1724 - d?
Famous forby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Originality tends to breed conflict because societal institutions typically do not appreciate being challenged. As a result, most “great minds” remain unappreciated during their lifetimes. At the very least they gain the majority of their notoriety after death. In reality, most “original thinkers” not only lacked reputation and popularity during their lifetimes, but those institutions that formed the backbone of society actually shunned them.
Immanuel Kant was no exception to this generalization. Although he gained a reputation as an “original thinker” during his lifetime, most of society did not view this in a positive light. Kant disrupted the government and the church of Prussia to the extent that the king of Prussia went so far as to ban Kant from continuing to teach about anything related to religion or religious philosophy. Born April 22, 1724, in a part of Prussia that has become Kaliningrad, Russia, Kant received an education that included emphases in the classics, math, and physics. Although they may appear an odd combination of material, it perfectly prepared Immanuel Kant for those accomplishments that have made him famous. The math and physics he learned gave him a strong scientific background and studying the classics introduced him to philosophical and analytical thinking. Kant taught logic and metaphysics for twenty-seven years at the University of Königsberg and published many related articles.1
Kant wrote on many topics, including the criminal justice system. In The Science of Right, Kant wrote:
"Juridical punishment can never be administered merely as a means for promoting another good either with regard to the criminal himself or to civil society, but must in all cases be imposed only because the individual on whom it is inflicted has committed a crime. For one man ought never to be dealt with merely as a means subservient to the purpose of another, nor be mixed up with the subjects of real right. Against such treatment his inborn personality has a right to protect him, even although he may be condemned to lose his civil personality. He must first be found guilty and punishable, before there can be any thought of drawing from his punishment any benefit for himself or his fellow-citizens. The penal law is a categorical imperative; and woe to him who creeps through the serpent-windings of utilitarianism to discover some advantage that may discharge him from the justice of punishment, or even from the due measure of it, according to the Pharisaic maxim: 'It is better that one man should die than that the whole people should perish.' For if justice and righteousness perish, human life would no longer have any value in the world."2
Kant believed that a judicial system ought to uphold justice regardless of any political gains or losses. In highly public cases, the population at large has an interest if not a personal stake in the verdict. But Kant argues that this should not affect justice; those who uphold the law should not concern themselves with the public opinions formed by their decisions. Perhaps in Kant’s time, like in ours, people place high importance on the impression a verdict creates; will a guilty verdict appear tough on crime or merely racist. Kant proposes that instead, judicial officials ought to judge legal proceedings on their own merit: is this person actually guilty or not? Courts cannot make a scapegoat of an innocent man just because they know someone ought to be punished for a systemic problem. But nor should they let a guilty man go because it would create negative public opinion. In Kant’s mind, basic justice ought to supersede any thoughts of helping the accused or even of making the world a better place for mankind. According to Kant, even if the jurors have the officials have mans’ best at mind they must consider unadulterated justice first and foremost. In other words, they should not consider the affect the accused has on society but the pure justice of the case.
In his philosophical discussions and writings, Kant placed a high importance on reason. Even his proposal about the existence of a god and a moral standard attempt to prove his point with logic and reason as opposed to any kind of spiritual revelation. Basically, Kant argued that a standard of morals point to the existence of free will, because in order to make any attempt to follow a moral standard we must have a will of our own and must believe that we our actions actually make a difference. But following a moral standard would not necessarily bring us contentment, and so Kant said that a god must exist to ensure the correlation between virtue and happiness. And finally Kant believed that man could fully attain such a moral standard during his lifetime and must therefore live forever.3 C.S. Lewis wrote on a similar topic when he said, “All men alike stand condemned, not by alien codes of ethics, but by their own, and all men therefore are conscious of guilt.”4 Lewis’s statement transcends societies because most religions contain an acceptance of imperfection, just like Kant believed that men could never live up to a moral standard during their lifetimes. Immanuel Kant made a gigantic contribution to society; he did not merely tell people what to think but affected the way in which they thought.
Kant makes many valid points in his arguments and shows the usefulness of logic and reason. But taken to an extreme, Kant’s methods could prove dangerous. When people completely discount God’s personal revelation and relationship with His children, they miss the point. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Kant acknowledged the inability for man to live up to a moral standard. And the answer to that problem lies in the very next verse when it talks about people “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”5 God gives each human being an innate understanding of mankind’s imperfection, but He also provides a solution for the problem.
1 “Kant, Immanuel.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004. http://encarta.msn.com. April 17, 2004.
2 Kant on Punishment. http://www.american.edu/dgolash/Kant_on_Punishment.html. April 17, 2004.
3 Kant: Morality. http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/5i.htm#free. April 17, 2004.
4 C.S. Lewis. The Problem of Pain. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, 1940. 11.
5 Holy Bible. Romans 3:34. NKJV.