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September 13, 2011

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Mark,

Thanks for commenting on this article, which was also disturbing to me.

You state: “As Immanuel Kant wrote, the individual can and should realize, independently of external authority (though never completely separate from it), that he or she has duties and obligations to other people.”

It seems one should distinguish normative ethics from positive ethics. Your claim is that normatively people should think about society a certain way. However, I think the positive evidence would support the view that that people do acquire knowledge about their duties and obligations from external authorities (parents and teachers) who help them connect with and process their moral sympathies. That is the starting place, and if people are not emotionally committed to doing what is right, no amount of intellectual reasoning is going to persuade them otherwise.

Perhaps I’ve misunderstood your point. But this is the conundrum for Kantian ethics, it seems to me. How do we reconcile the rational ideal with the emotional Homo sapiens? (I am not arguing that humans don’t use logic or rational powers; I am arguing that the base emotion of sympathy is the reason people develop ideas about society, not from logical proofs.)

Sure, Jonathan, I see your point. What you say is not completely inconsistent with Kant, who wrote that we all learn our basic ethical principles from authority while young. But when (or if!) we mature, we have to come to realize the rational basis of morals and not just rely on their emotional significance for us. Kant does not deny our emotional sides, but maintain that we can and should channel or control them. This is very normative, of course, but it does not contradict positive moral psychology, since we care certainly capable of this, right?

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