virus: Masterbation and Kant

Sun, 14 Sep 1997 10:43:45 -0700

virus-digest wrote:

> From: Nathaniel Hall <>
> Subject: Re: virus: sound byte

> Come to think of it I have come across this (consequentialist/deontological debate) before. It just seemed so
> obvious to me that good deeds required good will combined with good
> knowledge, I simply forgot about those who argued otherwise. I do know
> that Kant concluded that telling the truth is always good so therefore
> if a Nazi were to ask if I were hiding some jews, I'd have to say yes if
> I was. A patently wrong response which is why I had forgotten about it.
> Kind of like of like the rants of conspiracy nuts, something which I
> dismiss without much further thought.

Kant's point is that nothing other than a good will is good in and of
itself. Any other characteristic, accurate knowledge and the ability
for critical thought included, is only good in conjunction with a good
will. I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "good knowledge," but if
it means having a command of the facts, then ask yourself which is the
greater evil; the ignorant thug motivated by malice and greed who
clobbers someone over the head and takes their money, or the intelligent
and patient villian, also motivated by malice and greed, who uses his
knowledge of the workings of political power, human psychology, or even
genetics to coerce and enslave entire populations? Knowledge, patience,
and powers of critical thinking, (qualities we normally think of as
being virtues) in the absense of a good will elevate a mere villian to
the status of super-villian.

As for Kant's belief that lying was always wrong; sure, he had a few
positions that he would have twisted any moral framework to fit. He
also thought that one was never justified in rising up against one's
ruler and that masterbation is worse than murder. These were values
instilled in him at an early age; beliefs that were inculcated in him by
external authorities and not positions that he adopted only after he had
formulated and applying the catagorical imperative.

Here's a bit more Kant for you to chew on: (again, from the

"A good will is not good because of what it effects or accomplishes --
because of its fitness for attaining some proposed end: it is good
throught its willing alone -- that is, good in itself. Considered in
itself it is to be esteemed beyond comparison as far higher than
anything it could ever bring about merely in order to favour some
inclination or, if you like, the sum total of inclinations. Even if, by
some special disfavour of destiny or by the niggardly endowment of
step-motherly nature, this will is entirely lacking in power to carry
out its intentions; if by its utmost effort it still accomplishes
nothing, and only good will is left (not, admittedly, as a mere wish,
but as the straining of every means so far as they are in our control);
even then it would still shine like a jewel for its own sake as
something which has its full value in itself. Its usefulness or
fruitlessness can neither add to, nor subtract from, this value. Its
usefulness would be merely, as it were, the setting which enables us to
handle it better in our ordinary dealings or to attract the attention of
those not yet sufficiently expert, but not to commend it to experts or
to determine its value."

You are not likely to extract more than a small fraction of the meaning
of the foregoing paragraph on your first reading.

Take care, all.