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'Quid Pro Quo' and Kantian Epistemology

Updated on May 3, 2020



"I'm doing this for The People"

If we had a dime for every time a politician made that statement, we'd be rich! Donald Trump has as many followers as he does detractors; however, he isn't the only politician who has promised and not delivered, and I doubt he'll be the last one. "Quid Pro Quo" gained considerable infamy about 6 months or so ago, after Trump was accused of this so called 'unethical' conduct. Latin can be complex, especially since words change and can have a different spelling as result of their meaning -- something known as 'declension'. However, and that said, 'Quid Pro Quo', means in plain drive thru English, 'something for something else'. And, as I previously mentioned, some people love Trump, and some not so much. But whatever argument you'd like to make, all politicians make promises, and sometimes do not deliver on what they promised.

"Morality" in Kant's View

Some have facetiously called Emmanuel Kant the greatest philosopher in the history of Western Civilization. Others, have called Kant a soup of sorts with ingredients from Descartes, Newton, Locke and Hume. Regardless of how high/low you place Kant on the philosophical scale, like all philosophers, he wasn't in short supply of opinions/hypothesis. Kant's philosophy of "5 + 7 = 12" aka "Synthetic a Priori" is what he's most renowned for, but he also wrote extensively on ethics. According to Kant, there are 3 moral comportance laws: Autonomy, Theonomy, and Heteronomy....

Mother Teresa, MLK Jr., and Gandhi



According to Kant, this is the only true morality that exists. To do a twist on 'Quid Pro Quo' this would translate to 'something for nothing' aka doing someone a favor and not expecting to receive anything in return. "Auto" is Greek for you and "onomy" is Greek for law. Best translates into "your law." When Mother Teresa started her illustrious career as a humanitarian and healthcare worker, she knew what she was getting into. In fact, she was specifically warned not to go to the ghettos of India or she'd die. Some of these cities were ridden with malaria (which she eventually contracted...) and other horrible diseases. She was, in Kant's opinion, "Autonomous," i.e., not influenced by any one but herself. Her true calling to heal and protect the sick was entirely her doing and she would not have listened to anyone who'd have suggested she do otherwise.

Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi were also autonomous. They had received ominous threats from detractors (some of whom wanted to kill them), yet they didn't wavered on their ethics, because their calling was to improve the life of the poor and oppressed, regardless of what the price for doing so was. And, in fact, both paid with their lives.




Taken out of context, some have facetiously suggested that Kant felt religion to be in fact, "Quid Pro Quo." "Theo" is the Greek for God and "onomy" is the Greek word for law. You may have noticed that the antonym for the word 'religion' is 'secular' from the Latin 'seculum' meaning 'the present'. Regardless of whether you're an atheist, agnostic, or believer, most would agree that religion's central dogmas/focal point is to tell you what will take place in the future i.e., what will happen to you when you are no longer living on this earth. In contrast to 'secular' which means present, earthly, or now. Kant felt religion to be in fact something of a 'Quid Pro Quo', but in a good way, because people want to know that by engaging in good behavior while living, their continuation after death would be cemented -- 'Quid Pro Quo', good behavior while living in exchange for eternal life after death -- 'something for something else'. Religions encourage ethical behavior, and in Kant's opinion, this was the more positive side of humanity. So, Kant thought religion was a good thing, even if people's reasoning for believing was questionable in his opinion? Last, Kant felt that we could not disprove the existence of God, or vice versa.




"Hetero" is the Greek word for other, and onomy is the Greek word for "law." Why can't we get out of a ticket by telling a police officer, "my boss told me that if I was late for work one more time he'd fire me and I have a family to support. This was my reason for running the red light." Well, you guessed it. This word translates into "law by others" i.e., laws are imposed upon us to follow or else! Laws are at times written in a way that may or may not make sense to you, but if you violate them, you'll pay the price. Your only incentive to follow a law is that you'll get in trouble if you don't. This in fact is a 'Quid Pro Quo' aka doing 'something for something', because refusing to disobey would get you in a lot of trouble e.g. lose your driver's license, get in trouble with the police, state, government, etc., etc., etc.


Criticism against Kant's "autonomy" is that certain criminals are autonomous. This is debatable. However, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi, all fought to improve human rights around the world and we're all the better for them having lived. Kant wrote umpteen essays defending his philosophical positions; his propositions have been oftentimes challenged and refuted by other philosophers. Although Kant died over 200 years ago, his influence worldwide continues to the present day.





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