Ethical Differentiation in Levinas, Kierkegaard and Kant

The goal of this paper is to locate the precise moment in which reason becomes endowed with an ought. In stating the goal in this way, something has already been said about Kant and his project of grounding the metaphysics of morals. But in speaking of a moment (or an instant or an event or an occasion) in which reason becomes endowed with an ought, that is, a moment in which pure reason becomes practical, we have already headed off in a direction beyond the metaphysics of morals. For by invoking the moment, we have invoked something concrete. This distinguishes the current project from the Kantian enterprise in that Kant sought the universal conditions of morality as they followed from a rationality already endowed with an ought. In so doing, he could identify that the ideas of morality and freedom were concomitantly related (along with reason itself), but he could not show that any of these ever materialized in concrete experience. Toward the end of the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, he writes, "we have finally traced the determinate concept of morality back to the idea of freedom, but we could not prove freedom to be something actual in ourselves and in human nature" (GMM 51). On the next page, he writes: ... we are not as yet able to have any insight into why it is that we should divorce ourselves from such interest, i.e., that we should consider ourselves as free in action and yet hold ourselves as subject to certain laws so as to find solely in our own person a worth that can compensate us for the loss of everything that gives worth to our condition. We do not see how this is possible and hence how the moral law can obligate us. One must frankly admit that there is here a sort of circle from which, so it seems, there is no way to escape. (GMM 52. Emphasis is mine.) Even though Kant can align the concepts of freedom, reason and the moral law, it would seem that the obligating force of morality has slipped beneath his grip, and he is left to analyze the idea of moral obligation in its place.1 The present study seeks to return this idea of obligation to its origin..
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