Kant. The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Kant and Deontology. Just as Utilitarianism is one kind of Consequentialist ethics, Kantianism is one kind of Deontological ethics.
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The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
Are all desires contingent over time and relative across individuals?
What about the desire for companionship?
Why can’t something contingent and relative ground something necessary and universal?
“Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”
Acting on maxim m is morally permissible only if the universal version of m, U(m) does not contain a contradiction of some kind.
A maxim, m, is a directive for action. It has a first-person (ACE) structure– I will do action A in circumstance C to achieve end E.
The universalization of m, U(m), has a universal (ACE) structure– Everyone will do action A in circumstance C to achieve end E.
A contradiction in U(m) occurs when the U(m) is logically impossible in and of itself, or impossible relative to some other necessary feature of rational agents or the human condition.
First-Person Maxim: I will make a false promise to payback a loan, in a situation in which I have no money to payback the loan, in order to get a loan.
Universal Maxim: Everyone will make a false promise to payback a loan, in a situation in which they have no money to payback the loan, in order to get a loan.
Contradiction in Conception: The institution of lending depends on trust and honesty in reporting one’s financial condition. Therefore, if we imagine a world in which everyone makes false promises to payback loans in order to get loans, no one would give out loans, since they would have no reason to trust anyone’s promise to repay.
First-Person Maxim: From self-love, I will shorten my life, when its longer duration threatens more trouble than it promises, in order to avoid more pain.
Universal Maxim: From self-love, Everyone will shorten their life, when its longer duration threatens more trouble than it promises, in order to avoid more pain.
Contradiction in Nature: if everyone ended their life whenever longer duration threatened more trouble than promises, then there would be no life. The continuation of life depends on some individuals carrying on through tough periods while recognizing that the future threatens more trouble than pleasure.
First-Person Maxim: I will forgo developing a useful talent that I have in a situation in which I am already comfortable with a lifestyle that does not require that I develop my talent, in order to remain comfortable.
Universal Maxim: Everyone will forgo developing their useful talents in a situation in which they are already comfortable with a lifestyle that does not require that they develop it, in order to remain comfortable.
Contradiction in Nature: If some useful talents, such as being a doctor, are distributed only to some, and if all of those people always decided to not pursue their talents, when they were already comfortable, society as a whole would not benefit from the distribution of those talents. Forgoing the development of a useful talent because one is comfortable is to fail to see how one is free-riding on the talents of others.
First-Person Maxim: I will not contribute or take away from the well-fare of others, in a situation in which I am doing fine, in order to be free of others.
Universal Maxim: Everyone, who is doing well enough, will not contribute to others, in order to be free of others.
Contradiction in Willing: Although the world could be this way logically, and naturally, it would be a horrible place. More importantly, though, it is something that one cannot will themselves, because were they in a situation in which they needed the help of others, they would not want this principle to be the rule which governed all.
“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.”
All rational agents are ends in themselves.
To treat something that is an end in itself as merely a means is impermissible given the nature of what rational agents are.
The principle requires rational informed consent. A person maybe used as a means to an end, as long as they give rational consent to be treated as such, against the background of adequate information. Examples of this include the sale of one’s labor.
If the first and second categorical imperatives are just two formulations of the same principle, then they ought to give the same answer as to the moral permissibility of a given action.
Sexual labor seems to be a case that is deemed impermissible by the second categorical imperative, since one is using themselves.
But sexual labor does not lead to a contradiction in conception via the first categorical imperative.
If there are different ways of formulating a maxim, with different moral outcomes, how can we be sure we have the right answer concerning the moral permissibility of a given action?
Formulation a: I will leave the game early, in order to avoid traffic.
Formulation b: I will leave at 10pm, in order to get home by 11pm.
U(a): Everyone will leave the game early, in order to avoid traffic.
U(b) Everyone will leave at 10pm, in order to get home by 11pm.
U(a) leads to a contradiction, but U(b) does not.
There seem to be obvious counterexamples to the first categorical imperative. For example, there seem to be cases in which lying is justified.
Suppose the Nazi Officers come to the place where you are hiding over 100 Jewish prisoners that have escaped. Suppose they ask you whether you are holding any Jewish prisoners. And you respond by saying “No”. And you point them in the direction where you know there are none.
Intuitively it seems as if you are justified because of the lives at stake. Kant’s account appears to have a hard time explaining this.