Kant and the Wisdom of Oedipus

Abstract

In “The Wisdom of Oedipus and the Idea of a Moral Cosmos”, Raymond Geuss contrasts the non-moralised worldview of Ancient Greek tragedy with the attempt of philosophers to defend a moral cosmos, i. e. a wellordered, coherent moral world. Geuss calls this a “philosophy of good news” because it depicts the world as not indifferent to our moral concerns and efforts. Kant would be such a philosopher of good news, offering “perhaps the thinnest and most minimalistic version of the gospel”. The aim of this article is not mere criticism of Geuss’ interpretation of Kant, but a reflection on the demandingness of Kant’s conception of morality. I argue that Kant’s moral philosophy embraces a fundamental aspect of the tragic worldview: it does not rule out the possibility that moral requirements become extremely demanding. However, I argue that demandingness is not intrinsic to morality, but due to contingent aspects of the circumstances. Although Kant rules out collision between grounds of obligation, it may be de facto impossible to comply with a specific duty that is very stringent without having to sacrifice other moral commitments or even one’s own happiness. Since injustice and lawlessness are often the causes of moral demandingness, the rule of law is the best means to reduce demandingness. I conclude that despite demandingness, morality can provide meaning to our existence. This meaning, and not the hope in happiness in the afterlife, is the actual good news of Kant’s moral theory

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