As I mentioned last week, I was re-reading a philosophy textbook from back in my college days. I spent some time reading it this last week, skipping over the really boring chapters and enjoying some of the others. One of the chapters that really made me think was an excerpt from Immanuel Kant‘s “Metaphysics of Morals.” In this excerpt, Kant examined the “categorical imperative.”
The “categorical imperative” states that you should “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” In other words, you shouldn’t do anything that you wouldn’t want everyone to do all the time. For instance, if you think “telling the truth” should be a universal law, then you would tell the truth no matter what the consequences. If an abusive husband comes looking for a wife who is hiding in your basement, you would have to tell him where she is. Hmmm.
I thought this was an interesting concept to think about. Lately, it seems like people, especially people in power, are only seeking their own self-interest at the expense of others. I wondered if there are any universal laws that I want everyone to follow. Are there any moral laws that I think should be applied to everyone all the time?
Tom suggested the Ten Commandments. I can agree that those are all good moral laws that should apply to everyone. In fact, the Ten Commandments are the basis for much of our legal system today.
But I decided that the only laws I want everyone to follow are the two that Jesus commanded: love God and love others. Luke 10:27 lists these two commandments. Jesus said, “Do these, and you will live.” These two commandments would meet Kant’s definitions of categorical imperative: an unconditional requirement that must be obeyed in all circumstances and is justified as an end in itself.
Imagine all the ways our world would be different if everyone lived by these two moral laws. There would be no bullying, no greed, no covetousness, no terrorists. If you love God and love others you have to respect them. You must see others as human beings instead of sub-humans that can be disposed of with impunity. We would not have a Charlottesville, or human trafficking, or pollution.
If we could all live in love with God and with each other. Easy to say but hard to do. Part of Karen’s perfect world. And how could I possibly enforce such laws when I can’t even live them every day in my own life?
What would you choose as a categorical imperative? What law would be important in your perfect world? Is there an idea that you would like to be a law for everyone all the time? How are you at living it out?