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Veritas

Critique of Ayn Rand’s Ethics

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"Interesting, I don't know if it applies to anyone's views here, but what I think - often -  is the root cause of disagreement debating the objective ethics, is lingering and/or implicit mysticism and neo-mysticism. One party in the original belief that "man" is a supernatural being, outside of reality; and its apparent (at first) obverse: a forceful opposition to a metaphysics, or the fact that consciousness has a metaphysical identity. (Metaphysics = "mystical" - to many secularist thinkers, I've noticed, and the "brain" is just meat, after all)."

Which philosophers would you put in each category/party? (Incidentally, most philosophers today are moral realists, according to the Philpapers survey (as most philosophers historically have been moral realists)).

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8 hours ago, Eric D said:

"You are concluding then that in this sense that matter could be a standard for value equal to a strong nuclear force equal to life and that if life could be said to be the standard then any of the above mentioned (matter or strong nuclear force) could be said to the the standard as well.  From this you might also ask why not just say “existence is the standard of value”.

"I want to make sure I completely understand what you are saying before I respond.

"Is this correct?"

Hi Veritas, it's very close, but not precisely right.

I'm not saying that matter or etc. could be the standard of value, but that as far as the reasoning goes (as I understand it), we have just as much reason to conclude that it's matter or etc. that is the standard of value as we do to conclude that it's life. So the claim is that life is a necessary condition for value, and that this claim - life's being a necessary condition for value - is somehow relevant to life's being the standard of value. My point was that there are plenty of necessary conditions of value, and so there's no reason to pick this one necessary condition - life - over the others. That is - and this is important - there's no reason given by the argument (viz. the argument from life's being a necessary condition of value to its being the standard of value). Now of course we could come in and then, post hoc, adduce all sorts of reasons to conclude that it's life that is the standard of value, and not any of the other sundry necessary conditions. But then it's not at all clear what argumentative work identifying life as a necessary condition of value did to move the reasoning closer to the conclusion that life is the standard of value.

Ok, so in terms of understanding you I need to retain that you point is the “reasoning” from A to B is the issue. Wouldn’t the correlating reason over and above x,y,z be understood in the meaning behind the words used, such as, life, standard, etc,.

There is a lot of reading that digs deeper. Greg Salmieri has some entries in “Blackwells Companions to Philosophy”. I hope you continue in this route to further refine your inquiries. Although, I also understand that people here who endorse her philosophy gives quick access to a response. I would like to be able to fill that role as well as notice the gaps in my own understanding. But, there are great resources if you find value in digging any deeper outside of this forum or having exhausted the replies by others here.

Maybe instead of doing textual criticism on what she said in VOS we can just start here. 

1. I exist

2. In order for me to exist to be meaningful I have to exist in a particular way (law of identity)

3. My particular existence is subject to my particular identity, which is a living organism.

4. Me as a human living organism cannot live without taking particular actions, which are dictated by my particular identity.

5. I need an ultimate guide to continue to exist as a human organism. The guide is morality.  Its why we need morality at all. Otherwise whats the point? 

6. Morality as it applies to me is a guide for looking at what I am and what I should do. 

7 The most fundamental choice I have to decide is to live or to die.

8. The standard that I have to make that particular choice is an understanding that “mans life”, which would include me requires life giving values (food, shelter, etcs,.) and the method for discovering those values is my mind. It is the only method. My mind learning reality (the identity of everything) and a specific application of what I discover to my unique existence as a human organism.

 

Also, what are you philosophical leanings? You mentioned Kant (nemisis ;-)). Are you sympathetic to his approach to morality?

 

 

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Hi Veritas, thanks for that.

To answer your question directly, yes, I'm very sympathetic indeed to a Kantian approach to ethics. I'm also very sympathetic to an Aristotelian approach, and think that Aristotle's ethics and Kant's are not nearly as far apart as many suppose (I'm more or less aligned with thinkers like Korsgaard here).

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23 minutes ago, Eric D said:

Hi Veritas, thanks for that.

To answer your question directly, yes, I'm very sympathetic indeed to a Kantian approach to ethics. I'm also very sympathetic to an Aristotelian approach, and think that Aristotle's ethics and Kant's are not nearly as far apart as many suppose (I'm more or less aligned with thinkers like Korsgaard here).

You might really appreciate the Irfan Khawaja chapter in the ARS volume I linked earlier, as well as Khawaja's 2008 PhD dissertation "Foundationalism and the Foundation of Ethics" which defends a thoroughly Randian ethical egoism and engages deeply with Korsgaard in chapters 7, 8, and Appendix B:

https://www.academia.edu/1826457/Foundationalism_and_the_Foundations_of_Ethics

Edit: Also you can probably just email him, or post a question on his blog or FB, he's pretty responsive to students and much more knowledgeable about Rand than keyboard philosophers on any forums you're going to find.

Edited by 2046

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1 hour ago, Eric D said:



Which philosophers would you put in each category/party? (Incidentally, most philosophers today are moral realists, according to the Philpapers survey (as most philosophers historically have been moral realists)).

https://stanford.library.sydney.edu.au/archives/spr2012/entries/kant-hume-morality/

Excerpt: "Kant regards all moral theories prior to his as failing to explain the categorical nature of moral obligation..."

Also, I refer you to an essay in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Eliminativist materialism".

"...by denying that there is an ego or persisting subject of experience, Hume (1739) was arguably an eliminativist about the self. Reductive materialists can be viewed as eliminativists with respect to an immortal soul".

Edited by whYNOT

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2046, thanks for the link.

"Kant regards all moral theories prior to his as failing to explain the categorical nature of moral obligation..."

That's true enough about Kant, but I'm not sure how that claim - that he 'regards all moral theories prior to his as failing to explain the categorical nature of moral obligation' - places him in one of the two categories you laid out above.  

 

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9 hours ago, Eric D said:

2046, thanks for the link.

"Kant regards all moral theories prior to his as failing to explain the categorical nature of moral obligation..."

That's true enough about Kant, but I'm not sure how that claim - that he 'regards all moral theories prior to his as failing to explain the categorical nature of moral obligation' - places him in one of the two categories you laid out above.  

 

It wasn't meant to. Just a taster from the essay. 

But the two positions displayed of Hume and Kant, from the one's eliminativism of the immortal soul (and "self" along with it), to the latter's final acceptance of the necessity of the immortal soul -- provide food for thought. I thought.

Edited by whYNOT

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We could, as Wood does, distinguish Kant's ethics - that is, the ethical system developed by Kant in his ethical writings - from Kantian ethics - that is, ethical systems based on the fundamental principles of Kant's ethics, but that are not identical to Kant's ethics. I don't think that there's any reason to conclude that a devotee of Kantian ethics is committed to the existence of immortal souls. Kant himself was led to believe in immortality primarily because he was convinced that virtue had to be rewarded with happiness, and since in this life it's often not so rewarded, we must (or so he argued) posit another life in which it will be. But there's nothing inherent in Kant's fundamental ethical principles that entails a commitment to this belief about the relationship between virtue and happiness.

 

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Alright, Eric D. This gels with what I know, while you are more expert about Kant than I in my sporadic reading. 'Virtue' to and for others (although I recall he includes one's virtuous 'duty to oneself' in the mix) has to rewarded. If not here, then in the Hereafter. But I'd think that that would be a significant comfort to a Kantian ethicist. Naturally, one would implicitly count upon that 'later reward'.

This doesn't remove the fact that virtue to others - at its best - should be committed entirely without personal pleasure, in Kant's reckoning. This is a pretty sour indictment of any form of voluntary help and good will by an individual to others. 

Edited by whYNOT

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13 hours ago, whYNOT said:

This doesn't remove the fact that virtue to others - at its best - should be committed entirely without personal pleasure, in Kant's reckoning. This is a pretty sour indictment of any form of voluntary help and good will by an individual to others. 

That's a very common misinterpretation of Kant - indeed, I mistakenly held it when I first began learning about his ethics. Kant does not believe that if you enjoy doing your duty, then your act lacks moral worth. Rather, he's interested in distinguishing (a) acts done from the motive of duty from (b) acts done from the motive of inclination but that accord with duty.

So, imagine that in a particular situation, duty requires one to do act A. (An act, for Kant, is a composite of bits of behavior done for reasons expressed in maxims, so although for the sake of clarity I'm just talking about acts here, talk of acts implies talk of maxims.) Both Jones and Smith are in that particular situation, and both of them do A. Further, imagine that they both enjoy doing A. But now consider that Jones does A only because he enjoys doing it, while Smith, who also enjoys doing A, does it only because it is his duty.

Now of Jones, we could say, counterfactually, that if he had not enjoyed doing A, he would not have done A. For that he enjoyed it is his reason for acting. However, of Smith, we could say, counterfactually, that if he had not enjoyed doing A, he would nonetheless have done A. So here, Smith's act has moral worth while Jones's act does not.

There are certain technical problems with this sort of counterfactual analysis, but I think that generally, it effectively gets across the point that Kant was trying to make, which is that what matters in evaluating the moral worth of an action is one's reason for acting (which is expressed in the maxim on which one acts). As long as one acts for the right reasons, then one's act has moral worth, regardless of whether one also happened to act in accord with inclination.

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Eric, Once more I recognize what you relate interpreting Kant, simply his whole lot of equivocation about moral worth and duty. Always, you'll know, stressing the 'other' (as one's standard of moral value, I add). Since you've studied both, you know how alien this is in Objectivism. There is and must be, objectively, "inclination" (perceived value) in one's helping hand for others. One sees another's plight, identifies, evaluates, feels sympathy and responds to the disvalue of their circumstance. And right, takes pleasure in seeing them regain their footing. Or, if not of personal value, one doesn't ~have~ to help. Without "inclination", all one has is resentful or guilty self-sacrifice, and sacrifice of others for oneself. And Kant wanted his moral duty "universalized" (projected) by the individual himself, as well. AND, "the good will" is all. No matter whether one's acts are actually concretized, merely having the good intention is enough. Call me delusional, but what I see (universally) today, is much of the above. While not all Kant's doing, there are others. But everywhere you look today is the overwhelming, unquestioned meme of duty to 'others' - and one's life is not one's own. Plenty of hypocritical "virtue-signalling", which never adds up to anything - the display is what counts...

Edited by whYNOT

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"Always, you'll know, stressing the 'other' (as one's standard of moral value, I add)."

That's not the 'standard of value' for Kant. Indeed, Kant only recognizes an imperfect duty to help others. (Perfect duties, which for Kant follow from contradictions in conception (of maxims), must be satisfied in all circumstances, though these are mainly negative duties; imperfect duties, which for Kant follow from contradictions in the will (expressed in maxims), however may be followed or not as the agent judges best in a particular set of circumstances.) The standard of value, as I understand Kant, is something like reason itself. That's what his famous categorical imperative tests, i.e. since reasons are by their nature shareable (that is, a reason for me to phi in a particular set of circumstances is a reason for any agent to phi in those circumstances), any proposed reason to act that is not shareable (read: universalizable) is not a genuine reason, but at best a rationalization.

"Without "inclination", all one has is resentful or guilty self-sacrifice, and sacrifice of others for oneself. "

Again, it's important to keep in mind that Kant was not against acting in accord with inclination - that is, enjoying doing what morality demands - but acting from inclination - that is, doing what morality demands only because you enjoy it. Indeed, he thought that we had something akin to a duty to cultivate our inclinations so as to provide the least resistance to acting from duty.

 

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I’m not seeing a non circular base for what is “moral” “good” and “right”.

CI is logically consistent with itself, but then again we could baldly assert anything logically consistent with itself as the base  of “morality” and we could baldly assert anything is intrinsically good.

Intrinsic good lacks a “what” it is “good for” and cannot have a rational reality-based meaning.... and not having it... cannot be based on any actual “reason”.

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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1 hour ago, StrictlyLogical said:

What is a "right reason" according to Kant?

Simplifying a bit, the right reason is a genuine reason, i.e. a reason that you could will any agent, in a similar situation, to act upon. If your maxim expresses a reason that you must will others to reject if your maxim's means are to retain their efficacy, then the reason you propose in your maxim isn't a genuine reason (since, as I said above, reasons (on this view) are by their nature shareable, i.e. a reason for me to do such-and-such in a given context is a reason for you, and for any other agent, to do such-and-such in that context).

Keep in mind that the CI primarily (a) rules out acting on certain maxims, and (b) reveals the permissibility of acting on certain maxims. It rarely requires a particular action of an agent (unless we begin to categorize ways of intentionally refraining from acting as a kind of action, and there is some plausibility in this: e.g. my not raising my hand in most contexts could not be meaningfully characterized as a kind of act, but my not doing so in a classroom after the teacher asks those who know the answer to raise their hands may be a sort of act by way of refraining from action).

 

11 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

I’m not seeing a non circular base for what is “moral” “good” and “right”

Do you see anything circular in what I said above?

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44 minutes ago, Eric D said:

Simplifying a bit, the right reason is a genuine reason, i.e. a reason that you could will any agent, in a similar situation, to act upon. If your maxim expresses a reason that you must will others to reject if your maxim's means are to retain their efficacy, then the reason you propose in your maxim isn't a genuine reason (since, as I said above, reasons (on this view) are by their nature shareable, i.e. a reason for me to do such-and-such in a given context is a reason for you, and for any other agent, to do such-and-such in that context).

Keep in mind that the CI primarily (a) rules out acting on certain maxims, and (b) reveals the permissibility of acting on certain maxims. It rarely requires a particular action of an agent (unless we begin to categorize ways of intentionally refraining from acting as a kind of action, and there is some plausibility in this: e.g. my not raising my hand in most contexts could not be meaningfully characterized as a kind of act, but my not doing so in a classroom after the teacher asks those who know the answer to raise their hands may be a sort of act by way of refraining from action).

 

Do you see anything circular in what I said above?

What defines "efficacy" in Kant's view?

I was under the impression that a "Categorical Imperative" was absolute requirement that must be obeyed and is justified as an end in itself.

Does Kant say anything about the adoption of the CI by any person as itself being good "for" anything, a choice, or an intrinsic good?

 

Suppose for example I were innocent of all morality (not an Objectivist, Kantian, or Christian.. nothing) but a rational living being... how would you persuade me to adopt Kantian morality?

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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1 hour ago, StrictlyLogical said:

What defines "efficacy" in Kant's view?

The term 'efficacy' is understood in accord with its acceptation. So, if your proposed means to achieve your end (as expressed in your maxim) is a lie, then lying must be efficacious, i.e. it must genuinely be a means to your end. If universalizing your maxim renders your means - here, the lie - inefficacious (in the conceptual space of the world of the universalized maxim), then your maxim contains a contradiction in conception, and acting on that maxim is impermissible. (Our means are expressed in the form of hypothetical imperatives, viz. if you will such and such, then you must will so and so. Every maxim presupposes a commitment to a hypothetical imperative.)

So, if you want to lie to obtain a loan, then your maxim is something like, 'whenever I am in need of money, I shall obtain those funds by borrowing them with a promise to repay, but I shall never repay the money'. This maxim, when universalized, is something like, 'whenever anyone is in need of money, she shall obtain those funds by borrowing them with a promise to repay, but she shall never repay the money'. Note that universalizing a maxim implies a universal acceptance of the legitimacy of the reasons for action expressed in the maxim. That is, the effect of universalizing my maxim is making 'needing money, but not wanting to repay it' a sufficient reason, for all rational agents, for the behavior, ' receiving money on the basis of a promise to repay it'.

Now imagine a world where all rational agents accepted your maxim - would loans (as we currently understand them) exist in such a world? No, of course not. For the maxim on which lenders act is something like, ' whenever someone who can repay me, and promises to repay me, is in need, I shall make a loan so that I might receive my money back with interest'. But were my original maxim - the one we're testing - universalized, the lender would never consider adopting such a maxim. Why? Because in such a world, everyone knows that if you need money, you lie to obtain a loan - that's just what's done! But then no one would loan money in such a world (remember, the concept of a loan is the concept of letting someone else borrow money on the promise of repayment, but in the world we're considering, a promise to repay is understood by everyone - including prospective lenders - as a pronouncement that you'll never be repaid). Thus, in the universalized world, a lie - a false promise to repay - is not an efficacious means to achieve your end, i.e. getting the money. But then your maxim proposes a means - the lie - to obtain its end - the money - that would be rendered inefficacious if the maxim were universalized. Another way of putting it is this: your proposed reason for action could not be accepted by all agents in your circumstances, and so isn't really a reason at all (since reasons are by their nature shareable).

That's a very quick and rough exposition of the way I've come to understand Kant's CI. (I don't have time right now to review it, so I hope it doesn't contain any errors.)

 "I was under the impression that a "Categorical Imperative" was absolute requirement that must be obeyed and is justified as an end in itself."

The CI occurs in three to five (depending on how you count them) formulations, e.g. the universal law formulation, the formula of humanity, etc. What we then do is plug proposed maxims into the CI so that we might test them. (Kant doesn't think that any of us goes through this procedure explicitly, but he does think that he's formalized the sort of moral reasoning we all engage in whenever we think about what we ought and ought not to do.) The result yields (a) a maxim we cannot act on, or much more rarely, must act on (a perfect duty, which results when the maxim contains a contradiction in conception), (b) a maxim we must adopt, but with significant room for judgment regarding when and when not to act on it (an imperfect duty, which results when the maxim expresses a contradiction in the will), or (c) a merely permissible maxim to act on (the consequence of a maxim's passing the CI entirely), which we may act on or not as we please.

"Does Kant say anything about the adoption of the CI by any person as itself being good "for" anything, a choice, or an intrinsic good?"

Whenever we act, we behave in various ways for reasons (as opposed to when we merely behave some way without reason, e.g. a reflexive response). It's just what we do, given what we are, viz. rational beings, whenever we act. So the CI is just testing whether we're in fact doing what we (at least implicitly) claim to be doing whenever we act. We therefore implicitly adopt it whenever we propose to act, since all action is on a maxim, and maxims express reasons for action. But proposed reasons for action can fail to be genuine reasons for action, which is why we can fail to be rational/moral. 

Edited by Eric D

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1 hour ago, Eric D said:

The term 'efficacy' is understood in accord with its acceptation. So, if your proposed means to achieve your end (as expressed in your maxim) is a lie, then lying must be efficacious, i.e. it must genuinely be a means to your end. If universalizing your maxim renders your means - here, the lie - inefficacious (in the conceptual space of the world of the universalized maxim), then your maxim contains a contradiction in conception, and acting on that maxim is impermissible. (Our means are expressed in the form of hypothetical imperatives, viz. if you will such and such, then you must will so and so. Every maxim presupposes a commitment to a hypothetical imperative.)

So, if you want to lie to obtain a loan, then your maxim is something like, 'whenever I am in need of money, I shall obtain those funds by borrowing them with a promise to repay, but I shall never repay the money'. This maxim, when universalized, is something like, 'whenever anyone is in need of money, she shall obtain those funds by borrowing them with a promise to repay, but she shall never repay the money'. Note that universalizing a maxim implies a universal acceptance of the legitimacy of the reasons for action expressed in the maxim. That is, the effect of universalizing my maxim is making 'needing money, but not wanting to repay it' a sufficient reason, for all rational agents, for the behavior, ' receiving money on the basis of a promise to repay it'.

Now imagine a world where all rational agents accepted your maxim - would loans (as we currently understand them) exist in such a world? No, of course not. For the maxim on which lenders act is something like, ' whenever someone who can repay me, and promises to repay me, is in need, I shall make a loan so that I might receive my money back with interest'. But were my original maxim - the one we're testing - universalized, the lender would never consider adopting such a maxim. Why? Because in such a world, everyone knows that if you need money, you lie to obtain a loan - that's just what's done! But then no one would loan money in such a world (remember, the concept of a loan is the concept of letting someone else borrow money on the promise of repayment, but in the world we're considering, a promise to repay is understood by everyone - including prospective lenders - as a pronouncement that you'll never be repaid). Thus, in the universalized world, a lie - a false promise to repay - is not an efficacious means to achieve your end, i.e. getting the money. But then your maxim proposes a means - the lie - to obtain its end - the money - that would be rendered inefficacious if the maxim were universalized. Another way of putting it is this: your proposed reason for action could not be accepted by all agents in your circumstances, and so isn't really a reason at all (since reasons are by their nature shareable).

That's a very quick and rough exposition of the way I've come to understand Kant's CI. (I don't have time right now to review it, so I hope it doesn't contain any errors.)

 "I was under the impression that a "Categorical Imperative" was absolute requirement that must be obeyed and is justified as an end in itself."

The CI occurs in three to five (depending on how you count them) formulations, e.g. the universal law formulation, the formula of humanity, etc. What we then do is plug proposed maxims into the CI so that we might test them. (Kant doesn't think that any of us goes through this procedure explicitly, but he does think that he's formalized the sort of moral reasoning we all engage in whenever we think about what we ought and ought not to do.) The result yields (a) a maxim we cannot act on, or much more rarely, must act on (a perfect duty, which results when the maxim contains a contradiction in conception), (b) a maxim we must adopt, but with significant room for judgment regarding when and when not to act on it (an imperfect duty, which results when the maxim expresses a contradiction in the will), or (c) a merely permissible maxim to act on (the consequence of a maxim's passing the CI entirely), which we may act on or not as we please.

"Does Kant say anything about the adoption of the CI by any person as itself being good "for" anything, a choice, or an intrinsic good?"

Whenever we act, we behave in various ways for reasons (as opposed to when we merely behave some way without reason, e.g. a reflexive response). It's just what we do, given what we are, viz. rational beings, whenever we act. So the CI is just testing whether we're in fact doing what we (at least implicitly) claim to be doing whenever we act. We therefore implicitly adopt it whenever we propose to act, since all action is on a maxim, and maxims express reasons for action. But proposed reasons for action can fail to be genuine reasons for action, which is why we can fail to be rational/moral. 

One of the criticisms of Kant is his application of the above to honesty, in particular lying to a murderer.  Kant who heard of this example himself remained adamant that lying to a murderer to prevent them from finding their quarry was wrong, but silence was permissible.

Do you believe this is a flaw in Kant's ethics? or

Do you believe the ethics is fine but this result is flawed due to a mistake in the application (even by Kant himself) of his ethics because it wholly ignores context? or

Do you believe this does not constitute any kind of flaw in regards to Kant's ethics?

 

Thank you for the example.  What about a maxim like "Compliment every first, second, and third person you see, and insult every fourth person you see."  Is it moral, immoral, or neither?  Why?

 

I am not convinced that everyone intends every act to be moral, nor that every act is an implicit adoption specifically of Kantian ethics... in particular with regards to universality.  Does Kant claim that universality is intrinsically good? Why?

 

Finally, again if I were innocent of all morality how would you persuade me into adopting Kant's ethics for myself?

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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3 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Finally, again if I were innocent of all morality how would you persuade me into adopting Kant's ethics for myself?

I'm not persuaded that any account of normative ethics can accomplish this (which is to be expected, given that that's not (primarily) why we work on developing such accounts). That said, the best a Kantian could do, I think, is emphasize that whenever we act, we act for a reason - this is part of the concept of an action. Now the reason for which we act is either a genuine reason, or it is not, and if it's not a genuine reason, then we've failed to live in accord with the sort of being we are in some deep sense (here one could get into autonomy, but I'll shelve that for the sake of brevity). 

 

3 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

 

I am not convinced that everyone intends every act to be moral, nor that every act is an implicit adoption specifically of Kantian ethics... in particular with regards to universality.  Does Kant claim that universality is intrinsically good? Why?

It's not that universality is 'intrinsically good', but that it's implied whenever we posit a reason for acting (which, again, we do whenever we act). Reasons - on this account of reasons - are inherently universalizable, which is why acting on an un-universalizable reason is to act on no reason at all. This, I take it, is what Kant means when he says that his CI just formalizes and lays bare what we all implicitly do whenever we exercise practical reason.

 

3 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Thank you for the example.  What about a maxim like "Compliment every first, second, and third person you see, and insult every fourth person you see."  Is it moral, immoral, or neither?  Why?

That's a famous proposed counterexample to Kant's CI, and it fails for a pretty basic reason, viz. it's not a maxim. Rather, it's a command or a suggestion or something like that. Maxims satisfy the schematic form, 'I shall do act A for end E in context C', so clearly, 'compliment every etc.' is not a maxim.

 

3 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

One of the criticisms of Kant is his application of the above to honesty, in particular lying to a murderer.  Kant who heard of this example himself remained adamant that lying to a murderer to prevent them from finding their quarry was wrong, but silence was permissible.

Do you believe this is a flaw in Kant's ethics? or

Do you believe the ethics is fine but this result is flawed due to a mistake in the application (even by Kant himself) of his ethics because it wholly ignores context? or

Do you believe this does not constitute any kind of flaw in regards to Kant's ethics?

This is indeed a serious challenge to Kant's ethics, since his conclusion - namely, that lying to the murderer is immoral - seems both inescapable, given his ethics, and wrong, given our pre-theoretical intuitions. I've worked on an approach that grants Kant's conclusion, i.e. that the act of lying to the murderer is immoral, while excusing the person for having committed that immoral act. The argument makes use of complex and controversial concepts, like that of retroactive consent (e.g. you don't consent to my not giving you your gun in the moment when you're demanding it, but later you say, 'thanks, I needed that' for my refusing to give it to you then, which strikes me as a case of retroactive consent (your future self consents, though your past self did not)) and certain plausible suppositions of ignorance (e.g. is the murderer at the door likely to offer retroactive consent for my having lied to him?). It also makes use of the notion that in lying to the murderer at the door in part with his own best interests in mind, I've not made use of him - considered as some combination of his past, present, and future selves - merely as a means, though I may be using his present self merely as a means to aiding his future self. This is all super controversial and complex, but it does minimally show that there are ways to address this particular worry, which I grant, is a serious one. But, of course, there is no theory in normative ethics that is without similarly difficult and stubborn challenges.

Edited by Eric D

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Why is the level of abstraction in the context of telling falsehoods at the highest noncontextual level of “lying to anyone for any purpose”?

How would one decide the level of abstraction and context for moral questions pertaining to “cutting people”?  Is it simply “Cutting anyone for any purpose” is either right or wrong or are we permitted more nuanced consideration of particulars and context here?  If so, why are we permitted more precision wrt cutting compared with lying?  If not, why not?

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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6 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Why is the level of abstraction in the context of telling falsehoods at the highest noncontextual level of “lying to anyone for any purpose”?

That's not 'the level of abstraction' at all. This is another very common misunderstanding of Kant's ethics. Recall that it's maxims that we plug into the CI, and so the consequences of the CI are always relative to a maxim. Applications of the CI never result in, 'it's never permissible to do such and such in any context', since every application of the CI will include a specific context. Now some means - such as lying - do seem to lead to maxim failure via a contradiction in conception regardless of the additional content (i.e. the ends and the context) the maxim contains, and so perhaps lying is always wrong (though it's surely false that every possible maxim of that sort has been tested!). So you can't squeeze 'never lie, full stop'  out any application of Kant's CI, but only something like, 'never lie as a means to this specific end in this specific context'. It's critical to remember that Kant's ethics is an ethics of maxims; when we lose sight of this, we're liable to all sorts of misunderstandings of his work.

Edited by Eric D

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11 hours ago, Eric D said:

Reasons - on this account of reasons - are inherently universalizable, which is why acting on an un-universalizable reason is to act on no reason at all.

This seems like an arbitrary assertion on Kant’s part both in logic and reality.

 

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5 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

This seems like an arbitrary assertion on Kant’s part both in logic and reality.

It's not arbitrary at all. Indeed, it seems to be part of the concept of a reason that reasons are shareable. So imagine that two qualitatively identical agents, A1 and A2, are in qualitatively identical contexts, C1 and C2. Further suppose that R is a reason for A1 to do some act A in C1. Now to say that reasons are not shareable is to say that, given all that, R may nonetheless not be a reason for A2 to do A in C2. But why think that?

Edited by Eric D

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On 11/14/2019 at 7:10 PM, Eric D said:



"Without "inclination", all one has is resentful or guilty self-sacrifice, and sacrifice of others for oneself. "

Again, it's important to keep in mind that Kant was not against acting in accord with inclination - that is, enjoying doing what morality demands - but acting from inclination - that is, doing what morality demands only because you enjoy it. Indeed, he thought that we had something akin to a duty to cultivate our inclinations so as to provide the least resistance to acting from duty.

 

Well, you have to admit "a duty to cultivate our inclinations",  is a massive self-contradiction. How does one's mind distort what an individual self-interestedly wants and chooses to do - into an act of "duty"? Similarly, how does a duty-bound individual fake himself into believing he's acting dutifully from "inclination"? Not for long, as we know from observation of mankind, benevolence cannot last under these conditions. 'Forced' good will.

But one can see Kant's ultimate end, the collective good, his concept of a harmonious society: a control of men through their obedient self-control, iow self-abnegation. 

However Kant justifies all this, the premises and consequences of his doctrine are and will be self-lessness.

Edited by whYNOT

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