Philosophy 220

Philosophy 220
Kantian Moral Theory
and the Liberal View of Sexual Morality
Kantian Moral Theory
 Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) revolutionized
philosophical ethics. Prior to Kant, people sought the
origin of morality in the natural order, in the ends
proper to human beings, or in feelings. In contrast,
Kant seeks the conditions of the possibility of morality
and locates them in the autonomy, the self-legislation,
of the will.
 When we think about moral obligation, he argued,
what we need to account for is its categorical
character, the fact that it commands us absolutely.
Kant and the Categorical
 The focus on the categorical nature of obligation
suggests a Theory of Right Conduct: those actions are
obligatory which we are categorically commanded to
do, wrong which we are categorically commanded not
to do, and permissible if we are not either commanded
or forbidden to do.
 The categorical character of obligation also provides us
with a Theory of Value: that will is good which freely
choses to satisfy her duty.
Two Different Imperatives
 The form taken by the categorical nature of obligation is
what Kant calls an imperative. Imperatives are expressions
of the human will, but only some of them exhibit the
categorical force of a duty.
 There are two types of imperatives. The more common is
what Kant calls a Hypothetical imperative. It has the form: “If
I have an end/goal ‘X,’ and doing ‘Y’ is required for ‘X,’ then I
should do Y.
 The moral imperative is a function of categorical willing, and
can only be observed when it is the moral law itself that
directs our will.
What about the Practical Aim?
 So much for the Theoretical Aim of MT, how
does Kant address the Practical Aim?
 He does so with a fundamental moral principle
called the Categorical Imperative.
 Applying the categorical imperative to proposed
actions provides a principle of moral evaluation,
directing us to the right actions.
CI: Humanity Formulation
 CIHumanity: An action is right if and only if the action
treats persons (including oneself) as ends in
themselves rather than as means to our ends.
 There is both a negative (don’t treat them as
means) and a positive (treat them as ends in
themselves) requirement contained in the
 The positive requirement is captured by Kant with
the notion of Dignity.
CI: Universal Law Formulation
 CIUniversal Law: Act always in such a way that you
can will the maxim of your action to be universal
 Despite the proximity of this formulation to the
Golden Rule, it is really quite different. The UL
formulation imposes a consistency requirement.
 You should only act in such a way that everyone
else should act and that you want them to act.
Mappes on Sexual Morality
 Mappes makes clear from the beginning of
his essay that he is taking exception to what
he calls “conventional sexual morality:” that
non-marital sex, or sex without love, is
 To dispute this is not to deny that there are
moral limits on sexual behavior. It is rather
to contest the ground on which such limits
are commonly articulated.
Using Other People
● The ground that Mappes thinks is appropriate is
the Humanity formulation of the CI.
● Mappes highlights the concept of “Voluntary
Informed Consent” as an aid to understanding
what’s wrong with “using people” in a way that
violates the CI.
● “A immorally uses B iff A intentionally acts in a way that violates
the requirement that B’s involvement with A’s ends be based on
B’s voluntary informed consent” (91c2-92c1).
● Two obvious ways that people can be used is via
coercion and deception.
Using Other People for Sex
 Employing the concept of VIC, we can
easily provide a criterion by which it can
be determined if a specific sex act
violates the CI’s insistence of personal
 A sexually uses B iff A intentionally acts in
a way that violates the requirement that
B’s sexual interaction with A be based on
B’s voluntary informed consent.
Putting the Informed in Consent
 An important caveat of Mappes’ specification of
the VIC for matters of the moral evaluation of
sex is that by definition sex with children and
other not fully competent agents is by definition
 The notion of “informed consent” requires a
competency (both legal and moral) that
children never meet and that adults can
sometimes not meet.
Deception and Sexual Morality
 There are obvious, clear-cut cases in which the
use of deception violates the VIC standard and
by extension the CI. At issue is the “informed”
part of the VIC.
 In general, “If one person’s consent to sex is predicated on
false beliefs that have been intentionally and deceptively
inculcated by one’s sexual partner in an effort to win the
former’s consent, the resulting sexual interaction…[is
immoral]” (93c2).
 As is typically the case, withholding information
can be as intentionally deceptive as outright
Coercion and Sexual Morality
 Coercion is the more difficult case of the two, in
part because coercion can take two forms.
 Occurent coercion occurs when physical force is used to
overwhelm the agent’s very capacity to consent or dissent.
 Dispositional coercion occurs when the capacity to consent is
not overwhelmed, but manipulated by threats.
 While there is very little confusion about
occurent coercion, the concept of dispositional
coercion does admit of some ambiguity.
Putting it to Work
 Look at the examples on pp. 94-95.
 The distinction Mappes makes is grounded in
the conceptual space between threats and
 Can this distinction be maintained?
 What about the “Coercive Offer?”
What does it all Mean?
 What are we to make of the obvious
difference between Mappes’ position and
that of the Natural Law Theorists?
 What should we do in the face of this sort
of conflict?
 As we’ve seen, we have some principles
in terms of which we can adjudicate this

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