Saturday, October 02, 2004

Tikun Olam, Pikuach Nefesh and the wise man from Koenigsberg

(Links in blue, concepts in red)

This is, literally, a philosophical post. If you run away whimpering I will not be upset. I'll simply think you a fool - this stuff is pretty fabulous!

I had been reminded of Kant while trying to decide which quote to use for the cat post. Beleobus's comment on said post started me seriously thinking about him and his Kingdom/Realm of (the) Ends. My memory of it was from when I was in highschool (about 15 years ago) and the reason I still remember it is because I was terribly impressed at the time, I found it so worthy. Or, as Kant would say, above all value. So I went back to my books and the web to do some digging.

This will be about Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (I edited the excerpts to some extent to make it clearer but the words are all his).

The Formula of the End in Itself:

...By a kingdom I understand the union of different rational beings in a system by common laws. Now since it is by laws that ends are determined as regards their universal validity, ... if we abstract from the personal differences...and ... from all the content of their private ends, we shall be able to conceive all ends combined in a systematic whole ..., that is to say, we can conceive a kingdom of ends... For all rational beings come under the law that each of them must treat itself and all others never merely as means, but in every case ... as ends in themselves. It is certainly only an ideal.

... A kingdom of ends which is rendered possible by the freedom of will.

...In the kingdom of ends everything has either value or dignity. Whatever has a value can be replaced by something else which is equivalent; whatever, on the other hand, is above all value, and therefore admits of no equivalent, has a dignity.

This ties in with his notion of the categorical imperative that states that our decision to act according to a certain [personal] moral maxim ensures that these maxims are regarded as universal laws in a determining way, i.e, by acting a certain way we determine that the universal rule will be in the future followed by everyone, ourselves included. This is his Formula of Autonomy.

Basically what this amounts to is (and this, of course, is my interpretation, feel free to jump in): it is our duty to be decent [moral] and worthy; we are responsible for our actions and have the freedom of will to decide which these will be; by acting we effectively shape our present world and the future one.

I realised, all of a sudden, that Kant's emphasis on human life deserving of our utmost respect ties in beautifully with the notion of pikuach nefesh: if there is a possibility of danger to human life, every danger to human life suspends the [laws of the] Sabbath (Babylonian talmud - Yoma 8,6). It first started as a permission to remove debris to save a life (the word pikuach derives from means to break through, to clear the way; nefesh means person and soul).

Shabbat restrictions are pretty extensive; among many, you may not drive or use electricity (fire kindling is prohibited), sew or transport an object in the public domain. You can see how this would hinder saving lives. Pikuach nefesh means it is your DUTY to set the laws aside, and most commandments as well, to save a life. It's a mitzvah, a commandment of its own, a good deed. (There are some twisted Orthodox Rabbinical authorities that decreed that p.n. can ONLY be applied to Jews, goyim are welcome to bleed to death. But that's what they are, twisted. You'll be happy to know that Israel doesn't give a damn about these very sad examples of humanity - or brilliant ones of lack thereof - and ALL lives are saved on Shabbat.)

And there's more! I also realised that this bit of Kant's philosophy is pretty much what Tikun Olam is all about: repairing the world, perfecting it and ourselves, recognising that we and all things are inter-connected, living in such a way that we honour ourselves and others and whatever is spiritual within us, however each may choose to describe it. "This bell calls us all".

And there was pure joy and several manic grins (oh the wonderful wonder of it all!), and a happy Torah study of sorts, as it turns out (in the Hasidic sense, anyway).


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At 5/10/04 11:14, Blogger Beleobus said...

Perhaps we are in agreement in regards to Kant... but I hasten just to check.

My reading of Kant's said proposition is that we, as humans, should be free to undertake any action we choose, provided that we can provide appropriate reason for that action.

Regardless, thinkers of any type should be held in highest regard.

At 11/10/04 22:22, Blogger The Lioness said...

Uhmmm... My problem with this is that, when one has the brains, it's quite easy to come up with appropriate reasons for inappropriate things. I rather like his notion that your actions should always be such that they could actually be working towards a greater worthiness. Dream on and all that, but still heartwarming.


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