No Comment, Quotation — December 30, 2007, 12:00 am

Kant on the Origins of Right and Wrong

rembrandt-sacrifice

Sobald die Menschen über Recht und Unrecht zu reflectiren anfingen, in einer Zeit, wo sie über die Zweckmäßigkeit der Natur noch gleichgültig wegsahen, sie nützten, ohne sich dabei etwas Anderes als den gewohnten Lauf der Natur zu denken, mußte sich das Urtheil unvermeidlich einfinden: daß es im Ausgange nimmermehr einerlei sein könne, ob ein Mensch sich redlich oder falsch, billig oder gewaltthätig verhalten habe, wenn er gleich bis an sein Lebensende, wenigstens sichtbarlich, für seine Tugenden kein Glück, oder für seine Verbrechen keine Strafe angetroffen habe. Es ist: als ob sie in sich eine Stimme wahrnähmen, es müsse anders zugehen! mithin mußte auch die, obgleich dunkle, Vorstellung von Etwas, dem sie nachzustreben sich erbunden fühlten, verborgen liegen, womit ein solcher Ausschlag sich gar nicht zusammenreimen lasse, oder womit, wenn sie den Weltlauf einmal als die einzige Ordnung der Dinge ansahen, sie wiederum jene innere Zweckbestimmung ihres Gemüths nicht zu vereinigen wußten.

As soon as people begin to contemplate right and wrong, even at a time in which they look indifferently upon the utility of Nature, they contemplate it, even without pausing to consider precisely why, and thus inevitably they come to this judgment: that in the end it must make a difference whether a person acts honestly or deceitfully, fairly or violently, even if to the end of his life he derives no benefit from his virtues and no punishment for his crimes, or at least none that we can see. It is as if they hear an inner voice that says: It cannot be like this! And thus over time they evolve dark concepts of something which lies concealed, after which they feel compelled to quest, something decisive which they hardly can begin to fathom, and even if they should at one point recognize in it the sole order of things, they would hardly know how to reconcile it with the purpose of their own nature.

Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, pt ii, sec ii, Anhang. § 88 – Beschränkung der Gültigkeit des moralischen Beweises (1790) in: Sämtliche Werke in sechs Bänden, vol. 6, p. 366 (Großherzog Wilhelm Ernst ed. 1921)(S.H. transl.)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2014

Stop Hillary!

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Cage Wars

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Everyday Grace

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

How the Islamic State was Won

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"What Hillary will deliver, then, is more of the same. And that shouldn’t surprise us."
Photograph by Joe Raedle
Article
Cage Wars·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"In the 1970s, “Chickens’ Lib” was a handful of women in flower-print dresses holding signs, but in the past decade farm hens have become almost a national preoccupation."
Photograph by Adam Dickerson/Big Dutchman USA, courtesy Vande Bunte Farms
Article
Paradise Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Suffering Sappho! Here we still are, marching right into yet another century with our glass ceilings, unequal pay, unresolved work and child-care balance, and still marrying, forever marrying, men."
Illustration by Anthony Lister
Article
Off the Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Nearly half the reservation lives below the poverty line, with unemployment as high as 60 percent, little to no infrastructure, few entitlements, a safety net that never was, no industry to speak of, and a housing crisis that has been dire not for five years but since the reservation’s founding in 1855."
Illustration by Stan Fellows
Post
Introducing the November 2014 Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Doug Henwood on stopping Hillary Clinton, fighters and potential recruits discuss the rise of the Islamic State, the inevitability of factory farming, and more

Cover photo by Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Chances that a doctor’s diagnosis of Lyme disease is erroneous:

4 in 5

Engineers were said to be at greater risk of becoming terrorists.

A deaf dog belonging to a deaf owner was shot and killed in Alabama, and an Indiana dog’s skin troubles were found to be caused by an allergy to humans. “It’s just not his fault,” said the owner of Lucky Dog Retreat.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today