Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Is Obama a Kantian?

In his speech at his first state dinner honoring the prime minister of India, Obama approvingly quotes 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." Transcript here.

Maybe this is the influence of Rahm Emanuel, who happened to admire Hegel and "the nineteenth-century German thinkers" during his student days.

(Thanks to David Wood for the tip)


Scalar Vector: Glandular said...

Do you know the citation for that quote? I know it sounds very Kantian, but I am unable to place it and a Google search only leads to claims that it is an "Indian proverb".

Gabriel Gottlieb said...

The Kant quotation comes from his Critique of Practical Reason, and is found in the first few sentences of the "Conclusion": "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and more steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me" (5:162). So, it is clear that Obama's citation is slightly different since he says "the feeling of duty within us" rather than "the moral law within me." If you Google the Obama line it does bring up an Indian Proverb. It's possible Kant is taking the Indian proverb and altering the line for his own needs. Anyone know what the original source is?

If it is the Indian proverb being cited, which there might be good reason to believe, then it is reasonable to think that Obama's speech writer found the proverb in Bartlet's or Webester's Dictionary of Quotations, or some source like it.