‘Allegory of the morality of earthly things.’ – Part 2

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…Through delving into Kant’s detailed thesis, it is overwhelmingly obvious that according to the philosopher, we are all responsible for our actions, no matter the cost, for we must follow our duties and the categorical imperatives that have been placed upon us, and it is only when we go against these maxims that we end up in situations which require us to take responsibility for any dire results. Whether or not our actions were due to some external factors, holds no real value. However, the practicality of Kantian Deontology can be put under the spotlight, as the Categorical Imperative produces some counter-intuition. This is because there are certain maxims which can be universalised but are wrong to be acted upon in the first instance, for example, ‘stealing to save a life’. There are also others which can be acted on but would be wrong to universalise. A man working on the train tracks finds himself with having the power to save the lives of 5 men who unknowingly stand on the railway as a train approaches by flicking a switch and having the train switch to a railway with just a single workman. Due to the absolutist nature of Kantian rules, the man cannot switch the train from its current tracks as he ‘cannot kill’. As a result the 5 men will be killed and it is almost certain that this will incite outrage in the public due to fact that he made no attempt to save more lives by sacrificing one. It is only natural and human, that we should consider the consequences and the greater good, and as a result Kant’s suggestions are impractical. Also Kant is unable to recognise the weight that friendship, kindness and love hold above morality. Humanity simply acts upon its feelings rather than sense of duty. We hold materialistic attachments and intimate ones with those we love, which naturally means we are prepared to throw away our moral views when faced with the possibility of losing what or whom we cherish. This further emphasises its impracticality in terms of actual application. However, it is important to not completely overlook its utility.

When studying Roman legal works, a standard one being Gaius’ Institutes, one of the only complete texts in our possession today, their wonderful structure and organisation is immediately noticeable. For Roman lawyers, classification stood at the very pinnacle of their series of techniques, with the Law being divided into the Law of Persons, Things, Property, Obligations and so on, with each of these categories being divided into further sections. A classical lawyer would then proceed to file cases under any one of these divisions, and follow certain, appropriate regulations, on the basis of this. They had a wonderful capability of producing deductions from a set of established principles, and the elegance of their legal system, along with its fixed, stable structure, is something which contrasts the ‘mess’ and occasional incoherence of our own common law system. However, the rigidity of their maxims and ‘first principles’ from which they derived much of their legislature, led to certain issues, much like Kant’s immoveable imperatives. The Romans failed to delve into the roots of these principles to justify them, and instead, would often refer to them with terms such as ‘natura’ or ‘ratio naturalis’ (natural reason). In cases linked to a guardian and their relationship with their ward/child, links would be made to ‘obligato naturalis’ (natural obligation) and it would be considered as being obvious that parents have an obligation to care for their children. The system would often refer to natural rights without deeply considering or justifying them, in a systematic manner. The common law itself has adopted many of the ‘universal notions’ which are not viewed as Roman principles, but as ‘principles of universal validity’. English lawyers have themselves taken many of these maxims which are ‘axiomatic’ and require no proof. Sir Edward Coke, who authored the ‘Institutes and Commentary on Littleton’,  used ancient Roman proverbs in his own works. He made a reference to the maxim ‘multa in iure communi contra rationem disputandi pro communi ultilate introducta sunt’, which is identical to the words of the Julian, the acclaimed classical jurist, with the exception of Coke’s insertion of ‘iure communi’, in the place of the original phrase, ‘iure civili’. It is for this reason that Kant’s categorical imperatives do hold some weight in the grand scheme of legal machinations, as they are identical and inherently similar to the established maxims present in both Roman Civil Law and the English Common Law.

In terms of virtue and morality, their are certain values which can only be derived via habituation through following the actions of an ideal moral exemplar – a thesis highlighted in the proposals made by Aristotelian Virtue Ethics. The world is not devoid of moral exemplars but in fact brimming of them. People from all walks of life are constantly, knowingly or unknowingly, imparting impressions upon us, which may serve as inspiration to change our so called modes of living, and transform our behaviours and societal cues with the hope of bettering ourselves. Aristotle’s valued process of habituation and practice of noble and just actions only ceases to exist with a man’s very last breath, for one cannot achieve Aristotle’s proposed eudaemonia -the ‘ne plus ultra’ of all ‘raisons d’être’- until their passing, for all actions of a man’s entire life must be taken into account. We may only blossom and flourish in our lives if we continue to live in a manner of purity which in itself will bear us the fruits of our endeavours. A positive outlook is essential in order to combat general negativity. That is the key. It is necessary to consider possible outcomes of what we do, and thus act in an acceptable manner. The issue only arises when we step out of line and let emotions rule the mind. We are morally responsible for our actions, as they stem from us, rational beings, who have an understanding of morality, and so it is impossible for us to escape this responsibility.

This two-part discourse has highlighted the issues and concerns that hound our species whilst also exploring philosophical theses, which if followed, may result in a significant reduction in worldly grievances. The right action lies between two extremes. The challenge is to commit a deed which lies at Aristotle’s ‘golden mean’ of these two parameters. Jurisprudence forms a connection between the Law and philosophical arguments, making it incredibly important for its general development and so it is necessary to pair the two subjects which both explore what can be considered to be right and wrong.


References

  1. Philosophy A Level (2020) ”Overview – Metaethics” https://philosophyalevel.com/aqa-philosophy-revision-notes/metaethics/
  2. The influence of Roman Law on the Common Law – Peter Stein
  3. Classical Legal Tradition – Richard A. Epstein
  4. Featured Image – Kant – https://sevenpillarsinstitute.org/ethics-101/kantian-duty-based-deontological-ethics/

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