Immanuel Kant: The Metaphysics of Morals (excerpt, part 2)

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Concerning Suicide

It seems absurd that a man can injure himself (volenti non fit injuria [= to the willing no injustice is done]). The Stoic therefore considered it a prerogative of his personality as a wise man to walk out of this life with an undisturbed mind whenever he liked (as out of a smoke-filled room), not because he was afflicted by actual or anticipated ills, but simply because he could make use of nothing more in this life. And yet this very courage, this strength of mind -- of not fearing death and of knowing of something which man can prize more highly than his life -- ought to have been an ever so much greater motive for him not to destroy himself, a being having such authoritative superiority over the strongest sensible incentives; consequently, it ought to have been a motive for him not to deprive himself of life.

Man cannot deprive himself of his personality so long as one speaks of duties, thus so long as he lives. That man ought to have the authorization to withdraw himself from all obligation, i.e., to be free to act as if no authorization at all were required for this withdrawal, involves a contradiction. To destroy the subject of morality in his own person is tantamount to obliterating from the world, as far as he can, the very existence of morality itself; but morality is, nevertheless, an end in itself. Accordingly, to dispose of oneself as a mere means to some end of oneís own liking is to degrade the humaity in oneís own person (homo noumenon) which, after all, was entrusted to man (homo phaenomenon) to preserve.

To deprive onself of an integral part or organ (to mutilate oneself), e.g., to give away or sell a tooth so that it can be planted in the jawbone of another person, or to submit oneself to castration in order to gain an easier livelihood as a singer, and so on, belongs to partial self-murder. But this is not the case with the amputation of a dead organ, or one on the verge of mortification and thus harmful to life. Also, it cannot be reckoned a crime against oneís own person to cut off something which is, to be sure, a part, but not an organ of the body, e.g., the hair, although selling oneís hair for gain is not entirely free from blame.


Concerning Wanton Self-Abuse [= masturbation]

As oneís love of life is intended by nature for the preservation of his person, so is his sexual love intended for the preservation of his kind, i.e., each is a natural end. ... Now, the question arises whether the use of oneís sexual capacity, as far as the person himself who uses it is concerned, stands under a restrictive law of duty; or whether, not having the end of reproduction in view, he be authorized to devote the use of his sexual attributes to mere brute pleasure and not thereby be acting contrary to a duty to himself. ...

A lust is called unnatural when a man is stimulated not by an actual object but by imagining it, thus creating it himself unpurposively. For his fancy engenders a desire contrary to an end of nature and indeed contrary to an end more important even than that of the love of life, since it aims only at preserving the individual, while sexual love aims at the preservation of the whole species.

That such an unnatural use (and so misuse) of oneís sexual attributes is a violation of oneís duty to himself and is certainly in the highest degree opposed to morality strikes everyone upon his thinking of it. Furthermore, the thought of it is so revolting that even calling such a vice by its proper name is considered a kind of immorality; such is not the case with suicide, which no one hesitates to opublish to all the world with all its horrors (as a species facti). It is just as if mankind in general felt ashamed of being capable of such treatment, which degrades him even below the beast. Even the allowed bodily union (in itself, to be sure, only animal union) of the two sexes in marriage occasions much delicacy in polite circles, and requires a veil to be drawn over the subject whenever it happens to be mentioned.

However, it is not so easy to produce a rational demonstration of the inadmissability of that unnatural use, and even of the mere unpurposive use, of oneís natural attributes as being a violation of oneís duty to himself (and indeed in the highest degree where the unnatural use is concerned). The ground of proof surely lies in the fact that a man gives up his personality (throws it away) when he uses himself merely as a means for the gratification of an animal drive. But this does not make evident the high degree of violation of the humanity in oneís own person by the unnaturalness of such a vice, which seems in its very form (disposition) to transcened even the vice of self-murder. The obstinate throwing away of oneís life as a burden is at least not a weak surrender to animal pleasure, but requires courage; and where there is courage, there is always respect for the humanity in oneís own person. On the other hand, when one abandons himself entirely to an animal inclination, he makes himself an object of unnatural gratification, i.e., a loathsome thing, and thus deprives himself of all self-respect.


Concerning Servility

Man in the system of nature (homo phaenomenon, animal rationale) is a being of little significance and, along, with the other animals, considered as products of the earth, has an ordinary value .... But man as a person, i.e., as the subject of a morally-practical reason, is exalted above all price. For such a one (homo noumenon) he is not to be valued merely as a means to the ends of other people, or even to his own ends, but is to be prized as an end in himself. This is to say, he possesses a dignity (an absolute inner worth) whereby he exacts the respect of all other rational beings in the world, can measure himself against each member of his species, and can esteem himself on a footing of equality with them.

The humanity in oneís own person is the object of the respect which he can require of every other being, but which he also must not forfeit. Consequently, he can and should value himself by a measure at once small and great, according to which he regards himself as a sensible being (according to his animal nature) or as an intelligible nature (according to his moral predisposition). But since he must regard himself not merely as a person in general but also as a man, i.e., as a person having duties which his own reason has imposed upon him, his insignificance as a human animal cannot injure the consciousness of his dignity as a rational man. And he should not disavow the moral self-esteem of such a being, i.e., he should pursue his end (which in itself is a duty) neither cringingly nor servilely (animo servili) as though seeking favor, nor should he deny his dignity; but, rather, he should always pursue his end with an awareness of the sublimity of his moral nature (and such awareness is already contained in the concept of virtue). This self-esteem is a duty of man to himself. ...

Do not become the vassals of men. Do not suffer your rights to be trampled underfoot by others with impunity. Incur no debts for which you cannot provide full security. Accept no favors which you might do without. Do not be parasites nor flatterers nor (what really differs from these only in degree) beggars. Therefore, be thrifty so that you may not become destitute. Complaining and whimpering, even crying out in bodily pain, are unworthy of you, and most of all when you are aware that you deserve pain. This accounts for the ennoblement (mitigation of disgrace) of a delinquentís death through the stoicism with which he dies. Kneeling down or groveling on the ground, even to express your reverence for heavenlt things, is contrary to human dignity .... Bowing or scraping before another seems in any case to be unworthy of a man. ... Whoever makes himself a worm cannot complain when he is then trampled underfoot.


Concerning the Amphiboly of the Moral Concepts of Reflection:
To Regard What Is a Duty of Man to Himself or to Other Men
as a Duty to Other Beings

To judge by mere reason, man has no duties except to men (himself or others) .... Since in all our experience we are acquainted with no being which might be capable of obligtaion (active and passive) except man, man can therefore have no duty to any being other than man. And if he supposes that he has another such duty .... he is led to tghis misunderstanding because he confuses his duty regarding other beings with a duty toward these beings. ...

A propensity to the bare destruction (spiritus destructionis) of beautiful though lifeless things in nature is contrary to manís duty to himself. For such a propensity weakens or destroys that feeling in man which is indeed not of itself already moral, but which still does much to promote a state of sensibility favorable to morals, or at least to prepare for such a state -- namely, pleasure in loving something without any intention of using it, e.g., finding a disinterested delight in beautiful crystallizations or in the indescribable beauty of the plant kingdom.

Even more intimately opposed to manís duty to himself is a savage and at the same time cruel treatment of that part of creation which is living, though lacking reason (animals). For thus is compassion for their suffering dulled in man, and thereby a natural predisposition very serviceable to morality in oneís relatios with other men is gradually weakened and obliterated. However, man is authorized to put animals to adroit and painless slaughter or to make them do hard work, as long as it is not beyond their strength (work such as men themselves often have to out up with). On the other hand, physical experiments involving excruciating pain for animals and conducted merely for the sake of speculative inquiry (when the end might also be achieved without such experimentation) are to be abhorred. Even gratitude for the long-performed service of an old horse or dog (just as if they were members of the household) belongs indirectly to a manís duty, namely, his duty regarding these animals; but directly considered, such a duty is always only his duty to himself.


Concerning Manís Duty to Himself to Develop and Increase
His Natural Perfection for Pragmatic Reasons

It is a duty of man to cultivate his natural powers (of the spirit, of the mind, and of the body) as means to all kinds of possible ends. Man owes it to himself (as an intelligence) not to let his natural predispositions and capacities (which his reason can use someday) remain unused, and not to leave them, as it were, to rust. ... It is a command of morally-practical reason and a duty of man to himself to build up his capacities (one more than another according to the variety of his ends), and to be a man fit (in a pragmatic sense) for the end of his existence. ...

Which of these nartural perfections may be preferable, and in what proportions, in comparison with one another, it may be manís duty to himself to make them his aim, are matters left to oneís own rational reflection upon his desire for a certain mode of life, and his evaluation of the powers requisite for it. This reflection and evaluation are necessary in order to choose what his mode of life should be, e.g., a handicraft, commerce, or a learned profession. For apart from the necessity of self-preservation, which in itself can establish no duty, man owes it to himself to be a useful member of the world, because being one belongs also tot he wirth of the humanity in his own person, which he should not degrade.


Concerning the Duty of Beneficence

It is a duty of every man to be beneficent, i.e., to be helpful to men in need according to oneís means, for the sake of their happiness and without hoping for anything thereby.

For every man who finds himself in need wishes that he might be helped by other men. But if he should make known his maxim of not wanting to give assistance in turn to others in their need -- if he should make such a maxim a universal permissive law -- then everyone would likewise refuse him assistance when he was in need, or at least everyone would be entitled to refuse. Thus the selfish maxim conflicts with itself when it is made a universal law, i.e., it is contrary to duty. Consequently, the altruistic maxim of beneficence toward those in need is a universal duty of men; this is so because they are to be regarded as fellow men, i.e., as needy rational beings, united by nature in one dwelling place for mutual aid. ...

Can he who exercises a legal power over another deprive this other of freedom by acting according to his own opinion as to what will make this other person happy ( a serf of his estate, for instance)? I say, can this man regard himself as a benefactor when he looks after such a person paternally, as it were, according to his own concepts of happiness? Or, rather, is not the unrighteousness of depriving someone of his freedom something so contrary to juridical duty in general, that to count upon the beneficence of oneís master and to surrender oneself to it on such conditions would be the greatest throwing away of oneís humanity? And, further, would not then the greatest care of the master for such a person be no beneficence at all? ... I can benefit no one (with the exception of minors and the mentally deranged) according to my own concepts of happiness, but only according to the concepts of him whom I think of benefiting ....

The wherewithal for doing good, which depends upon the gifts of fortune, is for the most part a result of the patronage of various men owing to the injustice of government, which introduces an inequality of wealth that makes beneficence necessary. Under such circumstances, does the assistance which the rich render the needy deserve at all the name of beneficence, with which one so gladly plumes himself as merit?

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