Is morality universal, based on reason and self-imposed as Kant claims - 89276

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Question: Is morality universal, based on reason and self-imposed as Kant claims? Reference: Lesson 4.1: Kant, Groundwork, Preface and Chapter I (Cahn, 768-74) Hi, and welcome to Lecture 4.1, where we continue our discussion of what we're calling modern ethical theories. And in this case, it is the approach to ethics that centers on rights and duties, and we will discuss this in this lecture and Lecture 4.2. In particular, this is an approach to ethics that in some ways is the opposite or the other end of the spectrum from consequentialist morale thinking that we were discussing in earlier lectures. That is, in this approach we look at duties or rules that are thought to be objectively and unqualifiedly obligatory. That as we start with things that are clearly right or clearly wrong, such as the respect for certain basic rights or the duties that we have not to do certain things, and go from there in building ethical -- our ethical framework. And this is sometimes called deontology. And that is because of the root of that word, Dion, duty, and the logic of duty very much captures this framework. Now duties and rights will be used in this discussion together because they are related, they are complimentary to each other. If I have a duty to treat people a certain way, then in many ways they have a right that I not treat them or treat them in that way. And correspondingly, when we talk about people's basic rights, the rights not to be killed unnecessarily or harmed, we are basically implying that everyone else has a duty not to violate those rights. And as I said, the focus of this framework is to concentrate on what those objective, basic rights and duties are and how they bind us independent of the consequences of that action. That is in a way completely opposite of consequentialism. We don't look at what's going on result down the road of our acting this way, we just talk about the intrinsic nature of the act and try to define what our obligations are there. Now the most important figure in the history of this way of thinking in the modern period in this tradition we're talking about is Immanuel Kant, who lived from 1724 to 1804 in Prussia. And is the author of the readings we did for this section. And wrote the ground work for the Metaphysics of Morals, which we read, in 1785. Now the way that work proceeds, and I'll talk us through it a bit, to get a -- the broad out lines of this approach to ethics out on the table, the way that work proceeds is to begin this search for unqualified, universal morale principles. Ones that are known by reason alone. As he says, are apriori [Phonetic], that is based on thought that has no input from the senses and just known through reflection alone. And the reason he wants morality to be based on that because if it is then it's like a mathematical truth or a -- a truth of logic. It can't be wrong. And that would be the Holy Grail of ethical thinking. Because then you would have a set of duties which you would have no doubt about and do not vary according to circumstances. So that's his search. And he begins it by reflecting on what a good will would be. What would be an unqualified morally worthy set of intentions for people to have. Because if we could characterize what the purely good will is, then we would know what the essence of morality is. What we all should guide our lives by. Now what's having in the first part of the section he rules out certain characteristics of a good will. And in particular, he rules out that a -- the reliance on consequences for the character of a good will. That is things that will turn out well. And he says that that could not be the basis of a good will, because that would make it contingent. It would depend on how things worked out. And for example, if you tried to do the right thing but things didn't turn out the way you predicted, then it would result in an immoral action, and therefore morality would not be based on reason alone and would not have that certainty. So he rules that out. And he also rules out the good will being based on virtue, because we could think of a wise or a courageous or a -- even a -- a moderate person, you know, person who exhibits the virtues, but in doing so does evil things. Since we can imagine and in fact point to such examples, that it can't -- it can't be the case that virtue defines morality. It's somehow dependent on some deeper sense of what makes actions right or wrong. And that's interesting that he puts those aside, because they are both approaches to morality that we have discussed. One is consequentialism, or utilitarianism, which the version we discussed is developed after Kant, but is very much a part of the tradition of moral philosophy that he's commenting on the and the second is virtue ethics or ancient ethics associated in his mind are Aristotle, which we also discussed. He thinks both of those approaches to morality could not generate apriori, unqualified universal rules. And so he puts them to the side. He then discusses the relation of doing one's duty, acting out of good will, and the motives that you would have to have. And he says after considering a few cases that it must be doing duty -- doing one's moral duty for duty's sake, not because you think you'll benefit from it, not even because you're trying to produce good effects. It's got to be doing it for its own sake. And he has a kind of test for that, that you would have done that same thing if you would have had completely different desires. That is -- I'm sorry, that same act would have been right even if you had different desires. So the -- the motive has got to be the duty itself. Not the desires or inclinations you happen to have at the moment. So only respect for the moral law itself, as he puts it, is the valid motive. So he then looks for a formula for what our duties would be that meet these -- meet these requirements. It's got to be intrinsically good, it's got to be objectively determinable, and it's got to be valid in all circumstances. So he then says what would the formula be for those duties that meet these qualifications. And he says well, it would have to have apriori necessity. Which just means it would be valid independent of any information through the senses. You would know it by reason alone. Second, it would have to apply universally. That is whatever you are considering doing, he calls it a maxim, which is this principle of what you're going to do and the reason you have for doing it. Whatever that maxim is, it's got to be the right thing to do independent of all the con contingencies of your circumstances. So if your maxim is to, say, tell a lie in order to benefit yourself, it's got to be the right to do that, if it is right. No matter what the circumstances are. Well, we'll get back to the example of a lie later. But in so far as what he's looking for is kind of an imperative, a command, you must do this. And the command cannot have any qualifications. Then the formula he comes up with, the first version of it, it that we must act on that maxim that we could will to be a universal law. Namely, the thing in any situation that's the right thing to do is the maxim that would be the right thing to do in any such circumstances, for any person. And so that's the imperative, which is categorical, or as it's come to be called, the categorical imperative. And that's really the crux of this situation and where we'll leave it for now. But the idea is that what morality must be, if it's going to be unqualified and objective and universal, is to do that thing which you could will consistently as a universal law for everyone to do in such circumstances. So we'll leave it at that and we'll pick it up in the next lecture, where we'll expand on that idea and consider some variations. Lesson 4.2: Kant, Groundwork, Chapter II (Cahn, 775-91, col. 1) Hello. Hello. This is lecture 4.2 where we continue in our discussion of Kantian ethics or Deontology, that is the ethics of rights and duties. And as we saw last time, Kant developed this idea by formulating the categorical imperative, that is a formula for our duties, our moral duties, which says we should do that thing which, we could consistently will to be a universal law for everyone in any situation of a similar sort. Now as you've read, there are more than one version of the categorical imperative. The first version that we just went over is the main formal version, what's called the universal law version. But as you read, he develops what he thinks is a parallel idea in a sort of different language where he says that we also must respect ourselves and other people as ends in themselves. We have to respect people and not use them as a mere means to our end. And that is called the second formulation of the categorical imperative, because it has the same status, namely it is way of determining what duties we have in any particular situation. It's objective. It's universal. It applies without qualification. So the second version of -- the second formulation of the categorical imperative is one must never use oneself or others as a mere means to an end. One must always respect oneself and others as ends in themselves, or as valuable in themselves. And there's a third version of the categorical imperative which sounds very much like the first, and it says we must always follow that maxim that we could will as legislators in a kingdom of ends, he says. That's to use his phrases -- phrase. That is to say we should act as if we're making a law for everyone in the world where everyone is thought of as ends in themselves, or valuable, in themselves. So if we lived in a perfect world, and not perfect by the fact that everyone is acting perfectly, but just perfect in the sense that everyone has this equal moral status, where everyone is valued for themselves. In such a world, we should do that thing which we could will for everyone to do, in that world. So that's very much like the first formulation where we're acting on that maxim that we could will universally. Now after formulating the categorical imperative in those ways, he then says how will we generate particular duties. I mean, those are just formulas. And he goes through examples. Now one thing that should be emphasized. A very important component of Kant's moral philosophy is the idea of autonomy. What autonomy means is the capacity to formulate for oneself objective duties and rules; that is, to impose on oneself the rules of practical reason, the rules that we should be guided by. That has an objective status so their not subjective and we just do what we want, but it is the determination for ourselves of what is objectively required of us. Now the reason I mention that is because we then have to ask in any given situation what for -- from our point of view, what our the objective duties for us? And so that's a way in which he doesn't just write down what morality says. He doesn't just have a list of like the Ten Commandments. He has these formulas that will determine, he thinks, for -- will guide us in our determination of what's right. And what he does is give examples of duties, but it's important to note those are just examples. The point is the use of the formula that he thinks is required by practical reason itself. It's required objectively. So just mentioning a couple of those examples, to see how it works. The idea of duties to others, right? That can either be perfect and unqualified duties or imperfect. Let's just talk about the perfect duties to others. One would be not to make a false promise. Now why would you know in a particular situation that it's wrong to promise something without the intention without carrying out? Well if you ask, "Could I will a world in which people made promises knowing they may not carry them out?" and will that universally, I would be engaged in a contradiction because such a world would not have an institution of promises, would not have a practice of promises because promises are those things which people carry out even if it's not to their advantage. I mean, they carry out because they are obligated to do that. So to say I'm going to make this promise but not carry it out is to contradict myself, when applied universally. So that implies by virtue of the categorical imperative that there is an absolute duty not to break promises, not to make false promises. Similarly, we have perfect duties to ourselves. The one he -- the example he gives is suicide; that is, it would be a contradiction to say, "I am going to will my own death, say to relieve myself of pain," because to will a world in which everyone does that is to will a world in which people both want to destroy themselves for their own sake, and he thinks that's a contradiction. Now there's been lots of philosophical discussion about whether these arguments are good ones and whether the particular examples he generates are perfectly consistent with his moral philosophy and whether they're good arguments. But those aside, they're just examples of how you would say if I'm going to will something universally, I'm going to do what would be objectively right, what would be the right thing to do in this situation? And these are meant to be duties which would arise from that way of thinking. Now I'm going to skip over some of the details in the text, and please as always ask questions about it in the question board, and we can talk about it there, but I then want to give a broad overview of -- well draw some general conclusions about Deontological thinking. The first is the relationship between these duties I've been talking about and rights. I mentioned this earlier. The second formulation of the categorical imperative, to always treat others with respect as ends in themselves and not just a means to your end, is a way of saying that we should respect other people's rights. Their right to be treated as a human being, as an autonomous rational agent, not merely as an object of my purposes. I can't use people, and the idea that people have a right not to be treated that way, is a very complementary idea to the duty I have not to do so. So the language of rights are very much the flip side of the language of duties in this way of thinking. Secondly, as we have emphasized, this is non-consequentialist thinking. It's the idea of what's intrinsically right and wrong for us as moral beings, not what might happen, so it very much contradicts the consequentialist thinking that we discussed earlier. And so with Kantian ethics, we have the two dominant frameworks of moral thinking in modern moral philosophy, and that's just a historical designation, but it means the way of thinking that concentrates on actions, what ought we to do. In the case of utilitarianism, it's produce the greatest happiness. In the case of Deontology, it's follow the objective rules, but they concentrate on actions and you'll recall that with ancient -- what we call ancient ethics -- virtue ethics, it concentrated on character. And those are interesting contrasts. But with the discussion of Deontology now, we have both ancient and modern, the three major frameworks of moral philosophy that we will use in our discussions throughout the course; that is, the concentration on virtue -- virtues of character as a way of thinking through moral issues; or the framework of consequence based thinking where we think about the effects of our actions or policies, and we make decisions based on outcomes; and finally the framework of objective rules and rights where we look at things which are intrinsically right or wrong as a starting point and a moral thinking. And that's a broad outline of the moral philosophy that we'll be using. We'll continue on in our discussion of issues like freedom and privacy and then policy questions arising in the arena of Homeland Security, but that broadly is our overview of moral philosophy. So we'll answer questions as always in the discussion area, and we'll proceed from there.l
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