The Opposing Views on Common Human Reason between Plato and Kant

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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From picking what to wear in the morning, to making decisions on who to vote for this upcoming November, we are making countless number of decisions every day. We may, at times, face dilemmas. Ultimately, we believe that the decisions we make best benefits ourselves and, possibly, the future. Nevertheless, there is no denying that what one thinks is the rightful choice may be another’s wrongful one.

When it comes to, for example, political or ethical decisions for the people, coming to a single conclusion is difficult.

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An Athenian philosopher named Plato resolves this complication by stating that philosophers, the lovers of knowledge, should make decisions and rule the common people. In fact, they are the only ones that are fit to rule. Kant, another philosopher from Prussia, argues against Plato, stating that we know how to make truly good decisions. We do not need a philosopher to know how to distinguish between right and wrong. So, who should rule us – the philosophers or us?

Reflecting on what was aforementioned, each individual tends to firmly believe that the decisions he/she makes are most sensible. When such views collide, we become defensive at each other. If, however, we make judgements that are not based on our own benefits, such as greed, it becomes clear what is considered morally right and wrong. Once we can justify that our judgements are universal, disagreements will not arise. For such reason, Kant’s views on common human reason seems to be much more logical than that of Plato.

Both Plato’s Republic and Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals propose the views on common human reason. Alluding to the Allegory of the Cave and the Divided Line, Plato conveys humans as the prisoners of the cave, only being able to see the shadows reflected on the wall. The one that escapes, sees what is beyond the cave, and gains an understanding of the world, resembles philosophers.

This “journey” of reaching the intelligible realm from the visible realm is illustrated as the Divided Line, where it makes a clear distinction between humans and philosophers. Kant, on the other hand, introduces the Categorical Imperatives to claim that humans are capable of making judgements. Categorical Imperatives are “the moral cognition of common human reason” (4:404), or our moral duties that we act on to test our intentions, also known as the maxim. Universalizing the maxim, without contradictions, is an important basis for constructing the moral law.

Reflecting on the two philosophers’ views, I believe that Kant’s positions are correct. What Plato describes as philosophers and their understanding of the world seem to depict many religions. Supporting Kant’s claims, we do not need religion to know what is morally right and wrong – the knowledge necessary to decide between the two is already within us. Emphasizing the universality of the moral law, consider the following scenario.

We are at war with another country, and we decide to bomb our opponent’s land; however, we find it outrageous for the opponent to bomb us back. This is not universal; hence, the act of bombing is not part of the moral law. Consider another: the topic of climate change in the arena of public policy in the United States. It is evident that climate change is real, as supported by more than 97% of the scientific articles.

There are, however, many companies and politicians that oppose this, possibly out of greed or ignorance. When greed or self-benefit is taken out of context, the universality of acting to better the planet depicts our moral duty. Consequently, Kant’s stance on the common human reason, in accordance with the universal law, makes it clear that we are capable of making moral regulations.

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The Opposing Views on Common Human Reason Between Plato and Kant. (2019, Apr 04). Retrieved from