To be rational - David Kelsey`s Philosophy Home Page

Introduction to Philosophy
Lecture 17
Ethics #3: Kant
By David Kelsey
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant:
was born in Konigsberg in what was then Germany.
lived in Konigsberg his entire life and he was never married.
Interestingly, didn’t publish his first work, The Critique of Pure Reason, until 1781,
when he was 57.
Widely regarded as one of the most influential and important philosopher’s of all time.
There are many versions of a Deontological Moral theory, but Kant’s is by far the most
widely accepted.
Deontological Theories compared to
Consequentialist theories
Immanuel Kant’s moral theory is a Deontological theory not a Consequentialist one.
Consequentialist moral theories:
– Put the good before the right
– They first specify what good is of value.
What is right is just whatever maximizes what’s good.
So it is the consequences or end results that matter…
Deontological moral theories:
– Put the right before the good.
– Do not:
Instead, Deontological theories determine what is right through some other method:
first specify some good and then determine what is right by asking what will maximize that
and direct you to do what is right even if some other act would produce greater happiness.
But Deontological theories don’t think consequences don’t matter.
They think consequences are not the only thing that matters…
Deontologists like rules.
For example, ‘Never kill the innocent’.
A rule tells us whether an action is right or wrong just on the basis of what kind of
action it is, rather than on the basis of its consequences.
Is it general enough?
Or the Golden Rule: ‘Act the way you would like everyone to act’.
Is it clear enough?
Kant’s picture
Personhood: Kant’s moral theory stems from his view of personhood.
– For Kant, a person is just an agent.
An agent is rational:
• To be rational is to be capable of guiding one’s own behavior on the basis of
reasons, directives and principles.
– As Kant puts it: “Everything in nature works in accordance with laws. Only a rational
being has the power to act in accordance with his idea of laws-that is, in accordance with
principles-and only so has he a will.”
So To be rational is to act for reasons or by principle.
• A reason: a consideration that weighs in favor of or supports doing something.
• A principle: the same thing as a law.
– It is just a rule of action…
A rational agent has beliefs, desires, intentions and a will.
– Beliefs, Desires & Intentions:
• We form desires or wants for things,
• We form beliefs on how to satisfy those wants,
• And we form intentions on how to satisfy those desires.
– We form a plan, given our beliefs, by which we will be able to satisfy the
– The Will: the capacity an agent has to act for reasons...
• The will carries us from the intention to satisfy some desire, to actually satisfying
that desire. It gets our feet moving.
• It is the power that us rational beings have to get from reasons to action.
Kant’s freedom
of the will
– A person is free when bound only by her own will and not by the will of
– We can be commanded only by our own wills.
– Freedom as a first cause:
• Freedom (and rationality) consists in seeking to be the first cause of
one’s actions wholly and completely through the exercise of one’s own
• Her actions then express her own will.
– Internal authority: the authority of the principles binding her will is then also
not external to her will.
– Kant then give us the Categorical imperative as this binding principle.
The Categorical Imperative
Binding our will: So the Categorical imperative is supposed to bind our wills.
Binding us to being rational: The CI binds our wills by binding us to being rational.
• So It provides us with a how to guide to being rational.
But is it rational to be rational?
• Yes or No?
The Categorical Imperative
Kant called his Supreme principle of morality the Categorical Imperative, which he said was
to be distinguished from a hypothetical imperative.
A Hypothetical imperative is conditional on some want or desire.
Doesn’t depend on desires:
If you don’t have the relevant desire, then you aren’t directed to perform the action…
it simply commands you to do X, no matter what.
Putting the right before the good:
Since the categorical imperative is categorical it commands you to act irrespective of the
consequences of your actions.
This is what it means for Kant’s theory to be deontological and to put the right before the good…
The Categorical Imperative
So what is the categorical imperative?
– He gives a number of different formulations…
We will focus on the one known as the formula of the end in itself:
– Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own
person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means but always at
the same time as an end.
The Formula of
the End in itself
The Categorical Imperative:
Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the
person of any other, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end.
Means vs. Mere Means: Kant does not say that you should never use another
person as a means!
We use people as a means for our own ends every day
In-N-Out example…
What he says is never treat yourself or any other person as a mere means.
So if you treat someone as a means make sure to treat her as an end in herself:
respect her as an agent with ends of her own.
Rational consent:
To determine if you are treating someone as a mere means you need ask only: Would this
person rationally consent to being treated as such?
The Scapegoat
So for Kant, what’s wrong with punishing an innocent person to prevent a
A Consequentialist moral theory might permit or even require you to punish an innocent
person in order to prevent a riot and thereby save many other lives.
The Formula of the End in itself explains what is wrong with punishing someone
who is innocent merely to prevent a riot:
You are not punishing him because he deserves punishment,
You are using him as a mere means to save others.
The perfect and
imperfect duties
Duties: From the Formula of the end in itself several duties are derived:
– More specific formulations of the categorical imperative…
Perfect and Imperfect Duties: He divided the duties into two groups.
– The perfect duties: duties of justice.
• Prohibited: They are necessary and ought never be violated.
• The perfect duties include:
– The duty one has to never harm herself or anyone else.
– The duty one has to others to keep her promises and to tell the truth.
The imperfect duties: duties of beneficence, charity and kindness.
• Not prohibited: Violating these duties isn’t prohibited.
• The imperfect duties include:
– The duty one has to others to assist those in need.
– The duty one has to oneself to develop her talents.
Perfect duties are said to trump imperfect duties…
The Good Will
The Good will: Kant thought that “the only thing good without qualification is a good will”.
– To be good without qualification is to be good in and of itself.
To have a good will:
– the same thing as having a good moral character, which is just to act for the right reasons.
For Kant, to act for the right reasons one must act always for the sake of duty.
– One acts for the sake of duty when:
• she performs some action X and her reason for performing x is merely that it is what the moral
law prescribes her to do.
– What is required in performing X is:
• one’s action be motivated by the moral law &
• that no other motives, even love or friendship, cooperate.
The good person:
– What makes a good person good is his possession of a will that is determined by the moral law…
Kant’s theory
in action
In-N-Out Example:
– Desire: I’m hungry for In-N-Out
– Belief:
– Intention:
– Willing:
False Promises:
– A friend asks me to keep a secret
– Desire: I want to break the promise…
– Belief:
– Intention:
– Why can’t I tell her?
To sum up
So the big picture for the Kantian looks like this:
– Following the Categorical Imperative gets you the following:
• Freedom, Rightness and Rationality…
– But following the categorical imperative isn’t enough:
• To be a truly good person you must do what the categorical imperative tells you to
do just because it is Right…
Problems for Kant’s Theory
So why we can’t just opt out of rationality:
– Live like the animals: Even though we can be bound by the moral law, and
in so being exercise our capacity as a rational agent, why not just live like
the animals?
– Why be rational at all?
Plausible responses:
– There is value in rationality…
Is Rationality the correct starting point?
Is Rationality the correct starting point?
– Kant’s view of morality stems from the notion of a person.
– Why should this be our starting point?
Hume’s response to Kant:
Reason is slave to the passions
A Kantian response:
Aren’t rational creatures morally privileged?
Problems for
Kant’s theory
Acting for the sake of the moral law:
– makes the agent seem cold and heartless.
Say you go to visit your friend in the hospital.
• She is very sick. So you bring her some flowers and a get well card. You say hello and chat
with her for a while. Then you stay for a bit while she sleeps.
For a Kantian, for the visitation to be a truly good action your motive for visiting your friend must
be that it is your moral duty to do so.
But don’t you really go for the friendship and loyalty you have for your friend?
So maybe the Kantian picture gets moral motivation all wrong?
Final thoughts?
Final thoughts on Kant:
Remaining objections…
The completeness of the picture…
Other thoughts…
Bernard Williams (1929-2003) was a British philosopher.
Taught at Cal Berkeley
Was a great admirer of Mill, but not himself a Utilitarian.
Like Mill he wanted to apply his philosophical views to form public policy.
Applying our moral theories:
Moral Dilemmas
So far we have looked at a few Ethical Theories, including both Utilitarianism and
Moral dilemmas:
Ethical theories give general answers to the question ‘What ought I do?”
But sometimes more specific answers to this question are interesting.
are specific cases in which it is hard to tell what one ought to do.
We can use our intuitions to moral dilemmas to find out which of our ethical theories we think correct.
The Williams Dilemma: In this class we will look at a specific moral dilemma.
It is presented by the British recently deceased Philosopher, Bernard Williams.
Deontology vs. Utilitarianism?
George the Chemist
George the Chemist:
“George, who has taken his Ph.D in chemistry, finds it extremely difficult to get a job.
He is not very robust in health, which cuts down the number of jobs he might be able to
do satisfactorily. His wife has to go out to work to keep them, which itself causes a
great deal of strain, since they have small children and there are severe problems
about looking after them. The results of all this, especially on the children, are
damaging. An older chemist, who knows about this situation, says that he can get
George a decently paid job in a certain laboratory, which pursues research into
chemical and biological warfare. George says that he cannot accept this, since he is
opposed to chemical and biological warfare. The older man replies that he is not too
keen on it himself, come to that, but after all George’s refusal is not going to make the
job or the laboratory go away; what is more, he happens to know that if George refuses
the job, it will certainly go to a contemporary of George’s who is not inhibited by any
such scruples and is likely if appointed to push along the research with greater zeal
than George would. Indeed, it is not merely concern for George and his family, but (to
speak frankly and in confidence) some alarm abut this other man’s excess of zeal,
which had le the older man to offer to use his influence to get George the
job…George’s wife, to whom he is deeply attached, has views…from which it follows
that at least there is nothing particularly wrong with research into CBW. What should
he do?” (From the first page of Williams’ Utilitarianism and Integrity)
George’s options
George gets to choose between these actions:
Their consequences:
A. working to make chemical weapons.
B. Being unemployed.
A. George makes small amounts of chemical weapons.
B. Someone else who doesn’t see anything wrong with making chemical weapons
makes large amounts.
What should George do? What would you do?
Some things to notice
George is in a tough position.
Changing the case to make things easier doesn’t help
That’s why it is a moral dilemma.
That’s just changing the topic.
Changing the case to make things harder is ok.
…because we’re interested in the hard cases.
The hard cases are where ethical theories help us out.
Jim and Pedro
Jim and Pedro:
“Jim finds himself in the central square of a small South American town. Tied up
against the wall are a row of twenty Indians, most terrified, a few defiant, in front of
them several armed men in uniform. A heavy man in a sweat-stained khaki shirt turns
out to be the captain in charge and, after a good deal of questioning of Jim which
establishes that he got there by accident while on a botanical expedition, explains that
the Indians are a random group of the inhabitants who, after recent acts of protest
against the government, are just about to be killed to remind other possible protestors
of the advantages of not protesting. However, since Jim is an honoured visitor from
another land, the captain is happy to offer him a guest’s privilege of killing one of the
Indians himself. If Jim accepts, then as a special mark of the occasion, the other
Indians will be let off. Of course, if Jim refuses, then there is no special occasion, and
Pedro here will do what he was about to do when Jim arrived, and kill them all. Jim,
with some desperate recollection of schoolboy fiction, wonders whether if he got hold
of a gun, he could hold the captain, Pedro and the rest of the soldiers to threat, but it is
quite clear from the set-up that nothing of that kind is going to work: any attempt at that
sort of thing will mean that all the Indians will be killed, and himself. The men against
the wall, and the other villagers, understand the situation, and are obviously begging
him to accept. What should he do?” (From the first page of Williams’ Utilitarianism and
Jim’s options
Jim gets to choose between these actions:
Their consequences:
A. Killing one of the villagers himself.
B. Not killing anyone.
A. One villager gets killed (by Jim) and the rest of the villagers go free.
B. Twenty villagers get killed (by Pedro).
What should Jim do? What would you do?
and the dilemmas
In both of our dilemmas:
– Option (a) (making weapons/killing the villager):
• leads to the best consequences available, but involves doing something morally
– Option (b):
• leads to less good consequences, but you get to have a clean conscience.
Utilitarians seem to have to choose (a).
Deontologists would choose (b).
Utilitarianism and
Negative Responsibility
Utilitarianism and Negative responsibility:
– According to Williams, Utilitarianism entails the notion of negative
• If I am ever responsible for anything, then I must be just as much responsible for
things that I allow or fail to prevent, as I am for things that I myself…bring about.
(492, I.e. the 6th page of the article)
– Thus, for a Utilitarian, should Jim refrain from killing the 1 Indian, he is
morally responsible and so blameworthy for the deaths of the Indians Pedro
– And should George not take the job, he is responsible for the increased
weapons production of the new hire.
Williams on Moral Responsibility
Williams on Moral Responsibility:
For Williams, Jim is only morally responsible for his own actions, not for Pedro’s. So
Jim can’t be blamed for what Pedro does.
And George is only morally responsible for his actions, not for those of whoever will
take the chemical weapons job if he doesn’t take it.
Williams supports for this view (492, 6th page of the article):
“While the deaths, and the killing, may be the outcome of Jim’s refusal, it is misleading
to think, in such a case, of Jim having an effect on the world through the medium (as it
happens) of Pedro’s acts; for this is to leave Pedro out of the picture in his essential
role of one who has intentions and projects, projects for realizing which Jim’s refusal
would leave an opportunity. Instead of thinking in terms of supposed effects of Jim’s
projects on Pedro, it is more revealing to think of the effects of Pedro’s projects on
Jim’s decision…”
The dilemmas are Counterexamples
to Utilitarianism
So Williams thinks the dilemma’s are counterexamples to Utilitarianism:
The dilemma’s show that sometimes the right thing to do isn’t to bring about the best
consequences. Sometimes it is more important to stick by what we believe.
The Utilitarian reply: It’s selfish!
– Isn’t it really just selfish to try to keep your own conscience clean by
allowing someone else to do something wrong?
– Wouldn’t the villagers rather that Jim kill one of them than allow Pedro to kill
Williams reply: a loss of personal integrity
Williams response: A loss of personal Integrity!
Utilitarianism entails that the projects and commitments with which a person is most
deeply identified, those which make up who a person is, can be swept aside for the
sake of the greater good.
“The decision so determined is, for utilitarianism, the right decision. But what if it conflicts with
some project of mine? This, the utilitarian will say, has already been dealt with: the satisfaction
to you of fulfilling your project, and any satisfaction to others of your so doing, have already
been through the calculating device and have been found inadequate. Now in the case of many
sorts of projects, that is a perfectly reasonable sort of answer. But in the case of projects of the
sort I have called ‘commitments,’ those with which one is more deeply and extensively involved
and identified, this cannot just by itself be an adequate answer, and there may be no adequate
answer at all. For, to take the extreme sort of case, how can a man, as a utilitarian agent,
come to regard as one satisfaction among others, and a dispensable one, a project or attitude
round which he has built his life, just because someone else’s projects have so structured the
causal scene that that is how the utilitarian sum comes out?” (494, I.e. the final page of the
Williams article)
Note that Williams is most worried about Utilitarianism’s attack on what he calls
Examples of commitments…
Personal Integrity
A loss of personal integrity again:
– It is the Utilitarians commitment to the sacrifice of one’s own projects, commitments,
goals and principles for the sake of the greater good, which lies at the heart of it’s
attack on one’s own personal integrity:
“It is absurd to demand of such a man…that he should just step aside from his own project and
decision and acknowledge the decision which the utilitarian calculation requires. It is to alienate
him in a real sense from his actions and the source of his action in his own convictions. It is to
make him into a channel between the input of everyone’s projects, including his own, and an
output of optimific decision; but this is to neglect the extent to which his actions and his
decisions have to be seen as the actions and decisions which flow from the projects and
attitudes with which he is most closely identified. It is thus, in the most literal sense, an attack
on his integrity.” (Williams, pg 494, I.e. the final page of the article)
The Utilitarian response:
– why can’t your integrity be built upon the Utilitarian principle?

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