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Tyler Zimmer

on 26 September 2018

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Objections and Criticisms
Objection 1: The Universalization Test is Empty
Is it a problem that Kantians don't offer us a theory of the good, of what makes a life go well?
OBJECTION #4: Duty and Desolation
Learning Objectives for the Week...
Deepen understanding of how Kantian theory works.
Critically evaluate the theory... examine classic objections and determine how problematic they are.
The Categorical Imperative
Formula of Universal Law
Formula of Humanity
Actions are ethically permissible only if they could be universalized without contradiction.
Actions must pass the "what if everybody did that?" test.
Never treat human beings as mere means.
Don't instrumentalize or use others as mere tools or objects for our purposes.
The Objection: The Formula of Universal Law is
Whenever we try to apply the F.U.L... it doesn't really help us understand what to do.
It is
and basically
It only appears to work in some cases because
it relies on a prior sense of what's right and wrong
... but the F.U.L. cannot rely on other things since it is supposed to be a formal procedure for determining what's right and wrong in the first place!
G.W.F. Hegel
The universalization test is empty and therefore useless for practical purposes.

Kantians are too stingy; they don't require us to do
to aid and care for others
Kantians "worship" or "fetishize" rules.
What if we do what Kantian ethics requires of us but we're totally miserable? If that's possible, isn't Kantian ethics deeply flawed?
Hegel was one of the first philosophers to make this objection to Kant's ethics. This argument is often known as the "Hegelian critique of Kant's Ethics."
The Universalization Test: Empty?
Take an action we all agree is wrong: torturing babies for fun.
What would the maxim be for this action?
Something like: Torture babies whenever it would be fun to do so.
Now imagine if it were universalized. Everyone would perform the action if they judged that it would be fun to do so.
Would you still be able to achieve your goal if you were to perform the action in this world where the maxim is universalized?
It seems, on the face of it, that you would be able to succeed just fine in the world where it is universalized.
Thus, it seems as if the univeralization test allows us to torture babies for fun.
But that is clearly morally wrong.
So, the univeralization test doesn't give us a plausible account of what's right and wrong unless we rely on prior judgments about rightness that the test cannot account for.
How might a Kantian reply?
There are surely
versions of the Universalization Test.
The Golden Rule, for example, seems problematic because as long as you wouldn't mind someone doing something to you (e.g. hitting you for the fun of it), then it becomes permissible for you to do it to others.
Kantians could argue that the objection only works if we are working with a faulty version of the universalization test.
Do we need the Universal Law Formulation?
The universal law formulation does seem to get at something important about moral rightness: we value consistency and fairness.
It does seem wrong to require other people to follow rules that we routinely exempt ourselves from, as if we're special or above others.
This seems inconsistent: we think its good that others follow rules but we don't follow those rules ourselves.
It also seems unfair: we act as if we're special, as if we're somehow above others and deserving of a special status, but this is arbitrary.
Contemporary Versions of the Universaliztion Test
Jurgen Habermas
A [moral norm] is valid just in case the foreseeable consequences and side-effects of its general observance for the interests and value-orientations of
each individual
could be jointly accepted by
concerned without coercion.
T.M. Scanlon
An act is wrong if its performance under the circumstances would be disallowed by any set of principles for the general regulation of behavior that no one could reasonably reject as a basis for informed, unforced, general agreement.
John Rawls's Version
A moral norm is right just in case it could be freely accepted by persons who were reasoning behind a "veil of ignorance" in which they didn't know their social status, class, race, gender, etc.
Testing the Adequacy of the Tests
Use the universalization tests to evaluate the following actions:
Sacrificing innocent lives to save a great number of people.
Lie to loved ones whenever doing so promotes their interests/well-being.
Institute confiscatory rates of taxation (i.e. in excess of 80%) on large inheritances.
Institute affirmative action programs in order to end long-standing labor-market discrimination.
Objection #2: Kantians are "Rule Fetishists"
The Murderer Knocking at the Door
Group Activity
You are hiding someone from a murderer that wants them dead.
The killer knocks at your door and asks if you are hiding anyone.
Is it morally permissible to lie?
What does Kantian theory recommend that we do?
Use the
Formula of Humanity
(ignore the universalization test for now).
Lying to Liars
A duty to lie?
"The murderer wants to make you a tool of evil; he regards your integrity as a useful sort of predictability. He is trying to use you, and your good will, as a means to an evil end. You owe it to your humanity in your own person not to allow your honesty to be used as a resource for evil... as Kant says, "do not suffer your rights to be trampled underfoot by others with impunity." Korsgaard (1986), p.340
Another Kantian Reply?
Korsgaard suggests that the formula of humanity is a guide to
ideal human relations,
given the sorts of beings we are (rational agents).
She then argues that, under non-ideal conditions, the principle may not strictly apply.
This draws on an influential distinction made by John Rawls between "ideal" and "non-ideal" theory.
Kantians and Consequences
The difference between Kantians and Consequentialists is not that the former ignores consequences whereas the latter does not.
The difference is the
that consequences ought to figure into moral reasoning.
A Test Case...
East Africa
47% of the population of East Africa lives on $1.25 a day or less.
30% of people are undernourished.
One child dies every minute from measles, a preventable disease.
90% of malaria cases worldwide occur here.
Large swaths of people lack access to clean water.
Social and Economic Indicators*
*United Nations Data
A consequentialist would say we have a
moral obligation
to relieve unnecessary suffering.
If people are dying of preventable diseases and lack clean water... then resources
be directed to solving these problems.
Is there a moral difference between the following two cases?
How did it come about?
Africa was carved up and colonized by major powers in Europe ("Scramble for Africa", The Berlin Conference, etc.).
Some economic history...
Economist Thomas Piketty estimates that:

The European powers in 1913 owned an estimated one-third to one-half of the domestic capital of Asia and Africa and more than three-quarters of their industrial capital
... between 1880 and 1914, [Britain and France]
received significantly more in goods and services from the rest of the world than they exported themselves

(their trade deficits averaged 1-2 percent of national income during this period)... balance of payments was strongly positive, which enabled them to increase their holdings of foreign assets year after year."
Colonialism and Imperialism
"In other words, the rest of the world worked to increase consumption by the colonial powers and at the same time became more and more indebted to those same powers…
The advantage of owning things is that one can continue to consume and accumulate without having to work, or at any rate continue to consume and accumulate more than one could produce on one’s own. The same was true on an international scale in the age of colonialism.” Piketty (2014),

According to Piketty, “today the income of Africans is roughly
5 percent less than the continent’s output, and as high as 10 percent lower in some individual countries.

This means: more value is flowing out of the Africa than is flowing in. This is because the majority of capital is still, as during the colonial era, owned by European investors.
A Kantian Argument
The people of Africa were wronged by a handful of imperial powers for centuries following the rise of colonialism.
The continent was looted and its peoples brutalized. This has never been made right.
What's more, the unequal status quo that resulted from these injustices is maintained by exercises of power (economic, political, military, etc.) on the part of former colonial powers and wealthy countries.
All of the above seems to be at odds with the principle that we should respect persons as ends and never as mere means.
Prof. Rae Langton, Cambridge
Immanuel Kant
Maria von Herbert
22 year old Austrian woman, who has studied Kant's philosophy extensively, writes to him in despair.
She disclosed to someone she is in love with that she is not a virgin, which at the time was a "sin" that severely damaged a woman's reputation and rendered her "second hand goods", to use Langton's expression.
As Langton explains, at the time women were treated as things, "as items in the sexual marketplace... that have a market value that depends on whether they have been used." This strips women of their dignity as agents and regards them as mere objects for use.
As a result of her honesty, von Herbert's lover rejects her and their romantic relationship is damaged, perhaps irreparably.
Maria von Herbert
By being honest with her partner, von Herbert's actions have led to her being rejected and alone. She is in despair and doesn't feel her life is worth living any longer. She is considering suicide.
She writes to Kant and asks what advice his moral philosophy might provide.
Kant dodges the question of suicide and tells her she has nothing to feel guilty about if she did her duty, and if she did not do her duty then she ought to feel bad.
A Challenge for the Kantian?
Maria von Herbert is in a state of despair, of "vast emptiness." Nothing has any point for her.
She does everything that Kantian ethics requires, she follows the categorical imperative, but it is no help. Her life is still miserable.
This shows that, according to Kantianism, a moral life can also be one that is empty, meaningless, desolate and miserable.
A Gap in Kantian Theory?
Kantians see the fact that they prioritize the right over the good a key strength of their theory.
But the Maria von Herbert case appears to show that it is a deficiency, not a strength.
The fact that Kantian ethics can't help someone in von Herbert's situation might show that it is missing something essential.
It might show that Kantian ethics is a flawed theory that has little or nothing to say about the good -- i.e. what makes a life good or worth living.
A Kantian Reply?
If you are looking for moral philosophy to solve your problems in that sort of situation, you're looking in the wrong place.
Philosophy isn't what you need. You need support, affirmation, help, therapy, etc.
Moral theory is not a catch-all solution to everything; it is more modest in what it should seek to achieve.
Therefore, Maria von Herbert's fate does not present a challenge to Kantian theory.
Kantian Ethics and the Good Life
Kantians don't tell us that we are required to maximize the good or maximize value. They emphasize that we are rational agents who are capable of forming our own life plans and projects.
Their main concern is with rightness. They fundamentally care about whether we are making sure not to wrong others.
And they don't think we need accept a particular conception of the good to know what's right.
What do you think? Is this a strength or a liability for Kantians?
Debates within Contemporary Kantianism
Kantian Constructivists
Kantian Realists
Constructivists emphasize the
Universal Law formulation
The universal law test is a
formal procedure
that we can use to arrive at
substantive moral conclusions
Christine Korsgaard, Onora O'Neill, Andrews Reath, others...
Realists emphasize the
Formula of Humanity
They argue that human beings, because they are agents, deserve respect and dignity.
They see this as the fundamental principle of ethics and derive everything else from it.
Allen Wood, Paul Guyer, Barbara Herman, others...
Immanuel Kant
G.W.F. Hegel
Kantianism on the
and the
Kantian ethics offers us a theory of moral rightness that makes no reference to the good.
Kantians believe the right is prior to and independent of the good.
Because their theory is primarily focused on the right and the just, they have little to say about what makes a life good for us.
Here's the problem...
It seems hard to deny that the correct thing to do in this case is to lie to the murderer to save your friend.
But, on the face of it, Kantians seem required to say that lying would be wrong.
And if that's true, then Kantians would seem to be dogmatically gripping a moral rule ("never lie") in a case where it seems imperative that we make an exception.
If this is true... then Kantians are in trouble.
What should they say in response to this criticism?
We'll discuss this more next week when we examine contractualism.
Undermined agency?
Kantians often accuse consequentialism of demanding too much of us as individuals.

But what if Kantians don't demand
of us?
Berlin Conference 1884-85
Test Case: 2012 Marikana Strike
London-based corporation, founded 1919.
Owns platinum mines in Marikana, South Africa.
Kantians will reply that this situation seems to violate the categorical imperative.
How? In what ways?
The Problem Stated:
"One of the great difficulties with Kant's moral philosophy is that it seems to imply that our moral obligations leave us powerless in the face of evil. Kant's theory sets a high ideal of conduct and tells us to live up to that ideal regardless of what other persons are doing... even if the results may be very bad."
Christine Korsgaard (1986) "The Right to Lie"
Kantians "worship" or "fetishize" rules.
A Consequentialist Objection:
Instead, they ought to recognize that rules are only good if following them produces
good outcomes.

Human beings are rational agents (i.e. we have the capacity to determine ends through rational choice.)
From this it follows that we ought never treat human beings as
mere means
-- this would fail to respect them as agents.
It's wrong to deceive, manipulate, exploit, coerce agents.
"Physical coercion treats someone's person as a tool; lying treats someone's reason as a tool. This is why Kant finds it so horrifying; it is a direct violation of autonomy... To treat others as ends in themselves is to address them as rational beings. Every rational being gets to reason out, for herself, what she is to think, choose, or do. So if you need someone's contribution to your end, you must put the facts before her and
for her contribution."
Korsgaard (1986), p.334
"The liar tries to use your reason as a mere means -- your honest as a tool. You do not have to passively submit to being used as a means... lying to a liar is a form of self-defense just as you a resist force with force."
Korsgaard (1986), pp.338
Kantians on Resistance
If someone has the goal of using you as mere means, the formula of humanity implies that you have a right to block this attempt (after all, you are agent, too).
Being permitted to resist, however, does not imply "anything goes."
Interesting question:
can Kantians permit us to resist on behalf of others?
How did this state of affairs come about?
Did it come about through violations of the categorical imperative?
How is it maintained?
Is it maintained through violations?
What do Kantians say about poverty in East Africa?
The chains of colonialism were in many cases broken only through armed struggles waged in the 1950s and 60s.
Colonialism resulted in massive theft and coercion and, in turn, underdevelopment of economies on the continent.
How is the status quo maintained?
What, if anything, are we morally required to do?
It depends upon who "we" are.
Consequentialists say facts about consequences are always decisive when determining what is right.
Kantians say facts about consequences are not always decisive. We must first know whether we're respecting people. So long as we're respecting people, however, it is permissible for facts about outcomes to figure into our reasoning.
Morally Obligatory Actions
Supererogatory Actions
When we ask whether a moral theory is too demanding (or not demanding enough)...
We're asking how it conceptualizes
moral obgligation.
We're asking how much it
us to do.
$72 Billion
$6.4 Trillion
The world's 85 richest individuals control more wealth than the poorest half of the global population combined.
Unless allowing these people to keep there money is the only way to produce the best outcomes for all, some or all of these resources should be reallocated and given to those who need them most.
"Kantians are not committed to working interminably through a list of happiness-producing and misery-reducing acts... Kantians will claim that they have done nothing wrong if none of their acts use others as mere means..."
Onora O'Neill (1980), "Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems"
"In making sure that they meet all the demands of justice, Kantians do not try to compare all available acts and see which has the best effects. They consider only those proposals that occur to them and check that these proposals use no other person as mere means. If they do not, the act is permissible; if omitting the act would use another person as mere means, the act is obligatory."
O'Neill (1980), p.548
Person A is very badly off due misfortune and extremely bad luck. Person A is badly off because she merely lacks basic necessities.
Person A is just as badly off as in Case 1, but in this case she is being actively denied what she needs by person B, who has appropriated what she needs and blocks her access to it.
Does Maria von Herbert's situation present a challenge to
Kant's Ethics
Contemporary Kantian Ethics
What to read next...
Rae Langton (1992) "Duty and Desolation"
Onora O'Neill (1980) "Kantian Solutions to Some Famine Problems"
Walter Rodney (1976)
How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
Thomas Piketty (2014)
Capital in the 21st Century
Christine Korsgaard

(1986) "The Right to Lie"
Lea Ypi (2014) "What's Wrong with Colonialism"
Susan Wolf (1982) "Moral Saints"
Texts in bold are available on our Canvas site.
Lingering questions...
What do Kantians say about end of life issues? Is what they say plausible?
Is the problem von Herbert faces a lack of meaning in her life? If so, is meaning a subject related to ethics or separate from it?
How much do we
ethical theories to do for us?
How much
they do?
"Kantian theory may seem to have little to say about famine problems. For it is a theory that forbids us to use others as mere means but does not require us to direct our benevolence first to those who suffer most. A conscientious Kantian, it seems, has only to avoid being unjust to those who suffer famine and can then be beneficent to those nearer home. He or she would not be obligated to help the starving..."
Kantian Theory and Famine
The demands on those living in or near famine conditions are stringent: no coercion, no exploitation, no deception, etc.
Full transcript