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A Defence (?) of Kant's First Formulation of the CI

 
 
Reply Sun 26 Feb, 2017 09:15 pm
"I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law."

- Kant, I. (2008). Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. (M.J. Gregor, Trans. "Practical Philosophy"). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1785)

I struggle to see how Kant's First Formulation of the Categorical Imperative, above, is anything but consequentialist. Kant himself blatantly uses two conditionals, "could" and "should", and then invites us to run thought experiments to see the consequences "if everybody else does it." (paraphrasing obviously).

I've been able to think of only one way Kant might plausibly defend his First Formulation as being non-consequentialist. Something along these lines:

"Although the universalization test does consider consequences, they are not the direct consequences of the action in question."

I'm sure he would have phrased it differently, if he would have said it at all. Wink

But basically the defence I imagine Kant making is that the consequences he asks us to consider are outside the context of the situation. For example, Kant's false promises example doesn't look at the outcome for either the banker or the man who lies to get the banker to lend him money, he focuses on a world where, if everyone lied all the time, it would essentially be chaos.

Bullet Summary of my imagined Concession/Defence from Kant:
1. "Yes considering the outcomes of Universalizing an action is consequentialist."
2. "BUT the Universalization I'm asking you to do only looks at the outcomes of other people doing the action, not the results of the specific action in question".

Admittedly, it seems like a weak defence based on a technical loophole.

Comments / Critiques please!




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layman
 
  2  
Reply Mon 27 Feb, 2017 03:42 am
@vanvulcj,
What is your question here? It seems that you are assuming that Kant's moral philosophy prohibits the consideration of consequences, and that there is therefore some implicit self-contradiction in his theory. From what I understand, that's not the case at all.

Although some use the word "deontological" as a polar opposite of "consequential," they are not opposing concepts. Deontological moral system, like Kant's, stress the "duty" to obey certain principles. But that does not mean the principles are absolute, or without regard to consequences. Kant said that the only thing that could be considered absolutely and univerally "good" was a good will. Beyond that, nothing is absolute.

A "categorical imperative" is just a contrast to a "hypothetical imperative," where "hypothetical" is designed to convey an 'if/then" relationship. For example, "if" I want to get a pay raise, "then" I have to work hard and competently. This would be a hypothetical duty, but not a categorical duty.

The "imperative" part is simply something that is necessary.

Kant thought that utilitarianism (a patently teleological or "consequentialist" construction of morality) could never aspire to more than "hypothetical imperatives."

But the real point here is that Kant never claimed that consequences were irrelevant, which it seems that you are presupposing.

Although there may be a "general" duty not to lie, Kant would also say it is your duty to lie if Nazis come to your door and ask if there are any jews inside (when there are). And he would conclude that everyone in the same circumstances should do the same. It would be a categorical imperative to lie in those cases.
vanvulcj
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Feb, 2017 11:17 am
@layman,
Thanks for your reply layman.

Quote:
But the real point here is that Kant never claimed that consequences were irrelevant


In that case, is there an example where Kant considers the consequences of an action to decide the morality of that action?


Quote:
Although there may be a "general" duty not to lie, Kant would also say it is your duty to lie if Nazis come to your door and ask if there are any jews inside (when there are).


Kant said the exact opposite in his 1797 rebuttal on precisely this challenge: “ON A SUPPOSED RIGHT TO LIE FROM ALTRUISTIC MOTIVES“ (source: https://www.unc.edu/courses/2009spring/plcy/240/001/Kant.pdf )

Kant says, if you lie to the murderer (or Nazi) to save your friend (or Jews) from being murdered...

... "This benevolent lie, however, can become punishable under civil law through an accident (casus), and that which escapes liability to punishment only by accident can also be condemned as wrong even by external laws. For instance, if by telling a lie you have prevented murder, you have made yourself legally responsible for all the consequences; but if you have held rigorously to the truth, public justice can lay no hand on you, whatever the unforeseen consequences may be."

Not only does Kant advocate telling the truth to the murderer, he comes to that conclusion without any consideration as to the resulting consequences.
layman
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Feb, 2017 04:52 pm
@vanvulcj,
vanvulcj wrote:

Not only does Kant advocate telling the truth to the murderer, he comes to that conclusion without any consideration as to the resulting consequences.


Yes, I agree with you about what he said in that passage. But his "final" thoughts on these matters, given subsequent writings, are not so clear and are subject to varying interpretations.

Quote:
Kant’s most influential positions in moral philosophy are found in The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (hereafter, “Groundwork”) but he developed, enriched, and in some cases modified those views in later works such as The Critique of Practical Reason, The Metaphysics of Morals, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason as well as his essays on history and related topics. Kant’s Lectures on Ethics


His later introduction of the "humanity principle" raises questions, for example.

Quote:
A number of Kant’s readers have come to question [the view that Kant's moral philosophy is incompatible with any sort of teleological form of ethics]. Perhaps the first philosopher to suggest a teleological reading of Kant was John Stuart Mill....

Several 20th century theorists have followed Mill’s suggestion, most notably, R. M. Hare...we give each person’s wellbeing equal weight, we are acting to produce the best overall outcome. Thus, in his view, the CI is “simply utilitarianism put into other words”

There are also teleological readings of Kant’s ethics that are non-consequentialist. Barbara Herman (1993) has urged philosophers to “leave deontology behind” as an understanding of Kant’s moral theory....

It is of considerable interest to those who follow Kant to determine which reading — teleological or deontological — was actually Kant’s


https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/#DutResForMorLaw

The article I am citing here can tell you a lot more about Kant than I can.
layman
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Feb, 2017 05:20 pm
@layman,
Here's another except from that article:

Quote:
More recently, David Cummiskey (1996) has argued that Kant’s view that moral principles are justified because they are universalizable is compatible with those principles themselves being consequentialist. Indeed, Cummiskey argues that they must be: Respect for the value of humanity entails treating the interests of each as counting for one and one only, and hence for always acting to produce the best overall outcome.


Perhaps I was a little too hasty in my initial response to your question. Your point was that Kant's CI was really just a teleological principle in disguise, and many agree with you, including me. But he does strive to deny this.

Overall I think Kant's attempt to avoid all teleological considerations was unsuccessful.

layman
 
  1  
Reply Mon 27 Feb, 2017 07:40 pm
@layman,
Despite what he superficially claims, I don't see how Kant can be read consistently if you make certain duties unqualified and absolute.

He denies that any particular acts or traits are intrinsically good, except a good will. Why wouldn't that include, for example, honesty? Is honesty intrinsically good? Is telling the truth ALWAYS good? On the one hand he says no (because nothing is), but then he tries to make honesty an absolute, unqualified duty.

He is striving to create, a priori, a platonic "form" of the good. Something that is independent of any particular instantiations. Something that has it's own, independent existence and which is absolute. But his own examples belie his claims.

He is right to criticize utilitarianism's "greatest happiness for the greatest number" as an end in itself, and this is one thing he's fighting against, but he goes too far. He tries to eliminate consequences as worthy of any consideration whatsoever--at times, anyway. On the other hand, he brings in the "humanity principle" as an inherent value and an end itself.

As you note, all his "justifications" for absolute duties fall back upon an analysis of the consequences that universalization would produce. But he is very selective in the conclusions he reaches. He acts as if this is strictly a logical analysis, seeking non-contradiction, but it's not.

He argues, for example, that if lying is permitted, then there would be no such thing as a lie, and that this creates some kind of logical contradiction.

I don't find this persuasive, but that's not my point here. I would simply note that, by his own reasoning, if truthfulness was always practiced, then there could be no such thing as "truth," either.

As a result, many philosophers read him to be saying something other than what he literally claims it to be.

I think you have to do this to get any kind of consistency out of his claims. Of course you can just reject his inconsistent claims out of hand, and say that his thoughts are simply self-refuting. But he had too great of a mind to just casually dismiss him like that.
0 Replies
 
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Tue 28 Feb, 2017 03:57 am
I found useful on the topic of lying to remind our readers that according to recent studies people lie in average 200 times a day. I don't question the natural need to do so if civilization is a concept worth protecting at all.
As for ethical and moral imperatives my criteria is energy efficiency for group complex tasking. The first Darwinian imperative is to compete always unless it is beneficial to cooperate. That is, in the order of things, brute force Darwinism comes first then Neo Darwinism. Dont take this the wrong way...as technology advances and social relations develop more complex schematics in order to produce efficient results for the group Neo Darwinism is the future in a global world. Notheless it is worth making the point that "good" is what is needed in specific context to be efficient individually or in group depending on NECESSARY natural objectives. Gratuitous kindness is perhaps the groossest mistake of western Christian moral. Nothing could be further from the truth. "Good" requires reciprocity and efficient trade of cooperation. Blind well fare is energetically ineficient and conductive to social and genetic unfitness in the long run.
0 Replies
 
vanvulcj
 
  1  
Reply Wed 1 Mar, 2017 05:20 pm
@layman,
I appreciate your answers layman.

Quote:
His later introduction of the "humanity principle" raises questions


Just for clarity, by "humanity principle" you mean the 2nd formulation of the CI? - "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end."


We're on the same page in many ways about Kant.

My problem with his First Formulation (Universality) was in line with the student's in this video. If you'd do me the favour of watching less than four minutes of it... start at 42:40 and go till around the 46 minute mark.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rv-4aUbZxQ

The prof here (Michael Sandel, no slouch) effectively says I'm just reading Kant wrong (and so did John Stuart Mill).

Well, I thought long and hard about Sandel's comments in the video, and came to the conclusion I still wasn't completely sold on his explanation.

Sandel believes Kant is a non-consequentialist. In my experience, whether Kant used that term or not, most descriptions of Kant and his ethics do use that term. I still put myself in J.S. Mill's camp, finding it difficult to interpret Kant's Formula of Universality as anything but consequentialist.

So then I thought long and hard about how I could be simply misinterpreting Kant's F of U. What could I be missing?

And therein lies my motivation for this post.

I understand that there will always be debates about which system of ethics is "the best", or most applicable, or if ethical systems even make sense at all, etc.

But I also expect each system of ethics, whether I agree with it or not, to at least be internally coherent. Sure, maybe not 100% coherent, but at least make the bedrock ideas within your theory be clear and consistent. I'm no Kant scholar but I do consider his Universal Formulation to be one of his bedrock ideas, and I'm still struggling with how to interpret it as anything but consequentialist.

Whether my Bullet Summary in my first post is coherent and is how Kantian defenders (like Sandel) manage to keep Kant a non-consequentialist in their heads... I'm still not sure.
layman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 12:14 pm
@vanvulcj,
1. Yeah, that's what I meant by the "humanity principle"--that and it's implications.

2. I started listening to the whole video you posted, but skipped ahead after listening to the first 15 minutes or so. I agreed with what this prof said kant was saying there about the problems with utilitarianism and the meaning of "autonomy." I don't mean that I agree that Kant said it, but rather that I agree with the substance of it.

There he said that Kant thought a crucial aspect of morality, one that set humans apart from animals, was the ability to create your own ends, rather than just being a slave to biological needs and desires.

I think what Kant was trying to do was on the right track, but it's just not an easy thing to accomplish. This prof says the point is not the ultimate outcome (consequence), but rather the need to make sure that you are not merely using rationalization to justify doing what merely suits your own interests. I agree with the sentiment. Morality is not just about pursuing your own idiosyncratic ends.

I'm not a religious type, but you have to admire those believers who, when given a choice between denying their God and death, choose death. It has happened, many times.

As someone once said: If you don't have any values that you would die for, then you don't have anything worth living for.

The "reasons" Kant gives for promoting such an idea may sound suspiciously consequentialist, but the sentiment is not. In that sense I think I understand Kant (or his purpose, anyway) perfectly.
Fil Albuquerque
 
  0  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 12:37 pm
@layman,
There is nothing more selfish than proper Morality...
You think Moral behavior is gratuitous ??? You ought to study Physics and Economy with a closer eye...
Expectations of reciprocity in Moral behavior is the reason people help each other.
...oh, I almost forgot, animals have a sense of fairness, of "moral", of reciprocity, which has been shown in recent studies that obviously Kant was not aware about at the time...

...some of you guys have trouble in translating to the XIX the best of old philosophers and rather instead use some of the old fashioned status quo to further private agendas and personal beliefs...your interest in getting to facts ends in the usefulness they have to further your povs. Its a sad sight I tell ya...

layman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 12:44 pm
@layman,
I think Kant's criterion of "universalization" was insufficient and defective, but there's probably a better test.

It's really not important if you call his ideas about morality "consequential" or not, as far as I can see. That's a side issue.

Socrates (Plato) said that a man who does wrong does not know it is wrong. When the obvious was pointed out to him that people constantly do things that they know are wrong, he simply said:

That proves my point, he doesn't KNOW it is wrong. He can agree that people would condemn it as wrong, but if he really understood why it is wrong he would never do it.

As I understood him, he was saying that it is wrong because it hurts the person doing the wrong, by compromising his integrity. If the wrong-doer really understood that, he would not do it.

You can call refraining from doing wrong a "means to an end" under those circumstances, if you want, but I think that's a superficial way of looking at it. It more about positing an ultimate value, which one will not willingly compromise. If you ever adopt any value(s) at all, then you can always say that your actions are simply an attempt to achieve a valued end. OK, so what?

0 Replies
 
layman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 12:51 pm
@Fil Albuquerque,
That monkey better be satisfied with what he gets and stop looking a gift horse in the mouth, eh, Fil?

If that was my monkey and he threw his cucumber back at me I would bitch-slap the living piss out of his sorry ingrate ass, eh?
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 12:54 pm
@layman,
...yeah...teach him the Bibble and he might change...
(that would be a miracle worth witnessing)
Fil Albuquerque
 
  0  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 01:13 pm
On animal morality:

The famous 2/3 of idiots that show up in every statistical behavioral study right below...obeying authority without self-reasoning the action or problem at hand its not evilness its stupidity !

These are the same assholes that come on A2K and ask if they should do this or that when they are the best person to make the judgment at hand once they and they alone have the whole information to decide. Followers by nature not leaders. Those can do the most heinous terrible things.
0 Replies
 
layman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 01:15 pm
@Fil Albuquerque,
You notice how that damn monkey tried to break out of his cage and flat-out steal some grapes, eh, Fil? Must have been trained by a commie, eh?
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 01:28 pm
@layman,
You don't really get why fairness is important in group because you don't know much about physics, energy efficiency in group tasking...naturally you don't have a clue why Moral behavior evolved. Its useful !
There are no free meals in nature silly !
layman
 
  0  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 01:32 pm
@Fil Albuquerque,
Who says it aint fair to give the other monkey a grape?

Maybe he's just a better monkey, ever think of that?
Fil Albuquerque
 
  0  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 01:32 pm
@Fil Albuquerque,
Fil Albuquerque wrote:

You don't really get why fairness is important in group because you don't know much about physics, energy efficiency in group tasking...naturally you don't have a clue why Moral behavior evolved. Its useful !
There are no free meals in nature silly !




I help my neighbour to help myself living in a better enviroment !
And yes I expect reciprocity for fracks sake...spending energy for free is inefficient and frankly stupid.
0 Replies
 
layman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 01:39 pm
@layman,
From what I hear-tell them monkeys run in packs and establish a hierarchial "pecking order" amongst themselves, eh?

They should do a study where the monkey boss is given the grape and then see if the whiny-ass monkey still goes bananas, eh?

I suspect not. He would understand that he aint worthy.
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Mar, 2017 01:42 pm
@layman,
Superficial your knowledge as expected...Go look closer and see in the hierarchy how monkeys make bounds alliances and even politics...
Needing leadership doesn't counter cooperation, in fact the most successful leaders got there through alliances among peers...

...let me make it simple for ya:

A leader has benefits only and only if he has SOMETHING TO OFFER to the pack !
 

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