2

Kant says that only something “whose existence in itself had an absolute worth” could be the ground of a categorically binding law. He then boldly proclaims that Humanity is this absolutely valuable thing referring to this as a “postulate” that he will argue for in the final chapter of the Groundwork.

Does human existence have absolute worth? Are there countervailing theories to Kant's in this regard, and if so, could their implications be disastrous for Kant's theory?

Thanks.

2
  • Depends on who you ask. Usually does the theist would say yes where the non theist may not.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 8 '14 at 13:27
  • Some things to consider: a "brain dead" person on life support and the controversy surrounding the definition of "brain dead"; and what if a person is suffering terribly and wants to die? Is non-existance worse than terrible suffering? Do others have the right to keep someone in existence that doesn't want be in existence?
    – obelia
    Jun 8 '14 at 19:47
5

I wouldn't call it a bold hypothesis; its been generally affirmed through out history despite suffering that being human means, and of humanity in general.

Of course, the absolute worth of humanity in Europe had been under-pinned by Christian Theology; and whilst this continues, a break in morality has occurred as acknowledged by Arendt and others; and this moment is usually indexed by Nietzsche, though of course it had led something of an underground life till then.

Existentialism was one of the first fruit of this break - Sartre being its most prominent exponent; and also defending it from the charge that this philosophy would only, on the whole, lead to nihilism.

This is the question that Camus, for example, addresses this in one of his early writings: The myth of Sisphus. He starts by asking the question, does the absurd (the world without being grounded in God) require suicide? He answers:

"No. It requires revolt."

He acknowledges the life of the body as well as the thought that animates a man:

In a man’s attachment to life there is something stronger than all the ills in the world. The body’s judgment is as good as the mind’s and the body shrinks from annihilation

He then compares the absurdity of man's life with the situation of Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again.

He ends by:

"The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

It is for this reason that Camus is usually taken as an Existentialist - though he himself repudiated the label; one need only recall, for example that his university dissertation was on St Augustine or his affinity to Simone Weil, a Christian/Jewish Mystic (and so exemplary in her suffering as to cause Susan Sontag to look away) to realise the simplicity of such judgements.

In the context of another tradition, Islam; jihad aligns itself with revolt in Camus sense; of course now it has a different sense of this word is much more publicly prominent; but then so does 'revolt' or rather 'revolution' in the Marxist tradition.

7
  • Thanks for the comprehensive response here, but I'm struggling to see how the notion of "revolt" relates to the idea of the 'absolute worth of human life' that Kant calls upon as the ground for a categorically binding law. Cheers. Jun 8 '14 at 6:37
  • @QuizzicalTest: Kant lived in very different time, a much more Christian era; his family was pietist; and his thought can be seen, in part, as putting those ethics on a rational basis derived from Greek thought - Aristotle and his categories; in a sense, he took the eternal as granted; in the same way way a mathematician does not go through the struggle that the Greek thought of antiquity did in discovering the axiomatic basis for geometry - one takes it for granted now. Jun 8 '14 at 6:50
  • Does it help if I frame the question as "Is Humanity absolutely valuable? (And why)"? Cheers. Jun 8 '14 at 6:51
  • Camus, may have spoken of 'revolt', but in opening section of Sisyphus, he remarks that "it attempts to resolve the problem of suicide...without the aid of eternal values which temporarily, perhaps, are absent or distorted in contemporary Europe [my italics]". Jun 8 '14 at 6:53
  • @quizzicalTest: No, not particularly; its not possible to answer serious questions without reference to some kind of tradition; even when we think that we do - we are still in a tradition, though perhaps it is invisible to us. The point of bringing up Camus, is that its in its wake that this kind of question - the one you are asking - became particularly urgent. Jun 8 '14 at 6:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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