Morality via Kant and Hegel

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1. Introduction

Human beings have moral inclinations that affect our actions. Few would deny as a fact of human life a perpe-tual strive to do right and good concordant with one’s particular moral beliefs (while concomitantly judging others by them). For most, this strive is accompanied by a questioning of the very nature of the moral: Is there an impartial criterion that enables us to know objectively what one ought to do, or do our moral intuitions rest solely on subjective, arbitrary grounds? With the lure of divine command theory fading from the Enlightenment and onwards, modern moral philosophy can be seen as an attempt to uncover either the criterion or its nonexistence. An endeavor in which few can be said to have been as influential as Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and his most trenchant critic, G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831).

Kant’s deontological attempt to unearth this criterion rests on one of the most metaphysical and abstract explanations ever given for the common intuitions of morality (Scruton 2001, 73). With the metaphysical dual-ism claimed by his Transcendental Idealism as his cornerstone, Kant argued that Reason – to him a defining and immutable trait of human nature – allows for the derivation of formal and universally valid moral princip-les. His famous derivation of these, the Categorical Imperative, tantalizing promises an Archimedean point to morality: The moral standpoint from which one can always judge apodictically what is right independent of one’s vested empirical interests. Opposite the classical eudemonistic theories, Kant importantly rejected the feasibility of defining happiness in non-subjective terms, thereby denying the question of the good life its constitutive role in morality – then only a matter of...

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...iscussed as an attempt to do the latter, while it is outside its purview to render any conclusive judgment on the feasibility of the former.

Finally, the entailed exposition of Discourse Ethics aims solely to explicate what tools Habermas’ philosophical-sociological grounding of Discourse Ethics provide him in his attempt to overcoming the Kant-Hegel disjunction. This importantly means that Habermas’ political theory (which extends from Discourse Ethics) and theory of modernity will detailed at best by implication. An additional consequence is that, while the constituent parts of this grounding of Discourse Ethics will not be spelled out with reference to modern alternatives, it does not follow that they are uncontroversial. Indeed, Discourse Ethics’ insusceptibility to Hegel’s critique is not the litmus test of Discourse Ethics; rather, it is one amongst many.
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