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Objectivist ethics vs. Kantian ethics

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For my ethics class I have to do a talk about Immanuel Kant's "grounding for the metaphysics of morals" and I wanted to talk about some of the criticisms of his moral philosophy. My purpose is to formulate an objectivist response to Kant's moral philosophy and I would like to hear what you guys think.

Thanks for your help.

Brandon

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For my ethics class I have to do a talk about Immanuel Kant's "grounding for the metaphysics of morals" and I wanted to talk about some of the criticisms of his moral philosophy. My purpose is to formulate an objectivist response to Kant's moral philosophy and I would like to hear what you guys think.

Thanks for your help.

Brandon

Hi Brandon, not to be too grumpy, but I for one am annoyed when someone shows up asking for help with their homework, and offers no evidence that they have done some work on it already. I'm not sure if others feel that way, but I would suggest that you bring something for us to criticize so we know you've actually put some effort into it first. You really don't want me or anyone else to do your homework for you do you? And certainly if you haven't done any work on it ahead of time, then us sititing here and bantering about it would be doing all of your "heavy lifting" for you.

Give us an outline of your talk, give us a few para's, give us you something of value to indicate to us that you're not just siphoning off our value on the basis of our own benevolence.

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Hi Brandon, not to be too grumpy, but I for one am annoyed when someone shows up asking for help with their homework, and offers no evidence that they have done some work on it already. I'm not sure if others feel that way, but I would suggest that you bring something for us to criticize so we know you've actually put some effort into it first. You really don't want me or anyone else to do your homework for you do you? And certainly if you haven't done any work on it ahead of time, then us sititing here and bantering about it would be doing all of your "heavy lifting" for you.

Give us an outline of your talk, give us a few para's, give us you something of value to indicate to us that you're not just siphoning off our value on the basis of our own benevolence.

Fair enough-

Kant's categorical imperative states that (paraphrasing) 'we should not act on any maxim which we cannot at the same time will to be universal law'. This statement looks like a subjective foundation to a moral philosophy, yet Kant would argue that it leads us to several objective conclusions. He states these conclusions in four cases (again paraphrasing):

1) Never to lie

2) Never to commit suicide

3) Never to let one's talents go to waste

4) Never to not help those in need

My first thought would be to argue that these rules are in conflict with one each other, and thus, cannot co-exist (Kant justifies statement #2 on the duty to preserve life yet one could imagine a situation where lying would preserve life). Kant doesn't really provide any recorse for when two 'maxims which can be willed to be universal law' conflict with one another. He leaves himself open to believe contradictory conclusions and this pokes serious holes in beliefs. This may be a good way to deny Kant's conclusions of the Categorical Imperative, but it does not deny the Categorical Imperative itself. I feel like Objectivism would deny the CI outright but I'm drawing a blank as to how this method would be justified.

Sorry for not being clear, I see where it could look like I was trying to get someone to do my work for me, this is not the case. I'm not well versed in Kantian ethics so I have a hard time finding the right strings to pull. I only have a few minutes to discuss Objectivism's rejection of Kant's ethics and I want to give a clear and concise portrayal. I would appreciate your insight.

Thanks

Brandon

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Hi Brandon,

One fundamental difference you might want to give thought to is in Epistemology, which is the "bridge" between Metaphysics and Ethics. While Kant proposes ethical commandments based on the imagined consequences of those commandments, no more than a thought experiment, Objectivism derives ethical principles from the nature of man - objective facts of reality.

While Kant's ethical arguments are of the form "thou shall not X because if everyone did X the following bad things would happen", Objectivist principles are of the form "man's nature requires doing Y, if he does not-Y he dies, thus man should do Y if he wants to live".

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I am very close to completing my ethics 1120 class. If I misrepresent Kant (or any other philosopher), please let me know.

As we learned about Kant, one hypothetical situation popped into my head. What if there were some maniac that was going to press a button - detonating nuclear weapons and causing destruction on a global scale. However, by lying to this maniac, disaster could be averted - he would press the wrong button. By a Kantian standard, lying to this maniac would be a sin - letting him push the button would not. This is the nature of his deontological system. I would say that this places an imaginary world above one that actually exists.

By the C.I. :

By lying to this maniac, you would be using him as a means to an end (the protection of the world)

No one could rationally will to live in a society where people always lied to others.

I believe that Kant even confirmed a version of this story with a criminal breaking into a home and asking for the location of some victim. He said you should tell the truth, and allow the criminal to hurt the person he was after. (If you need me to, I think I could find the source)

One of the main problems I see with the C.I. (or any deontological ethical system) is that it places imagined universal consequences above real world consequences. Kant's ethics really had no real-world application (except to make a set of absolute rules that, taken litterally, mean that we must live as zombies).

On the plus side (this is a joke) Kant's system does not require a person to think. It allows Kant to dictate the actual rules (or do the thinking) and all you must do is to always follow those rules; exactly like a secular list of commandments. (except getting to heaven doesn't matter to Kant's ethics)

I may have misunderstood some aspect of Kant - I have not read more than 20 or so pages in my textbook on his ethical system.

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Hi Brandon,

One fundamental difference you might want to give thought to is in Epistemology, which is the "bridge" between Metaphysics and Ethics. While Kant proposes ethical commandments based on the imagined consequences of those commandments, no more than a thought experiment, Objectivism derives ethical principles from the nature of man - objective facts of reality.

While Kant's ethical arguments are of the form "thou shall not X because if everyone did X the following bad things would happen", Objectivist principles are of the form "man's nature requires doing Y, if he does not-Y he dies, thus man should do Y if he wants to live".

I would add that the principles are induced from the effects, positive and negative, of man's actions because of his nature.

I don't think the principles are of the form that mrocktor says per se, because just lying once or twice won't immediately kill you off. It's not like if I gave up my virtue of independence once it would necessarily lead to my death (it could happen occasionally to some people, but as an all-around policy). Rather, the principles are conducive for living well/prosperously, while not following principles will be detrimental to living well.

So it would be more like: "You must follow moral principle X, if you want to achieve goal Y."

This entry from the Ayn Rand Lexicon might be helpful: Responsibility/Obligation

[fixed link: d.o]

Edited by DavidOdden
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One of the main problems I see with the C.I. (or any deontological ethical system) is that it places imagined universal consequences above real world consequences. Kant's ethics really had no real-world application (except to make a set of absolute rules that, taken litterally, mean that we must live as zombies).

I think that is a great inductive argument that drives to the heart of Kantian ethics. It's rationalism (system unlinked to reality) creates it's absolutism. Show it's application in absurd real world consequences and you'd have some great concrete proof points.

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  • 2 weeks later...
While Kant's ethical arguments are of the form "thou shall not X because if everyone did X the following bad things would happen", Objectivist principles are of the form "man's nature requires doing Y, if he does not-Y he dies, thus man should do Y if he wants to live".

Actually, you're pretty off on this one. It's a common misconception that the categorical imperative restricts actions because "bad things will happen." That would be inherently consequentialist and, therefore, anti-Kantian.

What the CI requires is for the individual to formulate a maxim. Something like "When it is beneficial to do so, I shall lie." Kant says this can't be rationally willed, because not everyone can lie. Lying requires others to tell the truth at least sometimes, otherwise lying won't work.

Now, that's the basis of the first formulation of the CI. The second is a little less arcane. Instead of being about universalizing of wills and maxims, it just states "Always act so that you never treat another solely as a means." So I can't lie because I will treat another person solely as a means.

One fundamental difference you might want to give thought to is in Epistemology, which is the "bridge" between Metaphysics and Ethics. While Kant proposes ethical commandments based on the imagined consequences of those commandments, no more than a thought experiment, Objectivism derives ethical principles from the nature of man - objective facts of reality.

Again, Kantianism rejects consequences as justification for ethics. The bridge between metaphysics and ethics lies in Kant's views of the nature of man, as well. He sees the rational will as having infinite value. The person, he says, is "beyond price." Actions are just or unjust based on the rational will behind them (the maxim). Thus, the maxim must be capable of always being adopted (being consistent with the way moral statements are made, ie "Do X.") and must not violate the sanctity of another's will.

As we learned about Kant, one hypothetical situation popped into my head.

That thought experiment, famously enough, was proposed by several of Kant's contemporaries. Essentially, they proposed that you are confronted with someone running from a murderer, who then hides in your house (with your consent, of course). The murderer comes knocking and asks where his victim is. It would seem that the CI would demand that we tell him the truth, or at the very least not lie.

Kant gives a rather stupid answer that is, overall, pretty inconsistent with his previous statements (By the time this was proposed formally to him, he was getting on in years and fairly senile). But I think the answer lies in Kant's right to punish. He says that when a criminal commits a crime against us, we have a duty to punish them in proportion to their crime. We can do this primarily because we are treating them according to their own will (hurt people!).

We have a right to ask, "Why do you ask me this?" If he lies (and we are fairly certain he is lying), we can freely lie to him back as punishment. If he tells the truth, we can simply refuse to tell him where his victim is. Furthermore, we can freely lie to him because of his own violation of the CI.

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It would be helpful to explore the concept of "duty." According to Kant, if a customer accidentally gives the cashier too much money, the cashier should give back the unearned money simply on principle....not because he might consider it right to do so or because the customer might appreciate his honesty, etc. He must give back the money because it is his duty to do so. That could obviously also be applied to such acts such as lying, cheating, etc.

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While Kant's ethical arguments are of the form "thou shall not X because if everyone did X the following bad things would happen",

To expand on this, it might be good to note how strange some of his leaps of logic are, and how they make absolutely no sense. As you posted:

I believe that Kant even confirmed a version of this story with a criminal breaking into a home and asking for the location of some victim. He said you should tell the truth, and allow the criminal to hurt the person he was after. (If you need me to, I think I could find the source)

After he comes up with his nonlying maxim, he takes two leaps of logic leaving two gaps. One is that you must tell the truth regardless of the context of the situation, and the other is that you must speak the truth at all times. Here Kant does a pretty damn good job demonstrating how his ethics are evil by telling you you MUST tell a murderer at your doorstep where your friend is. It simply doesn't make sense why you cannot lie due to the circumstances or why you just can't say anything at all and let mum be the word.

I'd imagine with all the jargon he speaks he managed to make invisible his nonexplanation, or he gives a bad one.

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It simply doesn't make sense why you cannot lie due to the circumstances or why you just can't say anything at all and let mum be the word.

First, Kant's response was something along the lines of not telling the murderer anything. He doesn't say you have to talk to the guy; you have no duty to tell him whatever he wants. You can simply tell him to go away. This, of course, doesn't help if the Nazis are asking you if Anne Franke is in your attic.

But most modern Kantian theorists state that you would be allowed to lie in this situation - either because you would expect everyone else in you circumstances to do so or because the murderer is not rational / not going to treat you or his victim with respect. Generally, Kant's moral theory can be boiled down to "respect people as the rational agents that they are." When someone doesn't do that, we don't have to treat them as rational beings worthy of respect.

If you want to attack Kant's ethics, there are a lot of thought experiments out there that do a much better job.

It would be helpful to explore the concept of "duty." According to Kant, if a customer accidentally gives the cashier too much money, the cashier should give back the unearned money simply on principle....not because he might consider it right to do so or because the customer might appreciate his honesty, etc. He must give back the money because it is his duty to do so. That could obviously also be applied to such acts such as lying, cheating, etc.

No, you can't simply say "cheating is my duty," because "duty" means something very special to Kant. Duty is what arises from the CI, not just what you feel that you have a duty to do. Similarly, his "good will" comes from acting from the moral law, not simply liking helping people.

To expand on this, it might be good to note how strange some of his leaps of logic are, and how they make absolutely no sense.

Which particular thoughts of his are "leaps of logic?" I'll give you that he advances a very strange notion of why an action is just or unjust, but Kant is nothing if not internally consistent. His moral theory is dense and perhaps overly-technical, but I wouldn't say that it makes no sense.

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But most modern Kantian theorists state that you would be allowed to lie in this situation - either because you would expect everyone else in you circumstances to do so

As I understand it, this is getting way too specific for the C.I.

In another example, Kant said something about the immorality of taking out a loan if you knew it would be impossible to repay. However, if you take in to account a very specific context (you really really need the money... for something) then you may be able to universalize the action in regards to that very specific context (everyone should be able to lie on a loan if they need it X badly). I don't believe that the C.I. allows you to say "in this very specific context, I could rationally will to do X, but in a slightly different one I could not do X"

or because the murderer is not rational / not going to treat you or his victim with respect.

I don't remember ever hearing about the rationality of a murderer being of any importance to the C.I. If you could provide some sort of reference it would be most helpful.

Just from what I know (albeit very little) this seems to a very large loophole, if indeed it exists. For instance, this would mean that not only should a follower of the C.I. ignore the consequences, but also should ignore the duty of (insert duty here) if the agent affected is not rational, and potentially harmful. This would leave the door open to any action including murder(if the person who is not rational is going to steal my candy bar, it does not matter if I kill him). I guess that this also fits into the 'specific context' mentioned above (I could rationally will to live in a world where irrational and potentially harmful people were killed).

If you want to attack Kant's ethics, there are a lot of thought experiments out there that do a much better job.

I chose that thought experiment because I heard something about Kant confirming it himself. I personally think that the best way to combat Kant's ethics is to start with the basics of a correct epistemology/metaphysical system and build an ethical system from there (as I believe Rand did).

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I don't believe that the C.I. allows you to say "in this very specific context, I could rationally will to do X, but in a slightly different one I could not do X"

You're right, you can't simply narrow it down to "this context." But I think one might be able to adopt the maxim "To protect another's life, I shall lie." The problem with lying for personal gain is the "for personal gain" part. You're respecting nobody's rationality when stealing or lying for yourself, but you are certainly respecting the victim's rationality when you lie on their behalf.

I don't remember ever hearing about the rationality of a murderer being of any importance to the C.I. If you could provide some sort of reference it would be most helpful.

Well, rationality of criminals comes up in Kant's discussion of punishment. He says that we can punish because we are essentially universalizing the criminals' maxim "I will murder/steal/kidnap/harm when it is beneficial." In other words, we are actually respecting criminals by punishing them. It's an interesting theory of punishment.

Kant responds to utilitarian statements about criminals' irrationality by pointing out that if they are truly irrational they have no moral significance under the CI. We can imprison or kill them freely because they don't possess the part of persons that makes them morally significant - reason. Remember that Kant's theory rests upon the belief that reason is what separates people from rocks and animals, because it is reason that allows man to ignore his inclinations and have free will. This comes up in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. I haven't read any of Kant's work in a while, so I can't give you specific sections, but that might help.

If you're interested in modern Kantian theory, take a look at Onora O'Neill. She put out several interesting defenses of Kant's moral theory.

I chose that thought experiment because I heard something about Kant confirming it himself. I personally think that the best way to combat Kant's ethics is to start with the basics of a correct epistemology/metaphysical system and build an ethical system from there (as I believe Rand did).

Well, attacking Kant's metaphysics is certainly the key to attacking his ethics. I think his weakest point is his establishment of the way moral statements work. To Kant, truly moral statements take the form of commandments (Do X). This is directly in opposition to relativists, as well as Objectivism. They say that moral statements are simply (If you want Y, do X). To Kant, these are merely prudential statements ("hypothetical imperatives," he calls them). I'm aware of Rand's statements on the way values work, but they don't really seem satisfactory in refuting Kant's statements.

Essentially, Kant's working on a completely different plane from Rand. He's using internal reason to establish moral rules the same way we establish causal rules. These are things that can't be observed, only inferred and deducted (that's why they're Metaphysics!). Rand simply comes in and says, "Nope, values only matter to the individual." This is appealing, in the same way Hume's dismissal of Cartesian reason is, but I don't think it fully answers the problems Kant raises.

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...

One of the main problems I see with the C.I. (or any deontological ethical system) is that it places imagined universal consequences above real world consequences. Kant's ethics really had no real-world application (except to make a set of absolute rules that, taken litterally, mean that we must live as zombies).

On the plus side (this is a joke) Kant's system does not require a person to think. It allows Kant to dictate the actual rules (or do the thinking) and all you must do is to always follow those rules; exactly like a secular list of commandments. (except getting to heaven doesn't matter to Kant's ethics)

I may have misunderstood some aspect of Kant - I have not read more than 20 or so pages in my textbook on his ethical system.

Although Kant's ethics system might be slightly skewed, I have read a footnote in an excerpt form Kant's "Metaphysics of Morals" in which Kant argues that one MAY NOT employ common sense when debating the principles of Philosophy. I guess my argument is just defending deontological systems, although I don't wholly or even partially agree with them.

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I think one might be able to adopt the maxim "To protect another's life, I shall lie."

This seems to be a consequentialist argument - I will do X because I want Y. (I will lie to protect another's life).

In other words, we are actually respecting criminals by punishing them. It's an interesting theory of punishment.

Yeah, I have never heard of this. It does seem a little counter intuitive (although I think most of Kant is that way).

Edit: Thank you for the reference

Edited by Guruite
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This seems to be a consequentialist argument - I will do X because I want Y. (I will lie to protect another's life).

Well, remember that certain acts are okay to perform when doing them for others. For instance, it's wrong to kill yourself, but it's morally permissible to sacrifice your life for another.

Although Kant's ethics system might be slightly skewed, I have read a footnote in an excerpt form Kant's "Metaphysics of Morals" in which Kant argues that one MAY NOT employ common sense when debating the principles of Philosophy. I guess my argument is just defending deontological systems, although I don't wholly or even partially agree with them.

Yeah. Remember that Kant's ethics are based around the use of principals and reason; common sense is something that is based more on the 'inclination' side of a person than the 'reason' side. Kant didn't think thought experiments were particularly useful in demonstrating how a principal might be wrong - only in how it might demonstrate the workings of a principal. To him, if a principal is true and guided by reason, it is true and just in all cases. Intuition and "common sense" have nothing to do with the act's rightness.

Edited by nakt
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Actually, bumming around the internet has provided me a fairly good answer from some random blog. I'll ammend my rule of "no blogs for evidence" in this case, because I think his argument is valid.

Bonus: it also mentions Kant's rather odd feelings on sexuality!

http://peasoup.typepad.com/peasoup/2004/08...urderer_at.html

The discussion at the bottom is fairly good, too.

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