• GreyScorpio
    93
    Sorry for the confusion - Kant's maxims are supposed to be universalized meaning that it cannot be illogical or self-contradictory if everyone were to act on a maxim. As a result, there is not much flexibility here. Also, a maxim must not be one that uses a person as a means to your ends and vice versa, these are moral rules, I believe, which limit the flexibility that Kantian ethics has in terms of situations that are more personal. What of those moral dilemmas that depend on a situation to be relevant?
  • tim wood
    809
    Also, a maxim must not be one that uses a person as a means to your ends and vice versa, these are moral rules, I believe, which limit the flexibility that Kantian ethics has in terms of situations that are more personal.GreyScorpio
    I think you got twisted up in this sentence. Try again.

    What of those moral dilemmas that depend on a situation to be relevant?GreyScorpio
    What is a moral problem that is not situation dependent?
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    I think you got twisted up in this sentence. Try again.tim wood

    Again, sorry. My point, anyway, is that Kantian ethics is way too objective and as a result of this, it becomes inflexible. He has put in place rules such as the First and Second Formulation of the Categorical Imperative that cannot be denied or disobeyed otherwise you are being immoral.

    What is a moral problem that is not situation dependent?tim wood

    There isn't any. That's my point. Moral dilemmas are situational and I don't think Kantian ethics can deal with them effectively.
  • tim wood
    809
    Moral dilemmas are situational and I don't think Kantian ethics can deal with them effectively.GreyScorpio
    Perhaps you have an example in mind?

    Grammatically, the categorical imperatives (CIs) can look like rules. But they're not rules; they're categorical imperatives. They prescribe no action; they proscribe no action. They inform and advise as to criteria for maxims that you invent to establish your own rules for yourself. The maxims themselves then provide a ground of defense or justification for the particular action you do undertake. And there's nothing moral or ethical about it. It proceeds on the basis of reason. That is, with Kant, you start with reason and if you've done a decent job you arrive at an ethical position. Perfect? Maybe not. Able to be made more perfect if the opportunity presents itself? Sure.

    An important qualification is that maxims cannot conflict. If there appears a conflict, then only one maxim can rule. In the notorious issue of "a supposed right to lie for benevolent motives," the question is, must you tell a murderer where his intended victim is if he asks, or can you lie? Kant says you can't lie. You and I probably would say, "Nonsense, in such a case you lie your nose off!" But such a response is made in ignorance of the depth of Kant's argument.

    The maxim competing with the don't lie rule might be, don't put another person in danger, even if you have to lie to protect them. And if this held in all cases, that the lie did in fact protect, then there would be imo a very strong argument for it's supplanting the maxim against lying. But it doesn't hold in all cases - it can't, and therefore it lacks the strength it needs. Apparently Kant did agree that while you weren't allowed to lie, you could refuse to answer.

    The moral of this story is that Kant is easy to misinterpret and misunderstand, and people who do either or both often enough heap scorn on Kant for making stupid mistakes, or failing to understanding what he was doing - corrected by our freshman philosopher-critic. More prudent to remember he was one of history's maybe twelve smartest people, and people smarter than our freshman have failed to unseat his reasoning. Or, if you think you've found an error in Kant, or a mistake, go back and read him again.
  • IamTheFortress
    2

    For example, a classic example, if you were a train driver and your train spontaneously failed causing your breaks to stop working and people were on the two junction tracks. One person on the left and five people on the write. Which track do you take? Utilitarians will obviously say to take the left track with the one person on it sacrificing his life to save the five on the right track. This is because more people would be happy with the outcome as the quantity of people is greater in five than one. — GreyScorpio
    This situation is not very good exemplification of controversies related to utilitarianism, because in this scenario, there is no way for the train driver to abstain from any killing, he has to choose the side. So it's not about killing one person or not, it's about killing one person or five people. Most people would agree instinctively that killing one person is lesser evil than killing five people in the situation when you literally cannot choose not to kill anyone, regardless of whether they are utilitarian or not. Perhaps the scenario in which the person can actively kill one person to save other five or abstain from action and let five people die would underline the issue better.
    However, is it correct to be able to condone killing this way? — GreyScorpio
    I think that question about correctness is always dependent on the set of criteria we choose. That is, we cannot know if any objective ethics exist independently of people developing ethics. We may only have some conceptions on what is "right" or "wrong", and judge the quality of those conceptions by their level of internal coherency. Hence, the question whether something is correct of not can be answered only within the frame of certain ethical conceptions. According to utilitarianism, yes, it would be correct. According to moral absolutist who lives under the "do not kill" rule it wouldn't be correct. Both attitudes can be internally coherent, and we can judge just that, what we cannot do is to tell which of those attitudes is closer to "objective moral truth".
    Personally? I'm not sure if I condone killing the way that utilitarians do but as a biologist I think that condemning killing independently of context is hell of impractical and incoherent if we opt for the value of life at the same time. Life is based on killing and every life form has to kill in order to survive. Heterotrophic organism, such as humans need to kill other life forms in order to gain energy, but even autotrophic organisms kill others, for example during the immunological processes or through competing for the same resources and allelopathy. So the only coherent worldview that always ascribes negative moral value to killing would be the one that consequently ascribes negative moral value to life on itself. For people who consider life to be positive phenomenon on terms of morality, the question should not be "if it's correct to condone killing" but "under which circumstances should we condone killing?" since that's inevitable.
    Not to mention other moral dilemmas of which utilitarianism would perhaps favor the side that is not socially moral. — GreyScorpio
    Define "socially moral".
  • gloaming
    12
    "...Utilitarians will obviously say to take the left track with the one person on it sacrificing his life to save the five on the right track. This is because more people would be happy with the outcome as the quantity of people is greater in five than one..." (From original post)


    How does the utilitarian thinker know that he will yield the greatest happiness in this situation solely by the numbers of lives he will save? What information does he possess, or not, about those on the train and their needs or desires for possible outcomes? Maybe every one of them is against any form of killing, but also feel that one life is not to be discounted against a greater number. What if the lone person we feel gets the train is potentially the next Einstein or President of the USA? What if that person is just about to release a formula that will cure diabetes?

    Not very artfully, I'm stating that the utilitarian thinker must make choices based upon expectations, and sometimes using a paucity of valuable information that can confound his reasoning, if after the fact. This makes the orientation on outcomes necessary in the absence of something more 'rigorous', in my view. Something like Kantian reasoning that says the outcome could be purely accidental and unfortunate as long as the 'intentions' of the person performing the acts are borne of the "Good Will." Few mention this all-important quality of Kantian ethics. Utilitarian ethics places the burden of consequences, I think unreasonably, on the person acting. And that person could absolutely act with the best of intentions, also of the Good Will (wanting more people to live than to die). Problem is, it places dying at the summit of the Great Mountain of ethical and moral values as something to avoid.

    Perhaps your discussion needs to be expanded to rate utilitarianism against pragmatism.

    As a previous responder has made clear, Kantian ethics/morality (the latter incorporated into the greater former) is merely a prescription for acting that frees the individual acting in Good Will from any responsibility....OTHER THAN acting via universalizable maxims and never treating the person involved as a means to an end. The outcomes, 'good or bad', are entirely irrelevant. To me, there can be no greater nod to realism. For example, a man attempting to rescue a child being swept along in a raging torrent, and does so, cannot be held responsible for accidentally knocking the child's mother into the same current while flailing about. What calculus would our utilitarian realist guru use to evaluate the outcome...a life for a life? Would the child be happy it had lived when asked years later? Would the husband and her other children be happier or sadder when confronted with the awful tally at the end of the day?
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    They inform and advise as to criteria for maxims that you invent to establish your own rules for yourself. The maxims themselves then provide a ground of defense or justification for the particular action you do undertake. And there's nothing moral or ethical about it.tim wood

    Okay, but don't you think that Kant had in mind, when claiming that Maxims must be universalizeable, that we must all abide by this maxim or 'rule' in order for us to be moral or for our actions to hold moral value.
    The maxim competing with the don't lie rule might be, don't put another person in danger, even if you have to lie to protect them. And if this held in all cases, that the lie did in fact protect, then there would be imo a very strong argument for it's supplanting the maxim against lying. But it doesn't hold in all cases - it can't, and therefore it lacks the strength it needs. Apparently Kant did agree that while you weren't allowed to lie, you could refuse to answer.tim wood

    I agree, the flexibility of Kant's ethics is lacking incredibly. Especially against theories devised by Aristotle and other theories such as moral realist theories.
  • tim wood
    809
    Okay, but don't you think that Kant had in mind, when claiming that Maxims must be universalizeable, that we must all abide by this maxim or 'rule' in order for us to be moral or for our actions to hold moral value.GreyScorpio
    No! The imperative "must" is the wrong word and the wrong idea. Why "must"? To argue that a maxim be universalizable is by no means the argument that it must be universalized, or should be, or even can be.

    Example: your maxim might be that you, yourself, can exceed posted speed limits in an emergency. You can argue that this be a universalizable maxim in that everyone should be able to speed in the case of an emergency. Think it through. First, is the maxim a good one? Assuming that for you speeding in the case of an emergency is presumed to increase well-being, is the presumption a warrant for accepting the maxim? What justifies the presumption? Does speeding in the case of an emergency increase well-being? Then, what emergencies? What speeds? What roads? What circumstances? Who decides, and when? And finally, do you suppose that everyone "must" speed in the case of an emergency?

    I think Kant does not have need in mind, nor "ought nor "should" nor anything other than reason. Reason as the only tool that can get to the bottom of things, of those things that have a bottom. And of those that don't, the best scaffolding from which to securely work.

    I agree, the flexibility of Kant's ethics is lacking incredibly. Especially against theories devised by Aristotle and other theories such as moral realist theories.GreyScorpio
    What, exactly, do you want? An ethics of convenience that will allow you to do what you want? If you have a better model, present it. But it's hard to beat reason - unless you abandon it for something else. Is that what you're about? If it is, what replaces reason?
  • GreyScorpio
    93
    What, exactly, do you want? An ethics of convenience that will allow you to do what you want? If you have a better model, present it. But it's hard to beat reason - unless you abandon it for something else. Is that what you're about? If it is, what replaces reason?tim wood

    In a perfect world, a moral theory would suffice the preference of every individual. I was simply giving another side of the argument to Kant's ethics, clearly specifying that its most damaging problem is, in fact, its inflexibility. I do think that theories such as emotivism and prescriptivism are much more specific to the human itself, which raises the question on whether morals should be subjective or objective.

    What do you think about that, and if they are subjective, how do we put this in place?
  • tim wood
    809
    I had to look up emotivism and prescriptivism. Perhaps you might try summarizing each in a sentence or two, that way we're discussing your topic. They both seem individual-centric; i.e., substantized within the individual speaking, rather than in any general criterion.

    I see them both described as non-cognitivist, and both deemed "dismissed." I should like to return to your notion of the inflexibility of deontological ethics. In what sense do you find them inflexible - how would you like them to bend?

    As to tailoring the ethics to the person, it seem to me that it's the flaws of the person that are the reason for there being ethics. If you go person-centric, you have no ground on which to either judge or critique anyone else for acting on their version of their own ethics.
12Next
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.