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The Kantian Perspective
Transcript of The Kantian Perspective
Dr. Tyler Zimmer
Introduction to Moral Philosophy
Learn the basic components of Kantian ethical theory.
Learn to apply Kantian theory to real-world cases.
Compare and contrast Kantian ethics with Consequentialism.
The Nuts and Bolts of Kantian Ethics
Three Basic Questions in Moral Philosophy
1. What is
2. What is
3. What is
Review: how do consequentialists answer each?
is the only thing that is intrinsically good (pain is the only intrinsically bad thing).
2. The morally right action in any situation is whatever
produces the greatest amount of good for the greatest number
3. A just society is one in which laws and institutions
for the greatest number of people.
THE RIGHT vs. THE GOOD
Notice that consequentialists define moral rightness
in terms of goodness.
Consequentialists say, "the right action is whatever maximizes the good."
Rightness depends on goodness.
KANTIANS DENY THIS.
Kantians de-emphasize the importance of the question "what is good?" for morality.
Kantians = the right is prior to and independent of the good.
THE GROUND FLOOR OF KANTIAN ETHICS
Human beings are rational agents.
What does it mean to say that we're
What follows from the fact that human beings are
Which ways of treating human beings are appropriate or inappropriate in light of this fact?
THE KANTIAN PROJECT
Agents vs. Objects/Tools
How do we relate to mere objects? How do we think of tools?
We should not treat agents like
Ways of treating persons that are too similar to the way we treat objects and tools...
Things Kantians don't like...
These all fail to respect the rational agency of persons.
KANTIANS ON MORAL RIGHTNESS
Always respect the rational agency of persons
Or, put another way,
never treat persons in a way that fails to respect their agency
(i.e. never treat like mere objects or tools.)
The Categorical Imperative
Kantians tell us to "respect agency."
But how can we
with precision whether we're respecting the agency of others?
on the categorical imperative.
VERSION I: FORMULA OF UNIVERSAL LAW.
VERSION II: FORMULA OF HUMANITY.
But why do we need
Contemporary Kantian Theory*
Formula of Universal Law.
Emphasize the Formula of Humanity.
In this course, for the sake of simplicity, we'll focus more on the realist point of view and emphasize the
formula of humanity
FORMULA OF HUMANITY
"Always treat a human being (yourself included) as an end, never as a
p. 174, Shafer-Landau
What's the difference between treating a person as a...
means to an end.
to an end?
Treating someone as a means to an end...
Treating someone as a
to an end...
You use someone to accomplish a goal you have, but you do so while also respecting them as rational agents.
You treat someone as a means to an end
and nothing but.
You treat someone as a
tool or object for your purposes.
But how do we know the difference
TEST CASE #1
TEST CASE #2
You hire me to fix your refrigerator.
I help you because I want money, you give me money simply because you need my help with something.
We exchange and move on.
DO YOU TREAT ME AS MEANS OR AS MERE MEANS?
DO YOU TREAT ME AS MEANS OR AS MERE MEANS?
Same as first case, except I'm financially desperate and you find this out.
You use my desperation to bid down my price and pay me less than half of what I usually charge.
What's the difference between me treating you as a means rather than a
so long as you don't coerce a person (physically force them) to do your bidding, then you are not treating them as
Is this answer convincing?
TEST CASE #3
A hurricane devastates the area where you live, and as a result there's a shortage of potable water.
I live an unaffected area and buy up gallons of water on the cheap and rush to where you live to cash in on the crisis.
I charge $20 per gallon jugs of water that I bought for $0.99 each.
You resent me (why?) treating you in this way, but you reluctantly agree to buy some water, lacking other options.
I don't force you to buy anything and make clear that you're free not to buy water from me.
TEST CASE #4
A male boss uses his authority to fire and withhold promotions to get his employees to do favors for him that they would not otherwise do.
Imagine the boss asks a young woman employee under him to regularly fetch him coffee and do his dry cleaning -- and suppose she agrees to do it? Means or mere means?
TEST CASE #5
Imagine a doctor who has a patient who does not want to undergo a certain kind of treatment that would benefit her. The doctor has superior knowledge of medical well-being in this case, i.e. of what's good for the patient.
Would the doctor be justified in administering the treatment anyway?
To use someone in an illicit sense.
To treat someone as a mere tool for self-enrichment.
To regard someone as a mere stepping-stone on the way to achieving one's goals.
Real-world interpersonal examples?
Taking advantage of someone else's vulnerability in order to benefit oneself.
What is it to be vulnerable?
More contrasts with consequentialism...
Reasons and Intentions Matter.
The morality of actions, for Kantians, depends essentially on our
for doing what we do.
Notice that this isn't true for Consequentialists, who judge the morality of actions solely in terms of the
Imagine two different scenarios that each result in the identical outcome: person A bumps into person B, who then falls on the ground.
, person A intends to bump into person B because she takes pleasure in watching B fall over.
, person A does not intend to bump into B and only accidentally causes B to fall.
In spite of the fact that the consequences in #1 and #2 are identical, only #1 appears to contain an immoral action.
Kantians use examples such as this to motivate their view that intentions and motivations are intrinsically important for judging the morality of actions.
do Kantians think reasons for action should play an essential role in morality?
What about the
of their theory force them to take reasons for action seriously when judging whether a person did right or wrong?
Three Types of Motivation
1. Acting from
2. Acting for the sake of
3. Acting from the motive of
Acting rightly means acting from the motive of duty.
More test cases...
I save you from drowning...
because of immediate inclination.
for the sake of other ends.
from motive of duty.
You help out a friend in need...
from immediate inclination.
for the sake of other ends.
from motive of duty.
-- we're capable of making reasoned choices about what to do, what ends to adopt,
Evidence of this?
Kyla Ebels-Duggan, "Kantian Ethics" in the
Continuum Companion to Ethics
Creating the Kingdom of Ends
Lectures on Moral Philosophy
Onora O'Neill, "Kantian Responses to Some Famine Problems"
Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals
Notice that this depends upon
for treating you the way I'm treating you.
Treating an adult the way that a parent standardly treats a young child.
Doing what's good for a person whether or not that person knows you're doing it, wants you to do it, or agrees with you about whether it's good.
Person A refuses to help her friend, person B, who is in need, because A thinks B asks for assistance too often and A wants to teach B a lesson about self-reliance.
Seanna Shiffrin (2000) on this case:
"A fails to engage with B's rational, agential powers and, instead, subsitutes her judgement for B's about what B should aim for... this works around B's agency to get B to act as A believes would be better for B."
A treats B as a passive object of care, i.e. as a mere means to B's goal.
Another Test Case...
Claire is a recent college graduate mulling a decision between going to law school or pursuing a Ph.D in philosophy, and Peter is her anxious father who believes that she would be making a huge mistake if she were to forsake law for philosophy. Suppose Peter is motivated by a distrust in Claire's capacity to adequately recognize or weigh the reasons that apply to her and, as a result, tries to sabotage her efforts to apply to Ph.D programs for the sake of promoting her good. He does this without her knowing he's doing it, but suppose he has good reasons to think she would be better off doing law school.
What's wrong with paternalism?
It undervalues the agency of the person being treated like a child.
It intrudes on their deliberations about how to live their own lives.
It expresses an undue skepticism about the rational powers of others.
It involves taking a merely observational attitude toward others, but this treats agents as passive objects of care.
"My feelings were not the result of any marked cruelty in the treatment I received; they sprung from the consideration of my being a slave at all. It was slavery—not its mere incidents—that I hated. I had been cheated. I saw through the attempt to keep me in ignorance; I saw that slaveholders would have gladly made me believe that they were merely acting under the authority of God, in making a slave of me, and in making slaves of others; and I treated them as robbers and deceivers. The feeding and clothing me well, could not atone for taking my liberty from me."
FREDRICK DOUGLASS (1855)
Paternalism vs. Respecting Agency
When I treat you paternalistically, I relate to you the way a gardener relates to a plant.
But this is wrong: I should respect your rational agency and see you as an active participant and not a passive object.
Respect requires appealing to the rational powers of others when we seek their help or cooperation.
Kantian Analysis of Racism and Sexism
"The stereotypes that sustain sexism are similar in many ways to those that sustain racism. Like white women, black and brown persons of both sexes have been regarded as childlike, happiest when they are occupying their "place," more intuitive than rational, more spontaneous than deliberate, closer to nature, and less capable of substantial cultural accomplishment... they are thought to lack the capacities for rational control that distinguish people from animals."
In both cases we find a profound failure to recognize and respect the agency of the oppressed.
Sandra Bartky, "On Psychological Oppression," (1979)
Practical reason is the general human capacity for resolving, through reflection, the question of what one is to do.
Human beings, as such, have a capacity for deliberative self-determination.
We have the cognitive power to form intentions about what we will do, what ends to pursue, how to live our lives, etc.
*note the difference between "Kant's ethics" and "
This is the fundamental moral concept for Kantians.
Etymologically, "respect" derives from "spectare," to look at. The prefix "re" might mean, returning the look of someone.
We sometimes associate respect with fear. Or, sometimes we associate with the possession of goods (wealth or reputation).
Kantians deny that respect is about fear, power, wealth or reputation. Their thought is: human beings are agents, and for *that* reason must be respected as such.