CMSI Handout 3 Courtesy of Marcello Antosh

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1 CMSI Handout 3 Courtesy of Marcello Antosh 1 Terminology Maxims (again) General form: Agent will do action A in order to achieve purpose P (optional: because of reason R). Examples: Britney Spears will neglect her children in order to have more time to do drugs, because she likes doing drugs. Paris Hilton will donate to charity in order to improve her image, because she wants to improve her image. Oprah Winfrey will donate to charity in order to help the needy, because it is the right thing to do. 2 Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals: Second Section 2.1 The Basics Kant s method: as in the First Section, his method is still analytic and a priori. He is still trying to see what follows analytically (i.e. conceptually or by meaning alone) from notions such as duty, good will, autonomy of the will, and the Categorical Imperative (445). Kant s goal: To discuss the content of the Categorical Imperative in further detail (412). Kant is not yet trying to justify the Categorical Imperative (445). That is, he is not yet trying to explain why the Categorical Imperative is a requirement of reason or why it binds the wills of rational agents. (He does that in the Third Section, which we will not read.) How Kant will achieve this goal: He will identify three formulations of the Categorical Imperative. Kant thinks that, although these formulations are equivalent, each one emphasizes a different feature of the Categorical Imperative (436). 2.2 Imperatives ( ) Ignore Kant for a moment and think of some things that you judge that you absolutely must do, morally. For instance, suppose your mother, father, sibling, and best friend were all about to be run over by a train and the only way they could be saved is if you pulled some lever, thereby 1

2 diverting the train onto a different set of tracks. Imagine what you might think in such a situation: I must pull this lever! I must save my loved ones! That, intuitively, is an imperative. A perfectly rational or Good Will (i.e. a Divine or Holy Will) is a will that is necessarily determined entirely by reason. That is, it is not possible for such a will to be determined even in part by something other than reason, such as an inclination that is contrary to reason. Imperatives, i.e. oughts, do not apply to such a will. Why? Because it is not possible for such a will to do something contrary to reason or duty since such a will just does what the Categorical Imperative requires (414). Think: is always matches ought. An imperfectly rational or Good Will (i.e. one that actual people have) is a will that is not necessarily determined entirely by reason. It is possible for such a will to be determined by inclinations that are contrary to reason (e.g. disgruntled employees seek revenge out of rage, even when there is no good reason to do so). Think: is doesn t always match ought. An imperative is the formula of a command of reason and is expressed by an ought (we can add: or a must, have to, should, etc.). Imperatives say that something would be good to do or refrain from doing, but they say it to a will that does not always therefore do something simply because it has been represented to the will as something good to do (413). There are two kinds of imperatives: Hypothetical and Categorical. All imperatives say that doing something would be good (414). Hypothetical Imperatives say that doing/omitting something would be good as a means to something else. They make conditional or hypothetical requirements on the will. An example: If you want to impress the opposite sex, you ought to learn to bust moves as well as Usher or flirt as well as R. Kelly. Such a requirement applies to you only if the condition/hypothesis in the ifclause applies to you. Categorical Imperatives say that doing/omitting something would be good in and of itself. They make unconditional or categorical requirements on the will. An example: You ought not kill others for fun. Such a requirement applies to you no matter what. (Part of Kant s goal in the Third Section is to try to offer an argument that there really are such categorical imperatives.) Two non-moral types of hypothetical imperatives: of skill, of prudence ( ). (Not too important.) Kant s Question: How are all these imperatives possible? Or: why should one let his/her actions be determined by these imperatives? Or: why should one act in accord with these requirements of reason? Or: why is it that these imperatives are rationally binding? (417) Answer for hypothetical imperatives: In the case of hypothetical imperatives, Kant says the answer is easy. It is analytically true that, if you will some end, E, and if the only way to attain E is to will means, M, then in willing E one ought (i.e. is rationally required) to also will M. Of course, figuring out which particular means are required to attain certain ends must be discovered empirically, and is therefore synthetic. What s analytic about this answer is the 2

3 abstract conceptual relationship between willing the required means to whatever end one adopts (417). Think: Given how the world works, since bringing about means M is required in order to bring about end E, then, if I choose to bring about end E, then I am rationally required to also choose to bring about means M. It would be some kind of conceptual mistake, or a mistake of reason not to will the required means to the end that I adopt. Answer for categorical imperatives: In the case of categorical imperatives, the answer is a pain in the ass (420). It is not analytically true that there is some categorical imperative that commands all rational agents to act in some way. Instead, this is synthetically true, says Kant, and his argument is in the Third Section. 2.3 Different Formulations of the Categorical Imperative ( ) *The Universal Law version of the Categorical Imperative: Act only on that maxim that you can will to be a universal law (421, and Temkin s handout). The Intuitive Idea of the Universal Law version of the Categorical Imperative: What if everyone who wanted to achieve purpose P performed act A? Would it still be possible for me to do so? If not, then acting on my maxim ( perform act A in order to achieve purpose P ) would be wrong. Why? Because the only way I would be able to achieve purpose P by performing act A is if everyone else didn t act like me, the jackass, parasite, free-rider. If everyone did act like me, many of us would fail to achieve what we set out to do. So, for me to be successful in acting on this maxim, I basically have to cheat, free-ride, or make a special exception for myself by acting on this maxim while everyone else doesn t act on it. But it s wrong for someone to make a special exception for oneself in this way - it s not fair, it s not just. Kant s (Universal Law) Impermissibility Test Step 1: Identify your proposed maxim: I will do act A in order to achieve purpose P. Step 2: Make your maxim a universal law: Every agent who wills purpose P does act A. Step 3: Imagine that you are in a world, call it Kant s World, in which the universal law from Step 2 holds. Step 4: Now, imagine that you are willing to act on your maxim from Step 1 in Kant s World. Step 5: Finally, consider whether some kind of contradiction (see below) arises when you will to act on your maxim in Kant s World. Step 6: If some kind of contradiction arises, then you have discovered some moral duty (see below). If no contradiction arises, then, according to Kant s moral theory, it is morally permissible to act on your maxim. Two kinds of contradictions that may arise: (1) Contradiction in Conception: If, in Kant s World (Step 5), you cannot even conceive of willing your maxim without some kind of contradiction, then you have a perfect (narrow, strict) duty to refrain from acting on it. I.e. some particular act or omission is absolutely required of you, like not murdering or lying or stealing. 3

4 (2) Contradiction in the Will: If, in Kant s World (Step 5), you cannot rationally will your maxim in Kant s World (Step 5), then you have an imperfect (broad, meritorious) duty to refrain from acting on it. I.e. some acts or omissions of a particular kind are required of you, like giving to charity or developing one s talents, but the duty doesn t specify exactly what you are to do about it. For example, I have to give some to charity, but which charities or how much I have to give aren t specified. Problem for Kant: What kind of contradiction? Consider two possible interpretations of (1). (1a) Logical Contradiction Interpretation: There is a logical contradiction in willing to act on your maxim in Kant s World. (1b) Practical Contradiction Interpretation: Willing to act on your maxim in Kant s World would be self-defeating in some way, or it would no longer be practical to act on your proposed maxim in order to achieve your purpose. Objections to the Universal Law version of the Categorical Imperative Failure to Condemn Objection: Think of some maxim that has the following two features: (i) it passes Kant s Impermissibility Test, but (ii) if someone followed this maxim, this person would do something that is obviously wrong, immoral, or impermissible. Revenge maxim: I will kill anyone who betrays me in order to get revenge. Condemns Too Much Objection: Think of some maxim that has the following two features: (i) it fails Kant s Impermissibility Test, but (ii) if someone followed this maxim, this person would do something that is obviously not wrong, not immoral, or not impermissible. Polite maxim: When traveling down narrow hallways, I will allow others to pass by first, to be polite. *Persons as Ends version of the Categorical Imperative: Act in such a way that you treat all persons [i.e. rational beings] as ends in themselves, and never merely as a means to my own ends (429, Temkin s Handout). The (obscure) argument for the Persons as Ends version of the Categorical Imperative ( ) (i) Every action aims at an end. (ii) If there is a categorical imperative, then there must be some end that is unconditionally valuable and holds for all rational beings. (iii) This end can t be an object of inclination or an inclination itself, since these both vary across each rational being. (iv) The only other possible end is rational nature/agency itself, so this is the unconditionally valuable end that holds equally for all rational beings; each rational being must adequately respect each other s rational agency. We do this by following the Persons as Ends version of the Categorical Imperative. 4

5 Examples of acting against persons, or treating persons merely as a means; these relate to our perfect duties ( ). Examples of positively respecting rational agency; these relate to our imperfect duties (430). Autonomy version of the Categorical Imperative: Act only so that each time you will, you could regard yourself as giving a universal law through your maxim. (432, 440) Autonomy = being bound to a law that you give to yourself (432, 440). Heteronomy = being bound to a law by an inclination or because you have some other end (441). Kant thinks we act freely (autonomously) only if we act in accordance with the categorical imperative. 2.4 Kant s Criticism of other moral theories. ( , ) Kant basically says, "yo, those other theories are whack!" 5

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