Kant thought about the meaning of free will. What is free will and what is it good for? He said when we ignore our desires, our lizard brain, we exercise free will. And it is this power that allows us to act in accordance with moral law. Thus, the thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to exercise morality.
|Do unto others, dude|
This is the foundation of all morality everywhere in the world. But what sets Kant apart is that he didn't arrive to his conclusion by God blasting a trumpet in his ears. He came to it by reason and reason alone. And thus he shatters the idea that wihtout God there can be no morality, even as he remained a devout Christian. Pick up any book on morality today and its not Jesus that is quoted, but it is Kant and his Categorical Imperative.
|We have come full circle in a sense: just like the ancient pagans, we now look more to nature than God for our morality|
|Machiavelli: "It is better to be feared than loved"|
I have talked about all this extensively in my posts on morality, but I want to share a final thought on this topic.
Although you could indeed live a just and moral life based on the Categorical Imperative, there is a problem with it. Its hard work. Who wants to be a moral person when its so much easier and more pleasurable to be a lazy selfish slob? To find the answer to this dilemma we have to jump in a time machine and return all the way back to the beginning: ancient Greece. Aristotle didn't believe in universal rules on how to live, instead he believed in the Virtues. The Greeks valued things like generosity, courage, honesty, and good looks (I'm pretty sure about that last one). They believed that the ideal person lived these virtues through and through. They weren't one-off acts they did when they felt a good impulse; they were ingrained in the very fabric of the person. How was this possible? How could one always act virtuously? Aristotle believed that when you lived the virtuous life, you became content with yourself and found true happiness. In fact, the only way to true happiness was the virtuous life!
This viewpoint answers the problem of moral motivation I raised above. If you view living in harmony with the Categorical Imperative or Jesus' teachings as an end in itself, as the true path to happiness and contentment, then you enjoy living the moral life. Doing the right thing isn't some bland duty or obligation, its something that makes you feel better each and every time you do it, and eventually it becomes who you are.
But this idea of virtue making one happy, and in fact being the only path to true contentment, is also found in Buddhism. In The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama goes on at length about empathy and compassion for others. He postulates that when one acts in good faith towards others, to act selflessly at all times, those actions serve to build trust and respect from others. It reinforces relationships and makes them strong. Such people have much better connections with family, friends, and co-workers. Humans are hyper-social animals, and the strength of our relationships directly determines the fate of our happiness. Thus, acting morally makes us happy because this is the only way that we can truly have a strong circle of family and friends. People that will be there for us through all the ups and downs of life.
Of course ... in the end who would you rather hang out with? C'mon, that's an easy one. Perhaps its best to be Flanders during the week, but on the weekend look out: its Homer-time.