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KANT : The Ethics of Duty and Respect

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1 KANT : The Ethics of Duty and Respect
1724 – 1804

2 An example : You are invited to a party with someone who isn’t very popular. Reluctantly you accept. Two days later another invite arrives for a party on the same night from someone you like a lot more. WHAT DO YOU DO ???

3 Timeline Jesus Kant (C18th) Î Now [ Enlightenment______]

4 The Enlightenment The Age of Reason Newton’s Copernican revolution
Rousseau’s Social Contract Kant wanted to find a rational basis for the metaphysics of morals (meta = beyond) Kant called this “practical reason” 4.1

5 “ Reason is the slave of the passions.”
DAVID HUME ( ) wrote: “ Reason is the slave of the passions.” 4.2

6 Immanuel Kant wrote, disagreeing with Hume :
“Suppose a man does an action for the sake of duty alone, for the first time his action has genuine moral worth… a moral worth beyond all comparison the highest… he does good not from inclination, but from duty”. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals 4.2

7 Schindlers List Oscar Schindler was moved by the sight of the girl in the red dress wandering through scenes of murder as Krakow ghetto is “cleansed”. He resolves to save Jews by relocating his factory (extract from the book available on this site PI Kant extract 1) ). 4.4

8 But Kant…………….. Kant distrusted emotions as being
Passive Unreliable Phenomenal (from the world of experience) Was Kant right? Or was Hume right?

9 A Kantian worldview (see next slide too!)
Phenomenal -> pure reason -> observation -> inductive conclusion = Jack is a bachelor Noumenal -> practical reason -> abstraction -> deductive conclusion = all bachelors are unmarried NB This Kantian worldview is fundamentally dualistic. Kant argued that morality is derived from practical reason, a priori.

10 Kant’s view of Human Nature
Kant’s understanding of human nature is best appreciated within the context of: Animals Human Beings God / Angels Desires Inclinations Desires & Reason Reason Animals follow their desires and inclinations only. They have no reason, so behave according to the empirical laws of cause and effect, led by their appetite and instincts. God and angels are perfectly rational beings, without appetites and desires to lead them astray from following reason and objective moral laws. Human nature experiences the tension of desires and inclinations (their animal self) versus the voice of reason (their God-like self) 4.3 Phenomenal and Noumenal Realm Phenomenal Realm Noumenal Realm

11 The meaning of a priori Kantian ethics is a priori synthetic = from reason, but provable true or false. A priori means ‘derived from reason not observation’ literally ‘before’. Synthetic means ‘from circumstances in the world as we find it’ , so “provable true or false”. 4.5

12 Analytic and synthetic statements
Analytic – true by definition “all bachelors are unmarried”. Synthetic – true empirically ie can be true or false “Fred is a bachelor”. Question: “all swans are white” – analytic or synthetic? 4.6

13 The good will – the motive is crucial
“It is impossible to conceive anything in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good except the good will”. Immanuel Kant 4.6

14 The good will - summary Examples? Is intrinsically good (in itself).
Desires, consequences, feelings cannot be good in themselves. Only an action coming from the motive of duty alone can be moral. “Shines forth like a precious jewel”. Examples? 4.5

15 Adolf Eichmann trial 1967 4.8

16 Two concepts of duty Duty = following orders (Adolf Eichmann) Duty = imposing obligation on one’s own will and feelings (Kant)

17 Film Clip : The Queen There is a tension in this scene (the last scene of the film) as the Queen discusses the difficulties of being a monarch. What is the tension? 4.8


19 The Categorical Imperative
Categorical = unconditional commands binding on everyone at all times, based on reason, not feelings. Categorical imperative: ‘you ought to tell the truth’ (Kant called these maxims, or general rules). Hypothetical imperative: ‘you ought to tell the truth if no-one’s hurt by it’ (a hypothesis is an “if” statement eg if it suits you, lie, so rightness depends on your goals or feelings). 4.10

20 Categorical or hypothetical?
Self Test Be nice to your granny so she will leave you money in her will. Use artificial contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Tell the truth so people will trust you. NB Hypotheticals don’t always have an “if”!!! 4.10

21 Kant’s categorical imperative
Is derived from practical reason, using a priori reasoning. Belongs to the noumenal world (with ideas of “cause and effect”, “time” and “God” for example. Is the result of autonomous (free) human beings transcending their animal desires. Provides universal moral principles, and so is deontological (creates duties and rules)

22 First formulation: The formula of law
Universalize your actions into a universal law “What is fair for one is fair for all” N.B. This principle is present in all world faiths and many philosophies. “Always act in such a way that the maxim of your action can be willed as a universal law for all humanity” Consistency Fairness Moral imagination and empathy 4.10

23 Example : You modify your car, fit a loud exhaust pipe and drive it too fast down your local High Street. What would Kant say???

24 Wrong action An action is wrong if it’s a contradiction in nature or will. Example: “A man reduced to despair by a series of misfortunes feels wearied of life, and asks if it wouldn’t be contrary to duty to take his own life. We see at once that a system of nature in which it should be a universal law to destroy life would contradict itself: that maxim can’t exist as a universal law of nature.” Kant

25 Second Formulation: The formula of humanity
Respect all human beings as having absolute dignity “Always treat human beings as an end in themselves, never simply as a means to an end.” Equality of status Human rights Dignity of the individual 4.13

26 Example – simulate this!
You go into a shop to buy some chocolate. Treat the shopkeeper as a. just a means and then, b. more than just a means to buy sweets. What does it mean for a teacher to respect students? Or for you to respect me? How would Kant behave towards the shopkeeper? 4.14

27 Third Formulation: The formula of autonomy
Authority for me to decide, considering the interests of all, on the basis of a shared humanity, and my own autonomy. “So act as if you were a law-maker in a kingdom of ends” There is such a thing as society We have mutual obligations as well as rights We need to abstract issues of gender, personal taste etc and legislate from an “original position” under a “veil of ignorance” (John Rawls 1971 A Theory of Justice) 4.15

28 The summum bonum Kant rejects happiness as a primary goal.
“Pure practical reason requires not that we renounce the claims of happiness; it requires only that we take no account of them whenever duty is in question”. Summum bonum is a mixture of virtue and happiness “where rational beings are worthy of happiness”, ie heaven! 4.14

29 The three postulates - Kant
Autonomy Immortality God Does Kant need God? Sum up the summum bonum to Kant. The power of a priori reason The reward for a dutiful life The source of the objective law

30 Conclusion – summary of Kant
Kant believed that the only intrinsic (ie good in itself) good is the good will operating according to a sense of duty in line with the categorical (ie unconditional) imperative. This is an innate, a priori, objective, reasonable principle. Internal, not external Comes from reason, not Pope, parents, law-makers A priori, not dependent on feelings circumstances/ consequences Universal and absolute N.B. Not made relative to some idea of happiness or flourishing, but on a reasonable abstraction stemming from the autonomous individual, who is completely equal to every other person.

31 Prepare for a debate justifying your choice
Evaluation Examine the list of benefits and problems (see below) produce two lists, choose the benefit and problem of Kantian ethics you think is the most persuasive/powerful. Prepare for a debate justifying your choice

32 Weakness 1: rigidity The strange case of the enquiring murderer.
“To be honest in all deliberations is a sacred and absolute command of reason....whoever tells a lie is responsible for the consequences”. Kant So don’t lie even to save your friend who’s hiding in the house from a crazy knifeman. Possible to be a moral fanatic like Eichmann. 4.18

33 Weakness 2: harshness - retribution
Kant believed capital punishment was a form of consistent universalisability. “An evil deed draws punishment on itself” Kant If someone is horrible to you, be horrible back. Denial of moral emotions ? inhuman.

34 Weakness 3: speceism Our rationality places us above the animals.
“As far as animals are concerned, we have no direct duties. Animals are there merely as a means to an end. That end is man.” Kant 4.18

35 Weakness 4: conflicting duties
Absolute theories of ethics like Kant’s have a problem when two “oughts” conflict. “Don’t lie” and “don’t kill”. Kant can’t distinguish between them. W.D. Ross gives us a way out by arguing for a hierarchy of prima facie duties, which are relative. So you can be a deontological relativist! 4.18

36 Strength 1: clarity Kant gives us clear rules to follow.
“Everyone who is ideally rational will legislate the same moral principles.” Louis Pojman “Hypothetical imperatives are possible because we have desires, categorical imperatives are possible because we have reason”. James Rachels 4.20

37 Strength 2: consistency
We don’t exempt ourselves or others. Everyone is treated as an autonomous law-maker. “A person can’t regard himself as special from a moral point of view”. James Rachels 4.20

38 Strength 3: dignity/equality
The value of human beings is absolute. We can’t treat people just as means to an end. “We have unconditional worth and so must treat all value-givers as valuable in themselves”. Louis Pojman “Humans have intrinsic worth and dignity, because they are rational agents – that is, free.” James Rachels 4.20

39 What have we left out? Compare this list with your textbook or John Waters’ Socratic Ideas powerpoint, or flick through Lawrence Hinman’s by clicking on this link. Do they all agree on the major strengths and weaknesses of Kant? 4.20

40 Analyse and Evaluate! Try without help
Moral autonomy: freedom and dignity Equality and impartiality: applies to all Simplicity: deontological rules easy to apply BUT…. Moral fanatics like Eichmann (cruel) Can’t resolve conflicting duties Speciest, unlike Utilitarians, no concern for suffering animals

41 Remains of the Day – E.M.Forster
Is duty dehumanising (because it denies us our emotions?)

42 Case Studies (pre-prepare or use newspapers)
On a number of cards you could consider a number of situations which you can assess from a Kantian perspective (ie say what Kant might or might not recommend someone to do, and for what reasons). Discuss…or maybe prepare a grid of a few examples.


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