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Phil 160 Kant. Opposing Utilitarianism: Kant provides a way of looking at morality that is different from Utilitarianism in two main ways: – First, it.

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Presentation on theme: "Phil 160 Kant. Opposing Utilitarianism: Kant provides a way of looking at morality that is different from Utilitarianism in two main ways: – First, it."— Presentation transcript:

1 Phil 160 Kant

2 Opposing Utilitarianism: Kant provides a way of looking at morality that is different from Utilitarianism in two main ways: – First, it is the action itself, not its consequences that contains the right-making characteristics. – Second, the reasons that people act are a factor in whether the action is right or wrong.

3 Building Blocks: The building blocks of moral theory, for Kant, are the following: – The only unconditionally good thing is a good will – The faculty of reason operates the same way in all rational beings. – Duties are discovered by means of reason.

4 Duties The concept of duty is of central importance to deontology. In fact ‘deontology’ means “The study of duties.” For Kant, there are three reasons to act: – Acting against duty (doing the wrong thing) – Acting in accord with duty, but nor from duty (doing the right thing, but for the wrong reason) – Acting from duty (doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do) The only reason that gives an action moral worth is action from duty.

5 Imperatives: A duty is a kind of obligation, and Kant says that there are two sorts of obligations (or imperatives): – Hypothetical Imperative: If ______ then you should ______. E.g. If you want a burrito, you should go to Chipotle. This hypothetical imperative has no hold on anyone who does not want a burrito. – Categorical Imperative: Do what reason reveals as your duty. This is “categorical” because it applies to the whole category of rational beings.

6 The Categorical Imperative: Kant identifies a number of ways that reason demonstrates what is the categorical imperative. We will focus on two of them: – Universalizability – Autonomy

7 Universalizability (1) One way that reason can demonstrate to us what is our duty is cy the procedure of universalizability. Kant says that the Categorical Imperative is to act only so that one’s maxim can be made a universal law. A maxim is a general principle for action.

8 Universalizability (2) So the reason that we should not kill is that it is not possible for everyone to kill. It is not okay to lie because it is not possible for everyone to lie (lies only exist when truth-telling exists) (If reason reveals what our duties are, and reason operates the same in everyone, then everyone’s duties will be the same. Therefore, anything that cannot be done by everyone cannot be a duty)

9 Universalizability (3) The idea behind the universalizability constraint is plausible. If it is not okay for anyone else to do something, it is not okay for you either. The rules are the same for everybody and are consistent.

10 Universalizability (4) Consider: “It would not be possible for everybody to go to the Chipotle on 6 th St. at noon today, so it is not moral for me to go there today at noon.” Kant would reply that the above is not a maxim. It is too specific. Only a general principle of action is a maxim. Anybody at any given time, could in principle go to a Chipotle, so it can be universal.

11 Universalizability (5) Note that this only tells us what our negative duties are. We certainly can’t do things whose maxims are not universalizable, but we are not obligated to do everything that is universalizable. For our positive duties, we need another principle.

12 Autonomy (1) The word ‘autonomy’ means ‘a law of one’s own’. This is important to Kant in the sense that for him, what it means to be a rational being is to be a law-giver. An autonomous person is one who makes their own decisions, and acts from their own principles, or is ‘a law unto themselves’.

13 Autonomy (2) This autonomy is such an important part of being a rational being that ignoring it is a severe violation of duty. Kant puts it this way: The categorical imperative states that one should always treat rational beings as a kingdom of sovereign ends, never as means only.

14 Autonomy (3) The general idea behind this is plausible. People are not things, and should never be treated as things. Slavery, rape, and lies all treat people like things, like they do not make their own decisions, and this is why they are wrong. This gives us a sense of our positive duties. We should actively treat people as autonomous.

15 Autonomy (4) This is not to be confused with a version of subjectivity. It is not “everyone gets to do what they want because they are all sovereign ends”. Rather, it is only because they are rational that they are law-givers, and since reason works the same way in everyone, everyone gives the same laws (the same moral laws apply to every rational being, and they have the duty to adopt those moral laws).

16 On the Supposed Right to Lie… Common opinion would seem to indicate that if a person had to lie to save someone’s life, they would be justified in doing so. Kant is criticized for not bowing to this opinion, and in “On the Supposed Right to Lie…” replies to the criticism. At heart, Kant recognizes that a deontological ethic can have bad consequences, but maintains that the consequences of actions are irrelevant to morality.

17 The objection: Benjamin Constant (who Kant is replying to) objects that in some cases, general moral rules may be discarded. This kind of objection is known as the “dire consequences objection” to deontology. The idea behind this objection is that when the consequences of an action are significant enough, they must surely be taken into account.

18 Some distinctions employed by Kant: Uttering a falsehood vs. telling a lie: A falsehood is something that is not the case. A lie is saying something that you believe to be false, not necessarily saying something that is false (so a person has a right to truthfulness even if they have no right to the truth). Avoidable vs. unavoidable speech: If you must speak, and must “say yea or nay”, only then is speech unavoidable. (it’s not clear whether speech is unavoidable when confronted by the prospective murderer)

19 Kant’s reply Telling a lie is always wrong, and seriously wrong because it damages the fabric of civil society and morality itself. The consequences to truth and lies are irrelevant. It is the nature of the action itself that determines its rightness. If you tell the truth you are not legally (or morally) responsible for what happens as a result, while if you tell a lie, and try to manipulate the situation, then you are legally (and morally) responsible for the consequences, no matter how unforseeable. Once consequences are admitted into the principle for action, moral luck becomes a factor, and there should be no such things as moral luck In telling the truth, you are controlling the one thing in the situation that you can control (whether to be moral yourself or not). Lying to someone to manipulate their behavior treats them as a means only.

20 Other objections: 1.Conflicts between duties need to be resolved somehow. (the previously mentioned case might be just such a conflict) 2.The “paradox of negative stringency”: If all duties are categorical, then failure to obey one should be just as bad as failure to obey any of them (so lying is as bad as murder).


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