Take the 2-minute tour ×
Philosophy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for those interested in logical reasoning. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Studying Kant's Perpetual Peace I happened to notice the concept of adiaphora. Further investigations brought up almost nothing: There are several references to adiaphora in Kant's work that clearly contradict each other.

But that man can be called fantastically virtuous who allows nothing to be morally indifferent (adiaphora) and strews all his steps with duties, as with man-traps; it is not indifferent to him whether I eat meat or fish, drink beer or wine, supposing that both agree with me. Fantastic virtue is a concern with petty details [Mikrologie ] which, were it admit- ted into the doctrine of virtue, would turn the government of virtue into tyranny. (Metaphysics of Morals, The Doctrine of Virtue, XVI)

It is, however, of great consequence to ethics in general to avoid admitting, so long as it is possible, of anything morally intermediate, whether in actions (adiophora) or in human characters; for with such ambiguity all maxims are in danger of forfeiting their precision and stability. Those who are partial to this strict mode of thinking are usually called rigorists (a name which is intended to carry reproach, but which actually praises); their opposites may be called latitudinarians. (Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, Book I, Observation)

German Wiki on adiaphora is linked to the entry on rigorism which states, quoting the second passage from above, that Kant was rigorous for he didn't admit of anything "morally intermediate". This seems simply impossible, for even in the Perpetual Peace he thinks about what kind of acts are touched by the permissive law, and mentions adiaphora. Another book I consulted on this, unfortunately only available in German, states that the ones denying adiaphora in Kant's philosophy simply mistake "morally intermediate" things for adiaphora, and claims they aren't the same.

Hopefully you can see why I am confused. I think this is a really interesting topic, but I don't know where to look further. I am not asking about the concept of adiaphora here, which, as I am told, is a stoic and later catholic concept, neither am I asking for references in other philosophies - I am solely interested in Kant's understanding of morally indifferent acts. I will be grateful for all kinds of sources and references on-topic.

share|improve this question
    
Is Kant himself praising the rigorists or is he noticing that his society does when they shouldn't? Are they the fantastically virtuous? From your short excerpt I would go along with the latter reading - would that resolve the contradiction between the two passages? –  Mozibur Ullah Jan 7 '13 at 13:00
    
That the German Wikipedia praises the rigorists to the point of even making out Kant to be one seems only to verify his second claim (that they praise where they should be exercising reproach). –  Mozibur Ullah Jan 7 '13 at 13:27
2  
It is the other way around. In this passage, Kant claims that being a rigorist is a good thing, although the word is used reproachfully. And then we have the contradiction between one and two. –  iphigenie Jan 7 '13 at 14:26
2  
Why was the answer deleted? –  iphigenie Jan 8 '13 at 15:30

1 Answer 1

But that man can be called fantastically virtuous who allows nothing to be morally indifferent (adiaphora) and strews all his steps with duties, as with man-traps; it is not indifferent to him whether I eat meat or fish, drink beer or wine, supposing that both agree with me. Fantastic virtue is a concern with petty details [Mikrologie ] which, were it admitted into the doctrine of virtue, would turn the government of virtue into tyranny. (Metaphysics of Morals, The Doctrine of Virtue, XVI)

In this passage Kant asserts that a morality that concerns itself with minute particulars of behaviour becomes tyrannical. He calls this kind of virtue fantastic in the sense of 'outlandish' rather than 'great'. Somehow, an excess of virtue is transmuted into its opposite; so what is superficially is a virtue, is in reality, not. Kant, here, is sounding a strong note of caution. He may also have used the adjective fantastic to mean that this kind of virtue is actually a fantasy, a state of affairs that is impossible to obtain; for when one is pointed to such a possible state of affairs in the world, one discerns on closer examination that some lattiude is always possible.

It is, however, of great consequence to ethics in general to avoid admitting, so long as it is possible, of anything morally intermediate, whether in actions (adiophora) or in human characters; for with such ambiguity all maxims are in danger of forfeiting their precision and stability. Those who are partial to this strict mode of thinking are usually called rigorists (a name which is intended to carry reproach, but which actually praises); their opposites may be called latitudinarians. (Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, Book I, Observation)

Now, Kant looks at a virtuous reason for an excess of virtue, rather than a malicious reason; that is clarity, 'precision' and 'stability' - these concerns are particularly evident when morality is framed in law. (A malicious reason would be to use morality, in effect, to police or tyrannise society).

German Wiki on adiaphora is linked to the entry on rigorism which states, quoting the second passage from above, that Kant was rigorous for he didn't admit of anything "morally intermediate"

This, is a strange reading; just going on the basis of the first passage, Kant warns against morality applied to every & all actions; that is what he calls fantastic virtue.

Kant, on the basis of these two passages, could be called rigourous, when one takes into account the full meaning of what he says. That is, it is of great consequence to disallow morally intermediate actions, so long as it is possible. The lattitude inherent in possibility is the bridge that connects the opposite sentiments of the two passages.

In one sense, Kant can be said to be not morally indifferent about morally indifferent acts; for he says that they should remain so; to become rigorous here is to become tyrannical.

share|improve this answer
    
First of all: Thank you, I stopped hoping for an answer a while ago. Second: I am sorry to be unsatisfied, but I don't think this is an answer to my question. I know the passages I quoted, and I thought about their meaning, as well as read half a dozen other opinions on that meaning (by the way your reading of the second passage seems skewed). None of these passages answers my question, so neither do your explications. They don't say what an adiaphora is, and neither can they be easily united (as you did). –  iphigenie Sep 11 '13 at 19:29
    
@iphigenie: yes, I think you're right that it doesn't answer your question; its more recording my impressions as to the meaning of the two passages and trying to bridge the gap in "references to adiaphora in Kant's work that clearly contradict each other". That I use possibility to bridge the gap, shouldn't be read as being easy, as you imply: the art of expliciting the possible can be very difficult, and here surely will be. I suspect that adiaphora as a term in christian theology is likely to be of some interest in interpreting Kants usage as he was brought up as a Pietist. –  Mozibur Ullah Sep 11 '13 at 23:43
    
How do you see my interpretation of the second passage as being skewed? (not that I'm arguing the point, as passages shouldn't be interpreted in isolation, as I've done, but with some understanding of Kants work on virtue, which I'm only very superficially acquainted with). –  Mozibur Ullah Sep 11 '13 at 23:46

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.