.. an achieve a level of cognition equal to one another, for without that equanimity of cognition and judgement, then the conflict issues cannot be rationalized through creation of universal law. That all people can achieve a similar level of cognition seems preposterous in our modern world cognition in the sense of like thought. Because we need the principles of Kant’s categorically designed thought and action to have universal acceptance, we must be willing to accept the undesirable psychological deviants within the “republic.” I can think of no person that would (Ted Bundy, Jeffery Dahmer, Zodiac Killer) a universal law. Yet, if we can’t accept that Dahmer’s cognition is capable of universability, then we must dominate that person by removing them from the republic. This goes against Kant’s theory because in order to end domination, we must yield to and follow our cognitive thought and this cannot be done because the deviant (Dahmer, Bundy, Zodiac Killer) doesn’t achieve the same level of cognition as the rest of the republic.
This example seems to point out a flaw in the universability of achieving similar or same ethical norms to follow. Furthermore, we can look at the utilitarianism doctrine (of which Kant generally is not included within) for some example of the impossibility of universal ethics. Kant, for many reasons to lengthy to describe here, can be said to have some theory and thought completely relevant to utilitarianism. As such we can look at universalistic utilitarianism from the egotistic standpoint (Kant, I might point out argued that actions must be done based on a maxim of what is good – good begets an understanding of benevolence – thus egoistic tendencies to act toward others in a way that ultimately benefits the original actor). In this light, we can state that “what is best for me, is unlikely to be best for everyone.” Therefore, we can negate Kant’s argument that universal ethics is possible, because we know that there is a proverbial incompatibility between the theory and what people actually think and do. Finally, we must make the judgement on whether or not universal ethics is possible.
I suggest that a bit of universability exists i n certain social mores and norms throughout the world – don’t kill your neighbor, be kind to animals, incest is wrong, etc. – yet, individual perception of the world by people precludes the possibility of an all-encompassing universal code of ethics. As has been argued by J.L. Mackie, we “project ethical properties onto the world.” In other words, we see things as having ethical properties when in fact (empirically proven) they do not. Based on this, we can say that a conscious person will project what he interprets based on what he thinks he “saw;” because each person will manifest a different perception, then will necessarily project differing ethical properties.
This brings me to the possibility of the rational application these perceptions. We have no way, empirically or otherwise, to prove that our principles based on perception can be rationally applied. Because of this inability to prove rational application of perception and thus moral principle based on that perception, we are unable to demonstrate the rational justification of any universal principle or ethic. Application of the principles is central to creating universal ethics, yet it seems that we cannot prove rational application of the principles and thus fall short of gaining universal consensus on what those should be. To Kant, these principles can be made applicable through his transcendental arguments, but there remains the fact that he agreed sensory (and thus transcendental) experience cannot be accepted as empirical givens.
This leaves the sensory or transcendental experience open to interpretation. Empirical evidence creates responses that can be repealed time and again with identical or nearly identical results. Should sensation become open to interpretation by accepting that they cannot be empirical observations then we can say that the results cannot be universal even if all persons at once, observed the same even. Kant’s thoughts in Prolegomena to Every Future Metaphysics on the “transcendental aesthetics” that ultimate principles can only be established by transcendental argument loses its effect and basis in the application of the theories; unless, as has been argued by man philosophers since Kant the problem of rational application fo Kant’s categorical imperative can be overcome, then the idea of universal morality or ethics is impossible. Rational application depends entirely on the ability of a person to observe non-empirical action in the transcendental noumena exactly the same as his neighbor, yet, as was stated earlier, that because the action or the even! was seen in an non-empirical light then interpretation muddles the rational application of what is seen by each observer. To put it simply, because each person can see or perceive an event or situation differently, then the responses to the event or situation will vary, thereby reducing the ability for a “universal” response or ethic to the event.
Kant does make arguments for empirical thought in his, “The Postulates of Empirical Thought” Section of the book Critique of Pure Reason, but his questions of an event – “what became of that?” and “What brought that about?” – fail to argue concisely about real and logical possibilities. Because of his lack of definite statement, Kant fails to prove through his empirical thought arguments that empirical thought or action can be universal. Theoretically, he suggests it is, but without empirical observation to prove universality in any action or ethic, or combination of ethics, then we can not say the universal ethic exists. Kant followed his book, Critique of Pure Reason, with Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in which he argues at length on moral judgement, practical reason and the like. Without having read the book in its entirety, it seems that Kant provides example upon example on the possibility of universal ethics. Yet, in reading several critiques of the book, I found that Kant could not disprove empirically my earlier statement on the universal response to an event or situation.
And without the empirical evident that he himself relies on so heavily in other arguments, then he cannot prove the universality of ethics. In modest contrast, or as an alternative to Kant, Aristotle’s classical humanism requires that all persons can achieve moral perfectibility by teaching and learning proper ethics to and from one another. He explains this theory by stating that all persons have an ability to reach a certain level or natural ability, equal opportunity, etc. Reaching these states is possible through what may be called “the habituation process:” teaching by example, teach/reteach, monitor through rewards and punishment. Based on the most basic of premises, Aristotle further states that ethics and morality need to be a prescriptive element for society: rules of conduct that must be followed by all persons within that society if the humanistic properties are to be achieved.
Aristotle presents multiple arguments as to appropriate moral action (see his son’s book of notes, entitled Nicomachean Ethics) on ways to achieve them. I believe however that he falls short when he uses and describes the term, “good.” Aristotle maintains that proper moral motivation involves “appropriate desires and emotions in addition to correct judgement.” The appropriate desires are based on the aim of all thought achieving “good.” According to Nicomachean Ethics therefore, “Good is well defined as that which all things aim.” The circular reasoning here is similar to the definition of ethics and morality – one describes the other and no clear picture of each is forthcoming. So, we attempt to describe good based on virtuous thought. Virtuous thought supposes that a virtuous persons has a fairly explicit conception of what Aristotle calls, “eudaimonia” or happiness. Therefore, he argues that a person (we suppose by the habituation process) understands eudaimonia and can use that to create virtuous thought and thus virtuous action to produce a “good.”The problem here, however, is pointed out in the above discussion on Kant: perception skews the person’s thought because each person perceives and event (whatever an event can be) differently.
It is this difference in what people perceive that creates opposing viewpoints on “good” whether virtuous or not. The obstacles to overcome in Aristotelian thought emerge like icebergs on the horizon – as we draw closer, the berg grows until we are halted in front of it, attempts to understand and get beyond it can only be made by passing beneath it. There, when diving below the surface of the water, we find an immense volume of surface to chip away at. Aristotle had his basis on humanism in that all people can learn or teach virtuous thought, but as I have shown in the Kantian argument above and here in this essay, we cannot expect all persons to do so. Therefore, any attempt to provide a universal ethic to the community is thwarted by the community itself. The two philosophers discussed above both attempt to relate possible ways to achieve some sort of universal ethical thought throughout the community, “republic” and world.
Hopefully, my arguments prove that not only was it an impossible task in Aristotle’s time, and in Kant’s time, but it is still impossible today. If I had to choose one doctrine over another in a vain attempt to impose a universal system of ethical thought, I would choose Kant, but in the end, I really think nihilism is the best way to go.