A Philosopher's Blog

Obama & Kant

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 25, 2009

While watching CNN this morning, I heard an excerpt from the speech given by President Obama at his first state dinner.  What immediately caught my attention was the fact that Obama seemed to have quoted Immanuel Kant:

“For it’s been said that ‘the most beautiful things in the universe are the starry heavens above us and the feeling of duty within us.’ Mr. Prime Minister, today we worked to fulfill our duty –bring our countries closer together than ever before. Tonight, under the stars, we celebrate the spirit that will sustain our partnership — the bonds of friendship between our people.”

While it would be rather too much to claim that Obama is a Kantian based on this one phrase, it is certainly interesting.

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8 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on November 25, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Obama is in India, and I would guess that his speech writers saw that this was attributed to an Indian Proverb as it is credited here, for example: http://www.inspirationfalls.com/duty-quotes/

    The most beautiful things in the universe are the starry heavens above us and the feeling of duty within us.~Indian Proverb

    I seriously doubt that Obama had a clue he was quoting kant.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 25, 2009 at 3:06 pm

      Interesting. One standard translation of Kant’s phrase is ““Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 25, 2009 at 3:17 pm

      When arguing for his categorical imperative, Kant asserts that “I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” and offers as proof that ” the common reason of men perfectly coincides with this.” Perhaps the fact that his view of the starry heavens and duty is also expressed in an Indian proverb indicates that he is right about this. Or that he happened to hear the proverb. :) It would be interesting if Kant were influenced by this proverb.

  2. magus71 said, on November 26, 2009 at 6:36 am

    Obama quoted his teleprompter, which was quotng his speech writers, who quoted someone else.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 27, 2009 at 1:29 pm

      Obama does seem the sort of person who has read philosophy. But, I’m sure his speech minions crafted the speech for him.

  3. michael reidy said, on November 26, 2009 at 9:16 am

    And in free unscripted exchanges Obama is halting and stilted.

    • kernunos said, on November 26, 2009 at 12:05 pm

      He is a man that is afraid to say how he really feels without the ‘promter. As much of a horrible speaker George Bush was I can at least appreciate the fact that he had no problems freely speaking his convictions. You at least knew where he stood. Obama is too much mystery.

  4. Mike said, on December 18, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Give me a break. He’s hardly a Kantian. Whatever “philosophy” brought him to the forefront wasn’t deeply based on reason. It’s almost axiomatic to say that philosophy and public opinion mix like oil and water. If you want to be poplular, it’s best to flee from truth. And so far Obama has demonstrated that principle well.


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