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Moral Mistakes, Kant’s Categorical Imperative

May 3, 2014

Here is a quote from Nietzsche criticizing Kant’s categorical imperative as being the moral guide for action:

An action prompted by the life-instinct proves that it is a right action by the amount of pleasure that goes with it: and yet that Nihilist (Kant), with his bowels  of Christian dogmatism, regarded pleasure as an objection…. What destroys a man more quickly than to work, think and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure—as a mere automaton of duty? That is the recipe for décadence, and no less for idiocy….

From this quote, taken from The Antichrist, I see the importance of passion to our moral decisions in life. And this is tied up with the ideal of authenticity, as we see it today, as an ethical guideline to the decisions we make.

What Nietzsche was targeting here was not specifically Christianity nor specifically Kant, but a type of humanistic moral feeling that decided appearing to be morally right and good was more important than being morally right and good. A ready to hand verbal justification for ones actions after the fact, more important than an inner felt justification in the acting during the fact. I can’t agree more with the sentiment. And Nietzsche highlights well the dangers of those who do not have passion in their moral actions. They become mere automaton’s of duty. Incapable of tapping in to their own sense of moral values and so liable to become dependent on others moral feelings, merely reflecting back what they see around them, becoming unable to participate in their community and help their culture grow, in a word, decadent.

This word decadence is an easy one to use, and we often throw it around these days at anyone or thing we don’t like. It has become clichéd, most likely thanks to the understanding of it given to us by Nietzsche.

But, however clichéd mostly disingenuous or ignorant people may try to make this term, the fact remains that this moral danger is inherent in our society. It is always there as a threat at least lurking in the background, if not openly parading itself in the light of day. Because secular society has caused a great levelling of human beings, in the name of democracy and important human rights at times of course. Yet it doesn’t just level out, it flattens out. We don’t just settle at the same level, at times we settle flat down on the ground.

No one authentically pursuing a moral vision would be susceptible to such a flattening. No one with a passionate attachment to their moral decisions and actions would be susceptible to such a flattening, either in themselves or the people around them. But since most of the time, most of us do tend to settle for this flattening, shows just how difficult it is to avoid the urge towards decadent behavior that promotes a decadent culture.

This is an ongoing battle, not just over meaning of terms and words on paper, and “truth”, but over who gets to determine and promote the dominant meaning of terms. And over who gets to create new ways of acting and new types of meaning for new terms to be attached to. To think that bare reason and rationality, an innate faculty in mans isolated mind, a set of logical procedures to follow, could reign over our moral actions was one of the biggest mistakes of the moral philosophy that developed out of the enlightenment.

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