Archives for posts with tag: Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant is a famous philosopher dude who said famously that ‘ought implies can.’ What this means is that in order for something to be a moral imperative, one must be able to perform that action in the first place. For example, a person in Canada is not responsible for the actions of a foreign government, whereas we are responsible for our own government due to the ability we possess to elect, petition, and remove that government. Another example could be that if a person is being crushed by a large boulder, we are not morally responsible if we can’t lift that boulder, and it crushes them to death. To misquote Uncle Ben, “Little power prevents relevant responsibility.”

This can also be measured in degrees. If, for example, a train ticket costs $1, and one person has $10 000 to their name and another has $2, both in theory are able to afford that train ticket. However, if they both hop the turnstile, we would condemn more harshly the individual with $10 000. This person is significantly more able to follow the moral imperative, and therefore they become more responsible to adhere to it. I guess Uncle Ben would have been more appropriate here, but I’ve already used that reference, and I like it better as a misquotation.

God, being infinitely powerful, would have infinite ability to act in every circumstance. The largest inequity imaginable in our temporal framework would still be less than a trifle. This means that every instance of immoral behaviour that does occur is the result of infinite neglect. The moral repugnance of His allowing evil to flourish becomes universal in scale. Now if you’re thinking, “What is evil?” like some kind of nerdy philosopher, remember that both God and Kant are duty-oriented ethicists.

“He works in mysterious ways” is the desperate attempt by apologists to skirt around the magnitude of God’s moral failing. We prefer naive confusion over the stark reality, avoiding with every effort the cognitive dissonance that’s sheer weight would crush any inkling of a just or benevolent deity. Infinite neglect. Not the scale of $10 000 over $2; beyond the pecuniary, beyond every measurement, on an infinite level.

If ought implies can, then the being with infinite ability is infinitely responsible. Or in this case, infinitely irresponsible.

Huge spoilers for The Good Place. Just a heads up. Really you shouldn’t read this if you haven’t seen the show.

As is made explicitly clear within the show, the Good Place/Bad Place distinction is inherently an immoral system. Frequent reference is made to the need for a Medium Place for those whose behaviour does not lie at either extreme. The show also raises the question about the potential for change within every human, and how their ethical existence might evolve if they evade death and are given enough time and opportunity to do so. Eternal punishment for sins committed in a finite world is thus grossly disproportionate.

There are further problems that the show does not illustrate. For example, Chidi has no intention to harm, but his actions nonetheless cause harm to those around him. He is qualified for eternal punishment. Tahani raises considerable amounts of money for charity, but does not do so out of pure altruism. She too “deserves” eternal punishment. This means that both the intent and the consequences must equally be measured, and there seems to be no margin for error.  Preventing every harmful accident is an extreme that few if any would be able to accomplish. This system also heavily disadvantages those not born into privilege, as the obstacles to walking the tightrope of sufficient morality would become nigh insurmountable. Stealing to eat has both negative intentions and consequences, reserving the hottest spot in the Bad Place for those unlucky enough to be born into poverty. Immanuel Kant, Chidi’s go-to moral philosopher, famously stated that ought implies can, which means that in order for an action to even be measured morally, one must possess the capability to perform it in the first place. If ability is neglected in moral measurement, that measurement ought to be rejected.

The Good Place - Season Pilot

Kant went to the Bad Place for telling the truth to a killer at the door.

Chidi ought to be smart enough to reject the Manichean dichotomy of the Good Place, but he does not. His aim, once he learns he is not in the Good Place, is to get in. He wishes to participate in this unjust system; not only participate, he believes he is entitled to benefit from it. Chidi wishes to benefit from a system that privileges an arbitrary elite at the expense of the vulgar majority. The question is why. The show, amazingly, answers this question as well.

Chidi was born in Nigeria, and was raised in Senegal. Chidi’s parents likely would have been alive and young enough to intimately experience the civil war that tore Nigeria apart shortly after it won its independence out from under British colonialism. They emigrated to Senegal and spoke French, which likely means that his parents would have been supporters of the Biafra and would have fled shortly after the war ended due to their position on the losing side. They chose Senegal, a former French colony used to bolster their slave trade. Chidi must have been raised by parents who spoke of an enlightened France that sought to protect the Biafra minority, all the while ignorant of France’s motives to maintain a competitive edge in their African imperialism against the waning British Empire.

Chidi is an intellectual, and a moral philosopher, raised in a former French colony, and it is almost certain that he would have read Frantz Fanon, an intellectual raised in the French colony in Algeria. Similarly he would have read Albert Memmi, from Tunisia under again, French colonialism. Fanon describes the reaction to the unjust system of colonialism as necessarily revolutionary, often violent, while Memmi offers one alternative: assimilation. Given his exposure and his race, Chidi would have had a reaction toward these calls to rebel given by his peers.

Chidi taught at universities in France and Australia: his colonizers, and another colony that effectively eliminated its colonized. Every single philosopher he mentions throughout the show is European. This shows that he rejects revolution against unjust systems, and indeed prefers to assimilate. What he must have missed, or purposefully ignored, in Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized is that those who choose to assimilate neglect the fact that the racism of the colonial system will never allow complete assimilation. The colonized, the Other, will never be welcome in the colony because the system was designed around the notion of their inherent inferiority. His constant global migration could be a reaction to the racism he continued to face, even in the academic elite, as he battled the cognitive dissonance of European exceptionalism against his lived reality.

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Chidi, on the road to the Good Place, believes he is entitled to finally benefit from an unjust system. He had been trying to assimilate for so long that when he finally reaches what he believes is the Good Place, he never once questions it. In the 800+ reboots that the “Good Place” endures, Chidi is never the one who ever raises the question of the Good Place’s legitimacy. Even Jason figures it out, but Chidi is so blind by his desire for assimilation that he embraces his position within it every time. Chidi has internalized colonial racism to the extent that he can no longer question obviously and explicitly illegitimate systems.

The ethical response to an unethical system is revolution. Fanon quotes the famed Good Place entrepreneur Jesus Christ, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Rather than attempting to obtain a position of privilege over the oppressed majority, Chidi should voluntarily walk among those in the Bad Place, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and organize them against the Architects of their fate. Chidi would be quite happy in a library reading books for eternity, but to quote Fanon (referencing Marx) in Black Skin, White Masks, “What matters is not to know the world but to change it.”

I mean, that would never happen because the Good Place is written by liberals who think that charity is the epitome of moral excellence, but hey. Season 3, prove me wrong. Vive la révolution!

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around, does it make a sound? While some believe this is an unanswerable koan designed to clear the mind and achieve zen enlightenment, there actually is an answer: no, it does not make a sound. What it would create would be vibrating particles that require a hearing recipient to understand it as “sound.” Consider if there was a bat present at this spontaneous tree felling; it would not produce a sound so much as a sonar “ping.” The bat would translate this event in a much different sense than a human being. Without an interpretive subject, a tree falling in the woods essentially becomes describable only in mathematical terms.

Falling-Tree

Ask not, did it make a sound? Instead ask, what does having sensory organs at all tell me about my relationship to reality?

Consider an alternative: if a fire hydrant is in a pitch black room, is it still red? Again, the answer is no. Colour requires the reflection of light off of a surface, to be interpreted by the rods and cones in our eyes. If there is no light bouncing into our eyeballs, there is no colour. Presumably there is still the hydrant’s aspect of “red” that would be present while the light is gone, to be reinvigorated when the light returns, but our understanding of it as red is so far removed from its objective aspect that to call it “red” is a misnomer and used only for the sake of comprehensibility. It’s not difficult to imagine a different kind of biological organ that interprets light differently from our human eyes, similar to how a bat would differ from us in interpreting sound waves. The essence of a thing and how it interacts with the world around it outside of how a subject perceives it is thus quite impossible to experience.

This is what Thomas Nagel would refer to as The View from Nowhere. Immanuel Kant would call it the noumenal world. A conceptual world that is unavailable to us based on the fact that our understanding of “worldness” comes entirely from our uniquely human senses. We may be able to understand it in conceptual terms, and science has certainly given us more refined definitions with which we can do so, but its existence in any sense of the word that might have value to us is completely irrelevant to how it objectively “exists.” Music, colour, sensuous touch, and decadent taste; these things have meaning insofar as they are wholly human, oblivious to any other interpretation. Even our scientific tools can only function along the spectrum that our senses allow us to interpret, meaning that the concepts we have of the noumenal world may be far from its totality.

Contemplating a tree falling in the woods should not lead to a conversion to Buddhism, but to philosophical revelation about our relationship to reality.