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Satirical Counter-Argument to Kant

November 17, 2010
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Our reading about Kant has suggested that thinking for yourself is necessary for enlightenment and gaining truth.  But is there really such thing as the truth in the context of what Kant is referring to? I’m not talking about the truth like what year the civil war started; I’m talking about political truths such as how man should be ruled and other kinds of political debates.  If you think about it, the “truth” has very rarely been constant and changes quite often.  For example, in the bible and even up through a lot of the 19th century, slavery was considered a right and a good thing.  Slaves were considered naturally inferior and to be utilized to their fullest by their master.  The truth now is that every man is equal and slavery was an evil.  So then, why do these truths change?  You might think if you listen to Martin Luther King Jr. and follow the “golden rule” of treating others how you would like to be treated that you can achieve the ultimate “truth,” but we all know that the world isn’t a perfect place.  My idea is that truths change based on how much someone is convinced they are true.    In the end, truth ends up being whatever a political leader can convince people it is.  If someone can convince people that their “truth” will help a lot of people live a better life, it is considered the “truthful” position. 

This leads me to the question of whether being enlightened is even that good.  Kant himself says that being lazy and not thinking for yourself is a lot easier than thinking for yourself when he says, “It is so easy to be immature.” Kant suggests you need to think for yourself to find out the truth.  But, wouldn’t thinking for yourself likely cause debate and argument between people?  And if there is no such thing as a political “truth,” then trying to think for yourself would actually be more harmful than helpful.  The only time people should think for themselves is when the sovereign wants to disturb the peace between someone else or within the community.  For example, no one should have supported Hitler because he caused violence and chaos and put many people’s lives at risk.  Besides situations that might involve violence though, there is no reason to waste your time thinking for yourself. 

So what kind of government should be in place? Well, there should be a Monarchy where the soveregin elects his successor.  The sovereign has incentive to keep the peace and stay out of violence because the people will revolt or other nations will revolt against him if he is trying to start chaos.  As long as the soveregin stays out of this scenario, he can essentially do whatever he wants because there is no such thing as an ultimate truth.  Some may try to prove why one idea is better than another, but in the end nothing really matters and peace is more desirable than truth. 

Life would clearly be much easier without thought.  Who cares if we know the “truth” or not?  Does it really matter in the end as long as we agree on something?  The only person who would need even a remote consciousness is the sovereign.  The people should just follow the sovereign for the sake of ease and security.  What could possibly be a better life than this?

4 Comments
  1. emilywiho permalink
    November 17, 2010 3:29 PM

    Sure, by not having to ‘question’ and by simply listening to a sovereign, the world would be much easier. No differing opinions, no disagreements and no arguments. But would this really be a ‘better’ life?

    In many ways I find your description very similar to a totalitarian state, where the citizens are fed information and opinions from the government. Everyone must think the same way, everyone must have the same opinions – even if they don’t agree, and only the sovereign ‘thinks’. In the past (and present!) states like these have proven to be unsuccessful. There are also many difficulties that must be addressed.

    I think that your system may only work if there is a way of ensuring that every single sovereign do not have personal desires. For there may be a good sovereign at first, but the sovereign he then elects may not be a good sovereign. There is no way of ensuring that the sovereign will definitely be good and keep the nation at peace and not go to war.

    Moreover there are many dangers of being in a state where no one bothers to enlighten. What if the state is teaching its citizens wrong things? What if the state is actually censoring undesirable information so that its citizens will never know the actual truth? Would you prefer that ‘peace’ than the truth? Even the German citizens in Hitler’s Germany were given that sort of ‘peace’. Their sovereign didn’t tell them about the atrocities happening in their own country. They were taught that it was right to discriminate and that it was right to treat certain people badly. If no Germans, at the time, bothered to think, bothered to question or bothered to act, they certainly would have been in ‘peace’. But would that be ‘right’?

    I can’t help but feel that the worse states are the ones where its people are not able to think for themselves and find their ‘truth’.

    • arjunindianhongkongkid permalink
      November 18, 2010 1:11 AM

      Great Post.
      I do want to draws the parallels here, since this is the classic clash between eastern and western ideologies, to be blatantly obvious, between United States of America and China.
      The question of whether you should think for yourself or whether the state should think for you is what mankind has struggled to figure out.

      Think about it. You probably voted, hoping you wished your senator will think for you and work the best thing for you. But if you don’t like what your senator is doing, you say, screw him/her – we get a new one, but do YOU go ahead and take the reins in your own hand? The answer is NO. Cause I’m Lazy. Cause I’m Scared.

      It’s like your mom shoving brocolli down your throat thinking that it’s good for you. You don’t know whether its good for you. She, despite her belief, doesn’t know truthfully whether it is good for you. So if you think for yourself and deny the brocolli, you may lose out. If you take it in, you may lose out as well due to unpleasant taste of it.

      What can a government do? It can feed you the brocolli but some governments shove it down the throat like a strict mama, some governments sing and do crazy antics to please you into eating it, and some others just leave it as your choice. All the situations are neither particularly good or bad.

  2. joshuacy permalink
    November 19, 2010 12:20 AM

    You’re totally right. I don’t know why we ever established a Democracy in The New World when there are so many dumb people out there fighting over what’s best for the county (really, they’re just looking out for themselves). If only we had a King to make all of our decisions for us. A just king whose laws, though often arbitrary, are at least in the best interests of the people. Viva la revolution!

  3. changmc permalink
    November 27, 2010 11:40 PM

    I am in 100% agreement with you that life in a totalitarian state with a sovereign who would bring us ease and security. However, finding a sovereign who is virtuous and who can create a system of control where ease and security are ensured to the people is near impossible to find. This is the reason why we have a democratic republic with checks and balances, so we can prevent a tyrannical ruler from coming into power. If there was some way where a sovereign could rule, and bring us the ease and security of life that people crave, I agree that only a minority of the population would really try and pursue “absolute truths in life” because I agree with your other point that there seems to be no absolute truth, truth is very relative.

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