a duty to deceive Eichmann if it means saving a human life. What one said would not be a lie in terms of the categorical imperative because it would not be a statement addressed to a person who endorsed the principle of the autonomy and freedom of every human individual. For Block, there are no excuses for not telling the truth, However, the categorical imperative itself provides the excuse, for an untruth in this case is not a contradiction to the categorical imperative but an expression of it; what would be said or left unsaid is not a lie per se in the meta-ethical sense of the injunction not to tell lies.

e) Goodness, for Kant, is not something concealed beneath a dark shell hidden in the soul but that which is readily visible to the pure light of reason when reason shines upon it. Nothing need be removed; the empirical realm only needs to be bracketed and the pure light of reason thrown on how moral reasoning takes place.

f) Is the categorical character of a proposition that which makes the judgement moral?
For Kant, definitely! For consequentialists, teleological moralists or Darwinian emergent or natural moralists (the moral sense is empirically innate), no. Kant, though still avoiding any empirical contamination to a pure a priori proposition of pure practical reason, does slip into teleology with his concept of a “Kingdom of Ends”. Block, on the other hand, confuses universal empirical and general empirical propositions with categorical ones. For him, goodness is a nascent ability that needs to be developed rather than a condition identified by pure practical reason as a condition of any morality whatsoever. A good will is a logical and purely rational precondition and not an empirical element that merely needs nurturing.

2. Are the core ideas of morality compassion and justice, and are compassion and justice basic moral senses? What is a basic moral sense – the fact that all humans are born with them, that is, moral qualities G-d gave man when he created the world? If someone is generally morally good does that mean that it is unthinkable or unimaginable that he would act unjustly, that he lacked compassion and/or a sense of justice?

When Adam was created, he demonstrated no sense of either compassion or justice. He did not even come close to compassion even for himself for he did not even recognize he was lonely. G-d had to tell him. And he did not recognize even his own body and his urges or that the erect phallus was part of himself for which he should take responsibility; the phallus was something other. He saw himself as made in the image of G-d creating things and bringing them into being by the sole act of naming them, therefore never even understanding the role of self-consciousness in naming and what Wittgenstein made clear, that the meaning of names of things are revealed by the role those names play in language as well as by the objects to which they refer. However, Adam not only failed to take responsibility for himself as an embodied creature and for his emotions (that is, as a moral being) and not only lacked any adequate insight into how language connected him with the world (that is, as a scientific being), but lacked any sense of the other. For though man is born of woman, Adam in his fantasy life and dreams saw Eve simply as a physical extension of himself rather than another autonomous being responsible for herself. So when they have sex, Eve acknowledges she allowed herself to be seduced. Adam, in typical male fashion, could only protest his innocence or ignorance. Only once thrown into the world of labour could and did man learn to become a moral being.

The knowledge of good and evil does not come from recognizing the good but by beginning to suffer the consequences of not taking responsibility for oneself, not understanding the other and not understanding that complaining that ‘its not fair’ starts from the opposite end of justice. So we do not begin with a nascent compassion and sense of justice but with a stubborn unwillingness to take responsibility for oneself, for being as anti what it should be to be a moral being as possible, and demonstrating both a lack of compassion and even recognition let alone lack of understanding for the other and an almost total lack of a sense of what justice means, for at that stage what is unjust is simply when anything bad occurs to you whether or not you deserved it. Rather than it being unthinkable or unimaginable that a moral being would act unjustly, that he lacked compassion and/or a sense of justice, the understanding of morality begins precisely by imagining what it is to be irresponsible, to lack compassion and to have virtually no sense of justice. And the core of immorality is the failure to take responsibility for oneself and one’s actions in the world. What happens when some humans remain frozen in that stage and thereby become sociopaths? I will discuss that in a future blog.

Kant and Morality

1. Is Block’s interpretation of Kant’s categorical imperative correct, namely that there are propositions universal in their application to all humans absolutely? 

Kant’s categorical imperatives are universal a priori propositions. That means they are not drawn from experience and are universal whether or not they apply in experience. Further, for Kant, they are a priori necessary conditions for having any moral sense whatsoever and that is what makes them universal moral propositions. If the first formulation of the categorical imperative is that one must act according to the maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will (my italics) that the imperative become a universal law, how can you will what is already a given universal moral law in nature?  Categorical moral propositions are imperatives of reason, in the case of morality, of pure practical reason, that is, of a reason which legislates and prescribes rather than describes what is. That is why, for Kant, freedom and a self-conscious willing autonomous individual are transcendental a priori conditions inherent to having categorical imperatives and, hence, morality. If that is the case, then morality logically demands that every other human must be treated as a free self-conscious individual, in his formulation, as an end in itself and never as a means only. Further, given that each individual is an autonomous free and rational agent and given that each rational agent must treat every other human as a free and rational agent, then everyone must treat every other one according to a universal law as an end and never merely a means.

My depiction of Kant’s categorical imperative differs from Block’s in the following ways:

a) Though the categorical imperative inheres in all humans, all humans are not necessarily expressions of the categorical imperative even in a minimal sense. If humans are to be considered moral, they must treat every other human as an end, but if another human does not act on the basis of being a self-legislating being, but is a sociopath or a psychopath with absolutely no empathy for the other but just uses people, must that person who “appears” human be treated as a human? (I will have to answer this last query in a subsequent blog.)

b) Kant avoids linking the moral sense to natural proclivities versus Block who depicts the moral senses as akin to innate abilities and instincts, that is, empirical (and, hence, a posteriori) characteristics, for, in Block, respect for one another and a sense of justice” were imparted to humankind to enable “man to form societies and live together”. Quite aside from contradiction of introducing a consequentialist argument into a deontological account, this is an empirical account of moral sensibility as “basic emotions in man” that are innate rather than an a priori account that results from pure reasoning. Block writes: “I believe there is something innate about these feelings, such that we find it quite natural (my italics) to have them.”

c) For Kant, the good will which is the only thing good without qualification is a pure will, that is a will independent of and logically prior to any actual act of willing. Block writes that what, “one means by a good person is at least a person about whom one would say that it is unthinkable that this person could act unjustly or cruelly.” Not according to Kant. What one means by a good person is what he writes: a good person is one who can will that his actions be governed by universal moral principles and that that person treats every other human on the same basis. The judgement whether an actual individual is good is an empirical question about observing how the imperatives are made operational and not about the meta-ethics of imperatives themselves. 

d) Block says that “there are no excuses for lying” for prudentially it would mean that no one would have anything to do with a liar. Quite aside from the contradiction of introducing yet another consequentialist argument in  an anti-consequentialist deontological theory, and whether it is empirically valid to say that no one would have anything to do with a known liar – a proposition I believe could be easily falsified – let us simply look at Kant’s reasoning. The imperative not to lie is a perfect duty that follows from the categorical imperative because if lying were permissible, then anything anyone said could not be trusted and this would undercut the possibility of morality altogether. But what if Eichmann asked a woman whether she had a child hidden under her dress as he was ordering children onto a cattle car headed for Auschwitz, would she be permitted to lie i) to save her own life for if she told the truth she would be treating herself as a means only and not an end, a means to fulfill Nazi fantasies of extermination of the Jews; ii) to save the life of her child for if she revealed the location of the child, that child would be shipped to a death camp and exterminated? Block says that lying is never permitted. I say that what appears to be a lie is permitted in this case, possibly even for a Kantian because, as an imperative consistent with the categorical imperative, there is not only permission to tell what appears as a lie but a duty to deceive Eichmann if it means saving a human life. What one said would not be a lie in terms of the categorical imperative because it would not be a statement addressed to a person who endorsed the principle of the autonomy and freedom of every human individual.  For Block, there are no excuses for not telling the truth, However, the categorical imperative itself provides the excuse, for an untruth in this case is not a contradiction to the categorical imperative but an expression of it; what would be said or left unsaid is not a lie per se in the meta-ethical sense of the injunction not to tell lies. 

e) Goodness, for Kant, is not something concealed beneath a dark shell hidden in the soul but that which is readily visible to the pure light of reason when reason shines upon it. Nothing need be removed; the empirical realm only needs to be bracketed and the pure light of reason thrown on how moral reasoning takes place. 

f) Is the categorical character of a proposition that which makes the judgement moral?

For Kant, definitely! For consequentialists, teleological moralists or Darwinian emergent or natural moralists (the moral sense is empirically innate), no. Kant, though still avoiding any empirical contamination to a pure a priori proposition of pure practical reason, does slip into teleology with his concept of a “Kingdom of Ends”. Block, on the other hand, confuses universal empirical and general empirical propositions with categorical ones. For him, goodness is a nascent ability that needs to be developed rather than a condition identified by pure practical reason as a condition of any morality whatsoever. A good will is a logical and purely rational precondition and not an empirical element that merely needs nurturing. 

2. Are the core ideas of morality compassion and justice, and are compassion and justice basic moral senses? What is a basic moral sense – the fact that all humans are born with them, that is, moral qualities G-d gave man when he created the world? If someone is generally morally good does that mean that it is unthinkable or unimaginable that he would act unjustly, that he lacked compassion and/or a sense of justice?

When Adam was created, he demonstrated no sense of either compassion or justice. He did not even come close to compassion even for himself for he did not even recognize he was lonely. G-d had to tell him. And he did not recognize even his own body and his urges or that the erect phallus was part of himself for which he should take responsibility; the phallus was something other. He saw himself as made in the image of G-d creating things and bringing them into being by the sole act of naming them, therefore never even understanding the role of self-consciousness in naming and what Wittgenstein made clear, that the meaning of names of things are revealed by the role those names play in language as well as by the objects to which they refer. However, Adam not only failed to take responsibility for himself as an embodied creature and for his emotions (that is, as a moral being) and not only lacked any adequate insight into how language connected him with the world (that is, as a scientific being), but lacked any sense of the other. For though man is born of woman, Adam in his fantasy life and dreams saw Eve simply as a physical extension of himself rather than another autonomous being responsible for herself. So when they have sex, Eve acknowledges she allowed herself to be seduced. Adam, in typical male fashion, could only protest his innocence or ignorance. Only once thrown into the world of labour could and did man learn to become a moral being.

The knowledge of good and evil does not come from recognizing the good but by beginning to suffer the consequences of not taking responsibility for oneself, not understanding the other and not understanding that complaining that ‘its not fair’ starts from the opposite end of justice. So we do not begin with a nascent compassion and sense of justice but with a stubborn unwillingness to take responsibility for oneself, for being as anti what it should be to be a moral being as possible, and demonstrating both a lack of compassion and even recognition let alone lack of understanding for the other and an almost total lack of a sense of what justice means, for at that stage what is unjust is simply when anything bad occurs to you whether or not you deserved it.  Rather than it being unthinkable or unimaginable that a moral being would act unjustly, that he lacked compassion and/or a sense of justice, the understanding of morality begins precisely by imagining what it is to be irresponsible, to lack compassion and to have virtually no sense of justice. And the core of immorality is the failure to take responsibility for oneself and one’s actions in the world. What happens when some humans remain frozen in that stage and thereby become sociopaths? I will discuss that in a future blog.