Ethics, Part 2

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Ethics, Part 2

  1. 1. Ethics, Part 2<br />Unit 11<br />
  2. 2. Kant’s Categorical Imperative<br />Remember, Kant’s ethic is non-consequentialist, meaning that for Kant, actions are right or wrong in and of themselves, regardless of the consequences<br />In his ethic, Kant is dealing with “moral oughts” or “categorical imperatives”<br />
  3. 3. Kant’s Categorical Imperative<br />These “moral oughts” cannot be conditional upon an individual’s desires.<br />They must be ABSOLUTE – universal and exceptionless– or as Kant refers to it, categorical<br />They are rooted in a certain fact about human nature: we are rational beings<br />Note: Utilitarianism was rooted in another fact about human nature: we are passionate beings (we have desires). <br />Like Plato, Kant strongly implies that reason should override desire<br />
  4. 4. Kant’s Categorical Imperative<br />There are 3 formulations of Kant’s Categorical Imperative<br />Both the first and second formulations of the Categorical Imperative presuppose that it is possible to state the general principle behind any act that one might consider performing<br />Example: Helping your neighbor fix her flat tire.<br /> GENERAL PRINCIPLE: It is good to help one’s fellow human in distress.<br />Example: Paying your bills on time.<br /> GENERAL PRINCIPLE: It is good to be responsible with one’s money.<br />
  5. 5. The First Formulation<br />“Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” (Kant)<br />You are the Supreme Ruler of the world. Every action you do automatically becomes a universal law that everyone in the world must follow. Does this create an illogical world?<br />You must first determine the principle behind the action. Then we must universalize that principle to see if any logical contradiction appears.<br />
  6. 6. The First Formulation - Examples<br /> Example #1: Let’s return to the example of helping your neighbor fix her flat tire. What happens when we universalize the principle, “It is good to help one’s fellow human in distress?” Is there any logical contradiction in the idea of a world in which everyone always helps a fellow human in distress?<br />Example #2: How about if you destroyed your neighbor’s TV because they watched movies too loud? The general principle behind the specific action is, “It is good to destroy other’s property when they upset you.” What happens when we universalize that principle? Does chaos ensue?<br />
  7. 7. The Second Formulation<br />“Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature.” (Kant)<br />Imagine that you live in a world where everyone automatically does that particular action by their nature.<br />For example, imagine a world in which everyone always helps fellow humans in need in the same manner that the moon always orbits the earth (that is, out of necessity). Is such a world possible?<br />This formulation is very similar to the first, which is why they are often studied together. <br />
  8. 8. The Third Formulation<br />
  9. 9. The Third Formulation<br />“Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.” (Kant)<br />This is the essence of Kant’s moral philosophy<br />Kant is here suggesting that anyone who is committed to rationality is also committed to treating other people as “ends in themselves” and not as pawns in one’s own game of personal advantage.<br />But there are some problems with the third formulation…<br />
  10. 10. The Third Formulation - Problems<br />Kant’s position on nature as a means to human ends has severe ecological consequences (consequences that we are feeling today).<br />His argument is almost too abstract to evaluate, and consequently not as compelling.<br />The difference between using people as means or treating them as ends isn’t always clear.<br />Real-life situations are often not as cut and dry as theoretical ones, and sometimes, no matter what we do, our act can be interpreted as using someone (for an example, read Sartre’s story in your textbook, on page 282).<br />
  11. 11. Strengths of the Categorical Imperative<br />Kant acknowledges that an essential part of morality is the need to view the world from the perspective of others.<br />Unlike Egoism and Hedonism, Kant’s moral philosophy takes into account the viewpoint of others, and in this way is similar to utilitarianism and Jesus’ “Do unto others…” ethics.<br />However, unlike these ethics, Kant isn’t asking, “If everyone behaved like that, how would you like it?” Kant doesn’t really care what you like.<br />Kant is really asking, “If everyone behaved like that, would the standards of reason and dignity still be maintained.”<br />Kant’s ethic forces us out of subjectivism and selfishness, as we are forced to contemplate and weigh the perspective and good of others.<br />
  12. 12. Problems with the Categorical Imperative<br />There seems to be something too absolutistic about Kant’s ethic.<br />Kant claims that we cannot modify these principles, but he modifies the maxim regarding killing another person in order to support capital punishment.<br />It would seem that we have a moral obligation to perform every action whose maxim can be generalized.<br />To borrow Palmer’s example, we would all have to smile at birds all the time!<br />Kant’s ethic seems to have no room for sympathy or empathy. It is a cold philosophy.<br />

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