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Kant, Hegel and Morality

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Joe Saunders

on 3 January 2014

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Transcript of Kant, Hegel and Morality

Kant, Hegel and Morality
: If you want X, do Y
The Formula of Humanity
"But suppose there were something the existence of which in itself has an absolute worth, that, as an end in itself, could be a ground of determinate laws, then the ground of a possible categorical imperative, i.e. of a practical law, would lie in it, and only in it alone. Now I say: a human being and generally every rational being exists as an end in itself, not merely as a means for the discretionary use for this or that will, but must in all its actions, whether directed towards itself or also to other rational beings, always be considered at the same time as an end." (IV: 428 3-11)
The Categorical Imperative

The Sources of Normativity
"It is the most striking fact about human life that we have values. We think of ways that things could be better, more perfect than they are ... Why should this be so? Where do we get these ideas that outstrip the world we experience and seem to call it into question, to render judgement on it, to say that it does not measure up, that it is not what it ought to be?" (Korsgaard 1996: 1)
“The fact of value is a mystery, and philosophers have been trying to solve it ever since. But it is essential to see that during the transition from the ancient to the modern world, a revolution has taken place – in the full sense of that resonant word. The world has been turned upside down and inside out, and the problem of value has become the reverse of what it was before. And here is why:

Plato and Aristotle came to believe that value was more real than experienced fact, and indeed that the real world is, in a way, value itself.” (Korsgaard 1996: 2)
“… for us, the world is no longer first and foremost form. It is matter. This is what I mean when I say there has been a revolution, and that the world has been turned inside out. The real is no longer the good. For us, reality is something hard, something which resists reason and value, something which is recalcitrant to form.
If the real and the good are no longer one, value must find its way into the world somehow. Form must be imposed on the world of matter. This is the work of art, the work of obligation, and it brings us back to Kant. And this is what we should expect. For it was Kant who completed the revolution, when he said that reason – which is form – isn’t in the world, but is something that we impose on it. The ethics of autonomy is the only one consistent with the metaphysics of the modern world …”. (Korsgaard 1996: 4-5)
Categorical: Do Y (regardless of whether you want X)
"But what kind of law can that possibly be ... Since I have robbed the will of all impulses that could arise for it from following some particular law, nothing remains but as such the universal conformity of actions with law, which alone is to serve the will as its principle, i.e. I ought never to proceed except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law." (IV: 402)
More Kant!
When I think of a hypothetical imperative as such I do not know in advance what it will contain, until I am given the condition. But when I think of a categorical imperative I know at once what it contains. For since besides the law the imperative contains only the necessity of the maxim to conform with this law, whereas the law contains no condition to which it was limited, nothing is left but the universality of a law as such, with which the maxim of the action ought to conform, and it is this conformity alone that the imperative actually represents as necessary. There is therefore only a single categorical imperative, and it is this: act only according to that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. (IV: 420 24 – 421 8)
“act only according to that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. (IV: 421 6-8)”
The Formula of Universal Law

“2) Another sees himself pressured by need to borrow money. He knows full well that he will not be able to repay, but also sees that nothing will be lent to him unless he solemnly promises to repay it … He feels like making such a promise … his maxim of the action would go as follows: when I believe myself to be in need of money I shall borrow money, and promise to repay it, even though I know that it will never happen … the question now is: whether it is right? I therefore transform the imposition of self-love into a universal law, and arrange the question as follows: how things would stand if my maxim became a universal law. Now, I then see at once that it could never hold as a universal law … but must necessarily contradict itself. For the universality of a law that everyone, once he believes himself to be in need, could promise whatever he fancies with the intention not to keep it, would make the promise and the end one may pursue with it itself impossible, as no one would believe he was being promised anything, but would laugh about any such utterance, as a vain pretence.” (IV: 422 15-36)
The Promise Case
"… this testing does not get very far. Precisely because the criterion is a tautology and is indifferent with regard to the content, it incorporates one content into itself with the same ease that it does its opposite." (§430)
Recall my promise
"I have, for example, made it my maxim to increase my wealth by every safe means. Now I have a deposit in my hands, the owner of which has died and left no record of it. This is, naturally, a case for my maxim. Now I want only to know whether that maxim could also hold as a universal practical law. I therefore apply the maxim to the present case and ask whether it could indeed take the form of a law, and consequently whether I could through my maxim at the same time give such a law as this: that everyone may deny a deposit which no one can prove has been made. I at once become aware that such a principle, as a law, would annihilate itself since it would bring it about that there would be no deposits at all." (V: 27)
Kant's Deposit Case
Hegel on Property
"Take the question: Ought it be a law in and for itself that there should be property? [...] Property in and for itself does not contradict itself [...] It would be no more self-contradictory to have no property at all, or no dominion over things, or to have a community of goods. That something belongs to nobody, or that it belongs to the first-comer who takes possession of it, or that it belongs to everyone together and belongs to each according to his need, that it is owned in equal portions, is a simple determinateness, a formal thought." (§430)
"Property therefore contradicts itself in all aspects as much as non-property does [...] one is as simple as the other, i.e., is not self-contradictory. The standard of the law which reason possesses in itself therefore fits every case equally well and is thus in fact no criterion at all." (§431)
And again
"It would also be very peculiar if tautology, the principle of non-contradiction, which everyone concedes to be merely a formal criterion for knowledge of theoretical truth, i.e., as something which is supposed to be wholly indifferent to truth and untruth, were for the knowledge of practical truth supposed to be more than that." (§431)
A variant of the Euthyphro dilemma:

1) Things are valuable because we value them

2) We value things because they are valuable
Realism and Anti-Realism
(Error-theory, expressivism etc.)
1) Things are valuable because they emerge from a procedure

2) Things emerge from a procedure because they are valuable
… on the one hand, if the test of non-contradiction is purely formal, it is not clear that failing the test reveals anything of moral relevance: why, if a maxim fails the test, does this show that acting on the maxim would be wrong? (Stern 2013: 151)

If, on the other hand, the test is seen as a way in which the agent can discover whether or not by acting in a certain manner she would be free-riding, then it is not clear that the test ‘compares a content only with itself’ (PS: §429, p.257), as it then presupposes some moral content as part of that test (namely, the wrongness of free-riding, or of manipulating others), rather than determining what is right and wrong through the test, and so is no longer purely formal in this sense. (Stern 2013: 151)

The Value of Agency?
How is a
categorical imperative
"[...] the Practical Contradiction interpretation enables us to answer the Hegelian objections, and it shows [...] why those objections miss the
point of a universalization test." (1996: 95)
"The person who tries to will the universalization of this maxim is not only thereby willing a situation in which practices like deposits and promises do not exist. He is also willing that they do exist, precisely because he is willing to
then to achieve his ends." (1996: 95)
"Thus the Practical Contradiction Interpretation's answer to this Hegelian objection is that Kant need not be assuming that everyone wants there to be deposits. The man in the example wants there to be a system of deposits, because he proposes to use that system as the means to his end. In a clear sense he is unfair." (1996: 95)
More Hegel
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