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Sheila would love to include some of her short stories here as examples. However, she will be compiling them into a book of short stories for publication. Also, at present she has two being considered for the 2017 Nelson Algren Literary Award sponsored by the Chicago Tribune.
In the meantime, Sheila would like to share an essay she wrote a few years ago. It is still very relevant as it deals with the subject of “truth”—a topic very much in the news these days. If it seems to get a little “deep,” just stay with it.
This essay was also a featured blog post. After you have read the essay, Click here to contact Sheila for your complimentary consultation to learn how she can help you write your articles, short stories, or essays.
A Wise Grandfather
A wise grandfather often said, “If you are going to think it, you might as well say it.” Is this true? Are we compelled by a sense of moral duty to leave some things unsaid, or does our profound morality stipulate we reveal our true thoughts independent of consequences? Should we consider revealing the truth if revealing our knowledge causes potential harm to one person, one’s self, or humanity? Most importantly, what exactly is the truth, and who makes that determination? These are some philosophical quandaries Immanuel Kant attempts to resolve in his studies on metaphysics and universalism.
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher during the Enlightenment era of the late 18th century. His views of philosophy and science as being independent of religion were considered quite radical for his day, which led to a lack of acceptance among his academic peers. Today, Kant is acclaimed as one of the greatest philosophers of Western civilization. Even though he was not considered an experimental scientist, his study and views on the philosophy of science are considered groundbreaking. Furthermore, his study of duty-based ethics and the motive behind behavior can be found in his work, Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals: Moving From Popular Moral Philosophy to the Metaphysic of Morals.
Kant sees truthfulness as the moral duty of every person without consideration of personal consequences or consequences to others. Even though in telling a lie, no wrong is committed against any person, humanity suffers due to the injustice committed against moral duty. A lie is merely an untruthful declaration, and declarations have no moral credibility. In this sense reasoning, theory, and logic form the foundations of duty. Empirical reasoning based on observations or experience, he warns, can be dangerous, because each situation is different and warrants different reasoning. Therefore, basing duty on some action seen performed or from previous experience is false, because the current situation requiring action has never occurred. Furthermore, no proof exists that any action has ever been taken based solely on moral duty performed freely by the will. As a result, it is impossible within the concept of popular philosophy to determine if any action is taken purely from moral duty or driven from some deeply embedded desire or motive. Therefore, practical reasoning is combined with the laws of nature to arrive at the concept of moral duty through metaphysics. What this means is that human will constantly struggles with what the will wants versus what the will ought to do. All of this is a long, philosophical way of saying that in a given situation people must rely on a strong sense of ethics and a moral code applied through common sense to determine what actions need to be taken.
To state we have the right to the truth is illogical, because each individual has a subjective interpretation of the truth. Truth is also not a possession or thing that one owns and has the right to give away. Based on Kant’s philosophy, it is an unconditional duty to be truthful in all circumstances.
Kant’s categorical imperative stipulates that an action must be performed out of necessity as a matter of law and is unconditional, objective, and universally desired or expected. In other words, the action or decision is absolute and cannot be derived through observation or experience. It is the principle every man pursues in the end to arrive at happiness. Kant refers to happiness as a natural necessity. He first defines happiness as a hypothetical imperative, a means to another end. He explains that one’s own happiness is the most objectionable empirical basis for morality and lists three reasons for this principle. First, well-being and good conduct do not always go hand in hand. Second, a happy man does not always mean a good man and being able to see what is best for himself alone does not make him moral. Third, it does not distinguish between the motives for good versus evil; it only teaches that making better choices will lead to happiness. In essence, since we are unable to determine what will make us happy prior to achieving it, there is no way to observe our own happiness. Therefore, we can only theoretically deduce or reason what will make us happy and the pursuit becomes the means to our end.
In order to arrive at the end with our self-respect intact, Kant gives us three principles of morality:
- We must analyze our actions and determine if we would want the consequences of the means or the intention of our will to become a universal law of nature. This may require some soul searching to determine if our actions are conditional on a certain circumstance or situation and would we be willing to accept the same consequences unconditionally in any given situation.
- We must treat all humanity whether it is our own person or anyone else as an end rather than a means. In other words, we must not sacrifice our own self-respect or use anyone else as a means of obtaining a subjective or hypothetical end. The end must be a categorical objective.
- Regardless of our feelings, impulses, or preferences, we have a moral duty to relate to each other in a rational manner. Motives are categorically objective. We must consider the actions we take and decisions we make to be in compliance with universal law making those same actions and decisions acceptable to human nature universally.
Kant has given us some concrete moral principles for existing in the universe. He calls it “groundwork” which implies more work follows or is needed. The principles stated here do not give any consideration to “gray” areas. For example, suppose the wise grandfather felt so morally obligated to speak his thoughts that he would openly tell a lady that it appears she has put on some weight. Even though his observation might in fact be true, who benefits from his grand revelation? Certainly not the lady who would likely be hurt and humiliated by the comment. The grandfather, on the other hand, would likely feel pride in having been true to his moral obligation, as determined by his will, to speak his interpretation of the truth. If his outspoken revelation inspired the lady to lose weight and improve her health, then both have benefitted equally and morality is in balance – but only if it is universally acceptable for old men to tell any lady she has gained weight with the intention of inspiring her to lose weight and get healthy. It follows that in all circumstances, the moral code embedded in humans as a matter of growth and development (one hopes) should be reflected in the application of the principles of common sense.
One of my grandfather’s frequent “victims” reminded me recently of his propensity to share his truth. With a lifetime pass for the “Weight Rollercoaster,” I was also his victim on several occasions. His comments would go something like, “You’re looking a little healthier than the last time I saw you” (translation: you’ve gained weight). Upon losing weight he would comment, “You’d better stop losing weight. Your face looks gaunt.” I just could not win! Nevertheless, I loved him to the moon and back.
“Kant, Immanuel.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Retrieved January 25, 2015 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830902254.html.
McCormick. (2005). Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://www.iep.utm.edu/kantmeta.
Rand, A. (n.d.). Introducing Objectivism. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from Ayn Rand Institute: http://campus.aynrand.org/more/ayn-rand-importance-philosophy.
Tackabery, M. (2013, June 10). What are some interesting facts about Immanuel Kant? Retrieved January 25, 2015, from Quora: http://www.quora.com/What-are-some-interesting-facts-about-Immanuel-Kant.