International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 163 27th June 2011


I. ' -- 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 Shah



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 passive observer'.

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,, 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.

Geoffrey Klempner



The idea began, as these things often do, with a series of serendipitous coincidences.

We needed a new idea to revive the Pathways online conference (see https:---). After a long run at, 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 petered out.

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. 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 to taste.

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 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 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 slogan:

     It's all about your mind.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2011




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.[1] 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[2], 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[3].

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[4] (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 start.

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[5] 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 Being).

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 prove unhelpful.

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[6]. 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[7]. 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[8]. 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.

Works Cited

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Aylesbury: Compton Printing Ltd, 1973.

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 upon.

2. Descartes spends a considerable amount of time 'proving' that the external world exists, but that proof is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

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'' (Heidegger, 83).

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




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 philosophy.

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 concerned.

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 problem abortion.

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.


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Tejasha Kalita Research Scholar Dept of HSS, IIT Guwahati

(c) Tejasha Kalita 2011




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 instantaneous motions.

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 as Principles)

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 CSM)

Sim-Hui Tee Multimedia University Persiaran Multimedia, Cyberjaya 63100 Selangor, Malaysia

Mohd Hazim Shah Faculty of Science University of Malaya 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

(c) Sim-Hui Tee and Mohd Hazim Shah 2011


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