Day 5

Allen Wood Kantian Ethics Ch1 Reason ( pages 1-6)

Section 1  – what is Kantian ethics

  • Authoritarian characterizations are common (Blackburn and taylor quotes)
  • Rawls – Kantian ethics is not a morality of austere command but an ethic of mutual respect”
  • authoritarian vs enlightenment views
    • Kantian ethics is about thinking for oneself
    • It is crucial to Kantian ethics that we command the moral law to ourselves
      • he believed that morality would not be morality even if God commanded us to obey the moral laws

Section 2 – Human nature

  • kant’s mistrust of nature is mistrust of our “civilized” nature
  • our animal natures can never be evil they merely are what they are
  • Our propensity to “radical evil” can only develop in tandem with our development of reason
    • The judicious use of reason is the only anti-dote to the “self-conceit” of “civilized” nature
    • Nothing in nature is evil
    • “In other words, Kantian ethics is fundamentally committed to a radical critique of human social life, especially of social life in its “civilized” form. . . .  it is Kant’s view that our only resource in combating the radical evil of our social condition is the faculty of reason, whose development accompanies that of our propensity to evil, and which alone enables us to recognize evil for what it is.” (5)
    • The fallibility of Reason
      • “we rely on reason to criticize feelings, desires, inspirations, revelations, and even reason itself, not because it is infallible but rather because it is only through reason that we have the capacity to criticize anything at all.” (6)
      • Kant’s theory of Human Nature
        • Human beings tend to assert their self-worth antagonistically in relation to others seeking superiority over them (6)
        • Morality demands that we recognize the equal dignity of all living beings striving towards a realm of ends wherein the all rational beings share in a system of mutual respect and act out of respect for each other

Allen Wood – Kantian Ethics: Ch 5 Humanity (85-94)

What Kant Says:

“The human being necessarily represents his own existence in this way; so far it is thus a subjective principle of human actions. But every other rational being also represents his existence in this way consequent on just the same rational ground that also holds for me; thus it is at the same time an objective principle from which, as a supreme practical ground, it must be possible to derive all laws of the will. The imperative will therefore be the following: So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.” (112)

My reconstruction of Kant’s argument:

  1. I subjectively represent myself as an end in itself.
  2. Every other rational being also subjectively represents his or her existence as an end itself.
  3. The perspective of reason represents things objectively.
  4. From the perspective of reason, all rational beings represent themselves as ends in themselves.
  5. As a rational being capable of objective thought I can represent all beings as ends in themselves.
  6. So, I morally ought to treat all rational beings as ends in themselves.
  7. So, “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.”

Allen Wood – Kantian Ethics: Chapter 15 Consequences (259-273)

Kantian ethics vs Consequentialism

  • Difference in fundamental value
    • Pleasure vs. the rational dignity of human nature
    • BUT, the fundamental value of an ethical theory doesn’t necessarily dictate how ethical reasoning should proceed
      • i.e. one could be a utilitarian but still reason deontologically (rule utilitarianism)
        • Wood takes Mill to be a rule utilitarian
  • AND one could be a Kantian and reason consequentially
    • One could be a Kantian and reason exclusively deontologically
    • But this is not how Kant conceives of the ethical decision making process
      • A crucial part of our ethical duties come under the heading “duties of virture
      • Duties of virtue relate to the promotion of the happiness of other i.e. good consequences
      • This aspect of Kantian ethics is often overlooked by people, especially textbook writers, who like Wood describes (259) often oversimplify the differences between Kantian ethics and utitilitariansim
      • A Kantian could be more utilitarian than a utilitarian and vice versa

Exercise: Discuss how and why it is possible for an ethical theory to have the same fundamental value as Kantian ethics (humanity) but nevertheless conduct its ethical reasoning  in a completely consequentialist manner.

Two things a Utilitarian should do to come to the right moral decision (260)

  • Judge the rightness of actions by the expected consequences
  • Give sufficient weight to moral rules, which are involved those aimed at securing trust between two people and the benefits of such trust

Kant On lying

  • Kant infamously said (in one place) that it is not permissible to lie to a murder even to save the life of an innocent victim
  • In other places he discusses when exceptions to the moral law are permissible

Self-Congratulation is the future perfect tense (260)

  • Future perfect tense: I will have done . . .
  • “For example, people holding great political power use it in ways they know are wrong, but they imagine future generations contemplating with gratitude the bold vision that led them to lie, or start an aggressive war, or violate the rights of others.

The “greatest good” (263)

  • some actions are aimed a maximizing something (gambling) but not all actions are like that
    • Wood’s pleasant walk analogy – “suppose I leave my house with the end of taking a pleasant and interesting walk in the woods.” (262)
    • “My conception of end furnishes me with no conception of what a maximally best set of such experiences would be.”
    • Is seeing one deer better than seeing two downy woodpeckers?
    • The “shadow of hedonism” – Scanlon
      • If hedonism is false then any theory based on hedonism is false
      • Kantian ethics requires us to act for our own perfection and the happiness of others
        • Not to make myself as perfect as possible or to make others as happy as possible
        • Do I perfect myself more by learning to play Brahm’s Intermezzi, op. 117, or running a marathon, or mastering string theory in physics, or becoming an expert on the history of the American civil war?
        • “Unless you are a Benthamite hedonist or have arbitrarily assumed that human happiness shares the formal features he ascribed to pleasure and the absence of pain, there is no sense to the idea of “maximal” happiness.” (264)

The greatest good vs the realm of ends

  • The realm of ends is not a state of affairs but a system of purposive activity shared by different rational beings who stand in social relationships to one another – they respect one another as ends in themselves and choose to live according to a common set of objective moral laws expressing this mutual respect. This is why they choose to to share a common set of ends that brings the happiness of each into harmony with the happiness of all others, and why each one chooses to limit the pursuit of her own happiness in such a way that it can belong to such a shared, purposive system.” (266)
  • “The realm of ends is a way of  representing maxims to which each member is bound in belonging to the end.” (267)
  • “Kantian ethics differs from ethical theories whose style of practical reasoning is oriented to producing the best states of affairs  by making the primary thing the relationships between rational beings, and the terms on which rational beings relate to one another. The basic thing is that rational beings should follow a common set of laws or principles expressing their self-respect and their respect for one another as ends in themselves and the idea that they are legislators in a common of the laws to which they are subject.”
  • “These laws are what determine, for each individual, the demands of morality will make on that individual, including the states of affairs that individual has moral grounds to set as ends and to consider good from a moral point of view. Because these matters are determined for each individual independently of any notion  of a single greatest good or best state of affairs, there is no need in Kantian ethics for such a notion to serve as any sort of standard for determining the goodness of states of affairs as possible ends of actions” (267)
  • lifeboat and Trolley examples
    • “it is neither trivially true nor obviously false that decisions made on Kantian grounds would be the same as those made on the basis of the best overall consequences (even assuming that the notion of “best consequences” has a clear and applicable sense in the case in question). Kantians and optimizing consequentialists may or may not, therefore, reach the same decisions. But Kantian ethics will not reach them by the same route, or on the same ultimate value basis, as the optimizing consequentialist.” (268)

Exercise: Discuss trolly problems A and B in using consequentialist and Kantian reasoning to come up with appropriate answers according to each theory.

Trolly Problem A: Is it permissible/obligatory to divert a trolly from a track that will kill 5 people to a track that will only kill 1.

Trolly Problem B: Is it permissible to push a really really fat person onto the trolly tracks to stop the trolly from hitting and killing five people.

The Highest Good (268)

  • Morality of conduct and the happiness of which this conduct has made the individual worthy
  • “It can be equated with the ideal realm of ends”
  • “the highest good is never thought of as something that a finite rational being has a duty to set as the kind of end from which moral laws and duties are to be derived
  • “Our task is to respect the rights of persons (and the right more generally) and to set as ends those instances of goods falling under the rubrics of our own perfection and the happiness of other toward which we are capable of making a meaningful contribution with our limited powers in our limited life. The larger practical context for our action is not the highest good (regarded as “the greatest good overall”) but the realm of ends. That is to say, it is not an encompassing consequence to be brought about but a web of relationships between rational beings in which all their particular ends can be shared and all are respected as ends in themselves.” (268-9)

Kant’s Formulations of the Categorical Imperative (Wood 66)

First Formula

Formula of Universal Law (FUL):  “Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you at the same time can will that it become a universal law” (G 4:421; G 4:402)

Formula of the Law of Nature (FLN): “So act, as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature” (G 4:421; G 4:436)

Second Formula

Formula of Humanity (FH): “So act that you use humanity, as much in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means” (G 4:429; G4:436)

Forumula of Autonomy (FA): “ . . . the idea of the will of every rational being as a will giving universal law” (G 4:431; G4:432) or “Not to choose otherwise than so that the maxims of one’s choice are at the same time comprehended with it in the same volition as universal law (G 4:440; G 4:432, 434, 438)

Third Formula

Formula of the Realm of Ends (FRE): “Act in accordance with maxims of a universally legislative member for a merely possible realm of ends” (G 4:439; G4:433, 437, 438)


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