## Kolakowski’s criticism of the Categorical Imperative

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I think I'd be acting correctly based on my consequentialist criterion.
Which is to say exactly that you are not to be trusted. For you there is, in effect, no truth, but only what you think "correct based on my consequentialist criterion." That makes you an immoral person. And you want proof you should be a moral person? That proof is all around you at all times. For reasons peculiar to you, you're not able to see it. It might help if you were to consider just how much of your life depends on truth.

And to be sure, I do not see where K., above, argues against Kant's conclusion, but only against the argument.
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I've noticed that there are two allegations made against Kant's CI by Kolakowski:

1. It is circular

2. It is consistent to hold that a person (x) can consistently hold that he (x) should be exempt from a rule.

Does Kolakowski provide any details? Where's the meat? As for the excerpt from the OP - it's argumentatively sterile i.e. it contains none!

I could do something similar. Watch. Kolakowski's "argument"

3. Misses the point

and is

Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur!
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I sincerely hope it is not a consequentialist that finds me after my car accident, if he shoots me because he thinks it best I do not suffer.

(Actually, due to blood loss to the brain, I’m in a perfectly euphoric state, reliving my fondest memories from a long, illustrious life....and that clown ended it all because of something that completely escaped his judgmental criteria.)

Immoral indeed.
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That makes you an immoral person.

And now you are using rethorical traps? Of course “immoral person” for you means “someone who does not follow Kantian ethics”. So why not just state it like that? We're back to the same vicious circle as before.

And you want proof you should be a Kantian in ethics? That proof is all around you at all times. For reasons peculiar to you, you're not able to see it. It might help if you were to consider just how much of your life depends on truth.

And this is just a deepity.

Or how about you mention part of that proof that's “all around me”?

And to be sure, I do not see where K., above, argues against Kant's conclusion, but only against the argument.

Yes, that an argument isn't valid, does not mean that its conclusion is false, only that it gives no good reason to accept its conclusion.

Edit: damn autocorrect.
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(Actually, due to blood loss to the brain, I’m in a perfectly euphoric state, reliving my fondest memories from a long, illustrious life....and that clown ended it all because of something that completely escaped his judgmental criteria.)

Immoral indeed.
Mww

If I knew it was more likely that you wouldn't suffer in that state, rest assured I wouldn't shoot you.
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This might exemplify an inconsistency in Kolakowski‘s interpretation of Kant's c.i.: a consequential moralist makes judgements on others predicated on his criteria; a deontological moralist makes makes judgements on himself using his own criteria.

This raises the question of warrant for knowledge of my suffering. To witness the behavior of the sufferer says nothing of the suffering. In effect, a judgement is forthcoming for an impossible experience.
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This might exemplify Kolakowski’s inconsistency: a consequential moralist makes judgements on others predicated on his criteria; a deontological moralist makes makes judgements on himself using his own criteria.Mww

The deontologist also makes judgements on others, since he thinks they are acting wrong when they lie, or borrow money.

And supposing he doesn't, why should it be inconsistent for the consequentialist to judge others predicated on his criteria? How else is he supposed to judge others if not by his own criteria? Or are you saying he shouldn't make any judgements about others at all?

To witness the behavior of the sufferer says nothing of the suffering.Mww

If I watch someone —who I know is not a masochist or anything of that sort — being subjected to brutal physical torture, see that they scream loudly and desperately ask for help with a pained look on their face, and there's overwhelming scientific evidence which shows that they will almost certainly feel a pain that's even worse than the worst pains I've felt, then I feel pretty confident in thinking that the best course of action I could take is to shoot the psychopath while he's not looking to stop the other person's suffering, if I have the chance, regardless of what the “universalization” of my action would entail.

If you were in such a situation, could you still honestly say that the behavior of the sufferer says nothing about their suffering?

Of course I can't be 100% sure that their pain is really that bad, or even that they are feeling any pain at all, but the scientific evidence in favor of this view is overwhelming, making it far more probable than the opposite.
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If I knew it was more likely that you wouldn't suffer in that state, rest assured I wouldn't shoot you.
The underlying idea here is that you claim to know best. Insofar as it is a claim that you make, we can ask you to prove that you know best.

Or how about you mention part of that proof that's “all around me”?
That you should be a moral person? All right. In arithmetic, if you accept arithmetic, 2+2 is/equals 4 and is provable. Nor should be nor ought to be, but is, and because is, must be. You are free to be ignorant of arithmetic, or to deny it. In that case, for you, 2+2=4 must be a meaningless proposition, for were it meaningful to you, then would understand it and assent to it. Of course, were this you, you could not be trusted with anything arithmetical, nor any of your judgments about such. Agree?

Underlying arithmetic is argument itself, what it is, how it works. Argument itself is constructed on ground accepted as solid, or at least adequate, for a foundation, usually called axioms. The construction of the argument according to rules again accepted as at least adequate, leading to the conclusion in question. And again one is free to be ignorant of all of this, or to deny or reject it, which again puts such a person beyond the pale of consideration in argument.

There is dialectical argument, concerned with what is and is not, and rhetoric, concerned with and considering both sides of contradictories, to determine better or worse. These are two different things concerned with different matters, with differing methods though with some overlap, and it is a fatal error to fail to distinguish between them.

Briefly and generally, dialectic calls out, calls for, absolute judgment based on appeal to independent standards from a judge whose conclusions are unassailable, i.e., proof built on and with axioms and theorems. For rhetoric, there may be appeal to general understanding, but it is the particulars in question, in suspension, and the estimation of them determinative of the conclusion. Examples of rhetorical questions incapable of dialectical resolution are, should we attack at dawn? and, should we build walls or ships?

Morality starts out as a rhetorical question: what should we do? And that no easy question, and with different answers across thousands of years. Kant arithmetized it, accomplishing a goal attributed at least to Socrates. The price of arithmetization being the limitation to general and not particular rules, his categorical imperative, in its various forms. And these do not tell us what to do, but instead how to test and evaluate our possible actions according to criteria of non-contradiction. These all tied in with his ideas of freedom, right, will, and good. And these all you can deny, ignore, be ignorant of, at the cost of your exclusion from the society of people concerned with freedom, right, will, and good.

An example: you purchase for yourself and family expensive and hard-to-get tickets to a major athletic event. At added expense you all prepare yourself for the day but on arriving discover your tickets are forgeries, no good. Question: do you celebrate the skill and cleverness of the forger? Or were you wronged?
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Deontology is an ethical theory that says actions are good or bad according to a clear set of rules. Kant is a deontologist. He has Kantian rules of conduct that are unconditional or absolute for all people ("agents"). The validity of these rules allegedly do not depend on any desire or end. So if people want to behave good, they have to comply unconditionally and absolutely to his demand. The attitude of the tyrant. The tyranny of truth.
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The deontologist also makes judgements on others, since he thinks they are acting wrong when the lie, or borrow money.

No, that’s a wrongful interpretation. A deontologist makes a discursive judgement on a behavior not his own by his cognitive criteria, which is an experience. That experience informs by means of a aesthetic judgement as to whether he would or would not behave in similar fashion under the same conditions, measured exclusively by how such behavior would make him feel about himself.

The deontologist, then, would find no pleasure at all, in a intentional deceitful behavior. If he abstains from that behavior for that reason, he demonstrates his morality; if he commits to that behavior in spite of that reason, he demonstrates his immorality.

When you think something is for the best, you think a good as it is for yourself. If you use the thinking for what is good for yourself, but apply it to another, as would a typical consequentialist, you are in effect using that other as an end for your own good. To use others for your own good can never be justified as a universal law.
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Insofar as it is a claim that you make, we can ask you to prove that you know best.

Just look at the evidence: if blood loss to the brain entails that the person is far more likely to be in a euphoric state rather than suffering badly before dying, then it's better not to shoot them. If not, then it's better to shoot them. If it's not clear because the evidence is not conclusive one way or another, then it's like trying to guess if a coin will land on heads or tails, so choose what your heart tells you.

I wouldn’t claim to know it with certainty, but very often we can know what’s more likely to happen, considering how bad the consequences would be if one has bad luck to see if it’s worth taking that risk, and that’s enough for our practical purposes.

That you should be a moral person?

If by this you mean to ask if it's proof that I should be a Kantian deontologist, then yes. Otherwise, you are just assuming that the way to be a moral person is to follow Kant's criterion rather than a consequentialist or utilitarian one, thus again incurring in petitio principii.

Of course, were this you, you could not be trusted with anything arithmetical, nor any of your judgments about such. Agree?

So your analogy amounts to: “if you don't act as the categorical imperative says you should, you can't be trusted with anything about the categorical imperative, nor any of your judgements as such”, which is false, just as someone who inquires into non-euclidean geometry can be trusted when he says that euclidean geometry is not the one that seems to govern the universe, and that some of Euclid's axioms are dubious.

Or perhaps you are just saying that if we define a good action as one which is in conformity with the imperative, then what the consequencialists say about the good is wrong. Which is trivially true, and not disputed by anybody.

There is dialectical argument, concerned with what is and is not, and rhetoric, concerned with and considering both sides of contradictories

The rethorical trap I was referring to is defining those who don't agree with your ethical criterion as “immoral people”, taking advantage of how unpleasant it sounds for someone to be “immoral”, to sound more persuasive.

Although this is a purely semantic matter, it seems less dishonest to say that consequentialists simply may have different definitions such terms as “good”, “freedom”, “will”, etc., as well as having different ideas and judgements about them, instead of defining them in such a way that we can only say kantians care about them.

Kant arithmetized it, accomplishing a goal attributed at least to Socrates. The price of arithmetization being the limitation to general and not particular rules, his categorical imperative, in its various forms. And these do not tell us what to do, but instead how to test and evaluate our possible actions according to criteria of non-contradiction.

You can see it as analogous to the situation concerning the famous axiom «the whole is greater than the part». I don’t argue that what follows from that axiom is true if we accept that axiom as true, but we now know that this axiom isn’t just dubious, it is in fact false in the case of infinite sets, as was shown for example by the fact that the cardinality of the set of all natural numbers is the same as the cardinality of the set of all even numbers. Similarly, I don’t question what follows from adopting the categorical imperative as one’s ethical criterion, I question the criterion, the starting point, because it strikes me as arbitrary and remote from reality, and find the starting point of consequentialism more plausible.

These all tied in with his ideas of freedom, right, will, and good. And these all you can deny, ignore, be ignorant of, at the cost of your exclusion from the society of people concerned with freedom, right, will, and good.

Once again, depending on how you define those terms (“freedom”, “right”, “will”, “good”) this is either the same rhetorical trap as before, or a false dilemma: making it seem as if the only choice is to either be a kantian, or someone who does not care about freedom, right, will and good (as if consequentialists didn’t care about those things, or didn’t take them into account in their ethical analyses). And again, it’s circular since it just assumes without proof that the way to be moral is to guide one’s actions by following Kant’s criterion.

An example: you purchase for yourself and family expensive and hard-to-get tickets to a major athletic event. At added expense you all prepare yourself for the day but on arriving discover your tickets are forgeries, no good. Question: do you celebrate the skill and cleverness of the forger? Or were you wronged?

I wouldn’t celebrate it since he would have caused me and my family to suffer by stealing from me and denying us the chance to assist to that event. Skill and cleverness don’t matter to me if they are used for evil purposes.

I would think that what he did to me is wrong, because he has caused other people to suffer just so he could get money. But I freely admit that he might not be persuaded If I confronted him about it, since he might be one of those people who, unlike me, feel or care little or nothing for the sufferings of others, in which case it’d be a waste of time to try and convince him that what he did to me is wrong, there’s nothing to say to those people. Just as I’d be wasting my time if I tried to persuade Jack the Ripper or another serial killer that his gruesome murders are abominable.

And by the way, I wouldn’t want such wicked people to follow my consequentialist criterion if they didn’t feel bad when contemplating or watching other people’s suffering, since that would probably lead them to cause more suffering just so they can gain more pleasure. I disagree with Bentham’s doctrine of “enlightened self-interest”, interpreted as meaning that if one acts only for one’s own interest, in the long run that will also benefit the others, since that’s only true in some cases. I state it only for those who share my values about empathy as well as an ethical criterion similar to mine, hoping they agree with my views:

I cannot, therefore, prove that my view of the good life is right; I can only state my view, and hope that as many (of those who care deeply about other people’s suffering and happiness) as possible will agree. — Russell (I added the part in black font)
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A deontologist makes a discursive judgement on a behavior not his own by his cognitive criteria, which is an experience. That experience informs by means of a aesthetic judgement as to whether he would or would not behave in similar fashion under the same conditions, measured exclusively by how such behavior would make him feel about himself.Mww

So, to go back to the example I gave to tim, if I ask a deontologist if he thinks it was wrong for me to lie to the man on his deathbed about his son’s condition, would he answer with a “yes” or a “no”? If his answer is yes, then he is making a judgement on me. If his answer is “no” or stays silent, then it’s more likely that I’ll continue lying in similar circumstances, and we’d have to conclude that he can only judge other deontologists, or only himself as you suggested.

What does the categorical imperative say here? Should the deontologist truthfully answer that question, or is he allowed to stay silent?

When you think something is for the best, you think a good as it is for yourself.Mww

In a sense yes, in so far as another person’s suffering would also make me suffer more, and their happiness make me happier. But in another sense, I’m also thinking about the outcome which that person is more likely to desire. Most people would rather not know that their son is dead on their deathbed, for example.

If you use the thinking for what is good for yourself, but apply it to another, as would a typical consequentialist, you are in effect using that other as an end for your own good. To use others for your own good can never be justified as a universal law.Mww

I donate significant amounts money (as far as my income and expenses allow me) to charity so that people suffer less, which in turn makes me happier, not because of any abstract universalization. Is that “using another as an end for my own good”? Maybe, but why is that bad?

Like I said in my last reply to tim, I wouldn’t want psychopaths who feel nothing when they watch or contemplate the sufferings of others to adopt a consequentialist criterion, since that would likely lead to more suffering. But I don't see what would be wrong if empathic people who more or less share my ethical views “used another as an end for their own good” in ways like donating to charity. And I don’t want nor care for trying to “universalize it”, since as I said I don’t want evil people to hurt others for their own pleasure. And if the “universalization” is merely to be done in a hypothetical world (if it can only be done “in principle”) then it seems to me irrelevant to the way of acting in the actual world, in relation to how people do in fact behave.
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What does the categorical imperative say here? Should the deontologist truthfully answer that question, or is he allowed to stay silent?

If the imperative says to tell the truth he should answer that you tell the truth to the poor man. He can also remain silent. He doesn't lie then.
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If the imperative says to tell the truth he should answer that you tell the truth to the poor man. He can also remain silent. He doesn't lie then.

Let's not get lost, the question was this one:

if I ask a deontologist if he thinks it was wrong for me to lie to the man on his deathbed about his son’s condition, would he answer with a “yes” or a “no”?

That's after I have already lied.
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That's after I have already lied.

If the imperative says to always tell the truth, shouldn't he obey? He thinks you should always tell the truth so the answer should be yes. He can stay silent of course. He would be a $%^#$ if he told the sick man the truth, only because "in the name of".
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If the imperative says to always tell the truth, shouldn't he obey?

If that's the case, he would be making a judgement on me. But Mww says deontologists don't make such judgements on others, but only on themselves. So what exactly does he mean by “judgement”?
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If not, then it's better to shoot them.
That's called murder.
I wouldn’t celebrate it since he would have caused me and my family to suffer by stealing from me and denying us the chance to assist to that event. Skill and cleverness don’t matter to me if they are used for evil purposes.
Then it seems at least you agree there is something called suffering, and evil. But the forger had his own criteria - as do you - what do you have to say to him? That he was evil and caused suffering? As a consequentialist he may assure you that his happiness was both greater and more worthwhile than your suffering which in any case the existence of which he could only speculate on. I am not arguing for the forger, only that he can refute anything you say by noting sauce for the goose - what works for you works for him, and why not!
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if I ask a deontologist if he thinks it was wrong for me to lie to the man on his deathbed about his son’s condition, would he answer with a “yes” or a “no”?

A regular dude would answer by how he thinks, a pure moral deontologist would answer by how he feels. The former may answer yes or no, the latter would only answer....I would not have lied.

What does the categorical imperative say here? Should the deontologist truthfully answer that question, or is he allowed to stay silent?

To stay silent is not to lie. The imperative is merely a formula, determined by principles held by the subject. Only the subject knows what the imperative commands.
———-

When you think something is for the best, you think a good as it is for yourself.
— Mww

In a sense yes, in so far as another person’s suffering would also make me suffer more, and their happiness make me happier.

These two statements do not hold the same truth value. There is no reason why another person’s subjective condition must necessarily pertain to yours. You can allow it, but it is neither biologically nor metaphysically the case that it must be allowed. If you feel another’s subjective condition and make no reaction to it, you may merely sympathize and you’ve violated no moral law. If you feel another’s condition and do react to it from some sorryful inclination, you’ve more than merely sympathized, you’ve treated the other as an end for yourself, which does violate a moral law.

It has never been a consideration here, as to whether people in general actually do things this way. All this is about, is a exposition of what proper Kantian moral philosophy entails. As such, it is a determination of principles, which are always certain, not the actions possible because of them, which are not.
————

Is that “using another as an end for my own good”? Maybe, but why is that bad?

It isn’t bad to help people. It is praiseworthy and admirable, from a common point of view, but may lack any moral import without the determining conditions for why you do it. Do you help people to alleviate their suffering to make yourself feel better, or do you help people from a duty that prevents you from not helping people. The former is mere inclination, the latter is lawful obligation.
————-

I wouldn’t want psychopaths who feel nothing when they watch or contemplate the sufferings of others to adopt a consequentialist criterion

And how would you ever make that preventable? You cannot, so what matters what you want?
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That's called murder.

And? I think I'm justified in killing someone to prevent another person from being tortured. I should have added, though, that this is only if there's no other way to save that person, like if in that scenario you don't have a phone to call the police and have no other way to prevent that man's suffering, and can't get out of the place. Plus you are afraid the man will try to do the same thing to you (this hypothetical example is just to illustrate my point).

Would you rather let the man suffer? Would you say murder is always wrong no matter what?

What if a murderer forces his way into your house and tried to torture and kill you, and the only way to save yourself is to kill him? Would you just let him kill you?

But the forger had his own criteria - as do you - what do you have to say to him?

As a consequentialist he may assure you that his happiness was both greater and more worthwhile than your suffering which in any case the existence of which he could only speculate on.

I would think that what he did to me is wrong, because he has caused other people to suffer just so he could get money. But I freely admit that he might not be persuaded If I confronted him about it, since he might be one of those people who, unlike me, feel or care little or nothing for the sufferings of others, in which case it’d be a waste of time to try and convince him that what he did to me is wrong, there’s nothing to say to those people. Just as I’d be wasting my time if I tried to persuade Jack the Ripper or another serial killer that his gruesome murders are abominable.

And by the way, I wouldn’t want such wicked people to follow my consequentialist criterion if they didn’t feel bad when contemplating or watching other people’s suffering, since that would probably lead them to cause more suffering just so they can gain more pleasure. I disagree with Bentham’s doctrine of “enlightened self-interest”, interpreted as meaning that if one acts only for one’s own interest, in the long run that will also benefit the others, since that’s only true in some cases. I state it only for those who share my values about empathy as well as an ethical criterion similar to mine, hoping they agree with my views:

I cannot, therefore, prove that my view of the good life is right; I can only state my view, and hope that as many (of those who care deeply about other people’s suffering and happiness) as possible will agree.
— Russell (I added the part in black font)
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I donate significant amounts money (as far as my income and expenses allow me) to charity so that people suffer less, which in turn makes me happier, not because of any abstract universalization. Is that “using another as an end for my own good”? Maybe, but why is that bad?

This demonstrates your confusion. The virtue in question is not whether it is good to contribute to charity and bad to feel good about it. The moral virtue in Kantian terms is if your contribution falls under the categorical imperative, thus being good-in-itself. And certainly if you contribute in order to feel good, then while there may be considerable benefit, you don't get virtue points.

Bill Gates, for example, gives huge amounts of money to charity. I do not think he does it to feel good or even cares about that. He has so much money that I'm pretty sure he can afford to contribute as he does because it is categorically right to do so. And a further guess, that what he cares about is if his money is well used and helps to accomplish the goals of the charity.

Your adducing geometry and maths simply means you do not understand this is a rhetorical and not a dialectical argument. In the geometry and maths there are right and wrong answers, and with appropriate proofs you can compel my assent, or I yours. This differs in that the criteria allow for different judgments, contradictory judgments. Kant would simply observe that your criteria are deficient, and that his, while necessarily general and not specific, better and more soundly founded. It's as if you wished to confound a chess game because your game is checkers. You can play checkers all you want, until you shoot someone or do some other horror. but you do not get a membership in the chess club.

A more-or-less easy way in is Kant's Lectures on Ethics, used copies usually cheap - if you're really interested.
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Which is to say you don't like it that he hurt you, but in terms of merit, apparently it's all his, right?
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If the imperative says to always tell the truth, shouldn't he obey?
— Raymond

If that's the case, he would be making a judgement on me. But Mww says deontologists don't make such judgements on others, but only on themselves. So what exactly does he mean by “judgement”?

The judgement being that you're disobedient to the imperative. The sick man must, in the name of truth, know the truth.
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I would not have lied.Mww

But I didn't ask him what he would have done, I asked him if he thinks what I did is wrong. So that doesn't answer the question.

To stay silent is not to lie.Mww

I didn't mean to imply that it was, I was just wandering if the deontologist was forced to tell the truth about how he feels according to the imperative, or if he could stay silent.

The imperative is merely a formula, determined by principles held by the subject. Only the subject knows what the imperative commands.Mww

I know, I asked if universalizing the maxim of staying silent when he is asked such a question leads to a contradiction or not.

The former is mere inclination, the latter is lawful obligation.Mww

And why is that morally relevant? In both cases they are doing more or less the same thing. If the effect of the action is approximately the same in terms of reducing suffering, then the action is equally good regardless of whether you do it to feel good or to follow a lawful obligation. But then again, this is exactly what deontologists deny.

And how would you ever make that preventable? You cannot, so what matters what you want?Mww

I don't think I need to worry about that. How many people visit this site? Not that many, I bet. How many of them are wicked in the sense that they care little or nothing about other people's suffering? Even less. How many of them are interested in ethics and are currently following this thread? Even less. How many of them give a damn about what you or I think, so that they would change their mind by reading this discussion, something which they otherwise wouldn't have done? Even less (if any).

And in the first place, do you think most such people spend a significant amount of time pondering about their actions and philosophizing? I don't.

As for the posible bad consequences of influential people defending consequentialism, I concede that you may have a point there.
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And certainly if you contribute in order to feel good, then while there may be considerable benefit, you don't get virtue points.

Why should I care about those “virtue points”?

Bill Gates, for example, gives huge amounts of money to charity. I do not think he does it to feel good or even cares about that. He has so much money that I'm pretty sure he can afford to contribute as he does because it is categorically right to do so. And a further guess, that what he cares about is if his money is well used and helps to accomplish the goals of the charity

Well, if he does it for a reason other than it making him feel better, or reducing his suffering in some way (not even because he'd feel bad if he didn't follow his lawful obligation, because he desires to do so), more power to him! That doesn't make sense to me, but what matters to me are the good consequences of his actions, regardless of why he does them.

Kant would simply observe that your criteria are deficient

Why?

Which is to say you don't like it that he hurt you, but in terms of merit, apparently it's all his, right?

He may feel well with what he did, but I don't. And I don't care what someone with such values thinks about his actions. And I wouldn't mind such a one to turn into a deontologist, if that would make him stop doing such things, I wouldn't tell such a one to follow a consequentialist criterion.

But you seem to forget that most people aren't like that, many of them upon reflecting about other people's suffering will regret their way of acting.
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And what's wrong with “depending on their actions” in that sense? Again, is it likely that everybody, or at least a majority of people will suddenly all start lying any time soon? No, that's probably never going to happen. So why should that hypothetical world in which everybody lies matter in the least? I'm not trying to justify liars, I just don't think lying always or very often is wrong for the reasons Kant thinks it is.

Well for Kant what is wrong with depending on the action of others is that you relinquish your autonomy. Kant's concern is not for some actual world where acts have actual consequences. It is purely cerebral, logical. Whether it is likely or not is hypothetical, but he is after something categorical, a rule of reason. The hypothetical world does not matter as an actual possible world, but as a purely logical possibility. His question is not first and foremost, what is ethical, but first: can we know what is ethical. He introduces the categorical imperative in the Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals. It is therefore not so much ethical, as it is metaphysical, concerned with what we can know.

I don't think it follows that if you reject Kant's criterion for living what he considers an ethical live, then you can do anything you want. It just means you move on to some consequentialist criterion for determining how you should act.

No of course not, but he rejects consequentialism. I do not know if his cure is not worse than the poison. I do think that his admonition to think for yourself has merit. I am an ethical eclectic and I treat ethical maxims as 'principles' in the sense law treats legal principles, guiding general rules that guide decision making, but which are stacked against other principles.

And why should the person provide general rules for others, why can't he just have a personal and private ethic? Even if he did provide general rules about how he thinks everybody ought to act, it's not likely that others will change the way they act by what some random person tells them, the reality is that most people simply won't give a damn about it, unless it's someone close to them, someone famous or someone influential.

Well, his point is trying to find out if we can know, by the light of reason alone, whether there is indeed a rule for ethics that always holds up. You can decide for yourself how to act. That is his point. I do my duty you do yours... or not. But we can discern, he thinks, what our duties are.

Also Kant concludes — if I'm not mistaken — that lying is wrong no matter what the circumstances are. And I think that's just wrong, as is shown in the example I gave of a man on his death bed asking if his son is ok, when the other person knows that their son is dead.

I actually do not endorse Kant's decontextualized ethical stance and used your objection in my discussion with @Tzeentch here: here I do think your example is wrong, at least from a Kantian standpoint. If it becomes common knowledge that is such a situation we would lie to the dying father, then dying fathers cannot ask that question anymore because he will never know if he gets an honest answer. So we 'sacrifice' the feelings of the dying father in order to keep our framework, that we answer truthfully, intact. So other dying relatives may ask that question and not face the perennial anxiety of not knowing.

Here's another example: suppose someone's son is terminally ill, and the doctors tell the man that his son will almost certainly die soon. A few days later he goes to visit his son in the hospital, and the boy fearfully asks him if he's going to die. Would the father be doing something wrong or unethical if he lied to his son, telling him that he is ok and that he will recover soon, so that he wasn't terrified and would suffer less? I don't think so.

Yes he would commit a wrong. He thinks for the boy, who asked an honest question and would expect an honest answer. He takes away the boy's dignity as a rationally thinking being. His duty is to be there for the boy in his dying moments as an acceptance of that fate. Something the boy cannot accept if he does not know it is coming.

Once, walking in the field, I saw a weary fox, on the verge of total exhaustion, but still struggling to keep running. A few minutes later I saw the hunters. They asked me if I had seen the fox and I said yes. They asked me where it had gone and I lied to them. I don't think I would have been a better person if I had told them the truth.

Well for me, the principle is not to lie. There is also a principle telling you to aid the one in need. I would stack up these principles and weigh which one weighs heavier in this particular case, as many points of view as can be considered. It would not be Kant's answer though. That does not make Kantian ethics inconsistent. The point is you cannot refute Kant's idealist ethics with consequntialism or by appealing to majority opinion. Kant's system is a rationalist one whereas Russel's here is an empirical one.
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The hypothetical world does not matter as an actual possible world, but as a purely logical possibility.

What I don't understand is why this mere logical possibility in some hypothetical world has any relevance to how we should act in the actual world, where that almost certainly won't happen in any near future. The criterion of “universalization” as a way to distinguish good acts from bad ones just seems arbitrary to me.

Why is it that if an action can be universalized without contradiction, then the action is morally/ethically justified, and morally/ethically reprehensible otherwise? Without circular reasoning, I mean.

He takes away the boy's dignity as a rationally thinking being.

I prefer that over making him terrified and sad/depressed.

His duty is to be there for the boy in his dying moments as an acceptance of that fate.

Why does he have to learn about his fate in the first place? If he doesn't, he won't be terrified by his imminent death. It is more likely that he will suffer less if he doesn't learn about his fate, so I think it's better to lie to him.

And yes, I know deontologists don't care about the probable effects of actions, but I still find that unreasonable. They themselves use probabilistic criterions all the time: when they get out of their house, they don't give serious consideration to the idea that it might be better to stay home because a meteor might fall on their head if they get out, or that suddenly it'll start to rain heavily leading to them being struck by lightning when they get out — although they can't be certain those things won't happen — because such events are very unlikely to happen. And the same is true for almost all of their beliefs in daily life.

Yet when it comes to ethical considerations about the effects of each action, they suddenly seem to stop caring about the probable consequences of each action, and just care about following the categorical imperative, only because we can't be completely certain about the consequences of each of our actions, and because some elaborate and unlikely scenarios in which the actions lead to bad consequences are possible (not always though, sometimes they do mention possibilities which aren't that unlikely, and should be taken into account).

The point is you cannot refute Kant's idealist ethics with consequntialism or by appealing to majority opinion.

I'm not trying to refute Kantian ethics, I just think its core criterion is arbitrary. Nor do I think that an act is good because most people think it is (“ad populum”), the examples where intended to make people question whether a criterion that leads them to act in that way is really the best one at their disposal, in accordance with their basic moral intuitions.

If it becomes common knowledge that is such a situation we would lie to the dying father, then dying fathers cannot ask that question anymore because he will never know if he gets an honest answer. So we 'sacrifice' the feelings of the dying father in order to keep our framework, that we answer truthfully, intact. So other dying relatives may ask that question and not face the perennial anxiety of not knowing.

Supposing it became common knowledge (which is not likely, so long as there are deontologists suggesting a different course of action) I think the suffering they would feel after finding out about their son's dead outweighs the suffering caused by the anxiety they may feel for not being able to get an answer to that question.
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I would not have lied.
— Mww

But I didn't ask him what he would have done, I asked him if he thinks what I did is wrong. So that doesn't answer the question.

The point being, the rightness or wrongness of an act is never a thought of mine, but only the act’s felt moral integrity. To lie is to be intentionally deceitful, and the principle of intentional deceit can never stand as ground for a universal law, therefore to lie is refuse obligation to a c.i., and is thereby immoral. The question of whether I think another’s acts are right or wrong is irrelevant, for my thinking does not, and cannot, supervene on my purely subjective moral principles.

It is, on the other hand, I may judge the rightness or wrongness of me telling a lie, iff there results an experience of mine because of it, insofar as all experiences presuppose a discursive judgement that makes the experience possible. Even while knowing the immorality of telling a lie, I go ahead and tell one anyway, I am then offered the chance to judge its effect. The problem with this consequentialist approach is, I am judging the effect of my deceit on another subject, in which such effect can never be properly understood, for if it was I could claim to know his thoughts, which is impossible. I am, for all intents and purposes, assigning a right to my reason that far exceeds its boundaries. Thus, not only am I committing an immoral act, I am committing an irrational act as well. I am but a sad, ignoble, immoral egocentric. Woe is me. (Sniff)
(Kidding)
————

To stay silent is not to lie.
— Mww

I didn't mean to imply that it was, I was just wandering if the deontologist was forced to tell the truth about how he feels according to the imperative, or if he could stay silent.

Wandering, were we? Spellchecker: can’t live with it, can’t kill it. (Sigh)

Forced is kinda harsh, but I get it. Guided by is more apt, in that reason has no causal force. So, no, the deontologist is not forced into anything. As to whether silence is justified as opposed to a definitive response, that is the prerogative of the subject.

Also, for the sake of consistency, “to tell the truth about how he feels according to the imperative” has the proverbial cart before the horse. Feeling is always the antecedent ground, being primal in humans, interactive with yet separable from, reason. As such, imperatives don’t tell you how you feel, you don’t feel according to an imperative. The proposition is better stated as.....he feels telling the truth is imperative categorically.

Disclaimer: not sure of your context here. It makes sense to tell the truth about how one feels about the taste of Lima beans, but that actually reduces to a cognition. He is merely being accurate in his recounting of what he thinks of Lima beans, insofar as he thinks they are an affront to his taste buds. Hardly a moral judgement preconditioned by an act of will.
————

do you think most such people spend a significant amount of time pondering about their actions and philosophizing? I don't.

Nor do I. Generally, folks go with “that just doesn’t feel right”, or, “why did I do/say that”, without actually finding the why. If he thinks about it long enough, and under his given conditions, he might arrive at an answer already provided by one philosopher or another.
• 489
The question of whether I think another’s acts are right or wrong is irrelevant,Mww

Maybe to you it is, but not to me.

If you follow the imperative, then you think (because of what the imperative says) that lying is wrong in any situation, right? I'm questioning the idea that deontologists don't make judgements on others. Responding with: “I wouldn't have lied” is, it seems to me, just a way to dodge the question.

The problem with this consequentialist approach is, I am judging the effect of my deceit on another subject, in which such effect can never be properly understood, for if it was I could claim to know his thoughts, which is impossible.Mww

I can't know his thoughts, sure, but I can know what he is probably thinking, and probably would like, statistically speaking. If the possible consequences of lying were too bad, and weren't too unlikely, then it might be better not to take the risk. My decisions depend upon each particular situation's circumstances and the information available to me.

Also, for the sake of consistency, “to tell the truth about how he feels according to the imperative” has the proverbial cart before the horse.Mww

I phrased that poorly, I should have said: Is it his duty to tell the truth about how he thinks I should have acted, according to the imperative? Can deontologists just dodge questions or keep quiet instead of lying whenever they find it convenient to do that instead of telling the truth?

And even if they keep quiet, don't they think I shouldn't have lied, even if they don't say it? Then how is that not making a judgement on me? If not, why don't they think what I did is wrong? Is it only because I'm not a deontologist? What if I was a Kantian? Would they still think what I did isn't wrong?

I used the world “feels” since you said even Kantian ethics are ultimately based on feelings, but it didn't come out well.

Spellchecker: can’t live with it, can’t kill it. (Sigh)Mww

Yep, it's very annoying, it seems from now on I'm gonna have to triple check the spelling of my posts to see it hasn't played a prank on me again.

Edit: It just did it again...
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What I don't understand is why this mere logical possibility in some hypothetical world has any relevance to how we should act in the actual world,
Maybe to you it is, but not to me.
You've made it clear that your "ethics" permit you when you feel like it to lie and murder - and to be so hypocritical that you object if others decide to do as you do, to you!

Your criteria appears to be, if the consequence be good, then I can employ the means to achieve it. Why
"can"? Why not "must"? The problems with this are many. Who says the consequence is good? How do you know the means will achieve it? The estimation is speculative, but the action once done certain. How do you get from a speculation to a certainly? Or, who made you jury, judge, and executioner?
• 3k
The question of whether I think another’s acts are right or wrong is irrelevant,
— Mww

Maybe to you it is, but not to me.

Understood. Perhaps nothing but a distinction between your doctrine of normative teleological ethics with respect to rule-based community, and my doctrine of individual, subjective a priori principles with respect to practical applications in a rule-based community.

Yours presupposes community, mine makes community possible.
———

I should have said: Is it his duty to tell the truth about how he thinks I should have acted, according to the imperative?

One more time: morality is subjective; what you do morally is your business. I have the authority to think for myself. I do not have the authority to think for you. The extent of my thinking about your moral actions is limited to their effect on me alone, given the experience they cause in me. In such case, nonetheless, I am judging the cause of the experience, and not the a priori subjective principles responsible for your actions, which I could never know.

This shouldn’t be so difficult to grasp. Me judging your moral dispositions, is like me judging your choice of favorite color. Which, by extension, makes my duty to tell the truth about what I think about your moral principles, beyond the boundaries of my authority.
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