Professional Ethics PHIL Today s Topic Absolute Moral Rules & Kantian Ethics. Part I

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1 Professional Ethics PHIL 3340 Today s Topic Absolute Moral Rules & Kantian Ethics Part I

2 Consequentialism vs. Deontology Consequentialism: A type of ethical theory stating that to act morally we must base our actions on their probable results or consequences, rather than out of duty, in cases where duty and promoting good consequences come into conflict. Deontology: A type of moral theory stating that morality consists in doing one s duty, rather than in considering the consequences of one s actions, in cases where duty and promotion of consequences come into conflict.

3 Dropping The Nuclear Bombs in WWII: Harry Truman vs. Elizabeth Anscombe see p.125

4 The Ethics of Immanuel Kant The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant ( ) argued that reason dictates that certain moral rules hold without exception. Do you think that there are such rules? And if so, how are they justified?

5 The Ethics of Immanuel Kant Thou shalt not lie, does not hold only for men, as if other rational beings had no need to abide by it, and so with all other moral laws properly so called.the ground of moral obligation here must therefore be sought not in the nature of man nor in the circumstances of the world in which man is placed, but must be sought a prioi solely in the concepts of pure reason. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, p.2

6 Two Kinds of Imperatives or Commands 1. Hypothetical Imperative: an action you should do if you want to promote some goal or end you already have. For example: Study for the test is a good command to heed if you want to pass the test. That is, the command depends on your desires for its force.

7 Two Kinds of Imperatives or Commands Hypothetical imperatives stand in contrast to what Kant called categorical imperatives. These bind us no matter what our desires may be. 1. Categorical Imperative: A moral directive from reason that is binding without condition; a command that applies to all rational beings, no matter what. Example: Don t use someone for your own purposes.

8 The Categorical Imperative Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) Kantian ethics requires that moral rules are universalizable; that is, the rules of morality must apply to all people, indeed, to all rational beings at all times.

9 Using The Categorical Imperative 1. Determine the rule you are following. Note that this involves some careful thinking. 2. See if the rule can be followed or if is illogical or somehow self-defeating. To do this, ask yourself this question: Can I consent to others acting simultaneously according to the same rule I use without undermining my own ability to act in accordance with it?

10 Case 1: Lying Promises Rule: When it suits me, make a promise that I have no intention of keeping. Question: What happens when we ask our question (above) to see if this rule is self-defeating? Result: If everyone did this, promising would be meaningless. "I promise" would just mean "maybe." So there would be no point in promising: you would not be believed! Promising as such would disappear; and if there were no promises, there would be no lying promises.

11 Two Objections to Kant s Deontology Objection 1: Couldn t we formulate the rule about lying so that in some cases it is not self-defeating? For example, our rule might be: It is permissible to lie when doing so would save someone s life. As Rachels suggests, this rule does not look selfdefeating (p.130).

12 Two Objections to Kant s Deontology Objection 2: The insistence on absolute rules is strange. Do we really have an obligation to always tell the truth, even if a murderer is at your door? Consider Kant s reply on pp

13 Kant on Lying: A Second Look To many, Kant s views seem extreme. Yet many also see him as touching on a some deep theoretical point about ethics. 1. First, we might agree with Rachels that Kant is demanding reasons for our actions and that: If we accept any considerations as reasons in one case, you must also accept them as reasons in a different case. (Rachels, p.134) Example: Same-sex marriage.

14 Kant on Lying: A Second Look 2. Next, consider the notion of negative responsibility. If we hold someone negatively responsible for an event, then we hold him responsible for an outcome that he could have prevented but did not. In other words, we can be responsible for some things that we just let passively happen.

15 Kant on Lying: A Second Look Negative Responsibility Case 1: The drowning toddler that you could have easily saved but did not. Case 2: Being coercively told to shoot one person in order to save 20 people being shot by some deranged person. Is there a moral difference between these two cases? In other words, would both parties be equally negatively responsible for the actions they allowed to happen?

16 Kant on Lying: A Second Look Negative Responsibility Case 1: We might say that you are responsible since saving the toddler would not have involved doing anything immoral. Case 2: We might say you are not responsible since saving those 20 people would involve an inherently evil act: namely, murdering one innocent person. What Kant might be expressing with the lying case is that we do not do anything wrong if we fail to prevent a bad act if the prevention of a bad act involves doing something inherently immoral, such as killing (or lying).

17 Thought Experiment: Rescue Missions I & II Rescue Mission I: you save 5 drowning people and let 1 die. Rescue Mission II: you have to kill 1 to save 5. What is the right course of action in each case? Questions: What does your answer tell us about your moral intuitions concerning: utilitarianism, negative responsibility, and Kant s emphasis about respect for persons, the difference between killing and letting die?

18 Thought Experiment: Runaway Trolley Scenario: A trolley is speeding away on track A and is headed toward five people. You, the operator, could pull a switch to divert the trolley to track B. BUT.one person stands on other track B. What do you do? Questions: What does your answer tell us about your moral intuitions concerning: utilitarianism, negative responsibility, and Kant s emphasis about respect for persons, the difference between killing and letting die?

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