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KANTIAN ETHICS PART II
Transcript of KANTIAN ETHICS PART II
Objections and Criticisms
Objection 1: The Universalization Test is Empty
OBJECTION #3: KANTIANS TOO STINGY?
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 a number of classic objections and determine how problematic they are.
REVIEW of KANTIAN ETHICS
Respect the agency of persons.
Our intentions (reasons for action) matter.
The only thing we're obligated to do is avoid treating persons as mere means.
exploitation, manipulation, coercion, subordination, domination, deception, paternalism, etc.
REVIEW of KANTIAN ETHICS
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.
It's wrong to make exceptions for ourselves and hold others to rules we don't hold ourselves to.
Never treat human beings as mere means.
Avoid instrumentalizing others, using them 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 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!
OBJECTIONS to KANTIAN ETHICS
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 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."
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.
The question "what if everybody did that?" or "how would you like if we did that to you?" seems to genuinely get at something important, so we shouldn't throw out 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
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
could be jointly accepted by
concerned without coercion.
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
You are hiding someone from a serial killer 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?
Formula of Humanity
(ignore the universalization test for now).
Another Kantian Reply:
Notice that they don't say lying is always and everywhere wrong.
thing that is
and everywhere wrong is violating the categorical imperative.
But the categorical imperative does not mention lying explicitly.
Thus, a Kantian's evaluation of lying will depend on whether, in any given context, it violates the categorical imperative.
Is it wrong to betray your friend if doing so prevents three other people from betraying their friends?
Is it wrong to cheat on your significant other if doing so prevents two others from cheating on their significant others?
Is it wrong to renege on a promise in order to ensure that four other people keep their promises?
The Categorical Imperative
Always respect the agency of other human beings; never treat them as a mere means.
Technically, this is the only rule Kantians tell us we always have to follow. So, if Kantians are "rule fetishists" they only fetishize one rule.
Consequentialists, too, "fetishize" a rule, namely that rule that says "always promote the greatest good for the greatest number."
Kantians, too, care about consequences.
Consequentialists say: we are morally required to do whatever will promote the best overall consequences, no matter what. Kantians disagree.
Kantians are anti-consequentialist because they think that there are
at least some cases
where doing the right thing means respecting someone even if doing so fails to promote best overall outcomes.
A Test Case...
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
Does this raise an ethical problem?
Is there a moral duty to do something about this situation?
Does the suffering of people in this region register as significant enough to require us ethically to do something?
CONSEQUENTIALISM SAYS "YES."
A consequentialist would say we have a duty to relieve unnecessary suffering.
If people are dying of preventable diseases and lack clean water... then resources should be directed to solving these problems.
BILL GATES NET WORTH:
BILLIONAIRES OF THE WORLD:
The world's 85 richest individuals control more wealth than the poorest half of the global population combined.
What should Kantians say about poverty and human suffering in Sub-Saharan Africa?
A Kantian Response to Famine, Suffering
Kantians often criticize consequentialists because they don't pay attention to how certain outcomes come about.
A Kantian can ask:
how come so many people in Sub-Saharan Africa are so badly off? How did this come about?
Did it involve coercion, exploitation, deception, subordination or the like?
Did it, in other words, involve actions that violated the categorical imperative?
A Kantian Response
Africa was carved up and colonized by major powers in Europe ("Scramble for Africa", The Berlin Conference, etc.).
Colonialism violates c
So, yes, it does seem that the present condition of people in this region is the result injustice.
And this changes how we think about the case. If the suffering was simply the result of bad luck or imprudent actions, the case would be much different.
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.
FACTS AND FIGURES:
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),
“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.
Some Kantians argue that this is evidence of
, that is taking advantage of the vulnerability of others to enrich oneself.
Exploitation violates the categorical imperative, so poverty and inequality created by means of it is wrong and illegitimate.
FACTS AND FIGURES
A Kantian Argument
The bottom line is that Africa has been wronged for most of modernity by imperial powers.
It has been looted and brutalized and this has never been made right.
What's more, capital in Africa continues to be owned by foreigners and, therefore, profits, rents, royalties and so on continue siphon off wealth from the region and swell the bank accounts of investors in the North. (e.g. Marikana Massacre)
This is wrong and it must be rectified.
Prof. Rae Langton, MIT
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.
How should we evaluate his behavior?
Did Kant do wrong?
Is Kant a Hypocrite?
Maria von Herbert writes again and expresses a desire to come meet Kant to discuss the matter in person. She says that her condition is worsening and she can see no reason to go on living. She asks Kant to explain why her life has value, why she should go on living.
Kant never responds.
In 1803 von Herbert killed herself.
A word about hypocrisy...
Hypocrisy means that your behavior doesn't live up to the principles you profess to hold. In other words, it means that you are contradicting yourself: your behavior conflicts with your principles.
What should we infer from the fact that someone is a hypocrite?
Perhaps that the person is inconsistent, that they are worthy of criticism.
It would be a mistake, however, to infer from hypocritical acts that the
the person follows are false. That doesn't follow.
If someone professes to uphold the law but regularly breaks it... pointing this out is not a criticism of the law but rather of that person.
Langton's Criticism of Kant
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.
Langton's Critique of Kant
So far, most Kantians would not disagree. Their theory does not offer us a conception of the god life. It does not tell us what makes a life go well, etc.
Ethics, as they see it, is only about right and wrong, it is only about what we owe to others, what it means to respect the agency of others, etc. It is not a handbook that tells us how to make sure our lives go well. Kantians see this as a
of their theory.
Langton, however, argues that this is a problem, a deficiency of the theory.
Langton argues that the fact that Kantian ethics can't help someone in von Herbert's situation shows that it is missing something essential. It is a flawed theory that leaves out value, the good, etc.
What we need instead is a theory that emphasizes these things more.
Christine Korsgaard in defense of Kantian Ethics
If you're in von Herbert's situation, you need help, support, friendship, and love---
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.
Therefore, Maria von Herbert's fate does not present a challenge to Kantian theory.
Langton is wrong to say that moral philosophy should be able to save people who are depressed, heartbroken, and so on. This is to ask too much of philosophy, to demand that it do things it simply isn't able to do.
Ethics is more modest... it's simply about what we owe to others, how we should relate to them, what it means to respect them, etc.
Korsgaard in defense of Kantian Ethics
Korsgaard doesn't defend what Kant (the person) did. She agrees with Langton that it was wrong.
But she doesn't think that Kant's poor behavior shows that the theory is false.
Ad hominem fallacy:
attacking a person's character in order to try to show that their beliefs are false.
A person could well have awful character and do terrible things, but that does not help us figure out whether their beliefs are false.
Imagine that Albert Einstein was a cruel father that beat his children (this isn't true, but imagine that it was). This is obviously deplorable and we should think less of him as a person if this were true. But it would be a clear fallacy to infer from this that his scientific theories must be false.
A theory is either true or false, depending on what the facts are, depending on what the best reasons are. The character of the person who created the theory is irrelevant to this question.
Kantian Ethics and the Good Life
Kantians don't tell us that we are required to maximize the good or maximize value. They do not tell us what to value, how to live our lives. They emphasize that we are rational agents who are capable of forming our own life plans and projects.
Kantians don't give us any particular story about what makes a life go well, what makes for human flourishing, what we have reason to value, etc.
Their sole concern is with rightness. They only care that we are making sure not to wrong others.
Langton = this is a key weakness of the theory.
Korsgaard = this is a strength of the theory.
What do you think? Is this a strength or a liability for Kantians? Is Langton right?
Debates within Contemporary Kantianism
Constructivists emphasize the
Universal Law formulation
They argue that we can derive moral principles from the idea of practical rationality.
The universal law test is a
that we can use to arrive at
substantive moral conclusions
Realists emphasize the
Formula of Humanity
and tend to reject the Universal Law formulation.
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.
Kantianism on the
Kantian ethics is
concerned with what's good, what's valuable, what makes a life go best, etc.
They are only concerned with what's right
, that is, with what it means to respect the agency of other people that we interact with.
They don't believe that ethics is about telling people how to live their lives... it's only about right and wrong in our relations to others.
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 in this case.
And if that's true, then the "
" criticism seems to stick -- Kantians would be dogmatically gripping onto 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?
TWO KANTIAN REPLIES
We'll discuss this more next week when we examine contractualism.
Kantians often accuse consequentialism of demanding too much of us as individuals.
But what if Kantians don't demand
of us? What if they let us off the hook too easily when it comes to determining what we owe to others?
Recall the Peter Singer argument re: famine relief.
He argued that the suffering is inherently bad, no the cause of it.
And if it's possible to stop suffering and death without causing anything worse to happen, morality requires us to stop it by any means necessary.
THIS SEEMED TO DEMAND A LOT OF US, PERHAPS TOO MUCH.
But what do Kantians say about what we must do to stop unnecessary suffering?
On the face of it, they seem to say nothing: as long as we aren't implicated in treating anyone as mere means, it seems as if nothing else is required of us.
But if that's true, isn't that selfish? Isn't that stingy and coldhearted? Shouldn't an ethical life be one in which we do more good than this?
Do they see the state of affairs we just described as unjust? Do they think it raises an ethical problem?