Dialectical Spiritualism: Immanuel Kant, Part 7

BY: SUN STAFF - 5.4 2017

Conversations wtih HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, excerpted from  Dialectical Spiritualism: A Vedic View of Western Philosophy.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Hayagriva dasa: Kant also writes: "It does not enter men's heads that when they fulfill their duty to men (themselves and others), they are, by these very acts, performing God's commands and are therefore in all their actions and abstentions, so far as these concern morality, perpetually in the service of God, and that it is absolutely impossible to serve God directly in any other way.

Srila Prabhupada: If man does not serve God, how can he know how to serve humanity? If he does not receive information from God about how to serve humanity, what is the value of his humanitarianism? The best way to serve mankind is to preach this message of Bhagavad-gita so that everyone can become a faithful servant of God. When we are God's servants, we can render service not only to our fellow man but to all other living entities as well. However, if we manufacture our service, it is useless.

Hayagriva dasa: In the preface to one of his last works, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, Kant seems to shift his position to say that morality "extends itself to the idea of a powerful moral Lawgiver, outside of mankind." Still, he believes that knowledge of God is ultimately uncertain.

Srila Prabhupada: It is uncertain for one who does not have perfect knowledge. If you believe in God and know God, you can get perfect knowledge from Him. Then you'll become perfect.

Syamasundara dasa: Ideally, for Kant, it is the moral obligation of everyone to obey the moral commands.

Srila Prabhupada: Not moral commands, but the supreme command. As I said, what is moral for you may be immoral for others. One man's food is another's poison. If Krsna tells Yudhisthira to lie, that lying is moral. Krsna tells Arjuna to fight and kill, and that killing is moral. Morality means obeying God's order. Because your senses are imperfect, you cannot create morality. You cannot even know what is moral. Therefore you should follow the orders of Krsna or His representative. The real categorical imperative is to obey the Supreme. That is morality, and anything else is immoral.

Syamasundara dasa: Then we are not born with a priori knowledge of what is right?

Srila Prabhupada: A priori in the sense that we know we have to obey Krsna. That knowledge is manifest even in uncivilized men. When aborigines see a thunderbolt, they offer prayers. It is natural and inborn to offer obeisances.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant says that it is not the act itself which is good or bad, but the will behind the act.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but that will has to be developed. A child has will, but it has to be developed by his teacher. Everyone in the material world is in ignorance; therefore it is called a place of darkness. The Vedas advise: "Don't remain in darkness. Go to the light." The spiritual world is light. In the material world, since our will is in darkness, it is bound to be imperfect. The will has to be dragged to the light, and that requires superior help. We cannot think, "I am doing this for a good cause; therefore it is good." In this way, people manufacture all kinds of creeds and act in every way. Guidance is required. We must consult a superior authority for confirmation.

Hayagriva dasa: Kant believed that only man can be regarded as nature's own end, or highest product, because on earth only man is capable of complying with the categorical imperative, the moral law.

Srila Prabhupada: But if nature creates man, then nature is supreme. However, nature is only dull matter.

bhumir aponalo vayuh 
kham mano buddhir eva ca 
ahahkara itiyam me 
bhinna prakrtir astadha

"Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego — altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies." (Bg. 7.4) Human beings cannot create these things, nor can nature in itself create them. So how can nature create man? How can man be considered nature's own end or highest product? What is the logic in this philosophy?

Hayagriva dasa: Kant would say that man is nature's final end because man's moral nature alone is worthwhile.

Srila Prabhupada: We object to his emphasizing that man is a product of nature. Nature itself cannot make man. Nature provides the body, just as a tailor provides a suit. This body is but the outward covering of the living entity. The living entity within the body is not created by material nature. He is part and parcel of God.

Syamasundara dasa: Kant says that man belongs to "the kingdom of ends" because man is not just an object of utility but an end in himself. Since he alone possesses self-direction, or dignity, he should never stoop to sell himself like a commodity.

Srila Prabhupada: And what is that end? Kant does not give any concrete example. Man's dignity is his inherent quality of obedience to the Supreme. It is that obedience that we should not sacrifice. We are not independent, but subordinate to God's will. Kant may be a strict moralist, but that is not the highest platform. We have to transcend even the moral principle to attain perfection. There is morality and immorality in the material world because there are the three modes of material nature operating: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Morality is on the platform of goodness. According to the transcendental, spiritual point of view, the entire material world is condemned. One may be a first-class prisoner, or a second-class prisoner, a brahmana or a sudra. Whatever the case, one is still a conditioned soul. Of course, as far as conditional life is concerned, there is value in morality. Morality may help us come to the transcendental platform, but coming to that platform is not dependent on morality. It is independent of everything. Krsna's order is above morality.

Syamasundara dasa: But might not morality help us see behind the moral law and transcend it?

Srila Prabhupada: Not necessarily. In Bhagavad-gita, we find that Arjuna was trying to become moral by not killing his relatives, but that could not help him. Rather, by directly abiding by the orders of Krsna, he transcended morality. So morality in itself does not always help.