Thursday, December 14, 2006
Immanuel Kant (Koenigsberg, below left) has posted Concerning the Common Saying: "Amend Before You Send" or Thoughts on Voicemail and E-Mail. This essay is the lost Part V of Kant's Lectures on Ethics, and recently surfaced on a sheaf of vellum preserved in the bock beer at the bottom of a keg in a small town in what is now Poland but used to be East Prussia. Here's a taste:
This essay I find useful in making suitable for the common understanding that portion of my metaphysics of morals; being that study of pure practical reason that proceeds analytically from common cognition to the determination of the supreme Moral Law, and hence its application in the treatment of persons by means not presently known in our day, but which might be contemplated were the groundwork laid by Professor Newton in recent days to means of communication yet to be discovered.
We have previous shown there to be a supreme practical principle, and with respect to the human will, a categorical imperative, not the least of which is that necessary duty to others by which we are obliged not to intend to make use of another person merely as means, but only as beings who must be able to contain in themselves the end of the very same action. It being then in accordance with the principle, the maxim we shall only criticize or get mad or give bad news or fire somebody or be sarcastic or irritated in a manner by which the object of our wrath is, in that moment, wholly an end and not a means. Such being the protection of distance, whether by e-mail or voicemail, it then becomes the natural inclination to treat the other as means and not end. Verily, this is not a universal law with regard to the use of such device; we may praise the bejesus out of another by such means, but not the reverse.
Yet it is possible that which is called for by our will in response to the Moral Law is also that which is conducive to happiness (or the pursuit thereof) in the heteronomous and empiric world; for the application of this principle serves well for explanation why the autonomous and free will directs us not to into long involved pissing contests on the VM or the e-mail. Perhaps even the esteemed David Hume would agree, were he to think on it for a passing moment, that our lives would be more congenial for no other reason than the fact that the object of our displeasure is live and in person tends to moderate one's invective. Hence, we find ourselves far more likely to e-mail "dear mush for brains" or to deliver such message by recording on a voicemail to another than to say it.