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1 Challenging the sovereignty of reason

1 Challenging the sovereignty of reason

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determining what should be done in all circumstances. Some of the duties to

which the canon gives rise, wide or imperfect duties, leave a great deal to the

informed choice of each person, because how best to fulfill them depends on that

person’s particular circumstances. The upshot (see Section 8.1) was that even if

Kant stressed the traits of strength or fortitude more than the traits of sound

judgment, intelligence or wisdom, it would nevertheless take an ample measure

of the latter to fulfill well the chief of the wide duties, viz. to perfect oneself and

help others to achieve happiness. People cannot determine how resources of time,

talent and effort should be distributed to achieve these ‘ends that are also duties’

without good use of their discursive capabilities. The measure in such matters

would be a person with qualities like those of Aristotle’s phronimos, a person

with the ability to deliberate well about the ends we have that are unqualified (not

qualified by some further end to which they are to be applied once achieved).

Kant, it seems, leaves us needing more than one measure. For some purposes

his canon will do, for others we must use a measure of virtue. It was possible to

anticipate this (at the end of Section 4.4) by elaborating a little the image of the

measuring tool. Craftsmen do not get by with a single measuring tool. The

thought that we might measure conduct with a single device, even a complex

device like a system of law, may have been encouraged by a culture hungry for

explicit guidance (end of Section 8.1), and this hunger may well be the root of

the widespread attraction that theorists feel for one or another version of ‘the

morality system’ (see Section 1.1), but hunger for totally explicit guidance is

impossible to satisfy (see Section 6.2) and a diet consisting mainly of explicit

guidance can sustain neither an individual life nor a culture.

Kant’s virtuous person, moreover, cannot function on reason alone. The

capacity to represent laws and rules and conform to them may be the basis of our

freedom, but the truly excellent person needs an ability to recognize where laws

and rules do and do not apply, the ability that Kant called ‘judgment’ and which

he insisted cannot itself be reduced to rules (end of Section 7.4). Exemplary

humans arguably need all of Kant’s good will (beginning of Section 7.4), the full

complement of Aristotle’s ethical excellences (see Section 8.4) and that elusive

quality of jen that Confucius sought to explain and instill (see Section 9.4), but

the measure of virtue nevertheless turns crucially on the distinction between

judging and judging well.

If in order to judge well an exemplary human being must, as Aristotle

suggested, be able to deliberate well about the end in an unqualified sense (see

Sections 8.4 and 9.1), the third type of measure will be required. For we cannot

say whether a person is doing well or badly at fulfilling the wide duty of

perfecting self and promoting the happiness of others without some idea of what

it is to live well. Kant would say that this is to live as far as possible in

conformity with duty, but given that this includes wide duties, this is an unhelpful

formula unless it is possible to fill out more fully what is involved in the duty to

perfect oneself. Perfection, like harm (see Section 7.4) has to be determined

relative to the thing being perfected or harmed, which cannot be done without an


account of what it is for a human to do well over the span of a human life, in

other words to live well as a human being. It is only with such a conception that

individuals will be able to direct their efforts toward perfecting (or at least

improving) themselves and also be able to select judiciously the help that they

should give others to achieve happiness (in the sense of getting what they want).

Without this conception, one might injudiciously help misguided people to get

what they want—‘injudiciously’ because what they want will in no way

contribute to bettering their lives and may not even bring them satisfaction.

Now the reason that perfecting oneself is a wide duty is that there are multiple

ways to go about it, multiple ways for an individual to live well as a human

being, and how it is best for individuals to do so depends on their circumstances

(their talents and the resources afforded by the societies in which they live). This

should not be forgotten when considering Aristotle’s suggestion that the basis for

the measure of the good (life) lies in our capacity to use speech or discursive

thought (logos). There are many possible ingredients in a human life, many

roles, occupations and avocations, and many ways to combine those ingredients,

but all of them can be pursued and their place in a person’s life determined with

a greater or lesser amount of discursive thought. The suggestion that activity in

accordance with logos is what is characteristic of human beings, and the better

we do it the more excellent we are, does not entail that there is only one thing

that all successful human beings will devote their lives to pursuing —even if

Aristotle does appear to have succumbed to the temptation to draw this inference

(see Sections 9.2–3).

If we follow the implications of this synthesis of Kant and Aristotle, we will

conclude that the basis of all three types of measure—of right, of virtue and of

the good—lies in what is distinctive about us as creatures, not simply our

capacity to reason (string together thoughts that provide reasons for one

another), not merely in our capacity to represent rules, regularities and laws and

to moderate our activities accordingly, but our capacity to combine these abilities

with other functions built upon the sentient life (particular sensitivities and

judgment) so that we are able to respond to features of our surroundings that are

not accessible to creatures that lack our discursive capacities.

We must respect this complex capacity by not using creatures who possess it

merely as means to our own ends, because it is what gives them the capability to

determine their own ends. Those who exercise this capacity exceptionally well

merit our admiration and deserve to be used as examples to be followed. The

standard by which to assess harm and improvement (perfection) of humans qua

human is the extent to which their lives have scope for, and exhibit, the

realization of these capacities.

This is still far from sufficiently specific, and to air the questions that this

synthesis leaves unresolved we can consider responses on its behalf to a number

of challenges, the first of which is that which emerged at the end of Section 10.4.

The relevant basis for our attitudes toward conduct should not, it was alleged, be

the difference between persons and things but between sentient creatures and


things. The possession of discursive thought (rationality broadly construed as in

the previous paragraphs) is of no consequence. We are tied to the throne of

pleasure and pain by causal chains, and our linguistic abilities give us at most the

capacity to vary the length of those chains, not to break them. We are fooling

ourselves if we imagine that by using our minds through our linguistic abilities we

can achieve a level of freedom and dignity that places us on a level significantly

different from, higher than, that of other sentient creatures with roughly our size

and neural configuration. Reason remains, as Hume insisted (1739–40:415), the

slave of our passions and the servant of our desires, and we ought not to think of

it in any other way.

But as Hume himself recognized (see Section 5.4), the capacity to represent

the future to ourselves gives us a ‘distant view or reflexion’ and makes it

possible for us to amplify a faint passion (of desire or aversion) for some future

object into one strong enough to overcome the passions we feel for objects close

at hand. If by using our rational capacities (along with our ability to imagine) we

can place representations of two events— one bearing down on us, the other in

the remote future—side by side and as a result we can bring about an adjustment

of how strongly we feel about these respective events: ‘reason’ (broadly

construed) is not merely serving our passions, it is managing them.

Hume’s conception of ‘reason’ is as an ability to represent the way things are

and is supposed therefore to be ‘motivationally inert.’ It follows from this

conception, as he says in a passage that sounds reminiscent of Yang Chu (see

Section 10.3), that ‘’Tis not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the

whole world to the scratching of my finger’ (416). But the ability to recognize

that the destruction of the world may entail worse happening to one’s finger than

a mere scratch is part of that capacity that Hume labels ‘reason,’ and the desire

framed on the basis of that modest ‘distant view,’ which is required to see the

connection between such things, is not an original existence (see Section 5.4)

that reason merely serves but one born of reason (the capacity for discursive

thought). This is the difference between the claims of Yang and Hume: Yang

would treat anything that amounted to ‘cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face’

as folly and therefore contrary to any reasonable notion of reason.

If some individuals can, through looking ‘dispassionately’ at their bodily

passions, bring about adjustments in the strength of their feelings, what prevents

other individuals looking at the same passions and seeking to escape from all of

them? In Chapter 11, we surveyed a variety of traditions that viewed our natural

bodily (and in some cases social) desires as threats to human well-being. The

reasoning that led to various efforts to repress bodily desires, and even eliminate

totally the privilege normally given to the self, may not have been sound, but

Hume’s picture of human discursive capacities, as serving antecedently given

desires, simply does not hold up in the face of these phenomena.

It should be acknowledged that however thoroughly human discursive

capacities may restructure an individual’s passions and desires, it is incoherent to

imagine a person totally eliminating feeling or desire. Feeling is the general


category of responsiveness to what is happening around one; desire is what,

independent of immediate external circumstances, determines the character of

one’s response. If getting what one wants is pleasant and getting what one does

not want is unpleasant, we are inescapably tied to the throne of pleasure and pain,

for we will have wants in some form or other as long as we are agents.

But the capacity to represent our own feelings and desires is the condition of

the possibility of making our feelings and desires the objects of (second-order)

feelings and desires and thus to attempt, wisely or otherwise, successfully or

otherwise, to alter them. We are not tied by causal chains to any particular

pleasures or pains that may currently motivate us; we are tied only by habits,

including those that give what strength there may be to our resolves. If we are

tied to the throne of pleasure and pain by virtue of being agents, we can

nevertheless reconstruct the throne to which we are tied by virtue of being

creatures who represent to themselves the principles of their own agency. This is

not something that appears to be true of animals without linguistic capacities.

If the basis of Kant’s canon and the Aristotelian conceptions of virtue and

human good are adopted, does that mean that we should regard ourselves as free

to treat sentient creatures as things? For example, is smashing an old car to

smithereens for ‘emotional release’ or to ‘test its strength’ no different from

tormenting an animal to death for ‘sport’ or for ‘science’? For those who believe

that these are significantly different cases, the basis provided by Kant and

Aristotle appears woefully inadequate. But what might be needed to support

drawing a sharp moral distinction between things and non-rational sentient

creatures cannot be seen clearly until we have considered how much regard,

concern as well as respect, we should have for other creatures of our own

(rational) kind.


Social animals

Associates, friends, communities

Humans do not acquire their distinctive form of agency without a social

environment; they cannot make effective use of their characteristically human

capacities without interacting with other human beings. Human relationships

take a variety of general forms, one of which, ‘an association,’ is voluntarily

entered into for the purposes of mutual benefit and is governed by tacit

agreements, promises, contracts or formal partnerships. The give and take

involved in reaching or maintaining agreement in these relationships involves

each individual recognizing the others as persons and therefore as having their

own ends, even though all have entered the relationship to further their own

personal ends and would want to withdraw if those ends were to be frustrated

rather than furthered.

We can assess the conduct of people in associations by Kant’s measure of right

(his canon) if we generalize his example of the perfect duty not to make lying


promises (see Section 7.3). By this canon, people fail to ‘measure up’ who

conduct themselves in co-operative endeavors (based on contracts, promises,

tacit agreements) in ways that turn out to treat others merely as means. That is to

say, each associate will have to maintain due consideration for the ends that the

others had in entering the arrangement.

Thinking entirely in terms of relationships of association, however, is likely to

distort the assessments that we make of how we relate to one another. An

alternative to association, where individuals assess the value of their participation

in terms of utility derived for themselves, is the general category of friendship

(philia) found in Aristotle. The key to these relationships is that the personal

goals of each ‘friend’ become integral to the personal goals of the others, which

is what is implied by Aristotle’s remark, ‘a friend is another self’ (see

Section 10.2). Someone who lives only for personal pleasure, a ‘subjective

hedonist,’ may well, given the variability of pleasure (see Section 10.1), find

enjoyment in witnessing other people living pleasantly and may, if this

enjoyment is mutual, have friends in this sense. Epicurus’ warm endorsement of

friendship makes sense if we understand him as appreciating what friends can

contribute to a pleasant life, in a spirit similar to that which prompted Aristotle’s

recommendation of friendship as a vital component of a life devoted to

contemplation (see Section 10.2).

Can this be generalized? Should anyone who appreciates what it is to be a

human being—as a social creature as well as (in fact an essential ingredient of

being) a creature with the capacity for discursive thought— recognize that

friends in this sense are vital to living well as a human being? Kant, who thought

mostly in terms of duties arising from the application of measures of right,

insisted that along with our wide duty to perfect ourselves was a duty to benefit

others without expectation of return (see Section 7.1). But this does not amount

to a duty to have friends, a requirement that there be people whose goals are

included in our goals and who include our goals in theirs. We can see the place

of friendship in human life only if we apply measures of virtue and of the good.

We have to be convinced that how ever well people may do individually, they

will have done better if able to share in the successful application of their

discursive capacities with others, that an exemplary person rendered unable by

circumstances to share living well is to that extent unfortunate,1 and that a person

unable for psychological reasons to form friendships is not entirely exemplary

(or ‘fully virtuous’).

To deny this, to reject what for Aristotle was a natural assumption about what

is necessary for humans to live well, would be to embrace a weak form of

(narrow) egoism (see Section 10.2)—not the doctrine that we would all be better

off if we lived only for ourselves (in the narrow sense) but—the doctrine that

there is no reason to prefer living for a narrow self to living for a more inclusive

self. Kant’s argument that we have duties to others appears to be addressed to

this position, although its conclusion is a wide duty to benefit others rather than

to expand what we think of as our self-interest.


In arguing that part of our wide duty to perfect ourselves includes duties of

beneficence to others (1797:450), Kant recognized that this interest in others

might be very slight indeed compared with the interest we naturally took in


[In] making the well-being and happiness of others my end… I can,

without violating the universality of the maxim, vary the degree greatly in

accordance with the different objects of my love (one of whom concerns me

more closely than another).


Kant acknowledges that it is not obvious that the law that one should benefit some

of those in need is to be found in reason: ‘On the contrary, the maxim “Everyone

for himself, God (fortune) for us all” seems to be the natural one’ (ibid.). But if

we recognize the duty to perfect ourselves and accept that we will not do this as

well as we might if we must be able to make an equivalent return (must pay or

reciprocate precisely) for everything that others do for us, we will see that the

requirement that we universalize our maxims entails a duty to help others

without the expectation of an immediate return (453). What does this duty entail?

How far does it extend?

The opportunities that we have to benefit others in this way will be given

shape by specific practices found in our social environment, which will range

from customs followed on an individual basis (alms for individual beggars)

through private charitable institutions (to feed, house or educate) to public taxsupported institutions (providing welfare, education and general amenities).

Kant’s argument encourages us to think on the level of the first of these, but it

applies to all three levels. Even those who are individually prosperous are

afforded opportunities for a better quality of life (to ‘perfect themselves,’ if we

stay with Kant’s idiom) by cultural formations on all three of these levels.

Everyone stands to benefit from wisely following customs that govern

interactions between needy individuals and those who can help, from the

intelligently guided efforts of voluntary collective activity and from sound

policies carried out in the comprehensive (government-managed) public sphere.

The Epicurean isolation from and studied indifference toward anything that takes

place outside the private sphere came in for a species of moral condemnation

from Peter Green (see Section 10.2). Held against Kant’s canon, the respect in

which Epicureans do not measure up is now commonly referred to by a term that

Green might have used, but did not: ‘freeloaders.’

The importance of community, and of the cultural formations that sustain it, is

easily lost if we think only in terms of interactions and relationships between

individuals. As part of the trend in European thinking that has extended from the

seventeenth century to the present day (see Section 7.1), Kant tends to frame his

discussion in individualist terms. But as we have just seen, it is easier to use his


principles to underwrite duties to support social formations that benefit members

of a community in general than it is to explain the place of friendship in our lives.

There is, in addition to accepting responsibility for community life as a means

to the end of living well, a further function for the sense of community, one with

important similarities to friendship and which like friendship seems to elude

Kant’s measure of right. There are people for whom the welfare (the faring well)

of a cultural formation is a significant part of their idea of their own living well or

faring well. For these people, a cultural formation, which may be either their

community as a whole or some aspect of its shared life, serves as a ‘quasi-otherself’; their notions of their own eudaimonia are broadened in the way that the

corresponding notions of people who have friends are broadened. But instead of

(or in addition to) including the well-being of other individuals in their

conception of what it is for them to do well, their ideas include the vitality and

effective presence of some aspect of their community’s way of life.

The call for a renewed appreciation of the importance of community (see

Section 9.4) may be seen as coming from three directions, two of which have

just been mentioned. The first calls for an appreciation of the resources for living

well that are afforded to each of us by our willingness to work together for

common purposes and the extent to which we live impoverished lives if our

existing attitudes and practices serve to thwart efforts to do so. The second calls

for an appreciation of the possibility of broadening people’s conception of their

own prosperity and welfare to include not only the faring well of friends but also

the faring well of communal enterprises. The first involves a modification of the

measure of right to yield a duty based on a better appreciation of how we should

measure the good. The second suggests a measure of virtue that acknowledges that

those who work for a better shared life not only deserve gratitude but also merit

admiration and serve as exemplars. These two do not challenge the basis

provided by Kant and Aristotle; they constitute a call for refinements of the

measures founded on that basis.

From a third direction, however, does come a serious challenge. For the

assumption in both Kant and Aristotle is that we live with one another for the

sake of living well as individual human beings, and the forms of our

relationships with one another need to be modified if they do not contribute to

that end. The claim, contrary to this assumption, that individuals exist for the

sake of the communities they constitute and for the cultural traditions they

sustain and transmit, will lead to a devaluation of what individuals, even working

co-operatively, take as their interests and set for themselves as the objectives for

their lives.

It is certainly extremely common for societies to insist that some communal

interests take precedence over those of individual members. Taxes are levied

from the products of individuals’ wealth or labor to support public institutions.

Citizens may be called upon to risk their lives in defense of their communities or

nations, and civilian populations may be called upon to make sacrifices ‘for their

father(or mother)lands’ in time of crisis. Sometimes these expectations—


especially those associated with social roles such as landed gentry and serf,

parent and offspring, male and female —solidified in the distant past and operate

at very deep levels in a culture. The practices that reinforce these expectations

appear to be integral to the very structure of a society—‘built into the house in

which we live… not to be removed without bringing it down’ (see Section 2.4).

But not all of these expectations help to sustain institutions that promote the

wellbeing of the individuals concerned, or they provide advantages for only a few

while serving as instruments of oppression for others.

It is far from clear that those who chafe under the burdens that a cultural form

places on them, or who resent opportunities denied to them through the roles that

they are required to fill, are asking for a ‘free ride.’ In many cases, they are

asking for opportunities to shoulder important responsibilities as well as share in

the associated rewards. If traditions that impose unequal burdens of pain,

hardship and drudgery and limited opportunities on some sections of a society

cannot be adapted to distribute the burdens more evenly or remove them all

together, why should ‘the house in which they live’ not be ‘brought down?’ The

(relativist) claim that there is no basis to prefer one way of life to another cannot,

as we have seen (see Section 5.1), support the claim that any given way of life

should be preserved. What must lie behind the claim that a way of life must be

preserved regardless of the cost to certain individuals who are assigned

burdensome roles, is the idea that cultures (societies and their ways of life) are

more important than the individuals who constitute them.

Of course, individuals may decide that the continuance of a tradition (usually

one into which they are born) is a part of their personal fulfillment, that

contributing to the vitality of the way of life of their community is for them what

it is to live and do well. This may involve accepting burdens of pain, hardship,

drudgery and limited opportunity. What we are considering here, however, is the

imposition of burdens even on those too young to choose them responsibly. The

closing of minds and the modifications of bodies (see Section 1.4) may help to

reproduce a way of life, but the solidarity sought by these means is, from the

standpoint of Aristotle and Kant, not that of a human community but that of

some other more tightly unified organic entity (see Section 7.1). Those who

believe that there is an overriding value in forms of community solidarity that

goes beyond what can be sustained by the commitment of ‘free human beings’

(adults with at least some grasp of alternative possibilities) have identified an end

for which individual humans may be treated merely as the means.


Concern for everyone

Charity, compassion and contracting circles

We have identified two perspectives from which the basis for moral measures

found in Kant and Aristotle will appear inadequate. From the standpoint of one,

this basis does not sustain sufficient respect for sentience; from the standpoint of


the other, it leaves us without sufficiently strong forms of community solidarity.

A third perspective from which the basis appears inadequate is that which

considers whether it encourages in people a sufficient regard, concern as well as

respect, for human beings who do not belong to their own community. This

perspective is becoming increasingly important as there are few people in the

‘globalized’ human world nowadays so isolated that they are not potentially able

to affect or be affected by the activities of other people. We have acquired

abilities to influence in a variety of ways people who do not share enough of our

own language or culture to form with them a community in any sense. What

basis is there to measure our responsiveness and responsibilities toward these

other people?

Kant’s canon ensures that we have some negative duties toward others by

virtue of the respect they are owed as human beings. We are not to kill, injure,

enslave or dispossess other peoples, where we have power to do so, even on the

pretext of bringing them the benefits of civilization. Kant’s own understanding

of how his canon was to be applied entailed that most of the colonial activities

that Europeans had been pursuing for more than two centuries were unjust (1797:

353). Arguably, prosperous industrialized nations have now turned to more

subtle forms of economic exploitation. Dilemmas over whether to spend money

on piano lessons for one’s children or on famine relief (see Section 10.4) may as

a result be premature if our participation in the global economic system has

contributed substantially, even if indirectly, to the creation of famine conditions.

Such dilemmas are premised on ‘concern for everyone’ (see Section 10.3).

Are we, in addition to making sure that we do not fail to respect the humanity of

humans everywhere, called upon to feel any benevolence and carry out any acts

that benefit anyone beyond our community? The argument that Kant offered

against the maxim ‘everyone for himself depended on treating selfishness on the

one hand and a duty of beneficence to members of one’s community on the other

as exhaustive alternatives. It did not suggest that there were duties beyond those

toward one’s ‘fellowmen, that is, rational beings with needs, united by nature in

one dwelling place’ (453). It did not test the maxim ‘everyone for his own most

reliable support group.’

The idea that how well one’s community (one’s polis) does is either a

necessary condition or a constituent part of that individual’s eudaimonia was no

doubt accessible to Aristotle, but neither entails an operative concern (a

benevolence giving rise where possible to beneficence) for anyone beyond one’s

own community. Ethically excellent persons may well want to see their city

flourish because they recognize that the environment provided by their city is a

condition of their achieving eudaimonia, or, because being civic-minded they

have identified the well-being of their city as a constituent of their own

eudaimonia. But there is nothing in Aristotle to suggest that this should extend to

a concern that even individuals in one’s community who are not friends should

do well, let alone those in other cities.


It is not altogether surprising not to find in Aristotle the generalized ‘concern

for everyone’ advocated by such ‘utilitarians’ as Mo Tzu and J.S.Mill (see

Section 10.3), as there is no recorded precedent for this in the West before the

emergence of Stoicism some decades after Aristotle’s death. Stoics were the first

in the West to suggest that human beings had a responsibility to members of

their species that transcended loyalties to their cities or nations, and it was they

who introduced the idea of ‘cosmopolitanism’ or ‘citizenship of the world’ (LS

67K, L). A generalized ‘concern for everyone’ appears in the virtue of Christian

charity, which includes loving your neighbor as yourself, where your neighbor

may be a stranger from a group that your kind of people despises (Samaritans;

Luke 10:27–37) or who despises your kind of people. If this ‘theological virtue,’

as St Thomas Aquinas classified it (IIaIIæ Qs23–46), does not play a prominent

role in Kant’s ethics, this only reflects a further respect in which Kant’s general

treatment of virtue is limited.

Kant not only assigned a less prominent role to wisdom than was traditional in

framing a conception of an exemplary human being (see Section 8.1), he also

worked to establish ethics on a purely rational basis. The concept of reason that

Kant used was the ‘practical’ variety not the bare capacity to represent that

Hume labeled ‘reason.’ Practical reason is goal-directed; it has ends. Having

established limits on the means and ends that practical reason may adopt—they

must not reduce other rational creatures to mere instruments—Kant, as we have

seen, was far from clear about how inclusive our positive interests should be.

Indeed, he went on from his argument against the maxim ‘Everyone for himself,

God (fortune) for us all’ to raise the ‘casuistical question’ of whether it would

not be better, as far as the happiness in the world is concerned, if we all

concentrated on fulfilling our (narrow) duties of right and treated even

benevolence (mere feeling), let alone beneficence (doing something positive), as

morally indifferent. All he could suggest that might be ‘missing from the world’

if we did was ‘a great moral adornment’ (458). Aristotle would have had trouble

understanding why concern extending beyond one’s city should count even as an


While Kant insisted that we must wrest control of our decisions from the

inclinations of the body, he was nevertheless far from advocating complete selfdenial. The ‘motivationally inert’ conception of reason, as a mere power to

represent, led Hume on the other hand to the further conclusions:

’Tis not contrary to reason for me to chuse my total ruin, to prevent the

least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown to me. ’Tis as

little contrary to reason to prefer even my own acknowledg’d lesser good

to my greater, and have a more ardent affection for the former than the




Kant, along with philosophers ranging from Yang and Confucius to Aristotle and

St Thomas Aquinas, would have rejected at least the second of these conclusions

as contrary to (practical) reason. Practical reason begins with a presumption in

favor of the interests of the person reasoning. It should moreover, Kant taught

us, recognize limits to the pursuit of that interest in the persons of other rational

creatures. It should furthermore, Aristotle taught us, recognize the need to make

important adjustments to its initial conception of what its interests are. It may

discover advantages to broadening its conception of its interest to include other

people. But on a purely rational basis, which for Kant excluded any assurance

(not founded on ‘faith’) of the existence of God or the truth of any particular

religion, one important principle of Kant’s own religious tradition, charity, is left

without a basis.

Without a religious foundation the inclusion of ‘concern for everyone’ —even

as a feature of a morally superior person, let alone as something that is a duty—

appears to be without motivation. The arguments that Mo Tzu and J.S.Mill

offered are evidently flawed (see Section 10.3). In a purely secular framework,

the ultimate motivation can only be for individuals to work to be true to

themselves. What need not be included in the self and its interests need not be a

source of motivation. If there is reason to think that a self needs concern for some

others, then exemplary people will make room for friends and possibly the

prosperity of their communities, but what reason is there to think that a self

needs ‘concern for everyone?’

A transcendent God, who requires that charity (love in the first instance for

Him) extend in appropriate degrees2 to all mankind, provides a basis for a

measure of virtue that is not exhausted in the goals that individuals choose to set

for themselves. An immanent God, of whom all mankind is a part, as the

pantheist Stoics believed in, provides a basis for a conception of living well that

must extend to and include the well-being of the other parts of the whole of

which one (one’s self) is a part. Individuals, who accept the diagnosis that the

attachments they form to things and to particular people will prove to be nothing

but a source of suffering and who embrace a conception of living well that

consists of systematically dismantling the self that is constituted by those

attachments, are open to accepting the qualities of loving kindness and

compassion as the excellences that should rule their lives. This diagnosis does not

involve a theological basis, but it is characteristic, nevertheless, of a religious

tradition whose founder, Siddh rtha Gautama, the Buddha (see Section 11.2), is

taken to exemplify these virtues of universal compassion and loving kindness.

None of these traditions takes for granted the standpoint of universal concern;

all recognize that this is something that needs to be worked toward, and doing so

will face opposition from powerful forces that attach each of us, at least initially,

to narrow concerns. A Stoic philosopher named Hierocles (first century CE)

described each of us as the center of multiple concentric circles of interest. The

closest was our body and its needs, the next our immediate families, the next after

that our extended families (uncles and aunts, grandparents, cousins), then more

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1 Challenging the sovereignty of reason

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