Friday, April 29, 2005

Desert and Rational Hope

I was reading Stephen Brock's Action and Conduct (quite a good book) in a coffee shop this morning, and it started me thinking about the relation between desert and hope. For there certainly is a relation; that there is has been implicitly recognized, I think, by most discussions of desert, but Kant, of course, attempted the most explicit formulation. Kant's insight -- in some sense his only insight, since everything else subserves this -- is (put very roughly) that if it is rational to believe:

(A) The truly good person deserves the fullest happiness conceivable;

then, necessarily, it is rational to hope that the truly good person gets such happiness. It is always rational to hope that good people get what they deserve, just as it is always rational to hope to deserve what good people deserve. And, further, if it is rational to believe (A), it is irrational not to hope that the universe is set up so that good people get that happiness. The rational person hopes the best for anyone who deserves it. From which it follows, Kant reasons, that, given (A) it is rational to hope that there is a God and immortality of the soul; that God has designed the world so that, in the end, it serves a moral purpose; that God has conjoined happiness and virtue in the long run; that the soul is immortal so that no truly good person who dies will fail to get what they deserve; that it is possible (somehow - even Kant admits that on our own there's probably not much chance of managing it) to deserve to receive the happiness that the truly good person in such a world would receive. This is all very rough, and I don't pretend it's a precise characterization of Kant. My point is just that there is something to this line of thought, because there is a relation between what can be deserved and what may rationally be hoped.

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