What is Kant's argument against Utilitarianism?
His ethical system, however, is directly counter to any system of consequentialist ethics. As such, everything that he ever wrote about ethics was an argument against utilitarianism.
joefromchicago wrote:His ethical system, however, is directly counter to any system of consequentialist ethics. As such, everything that he ever wrote about ethics was an argument against utilitarianism.
How so? As I understand Kantian ethics, their foundation is his Categorical Imperative, of which he spelled out several different versions. The one I remember is: "Act as if the maxim on which you're acting was to become, through your will, a universal law". Utilitarians, on the other hand, seek to act such that the consequences of their actions will tend to create the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number. How is that a contradiction in terms? Why can't utility-maximization be a valid maxim for moral agents to plug into Kant's Categorical Imperative?
And although adherence to the categorical imperative might be considered "utile," in the sense that it's better, overall, for people to adhere to it than not, that's not the justification for the categorical imperative.
They are, however, irreconcilable. There is no consequentialist component in Kant's ethics.
According to Kant, one must act according to the categorical imperative regardless of the consequences. If someone who wants to kill your friend shows up at your door and asks if your friend is there, you're not entitled to lie in order to save your friend's life, since lying is contrary to the categorical imperative.
A utilitarian, in contrast, would probably have no problem in justifying a lie in those circumstances, since it's more utile to save someone's life by lying to a murderer than telling the truth and allowing an innocent person to be killed.
What constitutes the "greatest possible good" is variable and changes often. Kant was looking for moral principles that are universal and permanent.
My point is that the Categorical Imperative is open to a variety of moral maxims. Why can't "maximize pleasure and minimize suffering" be one of them?
Please show me where Kant says that lying, under all circumstances, is incompatible with all variants of the Categorical Imperative.
You seem to think that, if someone has a maxim, then that's enough. That's only half of it. In order for a maxim to fit into the Kantian scheme, it has to be universalizable. There can't be any Kantian KKKers, since adopting their maxim of "keep the master race pure and in charge" conflicts with the rights of those who are not members of the master race. The KKK maxim, in other words, is not universalizable, and so it has no place in a Kantian system of ethics.
The problem with "maximize pleasure/minimize suffering," however, is not a problem with universalization, it's a problem with consequentialism. For Kant, morality was based on logic and reason.
Thomas wrote:Please show me where Kant says that lying, under all circumstances, is incompatible with all variants of the Categorical Imperative.
Still, what about the Kantian Christians, the Kantian Boy Scouts, and the Kantian Kennedyans? Do you consider their maxims compatible with the Categorical Imperative? (If you worry that "what you can do for your country" might entail undue harrassment of foreign countries, feel free to add proper qualifications about the Kantian Kennedyans.)
So what? Granted, logic and reason can exist without paying attention to real-world consequences. But what rules out that they pay such attention anyway? There's nothing inconsistent about grafting a consequentialist maxim onto a logic-based stem. Especially when the stem explicitly reserves a place to graft maxims onto, and when the only conditions for grafting are that the maxim can be both universalized and reasonably wished for. Utilitarianism---the maxim in question---meets both conditions.
Interesting! It appears that I agree with Kant's categorical imperative while disagreeing with his application of it to practical cases. Because I do not wish for the maxim, "do not lie, ever" to become a universal law, I do sometimes lie. I maintain that this is consistent with the Categorical Imperative taken on its face, even though it's inconsistent with the Categorical Imperative as applied by Kant.
Well then you're agreeing with somebody else's categorical imperative.
At which point in this process am I departing from the instructions of Kant's categorical imperative?
Which arbiter of morality am I expected to use instead?
If now the action is good only as a means to something else, then the imperative is hypothetical; if it is conceived as good in itself and consequently as being necessarily the principle of a will which of itself conforms to reason, then it is categorical .
-Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals
Kant made a distinction between “hypothetical” imperatives and “categorical” imperatives. It seems that a utilitarian approach would only lead to hypothetical imperatives.
If now the action is good only as a means to something else, then the imperative is hypothetical;
if it is conceived as good in itself and consequently as being necessarily the principle of a will which of itself conforms to reason, then it is categorical .