Yes We Kant: A Philosopher's Guide To New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are still freshly made, but how long will we stick to them? Here's what legendary German thinker Immanuel Kant has to say about them.

A high resolution photo
A high resolution photo
Michael Pilz

BERLIN — People have been making New Year's resolutions since long before we had health insurance premiums to help calculate them or magazines to tell us what they should be. In Ancient Rome, citizens renewed their vow of loyalty to the emperor and the gods with a New Year's procession honoring Janus, the two-faced god of the home and family, who looks both forward and backwards. Everyone reflected on their own character and promised to better themselves.

New Year's resolutions experienced a renaissance during the Reformation, which did away with the rite of confession. Calvinists, Puritans and Pietists sought forgiveness after 365 sinful days. But what could they know? What should they do? And what might they hope for? The answers to these three questions about moral behavior were to be found, at least partly, in the New Testament. They were elaborated in more detail a couple of centuries later in the writings of Immanuel Kant, through his Protestant philosophy and, more exhaustively, in his 1788 work Critique of Practical Reason.

After publishing Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, Kant turned his attention to practical, everyday reason: "I have learned from the critique of pure reason that philosophy is not the study of ideas and concepts, but the study of man, his attitudes, thoughts and behavior."

Between what is and what should be ...

Every person lives in the space between what is and what should be. He is free to decide whether he does something or refrains from doing it at all costs. He must use his reason to decide. That, Kant admits, is never easy. It is quite hard, even: "The rule for judging, under the laws of purely practical reason, is this: ask yourself whether you could wish this action that you are planning to be a universal law of nature that everyone should obey."

With that question, Kant gives us a framework for establishing ethical maxims and makes a clear distinction between the objective and the subjective. He distinguishes the quantity from the quality, distinguishes the universal laws that apply to everyone from the usual demands of conscience.

Photo: Helen Melissakis

There are always both external and internal reasons to behave in the right way. God and society are external reasons, while the internal reasons are the healthy or, as Kant calls it, "common" human understanding and feelings. These make up practical reason.

So, before making a resolution, we should ask ourselves: Is what is good for me also good for others? That is how we establish "rules for acting or refraining from action."

As we have long known, Kant himself was not entirely free from questionable views and bad habits. In the 1785 Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, he issued a strong warning against placing oneself above other people and their burdens. Thus according to Kant, who argued that each individual knows best what is reasonable for him or herself, we all know how likely we are to stick to our resolutions over the next twelve months.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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