• GreyScorpio
    98
    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.tim wood

    So, If it is true that these non-cognitivist theories are ineffective due to the fact that morals become egocentric and judged upon the person themselves, then it must be true that you believe that people must share moral judgement. If this is true then you must believe that ethical theories - such as Kant's ethics - must be a set of rules that must be followed objectively by everyone. If not, then you run into a contradiction. If you don't believe that moral judgments are a set of rules then you believe that people can both abide and not abide by these moral judgments. People that do not abide by these rules are are then taking on the non-cognitivist attitude and judging based upon their own moral judgments. But, you cannot not believe this and also claim that Kant's deontology is not a set of rules because you must believe that his moral statements apply to everyone, therefore preventing them from creating, and abiding by, their own moral judgement.

    This is not an attack, just an argument that shows how you seem to have gone in a loop of which you must believe that either Kant's ethics are a set of rules or that Emotivism and Prescriptivism are applicable theories - which you have just expressed that you believe that they are not.

    In what sense do you find them inflexible - how would you like them to bend?tim wood

    I find them inflexible in the sense that you are essentially forced to complete a certain action in conflicting duties. For example, Imagine your friend was ill with cancer and the only way to save her would be to steal an antidote which is in the possession of your mother. You are conflicted between saving life and stealing. Kant's ethics would say that you shouldn't use others as a mean to your ends according to the second formulation - meaning that you shouldn't steal the antidote from your mother. Meaning that you would have to let your friend die. Is this a moral act? Therefore, shows the inflexibility of Kant's ethics.

    Furthermore, consider the axeman case. (Your friend is at your home one day. You get a knock on your door. It is a man with a sharp axe in his hand looking angry, asking for your friend. If you lie and say he is not in the house, perhaps your friend hears the man asking for him, he panics and leaves through the back door only to encounter the man after he left because you lied to him. Had you told the truth, perhaps the axeman would have come in the house looking for your friend and doesn't find him because he has already left. Therefore you saved his life by following the categorical imperative.) This is a prime example of how Kant intends for you to follow the categorical imperative, implying that it is a rule. If you were to break the rule it would have resulted in your friend dying.

    Also, the fact that you must rely on your friend overhearing the conversation and leaving the house would seem too remote from actual happenings and perhaps too much of a coincidence. The reason why I use this particular example is because this is a popular example to support Kant's deontology.

    I hope I have been clear enough :) If there is anything you are having trouble with understanding, please let me know and I can clarify.
  • tim wood
    1.3k
    Nice post! Let's see if you have me down for the count or if I can get up again.
    So, If it is true that these non-cognitivist theories are ineffective due to the fact that morals become egocentric and judged upon the person themselves, then it must be true that you believe that people must share moral judgement. If this is true then you must believe that ethical theories - such as Kant's ethics - must be a set of rules that must be followed objectively by everyone.GreyScorpio
    Not ineffective; they may be very - too - effective! They simply have little worth as ethical theories (or so the sources indicate; I don't have any experience with the theories you mention). It seems your argument is that if individual theories of ethics are ruled out, then there must be some general theory or theories, and, that their force is compulsive as being imperative. I think the flaw here is subtle. I find here a kind of either-or thinking: if not this, then (necessarily) that. Underlying either-or is the possibility of neither-nor. That is, the consequent is neither necessary, nor is it necessarily for any particular that.

    So much for form, now for content. I think it is enough to look at "...must be a set of rules that must be followed by everyone." It is, unfortunately, possible for different ethical theories to support opposed actions, either as directly contradictory or one as exception to the other. The differing approaches of each are the ground for these oppositions, and Kant's deontology and Mill's utilitarianism are poster examples of opposing theories, Kant's, of course, being concerned with motive, Mill's with consequences, although nothing is that easy!

    If not, then you run into a contradiction. If you don't believe that moral judgments are a set of rules then you believe that people can both abide and not abide by these moral judgments.GreyScorpio
    The consequent happens to be true both as to form and content. The antecedent is irrelevant. Perhaps you meant to write something like this (substituting "laws" for "rules"): If X are laws, then people must abide by the laws of X. "Must" as ought or should, sure. "Must" as somehow necessitated, not so much.

    People that do not abide by these rules are are then taking on the non-cognitivist attitude and judging based upon their own moral judgments. But, you cannot not believe this and also claim that Kant's deontology is not a set of rules because you must believe that his moral statements apply to everyone, therefore preventing them from creating, and abiding by, their own moral judgement.
    Or taking on another, or not making any moral judgment at all. And you have been using "rules" as indicating something with compulsive force in the manner of laws that require or proscribe. For clarity's sake I agree to that usage although I think it a misusage. Kant's ethical theories, then, are not sets of rules. That lops off the rest of your argument as a road to nowhere. You can - we can - pursue it, but it's a sign of maturity in arguing to more-or-less quickly abandon lost causes - maybe in favor of resurrecting them later in more viable form!

    I find them inflexible in the sense that you are essentially forced to complete a certain action in conflicting duties. For example, Imagine your friend was ill with cancer and the only way to save her would be to steal an antidote which is in the possession of your mother. You are conflicted between saving life and stealing. Kant's ethics would say that you shouldn't use others as a means to your ends according to the second formulation - meaning that you shouldn't steal the antidote from your mother. Meaning that you would have to let your friend die. Is this a moral act? Therefore, shows the inflexibility of Kant's ethics.GreyScorpio
    Kant's theory explicitly disallows conflicts of duties. Resolution for Kant means you determine that one is ascendant and you go with that one - this, at least, is the program. I think it's important to keep in the foreground at least here that Kant's theory is based in reason and explicitly not in desire. As such, this becomes, I am a doctor under obligation to save lives. Some persons are ill with a fatal disease and the cure is unavailable only in that it is in the possession of someone not me. Can I steal it? Kant's approach would I am sure include this consideration: is it not contradictory to allow anyone to steal? Suppose I stole under a maxim that made it permissible, and then suppose someone stole that same thing from me? Also important here is that Kant would not be stopped by this. In this conclusion he has only completed a part of the analysis; now he must move on. Without attempting to cover every possibility, Perhaps Kant would consider asking for the cure, or seeking some ethical means to obtain it. Kant isn't inflexible, merely rigorous in his requirements, but the flexibility in the rigor is limited, near as I can tell, to doing/thinking as best and honestly and openly and reasonably as you can.

    Furthermore, consider the axeman case. (Your friend is at your home one day. You get a knock on your door. It is a man with a sharp axe in his hand looking angry, asking for your friend. If you lie and say he is not in the house, perhaps your friend hears the man asking for him, he panics and leaves through the back door only to encounter the man after he left because you lied to him. Had you told the truth, perhaps the axeman would have come in the house looking for your friend and doesn't find him because he has already left. Therefore you saved his life by following the categorical imperative.) This is a prime example of how Kant intends for you to follow the categorical imperative, implying that it is a rule. If you were to break the rule it would have resulted in your friend dying.

    Also, the fact that you must rely on your friend overhearing the conversation and leaving the house would seem too remote from actual happenings and perhaps too much of a coincidence. The reason why I use this particular example is because this is a popular example to support Kant's deontology.
    GreyScorpio
    The problem here is simply that in lying, you presume to know what in fact cannot be known, and foreclose on the possibilities. This is one part of Kant's argument. For my part, if you could know what the consequence of your lie was, then just maybe Kant would allow it - and I suspect he would have to. The trick, as you note, is in the harm the lie can do.

    Now, what in fact are we discussing? If our topic is inflexibility in Kant's ethics, I think it's shown that it's not. There is another possibility for confusion on this: Per Kant, you have choices - let's call them paths in the sense of choosing and travelling along one and not others - and you ought to put some work into determining, rationally, which path to choose to travel. An ought, under reason a necessary ought, but no inflexibility yet. You make your choice; now you travel. In order to travel there is an inflexible requirement that you travel!

    Is it an appeal to the other theories mentioned? We - I - don't know enough about them to take on a refutation, but maybe we can just rely on their dismissal by others. If not, maybe you can make an argument for them.

    And let's resolve to write shorter posts!
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