Monday, October 29, 2012

Understanding 'Worthiness to be Happy' in Kant

   When reading Kant's practical philosophy I have struggled how best to understand how 'self-worth', and 'virtue', are understood also as 'worthiness to be happy'. Kant seems to think that it is clear, but I do not think I am alone in my difficulties. I hope that sharing my own reflections on the topic can help continued progress in understanding Kant's practical philosophy.
   My overarching concern with 'worthiness' relates to what Kant calls the Highest Good, which is the the idea of possessing happiness in proportion to virtue (this is basically theodicy). Kant understands virtue as worthiness to be happy, and so the Highest Good could also be formulated as happiness in accordance with worthiness to be happy. If we do not correctly understand what worthiness to be happy means, or fail to understand how merely being good renders us worthy of happiness in our own eyes, then we are not completely clear on what Kant means by virtue, and therefore, we also do not understand the Highest Good, either.
   This problem may also be valuable opportunity for examining a style of reading, since I will need to employ some kind of technique to understand worthiness to be happy. Therefore, to begin I am going to discuss my approach to this hermeneutical problem.

Interpretive Method
   Because Kant does not provide a lot of detailed interpretation of worthiness, or a derivation of it, it is probably safe to assume (ex hypothesis) that its meaning should be fairly straight forward. I generally think we all have a sense of justice in punishment and reward. However, giving metaphysical accounts gets more and more difficult as the object being accounted for becomes more 'straight forward'. Personally, I think that Kant may not have recognized the limits of his discussion of worthiness to be happy (or I have not found the passage he makes its necessity precise enough); I also think that Kant did not have a method for working out this question until the third critique, and in light of that I plan to approach this question in light of the third critique. I will explain this briefly.
   The third critique examines principles which concern reflective judgments. In short, reflective judgments tell us about the subject, as opposed to objects. The third critique does not examine all cases of determination of the subject, but only the necessary connection between our faculties as revealed in certain experiences (beauty, usefulness). The procedure is generally as follows: if there is an experience which constrains us to think the subject to be some way, then we have found a necessary determination of the subject. Any necessary judgment requires a transcendental principle. We will examine 'worthiness to be happy' as a type of determination of the subject that is unavoidable in the experience of self-worth.
   Such an analysis could be done, with much benefit, on other topics in Kant. One of these that may stand in most need would be the unity of apperception.

Self-Worth as Un-concealing of Worthiness to be Happy
   Worthiness to be happy is identified with our moral worth, or self-worth. To put this in another way: when we do what we ought to, we feel good about ourselves, and this good feeling is also a feeling of our worthiness to be happy. This sense of self-worth is quotidian, and I assume the feeling of it is available to all readers such that we can appraise it on our own in relation to how we think of worthiness. But first, we can continue to clarify.
   Kant takes there to be two ways in which things are valued: as means and as ends. So far as something is (or I am) useful as a means to some end, the thing (or I) have instrumental value for that end, which is valued. On the other hand, so far as I do what I ought to, then I have an inner worth (moral worth, or self-worth) which is indifferent to the results of my actions; this is what it means to be worthy as an end in myself. It is only in this latter, inner worth that we will seek to understand worthiness.
   Another question we might ask is - and this will sound phenomenological - how does worthiness to be happy show itself? Worthiness to be happy is something attributed to the subject. It shows itself through my self-worth arising from an action I performed. How does this self-worth constrain us to think the subject?
   Worth is always of some value, and we might ask if worth (be it from material or formal principles) should always be thought as connected with purposiveness (thinkable in terms of what for). If so, with self-worth I think a purpose (a what for) pertaining to myself. However, it is a purpose that is ambiguous, a peculiar usefulness which I cannot use for myself. I say this because we do not know any technique of using our self-worth to attain anything.
   If something is useful for us, and pertains to our happiness in some way. This usefulness, uncovered by self-worth, then relates to happiness. To put this in another way, our self-worth gives rise to the thought of our own useful, which is always for our happiness. We can see an interpretation of worthiness to be happy emerging.
   I would like to clarify the analysis so far, doubling back to two points in particular: first, worth always brings along with it the thought of purposiveness; second, that something useful for us always pertains to our happiness.

   Purposiveness is the suitability of something for some end. For example, when we experience the force of the moral law, we experience the suitability of the subject to the duty commanded by the law. Above we have mentioned that when we act for the sake of duty and feel self-worth that this value of ourselves is also the thought of ourselves as useful. However, through self-worth we do not also think a maxim or technique for use of ourselves to some end. Furthermore, there is no way we can guarantee that the world, which obeys laws of nature, will have any means to make us happy from this self-worth, since it is the result of laws of freedom. This worth cannot be manipulated or made use of by us. Is it coherent to say that something can be determined as purposive, and suited to some end, without any way of knowing how to use it for that end?
   This seems coherent, since I can suppose anything to be useful to the end of happiness without yet knowing how to make use of it. In fact, this simply is a heuristic for thinking the object according to a plan to know more about its usefulness. Perhaps we can add this additional clarification to our interpretation above and see if it is clearer: worthiness to be happy is the subject being made aware of his suitability for happiness by his self-worth arising from obedience to the moral law; this is a heuristic for coming to know more about how obedience to the moral law makes us suited for happiness, that is, it sets up an interest in the subject in the happiness that it might attain through virtue.
   We may recognize an additional clarification here. Since duty makes us useful to the ends of some command, does this mean that duty itself implies that the end it supplies is useful to us? No, since the representation of the suitability does not include any ends which we might take, and so which might contribute to our happiness. We do not find worth, that is, use, in the moral law, but we respect it.
   Now I want to clarify the second point which is what I mean when I say that something useful for us always pertains to our happiness.
   By happiness I understand when something has happened in accordance with my desire. When something is useful, but not worth anything to us, then it is thought as having a purpose in some relation to an end and means, but it is not useful for us. When something is useful for us, then it also has a worth because it can contribute to our happiness. A thing can contribute to our happiness when its purpose is suited to something we desire, and, therefore, aims at our happiness.

   In the analysis of worthiness to be happy, moral law, self-worth, happiness and an interest in our self-worth - all important in Kant's practical thought - have been represented in their relationships, and hopefully this has provided some clarity and distinctness to many of these concepts. However, it may be helpful to illustrate once more the connection of these concepts: self-worth, which is the result of acting out of respect of the moral law, is the same thing as a consideration of our usefulness to ourselves for happiness, which is always an interest to us. We can add to these connections the Highest Good.
   The usefulness to ourselves thought in self-worth is virtue, and it contains no maxim that we can adopt which will fulfill the value of the will. Therefore, for this value to be redeemed, intervention is requires. If this intervention is within the bounds of nature, and due to respect from other finite rational beings, then we find that we can be benefited by others due to respect for us. However, the Highest Good involves perfect happiness, which means that nature is entirely bent to my desire (will and wish). For this we must think a force at least as great as nature, but also capable of respect and so capable of judgment. Therefore, it cannot simply be nature. This entity must be a will with enough power to control nature entirely. This is the postulate of God.
   I hope to further consider the postulate of God in another post, by asking what it means to be asked if you believe in God.
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