Kant, objections…

So, Kant’s Categorical Imperative is an absolute rule used to test maxims.  If your maxim for action passes the CI,  you may do your action.

The CI requires that your actions be universalizable — a sub-set prohibits you from using yourself or others as a means only.

First, an interpretation problem — how do you use yourself as a means only?  Isn’t it the case that if you choose an action, for whatever reason, you are considering some end of your own?

My wise partner Andy had a thought on that one — (yes, he should take ethics, no he can’t take it from me..).  Perhaps an addict uses themselves (or their body at least) as a means… Because their actions aren’t rational and perhaps not even the product of conscious thought, they are using themselves as a means?  If that’s the case, then Kant would conclude that they aren’t rational persons — which isn’t something that I agree with.

Maybe we should read Kant as saying that you ought not — even if you are considering some end of  your own — permit ourselves to be used as a means only.  I think that’s what we’ll have to conclude he intended, because he’s dead and we can’t ask him.

So — objections to Kant…

1) The CI is absolute, no exceptions — if your action fails the CI you cannot do it.  BUT, human beings are not absolute beings, we’re beings with judgment and we’re subjective — so, absolute rules may not hold every time.

2) Related to #1 — because we’re subjective beings with judgment, we can create a custom maxim that will pass the CI — in the case of the murderer at the door, you can say that your maxim for action is to mislead anybody you know is going to do harm to another person.  That’s universalizeable, you aren’t using the murderer as a means only when you deceive him because you aren’t gaining from that deception, rather you are protecting someone.

2) The duties that result from the CI can conflict — what if you have a duty to protect life and in order to do so, you must lie?  Telling lies to save Jews from the Nazis is a classic example.  What should you do if you have two contradictory duties — A) save lives, B) don’t lie.  I suppose you could say that you wouldn’t put yourself in a position knowing you have to lie, but then you’re not upholding A).

3) What if you have several maxims for one action — one of them passes and the other(s) fail?  If you visit  your elderly grandmother because A) you have a duty to visit your old relatives, and B) She gives you cookies and cash, you have two motives, one of which is selfish and the other not.  If you were only acting on B) — or if B) was your primary maxim, then grandma would not be pleased.  Kant says that you can’t know which is your primary maxim — later Kantians say that one good maxim is sufficient…

So — there are three solid objections to Kant — I’m sorry I was sick today — but, that’s the information we would have discussed in class.

 

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3 Comments

Filed under Ethical Theory

3 responses to “Kant, objections…

  1. Yes professor i agree, but what if Kant was thinking of law abiding citizens, people who go about their lives without taking others. could his application be intended for citizens that hadn’t created the anything other than mayheim? like in the case of the Nazis and opportunist that prey on innocent people opening their door? what if the rules were intended to apply only if you’re living within the laws of the land!

  2. Yes professor i agree, but what if Kant was thinking of law abiding citizens, people who go about their lives without taking others. could his application be intended for citizens that hadn’t created anything other than mayheim? like in the case of the Nazis and opportunist that prey on innocent people opening their door? what if the rules were intended to apply only if you’re living within the laws of the land!

  3. Brent Young

    Concerning number 2 (related to number 1) and the number 2 that follows: while they are solid objections in their own right, the first would support the latter.

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