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Kant - A brief introduction to his moral philosophyPresentation Transcript
Kantian Deontology: The Categorical Imperative“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
Kant’s Copernican Revolution• Where does Copernicus (=Polish astronomer) place us in the physical universe? – Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) turned astronomy inside-out by hypothesising that the earth moved around the sun (instead of the other way round)• Where does Kant (= Prussian philosopher) place us in the moral universe? – Kant turned epistemology inside-out by theorising that objective reality depends on the mind (instead of the other way round). – Similarly, morality depends purely on rational considerations.
Deontology – Assessing Acts• Morality is a matter of duty.• Whether something is right or wrong doesn’t depend on its consequences.• But on the way choosers think when they make choices.• Actions are right or wrong in themselves.• We each have duties regarding our own actions.
Happiness vs. Reason• Only reason and happiness motivate us to act.• Morality motivates us to act, so must be driven by either reason or happiness.• Happiness is conditional: what makes people happy differs, and happiness can be good or bad.• But reason is universal, categorical. unconditional.
The Good Will• Reason only one of our traits of character is inherently/unconditionally good – Name some virtues – Are they always good or used for good ends?• The ‘Good Will’ = our power of rational moral choice = unconditionally good – found only in humans – gives us inherent dignity as autonomous moral agents
More about the Will• What makes the will good? – when it acts out of duty, not out of inclination.• What does it mean to act out of inclination? – To do something because it makes you feel good or because you hope to gain something from it.• What does it mean to act out of duty? – when you act out of respect for the moral law.• How do we do that? – We must know what the moral law is.• How do we know that? – We use the "Categorical Imperative."
What is an imperative?• An imperative is just a command.• A hypothetical imperative is a command that presupposes some further goal or end – i.e. if I want X I should do Y – But nothing compels you to do Y• A categorical imperative is not hypothetical. It is unconditional. – i.e. do X – It is irrational and immoral not to obey it• For Kant, morals = categorical imperatives
Kant’s Categorical Imperative• Morality is universal, the same for everyone: – “Everyone must admit that a law, if it is to be [legitimately binding] has to carry absolute necessity with it…” Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals – Rationally speaking, the moral law must be obeyed. – And when we act, we act on maxims or practical principles of action.• so “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”.
The three formulations of the Categorical Imperative• Formula of Universal Law: "Act as if the maxim of your action were to secure through your will a universal law of nature"• Formula of Humanity: "Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or that of another, always as an end and never as a means only"• Formula of Autonomy: “Act as if you were through your maxims a law making member of a kingdom of ends."
What is a Categorical Imperative?• In effect, two rules for testing rules of conduct or maxims - pass = a possible CI• First test: ‘contradiction in conception’ or ‘self- contradiction’ – First, generalise the maxim and see if it makes sense. – A maxim is wrong if the situation in which everyone acted on that maxim is somehow self-contradictory. – Take stealing: If we could all just help ourselves to whatever we wanted, the idea of ‘owning’ things would disappear; – And then no one would be able to steal.
The Categorical Imperative• Second test: “contradiction in will” (a.k.a. ‘reversibility’)• If the maxim you’re testing isn’t self-contradictory – then ask: would you choose to live in a world where it was followed by everyone – as then it would apply to you as an individual – would you mind being governed by it?• It is logically possible to universalise some unpleasant maxims – e.g. ‘don’t help others in need’• But we can’t will this maxim, because we might need help ourselves.• So such a maxim is not ‘reversible’.• So it cannot be willed without contradiction.
The case of the false promise• Kant’s example about non-contradiction• Maxim: “I may make a false promise in order to reap financial gain.”• Generalised: Anyone may make a false promise to get something s/he wants.• This is self-contradictory because: – If anyone may make a "false promise," nobody would take a promise seriously; promising becomes meaningless. – Result: I may not act on that maxim, as the maxim fails the ‘contradiction in conception’ test.
Stealing, Lying• Similar reasoning leads Kant to conclude that any maxim permitting theft or lying must be rejected. Why…? – A thiefs maxim, once generalised, would overturn the institution of property, – but unless the institution of property exists, there can be no theft. – A liars maxim, once generalised, would overturn the assumption of truthfulness, – but without this assumption, no lie can even be attempted.
The case of The Bad Samaritan• Kant’s example about reversibility• Maxim: I may refuse to help another person in distress who cannot pay me even though I could do so at little cost to myself.• Generalised: Anyone may refuse to help another person in distress who cannot pay her even though it would cost her little to help.• Can it be conceived without contradiction? Yes.• So being mean passes the non-contradiction test for it to be a Categorical Imperative:
The Bad Samaritan II• But does it pass the second test, Reversibility? – Could you will yourself in the same position? – Probably not, because you might find yourself in a situation of extreme need and nobody else would help you. – If this did happen to you, you would wish to be helped.• So the Bad Samaritan maxim is not reversible• Hence not really universalisable.• Result: You cannot act on the "Bad Samaritan" maxim.• But: ‘contradiction in will’ test - logical force...?
Starter: some objections to Kant• Exceptionless rules are extremely dangerous.• The standard is an inhuman one against which to judge our actions. – Isn’t it a very high standard? Is it possible not to use people in order to obtain your goals or seek an edge or unfair advantage? Might this not make us goal- less? – Surely our natural desires are worthy? Would Kant really view parental love for children as immoral?• Doesn’t duty sound rather like habit? Isn’t it better to do things from inclination? Suppose I am inclined to hit you but control myself – surely this is more valuable to you than someone who is just nice to you from habit?• What role does character play in all this? Would a habitually moral scumbag be possible?• The choices necessary to live a good life could involve actions which entail results incompatible with happiness.• How far should respect for persons go?• Can we imagine circumstances where contingent circumstances might really matter?• Can we imagine circumstances where imperatives might clash?
Starter: some strengths of Kant• People have rights which would supersede, for example, the tyranny of the majority in utilitarianism.• Achieving good ends by despicable means is ruled out.• People cannot be exploited.• We avoid the many problems to do with weighing up and working out consequences.• We don’t have the issue of explaining why or how we have moral intuitions.
Starter1. What is the contradiction in conception test?2. What is a maxim?3. What is the contradiction in will test?4. What is wrong with lying?5. What is wrong with not helping?6. What is wrong with liking helping?7. What is wrong with loving your children?8. What is wrong with inclination, and what does Kant prefer?9. What shines like a star for its own sake?10. Name each of the three formulations of the Categorical Imperative.
Example essay-questions• 08 Examine the difficulties non- consequentialists face in explaining how certain actions are necessary. (50 marks)• 0 8 Assess the view that what makes an action moral is that it is motivated by a sense of duty. (50 marks)