P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 163
27th June 2011
I. 'StudyPartners.net -- a new (old) way to talk' by Geoffrey Klempner
II. 'Heidegger contra Descartes' by Michael Uhall
III. 'Kant and the Problem of Abortion' by Tejasha Kalita
IV. 'Descartes on Instantaneous Motion' by Sim-Hui Tee and Mohd Hazim
The three submitted articles in this issue each look at aspects of
the thought of philosophers of the Modern period -- in this case,
Descartes and Kant -- which have been challenged by developments in
the 19th/ 20th centuries.
Michael Uhall offers a clear and useful exposition of Heidegger's
critique of Cartesian epistemology, wherein Heidegger contrasts the
notion of 'Dasein' or 'being-in-the-word' with Descartes' depiction
of an essentially disembodied ego, which doubts or affirms
propositions concerning a merely hypothetical 'external world'. This
has been a major point of focus in the re-orientation of theory of
knowledge in the 20th century, away from the 'epistemology of the
Tejasha Kalita looks at Kantian ethics as applied to the problem of
abortion. While some contemporary moral philosophers have tried to
argue within a Kantian framework, she argues that over-emphasis on
reason as the defining characteristic of human nature leads to an
insoluble impasse, which only the recovery of our whole nature as
beings with hearts as well as brains -- as advocated by existentialist
thinkers -- can hope to resolve.
Sim-Hui Tee and Mohd Hazim Shah, in their third article jointly
written for Philosophy Pathways, look at a curious aspect of
Cartesian physics, the idea that what Descartes terms 'motion' can
happen instantaneously. Although it was Leibniz who first pointed out
Descartes's fatal omission of the idea of 'force' as distinguished
from the motion produced by a force, it was not until the 20th
century and the physics of Relativity that the idea of a force
acting instantaneously was finally disproved.
I have also taken the opportunity to announce a new project from
Pathways to Philosophy, StudyPartners.net, described as 'a new (old)
way' to conference online 1-1. The service is free to all Pathways
students, but you don't need to be a Pathways student to join.
I. 'STUDYPARTNERS.NET -- A NEW (OLD) WAY TO TALK' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER
The idea began, as these things often do, with a series of
We needed a new idea to revive the Pathways online conference (see
http://www.isfp.co.uk/sitemap.html). After a long run at Nicenet.org,
the conference had been relaunched using the familiar format of an
internet forum, with all the usual bells and whistles. But after the
first few months interest waned and the conversations gradually
I knew what was needed to revive the conference. Instead of multiple,
branching threads, a single conversation to which everyone would be
invited to contribute.
After searching on the internet I finally found what I was looking
for. A simple, old fashioned bulletin-board script where comments are
posted in a strictly linear order. But with a twist. This clever piece
of software automatically makes a new page every fifteen posts. Since
9 May when the new Pathways conference was launched we have reached
page 29, an impressive result. There is something about the easy way
this process works that users find engaging, and even addictive.
What's more, the conference page format is highly customizable. So
there's no need to put up with boring black on white. For the
Pathways conference, I chose green on black, which creates a
curiously intense atmosphere -- a bit like 'The Matrix'.
The only real problem we have encountered is remembering to put 'p'
in corner brackets at the beginning of each new paragraph of your
post/ comment, as the output of the form is strictly HTML. The bonus
is that using a few simple HTML tags you can do bold, italics, block
quotes, live links etc. Everyone who has tried it, has taken to the
idea like a duck to water.
Another new Pathways feature which was launched recently without
fanfare was the Pathways multi-program (see
http://www.philosophypathways.com/pak6.html). This led to the second
piece of serendipity.
The multi-program is just like the six fifteen-unit Pathways programs
A-F, except that you take the first three units of each of the
programs B-F. I was somewhat disappointed that there hadn't been any
takers, then in two successive weeks two students enrolled. Call them
Tom and Alice. On an impulse, I asked Tom and Alice whether they would
be interested to correspond with one another. They agreed!
Although Pathways has been running for 16 years, amazingly, this is
the first time we had tried this simple idea. Students have the
opportunity to participate in the Pathways conference, so why would
they want to correspond 1-1? But of course they do. Students would
love this opportunity.
There is only one catch. Not everyone is happy -- for good reason --
with the idea of exchanging email addresses. At least you would like
the chance to get to know someone first. That's what makes the
Pathways conference a safe way to interact.
But now we have the software. It is possible to make a new
'mini-conference' for every pair of students who would like to try
1-1 correspondence. Each conference 'room' can be uniquely customized
Just like the Pathways conference, studypartners mini-conferences are
moderated. That means that there is always someone on hand to deal
with problems or resolve disagreements.
(By the way -- I almost forgot! -- any Pathways student reading this
is hereby invited to apply for a study partner and online conference
room. Just complete the registration form on the StudyPartners.net
web site. No need to all rush at once. It will hopefully be around
for a while.)
When the idea first came to me, I started looking for possible
internet domain names. The final piece of serendipity was that the
URL studypartners.net was available. I took it immediately. One week
later, I had designed, and redesigned a web site, written and
rewritten the pages (X number of times). If you visit the site on
successive days you will probably still find changes as the idea is
further refined in response to visitor feedback.
It is also the shortest web site I have ever designed, at just five
pages including the entry page.
Obviously, we don't want this just for Pathways students. If you are
not currently taking Pathways and want to host your own conference
room there is a small charge to pay. (The service is free for
'guests'.) Already we have several mini-conferences up and running.
I can't remember when I have been so excited about a new idea. I've
often wondered about the future of Pathways. Where is this heading?
What do we really want to achieve? The answer is very simple: we are
always looking to create new possibilities for philosophical dialogue.
This is another way...
Not just the usual superficial internet chat and banter, cheesy
Facebook-style jokes and wheezes (which in a few years time will look
so ridiculous people will be wondering what on earth they saw in it).
But the real thing. The meeting of minds.
Hence the StudyPartners.net slogan:
It's all about your mind.
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2011
II. 'HEIDEGGER CONTRA DESCARTES' BY MICHAEL UHALL
In Heidegger, we find an account of the self and its function and
place in the world that is fundamentally opposed to an account of the
same topic found in Descartes. In the following, I will first examine
the Cartesian account before turning to Heidegger's account in more
detail. In his account, Heidegger will implicitly criticize the
Cartesian account before articulating his criticism more explicitly.
In other words, Heidegger's account differs so fundamentally from
Descartes's account that implicit criticisms emerge. After discussing
these criticisms and their context in Being and Time, I will examine
one possible response by the Cartesian before explaining why the
Heideggerian account is, in fact, to be preferred.
In his Meditations, Descartes prescribes active and rigorous doubt as
the method by which philosophers should test their beliefs. He applies
this doubt to his own beliefs, first concluding that the evidence of
the senses is unreliable before extending this conclusion to the
remainder of his beliefs. His rationale for this methodology is that
such doubt will prevent him from being able to maintain false
beliefs. As such, Descartes argues that only those beliefs which are
indubitable can be considered as knowledge. This knowledge, being
certain, would provide Descartes with a reliable foundation on which
to proceed philosophically. He decides that what he calls the cogito
-- that is, 'I think; therefore, I am' -- is in fact indubitable. As
long as Descartes thinks, so he argues, he must exist because if he
did not exist, there would be nothing extant able to think. As
such, Descartes concludes that he (and the human subject, in general)
is fundamentally a 'thinking thing' (II, 6).
It is within this context that Descartes develops his
representationalism, that is, his view that our access to the
external world is wholly indirect insofar as only our 'perceptions
and imaginations' are directly accessed (III, 1). In other words, the
external world does consist of objects, but access to those objects
is limited to our subjective perceptions of those objects -- or, in
Cartesian language, he concludes that he can only access the 'ideas'
of 'material objects' insofar as 'these [ideas] are to be found in my
consciousness' (VI, 2). He continues, 'I may now take as a general
rule that all that is very clearly and distinctly apprehended is
true' (III, 1). As such, the Cartesian self appears to be a
spectator, something detached from the external world yet inhering in
it. It inheres in the world because it is an object that exists, but
it is detached from the world insofar as it is a subject, which only
has access to the contents of its own consciousness. Furthermore, the
quintessential activity of this Cartesian self is the application of
the methodological doubt discussed above.
Therefore, an account of the self and its function and place in the
world emerges clearly in Descartes. This account tells us a story
about a thinking thing, isolated in its own perceptions and its
imagination, who constantly interrogates itself and its beliefs. It
does this -- using the criteria of clarity, distinctiveness, and,
chiefly, indubitability -- in order to determine what is true and
what is false. True beliefs provide a reliable foundation
(Descartes's 'firm and abiding superstructure in the sciences' [I,
1]) on which to proceed philosophically. But if truths are not sought
and then found, then the self will be unable to know anything about
itself, about the external world, or about God.
In contrast to the Cartesian account outlined above, Heidegger tasks
his philosophy with what he calls the question of Being. The question
of Being -- although Being is 'indefinable,' meaning that the question
is not resolvable by mere definition -- concerns the interrogation of
various understandings of Being as a philosophical concept, something
which Heidegger believes has been left unexamined. Without asking the
question of Being and arriving at a fundamental ontological
understanding of it, Heidegger argues, the self and its function and
place in the world cannot be properly understood. There is a
criticism of the Cartesian account implicit in this question and
Heidegger's discussion of it. First, I will unpack this implicit
criticism. Then I will turn to the more explicit criticism of
Descartes found in ¤12 of Being and Time.
In discussing this question -- the question of Being, which he views
as being of primary importance -- Heidegger develops and interrogates
the concept of 'Dasein.' Dasein ('the entity which each of us is
himself' [Heidegger, 27]) is a word that Heidegger uses in place of
words like 'the self' or 'I.' This distinction is necessary because
Heidegger intends the term Dasein to communicate the essential
situatedness of the self. In other words, he wants to describe the
self as something which exists necessarily insofar as it is a part of
the world that is engaged both with itself (its own Being) and with
the world (Being, generally). Dasein's Being is not that of an entity
which is 'present-at-hand' -- that is, an entity with which we engage
by merely observing as a bare and decontextualized object ('a bare
perceptual cognition' [Heidegger, 67]) -- but rather it depends on
Being-in-the-world. Being-in-the-world -- while 'far from sufficient
for completely determining Dasein's Being' (that is, explaining what
Dasein is or what Dasein is like, totally) -- is the term which
Heidegger uses to describe the necessary residence of Dasein in its
world as a part of its world, rather than as an entity somehow apart
from the world (Heidegger, 79).
As such, Dasein's Being-in-the-world is populated by entities that
exist not as present-at-hand objects but instead more fundamentally
as 'ready-to-hand' 'equipment' -- that is, as entities with which we
engage as loci or as webs of functional significance. A useful
example of this distinction between present-at-hand and ready-to-hand
would be that of two different ways of looking at a hammer. Looking at
a hammer as present-at-hand would require us to disinvest all
knowledge about the hammer's purpose and how to use the hammer and so
forth. Contrarily, we see the hammer as ready-to-hand when it exists
as a seamless part of (for example) the process of building a
cabinet. While building this cabinet, Heidegger would argue, the
hammer exists for us as an equipment that is only a 'something
in-order to,' not as a 'bare' entity which exists meaningfully apart
from the context of cabinetmaking.
While developing this account, implicit criticisms of the Cartesian
account surface before Heidegger explicitly criticizes it. Primarily,
the implicit criticism inheres in Heidegger's repeated claim that the
question of Being had been so far left unaddressed by philosophers.
He writes, 'Basically, all ontology... remains blind and perverted
from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the
meaning of Being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental
task' (Heidegger, 31). As such, the Cartesian project -- for which the
'fundamental task' is the interrogation of beliefs in order to achieve
epistemological certainty -- is seen to be fatally flawed from the
Furthermore, if Heidegger's description of Dasein and its
Being-in-the-world obtains, then Descartes also errs insofar as he
relies on the distinction between himself -- the subject, that is, a
thinking thing -- and the external world, which is composed of
objects that are, to use Heidegger's term, only present-at-hand. For
Heidegger, this is a tortuously unnatural way of viewing the world, a
perspective that lacks any awareness of its own Being-in-the-world,
about which Heidegger writes that it 'cannot be broken up into
contents which may be pieced together' (Heidegger, 53). That
Heidegger's account is firmly opposed to Descartes's becomes
particularly obvious where Descartes denies precisely what Heidegger
takes as fundamental, writing 'knowledge of my existence, thus
precisely taken, is not dependent on things, the existence of which
is as yet unknown to me' (II, 7).
In ¤12 of Being and Time, Heidegger makes explicit this criticism of
Descartes. He writes, 'for the most part, [Being] has been explained
in a way which is basically wrong' (Heidegger, 85). He continues on
to describe this 'basically wrong' explanation of Being, in which
Being-in-the-world becomes 'invisible' -- even though it is the
pre-condition for any discussion of Being at all. Being-in-the-world
becomes invisible when 'the 'evident' point of departure for problems
of epistemology' becomes a misdescription of Being-in-the-world as a
Being-present-at-hand, that is, when the 'structure of Being' is
taken as the ''relationship' between one entity (the world [i.e.,
which is populated by objects]) and another (the soul [i.e., the
subject])' (Heidegger, 85, 86). In other words, Heidegger believes
that Descartes is mistaken insofar as he concludes that there is a
meaningful distinction between subject and object. As such, Heidegger
criticizes Descartes (for whom the self is a subject who relates to
present-at-hand objects) for distorting Being-in-the-world into the
problematic Being-present-at-hand and for essentially
misunderstanding the concepts of Being on which, so Heidegger
believes, all philosophy rests.
Given this criticism, what appears is a division between the
Cartesian account and the Heideggerian account. To Descartes, the
self is a spectator, detached from the world, who perceives that
world through the veil of his own illusory perceptions. In contrast,
Heidegger views the self in terms of Dasein, that is, as an actor who
is engaged in a process of relation unto itself (i.e., the question of
its own Being as 'in its very Being... Being is an issue for it'
[Heidegger, 32]) and unto the world (the more general question of
This division can be further illuminated analogically. Think of the
Heideggerian self as analogous to an actor on a stage. The stage is
its world. It is involved with projects, it has its own goals, and it
is essentially constituted by the processes that concern it. On the
other hand, the Cartesian self is analogous to an audience member,
one who critically observes the events occurring on the stage while
remaining aware that what happens there is distinct from itself. This
former, Heideggerian self exemplifies what the later Wittgenstein
would call a 'form of life,' while the latter, Cartesian self, at
least according to Heidegger, assumes a specialized perspective
relative to its Being.
However, that Heidegger's criticism of the Cartesian succeeds is by
no means clear. Even quite simply, it seems possible that the
Cartesian could respond to Heidegger's attack by arguing that it is
only our familiarity with the present-at-hand that provides the
background conditions which allow us to know what it is that the
ready-to-hand is even ready-for. In other words, assuming the
attitude that the entities around us are ready-to-hand could
necessitate the background knowledge of an entity's presence-at-hand.
For example, the Cartesian could grant that we frequently do view a
hammer as ready-to-hand -- without giving its presence-at-hand much
consideration -- but that in order to do so we must first be familiar
with a hammer as a certain sort of object with certain kinds of
qualities (e.g., having a handle or being hard enough to survive
repeated contact with nail heads). Whether presence-at-hand
supersedes readiness-to-hand or vice versa seems immediately unclear.
To some extent, I would argue, neither category supersedes the other,
but instead both serve a useful purpose relative to the context of
discussion. More generally, each category has a place situated within
a philosophical vocabulary. In other words, a concern with entities as
present-at-hand will be useful to, for example, the physicist studying
billiard balls interacting on a billiard table (viewing each ball as a
discrete object in order to abstract and systematize how they
interact). Contrarily, a view of entities as ready-to-hand will be
useful to, for example, the cabinetmaker, for whom a perspective
concerned with the ontological distinction of a nearby hammer would
That being said, I would argue further that the Heideggerian account
of the self and its function and place in the world is generally more
useful and therefore to be preferred. Quite simply, Heidegger proposes
and advocates a different way of speaking about the aforementioned
topics. This different way of speaking avoids traditional
philosophical problems, such as the problem of the external world. As
such, while by no means problem-free, at least the Heideggerian
account provides new and more interesting problems. Additionally,
Heidegger places an overwhelming priority on areas of purely human
concern. Heidegger writes, 'Dasein accordingly takes priority over
all other entities' (Heidegger, 34). In other words, his conception of
the self and its life world is of most interest in his work.
In contrast, what seems to motivate Descartes is a fundamental
concern for 'the truth.' Whatever this means for Descartes, it
strikes me as without much use. It seems useless because it is
unclear what Descartes means by 'truth' -- and, furthermore, I would
argue that the concept of truth has little, if any, substantive
content whatsoever. Descartes's assumption of truth as an
epistemological foundation also strikes me as misguided. It strikes
me as misguided because it attempts to establish some nonhuman
standard to which philosophers are responsible. As such, I think
that the Cartesian account is significantly less humane and less
interesting that Heidegger's focus on human beings and their concerns
remains relevant and valuable, despite possible flaws in his account.
Lastly, Heidegger's account allows the Cartesian account to exist
within it as a specialized perspective. The Cartesian account does
not seem to make any similar allowance. Given the focus on
exclusively human concerns that is present in Heidegger, and given
the flexibility of his account, I would conclude that his account is
preferable to the Cartesian one.
Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Aylesbury: Compton Printing Ltd,
Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1996.
1. Descartes sees this as logically necessary. Thinking could not be
predicated of a subject unless the subject exists to be predicated
2. Descartes spends a considerable amount of time 'proving' that the
external world exists, but that proof is irrelevant to the topic at
3. All of which are concerns for Descartes, particularly as a
Christian and a mathematician. In fact, this progression -- knowledge
about the self, about the external world, and about God -- describes
aptly the concerns and conclusions of the Meditations.
4. To cite some examples of Dasein's Being-in-the-world, Heidegger
lists 'having to do with something, producing something, attending to
something and looking after it, making use of something, giving
something up and letting it go, undertaking, accomplishing'
(Heidegger, 83). Contrast this with Descartes's description of
himself as 'a thinking thing, that is, a being who doubts, affirms,
denies, knows a few objects, and is ignorant of many' (III, 1).
5. As an example of why this Being-present-at-hand is problematic,
even apart from Heidegger's concerns with the question of Being,
consider the traditional problem of the external world. Descartes
solves this problem unsatisfactorily, and it remains a problem both
for other representational realists like Locke and Russell and also
for idealists like Kant.
6. In fact, the term 'concern,' translated as such from the German
'Besorgen' permeates Being and Time. What this term means, according
to translators Macquarrie and Robinson, is 'the kind of 'concern' in
which we 'concern ourselves' with activities which we perform or
things which we procure,' not concern as used in the following
English sentence, 'He has an interest in several banking concerns''
7. One only has to refer to even the recent literature on truth to
find evidence for this, whether it be truth as a correspondence
relation, truth as a coherence property, truth as a deflationary
concept, or, really, truth as anything other than an arbitrary value
assigned in the context of a formal system.
8. I do not intend to suggest that philosophers have no
responsibilities, but merely that philosophers have no philosophical
responsibilities, except to other philosophers, and no general
responsibilities as human beings, except to other human beings.
(c) Michael Uhall 2011
III. 'KANT AND THE PROBLEM OF ABORTION' BY TEJASHA KALITA
Abortion is a problem, which is not only related to a woman, but
there are also various factors which play an important role. In fact
this has become an important problem of ethics as the foetus can also
be considered to be a potential person and abortion or foetus killing
or the killing of a potential person is a serious issue for moral
This paper tries to see whether, with the help of Kantian
de-ontological ethics, the different problems and dilemmas related to
the problem of abortion can be solved or not.
Kant never discusses the issue of abortion directly. The main part of
Kantian theory is played by reason and according to him; rationality
is the quality, which makes the person (human being) different from
other lower animals.
Kant argues that a 'will' which acts on the practical law is a
'will', which is acting on the idea of the form of law, an idea of
reason, which has nothing to do with the senses. Hence
the moral will is independent of the world of the senses. All the
persons have their own desires and wills. The will is therefore
fundamentally free. The converse also applies, if the will is free,
then it must be governed by a rule, but a rule whose content does not
restrict the freedom of the will. The only appropriate rule is the
rule whose content is equivalent to its form that is the categorical
imperative. To follow the practical law is to be autonomous, whereas
to follow any of the other types of contingent laws (or hypothetical
imperatives) is to be heteronymous and therefore unfree. The moral
law expresses the positive content of freedom, while being free from
influence expresses its negative content.
According to Kant whatever is to be done should done with the pure
intention. According to Kant our intention in performing an action
plays the most important role so far as the morality of an action is
To explain this particular point, Kant takes the example of a
shopkeeper. A shopkeeper always charges the same and the correct
price from all her customers. But what is the main motive behind it?
There are three possible motives that Kant discusses. (I) it may be
the reason that it is good business practice to charge the same price
from all, and that is why that shopkeeper charges the same. According
to Kant, this condition is not praiseworthy. (II) Secondly, it may be
the case that the shopkeeper is sympathetic to her customers and that
is why she charges the equal amount from all. According to Kant, this
is also not the right motive, as the shopkeeper has done it out of the
sympathy and not by considering the act to be a right act. (III)
According to the Kant the action of the shopkeeper can be regarded to
be right if and only if the shopkeeper does the action because she
considers it to be a right action. Because according to Kant, it is
our duty to do right action and we should perform our duty for the
sake of the duty only. If the shopkeeper has this motive, then
according to Kant that action can be regarded to be the highest
action with a highest motive.
The moral rightness or wrongness of an action is dependent on the
right intention. According to Kant, the main and proper intention of
an action is the intention, when an act is done for the sake of duty.
Taking into consideration of the various thinkings of Kant, now let
us try to see the problem of abortion from the Kantian point of view
and try to find out a definite solution of it.
It can be said that so far as the problem of abortion is concerned,
it is to be seen whether the act of abortion has been done under a
good will or not. Kant does not say anything directly on the
rightness or wrongness of abortion. But the way he talks about the
rightness or wrongness of an action, can also be applied to the
From a Kantian point of view, if we consider the problem of abortion,
it can be said that a woman is a person, because she is a rational
animal. So far as the issue of abortion is concerned, as a rational
animal, the pregnant woman has the capacity to decide whether the act
of abortion is morally right or not. Because a mother is a rational
human, that is why all rational decision will be taken by her in a
moral or ethical manner. In fact it is the prime duty of everyone to
protect the mother's will. The mother's moral decision may go for or
against of the good of the foetus. But the final decision regarding
abortion is to take by the pregnant woman only.
In this context some of the important views of feminist thinkers can
be discussed. In order to explain the problem of abortion, some
feminist thinkers make use of the Kantian model.
Mary Anne Warren tries to defend the liberal view of abortion, i.e.
it is morally permissible if reason permits it. She says that the
term human being can be used both in 'moral terms' and in
'biological' terms. So far as moral sense is concerned, it deals with
certain characteristics like self-consciousness and rationality, which
a foetus does not posses. Here in order to get a satisfactory answer
of the abortion problem, the author argues that first we should be
clear about the definition of the moral community. After knowing the
proper definition of the moral community only then is it possible for
someone to determine whether a foetus can be aborted or not. What sort
of entity, exactly, has inalienable rights to life, and the pursuit of
happiness? So many other qualities like right to life, happiness,
freedom are applicable to the woman but not to the foetus.
Consequently, woman's right to protect her health, happiness,
freedom, and even her life, by terminating an unwanted pregnancy,
will always override whatever right to life it may appropriate to
ascribe to a foetus, even a fully developed one.
Sally Markowitz maintains that the feminist approaches and defenses
of abortion always give importance on the right of the women to
control her body. But feminists should be concerned about those
general rights of the women, by depending upon which, the right of
abortion has been granted. The feminist defense is mostly based on
the argument that women are oppressed in our society and that women
should commit to end this oppression. As a member of an oppressed
group, a woman cannot be required to make sacrifices, which will
systematically worsen her position in society and the family. It is
said by Immanuel Kant that we should do our duty for the sake of duty
only. No other issues, like emotional or care have anything to do
here. According to Kant, reason plays an important role, so far as
the determination of a proper duty of an individual is concerned.
These duties are universal duties. So by applying this particular
view, Markowitz says that it is the duty of every human being to
fight for the oppressed class and support the abortion.
It is argued by many feminist thinkers on religious grounds that God
has created woman as an individual. Her body is her own property. So
she can do whatever she wants to do with her body. It may be the case
that a woman does not want to keep the foetus to term because of some
genuine reasons. It may be the case that she is not physically strong
enough to give birth a child, or she may be a victim of rape, or she
is so busy with her career that, it is not possible for her to take
the proper care of the baby, in all these cases, a woman has the
right to take the decision of abortion.
Kant said that it is a duty to treat the human beings to be an end
and not as a means. So it is also the duty of a pregnant woman to
treat herself as an end not as a means. So even she does not have the
right to treat herself as a means for the production of children.
It is said by Kant that it is the key characteristic of a person that
he/ she can set his/ her own goals. Persons are autonomous and
independent. From a literal point of view it can be said that they
are self-ruled (auto means 'self' and nomos means 'rule' or 'law').
So as a person, a woman has the right to choose her life plans, or
what she wants to be. A woman has her own reasons for doing so. It is
also true that so far as a particular decision of a person is
concerned it is influenced by the present situation and many other
circumstances. But there are still some choices left, which is being
taken by a person by himself/ herself. In this context it can be
said, though a woman has to think about the family and the various
circumstances and situations covered to her, but still her own choice
regarding the issues must be hidden behind all these circumstances.
That particular will of the woman or the choice is important so far
as the decision of abortion is concerned. A woman knows better about
her body or about her problems then anyone else. If a woman decides
to go for abortion, there must be some definite reasons behind it. A
woman has full right to take her decision.
According to Kant this is the second form of the categorical
imperative. The modified version of statement, which he had used for
this form of categorical imperative, is 'always treat humanity,
whether in your own person or that of another, never simply as a
means but at the same time as an end.' So it is the responsibility of
every human being to treat their own self as well as the other fellow
humans to treat as an end and not as a means.
One important problem which is to be addressed here is that the
Kantian theory is applied to the problem of abortion, the aborted
child or the foetus should also be treated to be a form of human
being. Kant's modified version of dictum implies, 'Always treat
humanity, whether in your own person or that of another, never simply
as a means but at the same time as an end.' If this is the case a
foetus can never be treated as means as according to many
philosophers a foetus can also be considered to be a person. It is
said that a foetus is something, which has the potentiality to become
a person. A seven months old foetus is considered to be a foetus, when
it is within the mother's womb, but when the same foetus is given
birth by the mother, automatically it becomes a person or a human
being. The questions raised here is that, why cannot it be considered
to be a person when it is there in the mother womb. Logically there is
not any difference between the two.
Michael Tooly in this context challenges the conservative view that
foetuses are persons. According to Tooly, if one should have the
right to life, then he should possess a concept of self, that is, he
must have the desire to exist and he should have the capacity to
experience certain mental states. If something has these qualities,
then only one can be regarded to be a person, otherwise not.
According to him humans, who lack all these requisites are not
persons. On the other hand, if some non-human possess all these
qualities, then they are also persons. According to Tooly the quality
of potentiality is not enough to make a foetus to be a person. There
is difference between potentiality and capacity. A sleeping person is
unable to exercise the capacity to desire his own continued existence,
while sleeping, but a waking person can. But that sleeping person also
possesses a relevant capacity in a sense in which the foetus do not.
Before sleeping, a person remains self-conscious and after waking up
he will possess his same self-conscious nature.
But if Michael Tooly's view is being accepted, then along with that
another serious problem is to be addressed. A newly born baby or an
infant does not have the capacity to think or use reasons. If we
support Michael Tooly's theory, then a dolphin or a chimpanzee's
right to life will get more priority in comparison to an infant. So
if in some critical circumstances, we are to choose between a dolphin
or a chimpanzee and an infant, then our duty will be to choose the
dolphin or the chimpanzee rather then the infant. But Kant had
already said it that human beings are the highest animal and it can
never be used as a means but only as an end. So from the Michael
Tooly's analysis, no definite conclusion can be drawn, regarding the
problem of abortion.
So it is seen that it has become very difficult to take any definite
position by applying the Kantian theory of ethics. One of the most
important defects of Kantian theory is that for Kant, an act is
moral, if it has the ability to promote reason. Kant gives the whole
emphasis on reason and respectively to the duty and the right. It is
true that humans are the only rational animals of the world and
reason plays a very significant role so far as our decision making
and action is concerned. But it is also true that we cannot do all
our works with the help of reason only. We are human beings and apart
from the brain we are given a heart too. According to existentialist
thinkers, it is not true that human being do an action out of reason
only. In fact humans do an action, if he finds it meaningful for him.
We need light to see something. But too much of it makes us blind, as
we cannot see to the sun with the naked eyes. Exactly, too much logic
and reason also makes humans totally blind and confused. People become
puzzled and more confused to come to any definite decision.
It is said by existentialism that emotions, impulses etc, can
sometimes guide more properly to take any decision rather then
reason. Kierkegaard says that when the question of existence of a
human being is concerned, 'Human reason has boundaries'. Like
Kierkegaard, Sartre also does not accept rationality to be a prime
characteristic of human being. He says that rationality actually
prevent people from finding a proper meaning of freedom.
Abortion is an issue, with which the issue of a mother and a child is
deeply related. Mother-child relation is relation, which is mainly
based on deep feeling of emotion, affection, love, and care. These
are the qualities, because of which we are considered to be human
beings. But Kantian ethics by using its deontological nature has
given the whole emphasis on the duty and reason. It is already
discussed that human reason has boundaries. Kant's one-dimensional
focus on duty and respect for the moral laws, as the only morally
praiseworthy motive, dehumanizes the relation between mother and
foetus. In fact Max Scheler says in this context that moral law or
the categorical imperative originates from the values rather than
from human thinking as Kant explained it to be. So far as moral
consciousness is concerned, emotion plays an important role. Morality
is not something, which can be presented with the form of judgment
derived from pure reason. Human beings should be guided by some moral
values not merely by their rational quality.
So it can be said that the rightness or wrongness of abortion cannot
be explained in terms of reason only. It is true that, it is very
difficult to arrive at a definite conclusion of the problem of
abortion. The rightness or wrongness of abortion varies from
situation to situation. But it is also true that the mother-foetus
relation is dependent on a lot of care, love and deep emotional and
protective feeling. Because of some particular situation, sometimes
abortion has to take place. But the feeling of motherhood should
always be protected.
In this context one example can be given. In Japan, many woman who
have had an abortion, used to offer a prayer to Jizo, the God of lost
travelers and children. They believe that Jizo will steward the child
until it is reborn in another incarnation. In this respect, they
organize a function called mizoko kuyo, a memorable service for the
aborted child. So with the help of this example this paper can be
concluded by saying that because of certain circumstances sometimes
foetus is to be killed or a woman can take the help of abortion, but
the intimate feeling of love and care or the feeling of motherhood
should always be protected. The mother-foetus or mother-child
relation is based on care and love, which is derived from values and
not from reason, as Kant claims in his ethics. After all this is her
baby, we are discussing about, not just some abstract rational source
of future categorical imperatives as Kant thought.
Pojman L P., Vaughan L, 'The Moral life- An Introductory Reader in
Ethics and Literature', New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press
MacKinnon Barbara, 'Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues, second
Edition', Wadsworth Publishing Company, (1998)
Bonevac Daniel, 'Today's Moral Issues- Classic and Contemporary
Perspectives', McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Langua,
Mayfield Publishing Company (2005)
Dwyer S, Feinberg J, 'The Problem of Abortion', Wadsworth Publishing
Company, ITPR an International Thomson Publishing Company (1997)
Dhar Benulal, 'Phenomenological Ethics', Rawat Publications (2008)
Bowden Peta, 'Caring: Gender-Sensitive Ethics' Routledge, London
Kuhke Helga, Singer Peter, 'Bioethics: An Anthology', Oxford, Black
Baird Robert M., Rosenbaum Stuart E., 'The Ethics of Abortion:
Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice', Prometheus Books 1933
Sissela Bok, 'Ethical Problems of Abortion', 'The Hastings Center
Studies', vol. 2, No. 1 pp. 33-52 (1974)
Marry Anne Warren, 'Abortion Is Morally Permissible', 'The Monist',
vol.57, no. 1, (January 1973)
Harahan Rebecca, 'The Decision to Abort', 'International Journal of
Applies Philosophy' vol. 21:1 pp-25-41, (spring 2007)
Callahan Daniel, 'Abortion and Medical Ethics', 'The ANNALS of the
American Academy of Political and Social Science', Vol. 437, No. 1,
Purdy Laura M, 'Are Pregnant Women Fetal Containers?', 'Bioethics',
vol- 4 Issue 4, pp- 273 - 291, 2007
Markowitz Sally, 'Abortion and Feminism', 'Journal of Social Theory &
Practice', vol.16 (ii), pp-1-17 (1990)
Barnhart Michael G., 'Buddhism and the Morality of Abortion',
'Journal of Buddhist Ethics', vol-5, (1995)
Tooley Michael, 'Abortion and Infanticide' 'Philosophy and Public
Affairs', vol. 29 (i), pp- 37-65 (1972)
McMillan Carol, 'Women, Reason and Nature: Some Philosophical
Problems with Feminism', Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1982.
Dept of HSS, IIT Guwahati
(c) Tejasha Kalita 2011
E-mail: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
IV. 'DESCARTES ON INSTANTANEOUS MOTION' BY SIM-HUI TEE AND MOHD HAZIM
Descartes's notion of motion is one of the central ideas in his
philosophy of nature. It is a notion, like many others in Descartes's
writing, which has to do with the immutability of God. Interweaving
the notion of God and cosmology in explicating most of the
philosophical ideas exemplifies the impact of scholastic thinking on
Descartes and his contemporaries. Though Descartes did not inherit
faithfully the large part of scholastic thought, he still conceived
that the notion of God is vital in the warranty of lucid knowledge
and the existence of creatures. God creates matter, and other things
which are beyond human's imagination.
... God creates anew so much matter all around us that in
whatever direction our imagination may extend, it no longer
perceives any place which is empty. (CSM I, 90)
Motion is substantiated by a moving object. It is neither mind nor
matter but a quantity realized by a moving object. Motion is a
natural power that travels the distance in extended space. In his
inquiry (CSM I, 34) regarding whether a natural force could travel
instantaneously to a distant place, Descartes found that the magnetic
force, the influence of stars, the speed of light and the like are too
difficult to settle the question. Instead, he turned to the local
motions of bodies to account for the instantaneous travel of natural
force. Notably, he delimited the study to local motions, for he
thought that motions which travel at great distances (e.g. the motion
of stars) are not a suitable instance to account for instantaneous
motion. The motion of local object can be observed easily because it
is more readily perceivable.
For a body to move from a location to another, at a local distance,
Descartes asked if that motion is instantaneous. To frame Descartes's
question in another way, he was asking if an object could move along
the spatial dimension without moving along the temporal dimension. To
answer this question, Descartes distinguished two types of
The first type is the motion of an object, where the motion is an
inherent property of the object and realized in the course of the
object's movement. Descartes rejected the idea that this type of
motion could be instantaneous, for a moving object takes time to
travel from one spatial position to another.
The second type of instantaneous motion is the exerting force on, and
external to, the object. It is the cause of an object's movement.
Descartes claimed that this second type of motions must be
instantaneous to move an object.
And I shall realize that, while a stone cannot pass
instantaneously from one place to another, since it is a
body, a power similar to the one which moves the stone must
be transmitted instantaneously if it is to pass, in its bare
state, from one object to another. (CSM I, 34)
The question now is: why must Descartes assume an instantaneous
attribute for the external motion? Does it not seem reasonable to
assume, and in fact it is observed, that the motion can endure? Does
it not seem unconceivable that an instantaneous force could cause an
object to move in a non-instantaneous manner, and how could a
non-instantaneous movement be caused by an instantaneous force?
The answer provided by Descartes lies in the nature of the exertion
of motion. A motion that moves an object exerts its force
instantaneously on each spatial parts of that object. It is so,
argued Descartes, because this moving motion is external to the
object. To move an object, each part of the object must receive the
force at the same time. If any one part of the object is not moved
simultaneously with other parts, the whole object will not move at
all. It is no warranty that an object could receive the moving force
simultaneously if the moving motion exerts in a non-instantaneous
manner. Imagine a motion being exerting at an object at different
temporal points t1, t2, t3...., tn. The object which receives the
moving motion would have its parts being moved at different temporal
points too. In a case where different parts of object receiving
moving force at different temporal points, there would be no unity of
object's motion. Consequently, an object will not be moved.
For instance, if I move one end of a stick, however long it
may be, I can easily conceive that the power which moves
that part of the stick necessarily moves every other part
of it instantaneously, because it is the bare power which
is transmitted at that moment, and not the power as it
exists in some body, such as a stone which carries it
along. (CSM I, 34)
If an instantaneous motion is the cause of an object's movement, it
seems a puzzle how an instantaneous initial motion could cause the
consequent non-instantaneous motion in an object. Take the motion of
a ball for example. If the ball was initially moved by an
instantaneous motion, what explains the subsequent non-instantaneous
motion of that ball along different temporal points?
This puzzle is easily resolved if we remember that Descartes did not
conceive of motion merely as attributable quantity; it is also a
'mode of the matter which is moved' (Principles, 58). The initial
motion and the subsequent motion represent different modes of the
same object. The initial motion of an object takes an instantaneous
mode; whereas the subsequent motion takes a non-instantaneous mode to
move from one spatial location to another. The object, after all,
possesses the same quantity of motion. That is, the amount of the
initial force that moves an object is equal to the amount of the
subsequent motions. Descartes contended that the equal quantity of
motion is maintained by God, in such a way that the order of the
world is maintained.
In short, the initial motion that moves an object must be
instantaneous so that each spatial distinct parts of that object
receive the moving force in a uniform manner. The instantaneous
initial motion passes to the object and converts into
non-instantaneous motion to travel from one location to another. The
instantaneous motion is exerted while the object is in a static
state; while the non-instantaneous motion is the force that carries
the object to move across spatial distance. Despite these different
modes of motion, the total quantity of motion is the same.
Descartes, Rene. 1984. Principles of Philosophy. Trans. Miller, V.R.
and Miller, R.P. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company (Abbreviated
Descartes, Rene. 1985. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes:
Volume 1. Trans. Cottingham, J., Stoothoff, R., and Murdoch, D.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Conventionally abbreviated as
Persiaran Multimedia, Cyberjaya
Mohd Hazim Shah
Faculty of Science
University of Malaya
50603 Kuala Lumpur,
(c) Sim-Hui Tee and Mohd Hazim Shah 2011
Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program
To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
request to email@example.com
The views expressed in this journal do not necessarily
reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
comments should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org