Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Immanuel Kant: Universal Principle of Right

“Every action is right which in itself, or in the maxim on which it proceeds, is such that it can coexist along with the freedom of the will of each and all in action, according to a universal law.”

If, then, my action or my condition generally can coexist with the freedom of every other, according to a universal law, any one does me a wrong who hinders me in the performance of this action, or in the maintenance of this condition. For such a hindrance or obstruction cannot coexist with freedom according to universal laws.

It follows also that it cannot be demanded as a matter of right, that this universal principle of all maxims shall itself be adopted as my maxim, that is, that I shall make it the maxim of my actions. For any one may be free, although his freedom is entirely indifferent to me, or even if I wished in my heart to infringe it, so long as I do not actually violate that freedom by my external action. Ethics, however, as distinguished from jurisprudence, imposes upon me the obligation to make the fulfillment of right a maxim of my conduct.

The universal law of right may then be expressed thus: “Act externally in such a manner that the free exercise of thy will may be able to coexist with the freedom of all others, according to a universal law.” This is undoubtedly a law which imposes obligation upon me; but it does not at all imply and still less command that I ought, merely on account of this obligation, to limit my freedom to these very conditions. Reason in this connection says only that it is restricted thus far by its idea, and may be likewise thus limited in fact by others; and it lays this down as a postulate which is not capable of further proof. As the object in view is not to teach virtue, but to explain what right is, thus far the law of right, as thus laid down, may not and should not be represented as a motive-principle of action.
D. Right is Conjoined with the Title or Authority to Compel.

The resistance which is opposed to any hindrance of an effect is in reality a furtherance of this effect and is in accordance with its accomplishment. Now, everything that is wrong is a hindrance of freedom, according to universal laws; and compulsion or constraint of any kind is a hindrance or resistance made to freedom. Consequently, if a certain exercise of freedom is itself a hindrance of the freedom that is according to universal laws, it is wrong; and the compulsion of constraint which is opposed to it is right, as being a hindering of a hindrance of freedom, and as being in accord with the freedom which exists in accordance with universal laws. Hence, according to the logical principle of contradiction, all right is accompanied with an implied title or warrant to bring compulsion to bear on any one who may violate it in fact.

E. Strict Right may be also Represented as the Possibility of a Universal Reciprocal Compulsion in harmony with the Freedom of All according to Universal Laws.

This proposition means the right is not to be regarded as composed of two different elements — obligation according to a law, and a title on the part of one who has bound another by his own free choice to compel him to perform. But it imports that the conception of right may be viewed as consisting immediately in the possibility of a universal reciprocal compulsion, in harmony with the freedom of all. As right in general has for its object only what is external in actions, strict right, as that with which nothing ethical is intermingled, requires no other motives of action than those that are merely external; for it is then pure right and is unmixed with any prescriptions of virtue. A strict right, then, in the exact sense of the term, is that which alone can be called wholly external. Now such right is founded, no doubt, upon the consciousness of the obligation of every individual according to the law; but if it is to be pure as such, it neither may nor should refer to this consciousness as a motive by which to determine the free act of the will. For this purpose, however, it founds upon the principle of the possibility of an external compulsion, such as may coexist with the freedom of every one according to universal laws. Accordingly, then, where it is said that a creditor has a right to demand from a debtor the payment of his debt, this does not mean merely that he can bring him to feel in his mind that reason obliges him to do this; but it means that he can apply an external compulsion to force any such one so to pay, and that this compulsion is quite consistent with the freedom of all, including the parties in question, according to a universal law. Right and the title to compel, thus indicate the same thing.

The law of right, as thus enunciated, is represented as a reciprocal compulsion necessarily in accordance with the freedom of every one, under the principle of a universal freedom. It is thus, as it were, a representative construction of the conception of right, by exhibiting it in a pure intuitive perception a priori, after the analogy of the possibility of the free motions of bodies under the physical law of the equality of action and reaction. Now, as in pure mathematics, we cannot deduce the properties of its objects immediately from a mere abstract conception, but can only discover them by figurative construction or representation of its conceptions; so it is in like manner with the principle of right. It is not so much the mere formal conception of right, but rather that of a universal and equal reciprocal compulsion as harmonizing with it, and reduced under general laws, that makes representation of that conception possible. But just as those conceptions presented in dynamics are founded upon a merely formal representation of pure mathematics as presented in geometry, reason has taken care also to provide the understanding as far as possible with intuitive presentations a priori in behoof of a construction of the conception of right. The right in geometrical lines (rectum) is opposed, as the straight, to that which is curved and to that which is oblique. In the first opposition, there is involved an inner quality of the lines of such a nature that there is only one straight or right line possible between two given points. In the second case, again, the positions of two intersecting or meeting lines are of such a nature that there can likewise be only one line called the perpendicular, which is not more inclined to the one side than the other, and it divides space on either side into two equal parts. After the manner of this analogy, the science of right aims at determining what every one shall have as his own with mathematical exactness; but this is not to be expected in the ethical science of virtue, as it cannot but allow a certain latitude for exceptions. But, without passing into the sphere of ethics, there are two cases — known as the equivocal right of equity and necessity — which claim a juridical decision, yet for which no one can be found to give such a decision, and which, as regards their relation to rights, belong, as it were, to the “Intermundia” of Epicurus. These we must at the outset take apart from the special exposition of the science of right, to which we are now about to advance; and we may consider them now by way of supplement to these introductory explanations, in order that their uncertain conditions may not exert a disturbing influence on the fixed principles of the proper doctrine of right.

The Science of Right, by Immanuel Kant

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Virginia Woolf: Modern Fiction

In making any survey, even the freest and loosest, of modern fiction, it is difficult not to take it for granted that the modern practice of the art is somehow an improvement upon the old. With their simple tools and primitive materials, it might be said, Fielding did well and Jane Austen even better, but compare their opportunities with ours! Their masterpieces certainly have a strange air of simplicity. And yet the analogy between literature and the process, to choose an example, of making motor cars scarcely holds good beyond the first glance. It is doubtful whether in the course of the centuries, though we have learnt much about making machines, we have learnt anything about making literature. We do not come to write better; all that we can be said to do is to keep moving, now a little in this direction, now in that, but with a circular tendency should the whole course of the track be viewed from a sufficiently lofty pinnacle. It need scarcely be said that we make no claim to stand, even momentarily, upon that vantage ground. On the flat, in the crowd, half blind with dust, we look back with envy to those happier warriors, whose battle is won and whose achievements wear so serene an air of accomplishment that we can scarcely refrain from whispering that the fight was not so fierce for them as for us. It is for the historian of literature to decide; for him to say if we are now beginning or ending or standing in the middle of a great period of prose fiction, for down in the plain little is visible. We only know that certain gratitudes and hostilities inspire us; that certain paths seem to lead to fertile land, others to the dust and the desert; and of this perhaps it may be worth while to attempt some account.

Our quarrel, then, is not with the classics, and if we speak of quarrelling with Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Galsworthy, it is partly that by the mere fact of their existence in the flesh their work has a living, breathing, everyday imperfection which bids us take what liberties with it we choose. But it is also true that, while we thank them for a thousand gifts, we reserve our unconditional gratitude for Mr. Hardy, for Mr. Conrad, and in a much lesser degree for the Mr. Hudson of The Purple Land, Green Mansions, and Far Away and Long Ago. Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Galsworthy have excited so many hopes and disappointed them so persistently that our gratitude largely takes the form of thanking them for having shown us what they might have done but have not done; what we certainly could not do, but as certainly, perhaps, do not wish to do. No single phrase will sum up the charge or grievance which we have to bring against a mass of work so large in its volume and embodying so many qualities, both admirable and the reverse. If we tried to formulate our meaning in one word we should say that these three writers are materialists. It is because they are concerned not with the spirit but with the body that they have disappointed us, and left us with the feeling that the sooner English fiction turns its back upon them, as politely as may be, and marches, if only into the desert, the better for its soul. Naturally, no single word reaches the centre of three separate targets. In the case of Mr. Wells it falls notably wide of the mark. And yet even with him it indicates to our thinking the fatal alloy in his genius, the great clod of clay that has got itself mixed up with the purity of his inspiration. But Mr. Bennett is perhaps the worst culprit of the three, inasmuch as he is by far the best workman. He can make a book so well constructed and solid in its craftsmanship that it is difficult for the most exacting of critics to see through what chink or crevice decay can creep in. There is not so much as a draught between the frames of the windows, or a crack in the boards. And yet — if life should refuse to live there? That is a risk which the creator of The Old Wives’ Tale, George Cannon, Edwin Clayhanger, and hosts of other figures, may well claim to have surmounted. His characters live abundantly, even unexpectedly, but it remains to ask how do they live, and what do they live for? More and more they seem to us, deserting even the well-built villa in the Five Towns, to spend their time in some softly padded first-class railway carriage, pressing bells and buttons innumerable; and the destiny to which they travel so luxuriously becomes more and more unquestionably an eternity of bliss spent in the very best hotel in Brighton. It can scarcely be said of Mr. Wells that he is a materialist in the sense that he takes too much delight in the solidity of his fabric. His mind is too generous in its sympathies to allow him to spend much time in making things shipshape and substantial. He is a materialist from sheer goodness of heart, taking upon his shoulders the work that ought to have been discharged by Government officials, and in the plethora of his ideas and facts scarcely having leisure to realise, or forgetting to think important, the crudity and coarseness of his human beings. Yet what more damaging criticism can there be both of his earth and of his Heaven than that they are to be inhabited here and hereafter by his Joans and his Peters? Does not the inferiority of their natures tarnish whatever institutions and ideals may be provided for them by the generosity of their creator? Nor, profoundly though we respect the integrity and humanity of Mr. Galsworthy, shall we find what we seek in his pages.

If we fasten, then, one label on all these books, on which is one word materialists, we mean by it that they write of unimportant things; that they spend immense skill and immense industry making the trivial and the transitory appear the true and the enduring.

We have to admit that we are exacting, and, further, that we find it difficult to justify our discontent by explaining what it is that we exact. We frame our question differently at different times. But it reappears most persistently as we drop the finished novel on the crest of a sigh — Is it worth while? What is the point of it all? Can it be that, owing to one of those little deviations which the human spirit seems to make from time to time, Mr. Bennett has come down with his magnificent apparatus for catching life just an inch or two on the wrong side? Life escapes; and perhaps without life nothing else is worth while. It is a confession of vagueness to have to make use of such a figure as this, but we scarcely better the matter by speaking, as critics are prone to do, of reality. Admitting the vagueness which afflicts all criticism of novels, let us hazard the opinion that for us at this moment the form of fiction most in vogue more often misses than secures the thing we seek. Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments as we provide. Nevertheless, we go on perseveringly, conscientiously, constructing our two and thirty chapters after a design which more and more ceases to resemble the vision in our minds. So much of the enormous labour of proving the solidity, the likeness to life, of the story is not merely labour thrown away but labour misplaced to the extent of obscuring and blotting out the light of the conception. The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest, and an air of probability embalming the whole so impeccable that if all his figures were to come to life they would find themselves dressed down to the last button of their coats in the fashion of the hour. The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way. Is life like this? Must novels be like this? ...
The Common Reader, by Virginia Woolf

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