- Slides: 19
Kantian Ethics Good actions have intrinsic value; actions are good if and only if they follow from a moral law that can be universalized.
Immanuel Kant (1724 -1804) • Kant believes that the only thing that can be called morally good is a good will. • He claims that no normative theory of ethics (of what we “ought” to do) can be derived from experience (either in terms of the effects of actions or the causes of actions). • This is why Kant proposes to do a metaphysics of morals, which he understands to be based on synthetic a priori propositions.
Moral Principles • Kant’s moral theory is a moral theory based on the idea of principles governing moral action. • At its basis, this theory holds that for actions to be moral, they must hold for everyone in the same way. Fundamentally, it is a view of ethics based on fairness. • This means that no other incentive (personal preference, potentially terrible consequences) can influence our moral behavior. Kant considers actions moral only if they are universally applicable.
Practical reason and freedom • Kant believed that a true understanding of ethics comes from a true understanding of what it means to be human. • Human beings are, fundamentally, rational and free (autonomous). • This means that human actions follow their own rules. • Following a rule is just the application of reason to action, or practical reason. For Kant, the important thing about human beings is that they are entirely free to determine which rules to apply and how to apply them.
Imperatives • When we examine the rules governing our actions, we realize that some of those rules have the moral authority to compel us to act. • The moral authority of our rules comes from the degree to which we can universalize those rules. • We must ask ourselves: can the rule governing my action be made into a universal law?
But, in my case… • Kantian ethics does not allow for any exceptions on the basis of a person’s preference, capacities, desires, or circumstances. • Moral laws must be applied universally. • Of course we are all unique individuals (not robots), but we cannot make an exception for ourselves when applying the moral law.
“Traffic Jam” Morality • We make exceptions for ourselves all the time. • For instance, when we merge late into an exit lane, or we take a shortcut through a gas station, or we try to get through an intersection at the last minute, or we blame our tardiness on the traffic… • In all of these cases, we make an exception of ourselves. We say, “Of course, it wouldn’t work for everyone to act the way I’m acting, but I’m in a hurry, I have important things to do …”
Two Kinds of Imperatives Categorical and Hypothetical
Categorical Imperatives • These imperatives have the force of a universal moral law. • They command necessarily and objectively in themselves. • They provide perfect duties that are determined in every respect and should not vary between people, societies or time periods.
Hypothetical Imperatives • Whoever wills the end also necessarily wills the means to that end. – If I will X, I must will Y, – where Y is the means necessary to attain X. • Hypothetical imperatives provide imperfect duties. • These are duties we have to ourselves or others that remain undetermined in some respect and may vary for individuals, cultures, or time periods.
Three Formulations of the Categorical Imperative
Universal Moral Law • Act only in accordance with that maxim/rule that you could will to become a universal law (Kant, pg. 31). • Kant calls this the first and most fundamental formulation. • It emphasizes the nature of “imperatives” and the idea of universality. • Consider “paying back your debts”: why should you pay back debts? – Consider the law that says that a person can default of debt payments. – Universalize this law. – Now, consider the process of lending and borrowing. – If defaults were common, then lenders would not be inclined to lend money… they lending system would break down. – So, this law cannot be universalized without undermining its own intention.
Human Dignity • Act only in such a way that you treat humanity, either in yourself or in others, always as an end in itself and never as a means to an end (Kant, pg. 38). • This version emphasizes the intrinsic value of human persons. Strictly speaking, autonomous, rational agents are priceless, i. e. , there is no consequence that can justify treating a human being as a means to an end. • This Kantian moral principle highlights the intuitive rationale underlying the moral wrongness of killing innocents, slavery, and assigning a dollar value to human life.
Moral Community • Consider yourself to be both lawgiver and subject in an ideal community, a “kingdom of ends” (Kant, pg. 41). • This version asks us to consider our autonomy from the perspective of a moral community, i. e. , the entire domain of free, autonomous agents. • Here, Kant asks us to think of the social dimension to morality. It also asks us to imagine an ideal state that entirely respects our freedom and responsibility.
Consider the case of a promise • For Kant, keeping a promise is a perfect duty; it commands categorically. • The will that feels obligated to fulfill promises is an intrinsically good thing. • One can demonstrate the good of promise-keeping according to each formulation of the categorical imperative: – Promise-breaking involves a contradiction in the practical concept of promise-making because if no one kept their promises, then promises would be worthless; – A person who breaks a promise treats another person as a means to his own end; – The best possible society would be a society in which everyone kept their promises.
Social Contract Theory • In 1971, Harvard philosopher John Rawls (1921 -2002) published a book, A Theory of Justice. • This book argues for a Kantian view of justice as the proper basis for designing a modern liberal democratic society. • Rawls focuses on “social justice” rather than “criminal justice, ” meaning he is interested in the structure of the social state as just or unjust.
Justice as Fairness • Rawls argues that our basic concept of justice is fairness. • To be fair, society must be founded on two principles: – Equality Principle: each person has an equal right to the greatest liberties that are compatible with similar liberties for others. – Difference Principle: inequalities are tolerated so long as two conditions are satisfied: • These inequalities function to everyone’s advantage. • Greater liberties and social goods are attached to positions that are equally open to all.
The Veil of Ignorance • Rawls argues that these principles of a just society are the principles that a rational person would accept from “behind a veil of ignorance. ” • The veil of ignorance stipulates that a person choose social laws and regulations without any knowledge about his or her specific traits: family, social standing, education, gender, physical attributes, intellectual attributes, etc. • The veil of ignorance preserves the universal applicability of our decisions; they reflect no person bias.
Kantianism - Review • A principled approach to morality. Moral laws have a universal application • Rests on the idea of human beings as autonomous, rational agents acting in their own self-interest. • Actions should follow imperatives, or universal moral laws that make no exception for ourselves and treat every human being with complete dignity and respect.