Immanuel Kant’s Christmas

Immanuel Kant probably celebrated Christmas with his family because he was Pietist which is a form of Christianity. And it is during Christmas that families give presents to one another. His mother was very fond of him and when she had him baptized she called him Emanuel and nicknamed him ‘little Manny.’ Immanuel Kant was also very endeared to his mother and spoke highly of her later in life because she had encourage goodness and morality in him and had a great impact on his life.

Kant’s mother may have given rise to sentiments in him but he had to transcend those sentiments in order to develop a moral philosophy that had universal validity for all people. The categorical imperative, he articulated, is universally valid precisely because it is not derived from sentiment. Just consider the first formulation of the categorical imperative: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” You can’t universalize a sentiment but you can universalize an ethical maxim and Immanuel Kant is saying that only maxims that can be universalized ought to count as moral. This procedure makes it impossible to act on feelings, rather one must act on reason and act in ways all people could act. Hence we should not act in preference for our family because that preference rests on sentiments and feelings.

Jesus too loved his mother and yet also said this: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, bothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). This statement by Jesus makes Christians uncomfortable for good reason. Jesus teaches that the greatest of all commandments is to love God and then to love your neighbor as yourself and yet here he is saying the Christian must hate his family and himself. Is it possible however that Jesus was saying that in order to be moral we have to give up and hate our sentiments and feelings of preference for ourselves and members of our family? He goes on to say: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Is giving up our love and preference for our families the cross we must carry?

At Christmas time we like to give presents to family members because they give presents back to us but this is preferring our family to other people because we have something to gain. Instead there are those who give presents and food to homeless people in obedience to Jesus Christ because this shows the kind of love that God has for all people.

When a family does this kind of charitable act at Christmas a child learns how to give without the expectation of return and learns to act on the maxim of helping others in need without an ulterior motive of gain. The love this child would develop for his family would then not be dependent upon feelings but rather upon how the family inspires him to think of others and to think of strangers who have needs. The child then learns to overcome his selfish preference not only for himself but also for his own family. And in this way we see that Kant and Christmas have a lot to do with one another.

Looking to find out more about Immanuel Kant #1, then visit the Kantian School of Critical Thinking to find out more about Kant and Christmas #2.

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