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Nov 18th 2003

howard dean is imprudent: kant

please excuse the light blogging of late as tests and papers are beginning to come due. college professors tend to “shoot first and ask questions later,” as you know; i’m just trying to dodge the bullets.

i’ve been doing some light reading in immanuel kant’s groundwork of the metaphysics of morals lately (when i suggest the reading has been “light,” i am obviously lying through my teeth. it is the most difficult prose i’ve ever read). kant is fascinated with finding maxims, laws, and rules by which to live. he also loves to divide and classify things. he does both in the case of the precept of “prudence.” he defines it: “skill in the choice of means to [achieve] one’s own greatest well-being.”

then, in the footnote, kant divides it. we may take his words as a warning to avoid the crafty but immoral howard dean:

dean laughs as he watches a baby's brains being sucked out, its skull crushed and its body mangled

The word prudence is taken in two senses: in the one it may bear the name of “knowledge of the world,” in the other that of “private prudence.” The first is a human being’s skill in influencing others so as to use them for his own purposes. The second is the insight to unite all these purposes to his own enduring advantage. This second is properly that to which the value even of the first is reduced, and when a man is prudent in the first sense, but not in the second, we might better say of him that he is clever and cunning, but, on the whole, nevertheless imprudent.

when kant says “enduring advantage” i would argue that he wants us to connect that to the central theme of his work (morality) and to his own argument that the best happiness is a feeling of satisfaction that comes from being moral. so, while howard dean is a sly and cunning mongrel (and exhibits the first sense of prudence) he is also immoral, failing to be prudent in the second sense (see picture caption–hover mouse over dean’s face).

because he neglects his duty to be moral in this way, he cannot ever achieve this feeling of moral satisfaction that kant talks about. he is going about gaining his “enduring advantage” in the wrong way. therefore, kant would call howard dean imprudent, and probably give him a good old-fashioned prussian beating.

2 Responses to “howard dean is imprudent: kant”

  1. someone needs to psychoanalyze Dean and that freaky grin of his…

  2. Carolyn

    Okay, so if I understand Kant correctly, prudent actions are not only acting slyly and in one’s best interest, but must also be moral?

    I thought it was interesting how Machiavelli defines a prudent politican in “The Prince.” In his definition, morality is negotiable.

    “A prince has of necessity to be so prudent that he knows how to escape the evil reputation attached to those vices which could lose him his state, and how to avoid those vices which are not so dangerous, if he possibly can; but, if he cannot, he need not worry much about the latter. And then, he must not flinch from being blamed for vices which are necessary for safeguarding the state. This is because, taking everything into account, he will find that some of the things that appear to be virtues will, if he practices them, ruin him, and some of the things that appear to be vices will bring him security and prosperity.”

    Later on Machiavelli relates why a ruler may not be moral and still admired by the people.

    “And here it should be noted that one can be hated just as much for good deeds as for evil ones; therefore, as I said above, a prince who wants to maintain his rule is often forced not to be good, because whenever that class of men on which you believe your continued rule depends is corrupt, whether it be the populace, or soldiers, or nobles, you have to satisfy it by adopting the same disposition; and then good deeds are your enemies.”

    I think he made a very good observation and it reminds me of what the Book of Mormon prophet, Mosiah, noted around 90 BC:

    26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people.

    27 And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land.

    (Mosiah 29:26-27)

    Anyway, so I guess all this goes to show that I like the idea of prudent rulers that operate according to Kant’s defintion and are both provident and moral.