Promoting Justice and the Common Good

Faith and Reason

 

Promoting justice and the common good: Kant and Augustine at Anna Maria College In a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (29-30 December 2018), Paula Marantz Cohen recommends teaching ‘Kant in kindergarten,’ as a way of restoring what she calls some degree of sanity and civility to our world today, particularly but not only in the political domain. She is not actually proposing to read the Critique of Pure Reason with four-year olds, but rather to consult the great works of philosophy and then to adapt philosophical ideas around morality by teaching these to different age groups, from the youngest throughout their entire schooling. In some ways, her suggestion about and rationale for teaching Kant resonates with the emphasis on a liberal arts education here at Anna Maria College.

Cohen, a dean and professor English at Drexel University, makes a strong argument for moral education with an explicitly philosophical grounding. More specifically, she recommends that parents and teachers facilitate an on-going process of moral education centered on two formulations of the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative:

 

• act as if what you do will become a universal law

• never treat yourself or others as a means to an end Why the categorical imperative? Cohen describes this dual emphasis as able to offer a concrete framework for encouraging moral growth–a framework that can be taught to students at different ages–and as a consequence to encourage individuals over time to develop greater rationality, integrity, empathy, and concern for others.

How does this relate to Anna Maria? The values of the College emphasize a cultivation of personal moral responsibility, development of the whole person, and service to the community. In light of the College’s mission and the charism of the founding Sisters of St. Ann, students at Anna Maria study Kant as well as St. Augustine, both philosophy and theology. This is a core requirement of the College’s General Education program and helps to bring the Catholic Intellectual Tradition to life for Anna Maria students. The study of both philosophy and theology reflects the College’s mission, and the specific value of:

faith and reason: Drawing upon the Catholic intellectual tradition, the academic environment provides students an education that honors faith and reason as complementary paths of wisdom in the search for truth and meaning.


What might Augustine and theology add to Cohen’s focus on the philosophy of Kant? Augustine portrays the moral life as a search for the highest good: that good which helps us to flourish, and also brings well-being and happiness. This understanding speaks to St. Augustine’s deep grounding in Greek philosophy, particularly Plato. Furthermore, as a Christian, Augustine identifies this highest good with God. For Christians, the pursuit of the good revolves around the dual Scriptural commands: to love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. When we seek relationship with God, who is the highest good, and when we seek the good of our neighbor, then we will find well-being and happiness.

Coursework, internships and a multitude of student life and extracurricular activities foster an education and subsequent growth that helps graduates to reach for something greater, assume personal responsibility, transform their world, and contribute positively to the lives of other people. Inspired by the ideals of the Sisters of St. Anne and the example of Esther Blondin, Anna Maria has been putting such an approach into action since its founding in 1946, a set of ideas and principles still bearing fruit in the 21st century.

 

Written by: Assistant Professor of Theology Dr. Marc Tumeinski

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