The Ethical Theories of Aristotle and Immanuel Kant

Aristotle’s definition of “happiness” includes the word “virtue”: happiness is the realistic activity of a soul that conforms to virtue. The word virtue has such an important position in the definition of happiness, and Aristotle certainly has to explain the word in detail.

According to Aristotle’s account, Socrates believes that “the virtue is knowledge,” which he believes is wrong. “Because all knowledge involves reason, and reason only exists in the cognitive part of the soul. According to his point of view, all virtues are in the rational part of the soul. Because he seems virtue as knowledge, it discards the irrational part of the soul, and thus rejects passion and morality. Therefore, it is not correct to treat virtue like this.” (Liang, 2014)

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He believes that treating virtue as knowledge can lead to contradictions. Socrates believes that anything is useful, but it is useless to conclude that virtue is the subject of knowledge. Because in knowledge, as long as one knows what knowledge is, you can become a specialist in knowledge, just as someone who knows what medicine is, can become a doctor right away. But in the virtues, this result will not appear. Because people who know justice don’t immediately become fair, so are other virtues. It is thus practical to introduce virtues that are useless.

Plato wrote down a discussion about the virtues in Meno. Mano proposed many definitions, such as “seeking good things and getting it” and “the ability to get good things.” “, “the ability to justly get good things,” etc., but they were all refuted by Socrates. Socrates repeatedly stated that what he required was a complete and universal definition of virtue, which Mano has never met (Plato). This is equivalent to Plato’s own lack of a clear definition of virtue.

The virtue that Aristotle said is not the virtue of the body, but the virtue of the soul. He divides the virtues of the soul into two categories, one is intellectual virtue, such as wisdom, understanding, and wise, mostly generated by teaching; one is a moral virtue, such as generosity and humility. It is from customs and habits.

 ”Our virtues are not generated by nature, nor generated by nature. Instead, they are naturally accepted, and they are perfected through habits.” And “we naturally accept this gift, first in the form of potential. Carry it with you, and then show it in a realistic way. (It’s obvious in people. We don’t get the feeling of watching because we watched it many times. It’s been heard many times and we get the feeling of listening. Use, not used.), just like other technologies, we must first carry out real activities in order to get these virtues.” (Liang, 2014)

So, what is a virtue? He said that virtue is neither a feeling nor a potential (what we can feel from it), but a quality (we have a good or bad attitude towards those feelings), and “speaking about virtue is quality or Not enough, but also what kind of quality it is. It should be said that all virtues, if something is moral, it is not only to make this thing in good condition, but also to give it excellent functions. For example, the eyes Virtue not only makes the eyes bright but also makes it function well (the virtue of the eyes means sharp vision). Then the virtue of man is the quality that makes people good and gets their excellent results.” (Liang, 2014)

Specifically, virtue is intermediate, and excessive and inferior are evils that are opposite to good. “The two extremes are all bad, and at the right time, in the right relationship, in the proper purpose, in the proper way, it is the middle and the best, and the morality is all.” Virtue is the golden mean. “Excessive and inferior are evil, and the golden mean is a virtue.”  (Aristotle. and Miao, 1991)”

 For example, bravery is the middle of cowardice and recklessness, generosity is In the middle of jealousy and waste, humility is the middle of shamelessness and shame, and gentleness is the middle of anger and anger. He said that in fact, we sometimes couldn’t praise it, saying that it is gentle and sometimes praises those who love to lose their temper, saying that this is masculinity. Those who deviate a little from the right path are not subject to punishment.There is an intermediate in all feelings and behaviors, but it is likely to be biased too often, sometimes too biased. It is difficult for us to hit the middle and behave well. This is a more realistic attitude.

About Kant’s Interpretation of ” ethical theories”, practical reason is the dominant and leading position in Kant’s entire philosophy. In Kant’s view, morality is higher than understanding, ethics is higher than epistemology, and behavior is higher than knowledge. The word “virtue” is also an important concept in Kant’s Taoist philosophy. Kant’s definition of virtue is “self-discipline according to the principle of inner freedom, which relies on the simple idea that a person’s obligation is consistent with its formal law.”  (Allison, 2010). As a form of self-discipline, Virtue must include the power of character, which is the actual ability to control personal hobbies when hobbies and moral requirements conflict. Kant included all kinds of hobbies as part of the nature of goodness and argued that they only need to be hindered when hobbies lead us to ignore our obligations. The moral intention, that is, the state of moral health is characterized by the euphoria of fulfilling the obligation. Those who are truly ethical, those who can truly control themselves, will be regarded as such a person: they are rarely or completely tempted, rather than busy and continually fighting with temptation. It is precisely because of the temptation that it is not easy to be tempted to make the fulfillment of obligations still prosperous.

Kant’s moral discourse contains an attitude of enthusiasm when performing his duties, so those who are truly erotic are those who will not allow themselves to be tempted, or because any limited actor cannot pass the temptation So the true virtues are those who will not allow themselves to be tempted by things that ordinary people cannot resist. Kant believes that virtue is a finite existence, such as the highest moral state we can hope to achieve. But self-control is only a necessary condition for virtue, not a sufficient condition.

 In Kant’s view, the factor that distinguishes virtue from self-control is that virtue is based on the principle of “inner freedom”, that is, based on a moral principle chosen by the actor freely. Therefore, whether it is self-control based on purely tactful considerations or self-control by simple habits that do not require the use of principles, it cannot be regarded as a virtue in the sense of Kant. As Kant said, “Because this habit comes from the principles of deliberation, unwavering and constant purity, this habit will be like any other rational mechanism of mechanical practice, and it is impossible for all situations. There is no loss, and there is no guarantee that we will win the battle when we resist the many changes caused by the new temptation.”  (Allison, 2010)

Kant believes that virtue requires all kinds of correct principles, and virtue is essentially a kind of intention or way of thinking. Or the way of thinking thoroughly internalizes these principles. What morality contains is to make the respect of moral law the highest norm that governs individual behavior. There are two important related words in Kant’s concept of virtue: sin and lack of virtue. Kant believes that sin is related to virtue as a real opposite or opposite of virtue. The lack of virtue is related to morality as a logical opposite or self-contradictory. The lack of virtue refers to the lack of the understanding of the power of character or the obedience to moral law and the lack of this kind of character or determination of self-rule, which is not equal to the evil or evil of reality. Sin or evil is not only a deliberate but also a violation of one’s obligations that have become principles, and sinful people firmly agree with those immoral principles.

Kant believes that virtue can only be obtained through cultivation and practice: “But the decision of practicing virtue must be done overnight, because from time to time succumb to the intention of sin, in order to gradually break with it, for its part Is not pure or even immoral. Therefore, this attitude will not produce virtue (in terms of virtue based on a single principle).” (Liang, 2014). Kant values the role of practice in virtue, which Aristotle is the same, although Aristotle did not say so. Aristotle divides reason into rational and ethical rationality. The former is cultivated by teaching and the latter is followed by customs and habits. This is closely related to virtue and practice.

Kant criticized Aristotle’s view that virtue is seen as the middle between the two poles. He said that “the distinction between greed (as a sin) and frugality (as a virtue) is not to say greed. Excessive frugality, but greed has a completely different principle: the principle of economic saving, he is not to enjoy personal wealth but to possess this wealth, but at the same time deny any enjoyment from it.” (Liang, 2014). Their views on virtue and sin are fundamentally different. According to Aristotle, virtue is a condition, and sin is extreme. In Kant’s view, it is meaningless to look at sin in this way. Desire can be excessive, and desire can be inadequate, but the guidelines cannot be so. One cannot possibly overdo it when following its guidelines. From Kant’s point of view, distinguishing virtue from sin is not the degree to which one adheres to a certain criterion, but the nature of the norm that one follows. This can be illustrated by greedy examples. What makes greed a sin is that greedy people set pure wealth possession as the ultimate goal and make it a thing that seems to be a principle.


Liang, S. (2014). Zhong guo wen hua yao yi. Wuhu: An hui shi fan da xue chu ban she.

Joachim, H. and Rees, D. (1985). Aristotle, the Nicomachean ethics. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Allison, H. (2010). Kant’s theory of taste. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

MacIntyre, A. (2006). Ethics and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Plato. and Bluck, R. (1961). Meno. Cambridge [England]: University Press.


Does Kant Successfully Refute Material Idealism?

In the section of the Critique of Pure Reason called “Refutation of Idealism”[1] Kant aims to show that the two forms of idealism; ‘the dogmatic idealism of Berkeley’ and ‘the problematic idealism of Descartes’[2] are false. By proving his hypothesis that the knowledge of my own existence actually proves the existence of objects in space outside myself.
In this evaluation of Kant’s refutation of idealism, I will first address Berkley’s idealism and show how Kant disregards this almost off hand by referring to an earlier section in the Critique of Pure Reason. Then I will go on to analyse Kant’s argument against Descartes’ idealism first by outlining his argument according to Dicker then critiquing this argument by looking at whether or not the substance which allows us to have experiences of succession has to necessarily be permanent. After this I will look at a criticism of the refutation from Kant’s lack of explanation as why the enduring objects needed to know one’s own existence is spatial. Then another the criticism from the possibility that our space of experience is imaginary. Both of these criticisms will be addressed and shown to fall short of refuting Kant’s refutation.

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Berkeley’s idealism is the first version of idealism which Kant addresses. Berkeley’s idealism can be summarised with his famous saying ‘esse est percipi’[3] meaning to be is to be perceived. Berkeley’s idealism argues that an object’s ‘being or existence consists solely in its being perceived’[4] This means that anything which is not being perceived does not exist. For Kant this idealism is a consequence of seeing ‘space as a property that belongs to things in themselves.’[5] A thing in itself is something found in the external world so in the statement above Kant is saying that Berkeley sees space as a property of external objects. This is an issue for Kant as in the Transcendental Aesthetic, an earlier section of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant proves that space, as well as time, is not a thing in itself nor a property of one. Berkeley’s idealism is not material idealism and is therefore irrelevant to whether or not Kant refutes material idealism especially as Kant seems to disregard this idealism off hand.
Kant calls Descartes’ material idealism problematic idealism because it is ‘a scandal to philosophy, and to human reason in general, that we should have to accept the existence of things outside us merely on trust.’[6] Descartes’ idealism accepts the existence of the external world purely on faith as his argument for there being an external world is that ‘the certainty and truth of all knowledge depends uniquely on my awareness of the true God.’[7] And since Descartes’ ‘proof of the existence of God is not very convincing.’[8] coupled with the fact that relying on God is not philosophically satisfying we can be sympathetic to Kant’s position. Kant says that to prove the external world’s existence he must prove ‘that even our inner experience, undoubted by Descartes, is possible only on the supposition of outer experience.’[9] So inner experience such as thinking, or imagination must only be possible due to experience of the external world.
Kant’s proof that ‘the mere, but empirically determined, consciousness of my own existence proves the existence of objects in space outside myself.’[10] Can be said to consist of ‘five steps’[11] or premises and is best set out in Dicker’s article on the refutation of idealism:
‘1) I am conscious of my own existence in time, i.e., I am aware that I have experiences that occur in a specific temporal order.
2) I can be aware of having experiences that occur in a specific temporal order only if there is some persisting element by reference to which I can determine their temporal order
3) No conscious state of my own can serve as this persisting frame of reference.
4) Time itself cannot serve as this persisting frame of reference.
5) If (2) and (3) and (4), then I can be aware of having experiences that occur in a specific temporal order only if I perceive persisting objects in space outside me by reference to which I can determine the temporal order of my experiences.
6) I perceive persisting objects in ̈space outside me by reference to which I can determine the temporal order of my experiences.’[12]
The first premise claims that we can judge mental states as our own and that we can ‘recognize the order in which such states occur in consciousness.’[13] The second premise is Kant’s First Analogy principle: ‘In all changes of appearances substance is permeant; its quantum in nature is neither increased or decreased nor diminished.’[14] Applying this principle to time, we can see that for there to be ‘temporal intervals’[15] there must be some permeant substance which stays the same through changes of state. Premise three points out that the permeant substance ‘cannot be an intuition’ in us because ‘all the determining grounds of my existence that can be encountered in me are representations.’[16] Representations are the immediate objects of our perception, for example when we see a lemon we get the representation of a lemon in us rather than a perception of what the lemon as a thing in itself is. Representations need ‘something persisting distinct from them’ in order to exist so representations, and therefore intuitions, cannot qualify as the permeant substance that causes temporal intervals. Premise four is not one Kant mentions himself but one which he accepts ‘on the grounds that time itself cannot be perceived.’[17] Premise five says that if premises (2), (3), and (4) are true then experiencing things in a specific temporal order is only possible if persisting objects in space outside us exist. Which leads to the conclusion that when we talk in temporal terms we are talking in reference to this permeant thing in space.
One criticism of Kant’s argument come from Guyer who attacks premise two. He says: ‘It remains unclear why anything more than mere acquaintance with representations which in fact succeed one another in otherwise uninterrupted experience…should be necessary for one to judge that there has been such a succession.’[18] Guyer is criticising Kant by saying that a persisting element is not necessary for us to be aware of temporal order. The ‘temporal order of experiences mentioned in (2) is simply the order in which we have the experiences themselves.’[19] The persisting element Kant talks of does not ascribe order to representations order is given to representations by experiencing one occurring after another.
Despite this criticism Guyer still believes Kant’s refutation of idealism is a strong argument. In Kant’s Handschriftlicher Nachlass he reflected on this argument and altered premise (2). Kant adds that the recognition of succession ‘can be grounded “only on something which endures, with which that which is successive is simultaneous”’[20] What this means is that successive representations, such as the representation of the sun rising shining out sunlight every day, can only be experienced to be successive is they are judged on ‘some enduring object.’[21] Dicker, using Kant’s adaptation, defends the refutation of idealism by using the example of past experiences. ‘We have a series of subjective experiences or conscious states that stretches back in time over the hours, days, months, and years.’ These memories can be ordered in our consciousness not through a ‘feeling or sense of “pastness”’[22] nor ‘little clocks’[23] that would enable us to date memories. They are ordered by you correlating the remembered experiences ‘with successive states of an enduring reality that exists independently of the experiences’ being remembered. With Kant’s change the refutation of idealism does prove that an enduring substance is needed for our representations of succession. as it does seem to prove that there is an external reality which our inner experiences depend upon meaning Kant does successfully refute material idealism.
Solving the issue of the enduring object needed for our experience of succession not needing to be an enduring object does not mean Kant’s theorem is completely successful. Another issue of his argument is that Kant does not offer any reason why the ‘the enduring objects required to know oneself must be spatial.’[24] For Kant to successfully refute material idealism he needs to show that there is a knowable physical external reality, so he needs to show that the enduring substance that supposedly allows for our representations of succession is must be spatial. Kant does give an answer to this criticism later on. He differentiates between space and time. ‘Space and time as wholes are permanent[25] but ‘space alone is determined as permanent.’[26] This means that space can be divided into numerically distinct, coexisting parts.’[27] Which means for us to have consciousness of permanent, distinct and, ‘re-identifiable’[28] things, such as oneself, the representations must come from space and not time. Time exists as separate parts which exist successively meaning that no temporal location can be re-identified whereas spatial locations can. So, a permanent, distinct and, re-identifiable representation must come from a spatial location. With this Kant successfully shows that the enduring object need to know oneself must be spatial and therefore Kant’s theorem that the ‘consciousness of my own existence proves the existence of objects in space’[29] is proven correct as we can see that knowledge of oneself must be based on spatial locations rather than temporal ones.
Another criticism of Kant’s refutation of material idealism asks the question: what if space of our experience is merely imaginary? This would mean that our consciousness of one self’s existence would only happen ‘through the subject’s representing, as in dream states, hallucinations, and after images.’[30] Meaning the whole of Kant’s refutation would fail as it would be impossible to argue for any spatial dependent representations. Imagination in the Kantian sense means This criticism can be quickly shot down by the Kantian by pointing out that ‘if there were no continuity of the spatial framework from on representation to another, there could be no consciousness of enduring, continuous existence in time.’[31] Because space and spatial objects can be re-identified through time they ‘exhibit their independence of momentary representations, including mere imaginings.’[32] This makes the Cartesian hypothesis ‘that I can know my thinking self and merely imagine spatial things’ an impossible hypothesis as spatial things cannot come from our imagination.
In conclusion I believe Kant does successfully refute material idealism. He successfully refutes Berkeley’s idealism through the transcendental aesthetic. It is harder for Kant to refute Descartes idealism, but I still believe he succeeds in doing so. The argument formulated by Dicker is strong after we had the later reflection Kant has. The criticisms from the enduring objects allowing for our experience of succession does not have to be spatial and from the question of whether or not our spatial experience came from imagination rather than something spatial in reality both fail to refute Kant’s refutation as they can be shown to be wrong in other parts of the Critique of Pure Reason. Because of these reasons I believe Kant does successfully refute material idealism.

Buroker, J.V (2006). Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: An Introduction. Kindle Edition. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Kant, I (2007 [1781]). Critique of Pure Reason. London: Penguin Group.
Berkeley, G (1734). Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cardinal, D, Jones, G & Hayward, J (2015). AQA AS Philosophy. London: Hodder Education.
Descartes, R (1996 [1637]). Meditations on First Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dicker, G. 2008. Kant’s Refutation of Idealism. Noûs. 42(1), pp. 80–108.
Guyer, P (1987). Kant and the Claims of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[1] Kant, 2007 [1781], B275
[2] Kant, 2007 [1781], B275
[3] Berkeley, 1998 [1734], pp. 13
[4] Cardinal, Jones & Hayward, 2015, pp. 37
[5] Kant, 2007 [1781], B275
[6] Kant, 2007 [1781], Bxxxix
[7] Descartes, 1996 [1637], pp. 49
[8] Cardinal, Jones & Hayward, 2015, pp. 167
[9] Kant, 2007 [1781], B275
[10] Kant, 2007 [1781], B275
[11] Buroker, 2006, Kindle Location 2340
[12] Dicker, 2008, pp. 82
[13] Buroker, 2006, Kindle Location 2342
[14] Kant, 2007 [1781], B225
[15] Buroker, 2006, Kindle Location 2342
[16] Kant, 2007 [1781], Bxxxix
[17] Dicker, 2008, pp. 82
[18] Guyer, 1987, pp. 285-286
[19] Dicker, 2008, pp. 82
[20] Kant, 1902, vol. h18, 6313; quoted in Guyer, 1987, 305
[21] Guyer, 1987, pp. 306
[22] Dicker, 2008, pp. 83
[23] Dicker, 2008, pp. 83
[24] Buroker, 2006, Kindle Location 2352
[25] Buroker, 2006, Kindle Location 2375
[26] Kant, 2007 [1781], B291
[27] Buroker, 2006, Kindle Location 2375
[28] Buroker, 2006, Kindle Location 2375
[29] Kant, 2007 [1781], B275
[30] Buroker, 2006, Kindle Location 2382
[31] Buroker, 2006, Kindle Location 2385
[32] Buroker, 2006, Kindle Location 2387

The Social Contract According to Immanuel Kant

In a society that the people are free to do as they see fit and are governed by natural laws, where individuals can abuse and exploit of one another and there is no fear of consequences is known as the state of nature. When individuals give up a little of their freedom to do as they like, and voluntarily agree to obey laid down laws (civil laws) to have protection of life and ownership of property, this agreement is known as the social contract. The political philosophers would explain the social contract theory as individuals giving power to the government (state) to govern over them in exchange for protection. It must not be misinterpreted that an individual, who is under the social contract has to give up their total freedom rather, the person is still at liberty to do as they please so far as it does not cause harm or impede on another individual’s freedom. Giving up this freedom under the social contract is viewed as a benefit to the society.

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The social contract which brings into existence a well ordered society “state of states”, is said to be of three key elements. The first element is an imagery of how a society will be like with no laws, under the state of nature. People would be exploited, abused and there will be no fear of justice since they are free to do as they like and are not confined by any laws that restrict them from doing unto others as they please. Individuals’ attempt to escape from such brutality brings about the second element which is recognizing the “state” to have the power to bring about order and stability to a society; recognizing the sovereign power. The third element is the obligation of the people under the social contract to respect and obey the laid down laws by the state. In their obedience to these laws they are showing gratitude to the state for securing an organized and stable society. Some philosophers believe though, that the social contract is imposed on society to demonstrate the structure of rationality.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) born in Eastern Prussia was a German philosopher and an idealist. The author of Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in his book he defines morality as “an action that is not determined by its consequences, only by the intentions behind it”. He believes that a person’s intention to do good or bad justifies the action as good or bad. For example when a person finds a bag of money and the person’s intention is to report it to the police, according to Kant this makes the person good (moral). But if the outcome is different from the supposed intention that is, the person ends up keeping the money, the person is still seen as good; “In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others. In ethics he is guilty if he only thinks of doing it”. The outcome of the action whether good or bad should not be considered in determining an action as moral but only the original intention. These actions are said to be motivated by duty and inclination.
Duty is an action that has been outlined by society to be in the right moral direction. Duty is described in four cases; (i) when actions are contrary to duty (e.g. stealing) (ii) when actions are dutiful because of fear of penalty (e.g. paying taxes) (iii) when duty is in accordance to one’s inclination (e.g. labor of love) and (iv) actions that are in accordance to duty but contrary to inclination (e.g. not committing suicide despite being in unbearable distress). Duty is seen to be “morally worthy” because it is approved by society whereas inclination is seen as “praise worthy” because it is motivated by emotions. He argues that people are more concerned about their self-interest as such, when they act in accordance to their inclinations then they are acting out of self-interest, but since duty is determined by society it will contrast with their self-interest thereby making it moral.
Kant’s moral theory is centered on a system that distinguishes a moral from a maxim known as the categorical imperative. A maxim is the principle or general rule that determines an actions moral worth. When a maxim has contradictions then it cannot be considered as a moral maxim, an example used is when a person borrows money and promises to pay knowing very well he won’t. This cannot be willed as a moral maxim then because everybody will promise and fail and people with needs will be seen as liars. His attempt to solve the problem of morality and solidify his theory brought about the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is seen as a criterion for determining obligatory and forbidden actions and is made up of three formulations; (i) universal moral law, (ii) treat people as ends and (iii) the kingdom of ends.
The first formulation, the universal moral law looks at how one’s maxim can be accepted by another person, in other words, can your maxim be accepted by all and will everybody feel the same about it. “Act only on that maxim which you can, at the same time will it to be a universal law”. For example my maxim is when I borrow something from somebody I like to return it as soon as I am done using it. The real test here is can this be universally adopted and willingly accepted. A universal maxim should also have the ability to remain consistent. If a maxim passes the test, then the maxim is morally accepted and is seen as permissible but if it fails then that maxim should be disregarded and forbidden. When weighing a maxim as a universal law there is no exception, an individual’s maxim should not only apply to others around him but should also be applicable to him, and he must accept it with no hesitations.
The second formulation which is treat people as ends explains how we should see people as ends and not as means to an end. People can be seen as both means to an end and as end at the same time, but never should they be treated as means to an end only. An example is a man who makes a false promise to a friend so as to secure a loan. The friend here is seen as a mean to attaining his self-interest. He argues that people in themselves are ends, it is therefore wrong to use people to satisfy our selfish desires. Kant believes that in doing so; treating people as a means, we deny them the importance of their humanity. By disrespecting their personhood and dignity and not recognizing them as rational individuals we deny them of their humanity and we denial ourselves as well of the importance of humanity.
The third formulation the kingdom of ends can be seen as a totality of the two formulations. With this formulation we are urged to imagine ourselves as the law makers in the “kingdom of ends”. The kingdom of ends is “an imaginary state whose laws protect an individual’s autonomy”. In this kingdom we put our maxims to the test to satisfy the two formulations; universal moral law and treat people as ends. When these maxims satisfy the conditions of the formulations, that is, they become universally adopted and accepted, and people are treated as ends and not means to an end, then the maxims can be known as a moral law. A society that acquired its laws by the means of using the system of the categorical imperatives to Kant is an ideal society because the society is based on moral laws.
Kant views a society under the social contract as a society based on moral laws. Under the social contract individual desires are not used in determining the law, but rather the maxim that satisfies the conditions of the categorical imperative. To Kant this is ideal because the state addresses the wants of the people and not the desires of a particular group. He uses an example the war tax to support his argument explaining; when the state imposes a fair tax that is just, citizens cannot argue against it because the state might have legitimate reasons for imposing the tax that citizens are not aware of. This goes to justify the state concentrating on benefits of the society rather than benefits of an individual. This is Kant’s description of an ideal society under the social contract.
Kant’s theory is based on having an ideal society that is based on moral laws. These moral laws have been acquired by the use of categorical imperatives; the criterion for determining a moral, therefore making these laws ideal. He believes that when a society is governed by these laws then people treat each other as equals and our conscience will prevent us from doing otherwise . Arthur Schopenhauer a German philosopher disagrees with Kant’s theory saying, the “categorical imperatives speaks before the deed but the conscience after the deed.” He argues that the conscience cannot act as a deterrent against people having their freedom impeded, since it is an afterthought after the deed has been done.
The social contract is an ideal society which seeks to bring order and safety to the people under a government. Kant’s formulations of the moral laws by using the categorical imperatives are fascinating theoretically but do not seem to hold in real life; the universal moral law, treating people as ends rather than means to an end and kingdoms of ends. Kant’s ideal society using these imperatives might be a solution to finding laws that will be accepted by all and obeyed as well, since we how we feel about these laws help in their formulation.

German Essays – Immanuel Kant and Moses Mendelssohn

The interpretation of the enlightenment by immanuel kant and moses mendelssohn.
The Enlightenment, an intellectual movement that considerably influenced scientific and social thinking of the eighteenth century, was exposed to a profound analysis by Immanuel Kant who connected the concept of enlightenment with personal freedom, pondering over ‘private’ and ‘public’ usage of reason, and Moses Mendelssohn who introduced the notions ‘civil enlightenment’ and ‘human enlightenment’ to differentiate between social and individual understanding of enlightenment. While Kant looked for the ways to achieve a balance between public and private usage of reason, Mendelssohn paid attention to the differences between human and civil enlightenment, revealing the difficulties of acquiring this balance. However, in their definitions of enlightenment both Kant, the follower of the German Enlightenment, and Mendelssohn, the originator of the Haskalah, the Enlightenment of Jews, uncovered “the tension between the agenda of enlightenment and the exigencies of society” (Schmidt 5).

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Making an attempt to provide his definition of the Enlightenment in the essay “Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?” written as a response to the Reverend Zollner, Immanuel Kant states that “enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage” (83). Thus, according to Kant, enlightenment is achieved through personal freedom that is impossible to acquire without such crucial human traits as courage and intellect (Belas 457-460). However, Kant’s definition of enlightenment expels an open struggle, because it can return people to tutelage, depriving them of the possibility to achieve enlightenment. Proposing to eliminate certain church and state restrictions, Kant applies to two different usages of reason that constitute true enlightenment – ‘private’ usage and ‘public’ usage. As Kant points out, “By the public use of one’s reason I understand the use of which a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which may make of it in a particular civil post of office which entrusted to him” (89). Although the philosopher draws a parallel between these concepts, he points at the fact that the private usage of reason should be subjected to certain limitations, while the public usage of reason should be kept free, because “it alone can bring about enlightenment among men” (Kant 89). In this regard, Moses Mendelssohn’s definition of the Enlightenment is similar to Kant’s definition, but Mendelssohn relies on different concepts in his analysis. Mendelssohn regards enlightenment as the acquisition of particular knowledge that creates the necessary balance between a person as a citizen and a person as a human being. In view of this definition, Mendelssohn differentiates between ‘civil enlightenment’, which corresponds with certain social interests, and ‘human enlightenment’, which deals with individual knowledge of a person and, according to James Schmidt, “paid heed neither to some distinctions nor to the maintenance of social order” (5). However, unlike Immanuel Kant, Moses Mendelssohn admits that there are some particular cases when public aspects of enlightenment should be strongly restricted.
As Schmidt states, “While Mendelssohn was willing to concede that there might be certain unhappy circumstances in which philosophy must remain silent lest it pose a threat to public order, Kant was uncompromising in his insistence that the public exercise of reason should never be restricted” (5-6). To some extent, Kant’s attitude can be explained by that fact that the philosopher interprets enlightenment through the issues of religion, considering the existing religious dogmas as an obstacle towards personal freedom (Lassman 815-820). Thus, regarding freedom as one of the most crucial aspects of enlightenment, Kant simultaneously brings up a question of people’s independence from religion, while Mendelssohn points at freedom within religious faith. In this context, Kant tends to define enlightenment in practical terms, while Mendelssohn analyses theoretical aspects of enlightenment, claiming that “Enlightenment seems… to have to do with the theoretical, specifically with reasoned apprehension of the world in an objective sense” (313). Operating with the notion ‘Bildung’ that means knowledge in a wider sense of the word and combines two social elements – enlightenment and culture, Moses Mendelssohn claims that enlightenment greatly depends on culture. As the philosopher puts it, “Enlightenment is to culture as theory is to practice, as discernment is to morality, as cultural criticism is to virtuosity. When viewed objectively in and of themselves, they exist in the closest possible synergy, even if they can be viewed subjectively as separate categories” (314). In view of this definition it is clear that for a person as a citizen both culture and enlightenment are important, because, according to Mendelssohn, “all practical virtues only acquire meaning in relation to life in the social sphere” (315). However, for a person as a human being enlightenment is more crucial than culture.
On the other hand, Mendelssohn states that enlightenment contributes to theoretical usage, while culture is better applied to practical usage. But those nations that manage to combine both culture and enlightenment achieve the highest level of the Enlightenment, like the Ancient Greeks. Mendelssohn considers that modern societies rarely achieve this standard, as he claims, “Nurembergers have more culture, Berliners more enlightenment, the French more culture, the British more enlightenment, the Siamese more culture and little enlightenment” (314). The similar notion is expressed by Kant who points at the fact that various religious dogmas deprive people of the possibility to achieve freedom and enlightenment; that is why modern people only strive for enlightenment, but they do no live within enlightenment. According to Kant, people find it really difficult to get rid of someone’s guidance, especially the guidance of church or state. But Kant puts major responsibility for such dependence from religion on people who are unable to appropriately use their intellect to acquire true enlightenment. The philosopher thinks that religion destroys people’s selves and deprives them of the possibility to attain the equilibrium of private and public usage of reason.
For Kant, enlightenment is determined by a person’s capacity to freely utilise his/her reason. Theoretically, every person has rights and abilities to utilise his/her reason, but in practice only some individuals reveal power and courage to achieve enlightenment. For instance, Kant states that a priest should restrict his private usage of reason, because he follows the religious dogmas of his church; however, he should not restrict his public usage of reason, if he can make some useful offers and provide new knowledge. In this regard, Immanuel Kant regards enlightenment as a continuous progress, but he states that “a public can achieve enlightenment only slowly” (84). The philosopher acknowledges that some social changes can result in the elimination of certain biases or dogmas, but these old prejudices can be replaced by new biases and rules of behaviour that may slow down the process of enlightenment. However, Kant points out that enlightenment can be delayed only for a short period of time, but “to give up enlightenment altogether, either for oneself or one’s descendants, is to violate and to trample upon the sacred rights of man” (86). Kant considers that the eighteenth century is the age of enlightenment, as various religious issues are exposed to critical analysis by some individuals who apply to reason to enlighten themselves. Discussing the issue of enlightenment, Mendelssohn reveals that “reason could demonstrate the fundamental truths of natural religion” (Arkush xiii). Mendelssohn claims that reason provides new understanding of religious dogmas, and it is this particular understanding that contributes to people’s enlightenment. In this regard, Mendelssohn manages to adjust the Enlightenment’s rationality with religion, although the philosopher realises that enlightenment provides people with free will and thinking, while religion controls people’s actions and thoughts.
In view of this interpretation of enlightenment, Mendelssohn’s viewpoint corresponds with Kant’s vision, as both philosophers support the notion that true enlightenment can be achieved by those individuals who are able to dispute, but at the same time obey. For Mendelssohn and Kant, the ability to dispute reveals people’s reason and courage, while the ability to obey reflects their enlightenment. Thus, enlightenment is more than a simple process of acquiring certain knowledge; rather it is a particular stand, which people may create. However, according to Kant, society can acquire enlightenment more easily than an individual, if taken into account the fact that public usage of reason is not exposed to any restrictions. As Kant states, “it is difficult for an isolated individual to work himself out of a dependency that has become virtually second-nature to him” (84). The philosopher considers that only some individuals manage to overcome this dependency; however, as Kant further claims in the essay, “but that a public at large might manage to enlighten itself is, in contrast, something quite possible” (84). Unlike Kant, Mendelssohn points at the necessity of some limitations and states that enlightenment can be achieved, if every person receives freedom of religious faith.
But Mendelssohn claims that this freedom is possible if two major institutions of power – state and church – are separated. Making an attempt to draw a parallel between the ideas of the Enlightenment and Jewish religion, Moses Mendelssohn regards enlightenment as a crucial aspect of Jews’ emancipation (Shmueli 167-169). In this regard, Mendelssohn’s interpretation of enlightenment is based on the principles of natural religion and reason that contribute to the formation of enlightened society (Meyer 29). Kant’s definition of enlightenment is founded on the connection between reason and modified authoritative laws. However, both Mendelssohn’s and Kant’s ideas of enlightenment are cantered on the concept of freedom, although the philosophers utilise different approaches in their interpretation of the role of freedom in the process of enlightenment. As Immanuel Kant regards enlightenment as both a continuous progress and a particular attitude or responsibility, he considers that a person is able to achieve freedom and enlightenment only if he/she changes himself/herself. In other words, enlightenment serves as a specific tool, through which a person expresses his/her self, and, on the other hand, it is a certain command that a person gives himself/herself and provides to other individuals. Therefore, Kant presents enlightenment as a progress in which people act together and as an individual expression of courage. Taking this interpretation of enlightenment into account, it is clear that Kant differentiates between the usage of reason and the sphere of obedience, but the philosopher clearly demonstrates that both states depend on people’s courage and intellect. For instance, if a person pays his/her taxes, but expresses his/her negative attitude to the taxation system, he/she reveals intellect and courage that speak of his/her maturity. In this case, a person acquires enlightenment that results in his/her inner freedom.
In his interpretation of enlightenment, Mendelssohn points at freedom of conscience; this freedom is closely connected with people’s religious faith. According to Mendelssohn, a state should not influence religious faith of people; it is this particular freedom of choice that constitutes the core of Mendelssohn’s definition of enlightenment. Critically analysing Jewish religious dogmas through the idea of enlightenment, Mendelssohn manages to overcome the existing religious biases and bring together Christian and Jewish religions (Beiser 92-93). For Moses Mendelssohn, such changes constitute true enlightenment, reviving humanism and indulgence. Although both Mendelssohn and Kant apply to religious aspects in their interpretations of enlightenment, they utilise different viewpoints. Kant discusses the issue of enlightenment through religion, because he considers that the existing religious institutions are too harmful for people; thus it is crucial to reduce their influence on individuals, utilising reason to challenge church authorities. Kant considers that a person should reject the prevalent religious stereotypes and produce new standards for himself/herself in accordance with reason and free will. 
Unlike Kant, Mendelssohn points at the fact that the process of enlightenment is religious in its essence; that is why the philosopher makes an attempt to conciliate religious issues with rationality of philosophical thinking (Sorkin 35-42). Despite the fact that Mendelssohn regards Judaism as religion that possesses the highest level of reason, he nevertheless criticises some aspects of this religion, destroying traditional understanding of Judaism (Altmann 13-19). Mendelssohn considers that enlightenment can provide people with the logical interpretation of certain religious issues. The philosopher thinks that simple faith in God is not able to prove the existence of God, but, applying to reason, people are able to find answers to all controversial religious aspects. As Arkush points out, in his definition of enlightenment Mendelssohn reveals that “reason could demonstrate the fundamental truths of natural religion; that is, the existence of God, providence, and immortality” (xiii). Kant expresses the similar notion, claiming that reason can both prove and disapprove the existence of God; in other words, reason inspires both people’s beliefs and doubts. But only analysing two sides of the issue with the help of reason, an enlightened individual is able to realise the essence of the universe and his/her own existence. In this regard, Kant reveals the idea that even the striving for enlightenment relieves people of their dependence and provides them with freedom. On the other hand, contrasting such aspects of enlightenment as reason and freedom with immaturity and dependence, Kant opposes Mendelssohn’s appreciation of Judaism. For Kant, Judaism greatly depends on a materialist world; it is a religion that utilises people for its own benefits, depriving them of freedom and enlightenment.  
The differences between Kant and Mendelssohn are intensified even more when the philosophers discuss the dawning of the age of enlightenment. According to Moses Mendelssohn, the era of enlightenment would hardly come, because throughout their history human beings have moved onward and backward, preventing further development of humankind. Moses considers that an individual person is able to acquire a certain level of enlightenment; however, entire humankind creates constant limitations and laws, either religious or state, which hinder the process of enlightenment. In his analysis of enlightenment Kant expresses a different viewpoint; in particular, he claims that humankind always progresses in its development. Although the philosopher acknowledges the existence of some limitations and obstacles, he points at the fact that these limits may only slow down the process of enlightenment, but they can never completely destroy it. As Kant regards enlightenment as a continuous progress, he realises that people, utilising reason and acquiring some knowledge, will continue to strive for enlightenment. And it is this aspiration for profound knowledge and understanding of human existence that Kant interprets as enlightenment. In this regard, Kant thinks that it is really important to draw a parallel between past and present generations, analysing various stages of their development.
On the other hand, Kant reveals an obvious obstacle to the progress of enlightenment; as people usually analyse only separate parts of the universe, they fail to combine these elements into a complete picture. As a result of this inability, human beings may find it difficult to influence each other and fully integrate into the process of enlightenment. However, despite these obvious differences, both Kant and Mendelssohn in their interpretation of enlightenment make attempts to maintain the ideas of rationalism without an open rejection of the existence of God. This is especially true in regard to Moses Mendelssohn who does not challenge the existence of God, but opposes the existing religious laws that create the unchanging truth for believers, depriving them of the possibility to achieve enlightenment. Thus, both Mendelssohn and Kant define enlightenment through the analysis of the practical ways to achieve enlightenment; however, unlike Mendelssohn, Kant bases his definition on certain negations, such as ‘dependence’, ‘immaturity’, ‘shortage of courage’. In this context, Kant demonstrates that the first step in acquiring enlightenment is the elimination of everything that deprives people of reason and freedom; only overcoming the first stage of elimination, a person is able to proceed to the second stage of acquisition.
Analysing the definitions of the Enlightenment by Immanuel Kant and Moses Mendelssohn, the essay has revealed that Kant’s interpretation of enlightenment is based on the concept of freedom and mainly deals with a person’s ability to overcome immaturity and inner fears. Discussing enlightenment, especially through religious aspects, Kant provides two major concepts that constitute his vision – ‘private’ and ‘public’ usage of reason. Mendelssohn’s interpretation of enlightenment reflects a close connection between enlightenment and culture, but the philosopher’s distinction of ‘civil enlightenment’ and ‘human enlightenment’ demonstrates the difference between a person as a citizen and a person as a human being. Although both Kant and Mendelssohn adhere to public and private aspects in their understanding of enlightenment, their interpretations considerably differ. In particular, Kant considers that the public usage of reason should be kept free, while the private usage should be exposed to certain limitations; unlike Kant, Mendelssohn thinks that in some cases the public usage should be restricted, or otherwise it may produce some negative consequences for society. In this regard, Kant’s definition concerns a practical side of the issue, although it is based on the principles of ‘escape’, for instance, escape from inner fears toward maturity. On the contrary, Mendelssohn’s definition is created on a theoretical basis and interprets enlightenment through the principles of ‘achievement’. However, both Immanuel Kant and Moses Mendelssohn point at the necessity of freedom in the Enlightenment, despite the fact that Kant tends to maintain the idea of freedom from religion, while Mendelssohn supports the idea of freedom within religion.
Works CitedAltmann, Alexander. Moses Mendelssohn, A Biographical Study. Alabama: University of Alabama             Press, 1973.Arkush, Allan. Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment. Albany, NY: State University of New             York Press, 1994. Beiser, Frederick. The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte. Cambridge and              London: Harvard University Press, 1987. Belas, L. “Kant and the Enlightenment.” Filozofia. 54 (2000): 457-463. Kant, Immanuel. What is Enlightenment. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and What is              Enlightenment. By Immanuel Kant. New York: Macmillan, 1990. 83-90.Lassman, Peter. “Enlightenment, Cultural Crisis, and Politics. The Role of Intellectuals from Kant              to Habermas.” The European Legacy. 5 (2000): 815-828.Mendelssohn, Moses. On the Question: What does “To Enlighten” Mean? Philosophical Writings.              By Moses Mendelssohn. Trans. and ed. Daniel O. Dahlstrom. Cambridge: Cambridge              University Press, 1997. 313-317.Meyer, Michael. The Origins of the Modern Jew. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967. Schmidt, James, ed. What is Enlightenment?: Eighteenth-Century Questions and Twentieth-Century              Answers. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1996.Shmueli, Efraim. Seven Jewish Cultures: A Reinterpretation of Jewish History and Thought.               Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.   Sorkin, David. Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment. Berkeley: University of                California Press, 1996.